“Darby and Joan” – Bereavement, Lodgings, and Press Subscriptions.

Over the past few years I have been using coroners’ inquests, both the original records and the newspaper reports, to explore domestic life and domestic accidents in Victorian England. One thing that really stood out to me in the course of my research was the extent to which these inquests opened up the lives of the elderly at this time. Coinciding with my new research, this new blog intends to explore the domestic arrangements of the elderly living in England’s cities, provincial towns, and rural areas during the nineteenth century. In the next few posts, I plan to explore the domestic lives of those elderly living in lodgings – both lodging-houses and other people’s homes.

However, I am going to begin this blog with one particular inquest I recently uncovered in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper and was reported in numerous other London and provincial newspapers, a case I refer to as “Darby and Joan,” which tells the extraordinary tale of one elderly widow whose security in “comfortable” lodgings was provided by the substantial donations raised after the sudden death of her husband – although, this is far from a happy tale.

In October 1887, various London and provincial newspapers reported on the death of William Cox, a 77 year old artist’s model residing at 25 Elgin Terrace, Maida Vale, London. William, who had been out at sittings all day, was returning home to Elgin Terrace on a Kilburn omnibus:

Henry Gillows, conductor, said the Cox got into his omnibus at Regent-circus at ten o’clock on Monday night. Going along Maida-vale [Gillows] asked for his fare. Cox did not answer, but he seemed to be asleep, leaning on his stick. On arriving at Kilburn he was found to be dead.”[1]

His body was removed to Hampstead Mortuary, where his wife, Margaret (also an artist’s model “who sat with him for the picture of ‘Darby and Joan’ in [the 1887] Academy”), who had been “wait[ing] up for him,” identified his body.[2]

The news of his death soon spread throughout London society and at the inquest into Cox’s death, where the cause of death was determined as heart failure, the coroner:

Dr. Danford Thomas announced that the facts of the case had come to the knowledge of Mr. John Aird, M.P. [and a known art collector], who had sent him a cheque for £5 5s. to relieve the widow.”[3]

After her husband’s death and with this financial support, Margaret Cox took up lodgings down the street with the Parry family and, Reynold’s Newspaper states, was “in the receipt of 25s. per week. A subscription had been raised for her, and the money was given to her in weekly instalments.”[4] In spite of the financial support, “which enabled [her] to live comfortably”, the newspapers states, Margaret Cox had become “depressed because of the death of her husband” –“it was a case of Joan lamenting Darby” – and the following June committed suicide by overdosing on opium.[5] Her landlord, Samuel Parry, stated at the inquest into her death that, “Mrs. Cox had given way to excessive drinking. When not sober she was abusive, and he had served her notice to quit.”[6]

Reflecting on this particular case, one wonders had it not been for the press interest and the subscription raised as a result, whether Margaret, having “given way to excessive drinking” and lacking the safety net of family (her stepson, Reynold’s Newspaper states, was estranged from her), would have soon fallen down the ranks of London society and ended up at the doors of the workhouse soon after the death of her beloved “Darby.”

[1] The Morning Post, October 28, 1887.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Reynold’s Newspaper, July 1, 1888.

[5] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, July 1, 1888.

[6] Ibid.

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