It's easy when you walk around an area all the time, not to notice small signs of the past. However if you keep your eyes open they are everywhere. Around Sutton in the late 1800s, comfortably off Victorian families lived, typically with many children and two or three domestic servants. One of these such houses was Haselmere in Brighton Road pictured here in 1918.
Haslemere Brighton Road, Sutton
Haslemere was designed by local architect Herbert Appleton for his brother William in the 1880s. William Appleton, a tea merchant like his father, lived here with his wife Bessie, sons Bernard and Harold and daughters Florence and Dora and a cook, housemaid and a nurse. Harold died in 1906 age 27 and after Bessie's death in 1928 William lived in the house with his elder daughter Florence until his death on the 22nd October 1940. William left £173,075, a vast amount at the time, to his son Bernard and daughter Florence.
Haselmere was demolished in the 1960s and a block of flats called Dunsfold Court stands on the site today. The original nameplate remains on the wall outside and a magnificent cedar tree still stands in the grounds that the Appleton children ould have played in over a hundred and twenty years ago.
I recently purchased a collection of photos and postcards belonging to Jessie A G Robertson who lived at 1 Manor Walk, Woodside, Aberdeen. All those precious little items, so carefully kept in a chocolate biscuit box. It seems so sad after all those years Jessie kept them safe, they are now unwanted. I would love them to be of use to family researchers in the future. I have been unable to find a definite birth record for Jessie, but think she was born around the 1920s. Her parents were James Main Robertson born in 1881 and Robina Robertson (Nee Graham) born in 1884. The family lived at 74 Leslie Terrace in the 1940s and 50s moving to Manor Walk in the late 1950s. They looked like such a happy family.
Another item in the box as a tiny little photo album called a Stamp Photo Album from around the Edwardian period. I have never seen such a tiny little album. I suppose it was for people to carry around in their pocket or bag. The photos are only about 2 to 3 cm high but are so wonderful. I'm sure they are not studio shots as they are too relaxed. They are a little snapshot in history of a few people long gone. In my opinion much to precious not to be preserved and shared.
All Jessie's photos can be seen HERE
Benfleet Hall was a large house in Sutton built in the 1860s by local builder Mr E Rabbits. The house was set in extensive grounds in Benhill Wood. In 1890 William Appleton, a tea merchant, became one in a succession of rich and influential residents to own the hall. He lived there with his wife Charlotte and third son Herbert who was an eminent architect of the time. Amongst Herbert's designs in Sutton were the Baptist Church in Hill Road, Sutton Public Offices and Sutton County School.
Benfleet Hall Before The First World War
Map Of Benfleet Hall And Surrounding Area 1913
To assist with the many wounded servicemen returned to England during the First World War, large houses such as Benfleet Hall were converted to hospitals. This hospital was opened on the 11th June 1915 by the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey at the time and local resident Sir Ralph Forster, with sixty beds, for use as a Red Cross Hospital, under the care of Dr Hooper. The hospital was entirely funded by donations from local people, who gave money so generously they were soon able to accommodate seventy two patients. When it opened 80 members of The Voluntary Aid Detachment assembled, eager for the work that lay ahead of them. The hospital was run by two matrons and a small team of trained nurses but a large number of Sutton girls, gave their services as voluntary aid nurses for the duration of the war.
Benfleet Hall War Hospital
Soldiers And Staff Benfleet Hall War Hospital
The servicemen convalesced in Benfleet Hall's comfortable surroundings, in summer enjoying the extensive grounds by relaxing in deckchairs or playing croquet and bowls. The less physically fit spent time playing games such as draughts, chess or dominoes.
Kitchener Ward Benfleet Hall War Hospital
After the war Miss H Gifford rented the house and it became The Marie Souvester School For Girls. Sadly by the mid 1930s this lovely old house was demolished and the many houses between Benhill Wood Road and Benhill Road, including those in Benfleet Close, stand on the site today.
Yesterday, family historians had access to the eagerly awaited 1921 census online. It is 100 years since the census was taken, and has taken three years to carefully transcribe and digitalise. The census, which covers England and Wales, was taken on the 19th June 1921, having been delayed for two months due to industrial unrest. It includes the details of 38 million people from over 8.5 million households as well as public and private institutions. This census not only asked individuals about their age, birthplace, occupation and residence (including the names of other household members and the number of rooms), but for the first time their place of work, employer details, and 'divorced' as an option for marital status. Searches can be done by individual name or by address. I searched my house and it felt so exciting to see the names of all the family who lived there. Did they plant the old cherry tree at the end of our garden we enjoy every year and was it Bessie who lost the old silver necklace I dug up in the garden? It somehow gives us a connection with the past.
At the time the country was still recovering from the First World War and at the tail end of the Spanish flu pandemic. Owing to the vast number of men who fell in the war, the Census reveals there were 1,096 women for every 1,000 men recorded, with this discrepancy being the biggest for those aged between 20 and 45. This means there were over 1.7 million more women than men in England and Wales, the largest difference ever seen in a census.
There was a 35% increase in the number of people recorded in hospitals from the 1911 Census, three-quarters of whom were men. Presumably many were still suffering from wounds received in the war. Thanks to the additional information recorded on the status of parents and children, the Census also reveals the devastating impact the war had on families with over 730,000 fatherless children being recorded versus 261,000 without a mother. The 1921 census is a fascinating moment in history and as the 1931 census was destroyed by a fire and the 1941 census was not recorded because of the Second World War, this is the last census that will be released until 2052. It is well worth searching to see what you can find out.
One of the saddest memorial cards I have researched in the past few years is the one of Stephenson Smith. Stephenson was 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, who was 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
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