One of the saddest memorial cards I have researched in the past few years is the one of Stephenson Smith. Stephenson as born in 1855 in Tooting, which was then in the county of Surrey. His parents were William and Sarah Smith. William was an omnibus proprietor and the family lived in the High Street in Tooting. He had one brother and three sisters and for the 1860s and 1870s the family appeared to live a reasonably stable upper working class life. On the 1871 census Stephenson and his brother Robert had joined the family business, Robert was an omnibus conductor and Stephenson was a fly driver. In the 1870s a photographer John Thompson captured working class London life in a wonderful set of photos and one of his photos was of "Cast Iron Billy" a London omnibus driver photographed with his conductor in 1877. It gives a real feel of what life would have been like for the Smith family at that time.
By the 1881 census, following the death of their parents Robert and Stephenson had inherited the family business and continued to trade from Tooting High Street. Then early in 1883 a tragedy struck which would devastate the family. I managed to piece together the circumstances of Stephenson's death from the records of Bethlem Hospital. Apparently he had fallen from a horse a short time previously, sustaining an injury to his head and then developed "mania". His brother and friends tried to look after him and for five days tried to keep the problem hidden but he had managed to escape from them and run out into the street in his night clothes while they were in another room. He was taken and admitted to Bethlem Hospital in St George's Fields in Southwark. A mental hospital with a terrible reputation, it was the outcome his brother and friends had been trying to avoid. On arrival to the hospital on the 7th April 1883 he was violent and spitting at the attendants, behaviour completely out of character. The tragedy is that if a similar head injury happened today, Stephenson's behaviour would be a recognised symptom, but in 1883 he was restrained and no doubt was not eating and drinking. On the 17th April, despite his brother and friends being in constant attendance, his condition deteriorated and in his weakened state died.
Stephenson was buried in Tooting on the 22nd April 1883. It took three years for probate to be granted, as it appears Stephenson hadn't written a will. His occupation was listed as Coach Proprietor, Draper and Furniture Dealer of High Street Tooting. As a fit young man of only 27 years old probably death had not crossed his mind. His brother Robert, as his next of kin, inherited £743.
His memorial card hints at the heartache of his family and friends:
We weep with grief, that one so dear,
No more shall share our smiles or tears,
We weep for joy that God has given,
The hope that we may meet in heaven.
London, Bethlem Hospital Patient Admission Registers and Casebooks 1683-1932 can be searched here
When I was writing a book on the history of Ashtead 20 years ago I was lucky enough to be loaned a Victorian photo album by the then owner of Ashtead House in Surrey. The album was from the Denshire Family who lived there in the 1800s and with the album were details about the family.
This photo of Ashtead House, which stands in Farm Lane was taken c.1865. Nathanial Smith who had made his fortune in India moved to Ashtead House around 1790 with his wife Hester. He had the house substantially rebuilt around 1800. Their three surviving daughters, who lived in the house with them, remained unmarried. This was believed to be due to opposition from their mother, despite their being suitable suitors. George, their second son married a beautiful young woman called Sarah Hardman who again was not accepted by Hester. The marriage ended in disaster, Sarah leaving George with five young children, who were brought up by his mother and sisters at Ashtead House. The couple's eldest son, also called Nathaniel, married and had two children. Elizabeth, their daughter married Charles Denshire in 1841, sadly to be widowed 12 years later. In 1859 Elizabeth married the widower The Revd William Denshire, her late husband's cousin and with the marriage came eight step children six girls and two boys. The family are pictured below outside Ashtead House in 1861.
The Denshire Family From Left To Right : Elizabeth, Hester (Age 9), Isabella (Age 13), Mrs Smith (Elizabeth's mother), Emma (Age 15), Selina (Age 11), Miss King (the governess), Mary (Age 8).
Isabella was the first of the Denshire daughters to marry. She married Henry Bailey on the 8th Nov 1870. On the day of the wedding Miss Denshire arranged for St Giles School in Ashtead to be closed and the infant children to throw rose petals at the ceremony.
On the 24th July 1872, Selina Denshire married Charles Wilde pictured below under what was reputed to be the largest tulip tree in England which stands in the grounds of Ashtead House. Her brother William Denshire, aged 18, is standing on the left. The remaining Denshire daughters, except Emma, had all married by 1889. Emma Denshire, the eldest daughter was considered to be the most beautiful of the sisters, but it was said she was jilted and after that remained unmarried, inheriting Ashtead House on her step-mothers death and living there until 1939 when she died in her 92nd year. Emma is buried in St Giles churchyard Ashtead.
A very interesting photo I have in my collection is one which has been posted as a postcard and has a message on the back. It is of a couple with a little girl outside their house. I love it much more than any studio shot as somehow their personalities are in the photo. When whoever took this photo asked them to pose, the mother and daughter chose to proudly stand with their bikes. Both of them wearing their outside clothes before setting off on a ride. I'm amazed at how they chose to dress for a bike ride in those days. What would they make of all the lycra and helmets worn by cyclists today I wonder.
Lewis Blanche And Elise Crump Outside
The postcard was sent in 1903 to an address in Cardiff and the message was signed Lewis and Blanche Crump. I managed to find them quite easily with such unusual names. Lewis Crump was born on the 2nd Oct 1862 in Dudley, Worcestershire. In 1892 he married Blanche Sidney Oram in Birmingham and they had one daughter Elsie Kate born 1893. On the 1911 census the family lived at "Pendennis" 65 Oval Rd, Gravelly Hill Warwickshire. If you look closely on the photo you can see the name "Pendennis" on the wall above the front door. It was also recorded that Lewis and Blanche had one daughter Elsie and no children had died.
The postcard message is quite cryptic. Posted to a Mr Maton, Langland House, Oakfield Street, Roath, Cardiff. It read : Dr Mr Maton, Many thanks for the interesting communication. We both join in hearty congratulations & trust the progress will be maintained. Very Kindest Regards from Lewis & Blanche Crump.
By the late 1920s a strange thing happened to the records. On the electoral register Elsie is no longer living with Lewis and Blanche but a woman called Daphne Queenie Crump. I presumed Elsie had left home to get married, although I couldn't find a marriage record for her, and another female relative had moved in but it became even more confusing in 1931 when Elsie appeared on the register too.
Lewis Crump died on 16 April 1936 when he was 73 years old in Bournemouth. After this the mystery deepens. On the 1939 register Blanche now registered as a widow is living with Daphne Queenie who's date of birth is the same as Elsie's in 1893 and she is listed as daughter. There seem to be only two possibilities, either Elsie changed her name to Daphne Queenie or the couple adopted another daughter who coincidentally was born in the same month and year as Elsie. Blanche died on the 28th September 1953 and the sole beneficiary of her will was Daphne Crump, spinster. Daphne died in Bournemouth in 1976 and appeared not to leave a will as a notice was posted in the London Gazette asking for people who may have a claim on her estate to contact the bank. I can not know for sure if little Elsie in the photo changed her name to Daphne Queenie and if she did what was the reason, but it makes me realise, the more research I do there are mysteries in every family.
The house at 65 Oval Rd, Gravelly Hill still stands but everything looks very different today. Gravelly Hill, an area of Birmingham, is home to the present day interchange known as Spaghetti Junction. If only walls could talk 65 Oval Road may be able to answer the puzzle of what happened there to the Crump family in the 1920s, it seems it will remain a mystery.
The first railway to Sutton was opened in 1847. It took to years to build and cost the lives of four young men, aged between fourteen and twenty four, who were killed in accidents during it's construction and are buried in St Nicholas churchyard. A small wooden hut served Sutton's residents as a station for nearly twenty years and although it seems very small, Sutton had only 1,500 residents at the time. In 1865 the Epsom Downs line was opened and many additional passengers travelled on the railway as a result. In Derby week 1865, 70,000 people travelled on the new line. The old wooden shed was dismantled and moved to Sutton cricket ground on the corner of Gander Green Lane for use as a scorers shed. I took this photo of it in 1997.
The new station, which is pictured here in a drawing from around 1880, had a booking office, waiting rooms and a shop. It was much better suited to the new passengers who travelled through to the coast on the newly opened Brighton line, from Leatherhead. This station continued in use until 1883 when it was demolished and another new building was erected.
Sutton was a busy town when this photo as taken around 1918. Horse drawn cabs line the edge of the pavement and at the corner of Mulgrave road, just out of view was a horse trough and drinking fountain for thirsty passers by!
Charles Gardner was one of the Station Masters at Sutton station. He joined the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway company in May 1870 as a booking clerk at Clapham Junction with a weekly wage of £1.00. He worked at different stations in South London rising to become Station Master at Old Kent Road in 1881. By 1891 he was working at Purley, and by 1901 he was in charge at Sutton. Charles retired at the end of 1913.He stayed in the area until his death in 1938.
Photo copied and cropped from The Past on Glass at Sutton Archives. Photographer David Knights-Whittome.
Shared under the Creative Commons Non Commercial
The population of Sutton continued to grow and the numbers of rail commuters increased. The new station pictured here was opened in 1928 to keep pace with the growth. New motor cabs replaced the horse drawn cab and the horse trough at the corner of Mulgrave Road moved to Brighton Road.
Sutton Station 2020
Two photos I added to my collection recently really brought home to me changes in our society over the last 100 years. They were of two brothers Fergus Kay Crook and Laurence Gilmer Crooks taken in the 1920s. The sons of Robert Kay Crooks and his second wife Edith Margaret Crooks (Nee Smith) they were born in Wigan Lancashire at a time after so many families had been torn apart. Sadly the eldest son Fergus was born with what would be called today a learning disability. In the 1920s however, it was a different time. He must have been so loved. His parent took him to the same studio as his brother to have his portrait taken but over the next few years the bothers paths separated. Lawrence lived with his parents but by the time of the 1939 register Fergus was registered at the Royal Albert Asylum. The hospital was built between 1868 and 1873 and was originally called "The Royal Albert Asylum for idiots and imbeciles of the seven northern counties" It's hard to even imagine a time when this was considered an acceptable title for an institution. The hospital was established under the Lunacy Act 1845, at a time when there was little understanding of the difference between learning difficulties and mental illness but by 1909 it had been renamed "The Royal Albert Institution, Lancaster". There was no mainstream schooling for children such as Fergus in those days and there would have probably been little choice for his parents but an institution.
Fergus's younger brother Laurence appears not to have married or had children. He lived in Wigan all his life coincidentally dying exactly three months to the day, in December 1981, after Fergus aged 60. Both brothers are buried in Lower Ince Cemetery in Wigan. I really hope they are together.
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