Richard William (1) Woodhurst

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Brief biography

Richard William (1) Woodhurst (RWW) was born to parents William (1) Woodhurst and his wife Elizabeth Clements. He was christened at Frindsbury, Kent on November 24th 1816. The parish register states that William (1) was occupied as a gardener, as stated also on the certificate of RWW's first marriage and also on the marriage certificate of his brother James (2).

Frindsbury is immediately next to Strood-near-Rochester where William (3) Woodhurst had his child William (4) christened in 1824. William (3) and William (1) were first cousins.

By 1818 RWW's family had moved to the Plumstead-Crayford area of Kent, and around 1823-25 they departed from Kent and moved to East London. There RWW married and lived for many years. He changed address frequently, living in such London districts as Poplar, Limehouse, Stepney, Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Bromley-by-Bow, Hackney, Plaistow, Camberwell and Forest Gate, besides spending many years in Birmingham punctuated by a brief spell in Norfolk. His own living conditions in London may not have differed much from those of the rest of the local population which were, in the main, utterly horrendous. Vivid and absorbing first-hand accounts of the conditions in these parts of London at that time can be found on the Victorian London site.

RWW's first marriage was to Susannah Miller. Their marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Poplar II 313, 1843 (Dec)] states that they married on October 13th 1843 at the Parish Church in Poplar. Susannah is described as a spinster and a 'minor' (aged under 21) whose father was William Miller, a carpenter. RWW is described as a bachelor of full age, occupation railway conductor, and his father as a gardener William Woodhurst. Their place of residence at the time of marrying is given simply as Poplar. The witnesses were Thomas 'Caton' and Rebecca 'Welleson' (both surnames indistinct) whose connections are unknown. Susannah was born around 1826 in Poplar [UK Census 1841, 1851]. Her father's full name was actually William Henry Miller.

The 1841 Census finds Susannah at age 15 living as a female servant in a mixed household of unrelated persons in Poplar High Street. Nearby in the same street was a household headed by a carpenter William Miller aged 35 who was very probably her father. Neither he nor his wife Elizabeth was born in Middlesex.

In 1844 RWW and Susannah were living at 16, Copenhagen Place in Limehouse, as shown by the certificate of the birth there of their first child Emily Isabel. He was occupied at that time as a labourer, and so had apparently given up his earlier employment as a railway conductor. Copenhagen Place still exists as such. It lies just north of the point where Commercial Road (today's A13) meets Burdett Road, and directly overlooks the Limehouse Cut canal flowing north-east out of Limehouse Basin. A contemporary picture gives some idea of what the area was like at that time.

By 1846 they had moved to 21, Tetley Street, Bromley-by-Bow, as shown by the birth certificate of their second child Richard William (2). RWW was still occupied as a labourer. This child died after one year.

By January 1848 they had moved to 6, George Street in Limehouse, as shown by the death certificate of their child Richard William (2). RWW was still occupied as a labourer.

By September 1848 they appear to have moved to Lomas Buildings in Stepney, as evidenced by a witness testimony given by a willow worker "William Woodhurst" - presumed to be RWW - to a trial at the Old Bailey.

By November 1848 they had moved to 6, Smith's Place in Bethnal Green, as shown by the birth certificate of their third child Hannah Ellen. RWW was now occupied as a willow cutter. This child died soon after birth. A local commentator writing of conditions in Bethnal Green in 1848 noted the "enormous number of dwellings which have been constructed in defiance of every law and principle on which the health and lives of the occupants depend". At that time the populace had to use handpumps standing in the streets to obtain their water, which was supplied only at low pressure and only during three two-hour periods in each week.

In 1851 they were living at 16, Red Lion Street, Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, by which time RWW had become a dyer [UK Census 1851]. With them were only 7-year old Emily Isabel and their 16-year old niece Ann Anderson. The latter person - born in St. George the Martyr West, Southwark - was probably a child of some married sister of Susannah.

Red Lion Street no longer exists as such, but Greenwood's Street Map of London in 1827 shows it taking the same line as today's Commercial Street running between Spitalfields and Shoreditch. Commercial Street joins Shoreditch High Street which in turn becomes Kingsland Road. The southern end of Red Lion Street began just north of the Old Spitalfields Church next to Fashion Street, whose name and location are precisely the same today as they were in 1827. Red Lion Street had the distinction of being the birthplace in the late 18th century of the highly influential thinker, lawyer and reformer Jeremy Bentham who made outstanding contributions to the reform of the Poor Laws in 1834 and of English penal law. He was also one of the founders of London's University College, to whom he donated his body for medical research - his skeleton has been preserved there, in Gower Street, ever since.

The 1851 Census took place on March 30th. At that time Susannah must have been heavily pregnant because barely one month later she gave birth to another child Teresa, who died just a few months afterwards. RWW was still occupied as a dyer.

In 1852 Susannah had another child Richard William (3). The family was now living at 14, Suffolk Street in Bethnal Green and RWW was still occupied as a dyer. Previous to this, the family may have lived briefly in Walworth, Surrey, as this is consistently cited as Richard William (3)'s birthplace in subsequent censuses.

In 1855 another child Harry (1) was born. The family was then at 2, Lady Lake's Grove in Mile End Old Town, and RWW was occupied as a straw and willow dyer. In the 1851 Census this address [PRO Ref: HO107 Piece 1552 Folio 377 Page 18] had been occupied by the family of a John Miller - aged 52 with a wife Frances aged 51 - who may have been related to Susannah.

In 1858 Susannah gave birth to another child Ada Susannah. The family was now living at 23, Mill Row, Shoreditch and RWW was occupied as a 'willow bonnet blocker', a rather skilled line of work that entailed making and using wooden blocks on which bonnets were shaped to precise fits for individual customers. Mill Row branches off westwards from Kingsland Road at a point just south of today's Regents Canal.

In 1859 their son Harry (1) was killed in a terrible road accident in Phillipp Street, which connects with Mill Row and runs immediately parallel to it. RWW described himself at that time as a hat maker.

The location of the family in 1861 is unknown. The 1861 Census records for the whole of Mill Row are registered as officially missing, as also are those for very many other places. This particular census suffered a disastrous period of neglect and is notoriously incomplete. However, the family may in any case have moved from Mill Row prior to the census. They appear not to have been living then in nearby Phillipp Street, although the census records for many houses in that street are missing.

On March 1st 1862 Susannah gave birth to the last child she was to have by RWW, namely Charles (2). They were now living at 11, Essex Place in the Haggerston area of Shoreditch and RWW was occupied as a straw hat maker. Neither they nor any other Woodhursts had been living at that address at the time of the 1861 Census.

By the time Charles (2) was born their marriage must have been on the rocks, for just five days afterwards RWW took the extraordinary step of secretly - and bigamously - remarrying. He appears to have lived something of a double life for the next few weeks, since he personally registered the birth of Charles (2) on April 11th 1862. He gave his address as that where Charles (2) was born, suggesting he had not yet left Susannah. It is not known how much Susannah knew, at this time, of what RWW had done. It is certain that she never divorced him, as there is no record of such in the Divorce Index [PRO Ref: Class J78 Pieces 1-3, 1858-85]. Later in 1862 he left her for his new partner.

Subsequently - though it is not known precisely when - Susannah entered into a new partnership with a slightly younger man named James Cooke Taylor, who already had several children. The 1871 Census finds them living at 18, Blanchard Road in Hackney together with their various children, including Richard William (3) and Ada Susannah, but not Charles (2). James, who was born in Clerkenwell, was working as a hackney car driver and Susannah as a laundress. The record describes her relationship to James as "wife" but she had not married him. Blanchard Road existed well into the 20th century and was situated among a compact group of streets immediately south of Wilman Grove on the west side of London Fields. They have since been redeveloped and renamed, though Wilman Grove has retained its name.

The 1881 Census finds James and Susannah at 17, Blanchard Road in the same occupations, but with fewer children remaining with them. One of these was Ada Susannah. The record gives her age incorrectly as "22". As she was not James' own daughter he may have been hazy about her particulars, or perhaps the census enumerator misread "32" on the household's form as "22". Living next door to them at No. 16 was Richard William (3), now married with two children of his own, and - in another household there - a widowed lodger Sarah Angold who was Susannah's sister. In 1871 Sarah had been lodging at 13, New Street in London Fields, Hackney, at which address there was also the family of a John Miller who was probably her nephew.

In 1884 Susannah - still living at 17, Blanchard Road - was the informant on the death certificate of James William (1) Woodhurst, the husband of her daughter Emily Isabel. In 1893, still living at this address, she was the informant on the death certificate of Emily Isabel. In both cases she correctly stated her relationship to the deceased and in both cases she gave her surname as Taylor.

Returning to the events of 1862, RWW's second partner was Matilda Bathurst, who was born in 1835 in Hackney. Their illegal marriage took place at St. George's Chapel in Old Brentford, Middlesex, on March 6th 1862. The certificate [Marriage Index: Brentford 3a 52, 1862 (March)] describes RWW as a widower (which he was not), a dyer and the son of a "farmer" William Woodhurst, and Matilda as a spinster (which she was not) aged 27, a bonnet-maker and the daughter of a dyer named Robert (2) Bathurst. RWW's age is cited as "36" whereas he was actually about 46. Both are described as residing in Old Brentford. The witnesses were John Mills and Eleanor Hart, whose connections are unknown. The discrepancies on the certificate were almost certainly due to RWW and Matilda conspiring to obfuscate their true situations. A bigamous marriage at this time was not to be undertaken lightly, being a serious imprisonable offence. The 1858 Divorce Act had made it easier and cheaper for ordinary people to divorce, but was still strictly premissed upon one or other parties being able to prove adultery.

A further complication in the events of 1862 is that Matilda, when marrying RWW, was already married to RWW's younger brother Alfred (1) Woodhurst. The Divorce Index contains no record of their divorcing. A few months before, Alfred (1) had begun a relationship with another woman Mary Ann Edridge, making her pregnant. One descendant's report states that Alfred (1) was thereafter "disowned" by the rest of the family. Thus there was at this time a major reconfiguration of these persons' marital situations. RWW separated from Susannah, Matilda separated from Alfred (1), RWW and Matilda married each other - so committing double bigamy - and Susannah and Alfred (1) each took up new partners. These events must have been very confusing for all their various children.

RWW must have known Matilda at least as far back as 1849 when she married his brother Alfred (1). In 1839 her father was living at 12, Great Pearl Street, which lay only a few streets away to the north of Red Lion Street in which RWW was living in 1851.

RWW's second marriage produced six children. The first, William (2), was born in late November 1862 in Bethnal Green where RWW and Matilda were then living at 2, Bath Street. This child must have been conceived at about the time his parents married. The next four children were born variously in Birmingham and King's Lynn, and the last in Plaistow, Essex. It appears that the family kept well away from London for at least ten years.

The 1871 Census finds RWW at age "55" living with Matilda and the first three of their joint children at 8, Back [of?] 29, Stoke Street in the St. Thomas ward of Birmingham. His occupation was dyer, and Matilda's was bonnet maker.

None of their children from their former marriages was living with them in 1871, evidently having been left behind in London when RWW and Matilda departed from there. It is certain that they moved to Birmingham around 1863-65 and returned to London around 1874-78, but had also been in King's Lynn, Norfolk in at least 1867. The return to London seems to have coincided approximately with the admission of RWW's brothers James (2) and Alfred (1) to asylums in 1875 and 1876, respectively. Perhaps he and Matilda felt that, with these two out of the way, there was a reduced risk of their illegal marriage being exposed. It may even have been the case that the brothers had originally compelled RWW and Matilda to leave London. All this, however, remains speculation - there is currently no direct evidence capable of enlightening us as to the understandings or feelings within the family over these complicated events.

By the time of the 1881 Census RWW and Matilda were in Surrey, living at 41, Howbury Road in Camberwell (about 2-3 miles from Walworth) at an arguably safe distance of about six miles on the opposite side of the Thames from Hackney where Susannah lived. RWW was still working as a hatter, and Matilda as a milliner. All six of their children were living there also. The census record gives RWW's age as 60, whereas it was actually around 65, and his place of birth as Kent but without mentioning the parish. These anomalies may be further evidence of RWW wishing not to disclose his past in too much detail.

That RWW had been a hatter was known to the site author's family independently of the official records. One of RWW's great-grand-daughters Hazel Edith - the daughter of Harold Edward (1) Bone - recalled that he had owned a millinery shop in which ornate Gainsborough hats for ladies were made, and that his daughter Annie (1) used to take the money (probably as gold sovereigns) earned from the hat sales to the bank. Hazel Edith added that this was "in the time of Jack the Ripper", that is, in the late 1880s. Hazel Edith also stated that RWW had "disowned" one of his daughters because she had married a man of whom he disapproved. It is hard to make sense of this claim. If there was such a daughter then she cannot have been any of those from RWW's second marriage because they all married some years after he had died. Among the daughters of his first marriage, Emily Isabel was married to a police inspector whose investigative powers may have made RWW fearful of exposure as a bigamist. Ada Susannah was apparently unaware that RWW was even alive when she married in 1882 and so it is very unlikely that he knew anything of her husband, and indeed he had probably had no dealings at all with her since her infancy. More generally, no evidence has yet emerged that he had any association at all with his former family after he had married Matilda. A different possibility is that this "disowned" daughter was Matilda's daughter by Alfred (1), namely Matilda Woodhurst. She had married a musician Walter Wiseman in Liverpool in 1867 and possibly had aspirations to becoming an actress (thus, likewise entering the performing arts). The family folklore passed down via Annie (1) contains disapproving mention of an actress daughter in the family - at that time, actresses were rated not much higher than prostitutes. Although RWW had witnessed the 1867 marriage, he may subsequently have turned against it. However this may be, his step-daughter Matilda was dead within eighteen months of marrying Walter. Taking all the above into consideration, the likeliest explanation is that Hazel Edith was simply mistaken in her belief about a "disowned" daughter.

RWW died on December 10th 1887 at 7, Forest Road in Forest Gate (in East London). His death certificate [Death Index: W. Ham 4a 81, 1887 (Dec)] cites his age correctly as 71, the cause of death as bronchitis and his occupation as 'Late Lady's Hatter'. The informant was his son William (2), residing at the same address. It is interesting that William (2) knew his father's true age, even though it had been misreported on some earlier documents, though whether he also knew the full story of RWW's past is open to speculation.

No will or letters of administration have been found in relation to RWW.

Susannah must somehow have been aware of RWW's death, for she wasted no time in marrying James Cooke Taylor just six weeks afterwards. Their marriage certificate [Marriage Index: Bethnal Green 1c 287, 1888 (March)] states that they married on January 25th 1888 at St. John's Church in Bethnal Green. James is described as a widower aged 53 and now occupied as a butcher, and she (named as Susannah Woodhurst) as a widow aged 63 of no occupation. His father is named as William Cooke Taylor, a deceased watch case "miller" [or "maker" - unclear], and hers as William Henry Miller, a deceased carpenter. Their place of residence is given as 21, Globe Road in Bethnal Green, but they were probably just staying there during the wedding period with family or friends. The witnesses were R. Witterick and Susannah Witterick, whose connections are unknown. The 1891 Census for 21, Globe Road reveals no persons having obvious connections, although the household included a married woman Emma Thompson who may have been James' daughter Emma.

Susannah had waited for perhaps a quarter of a century to legitimize her relationship with James. It is quite possible that she had never been aware that RWW had married Matilda. Had she known, she might well have exposed his bigamy to force a divorce from him, so freeing her to marry James sooner than she did. RWW and Matilda do appear to have married in secret, Brentford then being a rural village far distant from London's east end. But why they decided to marry illegally, rather than simply live together, is a mystery.

The 1891 Census finds Susannah and James Cooke Taylor living at their usual address at 17, Blanchard Road in Hackney. The census officer names James as "James L. Taylor", apparently having misread the middle initial as "L" instead of "C". James, now 58, was occupied no longer as a butcher but as a laundryman. Susannah, now 64, was a laundress as she had been in 1881. Their birthplaces are correctly stated. The household also included, among others, Susannah's unmarried niece Agnes E. Miller - a general servant aged 32 and born in Poplar - and Susannah's grandson Ernest W. Taylor, a box-maker aged 14 and born in Hackney. This boy was the illegitimate son Ernest William Taylor Woodhurst of Ada Susannah. The parents of Agnes have not yet been identified. The 1881 Census possibly finds her as a servant aged "18" living at The Hale Mill House in Tottenham in the household of a contractor Henry Mason [PRO Ref: RG11 Piece 1383 Folio 45 Page 17].

The 1901 Census finds Susannah and James still living at 17, Blanchard Road, their ages given as "75" and "68" respectively. They were also still occupied in laundry. With them was an unmarried woman Mary Jane Angold with birthplace Poplar and described as James' niece, but actually Susannah's niece. She was born in 1847 [Birth Index: Poplar 2 337, 1847 (Sept)] to parents George Angold and his wife Sarah, the sister of Susannah. The 1851 Census finds Mary Jane at age 3 living with her parents in William Street, Poplar. In 1861 she was living with her parents at 1, Wellington Place off Grundy Street in Poplar and occupied as a seamstress. Her father was a cabinet maker. In 1871 she was living at 34, Antill Road in Mile End Old Town; in 1881 she was living very close to Susannah at 131, Richmond Road in Hackney; in 1891 she was living at 46, Albert Road in Hackney; on all three latter occasions she was occupied as a servant.

It is not known when or where Susannah died, but her GRO death reference is probably either [Hackney 1b 330, 1904 (Dec) : aged "78"] or [Hackney 1b 282, 1906 (June) : aged "80"]. Her husband James died aged "79" in 1912 [Death Index: Hackney 1b 535, 1912 (March)].

Matilda also remarried (again, bigamously since her first husband was still alive) after RWW's death. In 1889 she married a wine porter named James Hines, whose daughter Sarah Ann would in due course marry Matilda's son William (2).

The 1891 Census finds Matilda and James Hines, together with some of the children from their previous marriages, living at 4, Stonebridge Villas, Townsend Road in South Tottenham.

The 1901 Census finds Matilda at age 65 as a visitor at Morpeth Lodge in Bow, the home of her now-married daughter Blanche (1). The record clearly describes her as a widow, but this was an error - her husband at that time was in the household of her son William (2) at 12, Eighth Avenue in East Ham, Essex.

James Hines may have died - with age cited as "68" (but actually about 71) - in 1902 [Death Index: Hackney 1b 250, 1902 (Sept)].

Matilda died on January 23rd 1908 aged 72 [Death Index: Hackney 1b 359, 1908 (March)].

His children by Susannah Miller

  1. Emily Isabel Woodhurst
  2. Richard William (2) Woodhurst
  3. Hannah Ellen Woodhurst
  4. Teresa Woodhurst
  5. Richard William (3) Woodhurst
  6. Harry (1) Woodhurst
  7. Ada Susannah Woodhurst
  8. Charles (2) Woodhurst

His children by Matilda Bathurst

  1. William (2) Woodhurst
  2. George Richard Guy Woodhurst
  3. Maude Edith Woodhurst
  4. Blanche (1) Woodhurst
  5. Annie (1) Woodhurst
  6. Richard (1) Woodhurst