Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “london”

“Married 10 years”

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1911 England Census


The 1911 census is fascinating as it pertains to George and Mabel Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex. As can be seen from this document, George and Mabel had been married 10 years and lived in Hounslow.  Their address, recorded elsewhere on the document, was 10 Courtney Place, Heston, Hounslow, Middlesex. George senior’s birthplace is recorded as Walton-on-Hill, Surrey, Mabel’s as Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, South Africa.

I know now that they were not married, in spite of what they claimed on the census. I have a copy of their wedding certificate dated 6 years later in 1917 (see the previous blog, “Changing names: the mystery of George Lilley”). That same marriage certificate indicates that George was a widower. I know from hearsay – my grandmother told my mother who told me – that George wasn’t always called Simmonds either, but was rather George Lilley. He is said to have changed his name by deed poll. I have not been able to find a record of that change.

I have wondered about all this as I have pondered my grandfather’s origins. His birth certificate only lists his mother, Mabel. The space for “father” is blank. Not until this census in 1911 does he appear together with his parents and his younger brother Fred on the same document. And they are clearly Simmondses and not Lilleys. In my previous blog I wondered why George and Mabel changed their name. I have also wondered why they took the name Simmonds. I can’t imagine how I can ever know for sure, since there is no-one to ask.

But this 1911 census, with its rather definite “married 10 years” got me to thinking. Did George and Mabel’s relationship start 10 years earlier? That would be 1901? I know that Mabel was a nurse in London in 1901 (see previous blog “Nurse Mabel Butler and the South Eastern Fever Hospital”). But where was George?

I cannot find him in the 1901 census. Not a George Simmonds born in Walton-on-Hill, Surrey in 1876. Nor a George Lilley matching those details. However, through a process of elimination of all possibilities I have come to the conclusion that George Lilley, of Reigate, Surrey, born in Norwood, Surrey in 1875 according to the 1901 census, is the man. He was a furniture carman. He was married to Rosetta Lilley, two years his junior. Further investigations have led me to believe that he was probably not born in 1875 but in 1874, and not in Norwood, but in Banstead, which is very close to Walton-on-Hill. Norwood, Surrey, is an area north of Croydon, closer into London. Reigate, Redhill, Walton-on-Hill, Banstead – are all south of Croydon. The reason I suspect that this place of birth is wrong is that there is no other census from 1881 onwards that record a George Lilley born in Norwood, Surrey. Having said that, why would be say he was born in Norwood, when he would later say that he was born in Walton-on-Hill.

There are many unanswered questions about my great grandfather. Not least is what happened to his first wife, who may well have been Rosetta. I cannot find a record of marriage for George and Rosetta, nor can I find any death record for Rosetta Lilley. She is even more of a mystery that George himself. This 1901 census is the only record I can find of them at all.

Going north from the Reigate area you come to Croydon, then on through Norwood you come eventually to Lambeth and the South Bank of London. The South Eastern Fever Hospital where Mabel worked is further east, also on the south side of the Thames, but not so very far away from all these places. In 1901 there was a network of so called Fever Hospitals around London. There was also a South Western Fever Hospital in Stockwell, which is even closer to Croydon and Reigate.

My theory is that in 1901 Rosetta Lilley, married to George Lilley, became sick with fever, and ended up in the South Eastern Fever Hospital, in Deptford. I suspect that she died there and that George was with her at the time. I think that he met Nurse Mabel Butler there in 1901 and that they somehow connected. Four years later Mabel was having her first child, and George Lilley was the father. Being an unmarried mother was perhaps not unusual back then, but Mabel grew up in a God-fearing Methodist family in Bristol, and it can hardly have been something she was keen to broadcast publicly. She and George decided to leave Surrey, where George had his roots, and settle in Hounslow, which was at the beginning of the Bristol Road. But when they arrived, probably shortly after Grandpa’s birth in 1905, they announced themselves as George and Mabel Simmonds, erasing the Lilley name from their subsequent history. Where the name Simmonds came from I have no clue, though there was very likely a good reason for it. George and Mabel married quietly some 12 years later, in the middle of the greatest war the world had ever seen.

Nurse Mabel Butler and The South Eastern Fever Hospital

Ambulance at The South Eastern Hospital, 1906

Ambulance at The South Eastern Hospital, 1906

In the year that Queen Victoria died, 1901, my great grandmother, Mabel Butler, was 25 and unmarried. According to the census that was carried out that year she was a hospital nurse at The South Eastern Hospital, Avonlea Road, Deptford, London SE. However, the census does not specifically say that Mabel was employed at the hospital. In fact, it says that she was an inpatient at the hospital, but that her occupation was “hospital nurse.”

Many questions come to mind. Was The South Eastern Hospital her workplace? Did she also live there? Or was she a nurse at another hospital but for some reason admitted to The South Eastern Hospital as a patient? The last record of Mabel before 1901 was from the 1891 census 10 years earlier when she lived with her sister Sarah May in Bristol, and worked as Sarah’s assistant in a draper’s business. In the intervening years she had “left home” and become a qualified nurse. Why did she decide on this particular profession? How did she come to be living and working in London, after a childhood and early adulthood in Bristol? What was involved in becoming a qualified nurse at the turn of the century? What illness had Mabel contracted that resulted in her admission to hospital as a patient?

The most likely answer to the first of these questions is that she was indeed a nurse at The South Eastern Hospital, and that she did indeed live there. Nurses at that time were generally young single women who when they married left their job to take care of their husbands and families. They usually lived on site at the hospital in which they worked. A Nurses Home was built at The South Eastern Hospital in 1893, and Mabel presumably lived there. If she was sick enough to be admitted to hospital then it would be natural that it would be the hospital where she worked and lived.

As far as the other questions are concerned I can only guess at answers. Mabel decided to become a nurse at some stage between the ages of 15 and 25. Nursing as a profession was in its infancy in the late Victorian era: Florence Nightingale had founded her training school for nurses at St Thomas’s Hospital in London in 1860, the first secular nursing school in the world. Florence Nightingale herself was 81 at the time of the 1901 census. It is possible, I suppose, that Mabel trained as a nurse in that very school, if she trained at all. There were few to choose from then. Why she chose nursing I don’t know. I also don’t know when she stopped working as a nurse, but it was at some stage between 1901 and 1905 when her first son, my grandfather, was born.

The South Eastern Hospital, or Deptford Hospital as it was also known, was one of a group of hospitals constructed in a ring around London in the latter half of the 1800s. They were known as “fever hospitals” because they were largely for the treatment of infectious disease. Smallpox was a major health problem in London in the 1800s, but by the end of the nineteenth century smallpox cases were mostly being cared for on old ship hulks in the Thames. The hospitals were reserved for other infections, particularly typhus and scarlet fever. It is not unlikely that Mabel had contracted one of these “fevers” and that on census day, 1901 she was unluckily in bed.

According to the website, Lost Hospitals of London, “in 1901 an architect was appointed to prepare a scheme for permanent buildings on the very restricted site. The plan included the erection of staff quarters, receiving rooms, isolation wards and 4 new 2-storey pavilions at an estimated cost of £76,000. The Hospital closed in 1904. The 70 members of staff were laid off with a month’s notice, and only the Medical Superintendent, Matron and Steward retained. Building work began and was completed in two years. The Hospital reopened in July 1906 with 496 beds.”

But by 1906 Mabel was living in Heston, Middlesex, with her husband George Simmonds and her son of the same name, my grandfather. At the time of George’s birth in August 1905, Mabel was in fact living in Redhill, Surrey. Her occupation is listed on George’s birth certificate as “laundress of Merstham.” It is possible that she was one of the 70 members of staff who were laid off in 1904, but for some reason she chose to take a position as a laundress in Merstham rather than finding work somewhere else as a nurse.

Why did she move south to Redhill? Was it because she had met her future husband George Simmonds, and that he came from Surrey? How did they meet, and where? And was he called George Simmonds when she met him or George Lilley? When they finally married officially in 1916 George recorded his status as “widower.” Was he already a widower when they met, or was he still married? George was a few years older than Mabel, and the research I have done to date has led me to believe that in 1901 he was married to a girl called Rosetta and that they lived in Reigate, Surrey, under the name George and Rosetta Lilley. What happened to Rosetta? Of course it is a guess, but I have even wondered if perhaps Rosetta died of a “fever” in The South Eastern Hospital in Deptford.

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