Eliza Emery – a case of don’t believe everything you read

My husband’s maternal grandmother Edith’s family name was Emery, and while Edith was born in Surrey and eventually moved to Leicester in the 1940s, the Emery family had its origins in Sussex.

Edith was the seventh of eight children of Harry Albert Emery and his wife Elizabeth Mary Fanny Casulear Lock who married in 1903. Harry had been born in 1884 in Brighton, Sussex and was the son of Henry Emery and his wife Sabina Jane Elizabeth Gilbert. Henry, Edith’s grandfather, was born around 1855 in Croydon, Surrey.

Henry’s origins were quite obscure to begin with when I set out researching the Emery line. His marriage certificate to Sabina when they married on 22nd Nov 1883 in Brighton, stated that his father was a Richard Emery, a Carpenter who was deceased.

I searched for a possible entry for Henry on the 1881 census and found him living at the same address he gave as his residence when he married, at 4 Gloucester Cottages in Brighton, along with an older brother Arthur and his mother Eliza. Henry was a Railway Goods Guard aged 26 and his place of birth was given as Croydon, which matched what I had found on the later censuses for him. Arthur was 28 years old (so born around 1853) and was a Shop Porter and his place of birth was Brighton. Eliza’s marital status was given as widow and she was 63 years old, born in Hurstpierpoint (around 1818). She was down as being a Retired Cook.

Gloucester Cottages Brighton from the Brighton Museum Flickr page – Photograph commissioned by Environmental Health department of Brighton Borough Council. 6 May 1959. HA905024 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpm-brighton-hove/5963862930/)

So far so good I thought, perhaps in 1871 I will find details for his father Richard and also likely his parents marriage as I go further back. The 1871 census showed that actually Henry was not at home with his family, he was working as a Potboy at the age of 16 at 27 Ship Street, Brighton – a pub called the Seven Stars. Eliza and Arthur were living at 21 Regent Street, Brighton. Eliza was still a widow and was aged 52 and was working as a Charwoman – another name for a cleaner who often cleaned people’s houses or offices. Her son Arthur was 18 years old and was working as a Broker’s Porter. The ages still roughly tallied with a year of birth around 1853 for Arthur, 1855 for Henry and around 1819 for Eliza.

The Seven Stars pub in Brighton – it was renamed the Seven Stars more recently but was originally called this at the time Henry was working there. Photo from TripAdvisor.

I figured I would be able to find some more answers in the 1861 census but I struggled to find Eliza, Arthur and Henry at all. I then decided to hunt down birth certificates for Henry and Arthur and drew a blank there too. I looked into Arthur’s life to see if there were any other clues in Henry’s older brother’s records.

Arthur married Henrietta Ada Ansell on 3rd June 1880 – he ended up being enumerated twice on the 1881 census, once with his mother Eliza and then again with his wife although he is noted as married on the census entry with his mother, but his occupation is different to the one given on the entry at home with his wife and family, from being a Shop Porter to an Upholsterer. It might be that in reality he was a shop porter for an upholsterer as his occupation given on their marriage certificate was Porter and indeed on the 1891 census his occupation was given as a Furniture Porter. When Arthur got married in 1880 he gave his father as Richard Emery – a Carpenter – deceased, the same information his brother Henry gave three years later.

By 1901 Arthur had become a Furniture Salesman and at the time of the 1911 census he had become an Assistant Guide at the Royal Pavilion. He and Henrietta had three children, but one died in infancy, Arthur Frederick b. 1881, Ernest Harold b. 1883 and Stanley Gordon b. & d. 1890. Arthur himself died on 23rd Oct 1919 aged 66 with his wife Henrietta living to the ripe old age of 86 when she died in 1947.

The Royal Pavilion at Brighton where Arthur worked as a guide in 1911. Photo from Wikipedia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Pavilion#/media/File:Brighton_royal_pavilion_Qmin.jpg)

So that only really provided me with the information that both Arthur and Henry were being consistent with information about their father being called Richard and being a Carpenter by trade and having died prior to 1880/1883 which was in a way corroborated by their mother’s marital status on both the 1881 and 1871 censuses.

I decided that a good thing to do would be to order their mother Eliza’s death certificate. I knew she hadn’t made it to the 1891 census and I had previously found her death certificate reference from the General Register Office from the first quarter of 1891. I ordered a pdf copy of her death certificate and it told me that she had died on 8th March 1891 at 8 Belmont Street, Brighton. She was 71 years old and she had died of “Apoplexy caused by the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain produced by overstraining herself.” Her death was registered by the deputy coroner for Brighton following an inquest held a day after her death. The certificate stated that she was the widow of Richard Emery – a Carpenter. So again, the same information as given on her two son’s marriage certificates. I searched the British Newspaper Archive on Findmypast but didn’t find any report of her inquest.

Eliza Emery’s death certificate

I had previously found a Richard Emery in Sussex who was married to an Eliza Potter who had married in 1844 in Cuckfield district but having found them together on the 1851 and 1861 censuses, they did not have children called Arthur or Henry and Richard was a Gamekeeper – quite different to a Carpenter. It seems that Richard died in 1863 and his wife Eliza died in 1866. So that ruled that option out.

I had also come across a set of baptisms of three children of an Eliza Emery all baptised on the same day – 1st November 1857 at the parish church in Cuckfield, Sussex – Emily, Arthur and Henry. Initially all I had access to was the transcription of the baptism entries but recently FamilySearch had linked the images to the record set and I was able to see the detail. While no ages were given of the children, they were noted as being from the Cuckfield Union Workhouse and as the illegitimate children of Eliza Emery.

Cuckfield Union Workhouse from http://www.workhouses.org.uk

Emily was new to me – she didn’t appear with Eliza and her brothers in 1871 or 1881 and I could not find a birth registration for her – much like her brothers so I couldn’t be certain if she was older or younger or in the middle of her two brothers in age but her baptism was the first of the three in the register.

I then decided that it was worth another attempt to find the family in the 1861 census – this time checking the pages relating to the Cuckfield Union Workhouse. Some census records for workhouses give the full names of those unfortunate enough to have had to reside there as inmates, while some were just enumerated by their initials. The Cuckfield Workhouse was one that just used the initials of their inmates, however it looked like where there were any families that they were still listed together as a group, so I scrolled through the pages looking down the places of birth to look to see if I could find a family group comprising of a woman with the initials EE, aged in her early 40s, born in Hurstpierpoint with hopefully children listed as AE aged 8 born in Brighton, HE aged 6 born in Croydon, and the elusive Emily down as EE and hopefully an age to place her order in the family with potentially a birth place of Cuckfield. Sure enough I found EE aged 40 – unmarried, born Hurstpierpoint (or Hurst as it was abbreviated to), AE aged 7 born Brighton, HE aged 6 born Croydon and Emily seemed to be down as DE aged 5 born in Brighton.

I had previously had a hunch that Eliza was never really married, and I had located a baptism in Hurstpierpoint for an Eliza Emery on 5th December 1819 – daughter of a James Emery and his wife Ann(e) Cox. I had discounted an earlier baptism for an Eliza in the same parish in 1817 – daughter of a Peter Emery as she went on to marry an Edmund Fellows – with her father’s name detailed on the marriage certificate.

With this confirmation from the baptisms and the details from the 1861 census that there really was no real husband Richard Emery, I was satisfied that my earlier hunch had been correct and the rest of my research into the Emery line was solidly connected. Whether the three children actually did all have the same father is something I will likely never know. It could of course be true that they did indeed all have a father called Richard who was a Carpenter, or, what is probably more likely, is that potentially all three of them had different fathers and Eliza made up Richard and the story of him being a Carpenter and his untimely death when the children were all young, to cover up their illegitimacy to avoid the stigma that surrounded it. It was likely they grew up being told that which is why they were consistent in that information when both Arthur and Henry got married, and likely gave information which went on their mother’s death certificate too.

Eliza had worked in domestic service roles for decades, with the first recorded entry of this being on the 1851 census where she was working as a servant at 80 Grand Parade, Brighton for a Mary Monnier who was a Boarding House Keeper. Prior to that she had been with her parents at Richmond Cottage, Richmond Hill, Brighton in 1841. Her father was a Labourer but in the 1851 census he and his wife Ann were living at Penfold’s Cottage, Top of Sussex Street in Brighton and he was a Gardener.

Richmond Hill taken in the 1930s before it was demolished – photo from https://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/places/placestree/richmond-hill/richmond-hill

So far I’ve not been able to find what became of Eliza’s parents James and Ann(e) after the 1851 census. I have not found death records for them or located them on the 1861 census. It might be that they decided to move to another country to seek a new life? Hopefully one day I will be able to find out the rest of their story.

The only other record I was able to find relating to Eliza was an entry relating to the Sussex County Hospital from 16th July 1834 for a 17 year old Eliza Emery of Hurstpierpoint who had been admitted suffering from Chlorosis and had been cured. Chlorosis was a type of anaemia caused by iron deficiency in adolescent girls causing a pale, faintly greenish complexion. I found a book on Amazon relating to this strange condition – The Disease of Virgins: Green Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty by Helen King. The description of it reads “From an acclaimed author in the field, this is a compelling study of the origins and history of the disease commonly seen as afflicting young unmarried girls. Understanding of the condition turned puberty and virginity into medical conditions, and Helen King stresses the continuity of this disease through history, despite enormous shifts in medical understanding and technologies, and drawing parallels with the modern illness of anorexia. Examining its roots in the classical tradition all the way through to its extraordinary survival into the 1920s, this study asks a number of questions about the nature of the disease itself and the relationship between illness, body images and what we should call ‘normal’ behaviour.” So at some point I would like to find out a bit more about what that was all about!

Researching Eliza was a good lesson in remembering that not everything written in official documents is true. Eliza did a good job of trying to hide the illegitimacy of her three children from the world – at least where the majority of the records were concerned. Whether she was as able to in real life is another matter, she certainly looks to have had to spend a period of time in the workhouse as an unwed mother, and it is unknown whether she ever had support from the father(s) of her children.

As for her other two children:

Emily still remains quite a mystery. There are two potential census entries –

1881 – At New Pier Tavern, 13 Preston Street, The Palace, Brighton. There is an Emily Emery aged 24 who was a General Servant working for Henry W Ingledew. Her place of birth is given as St. John’s Common, Sussex.

1891 – At Pledwick, Hook Road, Kingston, Surrey. Emily Emery, 34 years old, Housemaid Domestic Servant, place of birth St. John’s Common, Sussex (so the same woman from the 1881 census), working for Anne Briggs.

This Emily then disappears too, so may have married but possibly not in Surrey or Sussex.

I’ve not been able to locate a likely entry in 1871 so far, but I will keep looking! If there is anyone out there who is descended from an Emily Emery born around 1856/1857 who they can’t seem to discern her origins – could it be this Emily? Get in touch!

Henry – Eliza’s younger son as we know married Sabina Gilbert in 1883. They went on to have six children together. Henry had worked for the London and South Coast Railway since at least 1879 (thanks to the UK Railway Employment Records available on Ancestry.) In 1891 he and Sabina were living at 55 Upper Lewes Road, Brighton with three of their children, Harry Albert b. 1884, Laura Malta b. 1887 and Silas William b. 1890. They had a daughter Florence Sabina in 1885 but she sadly died in 1890 aged 5. Henry was a Goods Guard, so still working in the same role as he had been back in 1881.

55 Upper Lewes Road today (the road may have been renumbered so may not have been this actual house) image from Google StreetView

Henry and Sabina had two more children together – Annie Henrietta in 1891 and Dorothy May in 1893. Then at some point after Dorothy’s birth and before August 1899, Henry and Sabina separated. In 1901 Henry was living at 29 Roedean Road, Brighton with the children and by then had left the railway company and was working as a General Labourer. His eldest son Harry was not at home, he was lodging in nearby Preston working as a Milkman. Sabina was at 20 Oxford Court, Brighton as a visitor in the house of a Leonard Ashdown and his wife Alice. Sabina described herself as being single and her occupation as Living on Own Means. Also in the household along with Leonard and Alice and their children, was Alice’s brother Albert Vine and her niece Edie Vine aged 1 born in Croydon.

Fast forward to the 1911 census, by then Henry was a Lodger at 103 Hollingbury Road, Preston, Sussex and his occupation was a House Decorator. Interestingly where the census form asks for details as to marriage and number of children he has written “nil” for his marital status, no number of years of marriage given but he put that he had 6 children and that one had died but then crossed it out. After his occupation he had written what looks like “children all off my hands at service” and this was then crossed out.

Snippet of the 1911 census entry for Henry Emery – from the National Archives / Findmypast
103 Hollingbury Road Preston/Brighton from Google StreetView

Sabina was living at 44 Stoneham Road, Hove, Sussex and her occupation looks like Janitor at Laundry Washer. She states that she is married – been married for 28 years and that she had 7 children of which one had died. She had initially listed her children Harry, Laura, Silas, Annie and Dorothy as being with her but then crossed out and noted as all being away.

44 Stoneham Road, Hove – image from Google StreetView

Underneath their names is the only child she actually had living with her at that time – 10 year old Edith Nelly Emery – place of birth 37 White House Road, Croydon. (Sabina for some reason listed the address all her children had been born at – the other children were all born at the address Sabina was living at in 1891.) So when Sabina was a visitor in the household of Leonard and Alice Ashdown in 1901, with Alice’s brother Albert Vine – Albert’s daughter Edie Vine who was just 1 and born in Croydon, was actually Sabina’s daughter too. Albert sadly died in 1904 so he and Sabina only had seemingly a few years together. In a time when divorce was an expensive process, many couples just separated and lived separate lives. It isn’t known whether Sabina and Albert had an affair and that her pregnancy with Edith had lead to the break up of her marriage with Henry or whether they had already separated before she met Albert.

Henry ended up working as a Potman at the Railway Hotel at 76 Ditchling Rise, Brighton which was where he was noted as working at when he died in 1916, but with his address the same as where he had been lodging at in 1911. He had died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage and there had been an inquest, again I’ve not found a newspaper report of this inquest as yet.

The Railway Hotel – now called The Signalman – photo from Google StreetView you can see the original name in the stonework.

It seems that Henry had fallen on hard times around the time of his separation with Sabina, from having a relatively stable job as a Goods Guard on the railway, to a Labourer, a Decorator and eventually washing dishes at a hotel – pretty much back to where he had started as a 16 year old Potboy at the Seven Stars pub.

Sabina outlived him considerably – as she died on 14th April 1950 in Portslade on Sea aged 88. Her death certificate states she was the widow of Henry Emery – a Railway Guard. Her death was registered by her son in law Frederick Feast who had married her daughter Edith.

Sabina’s details also echo those of her mother in law Eliza, trying to cover up the illegitimacy of her daughter Edith and fibbing about her marital status in 1901.

Sometimes we have to think a bit outside the box and consider alternative theories and alter how we go about looking for information when we hit a bit of a brick wall, and taking information on official documents with a pinch of salt is always a tip I give to people when they are doing their own research. Just because it has been written on a certificate or on a census – doesn’t mean it is true!

Emery Family Tree

5 thoughts on “Eliza Emery – a case of don’t believe everything you read

  1. Fascinating story—I love that she created a character to be the father to those three young children. It would be interesting to test descendants of the three children to see if they really were siblings. Great post, Alex!

  2. Thanks Alex!
    Always marvel at the thoroughness of your research and I know so much more about our family because of it.

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