top of page

Caroline Margaret Smith  Before marriage

Brighton and Portslade 1845-1871

On the 23rd February, 1845 Caroline Margaret Smith was born at 66 London Road, Brighton to Charles Richard Smith and his wife Ann.  On the birth certificate, Ann describes Charles’ occupation as a flour agent, at the baptism in September he is a merchant’s clerk.  I suppose they could be descriptions of the same job.  Anyway, Caroline was not the first child - indeed she was neither first nor last, nor even right in the middle.  She was the fourth child, second daughter of a family that would grow to nine children - three boys and six girls, though one of these, the eldest, may not in fact be a sibling, but a cousin - but that belongs to her mother and father’s stories.  She was baptised in the parish church of Brighthelmstone (the old name for Brighton) much later in the year of her birth - on September 10th.  Quite why they waited so long to baptise her I have no idea.  It could just be laziness, or disorganisation, but it could also be that she or her mother had not been in good health.  I am not sure why she was called Caroline - it was a reasonably fashionable name for the time, and she may have had an aunt called Caroline, but there is nothing really obvious to account for it - and for Margaret even less so.

Having said that her position in the family was not significant in any way I think I might retract this, as her older sister, and the firstborn, Wilhelmina, must either have died young, or actually wasn’t her sister at all.  The 1841 census shows a Wilhelmina aged 2 1/2 with Charles and Ann, but, being the 1841 census there is no relationship shown.  This Wilhelmina never appears again, and Charles and Ann’s last child is also Wilhelmina.  In either case, this sort of makes Caroline the first daughter, and therefore, maybe more important to her mother than her later sisters.  It would certainly have put more responsibility on her anyway.  No doubt the portrait at right is of a rather wealthier little girl, however, I hope that it portrays the spirit of what her early life might have been like.  Certainly, by the time that the 1851 census rolls around there are two servants in the house to help out with the growing family.  Brighton, of course, is a seaside town, so maybe they were taken on expeditions to the beach, supervised by one of the servants, or their mother.

London Road, where Caroline spent her early years, is, as you can tell from its name, the main road out of town to London, and, on the map below right is the road that goes across the top of the settlement and then veers northwards to the west.  (If you click here you can see a slightly larger version.)  I have tried to work out where they would have been, and what kind of house they would have had, but I cannot tell from Google’s street view.  The photograph of the road above is of a later era, but gives some idea.  The family lived in two separate houses on the road, at different times - nos. 66 and 55, but must have moved from there to Portslade some time in the 1850s.  Apparently it was an area of large middle-class houses, which fits with the Smiths, although at this time, they would not have been quite as wealthy as they later became.  But when Caroline was born her father would have been in the throes of changing his career from working for others, to being a self-employed - indeed an employing - miller, founding a milling dynasty that would last for two more generations.

In Portslade the family lived in Clarence Street, a couple of streets away from the Britannia Flour Mills - her father’s mill.  The detail from the map at the top of the page, shows the street, running north south near the water.  It is a most beautiful map, hand-drawn by one Alfred Langrish.  Click here or on the map for a closer look.

And so she grows, no doubt looking a little like the serious child at the top of the page, maybe she goes to school, or maybe she is educated at home - I feel sure she was educated in some way.  And then I lose track of Caroline.  Caroline is not at home in 1861.  She may be the Margaret C. Smith, born Worthing (not true), staying with the Shillito sisters in Putney.  It is said that she is their niece, but they are all three unmarried, and I can find no connection with them at all.  Nevertheless I guess this is the most likely scenario - away from home visiting relatives in London.  I suppose this is what young wealthy girls of that age did - they either helped run the house and look after the younger children or they toured around the country visiting relatives and friends and generally receiving a cultural education.  They participated at tea parties, like the one at right and were learning to be generally well-behaved and charming.  The 1896 book, Youth’s Educator for Home and Society, by L. W. Walter, sums up how a young woman should behave thus:


“A rude, loud-spoken, uncultured woman is a positive blot upon nature, and repels, by her lack of breeding, those who would not be slow to acknowledge the real worth and talent she possessed, and which would come to the surface, were she clothed in the beautiful garments of modesty, gentle speech and ease of manner. A lady should be quiet in her manners, natural and unassuming in her language, careful to wound no one's feelings, but giving generously and freely from the treasures of her pure mind to her friends. Scorning no one openly, but having a gentle pity for the unfortunate, the inferior and the ignorant, at the same time carrying herself with an innocence and single-heartedness which disarms ill nature, and wins respect and love from all. Such an one is a model for her sex; the "bright particular star" on which men look with reverence. The influence of such a woman, is a power for good which cannot be over-estimated.”


My Brighton and Hove - this excellent website is a treasure trove of information about Brighton and Hove - also a useful contact place

Portslade map - a most beautiful hand-drawn and detailed map of Portslade.

This translated into all sorts of particular and specific rules and regulations for behaviour, from how one gathered up one skirts to cross the road, to how one used a knife and fork, and I am sure that Caroline would have been well schooled in all these arts.  And it did get her her man.

Her family must have been closely connected with the Molletts for her brother Charles was given a middle name of Mollett, though so far I have found no prior familial relationship via marriage or birth.  And so, on April 2nd, 1871 (census night), there she is visiting the Molletts in Buckinghamshire, no doubt getting out of her mother’s hair, so that her mother can make the preparations for her wedding to William Henri Colchester Mollett twenty days later.  Had she known him all her life or had she only recently made his acquaintance?  I have no idea whether it was a long engagement, or whether it was an impulse thing.  But there he is at left, as a young man, and indeed he was three years younger than she.  A good looking young man from a good family, well-off, cultured and forward thinking, what more could a young girl want?  She was twenty-six. (Thanks to Philip Mollett for the photos of William Henri.)

bottom of page