A Baby’s Breakfast

This #OnePlaceTragedy is of its time but, for me, it doesn’t feel out of place alongside the free school meals and food bank news stories of the last few months.

Chancel, St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

James Cornelius and Louisa Dickman started their married life on the 26th March 1892 in the grand setting of Bermondsey’s biggest parish church, St Mary Magdalen. James was living near the docks where he worked as a lighterman. Louisa gave her address as Riley Street: James’ widowed sister in law, Jane, lived at number 18 with her 3 children. Did Louisa help her out?

It wasn’t long before James and Louisa had a family of their own. By 1901, the family were living in number 7, Turner’s Retreat. In the short time since their marriage, the couple had already faced tragedy. Of their 4 sons and one daughter, only Jane Elizabeth (b. 1896), and Edward (b. 1900) were living with them. James (b. 1893) and John (b. 1898) both died in infancy. Philip (b. 1894) was a patient in Gore Farm Convalescent and Fever Hospital near Dartford, Kent. The hospital looked after patients with smallpox and other infectious diseases. Fortunately, Philip survived his spell in hospital and was back with the family by 1911.

By the summer of 1902, James and Louisa had a new addition to the family, a son who they called Thomas, but it wasn’t long before disaster struck again.

St James’s Gazette 23 October 1903 page 9

Thomas’ death and inquest were reported in several local papers, The Nottingham Evening Post gave a verbatim report of Louisa’s evidence.

Nottingham Evening Post 23 October 1903 page 6

Reading this, I can’t help feeling sorry for Louisa and angry at the coroner for his condescending attitude. A family who could only afford the cheapest food available would have no idea what hors d’oeuvres were, let alone have them with a meal!

The family continued to live in number 7 until about 1905. James and Louisa went on to have another son, Joseph b. 1907, and a daughter, Louisa Sarah b. 1910. Thankfully, their surviving children all lived to adulthood and had families of their own. James died in 1928, age 70, and Louisa died a few years later, in 1935, age 66.

– Featured image: https://community.dur.ac.uk/4schools.resources/victoriandurham/healthimages.html
– Image of St Mary Magdalen:
– Southern Convalescent Hospital (Gore Farm):
– 1891 census (18 Riley Street) RG12; Piece: 373; Folio: 143; Page: 46
– 1901 census (7 Turner’s Retreat) RG13; Piece: 390; Folio: 61; Page: 24
– 1901 census (Gore Farm Hospital) RG13; Piece: 707; Folio: 115; Page: 8
– 1911 census (7 Star Place) RG24; Piece: 1872; ED: 06; Sched: 468

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