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3 April 1881 - A family divided by tragedy
This is the 1881 census entry for my husband's 2x great grandfather, Mark Gurney. He was living in the village of Martock, near Yeovil, in Somerset, with his three youngest children, Frances, (Ada) Charlotte and (George) Edward.
Sadly, Mark's wife Frances, nee Heale, was not with them. She can be found in the 1881 census in the Somerset and Bath Asylum in Wells, described as a lunatic. She had first been admitted there with mental illness in July 1874. Her admission notes stated that she had been ill for two weeks. She could answer questions rationally and said that she did not approve of doctors. If anything was done contrary to her wishes she got excited and used threatening language.
At the time of her admission, Frances was about 12 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, Kathleen, who was born in the Asylum in February 1875. Frances was discharged shortly after the birth but by June her baby was dead.
Her next admission was in June 1878, when George Edward was nine months old. Discharged on Boxing Day 1878, she was, as we have seen, back in the Asylum for the 1881 census. In November 1882 her oldest son died and in May 1884 she lost her husband, Mark.
By February 1885 she was back in the Asylum with "mania", described as suicidal and dangerous. She gave her next of kin as the son who had been dead for two years. Discharged in June 1885 she went to London, where she was admitted to a workhouse in poverty and then despatched back to Somerset. At that point poor Frances vanishes from the records, with no further appearances in the Asylum or the censuses and no death certificate found.
5 April 1891 - Orphans boarded out with a nurse
This is the 1891 census entry for my grandfather, Lawrence George Buchanan Davis, and his twin sister, Georgina Alicia Davis (Georgie). They were both 11 months old and were living in Earle Street, Yeovil, Somerset in the household of Thomas Woodward, a naval pensioner, and his wife, Elizabeth, who was a nurse. (The Woodward family are shown on the previous page of the census.)
Lawrence and Georgie were the children of Rev Alban Edgar Brunskill Davis, Rector of Brympton d'Evercy, Somerset, and his wife, Georgina, nee Lowe. They were born in the Rectory at Brympton on 3 May 1890 and on 11 May their mother, Georgina, died from metroperitonitis (inflammation around the uterus). The informant on Georgina's death certificate was Elizabeth Woodward of Earle Street, Yeovil, who had been present at the death.
It would seem that Elizabeth Woodward, having nursed Georgina Davis at the time of her death, then took over responsibility for the week old twins, who spent at least their first year of life boarded out in her household. She was probably also their wet nurse.
31 March 1901 - The housemaid
This is the 1901 census entry for my grandmother, Alice Eaton. She was a 20 year old housemaid in the household of Joseph Rock, an East India Export Agent, at 13 The Downs, Wimbledon, Surrey.
This was a real Upstairs, Downstairs household consisting of Joseph, his wife, eight children, a grandchild and five servants. There were also a coachman and his wife living over the coach house next door.
Although not shown in the census, I know from my grandmother's stories that the household also employed a butler, who used to pour an entire bottle of port into a huge whole round of Stilton at Christmas time.
Alice went into service with the Rocks as an under housemaid at the age of 14. Her duties included getting up at dawn to lay the fires in the grates. By the time of the 1901 census she had been promoted to housemaid but was still second to bottom in the pecking order of servants.
She stayed with the family until her marriage to my grandfather, Vivian Macaulay Bentley, in July 1904. For her big day, the Rock family gave Alice the use of their coach and coachman for her journey to and from the church. It was a kindness which Alice never forgot and she always talked about the Rock family with affection.
2 April 1911 - So much information
This is the 1911 census entry for my great grandparents, John and Agnes McCarthy, nee Fritz. They were living at 66 Salford Road, Streatham Hill, London, with their three daughters, Edith, Dora and Sheila, and a general servant.
This census provides unique information, not available in any of the previous censuses. For the first time, the form was filled in by the head of household, not the enumerator. So this document shows me John McCarthy's own handwriting and signature. It also reveals that the house had eight rooms, counting the kitchen but not including the bathroom. Most importantly, it provides details about the marriage and the number of children born and surviving.
John and Agnes had been married 23 years (they married on 21 July 1887) and the marriage had produced six living children, of whom three had died. My mother, who lived with the McCarthy family as a child, was able to give me the names of those three children. Agnes, born in 1888, died of typhoid in Le Havre, France, in 1891. Edith's twin, John, died as a one year old baby and Richard, born in the gap between Dora and Sheila, died of bronchitis, aged 9 months.
This census also gives more information about employment than any previous one. As well as a person's occupation it also gives the industry or service sector in which they worked. John McCarthy is listed as a Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police, it being the year before his promotion to Superintendent. His two elder daughters were both out at work, reflecting the increasing economic participation of women in the Edwardian era. Both were working as shorthand typists, Edith for an insurance company and Dora, my grandmother, for a firm of sanitary engineers.