Chapter Nine

Move to Upper Homerton – Frank, Basil, Honoria and Janet born – The Croydon wet nurse – Move to Grove House – Typhus and the drains


As some difficulties occurred this year in my husband’s business and home expenses increased we thought it best to take a more roomy house and in place of advancing the elder boys to the school in Romanoff House, we had better let them continue their education at the Grammar School, where Mr. Jackson was a clever head master with good staff.

Ursick Road, formerly Upper Homerton

Ursick Road, formerly Upper Homerton

Fortunately a large old house in Upper Homerton was to let in a good position near Mrs. Greenwood and the five houses, it contained more rooms than in Clapton Square, and all much larger a small garden. At midsummer 1855, we went into it and Stewart and Bertie resumed work at the Grammar School. On the 9th of December Frank was born, I had then nine children living, the eldest not 11 years old.

The elder girls and Duncan were taught by a daily governess for some time, when Duncan was six years old he went to school at Highgate Hill at a Miss Amsden’s.

Both the elder boys held good places at School, and usually took prizes. Stewart was specially clever, I was always interested in their lessons, and when the Wednesday papers began, (questions to answer on all topics,) I would not help them, but always looked out the replies to see they were rightly understood.

In the Autumn of 1856 Charles and I went to Paris for a few days, leaving Miss Grassman with the children; this was my husband’s first foreign experience. We went first to the Louvre Hotel, but Meriscoe Pearce my cousin, then studying painting in Paris, called it very extravagant and took a room for us in the OcoQuartier, and showed us where to find good meals cheaply in the Luxembourg Quartier.

A Mr. White who knew Charles showed us many places of interest, we went to see Dr. Denys, also met Mr. Blaxland and went to hear preaching at Saint Sulpice and at Saint Roel where are ten lovely statues.

In 1856 Miss Grassman began to teach the children and Katie had a few lessons. Miss Grassman was of German family, and very well educated, the children were quite attached to her and she taught admirably, but her intense pride towards me, was a daily trial.

In February 1857 Basil was born, the 16th, he was a delicate boy, and could not be fed on milk as Frank had been, and therefore he also had a nurse. She did not do well, and my mother advised us to let her entrust him to a young widow at Croydon, where she lived then, and she would carefully watch him. Early in August we were going for a holiday to Ilfracombe, and before we left London, went down to Croydon to see the baby, as my mother and sisters had gone to the sea.

On arriving at the cottage, no one was in the house, it was dirty and wretched, an old cradle stood in the middle of the floor. I glanced at it, thinking it empty, but on looking closer, we saw our poor little Basil, in a heavy sleep, dirty, emanciated, the face of an old man, and hands like bird’s claws. We were dreadfully shocked, and I took him up, rolled in a blanket, and we looked for some neighbours, who could tell us more. One woman said “Oh Ma’am go to the public house close by, and the landlady will tell you.” So we went, the kind woman cried when she saw us and the baby, she said she knew it was a gentleman’s child by its clothes, but the widow never allowed it to be so. We heard how this woman had only pretended to nurse Basil, as she also had her own child, she used to drink constantly, and would take our baby into the public house, and give it gin till it went to sleep. The mistress of the house was miserable but could not find out anything about the poor child. When my mother and sisters left, they ordered their servants to see to the child but something prevented. We had to leave him there, and go home, and at once, found a nice person, who knew Mrs. Lucas, and who had just lost her baby. The next day I went to Croydon and brought him home. He at once took to his new nurse, who came to us, and remained some months. As she was a nice person, we parted with Nurse Read, and only kept Anne, the under nurse, for Frank, and the two little girls.

In 1856 the three elder girls had gone to school at Notting Hill, to Miss Harvey, a friend of Mrs. Greenwood’s. Like so many of those people who fancy they can establish a school at any time, she tried to sink the family and do justice to pupils, in this she failed, and we removed the children.

In September 1857, we went to Ilfracombe for ten days. On opening the newspaper in the train on our leaving London, we first saw the terrible accounts of the Indian Mutiny. No words now can describe the shock inflicted by the terrible details of this outbreak, it was wholly unexpected, as the early threatenings of the rebels had been kept so quiet, and we always thought of India as a safe possession. I remember being so excited by reading the particulars of the various massacres of men, women, and children with all the added horrors and exaggerated accounts, that I could hardly bear the motion of the train. I think it spoilt my holiday, though in those days, before the rail was made it was lovely travelling, from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe outside the coach. We had rooms in Coronation Terrace, under Hillsboro’. No one who visits Ilfracombe now, can imagine what it was, when Wildersmouth was all rocks, and the Capstan a bare Headland, and the Tors a wild spot. We went to Lymouth, and only just escaped a bad accident on — Hill, where one of the four horses jibbed and backed the stage into a shed by the road, at which crisis, I jumped down from the box seat. All was lovely and our holiday only too short.

In 1858, I had a bad illness in June. My brother-in-law Thomas Woolley who had brought his family home from Sydney in 1856 became seriously ill, and after much suffering died at the Victoria Hotel, St. Leonards; his third daughter Eliza, had died before him. The widow and her five children returned to Sydney soon afterwards. Old Mrs. Woolley had left her sister-in-law’s house, at Westergate, Sussex, and taken a small one in Clarence Road, Hackney, with her eldest daughter Mary in 1857; for some time she was very happy there, but a stroke of paralysis rendered her almost powerless. She was ill for several months and in March 1857 she died. I was laid up at the time, having been confined with a boy, John, who only lived a few hours, and whom I never saw.

The elder boys did very well at school, working hard, and Stewart was to leave the Grammar School at Midsummer and go to Sherborne, a public school, as he was intended to be a lawyer.

At that time, my husband was doing very well, and as the boys and all needed change, we took a large house at Eastbourne (then a small country place) in Cornfield Terrace, where we went for the holidays, taking Jane Salmon as cook, a housemaid and two nurses. Uncle and Aunt John Pearce came down to stay, bringing their servants, James and Susan, driving down from Clapton. After they left, my mother and sisters came. It was a very bright time, Charles was down often, and played cricket making up a club of their own. Then we became friends of William Mortimer, who we all liked. Two boys, sons of the Marquis of Huntley also were of the club. The eldest has made himself very notorious as Marquis of Huntley, the younger, Lord Louis Gordon, went down in the “Captain” off Spain. When we came home, I prepared my Stewart to go into the house of Dr. Harper Head Master of Sherbourne, it was a great trial to us to part with him, he was a strangely nervous boy, but we hoped such great things for him in his future, his abilities were unusual. He had genius, alas! A poor adornment.

At the end of Autumn Charles and I went to the sea alone, and being at Weymouth, we unwisely had Stewart to join us for a few days. We saw Portland, and then took him to Sherbourne to see the Harpers, and the school house. It is greatly improved now I hear, the old Chapel, which then was a drawing room, has been restored. The visit unsettled our boy. We came home by Bournemouth which then consisted of a small Hotel, and a few houses in the Pine Woods. The Ex King of the French, Louis Philippe lived there in a small house, we met two of the young Princesses and the Prince de Joinville in a pouring rain all drest in mc’intoshes, cloaks and galoshes!

At Christmas, Stewart brought Frank Edmondes home with him, Frank was in Stewart’s class, the upper 5th at first, but soon left it, he was cousin to Mrs. Harper who was a daughter of Col. Harness, who had been at Lucknow during the mutiny, and after was Governor of Chatham. Mrs. Edmundes was his sister. We were all fond of Frank, and he often was at our house, when he left Sherbourne for Woolwich and Chatham. He passed his examination well and got into the Engineers. Later on, he went to Bermuda, coming home in 1871, we saw much of him, then until he was engaged to a Miss Bowen in 1873, or 4. Stewart did well in the upper 5th and was removed to the 6th form where prizes were not given, only a medal on leaving, then he flagged. All this is in advance of Christmas 1859.

All will remember a large young party that Christmas, when William Mortimer was the leader, and when old Wicks, the butler to Mrs. Greenwood (lent us for the occasion) came to me during the dancing with alarm on his broad face, saying, “Ma’am, stop it, the chandelier in the dining room is vibrating awful, and will fall on the supper”, to avoid this catastrophe, I made only half of the couples dance the polka at once.

At that time Duncan had gone to school at Chatham House, Ramsgate, as he needed sea air.

I suppose, were it now compared with the curriculum of Cheltenham College, it would be nowhere! I cannot recollect that we took the children to the sea in 1860. On the 16th of July a 7th daughter, Honoria Maud was added to the nursery, and once more Nurse Read was installed as head.

It was a wet Summer, and the Autumn was not good, in September Charles and I went to Germany and up the Rhine and visited the high Vineyards where the wine was very fine after a comet year. I recollect we drove up in the evening from Frankfort and came down to Mayence very late at night. We also saw Heidelberg with the lovely Neckar. The ruins are so beautiful but somehow I felt as if the castle had been pulled down! Like Hurst Monceaux near Eastbourne. We staid at the Hotel de Russia in Frankfort, formerly kept by M. Sarg, whom I had seen at Mr. Fry’s. He had entertained the Czar of Russia who gave his name and some splendid vases to the Hotel, and stood sponsor to M. Sarg’s daughter, Alexandria, she was a beautiful pianiste. The “Cuisine” there we found admirable.

We came home by Paris, and had difficulty in finding rooms, it was so full of tourists returning. The weather was more or less wet always, and we were glad to be at home.

The Winter brought all the family home, with much bustle and work for all, and their father was not so cheerful as of old with them, for there was much trouble in the world, and he shared it. We decided that all must be contented at home in the Midsummer holidays of 1861, but unexpectedly, Mrs. Bernard Lucas asked us if we would go to the sea, and let Mr. Nathaniel Powell have our house at once, as scarlet fever had broken out in his, at Buckhurst Hill. We had only four days notice, I went off alone to Worthing, found a house in Liverpool Terrace to accommodate us, and we got there within the time. It was a school, so plenty of room for all, but poorly supplied. Mrs. Lucas and her son came to us for a week, we went to Arundel and made other excursions, but Charles could not get away often to be with us, and eleven children to manage alone, was not an enjoyment to me.

We intended Bertie to go into his father’s business and thought it well, he should obtain a good knowledge of French and German, so in September, he went to Vevey in Switzerland, to M. Guerin, a school recommended by Mr. G. Simon. I disliked his leaving home, but thought it best. By this time we seemed to have out grown our house in Upper Homerton, the sitting rooms were excellent, but we only had 6 bedrooms and a nursery, with a small bedroom on the ground floor, not desirable. I knew our family might be larger in 1862, so begged my husband to let us find a larger house, especially as Stewart was to leave school at Christmas. I have never ceased to regret this removal; had we waited, for a time, we should have found that circumstances would have so ordered, we could have remained, indeed the house was so good and would have allowed of alterations subsequently made by our Successors there, that it would have allowed us to remain for years, and saved us many weary cares and troubles. Perhaps however, we were ordained to make this mistake that we might suffer from so doing. Some day we may know whether it was so.

Grove House, on Stamford Grove West, now flats

Grove House, on Stamford Grove West, now flats. This would have been the side.

It was not easy to find a house as we did not wish to leave Clapton; at last we took the only one there vacant, feeling it was too large and expensive besides having other disadvantages of position. Grove House stood in two acres of gardens, was approached by a private road with turnpike gate, and was beyond the railway station. I cannot say we took no advice, for we consulted my Uncle John Pearce, but he disliked interfering, and only wished us to remain near to him; besides he knew my husband had been prospering, and he supposed, still was so. He little knew what were the demands on a man with such a family as ours. I think the fault in this was mine; though a husband ought to rule in such matters, mine was only too willing to gratify me.

A great calamity fell upon the country at this time in the death of the Prince Consort on the 14th December after a short illness. He had no doubt, over-taxed a constitution never strong, and had much anxiety on account of the Prince of Wales. A cold taken when his great coat had been forgotten brought on some fever which became serious.

In spite of the entreaties of his wife, and of Sir William Turner, the specialist for this malady, the Prince refused all stimulants, and soon sank under the disease. His death was only known on Sunday morning, we were told of it as we were going into St. John’s, Hackney, we felt stunned.

News was brought to the Rector, and suddenly in the service the Dead March in Saul was played. I shall never forget the thrill of pain which seemed to pass over all the congregation as they rose, guessing the case.

The death of Prince Albert was a terrible sorrow to the Queen, and in some ways a loss to the country in the great talent he had displayed for evolving the art and science of the day, but the Prince of Wales, was of an age to take his place as Heir Apparent and the devotion of the Queen to her husband, must have raised many difficulties.

The Prince had not been very amenable to his father’s rule, and much home trouble had occurred, indeed in a degree Prince Albert’s death was hastened by this.

The Queen remained in entire seclusion as regarded public life for several years.

We removed from Upper Homerton to Grove House, Upper Clapton, before Christmas 1861, and I cannot say our first Christmas Day there was very bright or pleasant. Stewart had left Sherbourne and was to go into Uncle John Pearce’s office. Miss Levin was the governess, but very inefficient and we arranged that Amy and Alice should go to school at Cheltenham where Louie was.

On the 11th January 1862, our little Janet was born, a beautiful child, she was called after Miss Bowman, her godmother. Soon after I recovered, Katie and Margaret were taken seriously ill, and it was soon found to be typhus or low fever, the under nurse, Ellen Parish was infected, and became dangerously ill, another servant slightly. After a time, it was traced to impure water, and it was discovered that the wall of the well for drinking water was cracked, and that drainage water leaked into it. Charles attacked the vestry, and it was found that all drainage from the small houses round, as well as from Grove House was most insanitary, and the authorities were compelled to expend £400, on the proper drainage. At one time we feared that both Margaret and Ellen Parish would have died, but after a long, serious illness, all recovered, and the children and nurse went away for a change. The baby was a very sweet child, very intelligent at eight months old she sat up in her chair, playing with her wooden animals, and making the noises of each. She wore a white silk bonnet, lined with pink, and was called “The Beauty of Upper Clapton.”

In this Spring, we first knew our dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles Jacomb of Spring Fields, and soon knew many of our neighbours. I had a district for coal and clothing clubs, 40 houses, we were a very large family 18 or 19 people. I had all the management of them, clothing to direct for all, a Reading Society, and some visiting in the evening, a busy full life.

In September, Aunt and Uncle John went to Margate, and wanted me to stay with them, Charles came part of the time. When I came home early in October I found my baby rather too excitable, and I was much with her. Very soon, more painfully acute symptoms arose, and Mr. Toulmin feared for the brain. Then began ten terrible weeks, she never rested unless when carried about, and four of us, in turn walked up and down those nurseries day and night, her head resting on a small pillow, if we paused, or tried to sit down, her cries were pitiful. So it went on to Christmas Eve, all were nearly worn out, and at six p.m. her Father called her as she lay moaning in my arms, and she was at peace. We could not lament for her, her suffering had been too great but we missed her sweet face, I often think how little Maud, then 2 ½ years old, used to walk up and down by my side, as I carried Janet, holding by my dress, and I remember too, how when we told all the children that she had gone home, Stewart took them all into the dining room, and kept them quiet and occupied, that I might rest. On Christmas morning Charles and I went to the early service at St. Matthew’s. Ada Lashbrook was with us in 1863 as governess to the four younger children, her father having lost money through Mr. Harrison, they had to retrench for a time.

All through the Winter and early Spring I was not well, the long illness had tried me, and we were not happy as to our boy’s work at Gresham House, he was not able to resist the attraction of billiard playing in London, and found office work very dull. The Prince of Wales on the 10th, of March married the Princess of Denmark, who had been raptorously welcomed in London on her arrival. She was eighteen, and a beautiful girl, who had been well brought up in so simple a household, that she was used to the utmost economy.

On her first visit to the Court of England, “to be inspected” the Queen presented her with many suitable dresses, her own girlish cotton frocks being impossible.

We went down to Folkestone on the wedding-day, then only a little quiet place. The steep old streets leading from the sea, were illuminated with Chinese Lanterns suspended across, from house to house. On the 11th, we crossed over, and went to Paris for ten days, as a change. The weather became intensely cold and felt perished even in our rooms at the Hotel Meurice, whilst the keen wind blowing along the straight streets rendered going out really a suffering. We came home to very much sorrow. It was evident that our Stewart would not do any good in the profession for which he had been educated, and in which we hoped he would follow my Uncle and Cousin.

He insisted on going to sea, and though we knew the life would be most uncongenial to him, we found opposition useless. I always think, that this bitter disappointment was the beginning of his father’s illness.

Early in May he went out to China in a merchant vessel belonging to a friend. My sister Louie came up to stay with and comfort us when he left, it was dreadful to me, and I felt then just as I did when I stood by his coffin seven years afterwards – stunned. He left, drest in his sailor’s uniform in the middle of the day, but at tea time suddenly returned with another lad, as the vessel was not to sail till midnight, so that she might go out of dock on Sunday morning, another goodbye, but I could not give way.

The following day was Whit Sunday and I was not able to go to Church, a lovely day, and I was alone, when our nurse came in to see if our little Margaret was with me as she had left the others in the garden some time, I was roused up by this, and searched the house and the garden for her in vain. After a time her father and Aunt with the elder ones returned from Church, and he at once went out to look for her, thinking that she had hidden herself. Bertie took another direction. When her father had gone about three quarters of a mile towards London, he saw a little figure sitting under a wall by the road-side, with a great flat bundle, fastened up in a blanket, – it was the child. He went gently up to her, and asked where she wished to go. And she told him at once, she was waiting for an omnibus to take her to London. She was going to the docks to find a ship that would take her to China to be with her dear Stewart. Her father said that on Sunday she could not go into the docks, and that she would require clothes and money. She told him, she had seven pence halfpenny and her breakfast in the bundle, and had taken her winter frock and cape, as it might be cold! How so fragile a child had carried that bundle for so great a distance remained a mystery, her father could not carry it home. He advised her to return with him to Grove House for the present. She said no more, and quickly walked back. We begged her Aunt to take her into her room alone, and after giving her some nourishment, she slept, quite worn out.

She never spoke of this adventure to anyone, nor have I ever heard her allude to it. It, however, affected her nervous system, and very shortly she had one or two cataleptic seizures. Sir William Gull came to see her, with Mr. Toulmin who was greatly interested in her always but they said very little notice should be taken of these attacks to her.

It was not easy to prevent the other children being excited when they occurred, and we found their notice rather tended to increase them. So Louie decided on returning home to Ilfracombe, taking Margaret where she would have sea air and be entirely away from all associations reminding her of the brother’s absence she so much loved.

In September of 1863, we also took rooms at Ilfracombe, and I went there with the three elder girls. We had a large cheerful party there. My mother and sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Lucas and the Bernard Lucas’ the Beans and others, Charles came down for his holiday, but could not stay long. I omitted to say that just before we left home we had received a letter from my brother William whom we had believed to be dead many years, as he left London in 1849, and had not written after 1850, it was a nice letter, he had struggled through a hard life, had married a good woman, though of inferior social standing, and had a family who was growing up on some land he farmed, at Coleraine in Australia. He had become a Christian man, his wife’s influence bringing back all he had been taught when young, and now, as a father himself he had begun to understand what his mother must have felt in thinking of him as dying in so unprepared a state, so he wrote. The story of his death had arisen from the body of a man being found near Adelaide whose clothes were marked “W. Pearce” how he came by them, will never be known, but thus it happened, and my brother’s death was accepted.

We met at Ilfracombe our friend Mrs. Scott of Hyde Park Street, a young widow with three little children who also was on Hillsboro’ Terrace. She has been our friend ever since.

A sad accident happened whilst we were at Ilfracombe, just before we left. A gale had blown, causing a heavy ground swell on to the beach, and bathing for ladies was objected to. One lady, who was to leave the next day, and to be married very soon insisted on going in and refused the rope which she was urged to take. My husband who swam very well, had found the water so unpleasant, he had gone into his machine in the Gentlemen’s Cove, and was partly drest, when the man in charge, rushed to him, entreating him to come at once as a lady was drowning. Without delay, as he was, Charles hurried round to the other Cove, and dashed into the sullen waves, swimming with another man to the place where the poor woman had struck against a rock.

He was of course, embarrassed by being partly dressed, and, though there was another man to assist, it was most difficult to get through the ground swell, the poor woman was also very heavy, and quite unconscious, so that she sank in the water. At last she was brought to the beach, and carried up to the bathing house, a doctor was sent for, and as soon as my husband reached land, he begged me and my sister Jane to go to assist. For two hours, under direction, we did all that was possible, one or twice she appeared to breathe; but at last it was of no use to employ means, all was over. Her poor mother was there, it was her only child, just going to be married.

The whole affair was trying, and to my husband a great shock, he had to see the family and give evidence, he did not recover for some time, as it was so injurious to him, thus to have gone again into the rough sea, after once coming out.

Indeed I always felt this was the cause of illness which came on early in 1864 and from which he never recovered.

About this time, 1864, Duncan went to school at the Merchant Taylor’s, and Frank and Basil to Ramsgate.

I think also in this year, Amy and Alice were at home, and we tried a German lady for a Governess, Miss Lauterain who taught Mrs. Jelf and her sisters, but she did not get on well with our girls. Amy had very curious fads and Alice was rather insubordinate. I had a severe illness in April of this year when Jane stayed with us. My sister Louie had not been well after we left Ilfracombe, and they removed to Bath to consult an eminent surgeon there, and whilst living in apartments, met again Mr. Buttanshaw who was an old friend, his family having known my mother and all of us, at Tunbridge Wells, he was the curate at Bath Abbey, and a man of good fortune.


Continue to Chapter Ten: Charles unwell – Charlie born – Louie unwell – A dreadful secret