The Mysterious Case of the Woman Who Died Twice…

Lucy Wall Grimley was born in 1860 in Edmonton, Middlesex – the daughter of John Wall Grimley and Mary Elizabeth Brown. Her father was a Master Plumber and Glazier and sometimes a part-time police constable. The family had lived on Fore Street in Edmonton for many years. Lucy was the ninth of ten children, her younger sibling Clara having died aged 2 in 1865, leaving Lucy to be the youngest child.

In 1884 Lucy married William Augustus Tilley in Shoreditch and before long had three children, Lucy born in October 1884 shortly after their marriage, Sydney Augustus in 1887 and Albert Victor in 1889. In 1891 they were living at 8 Powlett Place, St. Pancras, London where William was a Licensed Victualler Cellarman.

I had been looking for the family in 1901 and been struggling to locate them until I found Sydney Augustus at 197 Great College Street, St. Pancras but William was down as James Tilley and his wife was down as Florence, with them were two other children, Frederick aged 6 and Anne aged 1. William or James gave his occupation as Cellarman and his place of birth was Tottenham – the same as he had given in 1891. I then found Lucy’s daughter Lucy had been sent to an Industrial School in 1896 according to the school register for her previous school in Camden but by 1901 was working as a servant in Hove near Brighton for a Henry Fay – a retired wine merchant. As for her brother Albert Victor I found him on the ‘Mount Edgecumbe Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys’. The St. Pancras Workhouse records have an entry relating to Albert Tilley of 197 Great College Street stating that on the 9th February 1901 he was admitted to the workhouse by his father and was discharged on 16th Feburary 1901 to the police. He was admitted again on the same day and discharged on 18th February 1901 to the police. I would imagine this was why Albert was sent to the training ship because he kept getting into trouble.

It was when I had found that William had seemingly married again to Florence that I had then searched the death register indexes for Lucy Wall Tilley expecting to only find one entry, her combination of forename, middle name and surname being quite unique… So imagine my surprise when I found two entries! There was one in 1891 aged 31 (so born circa 1860) but also there was an entry for 1905 aged 44 (born circa 1861). What could this mean? Had she not really been dead in 1891? Surely not, a body had been buried – as I had found burial entries to match up to both of these death entries from the records on Deceased Online. Had she faked her death? Doubtful. It was because of these two entries that I had ordered both death certificates.

According to the first death certificate, Lucy died on 9th May 1891 at the same address the family were living at on the census aged 31. She had died of Influenza following an epidemic, which had lead to Pneumonia. It seems she had been ill for at least 12 days. She was buried on the 12th May in the St. Pancras Cemetery.


Detail from Lucy’s death certificate.


The entry from the burial register from 1891.

The second death certificate stated that a Lucy Wall Tilley had died on 23rd January 1905 at 13 Hawley Road, St. Pancras aged 44, wife of William Augustus Tilley – Licensed Victuallers Assistant. She had died of Chronic Nephritis (Kidney Inflammation) – which had lasted 18 months, Morbus Cordis (heart disease) – which had lasted six months, Coma and Exhaustion. William had been the informant of her death – as he had been in 1891. She was buried in the same cemetery on 27th January 1905.


Detail from the 1905 death certificate.


The 1905 burial register entry.

So what was going on here? The only explanation I could think of was this:

After Lucy had died in 1891, William took up with Florence but they never officially married. There are no marriage entries for a William Tilley and a Florence or indeed a James Tilley and a Florence. Perhaps Florence had been previously married and was not divorced or widowed and could not marry William officially? I do not really understand why William would start calling himself James, but his children grew to know him as that. His children with Florence – Frederick and Anne, both had their births registered as Tilley but do not seem to have been baptised like William and Lucy’s children were. For whatever reason, when Florence died, William registered her name as that of his first wife Lucy, perhaps to cover up the fact they were not officially married. It seems strange to bother when they had been together for around ten years and it’s not like anyone would have checked. Perhaps Florence had been a wanted woman, we might never know.

In 1904 Sydney joined up to the 3rd Battalion East Surrey Regiment but was discharged a year and five months later for misconduct. His next of kin details were given as his father James Tilley – address unknown and his younger brother ‘Herbert’ Tilley aboard the same training ship he was on in 1901 in Saltash. He joined up again in 1907, this time with the Royal Engineers, and despite a few rocky patches through drunkeness, he seemed to fare better. He may have become estranged from his father as a letter sent to him during his service was returned address unknown. In 1911 he was listed with his regiment at Dinapool Cantonment in India. At one point his address was the same as his sister Lucy’s after her marriage. He served through WWI and was mentioned in dispatches. He married in 1927 and had one daughter.

His sister Lucy was working in Sloane Street, Chelsea as a Housemaid for a wealthy widow Annie Edwards along with three other servants, a Ladies Maid, Parlour Maid and a Cook. She went on to marry Rudolph Bretschneider in 1911 in Fulham. Rudolph was also known as Adolph and had been married before but been widowed shortly after his first marriage as well as losing his baby daughter at the same time. Rudolph and Lucy had three children, Beatrice Lucy in 1911, Annie who was born and died in 1914 and Dorothy in 1916. Rudolph served in WWI but was pensioned out in 1917 due to Osteo-Arthritis. Their daughters never married.

Albert Victor remained in the Navy after his time on the training ship in Saltash. I’ve not been able to locate him in 1911 but it is likely he was at sea aboard HMS Natal. He served from 1908 until 1922 and had married in 1917 and had given his father as James George Tilley – occupation is what looks like ‘Salaman’ – could be Salesman but could also be a weird phonetic spelling of ‘Cellarman.’ Like his brother Sydney, he too had one daughter.

I’ve not been able to locate William/James and his younger children in the 1911 census but William appears in the St. Pancras Workhouse registers several times from 1911 onwards, as William Augustus not James, having been admitted on 22nd November 1911 from being in prison. It states his address as not known and his family members being his son Frederick aged 16 and daughter Ann aged 11 who were both chargeable to the parish. He was described as a widower and a Potman by trade. He was discharged on the 29th March 1912 only to be admitted again the next day until the 10th April, but was admitted again on the same day until 3rd June. He was back there again on 6th June until 30th July. Again he was back in on the same day and discharged on the 20th August but back in again on the same day from the South Infirmary until 13th September the following year. It states he has a son Frederick aged 18 but address unknown. No mention of Ann(e) this time.

It seems William was out of the workhouse for a few years but appeared again being admitted on 8th April 1918 and discharged on 13th May. The entry lists his family members as his son Frederick and his married daughter Lucy and gives her address, but states he had no home.

I haven’t found any criminal register entries for William under either name, so it is possible he had been to prison for a short stay for something like vagrancy if he was homeless. It seems a shame that his life had turned out this way, but I was interested that his son Frederick didn’t appear in the workhouse registers, so perhaps he and Anne had been taken in by their older sister or another family member.

Frederick married in 1921 and gave his father’s name as James Tilley – Barman. He and his wife had one son. As for Anne – no idea what became of her, there are no marriages or deaths that seem to stick out for me.

William Augustus Tilley died at Highgate Hospital, St. Pancras in 1922 and was buried at St. Pancras Cemetery on the 28th April.

At some point I will order the birth certificates for Frederick and Ann(e) to see what their mother’s name was given as in the hope to figure out some more about Florence, perhaps it might help to shed some more light on why William saw fit to ‘disguise’ her as his first wife.

Statue Old

Statue at St Pancras Cemetery

Edit: I later found some answers and you can read them in this post here – Getting Some Answers.


20 thoughts on “The Mysterious Case of the Woman Who Died Twice…

  1. How very strange. I don’t know about death certificates in Britain, but I’ve certainly seen lots of errors on US death certificates. Maybe it was just an error?? Good luck solving that one!

    • It could be that in his grief he gave the wrong name but still could have had it changed once the mistake was noticed. But there do seem to be some not so great things happening with this family so may be something not quite right!

  2. At least you managed to come up with a plausible explanation as to why he registered ‘Lucy’ twice. Definitely a bit odd, that one. I can honestly say that I’ve never come across anything quite like that before!

    • Thank you! Lucy was the sister of my husband’s 2x great grandmother Anne Selina Brown Grimley, so although not a direct line ancestor I think sometimes it can be so interesting to spend time looking into the siblings and their lives. A lot of people seem to only want to focus on their direct lines and are missing out on a lot, not to mention the potential for finding relations who might be able to shed more light on things or have photographs or documents to share.
      I’d definitely like to know more about this branch of the tree!

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