Eliza White was my great grandmother. At various points of her life, she lived in both Turner’s Retreat and Woodlands Place. What better person to write about for this month’s #OnePlaceWomen post! One big problem about researching an ‘ordinary’ woman is that there are very few records relating to her specifically. Eliza probably had a basic education. She could certainly sign her own name. If she was employed outside the home, it wasn’t recorded on official documents. I can only get an idea of her life by looking at what happened to her whole family. I have found so much information that I’m going to have to split this post into 2 parts; her life before and after she met my great grandfather.
Eliza was born on 29th December 1855 at 22 Fitzroy Terrace, Kentish Town, London. Her parents were Edward White and Esther nee Dalton. Edward was a horse keeper.
The White family were living in Kentish Town in 1861. By 1871, Eliza was working as a nurse/domestic servant in Marylebone with her older sister, Esther.
The rest of the White family were living at 18 Pancras Street, off Tottenham Court Road, London. Number 18 was on the south side of Pancras Street, next door but one to Shropshire Place.
Eliza had her first child, James Anderson Yates in May 1874. Although Eliza wasn’t married, James’ father was named: also called James Anderson Yates. James’ occupation was a currier, a specialist leather worker who processed animal skins, turning them into leather.
James Anderson Yates senior was literally the boy next door. His family also lived at 18 Pancras Street in 1871. Its not a stretch to imagine that Eliza and James met when Eliza visited her family on her rare days off. The couple married in November 1875. They lived very close to their families. 82 Whitfield Street was near the school, centre left on the map.
The couple had 3 daughters in quick succession. Louisa Eliza (b.1876), Alice Maude (b. 1878) and Clara Frances (b. 1881) were baptised together on 13 July 1881 at St Andrews, Marylebone.
The baptism register has the family living at 1 Upper Rathbone Place, Pancras. Booth’s poverty map for the area gives a possible inkling that the family were in trouble. Upper Rathbone Place is the dark blue area at the bottom of the map. That colour indicates a very poor area where regular work was hard to come by.
I haven’t been able to trace James & Eliza in the 1881 census but I get the feeling they moved around a lot from school admission registers. In October 1882, James Jnr. attended Rosebery Avenue School, having left Whitfield Street School in St Pancras. The family were living in 12 Back Hill, Clerkenwell. Charles Booth described Back Hill as ‘thieves, very rough’, definitely not a good place to bring up a young family. While at this address, James & Eliza had another son, Henry Edward, born 23 November 1883. James Jnr. left Rosebery Avenue School a month later.
The family next appears in Laxon Street School admission registers. Laxon Street was in Bermondsey. Perhaps the family moved to the area so that James Snr. could find work in the local leather industry. The address given in this record was 7 Henry Terrace.
If this was a movie, the family would thrive and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, life is a lot more complicated.
This one document gives a possible explanation to the downward spiral of the family’s circumstances. James Snr. was probably ill for a long time and unable to work. His death must have been horrific. According to PubMed, pulmonary gangrene is a rare complication of severe lung infection. If untreated, it leads to sepsis, multiple organ failure and death. Today, the only treatment is to cut out the gangrenous tissue; impossible in 1884.
James died 1 day before Eliza’s 29th birthday. She was a widow with 5 children, living in an unfamiliar area of London. How could she support herself and her family?
The school registers again give clues to what happened next. James Jnr. left Laxon Street School in March 1885. He was admitted to Brighton Road School on 10 March 1885 with 2 sisters, Alice and Clara. Brighton Road School was a residential school in Sutton, Surrey; part of the South Metropolitan District School for the poor of Southwark. Peter Higginbotham has written about the school here. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Eliza to send her children away. Clara was only a toddler. She must have been desperate.
I haven’t been able to find Louisa, who would have been 9, or the baby Henry in any workhouse records. I do know that they were still alive at this point. Louisa was also taken out of Laxon Street School in March. Perhaps, as Louisa was the oldest girl, she was kept at home to look after Henry so Eliza could work. I will never know for sure.
In my next post, I’ll continue Eliza’s story about her life in Bermondsey with my great grandfather, William Clark. Spoiler: her life doesn’t get any worse than this (thankfully!).
– South Metropolitan School District: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/SouthMetSD/
– Description of gangrenous lung: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9354511/#:~:text=Background%3A%20Pulmonary%20gangrene%20is%20a,is%20mandatory%20and%20is%20lifesaving.