Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ninteen under twenty-four... and that must be a record. That's nineteen babies, in twenty-four years.

Baby shower for Tiffany, expecting Easton, May 18 2013
Happy and healthy pregnancies today
I thought that my paternal great-great-grandfather, Richard Toon, had a large family: two wives and fifteen or more children. That was before I started looking at the Bennetts... and found Walter Bennett and his wife, Elizabeth nee Weston, who raised their family in Leicester: at first, on Caroline Street, then on Sheridan Street, and by 1911, at 95 Knighton Fields Road West--a typical Leicester brick terraced house, with two or three bedrooms at most.

The information on the 1911 census is incredible, shocking, and sad. My mouth dropped open when I read it.

Walter is quite a distant relative, first-cousin-three-times-removed, on my maternal side. His father was John Bennett born in 1798 in Hinkley, Leicestershire, my great-great-great-grandfather. Walter's sister, Roseanna Bennet born 1827, married John Gask: their daughter, Elizabeth Alice Gask, born in 1854 married Henry Bonnett, my great-grandfather. I found Walter Bennett and his wife Elizabeth while rambling through the censuses looking at Roseanna's family... and what a family it is. (There will be more Bennett stories!)

The 1911 census is a mine of information. Not only does it list everyone in the house on the night of Sunday, April 2nd 1911, it is also completed in the head of the house's own handwriting. It not only gives the ages and occupations of everyone in the household on that night, it also tells you how long the couple (if a couple and not a single householder) has been married, how many children have been born to the marriage, and how many are still alive in 1911.

Walter and Elizabeth Bennett? They had been married 24 years in 1911. During that time, Elizabeth had given birth to nineteen, yes, 19 children. NINETEEN! Within twenty-four years... can you imagine? And very sadly, only eleven were still alive in 1911. That's an infant, or childhood, mortality rate of almost 50%. Horrific. That's an average of one child every 15 months... six months or less between pregnancies. Ouch.

I cannot believe that life was any less precious in 1900 to 2019. I cannot believe that the loss of a child, no matter how young or old, was any less traumatic than it is today, just because it happened more often, and especially in families at the lower-end of the earnings spectrum. How hard must that have been... to carry nineteen children to term, or nearly, and then find that only half survived childhood. How fearful each pregnancy must have been... and how precious and loved, every one those remaining children.

It seemed important to find all of their names, and say them out loud. Not all were baptised, not all were registered, and there is still one birth and three deaths missing (Ada died long after the 1911 census), but I found eighteen of the nineteen children born to Walter and Elizabeth within those first twenty-four years of marriage:
  • Walter H Bennett, born 1884
  • James Bennett, born 1885
  • Harry Bennett, born 1886
  • John Bennett, born 1889
  • Elizabeth Harriet Bennett, born 1890, died before 1901
  • Florence Bennett, born and died in 1891
  • Elizabeth Bennett, born in 1892, died in 1893
  • Emily Bennett, born in 1894
  • Grace Bennett, born in 1895
  • Florence Bennett, born in 1897
  • William Bennett, born in 1898, died before 1901
  • Ada Bennett, born in 1899, died in 1916
  • Cyril Bennett, born in 1900
  • Ernest Bennett, born in 1901
  • Mary Bennett, born in 1903
  • Evelyn Harold Bennett, born in 1908, died in 1977 (yay!!!)
  • Leonard Walker Bennett, born in 1909, died before 1911
  • Edith Evelyn Bennett, born in 1910.
The "missing" baby Bennett, to make up to 19 the babies born before April, 1911, most likely came in 1887 or 1888, between Harry and John. All the births appear to be single pregnancies--there is nothing to suggest any multiple births. I haven't tracked down all the deaths nor their causes... you can see from the two Elizabeths that they were not stillbirths or days old, but months or years. Little people.

Anyone who thinks that maternal or infant health care is not important, read this. Anyone who thinks that family planning and the availability of contraception is not important, read this. Because no family should have to lose that much.

And... that woman deserves a medal! She on lived to the (relatively) good old age of 65. I don't think there were any more children born after Edith Evelyn in 1910, but you never know... Walter, he lived to be 75 years old. I hope all the surviving children looked after them both in their later years.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My lost Frosts. They simply melted away...

Remember Richard Frost, the (presumably) eldest son, also presumably "natural born" (illegitimate) son of my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Frost?  This is about his family.

Richard Frost was born in 1847 or thereabouts. He married Eliza Worthy (which is sometimes transcribed as Wortley), who was born in about 1850 in either Nottinghamshire or in Shepshed, Leicestershire--she was certainly living with her parents in Shepshed ("Sheepshed") by the night of the census in 1851, aged nine months. (Later censuses say she was born in Nottinghamshire, though the 1851 says Shepshed.)
Richard Frost and Eliza Worthy marriage, 1870
The married couple were living together with Richard's parents, Emmanuel and Sarah Bonnett (nee Frost), on the night of the 1871 census--by which time the Emmanuel's family was living on Birstall Street, Leicester. I have the impression that the families moved around the area quite a bit... Wharf Street, Birstall Street, later Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, which no longer exists... Gresham Street, Upper Brunswick Street, all over the area between Belgrave and the city centre that is now mostly vanished (see this story about the demolished 'slums' of Leicester.)

By 1881, Richard and Eliza have three children: two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1874, Maria born  1876, and a son born in 1878, named Richard after his dad. Eliza's parents, William Worthy and his wife Sarah nee Hayes, are living with them in their home at 4 Brunswick Terrace, Palmeston Street: Richard is a shoe finisher, Eliza a milliner--a hat-maker, Eliza's father a framework knitter.

But the very next year, tragedy struck: Richard died, on 7 June 1882, aged only 35. While I am sure that the family had little money, somebody managed to find the pennies needed to put a simple, one-line obituary in the paper. His address is given as Gresham Street... did the family move again so soon? To a better home, just the other side of the Great Northern Station?

Richard Frost's obituary, from the Melton Mowbrary and
Oakham and Uppingham News, 8 June 1882
Reproduced with kind permission of 
I hope they did move to Gresham Street. It has to be said that Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, was one of the poorest areas of housing in Leicester. Palmerston Street (later called Taylor Street) ran parallel to Syston Street, Birstall Street and Willow Street, but instead of individual terraced houses facing the street, it had "terraces" or courtyards of houses off it, fourteen houses to a terrace, each one tiny. Brunswick Terrace was the closest to the corner of Palmeston Road and Catherine Street, at the point where it changes to Upper Brunswick Street. Gresham Street was a long street of larger terraced houses--a step up from a little house on a terrace.

Map from National Library of Scotland, OS Map published 1904. shared
here under Creative Commons Licensing and with the addition
of indication of Brunswick Terrace. More maps here. 
But then... Eliza disappears. Richard Junior disappears. Maria disappears.

The closest I have come to finding them is a sighting of an Elizabeth Frost whose birth-date is given as 1875 in the 1891 census, who fits Richard and Eliza's daughter. Listed as born in Leicester, working as a sixteen-year-old servant in Lambeth, London, and employed by a married couple called Nash and their daughter, also Elizabeth, but have no way to verify that this is indeed the very-same Elizabeth... because there is another Elizabeth Frost, born in 1876 with birth registered as Barrow upon Soar, which might have been Belgrave and therefore Leicester from the perspective of a Londoner. But after the 1891 census, I can't find her again either. Nothing.

Logically, Eliza Frost nee Worthy was only 32 when Richard died, and very much young enough to marry again. The children were young enough to be adopted by, or to simply adopt the name of, her new husband. But I have searched everywhere for a marriage record for an Eliza Frost after the death of Richard... and nothing. Eliza isn't short for Elizabeth--she had a younger sister of that name, so her second marriage isn't mixed up in a confusion of firstnames: it would have been recorded as Eliza unless some self-important registrar decided that they knew better than the person who owned the name, but I searched the Elizabeth Frosts too, and all the Eliza and Elizabeth Worthy's too, just in case. Nothing.

I searched for Richard Frost (junior) and Maria. Nothing. I searched all the Richards, no surname, throughout the country... nothing. Censuses, marriages, deaths, everything... nothing.

I did find one Eliza Frost listed as the mother of someone who died in the USA, but that was yet-another Eliza Frost, not our Frost-nee-Worthy Eliza.

Did the whole family die, with nobody left to report the deaths or pay for an obituary? That would be way, way too sad. I prefer to think of Eliza meeting a rich gentleman, setting sail with all the children to Australia, or the USA, or Canada, and marrying her beau on the boat.

I have no idea where any of them went. If you find them, please can you return them to me?