Alfred (1) Woodhurst

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Brief biography

Alfred (1) Woodhurst was born around 1828, most probably in Hackney, to parents William (1) Woodhurst and his wife Elizabeth Clements. He appears to have been named, as was the custom, after his deceased brother Alfred (5) who had died at Hackney in 1826. A christening record for him has not yet been found.

The 1841 Census finds him at age "12" living with his parents in West Street, West Ham in Essex.

Alfred (1) married Matilda Bathurst in 1849. Their marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Bethnal Green II 11, 1849 (Dec)] states that they married on December 17th 1849 at St. Bartholomew's Parish Church in Bethnal Green. It describes him as a bachelor of full age and occupied as a willow bonnet maker, and her as a spinster, a minor and occupied as a bonnet shape maker. He was then aged 21, whereas she was merely 14. His father is named as a shipwright William Woodhurst, and hers as a dyer Robert (2) Bathurst. Their place of residence is given as 4, Cudworth Street. This street lies immediately next to today's Bethnal Green railway station. Neither could sign their name, just making their 'X-mark' instead. The witnesses were John Pritchard and Harriett Pritchard, whose connections are unknown. The certificate misspells Alfred (1)'s surname (and his father's) as "Woodherst", as so does also the GRO Marriage Index. Matilda is entered in the latter with her surname misspelled as "Bethurst".

The witnesses were probably the Pritchard couple whom the 1851 Census finds living at 13, Pott Street [PRO Ref: HO107 Piece 1541 Folio 75 Page 28], just a few hundred yards north of Cudworth Street. John was then an annuitant and his wife Harriett a handloom weaver.

It may seem questionable that Matilda could have married at the age of 14, but in England she would have needed only the consent of her parents or legal guardian. (Marriage aside, the minimum legal age for sexual intercourse in England was at that time just 12, as it had been ever since 1285 AD. It was raised to 13 in 1875 and then raised again to 16 in 1885, in response to concerns over the huge amount of child prostitution in London.)

The 1851 Census finds Alfred (1) and Matilda living at 17, Rural Place in Stepney. His age is cited as 22, his occupation as willow dyer and his birthplace as Hackney. Her age is cited as 15, her occupation as bonnet-maker and her birthplace as Bethnal Green. No other persons were living there. However, Matilda was shortly to give birth to their first child.

On April 8th 1851, only one week after this census, their daughter Matilda was born at the above address. Alfred (1)'s occupation was cited as dyer on her birth certificate.

In 1853 they produced a child Eliza (2). Alfred (1) was still cited as a dyer. Their address at that time was 5, James Street in Bethnal Green.

In early 1855 Eliza (2) died. The family address had now become 8, James Street in Bethnal Green. Alfred (1)'s occupation, which on this occasion was cited by him, was willow platter journeyman. The preceding descriptions of his occupation as "dyer" - and the one following - were all supplied by Matilda in her capacity as informant.

In late 1855 they produced a child Arthur Alfred (2). Alfred (1) was again cited - by Matilda - as a dyer. Their address at that time is unknown, as the birth certificate identifies only the hospital at which the birth occurred.

In February 1857 they produced an unnamed child, denoted here by male (1) Woodhurst. Alfred (1) was now working as a "bonnet blocker". Their address then was 33, Barnsley Street in Bethnal Green. This child died 5 days later. No Woodhursts were living in Barnsley Street at the time of the 1861 Census.

In 1858 they were living at 22, Nelson Street in Bethnal Green, as shown by the birth certificate of their child Elizabeth Eliza who was born in that year. By now Alfred (1) had become a bonnet manufacturer. He appears to have named this child after both his mother Elizabeth and his sister Eliza (1). The family had left Nelson Street by the time of the 1861 Census.

By late 1861 or early 1862 Alfred (1) had begun an affair with a woman named Mary Ann Edridge and had made her pregnant. A descendant has reported that Mary Ann was a servant. She may or may not have been Alfred (1)'s own servant. Whichever the case, it appears that Matilda must soon have learned of the situation, for on March 6th 1862 she secretly and bigamously married Alfred (1)'s brother Richard William (1) Woodhurst (RWW) and soon afterwards left Alfred (1) to become RWW's permanent life partner. She evidently left her three surviving children in Alfred (1)'s care.

In early September 1862 Mary Ann gave birth to the child she had conceived by Alfred (1), naming him Alfred (2). His birth certificate spells her surname as "Eldridge" - she was unable to sign her name as the informant. She and Alfred (1) were then living at 18, Edith Street in the Haggerstone East area of Shoreditch.

In 1863 Alfred (2) died. His parents were then living at 34, Pitt Street in Bethnal Green.

In 1864 they produced another child Alfred (3) in Bethnal Green.

In 1866 they produced another child William (8) in Southwark, Surrey.

By late 1868 the family was in crisis. On October 1st Alfred (1)'s daughter Matilda died in Liverpool, although it is not known whether he knew of this. On October 15th he sexually assaulted his other daughter Elizabeth Eliza. Eighteen months later he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on April 6th 1870, charged on two counts, the first for sexual assault and the second for (the lesser offence of) indecent assault together with beating and wounding. The witnesses against him were Mary Ann, Elizabeth Eliza, Arthur Alfred (2), a surgeon and (probably) a police officer. He was convicted on just the second count and was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. Details of the trial, transcribed from court and newspaper accounts, are given on this page. One of these accounts appears to explain why the offence of 1868 was not tried until 1870. Evidently, it was only "long afterwards" that Mary Ann learned of it through "something overheard". So it appears that this belated discovery of hers - perhaps combined with other issues arising between her and Alfred around early 1870 - motivated her then to supply evidence against him and thereby prompt his trial to take place. The trial records state that his imprisonment was to be in the "House of Correction" at Clerkenwell but, whether he spent some time there or not, he served at least the latter part of his sentence in Nottingham.

The 1871 Census finds Alfred (1) at age "43" as a prisoner in the Borough ("Town") Prison in St. John Street, Nottingham. He is described as married, a hatter and born in Stepney. The whereabouts of Mary Ann and their children in 1871 is unknown. Since Alfred (1) was then just a few days from being released they probably tried to remain as incognito as possible at this time.

Where Alfred (1) lived, and in what manner, following his release from prison is unknown.

Around late 1875 he succumbed to some sort of mental illness. He was to spend a further forty years incarcerated in various asylums, charged to his home parish of Bethnal Green. Brief records of his admissions to these institutions are set out in a Register maintained by the Board of Guardians. These indicate that he was first admitted on March 1st 1876, to Hoxton House - one of the so-called "Metropolitan Licensed Houses" (actually private lunatic asylums). Hoxton House was located in the St. Leonard region of Shoreditch. It had the distinction of being the place in which the poet Charles Lamb, also afflicted by bouts of insanity, had spent six weeks at the end of 1795 and had written there a sonnet dedicated to his sister Mary, subsequently published in 1796 by his friend and patron Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

On June 26th 1877 he was admitted to the Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum in Norwood Parish near Hanwell, Middlesex. This was the first of the county's asylums, opened in 1831 on the south side of Uxbridge Road next to Windmill Lane. It was where the famous John Conolly - Hanwell's superintendent during 1839-43 - had pioneered the use of 'non-restraint' methods and laid the foundations for the scientific treatment of mental disorder. It eventually became St. Bernard's Hospital. Alfred (1)'s Hanwell admission record describes him as suffering from "mania", prone to epileptic fits and dangerous to others, but otherwise as being in a "fair" state of health. It gives his former place of abode as 2, Little George Street in Bethnal Green, but also observes that prior to admission he had been "removed from Hoxton House licensed house". Little George Street was originally associated with a Cambridge Road in Bethnal Green, but these two roads no longer exist as such and their precise former locations are unknown - although Cambridge Road may have been today's Cambridge Heath Road (the A107). No Woodhursts were living anywhere in Little George Street at the time of the 1871 Census.

Just six weeks after Alfred (1) had been admitted to Hanwell, his older brother James (2) - also mentally ill - was admitted to the county's third asylum at Banstead in Surrey.

It is not known whether Mary Ann kept up any sort of contact with Alfred (1) in the years that followed. Intriguingly, the entry recording the patient's "friend" in the initial section of Alfred (1)'s Hanwell file reads "Matilda Woodhurst, wife, address not known". This might suggest that Matilda kept in touch or was originally involved somehow with his admission, or it might be that upon admission he just chose to mention her - even though he had left her 15 years previously - rather than Mary Ann.

The 1881 Census finds Alfred (1) still in the Hanwell asylum. The census record gives his age as 53, his status as a married lunatic patient, his occupation as bonnet-maker and his birthplace simply as London. Meanwhile his former partner Mary Ann was living at 22, King's Bench Walk in Southwark. This street no longer exists as such, but it may have corresponded to today's King's Bench Street which lies to the east of Blackfriars Road. The census record describes her as a "widow" aged 42 with birthplace "Brighton". Living with her were her teenage sons Alfred (3) and William (8), together with three younger Scottish children having the surname Murray and described as boarders. It appears that she falsified some of the details on the record in order to dissociate herself from her past with Alfred (1). Both she and her children were all ascribed the surname Edridge, with no mention of Woodhurst. She was not a widow and was almost certainly not born in Brighton - the GRO Birth Index having no record for such a birth in the years 1837-41. She cited her birthplace as Brighton in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses as well, and it seems that this was a fiction devised by herself for reasons unknown. Most probably she was the Mary Ann Edridge born on April 14th 1836 to parents Henry Edridge and wife Ann and christened (jointly with a sister Eliza Ann born on March 18th 1838) at St. Giles Cripplegate on July 29th 1838 [IGI: Batch C025782]. The 1841 Census finds this family living in Gun Street in the Liberty of the Old Artillery Ground, Spitalfields. The 1851 and 1861 Censuses each find them living at 24, Victoria Street in Bethnal Green, which is consistent with Alfred (1)'s future partner being in his own vicinity at that time. Mary Ann's birthplace is given in 1851 as Cripplegate and in 1861 as St. Olave in the City of London, very close to Cripplegate. The 1871 Census finds Henry and Ann still living at 24, Victoria Street.

The 1891 Census finds Mary Ann at age "53" living at 25, Lithgow Street in Battersea, occupied as a dress maker and wrongly described (again) as a widow. Living (or perhaps only staying) with her were just her two sons Alfred (3) and William (8), both occupied as cabinet makers. Both sons are wrongly described as unmarried, which may have been merely an error or may have had some ulterior motive. Extensive searches of this census have so far failed to locate either of their wives.

The 1891 Census finds Alfred (1) still in the Hanwell Asylum. The inmates were recorded by their initials only, so he appears as just "A.W.". He is described as a married lunatic patient aged 63 occupied (formerly) as a bonnet-maker and born in Bethnal Green. This account of his birthplace was doubtless inferred from his admission record and may not be correct.

The 1901 Census finds Alfred (1) still in the Hanwell Asylum, again recorded by his initials only. In this record his marital status is marked "U" and appears to denote "unknown" - perhaps nobody there knew whether Matilda was still alive. His age is given as 72 and his occupation as "previously a bonnet maker". His birthplace was not known.

The 1901 Census finds Mary Ann living at 1, Kelson Street, Kilburn in the household of Alfred (3). She is described as a monthly nurse aged "63".

Mary Ann died in 1903. Her death certificate [Death Index: Hampstead 1a 408, 1903 (March)] states that she died aged 65 at Hampstead Workhouse on January 14th 1903. She is described as a monthly nurse, the widow of a straw hat maker Alfred Woodhurst, and residing at 1, Kelson Street in Kilburn. The cause of death was certified as "carcinoma mammae, 18 months" (breast cancer) and the informant was "Eliza Woodhurst, daughter-in-law present at the death" residing at the same address. This was actually Eliza Gilbey, the second partner of Alfred (3). Eliza's incorrect description of Mary Ann as the "widow" (rather than the wife) of Alfred (1) may or may not have reflected what she actually knew. Mary Ann was buried on January 20th 1903 at Hampstead Cemetery, Camden Borough [].

In 1908 Matilda, who had bigamously remarried to James Hines in 1889, died aged 72 [Death Index: Hackney 1b 359, 1908 (March)].

Alfred (1) remained in the Hanwell Asylum until October 29th 1910, on which date he was transferred to the London County Council's Leavesden Asylum in Abbots Langley near Watford in Hertfordshire. This fact is recorded in the Hanwell Casebooks covering his years there. He died at the Leavesden Asylum. The death certificate [Death Index: Watford 3a 1296, 1915 (March)] states that he died on March 5th 1915 aged "74 years" and describes him as "of Bethnal Green Parish, formerly a Bonnet-maker". The informant was Frank Ashby Elkins, MD, the asylum's Medical Superintendent, who certified the cause of death - by a post mortem performed that same day - as "Senile Decay". Alfred (1) was actually about 87 when he died - the inaccurate recording of his age appears to derive from an earlier miscalculation made by the Leavesden staff in 1910.

At the time Alfred (1) died, none of his siblings, none of his children and neither of his partners remained alive. Eight of his grandchildren, however, survived him and lived into adulthood.

It is not yet known where he was buried.

His children by Matilda Bathurst

  1. Matilda Woodhurst
  2. Eliza (2) Woodhurst
  3. Arthur Alfred (2) Woodhurst
  4. male (1) Woodhurst
  5. Elizabeth Eliza Woodhurst

His children by Mary Ann Edridge

  1. Alfred (2) Woodhurst
  2. Alfred (3) Woodhurst
  3. William (8) Woodhurst