The dressmaker’s apprentice

It was reading that the cost of ordering a pdf civil registration certificate was going up on 16 February to £7 which spurred me into action.  Ok, so only by £1, but even so, now was a good time to order any certificates that had been on my mind to get but hadn’t quite got around to.  You know how it is.  And one of those was for Feodore Sarah Bryant, youngest sister of my great grandfather Herbert Bryant and daughter of Sarah Bryant who I wrote about last time.

The poor child was only 6 years old when her father George died in Bethnal Green Asylum.  The 1881 census records her, now aged 11, with her mother and her older sister (by 15 years) Georgiana in Newhaven.  Quite possibly her mother Sarah was already displaying symptoms of mental illness as it was only 2 months later that she was sent to the asylum at Haywards Heath.  How did Feodore cope with a mother who threatened violence towards herself and her children? Georgiana reported that she had threatened to cut her throat and cut off her children’s heads.

Whether or not both sisters then moved back to London is unclear, but certainly by 1891 Georgiana was living with William and Harriet Wise in Brighton, at 9 Pelham Street.   She is described as their niece, but I have so far failed to work out this relationship.

However, researching what happened to Feodore revealed a death entry for her in the December Quarter 1885, Pancras Registration District, aged just 15, so I was curious to know what brought about her early death.

When I downloaded the certificate it revealed that she died of Cerebral Meningitis on 16 October 1885 at 134 Leighton Road.  Her brother Arthur registered her death. This was over 5 years before her mother’s death – I wonder whether Sarah was told the fate of her younger daughter?

The Leighton Road address was not familiar to me as having been the residence of either Arthur or Herbert.  But fortunately The Genealogist has a unique tool whereby you can search censuses by an address.  I therefore looked it up in both the 1881 and 1891 censuses and found that the house was occupied during this period by Harry and Margaret Goodbody.  Margaret was a ‘court dressmaker’ and in 1881 had 3 other Assistant Dressmakers working for her and another 2 apprentices, aged 15 and 16.

So my guess is that at the time of her death in 1885, Feodore was working and living at this address as an apprentice dressmaker, making high end clothes for those mixing in upper class circles.  A bit of internet research indicated that a ‘court dressmaker’ was probably not making dresses for the royal family but for those who would be appearing at court or at formal occasions when royalty might be present.  Harry Goodbody’s occupation was given as ‘habit maker’.  Now this immediately conjured up in my mind images of clothing for monks, but again looking on the internet revealed that this was more likely to be riding costumes or ‘habits’ – specialist coats, skirts and waistcoats.

134 Leighton Road on Google Street View looks quite a sizeable property, so even considering the number of people living and working there I do hope that the living conditions for Feodore were tolerable before she contracted the disease that would prove fatal.

And what of the unusual first name of Feodore?  Although Feodore Bryant’s death was registered in this name, I have been unable to find a birth registration in this name and have so far not found a baptism record for her. The 1871 census records her just as ‘Sarah Bryant’, so did she somehow ‘acquire’ the name Feodore between then and 1881 when that is how she was enumerated? I’ve certainly not come across any other ancestors with this name. told me that Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice (born 1857) had Feodore as one of her middle names.  This name was in reference to Princess Feodora of Leiningen, who was Queen Victoria’s older half sister (and who has coincidentally just made an appearance in the latest TV series ‘Victoria’).  Well, it somehow seems quite apt that this young girl who was named after royalty should be making dresses to be seen by royalty; but what a short and hard life she had.

The Fashion House 1885

Life at the asylum

A year ago I made the surprise discovery that my great great grandmother Sarah Bryant died in March 1891 at St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath, Sussex.

Though it was not exactly joyous reading, I was excited to find so much detail in the Admissions Records for this institution at The Keep in Brighton.  51 year old Sarah was certified to be “suffering from Mania” on her admission on 14th June 1881.  The doctor who had attended her at home declared that she had threatened suicide, was suffering from delusions and was deemed to be a danger both to herself and to others, notably her two daughters living with her.

The ‘Supposed cause – hereditary’ made me wonder what had happened to her own parents. but unfortunately I had had no joy discovering what became of James and Philadelphia Backshell.  However, the fact that Sarah’s husband George had died only 5 years prior to her admission to the asylum did make me wonder whether this had contributed to her mental state.

I looked again at the Civil Registration death indexes.  With the middle name ‘Curtis’, that was definitely him listed in the June Quarter 1876.  But Bethnal Green?  When he had been living in Fulham?

The book I had consulted at The Keep on the history of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum called ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ by James Gardner looked so interesting that I found and bought a copy online so that I could read the background to this institution.  I learnt that the 1845 Lunatics Asylums Acts required every county to provide adequate accommodation for all pauper lunatics within three years.  The Sussex Asylum opened on 25 July 1859, with 240 patients being transferred there from other asylums, many arriving in a poor condition.  What I read next raised alarm bells regarding George:  the Medical Superintendant wrote: “the male patients last removed from Bethnal Green are the most violent, filthy and neglected lot of patients I have ever met with in all my experiences…and they showed long years of neglect.” 

Bethnal Green!  I wonder….  Returning to Ancestry and the UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, there he was at the top of the page, admitted 19 May 1876, asylum ‘Bethnal’.  And it recorded that he died there less than a month later on 27 June. There is no clue as to the reason for admission, and a post on the Rootschat site says that there are unfortunately no surviving records for that Asylum.  However, I could still apply for the death certificate.  This gave me the information that the cause of death was “effusion on the brain”, which I supect might be a brain haemorrage.

George Curtis Bryant
UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers on Ancestry

So no real clue as to what had tipped George over the edge in 1876 and I certainly hope that the conditions there had improved from those found in 1859.  I do wonder whether these circumstances contributed to Sarah’s illness.  The doctor reported that she “seems lost and appears to have a dread of something”.  Poor woman.   Looking again at what might have happened to Sarah’s mother, this time I found Philadelphia Backshell on someone else’s tree on Ancestry with the details that she died on 28 February 1853 at Union House, East Grinstead.  In other words, the dreaded workhouse.  She was only 50 years old, so was she ‘just’ poor and incapable of looking after herself (her husband was still alive) or was she, too, suffering from mental illness?  Maybe the assertion that Sarah’s illness was ‘hereditary’ was to some extent true.

However, I was heartened to read in ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ of the conditions at The Sussex Asylum (St Francis hospital).  By 1886 it was considered to be one of the best in the country.  The ethos was that of trying to cure patients rather than just lock them up. Regular walks were organized, contact with the outside world was considered important and sports were encouraged.  Visiting day was Wednesday and patients were encouraged to write letters to their families.  There were education classes and patients were encouraged to do farm work, laundry and needlework.  There was an asylum band and concerts and patients had access to books and newspapers.   Attention was given to a decent diet.  Wards had pictures, plants and simple ornaments to make them a little more homely.

The care of those with mental illnesses has in many respects come a long way since 1881, though today the funding of treatment, especially for young people, is woefully inadequate.  I do hope that Sarah was well cared for in these surroundings.

St Francis Hospital

Photograph taken 28 November 2003 © Norman Wigg. Source Historic England Archive ref: 303024

Happy Anniversary!

Well today is the third anniversary of my family history blog!  I can’t quite believe that I’ve been doing it for so long, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back over the subjects I have written about during that time.

My computer records tell me that this is my 88th blog post.  From the outset I wanted to write about thoughts that occurred to me both while making progress with my family history research and in just normal everyday life, since the topic of family history is never far from my mind. So what subjects have I tackled over these three years?

I’ve written, unsurprisingly, of trips I’ve undertaken with primary research very much in mind.  I started out three years ago writing about our trip to Norfolk to research both the George family of East Dereham and the Muskett family of various locations in that county.  I talked about visiting Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Family History Society’s research base at Kirby Hall as well as our tour round a number of villagesI’ve subsequently written about visits to West Sussex Record Office, researching the Mitchell family and The Keep in Brighton, looking at Combridges and Bryants.

There have been other opportunities to undertake what you might call ‘family history tourism’:  visiting West Grinstead in Spring 2017, Staffordshire in May 2017 and Chalvey in the summer of 2017.  More recently there has been our memorable trip to France and Belgium this Spring, marking the centenary of William Wakefield’s death.

I have written about types of resources often used in family history:  wills, newspaper archives and inquests, for example.  Then there have been artefacts which have proved a trigger for a train of thought:  buttons, a doll’s house, Christmas toys, old photos, memorable trees as well as the ‘mystery object’ of early 2017.

A couple of authors, namely Jane Austen and Flora Thompson, have been the inspiration for blogs and I have dipped into a couple of antiquarian books on Sussex, too.

Whilst ancestral occupations is an area that I think I could explore more fully in the future, I have frequently written about other family activities such as gardening, marmalade making and picking winterpicks.

Overall I’m pleased with the eclectic mix and I hope that you, too, have enjoyed the variety and will continue to post your comments.

Now, what shall I write about next….?

What happened to Sarah Bryant?

What indeed!

I went to the Record Office with a list of things to look at, and the last item was to find out what happened to Sarah Bryant.  Or more specifically, “what happened to Sarah Bryant (née Backshell) and her daughter Georgiana after 1881?”

It wasn’t until after lunch that I made it that far down the list.  I was at The Keep in Brighton and had spent a fruitful morning taking advantage of access to FindMyPast.  But now for Sarah Bryant, my great great grandmother, who was in Newhaven at the time of the 1881 census with her 26 year old daughter Georgiana.  Her husband George had died five years earlier, aged only 50, and it seems that Sarah had moved from London back to Sussex, the county of her birth, to be nearer relatives.  I looked for her in 1891 to no avail.  Then I looked for Georgiana and found her in the household of William and Harriet Wise and family in Brighton where she was described as a niece.  Despite being now aged 36 she had no occupation.  In 1901 she was still with them in Pelham Street and again in 1911, this time in Kensington Place, now apparently 54 but single and with no occupation.  So next I needed to look for a death for Sarah and I quickly found a likely civil registration entry of March Quarter 1891, Lewes Registration District, aged 61.

Turning to the Sussex Family History Group database I thought I would look for Sarah’s burial.  I could find nothing.  I turned for help to the volunteers in the SFHG room.  With no likely matches on their database we tried Ancestry, and up popped an intriguing entry just below the civil registration details:  UK Lunacy Admissions.  Clicking through, it revealed a national list of Asylum Admissions records, with the information that Sarah A Bryant, female pauper, was admitted 14 June 1881 and died 11 March 1891.  Ok, that was progress – but admitted to where?  It didn’t say.  This time a member of The Keep staff came to my assistance, suggesting St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath.  We looked at the online catalogue and found the relevant entry and ordered up the document.  He was quite excited about this too, producing a book on the history of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum called ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ by James Gardner and telling me that the building is now luxury flats – the one his friend has just bought is where the toilets used to be!

Fifteen minutes later I was looking at the documents relating to Sarah’s time in the Asylum.  The first document was the Notice of Death, stating the apparent cause of death to be disease of the heart.  The next document was entitled Notice of Escape.  It seems that at 7.15pm on 20th July 1881 Sarah managed to escape; however her freedom was very shortlived as she was recaptured and brought back at 7.40pm the same evening.

The third document was the Notice of Admission.  She was certified to be “suffering from Mania” on her admission on 14th June 1881.  She was described as aged 51, a widow, abode Newhaven, religion Church of England.  Was this her first attack? Yes.  Duration?  About a fortnight.  Her next of kin was given as her son, Arthur Curtis Bryant of Chapel Place, Belgrave Square, London.

And then the Admission document got even more interesting.  Whether suicidal – “has threatened”, Dangerous to others – “yes”.  Oh dear, what indeed had happened to Sarah?

She was examined by a doctor at her home in Newhaven the previous day.  His comments make uncomfortable reading:  “she says that she has been poisoned and that she is on fire.  Is very excitable, talks in a rambling manner.  Seems lost and appears to have a dread of something”.  “Georgina Bryant her daughter says that she has threatened to cut off her head and to cut her own throat”.  Harriet Wise was also in attendance when the doctor examined Sarah and I wonder whether she will turn out to be a sister of Sarah.  Likewise a Frances Jeffrey was also present, described as a sister in law.  I need to work out the relationships there.

Poor Sarah and poor Georgiana.  It must have been a traumatic time for all of them.  I wonder whether Georgiana or any of the other relations visited Sarah during the almost 10 years that she was in the asylum?  I wonder how Sarah was treated and cared for?

And one more thing – I noticed on the Admissions document the entry ‘Supposed cause – hereditary’.  This leads me to wonder how they came to that conclusion.  Did a similar thing happen to either of her parents?  I’m now itching to discover what happened to James and Philadelphia Backshell, her father and mother…

Haywards Heath Asylum
St Francis Hospital (Asylum) Haywards Heath, Sussex


More fun at the fair

This time last year I had a very fruitful trip to the West Surrey Family History Society Open Day, held at Woking Leisure Centre, so on 5 November I went to it again, and this time my husband was able to come along too.

It’s such a big event:  many neighbouring family history societies have stalls as well as local history groups, plus there are organisations selling archival storage products, maps, postcards, books and charts.

West Surrey FHS had their research resources available and I was most interested to look at a map from the A – Z of Victorian London, showing the area where my Bryant ancestors worked as saddlers and harness makers in Belgravia.

I have been enjoying finding out more about the life and works of Flora Thompson this year.  John Owen Smith, local historian and author of ‘On the trail of Flora Thompson’ (among his many published works) was there with his own stall  We had a lovely conversation with him about the local connections of Grayshott and Liphook and bought a book of ‘Walks from the railway’.

We also found out from the folk on the Brookwood Cemetery Society stall how to go about tracking down the grave of my Wakefield great grandparents, who I know are buried there.  This is definitely something to follow up.

“Don’t turn round, but I’m sure that’s Eve McLaughlin on the stall behind you”.  And it was!  There she was staffing the Buckinghamshire Family History Society stall When we lived in Milton Keynes in the late eighties we were members of Bucks FHS and frequently used to go over to Aylesbury on a Saturday afternoon to attend the meetings.  Eve was so energetic and inspirational, and of course she is a prolific author of family history booklets:  ‘Annals of the Poor’, ‘Reading old handwriting’, ‘Quarter Sessions’ etc.  (This year I had the forethought to make a list of the family history-related books that I own in advance of going to the fair, to minimise the risk of buying a book I already have!).  We had a lovely chat with Eve and bought two of her books to add to the collection: ‘Nonconformist ancestors’ and ‘What does it mean – words in wills, inventories, deeds and documents’.

My husband bought a couple of useful-looking Cassini maps of Norfolk, but we looked in vain for ‘My ancestor was a Quaker’.  I think it may currently be out of print.

At the Surrey History Centre stall, the archivist and I agreed that we would both very much like to be able to afford to give up work and spend our time indexing and doing family history!  What a lovely job to have, though.  She had brought with her a beautiful Victorian/Edwardian photograph album of unknown provenance, which had come from a house clearance.  How sad that these are someone’s ancestors and are unnamed.

Imogen on the Surrey in the Great War stall was just as enthusiastic as she had been when I spoke to her last year, but sadly never received the information I sent her then on the Wakefield brothers.  I will resend it to her.

By midday we were glad of a chance to sit down for a bit, and were in for a treat attending the talk given by Myko Clelland on using Findmypast.  His enthusiasm was infectious and I was particularly interested to learn more about the 1939 Register, which I have to admit I have not investigated up till now.

Overall, it was a lovely morning spent with fellow enthusiasts, with the chance to buy products and network with useful organisations and people.  Thank you WSFHS!

West Surrey Family History Society
WSFHS Fair 2016


“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge”


“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge” – Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 22 October 1864

Originally it was spotting a mention of the elusive David George of East Dereham which drew my attention to the British Newspaper Archive .  I could see that it was a death announcement, so I decided to sign up for a month’s subscription to see what more this notice might reveal. Well the Norfolk News of Sat 3 May 1851 did tell me that he died “very suddenly”, that he was “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” and that he was “leaving a large family to lament their loss”.  It would have been really nice if it had said “son of the late xxxxx of xxxxxxxx” – but it didn’t, so David George’s origins remain a mystery.  Ah well – worth a try.

George; East Dereham

Norfolk News – Saturday 03 May 1851


But having got a month’s subscription, what else can I find?

Loads of really interesting and often random things!

Three months before his father’s death, on Saturday 1st February, Francis George was mugged in Swaffham!  (What was he doing there?  Did he often go there?).  Charles Wales stole two calico bags, a piece of dumpling, an ounce of bread, an ounce of meat, and a frock coat from Francis.  The perpetrator got a month’s imprisonment.

Meanwhile, twelve years earlier in Oxfordshire, Caleb Buckingham, my stonemason ancestor, was convicted of “unlawfully assaulting and kicking” his apprentice!  He got a hefty fine of 17 shillings – I should think so, too.  What was he thinking of?

Still in Oxfordshire, my Neighbour ancestors in Lewknor were not playing ‘happy families’ in 1847:  the Overseers brought a case against twin brothers Richard and Robert Neighbour for refusing to support their father, who was residing in the workhouse.  However, it turns out that the brothers considered their father quite capable of doing a day’s work and claimed that he had “left a good place of work to go to the workhouse”.  The case was dismissed as the magistrates “possessed no power to compel children to support their parents when they were able to earn their own living”.  What was going on there, then?

Neighbour; Lewknor

Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette – Saturday 06 February 1847


In 1870 William Pitcher (of the Horse and Groom, Swaffham, see blog post number 10 ) was the victim of a theft from the pub kitchen – John Forster stole a steel from him, for which he was committed for seven days’ hard labour.

In the 1860s business was booming for George Bryant in Chapel Place Mews, Belgravia.  His frequent adverts in the Sporting Chronicle indicate that he sold new and second-hand saddlery and harness as well as rugs and horse clothing.  And (thank you very much, George) it tells me that the business was established in 1837 (that would have been by his father John, according to the 1841 census).  We located Chapel Place Mews the other year – it’s pretty near Buckingham Palace.  Great job on the marketing, George!


Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 08 February 1868



Well, I’m going to keep going during my month’s subscription to see what other gems I can find!