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Ellen Warne(s)  A life

?, Hastings, Portsmouth ca1839-1885

I currently have no idea where Ellen was born or even exactly when.  Going by her age on her death certificate she would have been born around 1839/1840 - the same time as her future husband.  For I have not a single census record for Ellen - well, without the later ones, or a marriage certificate it is virtually impossible to guess which of the potential Ellen Warnes is the right one.  So her childhood is a mystery - a bit like Cézanne’s portrait of a girl (above right).  I’m sure it would not have been wealthy or privileged though.  And maybe she was a gypsy as her daughter once said.

We first meet Ellen at the birth of her second child, Frederick John or rather, a few days after his birth when his father registers his birth in Hastings - he was born at 6 East Hill Passage, the house in the photo at right - well maybe a more modern house on the same site - certainly a rather more prosperous one than it was then I’m sure.  Frederick was born on the 21st December and his father registered his birth on 29th - so sort of a Christmas baby.  Maybe his father was excited at having a son.  Maybe he was excited at having a child.  For Ellen - Frederick’s older sister, could possibly have been Ellen’s child, not James’.  Apart from the fact that my mother and her siblings knew Ellen the younger - she was Auntie Nell to them, we actually do not learn of Ellen’s existence, with absolute certainty until her marriage in 1896 when she does say that James is her father, so we probably should assume that he is.  If this is the case then James and Ellen were a couple before 1872 when we calculate Ellen was born.

From the birth certificate we get Ellen’s surname - Warne, their address and the fact that James is a hawker.  She is also calling herself Ellen Ellis so we assume they are married.  Was she a Hastings girl, or did she travel to Hastings with James, or with her family, or on her own?  Truth to tell we are not even sure where James was born either, so the family legend of gypsies begins to take on a more and more likely explanation for the lack of records, for gypsies were notorious at avoiding censuses and other official records.  They do not appear in the 1871 census anywhere as far as I and all my relatives who have been looking too, can tell. 

But then tragedy.  In the month of May 1878, first James, and then Letitia, died.  James died of bronchitis, from which he had suffered for two months and diorrhoea  from which he had suffered for one.  Small wonder that such a small child should die, and probably a demonstration of the squalid conditions in which they lived.  Letitia died of TB and meningitis which is a pretty potent mix.  James was almost a year old and Letitia was two and a half, so little personalities.  How on earth would any mother cope with that?

If they had been gypsies on the road prior to this, maybe the births of the children decided them to settle in Hastings, a small fishing port where James plied his trade of hawker/dealer/pedlar for ten years or so.  Two more children were born - Letitia in 1875 and James in 1877.  The family was still living in East Hill Passage, the beautiful hillside lane shown on the left  And curiously on these birth certificates, Ellen now is described as Ellen Ellis, late Cook, formerly Warnes.  Quite apart from the addition of the letter s on Warne (a trivial thing really), we now have a possible former marriage to Mr. Cook.  This time Ellen is registering the birth herself, so one can only guess that James either didn’t know about her former marriage when he registered Frederick’s birth, and also couldn’t spell her name, or he didn’t think he had to tell the registrar.  Or again, maybe Ellen was so stupid that she put down late Cook, meaning that she had previously been a cook.  Can’t believe this last theory though as I would have thought that she was simply responding to questions from the registrar.  So a former marriage?  We rushed off to the indexes, but nothing can be found either for an Ellen Warne(s) marrying somebody Cook or an Ellen Cook marrying somebody Warne(s), just in case we got it round the wrong way.  Another gypsy marriage that didn’t reach the registrar

By this time the family had moved down the hill to West Street, which is just behind the beachfront and shown at left.  Nowadays it looks pretty prosperous, but then was probably fairly squalid.  Maybe they had moved there in the belief that it would be healthier, or maybe their tenancy just ran out.  Whatever the reason, they stayed there, at least until the birth of their last child, Lily in 1879.  Ellen would have been about forty, so still young enough to have children you would think.  I wonder why there were no more.  Maybe the deaths of James and Letitia had had a profound psychological effect, maybe she was not able, physically to have any more children.  Like many many things, we shall never know.

The next thing we do know is that the family is in Portsmouth and Ellen is dead.  She died on September 19th 1885 at 3 Camber Alley, Portsmouth, of TB and exhaustion.  She was 46.  In between 1879 and 1885 there had been yet another census in which the family does not appear.  So how did they get there and why did they go there.  On the later census records we have for James, he gives his birthplace as Portsmouth.  If this is indeed the case, then maybe it was just a need to return to his roots.  Hastings had not been good to them, so the home base might have been tempting.  How did they get there?  Well they could have caught the train - and poor people did travel by train, but maybe they walked.  If they were gypsies they might have just meandered their way over a few years cross country.  The beautiful old slide shown above right shows a gypsy family outside their very makeshift dwelling on the hop farms of Hampshire, where they were employed as hop pickers.

However, they got there, and when they got there, the indisputable fact is that Ellen died in 1885, probably a broken woman.  Maybe she had contracted the TB from her daughter Letitia, although it was rife at the time and easily contracted.  I would like to know more about her and will keep trying.

Ellen Warnes

The children

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