It was already dark and Harriet lit another candle at 39a Southampton Street, Clerkenwell. Margaret was in full labour and the time to deliver was close. Her friend had come to her when her labour pains had started earlier in the day and Harriet was praying that all would go well. It was a risky pregnancy, as Margaret was carrying not just one baby but two. Still, she was not yet thirty, and relatively strong. Harriet waited anxiously, squeezing Margaret's hand, for it was nearly time. Finally, a baby's head crowned and at 8.15 pm, a baby boy was born, notifying the whole world of his arrival with his lusty cries. Soon after, he was followed by his brother at 8.30 pm, a little smaller and not quite so strong.
Lewis England, the husband of my great great aunt, grew up as a nurse child, never knowing his parents or certain of where he had been born. Rumours swirled in the family that he was the illegitimate son of a lord, and that information on his birth, recorded on a sheet of paper in the family bible, had been burnt, so scandalous were the contents. In this blog post, I have set out to discover the truth about his mother, Margaret.
Margaret Ann England was born in Doynton, Gloucestershire in 1842, the second eldest daughter of Moses England, a shoemaker, and his wife, Eliza, nee Jones. Sadly, she lost her mother when a young child and in her teens, Margaret left home and found a job working as a housemaid at Newark Park, Ozleworth, Gloucestershire. She is recorded here with the other servants in the household of Sarah Clutterbuck when the 1861 census was taken:
Newark Park was originally a Tudor hunting lodge, set in a commanding position with fine views over the Severn Estuary. It was just over twenty miles north of Margaret’s home in Doynton. The house had been in the family since the late 18th century when a formal deer park was created, amongst other improvements. Now Grade 1 listed, it is in the care of the National Trust.
Some time in the 1860s, Margaret England came to London. She may well have still been in the employ of Sarah Clutterbuck, as well-to-do families often had a home in London, as well as a country residence. What is known is that by the summer of 1865, Margaret found herself to be pregnant. This would have been a difficult situation for an unmarried woman and she wouldn’t have been able to conceal the pregnancy for long, as she was carrying twins. Most employers would dismiss a pregnant maid from service. On the night of March 14th 1866, she gave birth to twin boys at 39a Southampton Street in Clerkenwell. She called the first boy Lewis and the second boy, William Basing, the man she claimed was the father of the boys.
Here is the birth certificate of Lewis England:
Margaret’s choice of the name, Lewis, for her baby son is significant, Lewis was the name of her mistress’ late husband, Lewis Clutterbuck, who died on April 3rd 1861, just a few days before the 1861 census was taken. Lewis and Sarah Clutterbuck also had a son, Lewis Balfour Clutterbuck, who went into the Church. Born in 1822, he was the rector of Doynton, Margaret’s home parish, from 1847 until his death in 1872. One imagines that it must have been through him that Margaret had got her job at the Clutterbuck family home at Newark Park. If this was the case, Margaret must have held him in high esteem to name her child after him.
Southampton Street, where Margaret was living, consisted of regular, three-storey houses numbered 1-40. They typically housed three families, perhaps one on each floor. Between house number 39 and house number 40, there were three dwellings, numbered 39a, 39b and 39c in the 1861 and 1871 census. They appear to have their own entrances (hence the separate addresses) but were very tiny, judging by the small number of occupants recorded. Was 39a Southampton Street lodging that Margaret had found for herself or was she staying with a friend? Did she have any financial support from William Basing, who himself was in domestic service as a footman?
Margaret registered the births of her sons, Lewis and William Basing on April 18th 1866. She signed her name, so this indicates that she had had some education and most unusually, named the father as William Basing, a footman. With most illegitimate births, there is a blank where the father’s name would normally be written. Sometimes, couples would pretend to be married and register the birth together, but rarely did a father accompany an unmarried mother and acknowledge his paternity. However, between 1837 and 1875, if the mother informed the registrar of an illegitimate child’s birth and gave the father’s name, the registrar could record him as the father on the certificate without him being present. After 1875, a man could only be named as the father with his consent, so he had to be present when the birth was registered.
The births of both Lewis and William Basing were registered in the original indexes of the General Register Office (GRO) under both Basing and England. You can see two entries for each child in the birth indexes at FreeBMD- www.freebmd.org.uk. However, on the GRO website www.gro.gov.uk, the births of illegitimate children are only indexed under the father’s name when this is given. This is the GRO’s policy, despite the fact that illegitimate children usually took the surname of their mother.
Margaret appears determined to publicly name William Basing as the father, perhaps because she needed financial support from him though in Victorian society, there was a lot of stigma associated with illegitimacy. She would not have been living with William Basing, as his job as a footman would have meant that he lived in the house of his employer. Perhaps she and William Basing had worked in the same household and this is how they had met and formed a relationship.
The next reference we have to Margaret is a sad one, as it is the death certificate of her baby son, William Basing, a few months later. He had died at the age of eleven weeks of mesenteric disease and convulsions for four hours:
It looks as if baby William had failed to thrive, as mesenteric disease indicates digestion problems. It could have been difficult for Margaret to feed both of her babies and cow’s milk was often contaminated, particularly in the cities and in hot weather. Margaret was still living at 39a Southampton Street looking after her babies, but the informant was Harriet Lake of the same address, who was present at the death. Who was Harriet? In the 1861 census there is a Harriet Lake living at 46 Goswell Road in Clerkenwell, the 47 year old wife of a grocer, Ephraim Lake. Perhaps Harriet was a friend or someone locally who was known for their nursing skills. It is heartening to see that Margaret was not completely alone, with Harriet taking on the sad task of registering the death of baby William.
Margaret had already lost one baby and sadly, she was not able to keep baby Lewis. Her own mother had died and her father had remarried back in Gloucestershire so she must have had no one in the family that was willing to look after him. One can imagine her predicament. How could she support herself and baby Lewis on her own if William Basing was not giving her any financial support. She needed to go back to work so she took the decision to place baby Lewis with a foster mother who would be able to take care of him. It must have been very hard for her to give up her child: she probably felt she had no choice.
When the 1871 census came round, Margaret was a member of the staff employed by J.L Du Plat Taylor and his wife in Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, so she was successful in finding work. Mr Du Plat Taylor was a secretary for the East and West India Dock Company. Ten years later, when the 1881 census was taken, she was in the employ of retired servant, Edward Francis and his wife, Susan, working as a housemaid and general servant in Wandsworth. Initially, it had been written that she was a “Visitor” but this was then crossed out and “Servant” was written instead. Margaret’s age was given as 35, but she was, in fact, close to 40 years old.
At this point, you may be wondering what exactly had happened to baby Lewis. Since his twin brother died in July 1866 on Southampton Street, we can assume that Lewis spent at least the first couple of months of his life with his mother. However, by the time of the 1871 census, he was living in Betchworth, Surrey with Charles Matthews, a gardener, his wife, Jane, and their two children. Betchworth was around fifteen miles away from Kingston-on-Thames where his mother was working. He was five years old and described as a nurse child, which suggests money had been given to this couple by Margaret for his care. Ten years later, when the 1881 census was taken, he was still living in Betchworth but working as a servant and assistant baker for James Bowyer, a grocer and a baker. This must be where Lewis learnt to bake and run a business, as later on in life, Lewis was a baker and confectioner, eventually becoming a restaurant proprietor in Southend, Essex. When he was a nurse child, his place of birth was given as “London”, and when he was fifteen, in 1881, it was stated to be “City Road, London”, which was pretty close to the truth, as Southampton Street was just off the City Road in the Pentonville area of the City. However, thereafter, Lewis states that his place of birth was Dorking, or Putney, in Surrey. When he marries in 1892, he says his father was Frederick England, a carpenter, who was deceased. Lewis undoubtedly had no idea who his father was so made up an identity for him. One wonders whether he had had any direct contact with his mother, Margaret, when growing up.
Margaret England had spent around twenty five years working as a servant and the prospect of marriage must have receded with time. However, in 1882, she gave up a life of domestic service and went back to Gloucestershire where she married, William White, a widower, in her home parish of Doynton:
Margaret and her new husband, William White, (who was nearly twenty years older than her), settled in Tetbury where William took up farming. On April 8th 1884, Margaret gave birth to their daughter, Margaret Amy, and the birth of a son, William, on July 16 1886 completed their family. The couple stayed in Tetbury for the rest of their lives and had a long marriage of over twenty seven years until the death of William White in 1909. After the death of her husband, Margaret went into the almshouses in Tetbury, where she is recorded in the 1911 census. She died on March 3rd 1925 in Tetbury.
It has been fascinating to look at Margaret’s history and the decisions she took as the single mother of twins, alone in London. After suffering the loss of baby William, one feels that she probably didn’t have much choice but to go back to work and give up baby Lewis to the care of others when he was old enough to be weaned. She must have sent money to him from her wages for a number of years but how much contact she had with afterwards is unknown. However, he wasn’t abandoned or left in an orphanage. She also shows some strength of character, as clearly, she was determined to name William Basing as the father. It is not known if he provided any support for his children but it seems unlikely, as you will see when I explore his story in The Footman. With her marriage to William White in 1882, Margaret was finally able to enjoy a family life, back in Gloucestershire, and had two more children, Margaret and William, who hopefully brought her much happiness. One wonders whether her husband ever knew of her past.
When I first began searching for evidence that would reveal the identity of Margaret England, I found a different candidate to the girl from Gloucestershire. Margaret England, the daughter of James England, lived with her family on Britannia Street, in St Pancras, only a few minutes walk away from Southampton Street where the twins were born. This Margaret England marries a John Fenn in 1858 and her address is Southampton Street. She was therefore a strong candidate for the mother of the twins, Lewis and William, as she was local to the area and had lived in Clerkenwell or in the near vicinity all her life. Given the fact that she was married, but not to the father of her twins, she had a strong motive to use her maiden name, rather than her married name when she registered her sons’ births. There was also a hint of marital problems as Margaret Fenn is recorded on her own, though married, with her young son, Samuel John, when the 1871 census was taken. Margaret England, the domestic servant who was born in Doynton, Gloucestershire, in 1842, had also caught my eye but I had no evidence that she had ever lived in Clerkenwell. She was working in Ozleworth, Gloucestershire when the 1861 census was taken and in 1871, was a servant in Kingston on Thames, Surrey. However, evidence from DNA has proved conclusively that Margaret England, the mother of the twins, was, in fact, Margaret England of Doynton, Gloucestershire, eliminating Margaret England, who married John Fenn, as a candidate. It has been good to discover the true identity of Margaret and set the record straight.
In my next blog post, The Footman, I will be revealing the identity of William Basing, the mysterious footman and the father of Margaret’s twin boys.
© Judith Batchelor 2020