Blanche (1) Woodhurst

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Brief biography

Blanche (1) Woodhurst was born to parents Richard William (1) Woodhurst (RWW) and his second wife Matilda. Repeated and exhaustive searches of the GRO Birth Index, allowing for a wide range of surname variants, have failed to identify any reference to Blanche (1)'s birth. However, her descendants knew that her birthday was on May 6th. This fact together with census records and her marriage certificate imply that she was born in 1871.

She was christened, together with her sisters Maude Edith and Annie (1), at St. Thomas, Birmingham on January 21st 1874 [IGI: Batch K041172] when she was nearly three years old.

The 1881 Census finds her at age 9 living with her parents and siblings at 41, Howbury Road in Camberwell, Surrey.

The 1891 Census finds her at age 19 living at 4, Stonebridge Villas, Townsend Road in South Tottenham, London. This was the home in which Matilda had settled with her third husband James Hines. The census record describes Blanche (1) as a bonnet maker.

On October 15th 1892 she married William James Smith in Tottenham Parish Church. The marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Edmonton 3a 518, 1892 (Dec)] gives her age as 21 and names her father as simply "William Woodhurst" - omitting the "Richard" - and describes him as a "Gentleman" (though by now he was five years deceased). The address of both bride and groom is given as 4, Stonebridge Villas. William James, aged 22, is described as a clerk and his own (deceased) father William (1) Smith as a "police inspector" - but, although William (1) had indeed once been a policeman, it appears unlikely that he ever held that rank. The witnesses were her brother William (2) and her sister Maude Edith.

William (1) Smith was born around 1837-38 in or near Whissendine, Rutland. The 1841 Census finds him there with his parents James Smith and Mary. James was a carpenter. The 1851 Census finds him again there with his father (still a carpenter) and siblings, but his mother was not present. The 1861 Census finds him living in Lee Green near Lewisham, Kent with other police officers and occupied as a police constable. In 1869 he married Clara Willson (or Wilson) [Marriage Index: Lewisham 1d 994, 1869 (June)]. She was born in Greenwich around 1843-44. The 1871 Census find William (1) living with Clara at 47, Idonia Street in Deptford where he was now a police sergeant. His birthplace is given here as Stapleford in Leicestershire, which lies just three miles from Whissendine. Also present was his first child William James - Blanche (1)'s future husband - aged "1". William James was born in Greenwich around 1870 and his birth reference is probably [Birth Index: Greenwich 1d 785, 1870 (June)]. The 1881 Census finds William (1) living with Clara and five children at 12, Mount Ash Road in Lewisham, where he was now once again a police constable. Also present was Clara's widowed mother Mary, aged "67" and born in Bromley, Kent. The family subsequently moved to Tottenham, Middlesex where Clara died in 1890 aged "47" [Death Index: Edmonton 3a 203, 1890 (March)]. The 1891 Census finds William (1) with his children - other than William James - living at 6, Forster Road in Tottenham and now occupied as a carman. Meanwhile William James was boarding at 9, Olinda Road in Hackney and occupied as a booking clerk. Also boarding with him was a railway porter William Ward, the future husband of Maude Edith. The probable death reference for William (1) is [Death Index: Hackney 1b 416, 1892 (March)], aged "55".

Blanche (1) and William James were living at Morpeth Lodge in the Old Ford subdistrict of Bow when their daughter was born in September 1898. This lodge was (and still is) situated in Hackney's Victoria Park and stands near the park's eastern entrance at St. Mark's Gate. William James was then working as a Park Constable. Half a century earlier the park had been a somewhat unsavoury place, albeit an oasis in the midst of much worse districts of East London. A vivid description of it appears in a volume [Publ. Derby & Miller, London, 1853] titled "What I saw in London", written in 1852 by an American author David W. Bartlett after two recent visits to London. Towards the end of his description he mentions Morpeth Lodge, though not by name, as follows: "At the entrance of the eastern park - for a highway divides the park in two - there is a pretty porter's cottage, or lodge, where we saw all manner of intoxicating liquors, and also edibles."

The 1901 Census finds them at Morpeth Lodge, with William James still a Park Constable. Also present as a visitor was Matilda, now aged 65.

The 1911 Census finds them at Morpeth Lodge with their first two children. William James was still a Park Constable, being employed by London County Council.

They were still at Morpeth Lodge in 1913 when their second son was born.

Blanche (1) may also have been associated with a property 38, Woodsome Road in St. Pancras. This was the address at which the father of her niece Maud Ethel Bone (MEB) died in 1915. MEB once remarked to the site author (her grandson) that this property had "belonged to" Blanche (1). If this were true it would not imply that Blanche (1) had lived there herself, since at various times she owned properties that she rented-out.

MEB further related the following. Blanche (1) was at one time a dress-maker and made items for the Royal Court - she and Maude Edith were then working together near the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace and, from an upper-floor window of their workplace, were able to view the comings and goings below of various persons connected with the Royal household. It is not certain to which period this claim pertains. It may have been around 1915, or a little before, since MEB and her siblings were temporarily fostered-out to Blanche (1) and Maude Edith at about that time, allowing them their best opportunity to learn what their aunts were doing.

Most of what follows are recollections of Blanche (1) supplied by her own descendants.

She related herself how she and her siblings, when young, had been put to work in the front room of their home every day from noon until 10 p.m., helping with the family's hat-making business. This was probably in the 1880s, and perhaps also a little earlier. She related to her son William that her father RWW habitually took to his bed in October and did not get up again until the following Spring.

She continued living at Morpeth Lodge during the 1920s and into the early 1930s. During this period she owned a bicycle shop, which was run by her son William when he first left school. Its location has been cited variously as Cadogan Terrace and as 339, Victoria Park Road. These two streets form two sides of Victoria Park and meet at its northern corner. Perhaps both addresses pertained to the same shop, but they may have pertained to two shops owned at different times.

When her husband retired, probably around the mid-1930s, she moved to 9, Royston Gardens in Ilford, Essex. Nearby, her son Albert Henry and his wife ran a bicycle shop in a road adjoining Eastern Avenue. Royston Gardens forms a small loop off Eastern Avenue in Redbridge, situated at the northern boundary of Wanstead Park. Blanche (1)'s house was semi-detached with a garage. Its rear garden backed onto the South East Essex Waterworks pumping station. This pumped water into the Roding River, which runs along the entire eastern side of Wanstead Park. Opposite Royston Gardens there stood a public house called The Green Man.

This home is remembered as having been a very comfortable one, with high-quality walnut furniture. Blanche (1) and her husband were evidently quite wealthy relative to the times. In particular they owned a Ford Popular 8-horsepower car. They were driven in this mostly by their son William prior to his marrying. They enjoyed travel and often made trips to the coast, and even had some holidays in Europe - probably in the 1920s. They also had Blanche (1)'s niece Mildred Margaret Bone from Leicester down to stay with them once or twice a year. A photograph survives showing them (and their car) on one such visit.

Blanche (1) was a strong-willed character, of very nice appearance, always smartly dressed and very houseproud. She was quintessentially Victorian in temperament, and was not given to openly conversing with her young grandchildren or displaying overt emotion towards them on the many occasions when they visited her. She may have been habitually thrifty, as one of her favourite sayings was "waste not, want not". She wore typical Victorian dresses having high collars, dark colours and long sleeves, and was of medium height and build. She loved animals and cooking, and made her own jam. She and some of her siblings used to take it in turns to hold large family parties at Christmas. Her husband was a quiet man who liked travelling and reading.

On June 27th 1944, three weeks after D-Day, their home in Royston Gardens was struck by a V1 "doodlebug" flying bomb. These weapons had been launched to terrifying effect against southern England - at the rate of about 150 per day - since mid-June. The entire house and its garage, as well as the adjoining house, were flattened. Blanche (1) and her husband had been sleeping in the Morrison shelter which one of their sons had built for them within their dining room. It comprised a heavy steel-framed table with steel-mesh sides. The steel bolts on her husband's side sheared under the impact with the result that he was killed instantly [Death Index: Ilford 4a 420, 1944 (June)]. She remained trapped there for 10-11 hours. When she was eventually dug out she was covered in dust but had not suffered even a scratch. Their cat had been blown to pieces. Nothing could be salvaged from the house which, with all its contents, had been destroyed totally. Among her many precious family items that were lost was a Chinese cabinet - believed to have originally belonged to her mother Matilda - full of photographs and postcards. Her son William, who had been sent out to Normandy the day after D-Day, was granted compassionate leave to come back to visit her.

This bomb also killed, at the neighbouring house No. 11, Arthur Charles Astle, his wife and his parents.

Blanche (1) now moved in with her daughter in Hornchurch for the remainder of the War.

The V1 flying bombs continued to fall on England - killing about 8000 people - until August 1944, when they were superseded by the V2 rockets. About 34 V1s and 35 V2s fell on Ilford alone. The typical blast diameter of a V1 explosion was about 800 yards, so a single one could easily demolish many streets. The houses destroyed in Royston Gardens were rebuilt after the War. Not all of these may have survived to the present day, because the point at which the street connects with Eastern Avenue is now dominated by the flyover connection forming the southern terminus of the M11 motorway.

Probate of William James' estate was granted to Blanche (1) on January 6th 1945, his effects being valued at £781.

After the War Blanche (1) moved into a flat of her own in Essex, near to where her son William was then living.

Blanche (1) died in 1954. The death certificate [Death Index: Epping 5a 49, 1954 (Sept)] states that she died aged 83 on July 3rd 1954 at 42, The Plain in Epping, Essex. She is described as having resided at 1, Crescent View in High Road, Loughton and being the "widow of William James Smith a Park Keeper (retired)". The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis, cardiac infarction and chronic bronchitis, certified by the Coroner for the Southern District of Essex after post mortem without inquest. The informant was her son William Arthur Leslie of 2, Felstead Road in Loughton.

She was buried, with her husband, in Chingford Cemetery, Essex. Her son William was granted adminstration of her estate on September 22nd. Her effects were valued at £1701. Her assets at the time she died included a pair of large houses in Wood Green which had been converted into four flats.

Her children by William James Smith

  1. Albert Henry Smith
  2. Matilda Blanche Smith
  3. William Arthur Leslie Smith

Albert Henry Smith

Albert Henry was born around 1893. In the 1901 Census his parents cited his birthplace as Woolwich, and his GRO birth reference is probably either [Birth Index: Greenwich 1d 1070, 1893 (Sept)] or [Birth Index: Woolwich 1d 1166, 1893 (Dec)]. He married Alice Marie Oliver [Marriage Index: Poplar 1c 705, 1917 (Sept)]. Alice was one of 13 children. Her mother Elizabeth died aged 79 on November 28th 1945 [Death Index: Islington 1b 134, 1945 (Dec)] and was buried in grave 1902-D in Walthamstow Cemetery, Queens Road. Albert Henry first worked as a cycle agent at 333, Wick Road in Hackney. He is also reported as having run a bicycle shop near Eastern Avenue in Ilford. He subsequently became a caterer, running a cafe named "Bert's Dining Rooms". The precise location of the latter is unknown, but a surviving photograph of it has on its reverse the marking "E.G. Wheeler, 169 Green Lane, Norbury, SW16". He lived for a while at Wickford in Essex before settling finally at Southend-on-Sea where he ran a cafe in the London Road. After retiring he lived for the rest of his life in a house not far from where this cafe had been. He and Alice produced three children Leslie, Hazel Rosina Hilda and Dennis. The site author's mother had a clear childhood memory of meeting these children in the early 1930s, in the period when Albert Henry was running his cafe. Her family and his were both visiting the home of Blanche (1)'s married niece Doris Olive (nee Bone) Bailey at 40, Kingshill Drive in Harrow. The children, all put in a room to themselves whilst the adults conversed, had a cushion fight, brought to an abrupt end by the intervention of Doris' husband Arthur. She further recalled that she and her own brother Harold were given half-crowns by Albert Henry, a practice of his also remembered by other descendants. Albert Henry is believed to have died around 1978 and to have been buried in the Sutton Cemetery in Southend. Alice died in Bournemouth, where she had been living with Dennis. Dennis died in late 2000, and his widow Vera in November 2003.

Hazel was born on September 27th 1919 [Birth Index: Poplar 1c 744, 1919 (Dec)], at which time her parents were living at 109, Cadogan Terrace which runs alongside the eastern boundary of Victoria Park. On July 6th 1941 she married [Marriage Index: Edmonton 3a 2679, 1941 (Sept)] George William Coleman, then aged 22 and a corporal (Service No. 6018021) in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, 6th Batallion. He was killed in action at age 25 in north-west Europe on July 18th 1944 [Army War Deaths Index: 1944 Vol. 8 Page 8]. He is named on the Bayeux Cemetery's Memorial [Grave/Memorial Ref: Panel 14, Column 1]. Through a later partner Hazel produced a child Janet. She died in late 2000.

Matilda Blanche Smith

Matilda Blanche was born in 1898. Her birth certificate [Birth Index: Poplar 1c 560, 1898 (Dec)] states that she was born on September 30th 1898 at her parents' address Morpeth Lodge in Wick Lane, Bow (although the lodge and St. Mark's Gate are actually located near the southern end of Cadogan Terrace). Her father, a park constable, was the informant. She disliked her first name and preferred to be known as "Hilda". She married Arthur Thomas Frank English at St. James Parish Church in Clapton on August 12th l923. Their marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Hackney 1b 812, 1923 (Sept)] describes her as a spinster aged 23 residing at 28, Nightingale Road in Clapton, and him as a clerk and bachelor aged 22 of the same address. Her father is described as a park keeper and the groom's father, named as Arthur English, is described as a clerk. The witnesses were Albert Henry Smith - Matilda Blanche's brother - and Arthur Alfred Thomas English who was probably the groom's father. Her husband, who preferred to go by the name Frank, worked as an accountant for the British and Foreign Bible Society in Queen Victoria Street. They produced two children, Winifred Hilda Joan - born on December 8th 1925 [Birth Index: Hackney 1b 746, 1926 (March)] - and Robert Arthur - born on May 27th 1928 [Birth Index: Hackney 1b 701, 1928 (June)]. At this time they were living in Cadogan Terrace - and so were able to visit Blanche (1) frequently - but in 1930 they moved to 82, Kenilworth Gardens in Hornchurch, Essex. They remained in Hornchurch until 1952 when they emigrated to Southern Rhodesia, their children having already moved there in the late 1940s; a postcard sent by them during their journey shows their ship, the Durban Castle, and is postmarked March 7th 1952. Arthur Thomas Frank died on November 11th 1965 and Matilda Blanche died on November 15th 1975; they both died in Umtali (now named Mutare) and are buried at the cemetery there. Winifred has related that her mother had wished to name her foremost as Joan, but that she was named Winifred in accordance with the wishes of Blanche (1).

William Arthur Leslie Smith

William Arthur Leslie was born on May 28th 1913 [Birth Index: Poplar 1c 827, 1913 (Sept)] and married Ellen Florence Cockerton, who was born on August 10th 1912 [Birth Index: Hackney 1b 841, 1912 (Sept)] and whose mother's maiden name was Stockdale. They married on April 8th 1939 [Marriage Index: Romford 4a 1393, 1939 (June)] and produced two children Valerie Joan and Denise Ann. William Arthur Leslie died on October 20th 2001.

Denise Ann was born on January 8th 1947. In 1961, when aged 14, she was permanently paralysed from the neck down through a car accident. Her father, who had not slept at all following a day at work, had been driving the family through the night to a holiday in the West Country. He fell asleep at the wheel and smashed their car head-on into another vehicle. Denise was flung from the rear seat through the windscreen and was the only member of the family to sustain serious injuries. She was discharged from Stoke Mandeville Hospital in February 1962 and was thereafter cared for at home by her parents, having been told she was unlikely to live beyond the age of 35.

Denise actually lived to age 58 and, despite her severe disabilities, learned to drive, undertook sky-diving and abseiling and performed much work on behalf of charities and of the wheelchair-bound community. She contributed greatly to this history of her grandmother Blanche (1). In 2005 she was admitted to Southend Hospital with pneumonia but could not be saved, dying on June 10th. Following her funeral on June 22nd, attended by many friends, her ashes were taken to Scotland and scattered on Rannoch Moor, a place she had previously visited and loved.

MEB was acquainted with Blanche (1)'s children, and was able to name all three to the site author. She seemed to have known Matilda Blanche best, being aware that she preferred to be called Hilda and had married into the English surname and emigrated.