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Joseph Beckwith   Family no. 2


The first intimation we had that all might not have been well with Joseph’s marriage, was the 1841 census record.  His wife Jane had been dead for a year, and here he is aged 60 living at 77 Shoe Lane, with another Joseph Beckwith aged 7  Who is this?  It can’t possibly be his son Joseph Henry as he died back in 1827, and besides he would have been considerably older than 7.  Also in the house is Ann Bartholomew, a servant and some others, who are possibly lodging with them.  The 1841 census does not give relationship details  so maybe this Joseph is a relative - a grandson perhaps?  It’s enough to wonder about, but not necessarily to give too much thought to - just an oddity.  For now we assume that Joseph, now a widower, has moved, is still working and to supplement his income is taking in lodgers, with the help of a servant, Ann Bartholomew.  Now that his wife is dead, and he is getting on in years, he would need someone to look after him and keep house.  So he may have gone along to a hiring agency like the one in the rather lovely picture at left (though from a slightly earlier age), to pick himself out a suitable person.  In the light of what happened, I wonder what the criteria were?  Although, as we shall see they must have met before his wife was dead.

First of all - wife.  Well this is not really all that unusual - a man marrying again when his first wife dies.  They and their children need looking after!  There is nothing here to tell us that this Ann is the same Ann as in the earlier 1841 census record.  Ann is a pretty common name after all.  Another child - also not unusual, but then we did the calculations and these children, although clearly shown as his, were born well before his first wife died.  And yes, this must be the same Joseph that was with him in 1841.  So now we must assume that the Ann Bartholomew of 1841 must be the wife Ann B(artholomew?) Beckwith.  Surely the child Joseph of the 1841 census would be with his mother after all.  One could understand that Joseph might eventually have married his servant, and that he might have given her children his name - but then again he had given Joseph his name before he had married Ann.  What to think?

Then comes the 1851 census and the mystery thickens.  The address is the same but he is now a coffee house keeper as well as an engraver.  Ann B. Beckwith is his wife.  Joseph junior, now seventeen, is his son and there is a daughter Ann, now 15.  Lots of questions to answer here, without mentioning Vincent Beckwith, half brother (and still a mystery, so we’ll leave him aside for now).

Further investigations ensued.  The first discovery was a lack of discovery - no marriage to be found anywhere (and indeed it turns out - there was none).  And then other children started to appear.  FreeBMD turned up a few  with the surname Bartholomew Beckwith, so we thought they must be of the same parentage.  More were found when Ancestry started publishing London baptism records, one birth certificate was sent for, and gradually a tragic, but I guess, ultimately happy, story was pieced together.  And this is how we think it goes.



Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England - A paper by Dortohy L. Haller.  Very informative.


Baby Farming - a chapter from James Greenwood’s The Seven Curses of London, written in 1869.

But then the situation changes.  The next child Jonah or Jonas, is born in Winchmore Hill, in 1836 and never seems to live with his parents.  By 14 he is an apprentice and living with his employer in Whitechapel.  Winchmore Hill, and specifically Green Dragon Lane (maybe 116) home of one James Atkins and his wife Susan - a farmer - is the place where Jonah and the next seven - yes seven - children are born and die - all as infants and poignantly, they all have names.   Winchmore Hill is near Enfield in Middlesex.  Almost all of the babies are given the Beckwith name but a couple of the baptisms note that they are illegitimate.  There are no baptism records for some.  The children may all have been born at the Atkins farm as well - certainly the one birth certificate that I have has the birth registered by James Atkins.  There are two potentially awful explanations for the deaths, and one, sadly much more unlikely one.

The first is that the Atkins farm was a baby farm.  In nineteenth century England there was no free or subsidised childcare, other than the workhouse, a place of dread.  As a result various unscrupulous people set up what became known as baby farms.  For a sum of money between £15 and £20 they would ‘adopt’ the children, or look after them on an ongoing basis, being paid by the week.  £15-20 is a reasonable sum of money, which was most usually paid by the father.  To maximise the ‘farmer’s’ income it was in the interests of the ‘farmers’ to have the children die, thus freeing up their space for another one.  Or, only slightly better - they would feed them enough to keep them alive and the money coming in, but not enough to keep them healthy.  At the worst extreme the babies were actually murdered.  Legislation to prevent these abuses was not brought in until well after our story.  If you want to know more go to either of the two articles listed at the top of the page - one is a modern commentary, one a contemporary account.  Suffice to say that in 1841 the Atkins household contained many children with different surnames, including Jonah Beckwith.  On the plus side though, none of them are babies - the youngest is one year old and the oldest fifteen - so maybe I am unnecessarily expecting the worst, and in actual fact the Atkins were a legitimate child caring concern.  I do have to say that they certainly were never prosecuted for anything.  Maybe they were relatives of Ann?  Maybe the children were exploited in a different way - in that they were virtually slave labour on the farm.  Whatever the situation, it may be that the babies died because of malnutrition and lack of care, and that the Atkins family were indeed baby farmers, but nevertheless, some tough children survived and were used to run the farm.  

Ann Bartholomew is either hired as a servant to the Beckwith household, or is a servant in a nearby establishment.  In 1834, when Joseph Bartholomew Beckwith is born, Joseph is about to turn 60, so maybe looking old age in the eye, but not wanting to go there.  Ann is 28 - also with a definitive birthday looming.  There is a thirty year gap in age - rather more like the picture above than the one on the left, which is more like equals flirting I guess.  One can certainly understand why Joseph was attracted, but was Ann a willing participant?  Who seduced who - or was it mutual?  Considering the ultimate length of the liaison one can only assume she was willing - or that she saw a major advantage in the liaison.  Either way, it must have begun as a sexual fling, but then along came Joseph - sadly named Joseph after the son who had died just a few years previously?  Not very tactful to his first family one would have thought - but then maybe they did not know at this stage.  The picture at the top of this page potentially sums up the situation - the old man and the maid too, look delighted although the bawling child is an intimation of the trouble to come.  Joseph was apparently so delighted that he gave the child his name, thus recognising his responsibility you would think.

A year later a second child, named after her mother, is born and she too is given the Beckwith name.  Both of these children are baptised in London - the first at St. James, Clerkenwell, the second at St. Giles, Cripplegate.  So far, so good for Ann and her children.  And maybe for Joseph too - it might have been pleasant to have young children again - although the grandchildren had also been arriving on a regular basis since 1827.    (How odd to have children the same age, younger even, than your grandchildren.)  Surely little Joseph and Ann could not have been living in the same household as his wife Jane and maybe son George (the other children having married and left home).  One has to assume they lived elsewhere, (in nearby Cripplegate?) but maybe with some support from Joseph, and if they did, he would not have had the day to day stress of small children - just the occasional visit - like a grandparent.  Or did Joseph move out and live with Ann and the children?  He obviously still worked at Wilderness Row, as the directories attest.

The second explanation is that either Joseph or Ann had syphilis and the children died as a result of this.  I gather this is one of the results of having syphilis.  However, it has to be said that Joseph lived to the ripe old age of 84.  The only reason I suggest this as an explanation is because a recent Who Do You think You Are? program suggested this as the reason for a large block of infant deaths in a family.

And the alternative, but less likely?  Of course, it may simply have been bad luck.  These were tough times after all - infant mortality was high.  But what a run of bad luck.  How on earth did Ann survive this?  Seven children between 1838 and 1849 none of whom survived for more than a year.


Early life



Family no.1

Family no.2


The children


Joseph Beckwith

Jonah Beckwith

Mary Ann Callendar

Jane Pittard

Jane Elizabeth Beckwith


The Fleet River and Shoe Lane

Maybe this was the reason for the change of scene to Shoe Lane and into keeping coffee houses.  I wonder whether this was something that Ann wanted to do.  Maybe she managed the coffee house, whilst Joseph continued with his engraving, for he certainly has not dropped the profession of engraver.  No doubt the establishment would have to be in his name.  For after all this time and all this trauma he still had not married Ann, so she would have had very few rights, not that a wife had any more.  In Shoe Lane things took a turn for the better.  At the age of seventy four,  Joseph became father to a son, Robert Bartholomew Beckwith and a year later to a daughter, Louisa Bartholomew Beckwith who also lived.  Ann was nearly forty when her last child was born.  In all she had borne Joseph Beckwith twelve children, only five of which survived.

And somehow she persuaded Joseph to do the right thing, and in 1854 he finally married her - in the registry office of St. Mary Newington, which is on the other side of the river, so a curious place to choose, although after Joseph’s death she is found in Rotherhithe, so maybe they had already purchased a second coffee shop, for this is what it became.  His brother Robert William was a witness at the wedding, so obviously there was not a lot of resentment there.  I think the children knew all about Ann, although it is possible they hid it from their mother.  I think that Joseph junior was a witness to John Mollett’s will, further proof, that at least the children were not punished for their illegitimacy.

It was in the middle of all this trauma that Joseph’s wife died, and then presumably Ann moved in with him with Joseph and Ann, (assuming that she had not been living there before).  Jonah was living with the Atkins in Winchmore Hill in 1841, probably until he entered his apprenticeship at around 13 or 14.  By the time Jane died, the two children were aged five and six, so very possibly easier to manage and be around.  Shortly after her death they had moved up the street to No. 3 Wilderness Row for some reason.  And so life continued with Ann almost constantly pregnant with babies who died almost immediately.  How sad it must all have been.

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