Sunday, January 8, 2017

Charlotte: After the Workhouse

Charlotte, effectively homeless after she left the workhouse with Lily Maud, fortunately found herself described as"'respectable and well-disposed" by the midwife who delivered her baby and was recommended as a wet nurse to Mrs Rickett of Benleigh House, Park Hill Road, Croydon.                .

Here she stayed for 12 months, nursing her own Lily Maud and other babies "sent to nurse".  Given bed and board for her time spent there, she fed babes round the clock, on demand and as required.

Until Lily Maud was old enough to be weaned.  This point was reached in late 1882, once Lily had reached the age of 12 months. Charlotte began the process for petitioning the Foundling Hospital for the admission of her baby shortly afterwards as it had been decided that it would be in Lily Maud's best interests to be raised there.

She would have first attended upon the gatekeeper at the entrance to the Foundling Hospital to obtain the form of petition necessary to apply for the admission of a foundling.  This attendance was in itself important; the impression an applicant or a person obtaining a form on their behalf made upon the gatekeeper was noted by him and passed on to those who made the decision to admit or not, as the Foundling Hospital was interested only in mothers who had been "respectable."

"Well dressed man" or "respectable looking woman" were a couple of the descriptions recorded by the gatekeeper in his logbook in respect of those who requested a form of petition.  The judging of respectability started here.

Charlotte returned to the Hospital to partake in an interview with the admission panel towards the end of 1882. "Is this your first child?"  "Where did you make the acquaintance of the father?"  "Where did you reside when you met the father?" "What led to your seduction?" "Was the criminal intercourse repeated?" "Should you be relieved of your child, what do you intend to do to obtain a livelihood?" were the questions she would have been asked by those in authority.

Having obtained a situation with Mrs Webber at The Herne, Beddington Lane, Mitcham, Charlotte perhaps left Lily Maud with her mother Ellen who lived in Islington with her blind street musician husband and their young children during the petitioning process in order to work for her new employer.  

And so Charlotte, "violently seduced" as indicated on her petition and in today's terms "raped," came to undertake the journey many "fallen women" before her had taken - giving up her baby so it could have a better chance in life.  And, if in doing so a relinquishing mother was able to secure a livelihood, she may have a chance at reclaiming her child in the future.

The actual relinquishment was swift.  A small group of mothers with their babies were ushered into a room at the Foundling Hospital.  Several girls in Foundling Hospital uniform entered and took the babies into their arms.  Before the mothers knew it, the girls and babies were gone.

The mothers left with a small piece of paper containing a drawing of a lamb with a sprig of thyme in its mouth, the date on which their child was "received" and an admission number.  No name, not the child's birth name, or the one allocated by the Hospital to the child was indicated.

Charlotte thus left the Hospital with this "note of admission" and a chance to redeem her respectability; her ability to earn a living restored.  She had already set about doing this with her new situation, but soon found herself involved with another man, this time one who was not marriage shy.  She became pregnant in early 1884, wedding the father "William Henry Crust, Painter," on 4 August 1884 at the Church of All Saints, Upper Norwood, Surrey.  Charlotte indicated her father as "John Boyt, Sawyer" on their certificate of marriage, notwithstanding that no man bearing this name existed; she simply wished to obscure her own illegitimate status.

Charlotte Marian, her second daughter was born on 14 December 1884.  William was a widower, with the care of two young sons when he remarried.  The couple and their new baby lived at 3 Byrnes Road, Croydon where William became a casualty of 1880s Britain; unemployed, or at best, sporadically employed.  Charlotte's situation had only marginally improved - she no longer had to live in her employer's house as a servant, with all the accompanying restrictions, but she had less income and the responsibility of caring for two young children as a stepmother in addition to a young baby.  Not an uncommon situation for the time, but one that for her was to lead to unhappy and wretched circumstances.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Charlotte: Before the Workhouse

On 26 February 1857, Ellen Boyt, aged 19, gave birth to a baby girl in the Union Workhouse, Christchurch, Hampshire.  Ellen was illiterate and could not sign her name on the child's birth certificate.  Her mark 'X' appears instead.  No father's name is indicated on the certificate.

Ellen chose the names Charlotte Elizabeth for her baby and they left the workhouse to live in Christchurch with Ellen's parents, John and Mary Boyt.  John and Mary were happy, or at least tolerant, of Ellen and Charlotte living with them, as they remained so for some years.  John died prior to 1861, leaving Mary, a cook and domestic, as head of the household.  Ellen was their eldest child and there were four younger children: David, Hannah, Eliza and Louisa.

By 1861, Ellen was employed as a watch chain maker as was her sister Hannah, aged 19.  David, 22, was a bricklayer's labourer and the younger children, aged nine and 11 scholars.  Charlotte, aged four, also became a scholar, a fact evident as she was able to write sufficiently well to complete the petition for her own illegitimate daughter to be received into the Foundling Hospital in London some twenty years later.

Life in Christchurch was hard, and Ellen and Charlotte, no doubt feeling themselves a burden on their family, left for London in the early 1860s.  Ellen married John Ward, a London blacksmith, in 1864 and set up house with him in Islington.  Charlotte was still living with them at the age of 14, although already employed as a domestic servant.

Several children were born to Ellen and John in the tenement they lived in at 5 ("otherwise No.2") Caroline Court, Islington, a place which appears to have had its origins in the communal construction and courtyard living of medieval London and which would have been reliant upon a central well rather than piped water. The family could not afford to live elsewhere, as by 1871 John was blind, living on charity and an allowance from the Parish.

No doubt this dwelling was overcrowded and Charlotte, as the eldest child, left this wretched home at some stage during the 1870s, eventually becoming a servant to Dr Hardy of Hatton Villas, The Grove, East Dulwich and then to Mrs.McCreagh of Wood Court, near Wallington.  It was during this period that she became acquainted with George Robertson, a bricklayer.

George's mother was frequently employed by Mrs.McCreagh as a charwoman and it was through her that Charlotte met George, who had been working in East Dulwich for about six months.  Shortly after becoming acquainted, they became engaged.  Being unable to find further employment in his trade, he went as gardener to Mr Potter of Waddon, where he remained for about two years.  After this period of work, he appears to have more often than not been out of work than in it, as was commonplace in the early 1880s, when unemployment amongst the working class became prevalent, despite London being the largest and wealthiest city in the world at the time.  It was in fact a time of recession, strikes, riots, increased homelessness and suffering. 

Charlotte formed a good relationship with Mrs.McCreagh, who considered her "respectable" and a good servant and the only point upon which any unpleasantness arose between them was Charlotte's association with George Robertson, as he appears to have been a constant presence at the home.  So taken up with George was Charlotte, that when Mrs.McCreagh removed to 1 St.Paul Villa, New Thornton Heath, Charlotte found the distance too inconvenient for her courtship with George, who lived with his mother at 3 Church Lane, Beddington and left her situation, with Mrs.McCreagh's good wishes.

Mrs.Parrott was Charlotte's next employer, at 2 Clifton Road, Wallington, where Charlotte tended to her needs and those of her husband and eight children.  Mrs.Parrott also took exception to her relationship with George as Charlotte was "very much taken up with him, rather more than she approved of" and she endeavoured to put an end to the engagement. 

Poor Charlotte.  She had found a man she loved, in circumstances where it was very difficult for someone of her station to meet any man apart from those in her household.  Working in a busy home from before sunrise to late at night, with perhaps some time off on a Sunday, gave her limited opportunity to meet men other than those who perhaps made deliveries to her place of work.  And now her employer was trying to put an end to both her relationship and her one opportunity to leave domestic service: marriage.

But Mrs.Parrott failed in her attempts to stymie her employee's amour.  She resigned herself that it was best to accept the inconvenience of having Mr.Robertson constantly about the place and to allow the matter to run its course.  And there was every indication that this would be to the altar, as there was no doubt there was an honourable engagement between the couple.

But events took a turn for the worse; one night, when Charlotte and George were out walking, probably one of the few ways they could manage to spend time alone together, he "violently seduced" her.

She told no one of this incident, it was not repeated and, when it was clear that she was carrying a child, she still did not disclose it until she was no longer able to disguise the fact of her pregnancy.  Mrs.Parrott kept her on as long as she could, before Charlotte entered Croydon Workhouse Infirmary to be confined.

George, once informed of Charlotte's condition, initially admitted paternity but later denied he was the father of the child.  He scarpered to Yorkshire, never to be heard of again.

So Charlotte entered the workhouse alone.  Her hopes of a happy marriage and family life dashed, her mother and stepfather unable to assist her, her only thought was to have her child in the safest environment available to a woman of no means.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Oh! To be a Servant!

On reading recently that deployment of 'concierges' is on the rise in the corporate world and that people in full time work too busy to perform their own errands are outsourcing these tasks via, I could not help wondering if we were perhaps reprising the situation of previous era where the rich delegated their menial tasks to those born into the working class - those who were destined to obtain employment with the rich in "situations" where they worked for life in domestic service as unskilled or semi-skilled servants.

The only difference between a 'service provider' in the nineteenth century and today is that the provider lives in their own home, not cheek by jowl with other servants in cramped quarters under their employer's roof, where they were always at the mercy of their master or mistress's demands.

Today's service provider is usually self-employed and living in their own home, but relies on a well-off person with a need to pay them for a one-off service.  Servants of yore at least had security in the knowledge that they would be paid wages and did not have to pay rent.  All was well, unless they incurred their employer's displeasure and were dismissed without a 'character' - the vital reference they needed to gain a 'situation' with another household.

The role of a female servant in the Victorian era was potentially one for life from which a woman could escape only if she married or emigrated to Australia or the United States, where better working conditions and an improved life could be obtained.  The 1901 census counted 1,330,783 female domestic indoor servants and probably one in three Victorian era women served as "domestics" at some point in their lives, usually between the ages of 15 and 25.  The work was demanding, the hours long and irregular and the segrated life often very lonely.*

In the early 19th century, servants were given no regular time off, and had to ask pernmission for even short periods of personal time, which was typically frowned upon by their employers.  By the 1880s, servants had gained a half-day off on Sundays, starting after lunch (but only after all their chores were completed) and were generally given one day off per month, starting after breakfast.

By about 1900, many servants could expect an evening off each week, but this concession was only usually available in households with more than one servant so one was still available to attend to their employer.

In short, those in domestic service were at the beck and call of those in positions of wealth, as were the other dominant type of worker of the time - the itinerant, those who shined shoes, played music on the street, were labourers or skilled tradesmen. All were self-employed and reliant on casual work to be given to them by those who had deeper pockets.

Today, there is a new pool of servants for those who are time-poor but flush with cash can call upon; the migrant from a poor country or asylum seeker fleeing persecution from within their native land or those who have suffered retrenchment or who are simply unable to find regular employment for a variety of reasons.  Servants are alive and well in the modern era and just as subject to exploitation, under-payment and irregular hours as their predecessors. Modern laws protecting their rights are more plentiful, but it takes a brave person to enforce those rights, as doing so requires time, resilience and financial resources, all in short supply when you have to keep working in the only employment you can obtain in order to simply keep body and soul together.

But, as we all know, under the glittering surface of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras where master/mistress and servant all knew their place, things were not all well.  Poverty was growing and social tensiona were rising. Entrenched class inequality gave rise to working men striking for rights.  Today, it may well be that history is repeating itself, with an increasingly casualised workforce and chief executives earning salaries many times those of the average worker.  Are the living standards of the majority being sacrificed perhaps to protect those of the privileged and powerful few?  Economic growth is benefitting some, but not all.   And has social mobility slowed to the pace it was prior to the game changer that was World War I?

How Our Ancestors Lived David Hey, Public Record Office (UK) 2002 pp108-9

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ellen & Her Islington Blacksmith

In 1864 Ellen Boyt, 26, of Christchurch, Hampshire married John Ward of Islington, London, a blacksmith.  He, Ellen and her illegitimate daughter Charlotte set up house in Islington.

Ellen had been a single parent in Christchurch, living with Charlotte and her impoverished family. She managed to eke out a living as a watch chain maker, the most common occupation for a young woman in that part of the world.  She and Charlotte however decided to join the diaspora of regional working class women who moved to London in search of a better life.

With no other skills apart from domestic ones, and not being able to read or write, Ellen became a needlewoman.  By 1871 she and John had two children of their own, Alice aged 5 and Ellen, aged 10 months.  Charlotte, now aged 14, still lived with them, although employed as a domestic servant.

But John was no longer a blacksmith.  He was blind, living on charity and an allowance from the parish. The address given in the 1871 census for the family states, "5 (otherwise No.2) Caroline Court, Islington."

"Courts" at this time were where the impoverished lived.  They had their roots in the courtyard construction and communal way of living of medieval London.  But by the time Ellen, John and their family came to live in this style of housing, courts were narrow, dead end streets of small terrace houses where many people shared each dwelling.  Lacking piped water, the houses in Caroline Court would have been reliant upon a communal well and pump on the street. These became increasingly polluted over time, promoting the spread of waterborne diseases.  That the Ward family lived in one of these houses attests to their straitened circumstances.  In spite of severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, it was not until 1936 that Caroline Court and the adjacent Hope Place were finally designated as a slum clearance area and demolished.

In 1881, John ceased to be dependent upon the parish.  His occupation was now "seller of music in street".  As such, he would sing (or shout) ballads down the street until a crowd was drawn.  He would not expect to be paid for his voice, but instead would sell copies of his songs for a halfpenny a sheet.  He and Ellen, together with their six children were now living at 1 Paradise Court, Islington.  By 1891 John had become a "street musician" with five of his children living at home with him, including Ellen, a glass bottle stop maker and Rhoda, a trim bead worker.  Still resident in Paradise Court, they now lived at number 4.

John, a fiddler in his occupation as street musician, had stiff competition as such, as the streets of London had for many a year hosted an unco-ordinated, discordant symphony of sounds made by street vendors, beggars and various types of musicians and singers.  Horses' hooves clattered over cobblestones, cab drivers shouted to each other as they passed, whole brass bands played on the street, drunken patrons tumbled out of pub doors, yelling all the while.  Paper boys shouted out the news and costermongers advertised their wares at the tops of their voices.  Not to mention dustmen going about their work and the children who danced and sang along with the organ grinders or laughed at Punch and Judy shows.  London's streets played host to a never ending din and cacophony of noises, day and night. It was no wonder John did not earn sufficient money to pay rent on a more desirable residence; just getting his tunes heard on the street would have been no mean feat.  There were also many other street musicians about: Hector Berlioz, the French Romantic composer after visiting London in the mid-nineteenth century wrote that "no city in the world" was so consumed by music.  He noted barrel-organists, barrel-pianists, bagpipers and drummers who filled the streets.  And once one of these musicians stood on a corner and started up a tune, girls who may be walking past and children sitting in the gutter "begin to foot it merrily."*  Some men would also join in, usually two together, while an appreciative crowd watched the dancing.

Ellen's tale is one of desperate poverty and a hard life lived in difficult circumstances.  Yet, she and John appear to have lived a happy and for the times, long life together.  Raising a large family with scant money, they appear to have given them a stable home.  Part of a community, they remained living in the same suburb for many a year.  Even when John lost his sight and ability to work as a blacksmith they accepted their plight and adjusted to their lot, their children growing to adulthood and eventually raising families of their own.

The writer is a descendant of Ellen and Charlotte Boyt.

*Charles Booth, in his survey of the East End
Reference: London: The Biography Peter Ackroyd Anchor Books 2000

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mekons, the Edwardian Era & Today

In the spirit that fuelled the beginning of the punk era in the mid 1970s, long running post-punk band Mekons produced an album in 2011 entitled Ancient & Modern 1911 - 2011 drawing on their take on current times. They contend that history is repeating itself and compare what is happening in the world now to the Edwardian era, that 'golden afternoon' before World War I, when things changed forever.

Beginning in England in 1976 as a punk band, Mekons became one of the most prolific of the first-wave British punk rock bands. It still has most of its original line-up today.  The late Lester Bangs described its members as "the most revolutionary group in the history of rock 'n' roll" and their style has evolved over the years to incorporate country music, folk, alternative rock and cow punk.  Galvanised by political events, such as the British miners strike in 1984, they are still not hesitant in commenting on contemporary times and events.

Inspired by similarities between the political landscape of the Edwardian era with that of today, the Mekons see a contemporary complacency that was all too present in English society during the period before the first World War.  The ruling class was not in touch with the lives led by the majority of people in Britain; there was a significant gap between the affluent and the poor and a smugness in the upper class about its position.  Imperialism reigned and those in power were blind to the needs of the common people, preferring to indulge in house parties, taking tea and maintaining a genteel façade at all times. 

The title song Ancient & Modern is an elegant track reflecting this view and conjures up images of men in pith helmets at the helm of an empire which to them, was civilised and successful.  Much like the Victorian era, however, there was a grimy underside to the wealth and propriety displayed by those in positions of power; the underclasses toiled incessantly to support and maintain a way of life that was becoming increasingly unsustainable due to its demands and pressures.  The poor were becoming restless and resentful of their position on the bottom rung of society and by 1914, workers were holding strikes in an attempt to obtain rights for working long hours at arduous jobs which paid little.

All this flew in the face of the monied classes who lived in a cosy world where they played cricket on the village green, punted down the river in striped blazers and boaters, rode off with the hounds and had wives and mistresses while engaging in community singing and lavish picnics. Undercurrents in the form of mysticism, secret societies, radical modern art, Freud, dangerous poetry, anarchists, bombings, British concentration camps and suffragettes were gathering and eventually overpowered the old, complacent order of things.

Was all that really just over a hundred years ago?  Maybe we should take a look at the world today and address the imbalances present in our own society before our own Sarajevo pistol crack jolts us out of our comfortable recliners and changes our way of living forever.

Geeshi, a rather mournful track, encapsulates the regret and difficulty those basking in the 'golden afternoon' sun were experiencing in adjusting to the great changes being wrought behind the scenes: Raise a glass of wine and try to still time, it says, in an attempt to halt unwanted changes.

But the rumblings of change were just out of view and kept that way, by a lot of the Edwardians. Night and day there was trouble that the eye could almost see/In the valleys that lay open/In the papers now recovered sing Mekons in their track Warm Summer Sun. So comfortable and apparently secure were the lives of the wealthy and privileged, they did not want to believe anything could possibly up-end them.

But up-ended they were.  While the ruling classes weren't looking, reality took control and the old order of things died off at an alarmingly quick rate.  Irrevocable change, and not just in the form of World War I, was forced upon them.

Parallels can be drawn with the worldwide situation prevailing today; human rights abuses still occur, along with economic inequality, regressive policies are being put into place by leaders not listening to the voices of their communities.  There's a lot to learn from the Edwardians and Mekons have homed in on a period of history which should be resonating with those in positions of power today. Their fittingly elegant sounding album should be compulsory listening.

Many today would do well to heed the lyrics of Honey Bear: The further your story is from the truth, the more you need propaganda as politicians use the media prolifically to propound their view of what the populace needs.  The same rhetoric that bred resentment just over a hundred years ago is being broadcast today and history will only repeat if those in power do not take heed of what went before.

The Edwardian era was synonymous with glamour, indulgence and extravagance.  It officially came to an end at the beginning of World War I although its vestiges limped on until about 1920.  The new millennium, with its monetary and intellectual wealth is busy tackling new trends in technology, inequality in terms of wealth and gender together with a growing awareness of damage to the world's ecology, but change is happening only slowly.  Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ellen: An Act of Bastardy

Christchurch, Hampshire in the mid-nineteenth century was an impoverished place, a market town whose inhabitants, living largely in small, rented, mud-walled cottages in streets known as Pit or Rotten Row, eked out a meagre living.  The location, although on the coast, was a remote one and the most common ways of making a living were through shepherding, fishing, as a tradesman or labouring on a farm. But, these occupations paid hardly enough to allow a worker to support a family, so most inhabitants became regular participants in the illicit trade of smuggling.  This last occupation was enabled by the town's proximity to the English Channel and the heathland surrounding it, where contraband was stowed pending the times when detection by customs officers was least likely.  Similarly, it was enabled when a flock of sheep crowding a road delayed the passage of those same officers in pursuit of a wagon containing rum, tobacco and silk.

The townspeople had taken to smuggling as a strategy to survive in a harsh and ungiving environment.  It seems they were always alive to new ways in which to make a living and when a new manufacturing industry set up shop in Christchurch, it was embraced enthusiastically by its inhabitants

This was the fusee watch chain industry.  Commencing in Christchurch in the late eighteenth century, it required nimble fingers and accurate eyesight to rivet its tiny chain links together to produce a chain as fine as horsehair.  Young girls gained employment making these chains from the age of 8, in the local factory or working from home, often at a specially extended window sill at the front of their houses, to catch the best light.  Families encouraged their young to become watch chain makers; their wages were a valuable addition to family income, and often meant the difference between paying the rent or not. 

As a source of work, watch chain making was thus a godsend to the average Christchurch family.  Previously, occupations open to its female inhabitants had been flax spinning, knitting silk stockings and plaiting straw for hats; watch chain making was able to be performed by children who were going to school as they could perform it at home on a part time basis.  The local workhouses provided some of the child labour employed by the manufacturers, but many of its employees lived at home with their families where the breadwinner had an ill-paid or seasonal occupation.  It was ill paid work itself; even by the 1890s the most a worker could expect to receive was only 8s 6 d per week.*

The industry flourished in the early part of the nineteenth and continued until 1899, when Hart's Fusee Factory was closed and the one remaining watch chain maker, Rose Drover, became a nursemaid. The industry declined slowly; my great-great aunt Louisa Boyt, born in 1853 and a watch chain factory employee from an early age, only ceased work as such during the 1890s. 

With meagre earnings and little to occupy themselves other than a Nonconformist Chapel, the townspeople of Christchurch were a rowdy lot in general.  They drank, swore and regularly got into fights with each other, even (or especially) the womenfolk who often assaulted each other when drunk.  Apart from twice-yearly fairs, the main form of entertainment for Christchurch's population was frequenting the taverns and ale houses present in every street, lane and alley of the town.  Petty Sessions records show repeat offenders, such as a woman called Keturah Jeffrey who was found guilty of assaulting a 20 year old woman known as Love Ward outside an ale house where she and her friend Ionida had been watching a Mummers^ play in 1853:
 After the Mummers had done...We left...As we were going out Jeffrey struck me on the side of  my face and pulled the crown of my bonnet out, took my apron away and kept it.  Threw me over in the road, tore the tail of my dress from my body...a young man named Duffett came out of the Halfway House, picked up my things for me...She had a baby on her left arm all the time.

Shrove Tuesday was a particular source of rowdiness, when a rabble regularly assembled and threw brickbats, potsherds, glass bottles and other dangerous missiles at the doors of the town's inhabitants.  Guy Fawkes Night saw similar behaviour and the Magistrates Court records are full of public order offences as well as those relating to the desertion of families, along with another offence known as bastardy, the act of giving birth to an illegitimate child, and as such, levelled only at women.

Bastardy usually came to the attention of the relevant authorities by the admission of a pregnant, unmarried woman to the local workhouse, there being no hospitals available at this time. The unfortunate woman was questioned by the court as to the identity of the father of her child, who was then pursued by the parish for maintenance for his 'bastard'.

And so it was that Ellen Boyt, unmarried, aged 19 of Christchurch, Hampshire, watch chain maker, was charged with an act of bastardy (or 'misconduct') in 1857.  She had given birth to a baby girl she named Charlotte on 26 February of that year in the Christchurch Workhouse before going back to the house of her parents to live with the baby. She could not write her name as she signed her daughter's birth certificate with an 'X.'  As Ellen was unmarried, the baby's surname was recorded as "Boyt."

It may have been that Ellen's baby was conceived at the May Fair held in Christchurch.  It appears this sort of thing mainly went on in the warmer months, or in stables, when the woman concerned was a single one and did not have access to a marriage bed.  One said her 'connection' happened in this way throughout August, "generally in the afternoon."

The father of Ellen's baby was not forced into a shotgun wedding organised by the parish, as had been the case in the previous century when the father of a bastard was taken into custody and guarded while a marriage licence was purchased for the mother of his child and a parson paid to perform their marriage.  Ellen stayed living with her poor, but generous parents and younger siblings as well as her baby in the down-at-heel location of Purewell for the next few years, apparently having no continuing relationship with the child's father.  If he was a typical Christchurch man, and Ellen told Charlotte he was a 'sawyer', he would have had little money to give to her for their baby's upkeep.

'Connections' were always liable to take place.  Young men who were apprentices were not allowed to marry until they were 21.  It appears the fathers of bastards were not all callous or irresponsible; they were simply hamstrung by the laws of the time. 

But Ellen's sawyer did not come to her rescue.  She was to remain living with her family and working as a watch chain maker until she left Christchurch for London with her daughter some time between 1861 and 1863.  It was to Islington, in north London that she fetched up, perhaps unsurprisingly, as Islington is adjacent to Clerkenwell, a long established watch making location where the 1861 census recorded 877 manufacturers of clocks and watches.  Her migration was no doubt based on economics; she and Charlotte must have been a burden to the family, her father having died prior to the 1861 census.  There were four younger children still living at home and her mother was working as a cook and domestic in 1861.  Although Louisa and Eliza, the two youngest children aged 9 and 11 were 'scholars', it is likely they too worked as watch chain makers when not at school.

By 1871, Eliza and Louisa, their mother having died, were still living in Purewell as boarders with the Rose family.  Hannah and David, their older sister and brother, a watch chain maker and bricklayer respectively in 1861, no longer lived in Christchurch.  Hannah, and later Eliza, may have moved to Bournemouth, only five miles from Christchurch which, with its newly built hotels and villas, gave opportunities for employment to former chain makers as servants and chambermaids.  Ellen and Charlotte clearly felt themselves to be a burden on their family, but Ellen may also have felt there was little future for Charlotte as a watch chain maker, with its low pay and the fact the work was becoming increasingly less available.  In any event, Charlotte went to school; she was eventually able to write reasonably well and as a member of the poorer classes, Ellen may have reasoned that employment as a servant would always be available to her and more available in London, with its growing upper middle class.

And so Ellen and Charlotte joined the mid-19th century exodus of poor, working class women from country England to its capital to try their luck in that teeming metropolis where the streets, if not paved with gold, held better paid opportunities for willing workers than watch chain making in the impoverished, crowded, hand-to-mouth melee that was Christchurch.

Reference: The Christchurch Fusee Chain Gang Sue Newman, Amberley 2010
*The Christchurch Fusee Chain Gang, page 69
^Mummers were troupes of actors who performed seasonal folk plays.  These plays often contained plots based on the underlying themes of duality and resurrection.  A battle, representing good against evil, often took place between two or more characters. Main characters included a Hero, his chief opponent, a Fool and a quack Doctor.  Either the Hero or his opponent (generally the Turkish Knight in southern England) are killed during their battle and the Doctor restores the dead man to life, with  much conjecture from minor characters, such Little Devil Doubt and Robin Hood along the way.

The writer is the great granddaughter of Charlotte Boyt.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Tell Your Mother Holborn's Still There!"

"Tell your mother Holborn's still there!" is the postscript to a letter sent in 1950 from London to my mother by Vic, an English friend.  He had worked with her and become acquainted with my grandmother Lily, a former Londoner, during his time living in Australia.

Holborn is adjacent to what is now Coram's Fields, which stand on what was the forecourt of the St.Pancras Foundling Hospital.  If you walk through the remains of the Hospital's gatehouse at the southern end, you enter into Lamb's Conduit Street, Holborn.  It seems my grandmother Lily ventured in this direction during her childhood at the Hospital, rather than into the adjacent Bloomsbury, before she finally left the area in 1897 to go into domestic service in another part of London. 

I imagine my grandmother and the other children of the Foundling Hospital walking in about 1890 in a crocodile through its gate and down Lambs Conduit Street into the rest of Holborn.  Perhaps they were on their way to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they could run and play freely, or maybe they walked further south, to Victoria Embankment, from where they could see the Thames.

Many of the buildings in Holborn today were built after the end of the nineteenth century, including Holborn Tube Station, which dates from 1906.  The old Edwardian Holborn is found today near Grape Street and the more modern one near the Kingsway.  Lambs Conduit Street, at the time of my visit in 2013, was a pleasant, pedestrianised thoroughfare full of boutiques, cafes and shops and the admirable People's Supermarket.  It has been a local high street since before 1817, when 78 of its houses were occupied by retailers selling everything from cakes and medicines to toys and books. 

Plenty of wares were no doubt available for sale in the street at the end of the nineteenth century, perhaps encouraging Lily to develop her habit of acquiring china, glassware, silverware, hats and jewellery.  She set great store by having goods of quality throughout her life.

On the left, as the foundlings walk down Lambs Conduit Street from the gatehouse, they pass The Lamb, now a Grade II listed Victorian pub, at number 94.  Another Victorian pub, The Perseverance, is at number 63.  Twenty-two inns or taverns were recorded in Holborn in the 1860s, so it seems unavoidable that the foundlings would see these establishments and hear sounds of carousing and merriment from within as they passed by.
Lambs Conduit Street runs into Red Lion Street from which Lambs Conduit Passage will take the foundlings into Red Lion Square, after they walk past two more pubs: The Enterprise at 38 Red Lion Street and The Dolphin, dating from the 18th century, on the north eastern corner of the Passage and Red Lion Street.  The foundlings, as they pass through the square, will notice numbers 14 - 17, still in existence today, which date from 1684 when they were built by speculative builder Nicholas Barbon, as well as other dilapidated houses dating from the 17th century.  Number 17 was briefly the residence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter and he recommended the premises, despite their dampness and decrepitude, to William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in the 1850s.  Later, in 1861, Morris set up the first headquarters of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co at 8 Red Lion Square to produce designs of furniture and furnishings using traditional craft methods, leading to the movement which became the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The company moved to Queen Square, situated in Bloomsbury to the north, in 1881.

From Red Lion Square, the foundlings walk down Gloucester Street, across High Holborn and into Little Turnstile which connects with Gate Street before they reach Lincoln's Inn Fields.  Just before Little Turnstile, the foundlings will see the Royal Music Hall on High Holborn, also known as the Holborn Music Hall and originally a Noncomformist chapel.  Walter Besant says in Holborn & Bloomsbury, published 1903, that: "After 1840 it became a hall with lectures being given by free thinkers before being adapted to its present purpose in 1857."

At number 4 Gate Street the foundlings glance at the buildings known as Newton's Buildings, reputedly built in about 1658.  They may also stray into Little Queen Street, which was cleared to make way for the construction of Kingsway in 1900.  Larger streets, such as Great Queen Street, survived.  It housed the Novelty Theatre which hosted the London premiere of A Doll's House in 1889, finally closing in 1941.  At number 12 Gate Street, the Ship Tavern, established 1549, could be seen in an incarnation closer to its original from than the one on view today.  I'm sure some curious foundlings succeeded in straying from the eyes of their masters and mistresses to get a closer look at the commercial establishments in Holborn while they were on rare excursions from the Hospital.

Slightly further west, if the foundlings cross what is now Kingsway and continue down High Holborn, they will come to a shop on the corner of Newton Street, otherwise known as 207 High Holborn.  It's currently a Cards Galore shop, but during its history has been a pawnbroker, jewellery or antique shop after starting life in about 1834 as a tobacconist.  By the 1880s, a jeweller by the name of Charles Shapland had taken over and ran it with a partner named Cloud as a clockmaking and pawnbroking business specialising in old jewels. Today, the shop still has its wooden frontage with wrought iron cresting, popular during the late nineteenth century.  The foundlings would have been wide-eyed had they been able to view the contents of its windows, their experience of the luxuries within so limited as to be non-existent.

If the foundlings are walking directly to Victoria Embankment, after passing Lincoln's Inn Fields, they will come upon 13-14 Portsmouth Street, the home of the Old Curiosity Shop, a building which has existed as a shop since it was built in the 16th century.  A dairy during the 17th century, it is reputedly the oldest surviving shop in Britain and immortalised by Charles Dickens in his novel of the same name, although the shop on which his book is based was actually nearer to Leicester Square. 

Strangely enough, there is an Australian connection to the Old Curiosity Shop, through the Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn's four-times-great grandfather Andrew Tempany, a theatrical entrepreneur and actor.  He leased the premises in 1859 as well those next door at 15-16 Portsmouth Street, where he set up house.  By 1862, when he is recorded as being of 3 Little Wild Street in the Drury Lane area of Holborn, he was bankrupt and had been sent to a debtor's prison.  Upon release, he worked as a clerk before being admitted to the Holborn Union Workhouse where he died in 1876.  His daughter Elizabeth emigrated to Australia in 1863 aged 21 and gave birth there to Ben's great great grandmother.  Andrew's son William had previously been transported to the colony for horse stealing - an act most likely precipitated by his mother Honor's death in 1849 during London's cholera epidemic.  She left four young children and their father struggled to keep them fed and clothed; his theatrical and thespian endeavours failed, leading him to describe himself as an 'accountant' in the 1861 census, though his original occupation was that of "paint-stainer."  Charles Dickens himself could not have imagined a more Dickensian character.

The foundlings, if they look to their right as they pass through Lincoln's Inn Fields, could not help but notice the area known as Clare Market which spread through a maze of narrow interconnecting streets.  The market sold mostly meat, as well as fish and vegetables.  Not affected by the Great Fire of London, decrepit Elizabethan buildings survived until 1900, when the area, by then a slum, was demolished to create Kingsway.  By 1878 though, Walter Besant reports "a mission chapel had been established at its centre, together with schools and other benevolent and charitable institutions, such as a soup kitchen, a home for needlewomen and a workingmen's club had also gradually grouped."

This area had always been a busy, bustling thoroughfare, even in 1720 when Little Queen Street was described by the map maker Strype as being "a place pestered with coaches."  By the time of Walter Besant's investigations, it had "the heavy traffic of the King's Cross omnibus passing through it."

Besant describes the Holborn Restaurant which formed part of one side of Little Queen Street as "a very gorgeous place and within is a very palace of modern luxury.  It stands on the site formerly occupied by the Holborn Casino or Dancing Saloon."  The foundlings must have gazed in wonder at such a luxurious temple of the upper class, or palace of racy entertainment as it was in its earlier incarnation.

If the foundlings continue walking down Little Queen Street, through Clare Market and onto Great Queen Street, past Great Wild Street, past the "Artizans Dwellings" indicated on Walter Besant's 1903 map and then go beyond Drury Lane, they will reach Covent Garden.  Bounded on the east by Drury Lane and Long Acre to the north, the Royal Opera House is just south of Long Acre.  The neo-classical market building designed by Charles Fowler in 1830 is the one still in existence today as Covent Garden Market, so if any of the foundlings manage to sneak away from their crocodile, they will gasp in awe at this magnificent glass roofed building and the abundance of goods and wares available for sale therein.

If, instead of going down Lambs Conduit Passage to Red Lion Square, the foundlings continue walking down Red Lion Street and then turn left on Theobalds Road, they will come to Gray's Inn Gardens, another open space where they can run freely and admire the cherry, birch and elm trees and 19th century buildings which still surround this garden square.  The square was the place in the early 19th century where the poet Shelley, severely in debt, used to meet his future wife Mary Godwin on Sundays, the only day of the week when debtors could not be arrested.

Should the foundlings venture down Gray's Inn Lane (now Gray's Inn Road) and into Little Gray's Inn Lane (now Mount Pleasant) they will be confronted by the Holborn Union Workhouse.  Foundling Hospital officials could well have pointed out the grim façade of this building to the foundlings as a place where they would end up should they not apply themselves diligently in the apprenticeships they will enter upon leaving the Hospital.  Some buildings of the Holborn Union Workhouse remain today behind the gates of a plumbing company on Gray's Inn Road and in the back streets behind Mount Pleasant, there is an L-shaped building several storeys high with large Victorian warehouse style windows which housed the Casual Wards of the workhouse.

A little further along from Gray's Inn Lane, if the foundlings turn into High Holborn and continue to Holborn Circus, they will come upon the quiet, mysterious cul de sac known as Ely Place, the former residence of the Bishops of Ely and which houses the magnificent St Etheldreda Chapel, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Britain. 

The gardens of St Etheldreda were said to produce the finest strawberries in London and a Strawberry Fayre was held there every June.  By Charles Dickens's time, the fields of saffron which had surrounded Ely Place had given way to slum areas and it was to the street called Saffron Hill that Dickens had the Artful Dodger take Oliver Twist.  The infamous Fagin's den and Thieves' Kitchen were nearby.  I wonder if any plucky foundlings managed to attend a strawberry fair in Ely Place, as it's not certain the Hospital would have allowed them such frivolous activity.

More likely than not, though, the foundlings would have marched in their crocodile towards Victoria Embankment and its gardens, created in 1874.  In summer, these gardens are open until 9.30 pm, Victoria Embankment having been lit by either electricity or gaslight since 1878.

It is here the foundlings are able to run, play games, cartwheel and be free of their daily routine for at least a few hours.  So many sights and sounds have they seen on their path to this destination, they have had a truly memorable journey through the diverse and fascinating place that was Holborn in the 1880s and 1890s.

Holborn & Bloomsbury (1903) Walter Besant.  Available from Project Gutenberg
Who Do You Think You Are? SBS Australia, Episode 3, Season 2, 17 January 2012
Neighbourhood Watch: Article by Josh Sims, Evening Standard, 18 October 2013

Pictured: The front door of The Lamb: 94 Lambs Conduit Street, Holborn