Fire fire, Fire! Fire!

While searching through old newspapers online in the hope of finding Francis ‘catch me if you can’ Shearley (I didn’t) I noticed an article in The Morning Advertiser in August 1832 informing its readers that it was once again time to vote for the 40 children who would be fortunate to gain a place at the Licensed Victuallers School in Kennington Lane, Lambeth. There was a long list of children’s names, ages, where they lived and a little bit about their family background. I wasn’t sure what it was all about but it sounded interesting so I thought I would see what I could find out.

I began by picking a few of the children in the article to see if I could find out about their lives. Now I could have made this easier on myself by searching later newspapers for children being voted for after 1841, because then I would have perhaps been able to find them together with their families on a census. But oh no, that would be far to simple… and also it didn’t occur to me until afterwards. D’oh.

One of the children on my little list was Jane Gross. Here is her entry in the paper..

Jane Gross, 11. Father dead, Mother in reduced circumstances and has another child to support; number 17 Gibralter Walk.

All the children on the list had lost one or both parents, if a parent was left he or she normally had other children and worked or was in poor or very bad health. Some were blind, others had lost a limb. All were in a bad way financially and unable to support the child they were desperate to get into the school.

So what was the Licensed Victuallers School?

It was a charity set up in 1803, for the benefit of the children of licensed Victuallers, or Inn Keepers, who had been paid subscribers while in business. Should a landlord or his wife find themselves in financial distress – perhaps due to a bereavement – they could place one of the children on the ‘voting’ list and hope they were successful  in gaining a place in the school. Subscribers were allowed a certain amount of votes, depending on how much they paid in per year. Each year about 40 spaces were available for eligible children to fill.

Once in the school they would receive an education and be cared for financially until they were old enough to go to work. They would be trained up in a trade or be taught useful skills that would enable them to be employed in service, maybe as a kitchen maid or gardener. Children that did well at the school would have received a small amount of money to help them on their way when they left. Have a look on websites such as to find out more.

So what had happened to Jane and what became of her?

Jane was born in the spring of 1821, in Bethnal Green London. She was the daughter of Daniel Gross and his wife Elizabeth Bay.  Daniel, the son of a Weaver, had married Elizabeth in August 1811 at St Michaels in Crooked Lane. I wonder if it was?

I have found five children for the couple – Daniel, Mary Ann both born in Bermondsey, Elizabeth, then Jane followed by Amelia who were all born in Bethnal Green on the other-side of the Thames.

Daniel Snr it seems was a Pub Landlord. I found him first at The Green Man in Tooley Street, a few minutes walk from London Bridge Station. But of course that wasn’t there then. In fact the whole area now would be pretty much unrecognisable to Daniel and his family should they have a wander round. Even London Bridge itself has been replaced twice, and the church he married in was pulled down a few years after the happy couple signed the register, to make way for London Bridge MK II in 1831.

By 1818 the Gross family had moved from Bermondsey to Bethnal Green – first to Virginia Row where he again has a pub which may have been the Magpie and Stag, one of several inns in the road but I liked that name best.

While at Virginia Row Daniel was the victim of a crime. Or rather his tiny daughter Amelia was. The little girl (who was just a year old) had been taken out for some air by a neighbour when a man had approached them, and wrenched from Amelia’s neck her beaded necklace, which had been tied on by a ribbon so I am guessing that probably hurt some what. The culprit, 19 year old John Robinson, was caught by quick thinking bystanders and duly sentenced to 14 years transportation. The necklace had been worth 7s. Harsh times.

The family moved again in the late 1820’s, this time to The Fountain in Golden Lane a short distance away. Daniels change of address seemed to give him a change of fortune. He himself begins to appear in the papers.

He was fined 20s in 1829 for serving gin during church service time. Then in December 1830 Daniel was fined 40s for the pub being open between 1 and 2am and having upwards of 25 customers, some of very bad character including a couple of known Resurrection men having a few drinks before wandering off to dig up a body or 2! Daniel responded to this by writing to the Morning Advertiser denying the accusations and also upbraiding the local policeman for refusing to come to his aid when called upon to help empty the pub of a night, telling him ‘He would not come, and I might get them out myself!’.

In October 1831 He was fined 50L for watering down his beer. He said his neighbours sold their beer so cheaply he felt compelled to do the same, but being unable to afford to buy as much beer as them he had to water down his own stock. He had since ‘been obliged to leave his house’ through embarrassment. Presumably they left the pub and moved round the corner to Gibraltar Walk.

This is the last mention of Daniel Gross I have found.

So somewhere between October 1831 and August 1832 Daniel passes away leaving his family in a lot of difficulty. We didn’t leave him in the best of moods so lets hope he didn’t go for a wander along that new London Bridge.

You will be pleased to know that Jane was voted into the School. Mother Elizabeth tried for 3 successive years to get little sister Amelia in too but she doesn’t seem to have made it.

I looked in the 1841 census for Jane, but couldn’t find her. I found her mother living with  children Daniel, Mary Ann and Amelia and also her mother-in-law Ann, still living in Gibraltar Walk. I looked on freebmd for a marriage or death for Jane.

I found her death in September 1840.

I went back to the papers to see if I could find a funeral, an obituary, anything for her. I wasn’t expecting to find anything but I was pleased (odd I know) to find a couple of articles about her.

It seems she was working as a barmaid in the Jacobs Well, in Milton Street not far from her family and lost her life in a fire during the early hours of the 14th of September 1840. Her body and that of the other victim, a lodger, was taken to the Cripplegate ‘bone-house’ before being laid before the jury at the inquest.

At the Coroners Inquest the policeman on duty told the court he had spotted a great fire taking hold at the back of the building. Unable to rouse the inhabitants, he had sent for an ‘engine’, alerted some fellow officers and had then gone back to his station to report the fire. Ladders were not sent for, it was noted, for some time. The Sexton of the local church said that the ladders were not allowed to be taken unless his permission was sought first.

The orders given to police in the case of a fire were read out in court and one particular part criticized by the coroner, that a policeman on duty must not leave his beat unless ordered to by a superior, as ‘depredators’ may take advantage of his absence. This of course left a policeman unable to help save human life. Another point raised was that police and fire brigade did not have access to the keys used to unlock the water pipes, the Churchwardens did.

Only the landlord and the pot boy escaped. The landlord said he had met Jane on the second floor outside her room,and that she had been in such a state he had been obliged to carry her up to the third floor to try to escape. He had then attempted to carry her up a ladder to the roof but some of the rungs had given way and he had dropped her, he thought she had fallen down to the second floor. Unable to descend back through the smoke to find her, he had climbed on to the roof where eventually he was able to climb down a ladder that had eventually been allowed to be used.

After the fire had been put out Jane was found in her room. It seems in her fright the teenager had returned to her bed and hidden under the bed covers and suffocated. she had just a few burns to her feet.

Jane was buried at St Matthews Church in Bethnal Green, where she had been baptised just 19 years before.

Her brother Daniel died in 1854 and her mother in 1858. Mary Ann seems to have ended her days in Bethnal Green Workhouse in 1884. But Amelia, the little girl with the necklace, married, had children and enjoyed a long life dying in 1906 aged 83.






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 😀

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 😉

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 ☺

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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.