Jane Elizabeth Beckwith After John
I do not know who these people are, but it sums up to me how Jane and her two unmarried daughters, Jane and Katherine might have been. The people in the photograph are maybe a little younger, than in this period of Jane’s life, and the clothes are not quite the right period, but evocative all the same.
Gold Hill and Lee, Kent 1869-1888
John left everything to Jane - or rather to the Trustees to administer for her. He left a lot of money - almost a million dollars in today’s terms, so she would have been comfortably provided for. I do not know whether this includes the house (or houses) - if not, then the fortune would have been considerably more. As she is still living there in 1871 I can only conclude that the house in Gold Hill was not included - or else it would have had to be sold. As her two unmarried daughters, Jane and Katherine, continued to live with her until her death, one assumes they were joint beneficiaries, if not officially, then in reality.
After thirty nine years of apparently happy marriage it must have been tough for Jane to find herself without her life’s companion. Though maybe not as hard for her as for some, and not only in the financial sense, as the family would have rallied around. The house was always full to overflowing (one census has family members staying next door), so there would have been little chance to be alone. And even when the grandchildren were not there, there were always Jane and Katherine, the much loved aunts to her brood of grandchildren, to help with the burden of managing the house and seeing that everyone was happy. The engraving below is by Gustav Doré, and maybe marginally caricature like, but I envisage Jane a little like this, surrounded by grandchildren but with one of her daughters at hand to help out.
But maybe it all became too much, for some time between 1871 and 1881 she finally leaves Gold Hill - there must be some sale documents around somewhere - and moves to Lee, to 13 Northbrook Road, in Kent with her faithful Jane and Katherine. Also in the household is her son Arthur Robert and his wife Frances (the Beckwith cousin) as well as granddaughter Florence - I think the daughter of son John William. So the tradition of a house full of family and relatives continues. I suspect that Lee was chosen as a location because other family members lived there too - widowed son John William and also daughter Mary Anne Fanny, also now widowed. So a support group for everyone. Quite who moved there first I do not know.
If there were grandchildren then obviously some of her children had already married, but there were still other marriages to arrange. My great-grandfather was married shortly after the 1871 census - both he and his future bride are at home with his mother - maybe so that his fiancée’s mother could get on with the wedding arrangements. His marriage was followed by at least four others - one to a Beckwith cousin, so life would have been pretty full - she may well not have had time to mourn John.
Lee, though technically Kent, is now just a part of London, near Blackheath. I think Northbrook Road is down in the bottom left corner of the map on theft Here is a 1870-72 description of Lee by John Marius Wilson in his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales:
“LEE, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Lewisham district, Kent. The village stands on the rivulet Lee, near Lewisham and Blackheath r. stations, 1½ mile SSE of Greenwich; is a pleasant, salubrious, and picturesque place; and has a metropolitan police station, and a post office, under Lewisham, London SE. Both itself and its environs, within the parish, are a resort of merchants and wealthy families from the metropolis; and many handsome residences have been erected, since 1860, in Lee Park, Manor Park, and Lee Road. ... The parish comprises 1, 273 acres. Real property, £37, 952. Pop., in 1851, 3, 552; in 1861, 6, 162. Houses, 953. Lee Manor House, Lee House, Lee Grove, Lee Place, Lee Villa, and others are old mansions; a continuous line of new villas connects the village with Blackheath Park; and so very many other new villas and ornate cottages are disposed in terraces or lines that a large proportion of the parish may be pronounced a metropolitan suburb.”
And here Jane passed her last days, surrounded by family, attended to by her two daughters Jane and Katherine (one hopes lovingly) until on the 11th November 1888 she died of apoplexy after nine days. What does this mean?
One 1820 definition I found was, “a disease in which the whole of the external and internal senses, and the whole of the voluntary motions are in some degree abolished, while respiration and the action of the heart continue to be performed. ... a disease in which the animal functions are suspended, while the vital and natural functions continue: respiration being generally laborious and frequently attended with stertor.” Which sounds like a sort of coma - the original attack usually being sudden.
According to Webster’s Dictionary it is caused by the obstruction of arterial flow to the brain. So a kind of stroke I guess. Well she was 83 years old - a good age even today. She was buried, no doubt with John, in Norwood Cemetery. We have yet to track down their graves, but have started the process. Here is an engraving of it around 1840, which is somewhat earlier - but even now it is described as a cemetery with a view and a very pleasant place. There is also a photo of just one section of it - it is one of Europe’s largest apparently (40 acres). I look forward to the visit.
Jane’s will left a mere £229 18s. (£13,469 AU$20,441 in today’s (2010) money) Daughter Jane was the executrix and no doubt the main recipient. This does not seem to be very much money. Where did the million or so that John left go? Well I suppose she had been living on the income for almost twenty years, and I have no doubt that the children benefitted in all sorts of ways. Whilst not exactly living a lavish life, there were always servants, and the houses needed maintaining, and then there were all those mouths to feed.
So a long life and an apparently happy one. Virtuous and loving - a woman who in our times might have led a different life, but then again she might not have done. Her husband was wealthy, so no need to go out to work, her children seemed to seek out her company, so why not stay at home and be a one woman support group. I would have liked to have known her