James (2) Woodhurst

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Brief biography

James (2) Woodhurst was born to parents William (1) Woodhurst and his wife Elizabeth Clements. He was born on November 18th 1818 and was christened on December 27th of that year at Plumstead in Kent [Plumstead Bishops' Transcripts at the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone]. The latter source further describes William (1) as a labourer.

In 1839 he served as the informant of the death of his brother George Alexander, and was then living at 2, Adelaide Cottage in Grundy Street, Poplar.

Intensive searches have failed to locate him in the 1841 Census.

In late 1841 he married Mary Ann Bonner. Their marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Stepney 2 405, 1841 (Dec)] states that they married on November 12th 1841 at the Parish Church in Stepney, Middlesex. Mary Ann is described as a spinster of full age whose father William Bonner was an ostler (a stableman at an inn). James (2) is described as a bachelor and gardener of full age whose father William (1) was also a gardener (so he may have been working with or for his father). His place of residence is given as 24, Essex Street and hers as 6, William Street - the whereabouts of these streets is uncertain, because several streets in East London bore those names, but they were probably both in Stepney. The witnesses were James Ward and Elizabeth Wells. James Ward may have been related to the William Ward who in 1894 married James (2)'s niece Maude Edith. Elizabeth Wells was probably related to the Wells family who, at the time of the 1841 Census, were living just one or two dwellings away from Mary Ann's family.

The Parish Register shows that the church in which the marriage took place was St. Dunstan's [IGI: Batch M055765], lying on the east side of today's Stepney High Street.

William Bonner was born in Lexden, Essex [UK Census 1851]. It is probable that his parents were Matthew Bonner and his wife Sarah, and that he was christened on June 3rd 1787 at Great Wigborough in Essex [IGI: Batch P015021]. Great Wigborough lies about 8 miles south of Lexden, which is in turn situated about 3 miles west of Colchester. By 1841 he may have been working at the same place as had George Alexander, who had also been an ostler.

Mary Ann was born in Little Britain in the old City of London [UK Census 1891]. Little Britain is a street running past St. Bartholomew's Hospital and lies within a few hundred yards of St. Paul's Cathedral, Newgate and many other famous places in the heart of the City. It is mentioned in the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, who recalled paying three shillings and sixpence per week for lodgings he had occupied there in 1724. Mary Ann was christened on September 14th 1823 at St. Giles Cripplegate [IGI: Batch C025781], situated in the northern part of the old City and about a quarter of a mile north-east of Little Britain. Her christening record spells her mother's name as Anne. Her brother Daniel Bonner was also christened at St. Giles on the same day, but his record spells the mother's name as Anna [IGI: Batch C025781]. Their mother was almost certainly the Hannah (nee) Spooner who married a William Bonner at St. Giles Cripplegate on January 14th 1822 [IGI: Batch M025772]. The 1841 Census finds Mary Ann at age "18" living in John Street, St. George in Stepney with just her parents William - with (rounded) age "55" and occupied as an ostler - and Hannah.

In 1843 James (2) was living in Stepney at 8, Claremont Place, as shown by the birth certificate of his child James William (1). By now he was occupied not as a gardener but as an engine fitter. The location of Claremont Place is currently unknown.

On 30th September 1844 he joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable with Warrant Number 21500 [PRO: MEPO 4/334]. Witness testimonies given by him at various trials at the Old Bailey during his service are given on this page.

In 1845 he was still in Stepney but had moved to 1, Jamaica Street near Mile End Old Town, as shown by the birth certificate of his second child Rosanna Elizabeth. He was still a constable.

By April 1847 he had moved to 2, Red Lion Street in Wapping, for that was his address when Rosanna Elizabeth died. He was still occupied as a police constable. This Red Lion Street - which the 1851 census links with Wapping High Street - is entirely distinct from the Red Lion Street in Shoreditch where his brother Richard William (1) was living in 1851. It corresponded to today's Reardon Path, which runs southwards from Green Bank to Wapping High Street. It was one of several local streets that were annihilated, along with their names, by the Wapping Housing Scheme begun in 1926. A contemporary article stated that by 1932 they had "consisted mostly of slum dwellings, derelict buildings, and waste ground" [The Copartnership Herald, Vol. II, no. 21, Nov. 1932].

In November 1848 he received very serious injuries through being savagely assaulted by a coal-whipper named John Calnan, the lover of a woman named Ann Twig – described as a well-known and disorderly prostitute – against whom he had recently given evidence in court, she having been charged with stealing three sovereigns from a man she had enticed into a brothel. A graphic account of the case, detailing the long-drawn-out assault – was reported in The Sun, issue of November 15th 1848.

On February 21st 1849 James (2) resigned from the police [PRO: MEPO 4/334], probably on account of the injuries he had received in the afore-mentioned incident.

On March 30th 1851 he was still living at 2, Red Lion Street in Wapping. His household was recorded in the 1851 census as follows:

      James Woodhurst, head, married, aged 28, labourer, born in Plumstead, Kent
      Mary Ann Woodhurst, wife, married, aged 26, born in Cripplegate, Middlesex
      James Woodhurst, son, unmarried, aged 7, born in Stepney, Middlesex    [this is James William (1)]
      George D. Woodhurst, son, unmarried, aged 2, born in Wapping, Middlesex    [this is George Daniel]
      William Bonner, visitor, widower, aged 65, labourer, born in Lexden, Essex

The visitor William Bonner was Mary Ann's father. James (2) was a labourer at this time.

Just a fortnight later, on April 14th 1851, he rejoined the Metropolitan Police with Warrant Number 29298 [PRO: MEPO 4/334].

In mid-1851, when his child Arthur Albert was born, he was still at 2, Red Lion Street in Wapping and occupied as a police constable. The same was true later in 1851 when Arthur Albert died, and in 1853 when his child Arthur Alfred (1) was born.

In 1855, when his child Albert John was born, he was living at 23, Morpeth Street in Bethnal Green and was still a police constable.

In August 1856 Arthur Alfred (1) died. The family was now living at 12, Bedford Terrace in Bethnal Green. The precise location of Bedford Terrace - which no longer exists as such - is not yet known. James (2) was still a police constable.

On October 29th 1856 he was dismissed from the police [PRO: MEPO 4/334]. The reason is not yet known.

By 1858, when his son Arthur Alfred (3) was born, James (2) was working as a railway porter. The family was now living at 20, Bright Street in the Bow and Bromley area of Poplar.

In 1860, when his son Walter Charles was born, he was a railway servant. He was now living at 7, Middleton Street in Bethnal Green.

The 1861 Census finds him with his family living at 21, Dock Terrace, West Ham, presumed to have been situated by the Victoria Dock in Canning Town. He was occupied as a constable at Victoria Dock. His birthplace is here given as Crayford in Kent, about 5 miles from Plumstead. Mary Ann's birthplace is given as Colchester, apparently confused with her father's (approximate) birthplace.

Later in 1861, when his son James William (1) married, he was described as a porter.

Extensive efforts to find him or any of his family in the 1871 Census have not succeeded. It is suspected that they were deliberately "lying low" because James (2)'s brother Alfred (1) Woodhurst was due to be released from prison just a few days after the census.

In 1872, when his son George Daniel married, he was occupied as a silk sorter.

On February 17th 1875 he was admitted to the Hackney Union Workhouse in Sidney Road, Homerton, as recorded in the registers of the Hackney Parish Board of Guardians. He was described as ill and occupied as a labourer. He was discharged by his own request on March 15th, only to be readmitted - still being ill - on April 19th, at which time his occupation was cited as willow cutter. He was again discharged by his own request on May 12th. On July 20th he entered once more, now described as a warehouseman and of unsound mind. Meanwhile, his wife Mary Ann was living with George Daniel at 32, Loddiges Road, Mare Street in East Hackney.

On July 24th 1875 he was discharged from the Workhouse and transferred to the private lunatic asylum known as Bethnal House, one of the so-called Metropolitan Licensed Houses. The transfer was ordered by a Justice of the Peace, John Charrington, who had personally examined James (2) and had seen a medical certificate for him written on July 23rd by Dr. John Bradshaw White of Hackney Union Infirmary. Dr. White's certificate described various delusions from which James (2) was suffering and further recorded that - according to Mary Ann - he had twice attempted to commit suicide. These documents are held among the Board of Guardians records. Bethnal House was formerly called Kirby Castle - or Kirby's Folly by the locals - having been built two centuries earlier by the wealthy Elizabethan citizen John Kirby. It remained in use as an asylum until about 1900.

Following the introduction of properly administered county asylums, many inmates had been decanted from the often appalling conditions of the private asylums to these new institutions. It appears that James (2) was sent to Bethnal House only because Justice Charrington's order had noted that the county asylums were at that time full. However, he was transferred from Bethnal House on September 7th/8th 1877 to the Banstead Asylum, opened earlier that year as Middlesex County's third lunatic asylum, albeit located in Surrey. It was situated in the triangle of land bounded by today's Sutton Lane, Freedown Lane and Fairlawn Road, close to Banstead's northern boundary with Carshalton. James (2)'s Banstead admission record describes him as deluded, incoherent and suicidal with bodily impairment. His periods in both asylums were charged to Hackney Parish as detailed in the Board of Guardians records.

The 1881 Census finds him still living in the Banstead asylum. All the inmates there were identified by their initials only. He therefore appears simply as 'J.W.' and is described as a 63-year-old lunatic patient previously occupied as a warehouseman. He was actually 62. The Census further finds his wife Mary Ann - described as head-of-household and housekeeper - living with two of her sons at Flat 14, Brett Road in Hackney, and cites her age accurately as 57. Brett Road branches off Amhurst Road immediately to the north of Hackney Central station.

Middlesex County's first lunatic asylum had been built in Norwood Parish near Hanwell, Middlesex in 1831. It was at this Hanwell asylum that James (2)'s brother Alfred (1) was residing in the 1881 Census. The county's second asylum was Colney Hatch, built in 1851 at Friern Barnet in North London.

James (2) died in the following year. His death certificate [Death Index: Epsom 2a 2, 1882 (March)] states that he died at the Banstead asylum aged 62 on January 10th 1882, and describes him as a warehouseman of Hackney. The cause of death was 'chronic brain disease' and the informant was F. Marchison, the asylum's Resident Medical Officer. His death is noted also in his Banstead admission record but is mis-dated as January 10th 1881 - a simple slip made by someone failing to absorb the switch to the new year - thus explaining why he was certified as 62 when he was actually 63. The certificate mentions none of his relatives. It may be that his illness, whatever it was, had afflicted him for much of his adult life and was responsible for his having had to quit the police service on two occasions.

Many of the deceased inmates of Banstead were interred in the asylum's own burial ground, perhaps having no known living relatives, and were recorded in the asylum's burial register covering the period 1877-84 [LMA: Piece H22/BAN/B/05/001]. James (2), however, was buried at St. Nicholas Church in Sutton, on January 16th. The burial register gives his age as 62.

The asylum eventually became Banstead Psychiatric Hospital and continued as such until its closure in 1986; in 1989 the site was acquired by the Home Office and redeveloped as two new prisons, Down View and High Down.

His remaining family must have moved out of Brett Road after his death, as there were no Woodhursts living anywhere in that street at the time of the 1891 Census. Instead, that census finds his widow Mary Ann living at 24, Northcote Road, Walthamstow with her son George Daniel and his family.

The 1901 Census finds Mary Ann living at 17, Courtenay Road in Walthamstow with her grandson Arthur Hubert.

Mary Ann appears to have died in 1909 [Death Index: W. Ham 4a 246, 1909 (March)].

His children by Mary Ann Bonner

  1. James William (1) Woodhurst
  2. Rosanna Elizabeth Woodhurst
  3. George Daniel Woodhurst
  4. Arthur Albert Woodhurst
  5. Arthur Alfred (1) Woodhurst
  6. Albert John Woodhurst
  7. Arthur Alfred (3) Woodhurst
  8. Walter Charles Woodhurst