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Jane Elizabeth Beckwith   Wife and mother

The portrait is of Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, painted in 1797, so wrong time, wrong class, but right name and, I think, the right look.  It’s how I imagine Jane to be as a young woman anyway.


Victorian funerals and mourning

From Bruce Rosen’s Victorian History blog, comes this really interesting article about the whole Victorian death thing.

Mrs. Beeton on charity

The BBC’s History site has a small section on Mrs Beeton of cookbook fame talking about the charitable duties of Victorian women.

Clerkenwell, Kennington, Peckham and Chalfont St. Peter 1830-1869

On Christmas Eve in 1830, at the age of 25 Jane married John Mollett at the church of St. John the Baptist in Clerkenwell.  It is just around the corner from Wilderness Row.  

“The church of St. John, Clerkenwell, having been closed for reparation since the first Sunday in July, was opened for divine service on the 13th of November, 1825, by the Rev. W. E. L. Faulkner, M. A. rector of the parish. The exterior of the present edifice is altogether unseemly. It is frequently called St. John’s chapel, and has more the air of a meeting for dissenting worship, than a structure of the establishment; if it had not a sort of steeple with a bell, it might be mistaken for a theatre; but the interior is in every respect befitting its ecclesiastical use. It has spacious galleries, is well pewed below, and thoroughly lighted, with a very commodious vestry. In these respects it is creditable to the inhabitants who have now so judiciously fitted it up, that it will not require more than usual cleaning for many years. Still it is to be regretted, that a structure, essentially, gothic, should have been accommodated to modern architecture. The deviation seems to have taken place on its appropriation to the use of the parish of St. John, about a century preceding the reparation it has now undergone.”

All of which is not very flattering, but it was indeed the Rev. W. E. L. Faulkner who married them.  All that remains of the church today is the gateway, shown in the picture and the crypt.

They were both unmarried.  However, there is a very slight possibility, that John may have been married before, and, indeed, may have had a child, although increasingly I suspect this is a different John, though maybe related.  I think related, as the child in question, or rather, young lady, was living with John’s father in the 1841 census.  But this is all very speculative, and overall I think it is an unlikely scenario, so perhaps we should take at face value the statement that John was a bachelor and Jane a spinster.  He was 26, she was 25.  

How she met John I do not know, though I am hazarding a guess that there was a connection via one William Beckwith, gunsmith, who had a shop a couple of doors up from John’s father’s shop on Skinner Street, Holborn.  I do not know who this William Beckwith is, family wise, but no doubt there is a connection.  The Beckwith clan has been trying hard to find it but so far to no avail.  Suffice to say he does not appear to be an uncle.  The marriage was by licence, which is a little curious - there does not seem to be any pressing reason for a hasty wedding, and they were not underage.  The witnesses are both Beckwiths, though - J. and M. A.  M. A. is obviously her sister, but J. could be either her mother or father.  I cannot imagine that the marriage was disapproved of, so why there is not a Mollett witness is a bit puzzling.

Daughter Jane never married, and, indeed, never seems to have left home.  She is referred to as a favourite aunt (more later), and was obviously much loved.  And she is the only child, other than the dead John, with just one name - that of her mother and grandmother.  As the first surviving child she probably had much more attention than those that followed, particularly as she was the first of very many.

The couple were to have many children - twelve in all, four girls and eight boys and all except two survived into adulthood.   That’s a lot of children - the family portrait above is Italian, and is probably a rather more prosperous family (though maybe not by the time the children had grown).  This family portrait has just eight children in it - add two more and you get the picture.  There are sixteen years between the oldest child, Jane and the youngest, my great-grandfather, William Henri Colchester.  It would have become easier in some ways as the family grew, the Molletts became more prosperous, which meant more servants to help out, also the older children, particularly the girls, would have played their part in bringing up the little ones.

All went well until the end of 1840.  John’s career progressed and the family gradually grew - Jane, John William, Mary Anne Fanny, Harry Pittard, Lewis (Louis) Charles and Katherine Lucy.   And then tragedy struck.  Sometime in the last quarter of the year, Harry Pittard, aged three, died.   I know it is reasonably commonplace for young children to die at this time, and no doubt the people that lived at that time were, in a sense, used to it.  But I cannot imagine how one could ever be unaffected by the death of such a young child.  Three is such an adorable age.  And then, on 1st December, “after a short, painful illness”, Jane’s beloved mother died. “She was a practical economist, her domestic arrangements were a perfect specimen or order, neatness, frugality and attention to the interest entrusted to her care. She was a fond mother, an invaluable wife, a woman of surpassing excellence."  Jane Elizabeth herself wrote these words in the family bible (- thanks to Dawn Sorenson).  Of course we all speak well of the dead, but then she didn’t have to say anything at all.  Because I do not know when Harry died exactly, it is entirely possible that he died almost at the same time.  In any case, within three months of each other there were two deaths.

Their married life seems to have begun living with her parents in Wilderness Row, unless they lived in another house in Wilderness Row, for the first address we come across  for their life as a married couple is Wilderness Row.  And it is a tragic occasion for their life as parents did not begin well.  Their first child John, died as an infant.  Indeed he may have been stillborn - all I have is a burial record and no baptism, with the word infant against his name.  I do believe he was their child - he was buried on 30th November 1831 - almost a year after their marriage and the given address is Wilderness Row and there really aren’t that many Molletts around.  What a tragic start to parenthood - you would think it would be enough to make you give up.  But they persevered and their second child, Jane, was born next December - two years after their marriage, with them still living in Wilderness Row.  Were they living there because they were too poor to live anywhere else, or was Jane nursing her mother?  

Their second child and first surviving son, John William (maybe the William was added to distinguish him from their dead firstborn son) was born in Shacklewell, which is just south of Stoke Newington where John’s father Robert later lived.  However their stay here, seems to have been fairly short, for sometime between the birth of  John William in 1834 and their second daughter Mary Anne Fanny in 1836, John and Jane moved to Kennington, which is on the other side of the river from Chelsea and sandwiched between Battersea and Clapham.  These are names, that to me at least - a child of the 60s -  summon up almost no-go areas of London.  However, in the 1830s it was a different matter (as it is now).  Their address was 10 Clapham Road Place, which seems to have been a row of terrace houses along Clapham Road - the road running roughly north/south on the 1830 map at left.

I have no idea whether the photograph of the house below left is of their house, however, it is a very close match to the following description from Survey of London v. 26 Lambeth: Southern area / ed. FHW Sheppard, published 1956


“Nos. 17–25 (odd) Clapham Road - Formerly Nos. 6–10 (consec.) Clapham Road Place.  These houses were erected in 1805 at the costs of James Medland of St. Mary Newington, surveyor, and were let to him in that year by John Wright’s trustees. They are a terrace of five houses sharing a stock brick front that presents a balanced composition. All the houses are three windows wide and each end house forms a slightly projecting pavilion, four storeys high, the last being an attic above the mutule cornice. The three intermediate houses are three storeys high, and the cornice is surmounted by an open balustrade. A bandcourse marks the first-floor level. The windows generally are rectangular excepting those to the ground floor, which have flat segmental heads. Each house has a wood doorcase of simple design, except for No. 21 where the stucco surrounds are later. “

I think you will agree that it is a fairly grand looking house, so John must have been making serious money by now.  The picture below is of Kennington Common looking towards Clapham Road.  The area is considerably more rural than it is today - according to the map virtually all of the western side of Clapham Road appears to be fields (well both sides really.

It may simply be coincidence, but thereafter two things happened.  The family moved to Hanover Park in Peckham, and no more children appear to have been baptised.  The fact that there were no more baptisms, may, of course, simply be that the records for the church in question are lost, or, if you want to be melodramatic, it could signal a loss of faith.  Prior to Katherine, all the children had been baptised at St. John’s in Clerkenwell.  Indeed Mary Anne Fanny had been christened on the same day as a Beckwith and Topham cousin.  After Lewis, no more children appear to have been baptised.  Katherine was born in the September quarter of 1840.  Maybe Harry was already ill, and no time was found to baptise Katherine.

Whatever the case, it seems that John took Jane away from the family for a while, for in June 1841, when the census was taken they are found in Margate - just the two of them.  The children are either at home in their new house in Peckham, in the care of Jane’s aunt Susannah and the servants, or away at school.  Susannah seems to have stayed with them until her death in 1857.  Margate was a seaside resort, reachable by steamer along the Thames, or by road, of course.  John and Jane are staying in the house of a shoemaker in company with two other sets of guests.  I am assuming that it is some sort of small private boarding house, as the ‘guests’ are all described as independent.  The house is not on the seafront though - it is in the High Street.  A little odd - for a man of means, as John must have been, I would somehow have expected a posher address for a holiday.   However, I do think that they were there for what we today call ‘me time’.  It is an unlikely place in which to do business - at least the kind of business that John was involved in - international trade and insurance.  Jane seems to have travelled with John on a couple of occasions - there are various passenger lists and passport applications, which have her travelling with John (and occasionally their son John William).  I think this is an indication of the kind of relationship that they had - a marriage of equals full of affection and companionship.  The children, perhaps were brought up more by servants, aunts and older sisters and brothers.  And the boys, at least, were sent away to school for varying lengths of time.

So Hanover Park, Peckham.  It’s the name of a street.  The map below shows it very clearly in between the two copyright words, on the left.  There appear to be only three houses in the street (I am assuming the one on the far left actually faces on to Rye Lane), and the street faces on to the Surrey Rifle Gallery.  The map is dated 1862.  The blocks of land look huge, as do the houses.  Indeed the 1851 census has only six houses in the street.  I am assuming they no longer exist.  

For some reason they moved from this grand house to The Terrace on Peckham Road, which is the main road going off to the left, just slightly north of Hanover Park.  I have no doubt that The Terrace was also fairly grand as there were still many children at home and several servants.  I now wonder whether it is about now that they bought the house in Gold Hill, Chalfont St. Peter and the house in The Terrace was a town house - a second place of residence.


The date is 1861, but Jane is away on holiday again, this time with her youngest child - my great grandfather, staying with her brother-in-law’s family in North Wales.  Her brother-in-law Francis W. Topham was an artist, as was his son and I think he was in Wales working on a set of engravings for a book about the area.  She seems to have swapped houses with her sister Mary Anne, who is in Peckham with the Molletts,  with one of her children, which is slightly odd - you would have thought the sisters would have wanted to catch up.  Perhaps it was all about the cousins having time together.  The picture is of Dinas Hill in the Snowdonia district - the address on the census.

For all of his business life, John must have been a very busy man.  I have no doubt that he travelled a lot, and I think that Jane sometimes went with him.  He attended balls, and contributed to various charities, particularly related to education, and no doubt Jane would have also participated in this, maybe visiting the poor like the ladies shown below.  In today’s terms she was an executive wife and as such probably entertained many business associates as well as attending various functions.  Nowadays, of course, she might have had a career of her own, but in those days she was there to support and complement, not outshine.

And then they made a much bigger move to Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire.  This must have been sometime after 1861, unless, as I proposed before, the house on The Terrace was their town house, and the house in Chalfont St. Peter was their country house and main residence.  In which case the move would have been made some time between 1851 and 1861.  And now I think about it, this is the much more likely explanation as their granddaughter, Lina, writes in her memoir of her sister, as if they visited there frequently for many years:

“There were lawns in Goldhill, spreading trees and gardens.  There were roses and lavender, fluffy chicks and ducklings.  There ‘was “Shag,” a pony you could ride round and round the fields; there were kind aunts and little cousins - and in the vegetable garden were bees - on whose strange doings Bassett the gardener would discourse while you listened awestruck, and there were ants, whom you could watch working-surreptitiously feeding them with biscuit crumbs - a proceeding Bassett disapproved of, “for they do a deal of mischief, Miss! ” 


I think they knew people who lived in Chalfont St. Peter.  Their son John William went to a school there, and they seem to have had fairly close relationships with the childrens’ teachers.  Also I found a land tax return which showed that the property was 12 acres in size.  The directory entry for 1863 includes John Mollett, esq. - no other occupation, so maybe he had retired.  I have no more precise address than Gold Hill, which is situated above the village - the first of the two photographs at right is of Gold Hill North, the second of a house in Gold Hill that was for sale some years ago - possibly the kind of house they had.  Very Home Counties, tranquil and beautiful, and it would seem that they spent many happy years here in a house seemingly always full of friends and relations.

Although there was sadness too.  In 1863, their son Lewis died.  I do not know why.  Maybe he had been ill for some time, maybe not.  Who knows.  He was 24 - at the beginning of adult life.  How tragic.

And then in 1869 at the age of 65 John died.  A respectable age, but not really aged.  His father had died just three years before!  Jane was left to grieve in the company of her two unmarried daughters, Jane and Katherine and her widowed son John William.

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