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Catharine Eliza Warner  Marriage

Borough, Deptford, Forest Hill, Peckham, Dulwich 1866-1915

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Like many of the mothers and wives in this family history, (probably everyone’s family history) Catharine was pregnant when she married.  Also like many of the wives and mothers in this family tree, her first born child died tragically young - in this case around eighteen months old, probably around the time that she became pregnant again.  But I am jumping ahead of myself here.

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For whatever reason, Catharine and John James Magee were living together in Lant Street (I think - it’s pretty illegible), shown above and below left, in Borough at the time of their marriage at the church of St. George the Martyr in Southwark.  Both of their families were in the Deptford/Greenwich area, so you would think that that was where they met.  John was working as a miller’s assistant at the time of the marriage.  Catharine does not have any occupation, although I would be surprised if she wasn’t working at something - most likely sewing of some kind.  She was 18 and he was just 19, though both of them say they are of full age.  At least one of the witnesses, probably both, were ‘professionals’.  No family.  So I am guessing that this was not an ‘approved’ marriage - that the two of them had left home, maybe Catharine had even been thrown out of home when she found she was pregnant.

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Lant Street - their first home together is illustrated in the architectural drawing above, and also in the pictures at right.  I came across a pretty detailed paper on it by Jill Waterson, (click here to see it) mostly based on the 1851 census so a little earlier than when Catharine and John were there, but I doubt that much had changed.  Here are a couple of quotes from it:

“It is located in the area known as ‘the Mint’, which in the nineteenth century was notorious for its poor, overcrowded and insanitary conditions, as well as for crime and disorder. ... In 1851, Lant Street contained 68 occupied houses and 181 households. This gives an average of 2.6 households per house. However, households were not evenly distributed between houses, so that some houses had 5 or 6 households living in them. ... An instructive real case of petty crime in Lant Street is that of the trial in 1848 of Charlotte Mallows, then living at 43 Lant Street, ... Charlotte was accused of stealing a shift and 2 sheets from a washing line. The shift and one of the sheets belonged to Mary Ann Porter, who lived in the room next to Charlotte, and the other sheet belonged to Mary Ann Mead, who lived elsewhere in the same house. The shift and sheets ended up in two different pawnshops, even though one sheet had a tear in it. There was much argument at the trial about who the items belonged to and who had pawned what for whom. The main impression derived from the statements made by participants in the trial is that such items spent a lot of their time in the pawnshop, whoever they belonged to.”  

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The area also apparently had one of the highest death rates in London.  Diseases such as smallpox, typhus and cholera are mentioned, which may well account for the death of John and Catherine’s first child, Ann Elizabeth, who lived for a mere eighteen months.  She would have been named Ann for both of her grandmothers.  Elizabeth could be after John’s sister, or maybe Catharine's grandmother who is currently unknown.  Absolutely heartbreaking for the young couple, as this is the age at which the baby becomes a real little personality.  And they were so young too.  

When Ann died, Catherine was already pregnant with their next child who was born just a few months after the death of her sister.  She was called Catherine Eliza after her mother, and her birth must have been a welcome distraction.  It’s interesting to compare their situation with what would have happened today.  In the first place, they might never have married, (or she may never have become pregnant), and then, even if they did, perhaps when the first baby died that would have been the end of it - although of course the second pregnancy might have made a difference.  And then again the baby would not have died either.  And then today there probably would not have been a second pregnancy so quickly.  As you can see the alternatives all along the line are completely different today.  And, of course, they may have loved each other.

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I wonder whether the death of Ann had caused the family to move, because baby Catherine was born and baptised back in Deptford.  Maybe all had been forgiven and it was just best to be back near mother.  Whatever the reason the family stayed in the Deptford, Forest Hill area for all of the childbearing years, most probably in conditions similar to those shown in the photograph at the top of the page.  There were seven more children, three boys and four girls.  I know that one boy and one girl definitely died but the others seem to have survived at least into young adulthood.  So a family of six children, the almost regulation two years apart.  Catherine was only thirty six when she had her last child - my grandmother Maud.   Maud was very definitely the baby of the family though.  Her next oldest sister died as an infant, resulting in a gap of five years between herself and Florence.  Today, many young women are only just starting their families at the age that Catharine had Maud, so why did Catherine call a halt I wonder or more pertinently, how did she manage to call a halt?  There were lots of good reasons for not having any more, but not that many possibilities for not continuing to have children until nature takes a hand.  Maybe nature did take a hand, and she could not have any more.  

Whatever the reason, life would have been hard.  No household appliances to help out then.  Her husband was a policeman for most of their younger years - until 1894 in fact, ten years after the last baby, but he never rose above the rank of constable, so I doubt that they were all that well off.  And it must have been a stressful occupation which no doubt had its effect on the family.  The ramifications could have meant everything from violence and abuse, to the exact opposite - affection and support and we have absolutely no way of telling.  John may have become a policeman through mixing with so many policeman in Lant Street in the first years of their marriage.  Apparently there were a large number of policemen living there.

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Basic education had become compulsory though, and all of the children were educated until at least the age of twelve, probably fourteen.  But then they were sent out to work - mostly as domestic servants, to supplement the family income.  Catherine, the oldest, would have been working by the time my grandmother, the youngest, was born.  We know for certain that William and Anny were both working as domestic servants in their late teens, and Florence later worked as a barmaid, so it is entirely likely that the other children did similar things.  And from an early age they all would have had to do their bit to help at home.  And Catherine herself?  In no census after her marriage does she give any occupation, and indeed you would wonder where she would have found the time, but maybe she continued with dressmaking or something of the like.  Many women did.

By the time she was in her 50s all the children had left home, except for Florence.  She and her husband had been through the usual trials of family life at the time - babies dying, struggling to make ends meet, put food on the table, keep everyone clean and healthy.  And as they grew, they gradually left home - one son to be a soldier, which also must have been a worry, one daughter (my grandmother) to a marriage which was to become somewhat fraught.  And then her husband gave up the police life - see his story for the possible reasons why, and he became a verger in the local church.  Local now being the Peckham/Dulwich area of London was slightly more upmarket and tranquil.  Their daughter Florence did eventually marry but not until in her forties, and until then she lived at home, most probably, towards the end of their lives, looking after them rather than working.

Catharine’s mother died in 1900, but seems to have been pretty independent in her later years.  By now she had taken over her husband’s clothes dealing business and was able to employ an assistant and a servant.  She lived in Deptford still which is not that far away from Peckham, but, of course, we have no idea whether there was much contact between the families.  Being a grandmother in those days would have meant remembering the names of many more children than we, as grandparents today, have to do, so she may not have played a huge role in the Magee household.  Nevertheless when one’s mother dies, one is finally truly alone in some ways.

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Another possible outcome of being a grandmother for Catherine, was the birth of her daughter Maude’s daughter Violet 1913 and son Harry 1914.  For it is virtually certain that these children are a result of an adulterous liaison of Maude’s.  There is no mention of them in their supposed father’s will, nor of Maude either.  And my father certainly never mentioned them.  After much searching we found that they were indeed taken in by a member of the Warner family - by Catherine's sister Mary Ann who had lost a lot of children in her childbearing years.  It's really Maude's story as to who their farther was, so I won't go into that here.   Whoever their father was,  it must have been a trauma for John and Catherine.  If John was religious (he was a verger after all), he may well have been outraged.  And what does his wife do in such circumstances?  It must have been an agonising time for them.  Maude seems to have come ‘home’ or nearby to have these children - her husband and other children were in Southend - so presumably she was expecting support from somebody there.

And then, just to add to the tragedies, in 1915 Catherine’s husband of 49 years died at the age of 68.  I wonder how she felt about that?  Had he been a good and loving husband, or had he been a burden?  The fact that, in his later years, he worked as a verger, implies that he was a god-fearing man with a conscience, as indeed, you would hope, being a policeman also indicates.  He certainly would have seen the very best and worst of life in these two careers.  

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