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James Dearman 1826-?  

Enfield Workhouse 1826-1847

His father James was an agricultural labourer, but one not averse to a bit of pilfering on the side.  In fact, within two months of James’ birth, his father was in prison for six months, having stolen some potatoes.  James was the second son - his brother John Newman Dearman was a couple of years older.  So his mother was left to cope with two very small children.  Hopefully, she had help from family and friends. 


And it didn’t end there, because in 1828 shortly after the birth of the third son, William, or more likely at the birth itself, his mother died.  She was certainly dead by the time the baby was baptised on 12th October, as she is referred to as “the late Sophia Anne Dearman”, and indeed, she was buried on the same day.  And then, the baby died too - he was buried on 18th October 1828.  James was a mere two years old.  

The pictures above tell it all.  James Dearman had a very shaky start to life.  It surely must have had an effect on his psyche, but I think he must have been a remarkable man, because ultimately he seems to have built a reasonably good life for himself and his family.  Though, of course, I really have no idea what kind of person he was.

Either his father was a bit of a no-hoper, or he was desperate, because in April 1829, six months later he was on trial again for larceny.   This time he was able to get off - the verdict was not guilty, though my reading of the evidence tells me that he was lucky.  He had also remarried pretty promptly after his wife’s death and a month before his trial in 1829, so five months after his wife’s death - well what’s a young man to do, when you have children and no wife?  She was an Irish girl, Catherine Eves, and I guess she was thrown right into it - marriage, step-parenthood to two children, and husband on trial.  Who knows, maybe she was no better than he.  And she may well have been pregnant with too - there may be the birth of daughter Sarah in here somewhere.  Anyway James got off this time, but then disaster struck and once again he was caught stealing, and this time he was transported to Australia for seven years.  But not before making their stepmother Catherine, pregnant - maybe again.  Their half-brother Robert was baptised in May 1831, by which time their father was on his way to Tasmania.  I wonder how this was explained to the little children. 


How good a step-mother was Catherine?  How good a wife?  Did they farewell James like those in the pictures?  Did they petition to go with him?  This was possible, and there are records, but I have found none for the Dearman family so far.  I suspect that Catherine was probably left destitute, and heavily pregnant, so the children were put in the workhouse, and maybe she was too initially.  Certainly James and his little brother and maybe half sister, were there in 1841.  I suppose it is possible that grandparents took them in for a while, but I have not yet found them, so have no idea of whether they would have been able to do so.  It is much more likely that he and John would have been like the two abandoned children at the top of the page.  After all, what did Catherine owe them?  They were not her children.  

In the 1841 census James is definitely in the Workhouse.  His age is given as 11, although actually he was about 14.  1841 census ages were not very accurate, but maybe he didn’t know, and they guessed - he might have been small for his age?  Anyway I am 99% certain this is he - the story fits and there is no other likely James Dearman anywhere.  There are also some other little Dearmans there with him - Sarah, aged 10 (I cannot find Sarah’s baptism, but she is with Catherine in 1851, so I can only assume she is the first child of James and Catherine’s union (born 1830), or a child of Catherine’s adopted by James?), Robert aged 7 - James’ little half-brother, born after James had been transported, and Mary aged 6 - very possibly an illegitimate child of Catherine’s - or maybe some other Dearman's child.  Catherine would not have been allowed in with them, she would have had to go to a different Workhouse - most likely in Edmonton, but it is more likely that she found work, or another man.  Certainly by 1841 she is housekeeper (and I think defacto wife, to one James Jarman - but this is all part of James senior’s story).

In the workhouse the children would have lived liked Oliver Twist. The various engravings on this page give an idea of what it would have been like - otherwise watch the film of Oliver Twist. The supervising guy in the picture at the top of the page  and in the school picture at right, look kindly enough though and doubtless some of them were.  


There is an excellent site on the web on the history of the Workhouse and all sorts of related topics - the link is at the bottom of the page.  From there I discovered that the Enfield Workhouse was purely for children.  (Follow the links from their home page.)  It later became a hospital and was finally demolished, probably just after the photographs at right were taken in 1994.  The map shows its location - just north of Sir Walter Raleigh’s House in Chase Side, where the Dearmans later lived.  The photograph on the right is of a group of Enfield Workhouse children, but much later in the century.

The Workhouse site has a little bit of history about Enfield’s  workhouse/school


“Poor relief in Enfield dates back to at least 1630 when Robert Curtis was paid for setting the poor to work. A workhouse was set up in leased premises at Chase Side in 1719. The building was bought in 1740 and later extended with the addition of a school-room by 1788 and a pest-house by 1802. In 1765, the poor were farmed out to a contractor. All paupers were required to wear a uniform and pauper’s badge on their shoulder. From 1806, children were sent from the workhouse to work at a silk factory at Sewardstone in Essex. The workhouse was replaced by a new building, also at Chase side, in 1827 ...


The old Enfield parish workhouse at Chase Side was taken over by the Edmonton Union for use as a school. It was extended in 1839-42 and an infirmary added in 1844. The main building was three storeys high with an E-shaped layout with its entrance facing to the west. Other buildings included a chapel and mortuary ...

The health of the children in the school was a constant cause of concern. In a twelve-month period in 1837-8, there were outbreaks of such conditions as smallpox, scarlet fever, ophthalmia, measles, tuberculosis, “the itch”, and ringworm. Over that period, there were seventeen deaths out of a total of 150 children.”  

This was when James and his family were in residence!  What was ‘the itch’ I wonder.  They must have been relatively tough to survive all of this.

The silk factory mentioned above is the one owned by George Courtauld.


“Although offered children of all ages he usually took them from “within the age of 10 and 13”. Courtauld insisted that each child arrived “with a complete change of common clothing”. A contract was signed with the workhouse that stated that Courtauld would be paid £5 for each child taken. Another £5 was paid after the child’s first year.”


I do not know, at this stage whether James was farmed out like this, or whether he finally left to find his own way in the world.  There do not appear to be any records for Enfield Workhouse from this time, so we shall probably never know.  But nevertheless it can’t have been a happy childhood, although it may have made the siblings very close, seeing as how they had nobody else.

The intention of the workhouse was a strange mix of altruism and cruelty - something the Victorians were good at really and something that eerily resembles some of the more extreme statements of the fundamentalist Christians of today. The aim was to educate - which in the early nineteenth century can really only be regarded as forward thinking really.


“The boys and girls who are inmates of the Workhouse shall, for three of the working hours, at least, every day, be instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of the Christian religion, and such other instruction shall be imparted to them as may fit them for service, and train them to habits of usefulness, industry, and virtue.”


There were strict rules about corporal punishment too - but not what you or I would consider to be reasonable ones:


•    “No child under twelve years of age shall be punished by confinement in a dark room or during the night    

•    No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child, except by the Schoolmaster or Master.
•    No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any female child.
•    No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child, except with a rod or other instrument, such as may have been approved of by the Guardians or the Visiting Committee.

•    No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child until two hours shall have elapsed from the commission of the offence for which such punishment is inflicted.
•    Whenever any male child is punished by corporal correction, the Master and Schoolmaster shall (if possible) be both present.
•    No male child shall be punished by flogging whose age may be reasonably supposed to exceed fourteen years.”


We do not know how severe the supervisors at Enfield were - let’s hope not like some who were eventually prosecuted for cruelty to children.  How awful to have to wait two hours to be caned - and the implication is that children under  fourteen were flogged but not those over fourteen.  Maybe they could fight back!

And what of James’s workhouse siblings?  By1841 his older brother John had left the Workhouse - maybe he never went there, but he remained in Enfield for most of his life.  He became a baker, married and raised a family, so he too must have been resilient.  I do not know what happened to Robert after 1841.  So far I have found no trace of him.  Sarah, as I mentioned, was living with her mother Catherine in 1851, but after that I cannot trace her with confidence.  Ditto for Mary.

But back to James.  Some children were given training in a trade, and some were apprenticed out, but I do not think this can have happened to James, because when we next see him in 1851 he is boarding with his future in-laws, and future wife Eliza, and is a mere labourer.   I have no doubt that he started work at a very early age though.  He may have been one of those factory children.


In 1851, also with the Browns is one William Brown, named as a son (of John, Eliza’s father) and aged three.  Well further investigation has shown that this is actually the first-born son of James and Eliza.  Or rather, he is Eliza’s son and in the baptism record, James’ name as the father has been crossed out.  So this is the next fact we know about James.  By 1847 when William was born and James is aged 21, he is out of the Workhouse, working as a labourer and boarding with the Browns.  How this came to be I cannot tell.


The Workhouse - a wonderful site that tells you absolutely everything you could want to know about the institution of The Workhouse.  I have given no other links, because this one does it all.

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