Digging up the past.


I sometimes worry what the librarians at my local library must think of me.¬† My list of reservations must look very odd. Mostly full of books about Victorian death, disease, hospitals, murder, cemeteries, railways, murder again, adultery, asylums and prisons, interspersed with ‘The day the crayons quit’ (brilliant book!) and ‘The Twits’ (ditto) and various other children’s books for when my daughter and I have forgotten her card. I will put my hand up to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ though ūüėÄ

I am finding that when I begin to research a new item I am heading straight to my library account and reserving yet another book.

Well this week is going to throw them!

The item I have chosen¬† is a Common Prayer book that was given to Albert Early for his birthday. It doesn’t have a date on it but I have managed to narrow it down by census to the 1890’s. He was born on the 19th of January 1888 and he lived with his family in a quiet village near Battle in East Sussex.

I¬† began to research ‘Little Bertie’ as he is called on the flyleaf of the book but I found myself returning to the inscription again and again so I decided to see what I could find out about the giver of the birthday present.

It did take me a while to decipher the signature (L Leila L Coutwith Waterhouse Hawkins) but after finding Albert on that 1891 census entry and a quick search I had confirmation of the lady’s identity, Louisa Leila Leezinka Waterhouse Hawkins.

Louisa, although I think she preferred Leila so I will call her that, was born in 1842 in London. She was the eldest daughter of Frances ‘Louisa’ Keenan, an artist, and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins who was a sculptor and natural history artist. Her younger sister Margaret was born in late 1847.

In 1851 the Great Exhibition was opened in Hyde Park, London.  It was only a few minutes walk from the family home in Paddington and no doubt Leila, who was 9 at the time, would have been able to see the huge glass structure that everyone was calling a marvel, a crystal palace. It was designed for various Countries to show the best of their industry and it must have been an amazing experience to visit it at that time.

After the exhibition was closed in October 1851 it was moved some miles away and across the Thames to Sydenham where it was rebuilt and incorporated within a much larger structure.

Leila’s father Benjamin, who by now had become very interested in natural history and geology,¬† had been working alongside many famous biologists and¬† paleontologists. He was commissioned to create 33 enormous extinct animals for public display. He retreated to his¬† studio for¬† two years and sculpted the huge life sized mammals and dinosaurs which were to be¬† displayed within the grounds of the new Crystal Palace Park.

After a lavish dinner actually inside the structure of one of the animals on New Years Eve 1853 the collection was opened to the public and Benjamin and his creations were a roaring success.

Dinosaurs were a fairly new discovery at the time – their remains having been first discovered only about 30 years before, so while Benjamin’s finished work is not accurate in our modern times it was impressive to the Victorians. I visited the park many times as a child as I grew up nearby, and I can still remember seeing those big scary monsters hiding in the foliage!

Leila took after her parents artistically.   In 1858 aged just 16 she exhibited her work for the Society of Female Artists in London.  She became a Student of the History of Fine Arts. She entered and won painting competitions. She had a bright future ahead.

Things began to go wrong for the Hawkins family in the early 1870s. Frances discovered she wasn’t the first Mrs Hawkins. In fact she discovered she wasn’t the only Mrs Hawkins. There was another one and she was alive and well. It seemed Benjamin had married Frances when he was already married and a father to 6 children.¬† It destroyed the relationship and Benjamin left the family to work in America.

Margaret was next to leave the family home, she married and moved away.  I have been unable to find her in later life.

Now it was just Leila and her mother. The two woman left behind life in London and moved  to the quieter, picturesque south. They seemed to live with various unconnected families in Sussex, Leila continuing to earn her living by painting .

They must have had some contact from Benjamin because, after the death of the first Mrs Hawkins in 1880 and Benjamin now being free to marry – he decided to marry Frances, legally this time in 1883. The couple never lived together again so perhaps they married to legitimize their children.

After Frances’ death in Brighton in 1884,¬† Leila settled in and around Battle, famous for its abbey built on the site of the Battle of Hastings. This is where I found her in 1891, boarding at the home of¬† Frederick and Emma Early and their five children in a village¬† just outside the town .¬† I think she enjoyed her time with this family, perhaps it reminded her of happier times.

In July 1912 Leila was admitted to the County Lunatic  Asylum in Hellingly  East Sussex.  She had been living in a beautiful house in the centre of Battle and still classed herself as an artist the year before even though she was approaching 70.  She died at the Asylum a few weeks later.

I really do hope she had a good life, but I can’t be sure.

Benjamin passed away in 1894 and is buried in Putney, London. I have been unable so far to locate Leila’s last resting place.

The whole family seems to have been scattered by the wind and lost.

I’m off to reserve some dinosaur books.¬† And top of my list is Barbara Kerleys Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins…. for my daughter of course ūüėČ

Update 26th October…..¬†¬† I just had to go back and visit those dinosaurs! So spent a lovely day with my whole family wandering round the park ‚ėļ

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A Blank Space.

WP_20140421_005Occasionally on my travels I stumble across (sometimes quite literally) a headstone like this one belonging to Caroline Young.  Caroline has died in  the prime of life and her husband has  purchased a memorial for her and rather thoughtfully left a nice blank space on it for his own name to be added to it when he joins her.

Except his name hasn’t been added to the stone .

The usual reason for this is the surviving spouse has married again and is buried with their second spouse.  I have found a man who married three times,  his first two wives are buried together and he is buried with his third wife.  Not quite sure how those first two dearly departed wives would have felt about that!

Caroline and James were both just 22 when they married in 1843. James seems to have moved into the quiet village with his parents and siblings a couple of years before this.  He worked on the surrounding farmland but in later years he became a Sawyer.  They had five children and if Caroline had lived just a month longer they would have been married for 20 years.

By the time of the 1861 census James and his three youngest children are living alone, the two eldest children have left home and are working away.  Caroline has gone AWOL but I think I may have found her mistranscribed in an infirmary in a nearby Kent town as Catherine instead of Caroline.

If this is our Caroline,¬† I think she must have been fairly unwell to have been admitted into the hospital. Nowadays if we are ill enough to go into hospital we are fortunate to know the standard of care provided and the progress of medicine is such that we will have the best possible treatment, but back in early to mid Victorian England things would have been very different. Usually a patient had to be recommended to the hospital by someone who donated money towards the upkeep of it.¬† Another way of being admitted was to be sent by the local Parish Clark. There were no antibiotics, not much in the way of pain relief and too much in the way of infection. A good outcome to a stay in hospital wasn’t always likely at that time. Patients may also have been required to pay something towards their keep, this may have prevented some people going until they absolutely had to.

Doctors may have been young and inexperienced, they would quite possibly have taken on private paid work to survive as¬† positions at voluntary hospitals were sometimes unpaid. The matron at the hospital Caroline may have been in worked there for almost 30 years and I noticed that after she had left the hospital and returned to her native Devon she was given the occupation of ‘Spinster’ in the 1891 census. Nothing mentioned about a whole working life devoted to caring for the sick and dying.

We know Caroline died in 1862, and I have ordered her death certificate so I can find out what happened to her and where. I will share that information with you when the certificate arrives hopefully next week.

Second marriages could be fairly rapid, sometimes just months after the loss of a spouse. It was most likely necessity –¬† a working man left with several dependent children needed a wife to care for his family. A widow with small children needed a steady income and of course both would want companionship. There was little official help available for bereaved families and the workhouse was a grim prospect.¬† Sometimes potential partners were neighbours or friends.

Another reason for a quick marriage could be where the new wife was a servant already in the household and tongues had begun wagging, especially after the arrival of a new child.

But James didn’t rush into another marriage, he waited 2 years before he married new wife Ann who¬† was a widow. Her husband had died shortly after Caroline in May 1862 and is buried close to her.¬† Ann brought to the marriage her own three children making a new household of 6 children.¬† And a father-in-law as Ann’s elderly father moved in with them. It must have been true love!

James, Ann, some children, a couple of nieces, a grandchild or 2 and a father-in-law moved into town where James opened a Beer Shop. He was fined a shilling for selling beer after hours (maybe he needed the money to support his extended family!)

Ann passed away in August 1888 and James followed her in 1908.  He lived with his widowed daughter Esther and her children  for the rest of his life. He passed away peacefully at home and was buried 4 days after his death.

Ann and James Young


I’ve managed to track down Ann and James’ last resting place, they are buried together in a quiet spot in¬† a cemetery on the outskirts of the town they lived in. Funnily enough if you stand at the edge of the churchyard Caroline is buried in you can see the cemetery where James is in the distance, only trees and fields separating the two.