Last year I wrote a post – The Mysterious Case of the Woman Who Died Twice – about Lucy Wall Grimley the sister of my husband’s 2x great grandmother Annie Selina Brown Grimley, who had seemingly died twice…
In that post I mentioned that I was going to order the birth certificates of the two children Lucy’s husband William/James Tilley had with his second ‘wife’ in order to find out more about her, and I received them a while ago. Ordering them certainly helped to find out a little more about William’s second wife, especially as it seems they never formally married.
Frederick Tilley was born at 127 Leighton Road, St. Pancras and is down as being the son of James Tilley a Barman and Florence Tilley – formerly Venner. His younger sister Ann was born at 197 Great College Street, St. Pancras – daughter of James Tilley a Potman and Florence Ann Tilley – formerly Venner.
So now I had a maiden name to work with I started to have a look to see what I could find out about Florence. According to the 1901 census Florence was born in Stoke Newington around 1861, but I couldn’t find any birth registrations that seemed to fit with that, or census entries. I then found an 1891 census entry for a Florence Venner born around 1862 in Islington, living at 113 Torriano Avenue, St. Pancras who was a Dressmaker and boarding with a 48 year old Actress Helen Cowle. Then I found an 1881 census entry for a Florence Venner born around 1863 in Dalston, Middlesex who was a General Servant at 23 Pratt Street, St. Pancras, working for widow Ann Mayle – a Grocer and Cheesemonger. I then found her in 1871 with her mother Eliza Venner – who was born in Devon, along with other siblings – Penelope, Flora, Warwick & Seymour living at 4 Kossuth Terrace, Hackney. Eliza was described as married and being the wife of a Tea Dealer. So I went back to the 1861 census and found Eliza with her husband Thomas Venner living at 3 Cotton Row, Marlborough Road, Shoreditch. Thomas was a Provision Dealer, Eliza was a Messenger for the Post Office and with them were their children Penelope, Flora, Montague and Seymour. And finally I traced them in the 1851 census at Fore Street, Plympton Maurice, Devon where Thomas – who was notably 10 years younger than his wife Eliza, who at 18 was a Practicing Veterinary Surgeon and Schoolmaster. Eliza was 28 and a Straw Bonnet Maker and with them was their infant daughter Penelope and a lodger William Jeffrey.
I found the marriage of Thomas and Eliza in 1848 in Plympton, Thomas Venner had married Eliza Collicott and I then found the birth registrations of their children:
Penelope Virgo Collicott Venner in 1849
Flora Elizabeth Spettigue Venner in 1851
Theresa Sabina Villiers Seymour Venner in 1854 – died in 1856 in London City
Warwick Montague Cholmendeley Venner in 1857
Seymour Courtenay Dunstanville Venner in 1859
Florence Eliza Margretta Venner in 1863
I found it so interesting that they gave their children such fantastic names. It made them all sound rather grand. But it seemed like their lives were a bit less than grand in reality. Thomas was nowhere to be found in 1871, and I was unable to locate Eliza after 1871. Her children that I could find were scattered about.
Penelope married Thomas John Clarke in 1879 and had at least four children with him before her death in 1897. Penelope Matilda Mary, May Florence Virgo, Thomas Henry Percy and George Frederick John.
Flora married William Hocking in 1874 and had two children with him before her death in 1891, Herbert Percy Albert Venner & Mabel Beatrice Victoria.
Theresa – I found her baptism on the same date as her sister Flora, but her death under Sabina Theresa (mistranscribed on FreeBMD as Lavina) in London City.
Warwick married Ellen Doree in 1876 but it seems their relationship wasn’t so great as the London Poor Law Records on Ancestry showed she applied for some relief from the parish because he had deserted her on several occasions. They had two children who survived into adulthood Helena/Eleanor Florence b. 1878 & Warwick Arthur b. 1882, they also had Louisa Katherine b. 1880 d. 1881, Lilian May b. 1885 d. 1886 and Daisy Margaret b. & d. 1890 . In 1881 Warwick senior was a lodger living at 21 Bonwell Street, Bethnal Green with a Woodhouse family and was a House Decorator, his wife Ellen was in the Bethnal Green Workhouse and was a Tailoress with her daughter being looked after by her parents. By 1891 he was at 39 Matilda Street, Bethnal Green and was a Paper Hanger, Ellen was still a Tailoress and Florence a Boot Machinist while Warwick jnr was at school. Helena died in 1896 aged just 18. In 1901 Ellen and her son Warwick were living at 4 Stainsbury Street, Bethnal Green. Ellen was a Trouser Finisher and Warwick junior was a Rail Porter. Warwick senior is hard to find in 1901 and perhaps may have been in the workhouse but he died in 1906 in Watford. Warwick junior married in 1916 and died in 1954. In 1911 Ellen was back in the Bethnal Green Workhouse
Seymour seems to disappear after 1871, perhaps he decided to use another name, or left the country?
And as for Florence – well we know that she shacked up with the widowed William Augustus Tilley – calling himself James, and that she died in 1905 and for reasons unknown had her death and burial registered under the name of William’s first wife – Lucy.
So what of Florence’s father? It seems he had left Eliza and started up a new family – he too never officially married his second ‘wife’ Alice Billett. They had several children together before his death in Cheltenham in 1885. Perhaps his first wife Eliza had also decided to live with someone else and had taken up his surname?
In 1881 he was living at 29 St. Paul’s Street North in Cheltenham and was an Insurance Agent. Alice was 29 years old – with a daughter Alice aged 10 (meaning Alice senior would have only been 19 at the time of her birth), Thomas aged 6, Archibald aged 4 and Mary aged 3. Alice junior’s birth may not have been in 1871 – there is a registration for an Alice Maud M Billett in 1873 in Lambeth which covers Brixton where she is said to have been born according to the 1881 census, it seems in later life she used the middle name Olive. Thomas was registered both as Venner and as Thomas Venner Billett one year after the original registration. Archibald Henry Bassett was registered as Billett but died in 1882 under Venner. Mary’s birth is hard to locate, she was 3 in 1881 but in 1891 described as being aged 10, there is a birth for a Mary Ellen Venner in 1879 in Launceston district in Devon but she appears on the 1881 census with her family so perhaps her birth wasn’t registered at all or just as something else? They also went on to have a son Christopher Henry B Venner in 1883 and a daughter Grace Margaret Venner born after her father died in 1885. Alice then remarried in 1892 to Thomas Evans and they had a daughter Clarissa Sarah in 1893 before immigrating to Canada.
Alice Billett also seems to have not had such a great start in life – in 1861 she was in an Industrial School in East Ham with her little sister Ellen, usually the sort of place children were sent to if they had lost a parent, been orphaned or were destitute.
So while knowing a bit more about Florence and her origins has been interesting, it hasn’t really answered the question as to why William gave her name as that of his first wife’s when she died. I doubt I’ll ever really find that out. But it seems Florence came from a broken home, and went into another, living with a widower whose children ran away from home, and after her death he descended into a life in and out of the workhouse – seemingly homeless.
As yet I still don’t know what became of their daughter Ann Tilley, perhaps that will be another story for another day.