Banana Boxes, Chest of Drawers, Eggs Boxes, and Gooseberry Sieves

banana box

It has been quite some time since I have written a blog post, as writing ‘the book’ is taking priority at the moment. However, a BBC article today on the popularity of baby boxes has given me a perfect excuse to share an aspect of my book that I am currently working on: babies’ beds in the homes of the Victorian working class.

As with today, Victorian ‘baby boxes’ were inextricably linked to concerns over infant suffocation. Exploring accidental infant death for my PhD thesis on Victorian Domestic Dangers in the English county of Suffolk, I uncovered late nineteenth-century inquests held into supposed infant suffocation. In almost every case urban coroners drew attention to the dangers of infants sharing the parental bed. The following remarks are typical of coroners and medical men at the time.

In 1897, an Ipswich inquest was held upon a male infant named Nunn, believed to have suffocated in the bedclothes while sleeping in his parent’s bed. Opening the inquest the coroner remarked:

on the folly of parents taking their children of a tender age to bed with them, and said the number of deaths from suffocation from that cause was something fabulous’.[1]

Mr Eades, an Ipswich surgeon, at the same 1897 inquest, lamented:

it was a dangerous practice for a child to sleep with its parents, a cot by the side of the bed was advisable, but that course was not often adopted by the poorer classes’.

Eades then claimed:

it was quite a fallacy that a child could only be kept warm by being taken to bed with the parents’.

He argued,

‘If a wicker basket were lined with a blanket and a shawl the child would be found quite warm’.[2]

Likewise, at another inquest reported in the Ipswich Journal in 1900 involving a suffocated infant, the coroner:

admitted that the poorer classes could not provide bassinettes, but it was certainly within their power to make some sort of provision, such as the fitting out of a box, or even a drawer’.[3]

So did the working class heed this middle-class advice?

Well, the first thing I need to explore here is whether working-class infants did indeed routinely share the parental bed. Infants may have been dying in the parental bed, but a close reading of these inquest reports reveals a more complex and varied situation when it came to sleeping infants. Certainly, there are numerous inquests which do explicitly state that the infant routinely shared the parental bed at night. However, there are also other inquests that state the infant was only a transient visitor to this bed, aptly demonstrated in the following mother’s testimony at an inquest held in Ipswich in 1897:

When asked by the coroner: ‘Is it your habit to take a child so young into bed with you?

The mother replied: ‘I have a bassinette, but the child cried so I took it into bed’.[4]

In my research of East Anglia coroners’ inquests I have come across numerous references to working-class infants (up and down the social scale within this widely socio-economic class) sleeping in cots, bassinettes, and cribs, suggesting that such sleeping arrangements were far more prevalent that the Victorian middle-class coroners and medical men claimed.

Coroners’ inquests too reveal the makeshift baby beds found in poorer homes, even predating the outcry in regards to overlaid infants in the 1890s. In 1869, James Greenwood remarked in his Seven Curses of London that, ‘the strangest receptacles do duty as baby cradles at times’. These, he states, included gooseberry sieves, raisin boxes, and, as revealed in one London inquest, an egg box – ‘a short one […] sixteen inches wide […] with some straw in it’.[5]

I have also come across references to infants sleeping in makeshift beds in a range of other sources. Charitable organisations ‘developed a thriving business in selling cradles made out of banana boxes’ in response to the apparent increase in deaths from overlaying.[6] Oral histories tell us that an open chest of drawers could be used to cradle a sleeping infant, while Maud Pember Reeves reported a closed one could be used to house its dead body.[7]

Whether the presence of these makeshift infants beds was out of a working-class concern over infant suffocation is something I have yet to determine, but it is evident that the baby box was not a twentieth century invention and probably predates the nineteenth century as well.

…………

On another note entirely, in recent discussions on whether blogging counts as academic work (yes, it does), does my blog writing also count towards today’s book writing word count target?

[1] Ipswich Journal, 22 May 1897. There are many issues surrounding the verdict of accidental suffocation and overlaying which brings the number of deaths into question, for more information see my blog post on Victorian Domestic Dangers ‘Bedclothes, Mothers and Infant Suffocation’.

[2] Ipswich Journal, 22 May 1897.

[3] Ipswich Journal, 23 June 1900.

[4] Ipswich Journal, 10 December 1897.

[5] Greenwood, Seven Curses of London.

[6] Carol Dyhouse, ‘Working-Class Mothers and Infant Mortality in England, 1895-1914’, Journal of Social History, 12 (1978), pp. 248-267, p. 250.

[7] National Trust Birmingham Backs to Backs/Pember Reeve, Round About a Pound, p. 5.

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‘Why Charlotte?’ Unanswered Questions in the Inquests

Coroners’ inquests – both the surviving records and ensuing newspaper reports – are an invaluable source in opening up the homes of the Victorian working-classes. Through coroners’ meticulous investigations and the press fascination of all things death related, I have been able to uncover intimate details of domestic life and pry into the private space of the bedroom, but there are sometimes some inquests which leave me with unanswered questions no matter how much I dig around. As I currently investigate sleeping arrangements in these homes, there is one inquest that particularly frustrates me and leaves me asking: ‘Why Charlotte?’

In November 1867, the Ipswich Journal reported on the death of 57 year old widow, Sarah Emmerson, residing in Ipswich’s aptly named Cold Dunghill. One witness, called to provide testimony in regards to the circumstances surrounding Sarah’s sudden death, was 14 year old Charlotte Pulham. Charlotte stated to the coroner’s court: ‘I have lived 12 years with the deceased Sarah Emmerson, who was my grandmother’.[1]

In my investigation of Victorian coroners’ inquests, it was not uncommon to find children residing in their grandparents’ homes. There are multiple reasons behind such a domestic arrangement uncovered in the inquests. Young children would stay temporarily with their grandparents during the harvest or at times of illness. East Anglia’s illegitimate children, it seems, were frequently born in their grandparent’s home (a discussion I intend to return to in a latter post) and sometimes continued to reside with them after the mother had moved on to find work. Other young children came to live with their grandparents after the death of their mother.

There is, however, another reason why children are found resident with their grandparents. In overcrowded homes, sending a child to sleep in the home of a nearby family member would ease nocturnal domestic arrangements.[2] This appears to be the case for Charlotte Pulham. A further witness called before the coroner’s court investigating the death of Sarah Emmerson was Charlotte’s mother, also named Charlotte. Residing just a short walk away, Charlotte’s mother’s testimony suggests that she was a regular visitor to the home of her mother and daughter. But there is one question that resonates with me that I simply cannot provide a concrete answer to: ‘Why Charlotte’? So I looked to other sources to try and answer this question and simply ended up with more questions.

1861 Census – Occupants of 8 Rose Lane, St Peter, Ipswich.
Name Rel. Condition Age Occupation Birthplace
Samuel Pulham Head Married 30 Labourer / Cement works Ipswich, Suffolk
Charlotte Pulham Wife Married 29 Ipswich, Suffolk
Maria F Pulham Daughter 9 Scholar Ipswich, Suffolk
Matilda Pulham Daughter 4 Ipswich, Suffolk
Samuel Pulham Son 2 Ipswich, Suffolk
1861 Census – Whiteheads Yard, Cold Dunghills, St Margaret, Ipswich.
Name Rel. Condition Age Occupation Birthplace
William Emmerson Head Married 58 Coal Porter Ipswich, Suffolk
Sarah Emmerson Wife Married 50 Coal Porter’s wife Tattingstone, Suffolk
Charlotte Pulham Granddaughter 6 Scholar Ipswich, Suffolk

As one can see from the 1861 census, Charlotte was not the eldest child of the Pulhams – why didn’t the eldest daughter Matilda live with her grandparents? Why had Charlotte been sent to live with her grandparents (her coal porter grandfather still alive at this time) at age two years? Was it due to the birth of the Pulham’s third child? Perhaps, in this case, if the original inquest had not been destroyed, I might have answers. But with such a detailed newspaper report ensuing from the inquest held, it seems likely that such a vital detail in Charlotte Pulham’s domestic arrangements has gone unrecorded. Nonetheless, the 1871 census reveals, 14 years after leaving, Charlotte had returned to her family home upon the death of her grandmother.

[1] Ipswich Journal, 16 Nov 1867.

[2] See also Carl Chinn’s They Worked all their Lives.

The Lodger’s Threshold

door lockAs I work on my latest conference paper, one of the questions I am considering is to what extent lodgers could define their own boundaries in someone else’s home. Lodgers were commonplace in the homes of the 19th-century working class and for the household taking in lodgers, Davidoff states, it ‘was a sign that the family could no longer be kept private’.[1] But, to what extent did taking up lodgings mean a sacrifice of one’s privacy? My investigations of late 19th-century London coroners’ inquests reveals that lodgers, while often being incorporated into the household and daily domestic life, could, nonetheless, physically determine their own thresholds therein.

John Styles study of lodging in 18th-century London (documented in the records of the Old Bailey) reveals that ‘Many tenants had their own room key and kept their own rooms locked’.[2] This, the coroners’ inquests reported in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in the late 19th century reveal, was a practice continued in those London homes accommodating lodgers.

Repeatedly, coroners’ inquests held on those who had died while lodging in domestic dwellings refer to the lodger’s room being locked from the inside and doors having to be broken open when a landlady/landlord became concerned. At an inquest held upon an elderly widow lodging in the home of Mrs. Jennings of Wood Street, Woolwich, the landlady called before the coroner’s court to provide testimony stated that on the day in question ‘not hearing her [lodger] about, she went to her room. Getting no answer she tried the door, which was locked, [she then] procured assistance, and an entrance was effected. Deceased was lying on the floor undressed, as if she had fallen out of bed… [She] had been dead for some hours’.[3]

However, it was not just when a lodger had died within the locked room that a landlady/landlord had difficulty gaining access. The inquest reports also reveal that some householders would have little control over the lodger’s space in their home.

In June 1890, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on an inquest held on the body of 75 year old Anthony Cook who had died in his London lodgings from syncope. Called to provide testimony, Sarah Ann King, wife of a tea dealer, stated that Cook lodged in her home – 64 Richard Street, St. George East – ‘he paid 2s. 6d. a week for one room, which he always kept locked… [King] had never been in it till Monday and when she did do she found it in a most filthy state’.[4] This case was far from unique. In December 1896, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on the death of 71 year old James Bird Oliver who had died from starvation in the home of Iliffe Hayes, 36 Clayton Road, Peckham. Hayes told the coroner’s court that Oliver had lodged with her for the past two years and ‘was of somewhat eccentric habits and would allow no one in his room’. Like Cook’s landlady, when Hayes finally gained access, upon her lodger’s death, she also found it in ‘a filthy state’.[5]

Likewise, in May 1885, Lloyd’s Weekly reported on the death of George Morton Hasson, a 73 year old pensioner of the Great Western Railway company, who had died as a result of gangrenous wounds at his Marylebone lodgings – 16 Earl Street – the private domestic dwelling of James Lomer, bootmaker and his wife Phoebe, a dressmaker. Providing testimony to the coroner’s court, James Lomer stated that his lodger ‘objected to the interference of anybody in his household arrangements. He consequently was left very much to himself… Latterly he locked himself in very much, and finally refused to allow anybody to come near him. On the 1st of May, as he was not heard to move about or make a noise of any kind for some time, witness went and knocked at his door, but could not get an answer for some hours’.[6]

It is evident, therefore, that for some of those lodging in someone else’s home they were able to define and control their own space through the use of a locked bedroom door. Yet, the inquests also reveal that not all private dwelling lodgers were able to possess their own thresholds, as for some their bedroom was also the family’s bedroom

[1] Leonore Davidoff, ‘The Separation of Home and Work? Landladies and Lodgers in Nineteenth- and Twentieth Century England, in Fit Work for Women, ed. by Sandra Burman (Croom Helm, 1979), pp. 64-97 (p. 69).

[2] John Styles, ‘Lodging at the Old Bailey: Lodgings and their Furnishing in Eighteenth-Century London’, in Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700-1830, ed. by John Styles and Amanda Vickery (Yale University Press, 2006). Also see Amanda Vickery, ‘An Englishman’s Home is his castle? Thresholds, Boundaries and Privacies in the Eighteenth-Century London House’, Past and Present, 199 (2008), 147-173.

[3] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 17 Apr 1887, n.p.

[4] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 29 June 1890, n.p.

[5] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 6 Dec 1896, n.p.

[6] Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 17 May 1885, n.p.

The Unwelcome House Guest

Much of my research has revealed where additional inhabitants – lodgers, visitors, and extended family – slept at night in the homes of the late 19th century urban working class and rural labourers. Yet, one area I had been struggling to uncover is how householders felt about accommodating an extra body at night in what were often already cramped homes. However, I am excitingly beginning to unearth some inquests which do bring to light how some reacted to their nocturnal guests.

In March 1900, the Essex Standard reported on an inquest held pertaining to the death of a forty-one year old spinster, Florence Davison, resident of 69 Church Street, Harwich. This was not her own home, but the ‘two-room’ dwelling of her sister, Emily Salter, where Florence had lived ‘on and off’ for sixteen years. It is evident from the inquest that the Salter’s struggled to accommodate this additional household member, but nevertheless did as it is revealed that on the night preceding her death, Florence ‘retired at her usual time, about half-past ten…sle[eping] in the living room… [while Emily], her husband, and [adult] son sle[pt] in the other’. Feeling unwell, as had been the case for some months, Florence wished to stay in bed after the rest of the household had risen the following morning, but with ‘her bed’ positioned in the family’s only living space, she was awoken when the rest of the household arose and moved into ‘her sister’s bed’ in the other room. (Presumably, though it is not stated in the inquest report, Florence’s bed could be stowed away during waking hours in order to accommodate daily domestic life – such as is the example in George Godwin’s London Shadows (1854)). A few hours later Florence was found to be dead. A post mortem revealed that death ‘was due to failure of the heart’. The story, however, does not end there.

'Interior of House in Court' - George Godwin, London Shadows (1854)  ‘The room is little more than 7 feet long by 6 feet wide; the greatest height 6 feet 9 inches. The narrow bedstead, which is doubled up in the daytime, reaches, when let down, close to the fire-place… Our engraving makes the room appear too large’

‘Interior of House in Court’ – George Godwin, London Shadows (1854)
‘The room is little more than 7 feet long by 6 feet wide; the greatest height 6 feet 9 inches. The narrow bedstead, which is doubled up in the daytime, reaches, when let down, close to the fire-place… Our engraving makes the room appear too large’

More is revealed about Florence’s place in the home when the coroner, Dr John Harrison, questioned witnesses regarding Inspector Amos claim that Florence had been starved to death as result of her brother-in-law’s negligence. Examined by the coroner’s court as to his negligence toward both his family and sister-in-law, Thomas Salter, ‘a checker, but not in regular employment’, stated:

Deceased was his wife’s sister, and she became ill about two months ago. He suggested to his wife that she should have the parish doctor. The statement was quite correct as to the income…[He] never took any of it, and the only money he had ever received from deceased was…to settle a County Court summons against him. His average earnings were 16s. per week, and only on one occasion had they been without food, and that was the fore part of January. It was quite true that he never gave his wife any money, but that was through many reasons’.

Further questioned by the coroner, Thomas remarked:

the deceased had been the torment of his life’.

‘Asked in what way, he replied’:

through upsetting his home. He had never agreed to support her’.

Also called to give evidence was Inspector Amos. Having initially reported the death to the coroner he stated to the court:

In [his] opinion Salter had neglected his home greatly, and it was hearsay that [Florence] had no clothes to wear, and went about the house in nearly a nude condition’.

After the jury ‘brought in their verdict as natural causes’, the coroner then called Thomas back before the court:

the Coroner addressing him, said the Jury were unanimous that he should be severely censured for his neglect of the deceased. He ought to consider himself lucky that he was not committed to take his trial for manslaughter…had it not been for the medical evidence.—He (the Coroner) trusted he would take the warning to hear to treat others better were they placed in his charge in the future’.

It is evident in this inquest that Florence and her brother-in-law had a somewhat tense ‘symbiotic’ relationship, with Florence – of independent means – financially contributing to the household in times of crisis and Thomas (begrudgingly) providing her a bed throughout the sixteen years she had lived with them ‘on and off’.

This inquest leaves me with a significant question to explore in my research going forward – just how often were extra inhabitants in the homes of the working class unwelcome guests?

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Sleeping in “his chair” – Spaces of Nocturnal Sleep

As I begin scrutinising some recently gathered 19th century coroners’ inquest reports for a study of sleeping arrangements in the homes of the working classes, one of the areas I am particularly interested in is the use of dayrooms and non-bedroom furniture for the purpose of night time sleeping.

In my recent work on lodgers, I have revealed how private dwelling lodgers could find themselves accommodated on a sofa in dayrooms when there was a shortage of beds.[1] In an inquest I recently uncovered in the late 19th century provincial press, I found that in a small household short on bedsteads “the child slept in a bed on a sofa in the lower room.”[2]

Though, what I want to explore in this particular post is the use of chairs for nocturnal sleeping. Throughout my research in past years I have frequently come across references in the inquests to the elderly napping in chairs by the fireside during the daytime – an inquest often having been brought about after they fell from the chair and into the unguarded fire. However, I am now also beginning to uncover cases which refer to chairs in lower rooms being used for the purpose of sleeping during the night, as demonstrated in the following inquest report.

Aaron Cansdale, a 63 year old agricultural labourer of Bures St Mary (Suffolk) slept in “his chair” in a downstairs room on the nights he had been out drinking and returned home “worse for drink.”

[On] the Friday evening [Aaron Cansdale] went to a beer-house and had two pints of beer, returning home at ten o’clock, apparently a little worse for drink. When this was the case his usual plan was to sit and sleep in his chair, and not go to bed. He did this on the present occasion. His wife went downstairs and found him asleep at twelve o’clock [returning to her bed thereafter]’.

Why the Cansdale’s had this arrangement is not explicitly stated in the inquest report, it is likely, however, given that the other inhabitants of the household appear to have retired to bed before his return from the beer-house, that the intention was not to disturb those already asleep by sleeping downstairs. Or perhaps, given the treacherous design of staircases in these homes, he was simply too intoxicated to climb the stairs to bed on these occasions?

Sadly, for Aaron Cansdale, “his chair” was to be his death-bed. ‘When his son-in-law went down at five the next morning he found him lying on the floor, as if he had slipped off the chair. He called the wife, who almost immediately went downstairs, who found her husband in his chair, to which his son had assisted him, but he did not speak, and it subsequently appeared he was quite dead’.[3]

[1] Vicky Holmes, ‘Accommodating the Lodger: The Domestic Arrangements of Lodgers in Working-Class Dwellings in a Victorian Provincial Town’, Journal of Victorian Culture,Vol. 19, Iss. 3, 2014.

[2] Ipswich Journal, 15 Jan 1870.

[3] Ipswich Journal, 3 June 1882.

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Accommodating Grandpa – A 19th Century Example

Co-residence with kin in old age past and present has been widely discussed by historians of old age, the family, and community, but one area that has hitherto remained somewhat of a mystery in co-residence situations is how, in the already cramped dwellings of the urban working-class and rural labourer, these elderly relatives were accommodated.

In my recent article in the Journal of Victorian Culture I have already begun to explore the accommodation of the lodger in these homes through a study of coroners’ inquest reports and I now seek to ask how offspring accommodated their elderly parents when they were no longer in the position to remain in their own homes. It is well documented that Grandma was, in increasing old age, far more likely to be taken in by kin, than was Grandpa – the arguments for which is numerous and beyond the scope of this particular blog post.

The case I want to explore today is a coroner’s inquest which reveals how one Grandfather was accommodated in his son’s household. In June 1841, the Census Enumerator for Butley, a small Suffolk village, recorded that the residents of one of its households was John Barham, a 35-year-old Agricultural Labourer, Emma Barham aged 33, three children – aged 15, 10, and 4, as well as Henry Barham, aged 75 years.[1] We can infer, from his surname, Henry was related to the family he was now residing with, but so many other questions remain as to his accommodation in this household: when and why had he come to live in this particular household? What was his relationship to the family with whom he resided? And, in what was most likely an already overcrowded household, where did Henry sleep? – are just a few of these.

Yet, a tragedy befalling this household just weeks before the Census was taken not only reveals that the Barham’s had four children in total, but it also begins to uncover some of those questions pertaining to Henry Barham’s domestic circumstances. On 19 April 1841 an inquest was held on the body of 20 month old Elizabeth Barham, who had died as a result of consuming (accidentally) bread and butter laced with arsenic intended to destroy the mice that had been overrunning the Barham’s home. Called to give his account of the fateful event was ‘Henry Barham of Butley, labourer’. Recounting to the coroner’s court his evidence, Henry Barham stated that he had come to live with his son ‘at Michaelmas last’ (so he had been living with them for some months) and during this time ‘my little granddaughter slept in the same chamber as me’.[2] One supposes that this sleeping arrangement was born out of practicality and cannot have been an ideal solution to accommodating ‘Grandpa’. Sharing a chamber with such a young child undoubtedly would have disturbed his sleep from time to time, although on the day of the fatal accident it was the chimney sweep arriving at half past five which woke the still sleeping members of the Barham household.

There are still numerous aspects I would like to uncover as to Henry Barham’s experience of living with offspring in his increasing old age. One frustratingly unanswered question is how Henry felt about his living situation. Did he relish sharing a household with his son and young family? Or, did he yearn for the peace and quiet of his own home? While I doubt, in this particular case, I will be able to answer such a question, other inquests do reveal such intimate and pertinent details regarding the various household arrangements of the elderly in 19th century society…

[1] HO107/1028/2/7 Page 7

[2] SROi HB10/9/55/15

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“Accidental death from suffocation through eating a piece of carrot” – the lodger in the adjoining bedroom

My recent article and JVC post explored the presence of the lodger in the bedroom in the dwellings of the Victorian urban working-class. In these I reveal how the lodger could be found sleeping all around the home, including the family’s bedroom and even, on occasion, the marital bed. However, the design of many a nineteenth-century working-class home meant that the lodger did not have to be sleeping in the bedroom in order to ‘intrude’ on this space. Hallways and landings, taking up valuable space, were uncommon in cramped urban and rural homes for much of the period. Instead, the staircase or, in some cases, merely a ladder, was positioned in the backroom or single lower room (see image), leading directly into one of the bedrooms above.[1] Therefore, the occupants of an adjoining bedroom would have to pass through this room in order to reach their bed, disturbing those already sleeping.

Penny Illustrated News, 12 January 1850.

Penny Illustrated News, 12 January 1850.

At the 1890 inquest of a 50 year old bachelor and waterman, William Halls, who died as a result of having ‘eaten a piece of raw carrot before going to bed [which] had got into the windpipe and settled on the lungs, causing suffocation’, his landlady revealed how her lodger encroached on her sleep and sleeping space through the night in the Brandon (Suffolk) home they shared:

It appears from the evidence of Mrs. Tilney, the person with whom he lodged, that he went home on Wednesday evening about half-past seven, that he went out again for a short time, came home again, and went to bed [in the room adjoining hers]. During the night she heard him retching as if being sick. She did not pay much attention to this, because she had often heard him like that before [he was a “habitual drinker”], but about 3.30am he got up and rushed into her bedroom, through which he would have to pass to get downstairs, apparently choking, and quite black in the face.[2]

He died before medical help could be summoned. The coroner’s court recorded a verdict of “Accidental death from suffocation through eating a piece of carrot.”

[1] Mary M. Griffiths, ‘The housing of Ipswich, 1840-1973’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Essex, 1984, p. 18; Muthesius, The English Terraced House, pp. 10, 88, 123-126.

[2] The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Standard, 28 October 1890, p. 8

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“He Lived Alone for Six Long and Weary Years”

Employed as a research assistant for the summer, much of my time was spent in the Salvation Army Heritage Centre in Denmark Hill searching through late Victorian and Edwardian copies of The War Cry. For those of you who follow me on twitter, you will have seen the range of items reported upon in this rather abundant resource – from cookery tips to illustrations of slum life. One regular feature that caught my attention was “Cellar, Gutter, and Garrett,” reporting on the work done by the Salvation Army in London’s poorest districts. The particular article I want to discuss in today’s post, is one reported in April 1885 which tells the tale of a ‘widower, seventy-six years of age, feeble and sick’ who ‘lived alone for six long and weary years…in a barely furnished and dirty room in Seven Dials’.

To reach him we had to climb some winding, creaking stairs, then, opening the door, we found him in his usual position before the fire–a scanty one its true. He had sat there for six years–cannot go to bed or lie down, because of his breathing; he was very thin, and as the clothes were still thinner, and in some places worn away, we could see how the bones stood prominently out, he had no shoes or stockings on, his feet rested on the cold hearth–he had on his head a hat, or rather the rim of one, the crown having been burnt out, by it accidentally falling onto the fire as he slept.

His health further declining, however, he was ‘induced’ to lie down on the bed, soon thereafter passing away peacefully.

Yet, despite the inference of a lonely death in the article’s subheading, as we go further into the story it reveals that in his final days he was tended to by the Salvation Army “lasses.”

On Saturday morning the lasses visited and washed him, tidied his room, talked and prayed with him…

Moreover, his daughter, ‘who occupied the floor beneath’ and was ‘equally poor, with a large family’, would bring him ‘a little food’. When her father’s health rapidly declined, it was she who called for the doctor.

We knelt and prayed in the darkened room beside the corpse and his daughter (the mother of three little children) promised God and us to meet him in Heaven.

This particular article resonated with me because of its similarity to a number of coroners’ inquests I came across during my PhD research relating to elderly widowers residing alone, who were–from the evidence given–far from alone. Despite living alone, these elderly widowed men frequently had around them support networks that they could rely upon both day-to-day and in times of crisis. The most predominant of these were female family members—daughters, sisters, and even mother-in-laws. Such networks, often untraceable in the census due to differing surnames, are opened up by the Victorian coroner’s courts. At one Ipswich inquest held in 1896 on the body of widower, Henry Peck, who had died as a result of a fall, the court recorded that it was his sister, ‘Tamar Balaam’, residing on a neighbouring street, who had noticed that her brother’s ‘shutters…were closed beyond the usual hour’ and, being concerned, had her husband break down the door. The Ipswich Journal reporting on the inquest peculiarly decided on the tagline of ‘A Lonely Man’s End’, but like the case reported in The War Cry, it is evident that while these widowed men were living alone they were not necessarily ‘lonely’ men.

Sources:

The War Cry, 1 April 1885, 4.

The War Cry, 18 April 1885, 4.

Ipswich Journal, 6 June 1896.

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Is it time to stand up?

Home-made standing desk - It even folds away at the end of the day. At the left is a sitting desk, but I tend to use this merely as a dumping ground.

Home-made standing desk – It even folds away at the end of the day. At the left is a sitting desk, but I tend to use this merely as a dumping ground.

Following a conference on Home-Work at the Geffrye Museum, I began thinking again about my own home workspace. Returning to my desk after a period of illness/injury, I found that sitting – despite my fancy office chair – was highly uncomfortable and, for a while, I simply put up with it. Then I discovered a folding seat attachment which helped, but alas I could still not sit for very long without a headache appearing. I’d been looking at standing desks for quite some time, but with the often large price tag I decided to make one myself – or rather fashion one out of a shelving unit. Having done this, I’m now kicking myself as to why I didn’t do this sooner!! Working standing up makes a huge difference to my day, while I am not pain free there has been a noticeable difference in my back/neck and my headaches have significantly reduced.

Aside from this, I’ve found various other benefits to working standing up, the most noticeable difference being concentration. There is something about working in such a way that it seems to keep you on the job in hand, with only occasional breaks to catch up on twitter, the news etc. It also encourages you to take regular breaks, as your legs can only stand for so long and while I stretch my legs for five minutes its gives me opportunity to reflect on what I am working on.

I’m intrigued now by other people’s workspaces- how many #twitterstorians out there are standing up right now?

The Elderly Lodger – Abandoned or Without Kin?

The image of the elderly lodger is often one of having been abandoned by or lacking kin. However, one finding that surprised me in the Ipswich coroners’ inquests reports was that some of these elderly lodgers had kin residing in the same neighbourhood or were, in the case of 72 year old Curtis George Senior, neighbours.

In the inquest report into the death of Curtis George Senior, where a verdict of natural death was recorded, it was reported that “[Curtis] had long since ceased to work, and was maintained entirely by his children, who were very kind and attentive to him.” However, he did not reside with any of his adult children, instead “[he] lodged with Mrs. Mary Stock, in St. Helen’s.” Nevertheless, he was not far from kin, as the census reveals that his son, a wood turner at the iron foundry, resided in the neighbouring house with his large and young family (six children aged between one and fourteen years are recorded in the 1871 census). One can speculate that Curtis George Junior’s household was perhaps too overcrowded to accommodate his elderly parent, yet wanting to be nearby to his father – whose “health had not been good” – brought him to lodge next door [1].

These elderly lodgers would, it seems, be in regular, sometimes daily, contact with their kin.

In 1893, when 79 year old Mary Ann Rodwell died suddenly in her Ipswich lodgings – Oak Villa, Portman Road – where she had lodged “for the past five years,” her daughter, Mrs Adelaide Bullen of 5, Berners Street, Ipswich, stated at the inquest into her mother’s death “that her mother came to see her during the morning” prior to her death [2].

Some inquest reports also reveal that while there may not have been an extra bed for an elderly relative to be permanently incorporated into the household, an extra space could, nonetheless, be found round the family table.

When 65 year old John Hignell’s body was found in the River Gipping in May 1878, his son, Arthur Hignell of Turrett Lane, stated at the coroner’s inquest into his father’s death: “[his father] was a widower, and lodged at the Duke of York, Woodbridge Road…formerly a grocer, [he had] several months previous to his death been out of employ. [He] saw him last alive on Tuesday morning.” It was further reported that as John “had no money… he frequently had money given to him by his son, who also gave him breakfast and sometimes his dinner” [3].

Like the son of Curtis George Senior, Arthur Hignell, a fishmonger with a large family, probably did not have the space to accommodate an extra sleeping body at night, but did nevertheless evidentially provide his father with both financial and almost daily domestic support.

So in conclusion, when we come across an elderly person living in lodgings recorded in the census, it does not necessarily entail that these are the ones who lacked kin and their support. Instead, it can perhaps be seen, in some cases at least, that placing an elderly relative in (and even paying for their) lodgings provided kin (unable or unwilling to accommodate them into their already overcrowded home) the ability to care for their ageing relatives from a short distance. Or perhaps, for the elderly relative, living in lodgings offered them a level of independence (and peace and quiet from young children) in their old age?

[1] Ipswich Journal, 8 Feb 1873.

[2] Ipswich Journal, 1 July 1893.

[3] Ipswich Journal, 14 May 1878.

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