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Caroline Margaret Smith  Marriage

Camberwell 1871-1903

The Church of St Nicolas and St Andrew in Portslade stands on a hill, surrounded by a tranquil graveyard in a tree-lined street.  It is a rather lovely and calm place, and it was here on the 22nd April 1871, in the spring, that Caroline married William Henri Colchester Mollett.  It was a family affair - the vicar was her brother-in-law and the witnesses were a brother from each side of the family.  William’s father had died two years before, but I have no doubt that his mother and most of his siblings would have been there.  At the time, William was a stockbroker, so no doubt already a man of independent means.  He gives his address as Clapham, which is not where his mother was living, so I assume he had left home some time before.  Did they go away for a honeymoon I wonder - apparently the concept of the honeymoon in England began in the early nineteenth century so it is indeed possible.

Whatever the case, in just over a year in June 1872, their first child, Wilfred John was born.  This is the generation that struck out with babies’ names, away from the tradition of naming them after parents and grandparents, though the gesture to family was often maintained in the second names, although not consistently - Charles and Richard, Caroline’s father’s names do not appear in any of the names of her children, neither does her mother’s name - Ann.  Which is mildly interesting as all of these names are very suitable middle names, one would have thought.  But then William didn’t give any of his names to his children either, and Caroline only did, obliquely, by calling one of her daughters Margarette.

The young couple must have moved around a little bit in the first years of their marriage, as their first child was born in Twickenham and the second in Sutton, though this one was baptised back home in Portslade.  However, sometime in the 1870s they settled at 20 Grummant Road, Camberwell.  They were to remain in Camberwell for most of their marriage - certainly whilst the children were still at home, moving to the more exclusive Grove Lane some time in the 80s.  It might have begun as a small and happy family but with the fourth child, and fourth son too - the first four children were all boys - tragedy struck.  This child, Arthur Leonard, was later described in a census as an ‘imbecile from birth’, so I am guessing a Downs Syndrome child, or something similar.  He lived at home until at least the age of five, but some time afterwards was moved down the road and into the full-time care of a ‘lunatic attendant’ and subsequently into the Dartford asylum.  I wonder what the effect of this was on the family.  Possibly less than we might imagine, for there were servants, who no doubt were given the task of looking after Arthur.  Indeed one of the two servants at Grummant Road was a fourteen year old girl described as a nurse, domestic.  Poor thing.  But even if he was out of home it must have been a drain on resources to care for him privately - which is perhaps why he ended up in an institution.

However, undaunted they went on to have another six children, all of them, except one, girls - the one exception being my grandfather, Gerald Osmond Hubert.  There was more tragedy though, for the penultimate child, Winifred Mildred died as an infant - her baptism - a private one - and her burial are within days of each other.  So ten pregnancies for Caroline - an appalling thought for most of us today, but pretty standard for the day.   And nine children who survived into adulthood, albeit an unseen one for Arthur.

By 1891 and at the age of forty six Caroline’s family was complete. Most of them were still living at home in Grove Lane in 1901 - indeed Frederick was the only one who had voluntarily left, marrying in 1899.  The youngest child was only thirteen and so there were several more years of semi active motherhood in front of Caroline.  How active a mother was she I wonder?  As I said before, there were servants, but not that many - only one live-in servant in 1891 and none in 1901.  I cannot believe that this meant there were no servants at all - I imagine they must have had people come in each day to cook and clean and wash.  Grove Lane, as shown in the 1900 engraving at left, was a pretty exclusive street in solidly middle-class Camberwell.  William was now a chartered accountant working in the city and no doubt earned a pretty good salary.  And then there were the daughters - Jessie, and Dorothy remained unmarried all their lives, and it was 1903 before Margarette married.  I have no doubt that the girls were dragooned into service in keeping the household running - this is what Victorian middle-class girls did.  They certainly didn’t go out to work.  On the money front, no doubt the boys who were still at home, but working, helped out. 

William left her £440 6s, which in today’s money is £25,251 or AU$40,338 - a reasonable amount but not really enough to live on one would have thought - although there may have been the house as well.  There were no pensions in those days, although there was life insurance.  I now wonder whether, in fact, their financial situation had been constrained for some time.  I vaguely remember my father saying once, in a semi-joking way that the family fortune had been lost on the horses - or gambling anyway.  And I am a little bemused by the apparent lack of servants.  Maybe they just lived almost beyond their means - the caring for Arthur must have cost money.  Was Caroline, or maybe William extravagant?  Did the children have expensive education, expensive clothes ...?  Or did it simply just cost so much money to keep a family of nine in reasonable comfort that they simply couldn’t keep up?  Maybe there was a lot of emphasis on keeping up appearances.  All idle speculation I know.  But it must have been a bleak prospect.  Well - there were always the children to help out.

But at the end of 1902 William Henri had a stroke, though he lingered for 14 months, so whether he recovered slightly or not I do not know.  He eventually died in August of the following year following a month of paralysis and exhaustion in the Homeopathic Hospital.  So a traumatic year or so, not helped by the death of the ‘imbecile’ Arthur in the middle of 1903, though possibly lightened a little by the marriage of their daughter Margarette in April and the birth of a granddaughter in September.  Maybe William rallied enough to be at the wedding.  Three years into a new century, and a rapidly changing world, Caroline found herself alone - well not alone - she still had six children at home, though her son Gerald was about to leave and embark on a completely unsuitable marriage with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks.  But she no longer had her chosen life’s companion.  (The portrait at right is not of a widow, but nevertheless, has that sort of sensibility to it.)

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