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Catharine Eliza Warner  Before marriage

Borough, Spitalfields 1848-1866

Catharine Eliza Warner was the sixth child, but I think, very probably, only the third to survive maybe only the second, as her older sister Martha disappears after the age of nine.  If Martha died, then Catharine became the middle child of a three girl family.  Her parents were William Henry Warner and his wife Ann, née Martin.

According to her birth certificate she was born at no. 5 Church Street in the Parish of Christchurch, Surrey, which is basically the area across the river from Blackfriars and to the east of Blackfriars Bridge.  It is shown in the map below left.  Church Street is near the top of the page leading to a space in which Goodwin Square was built, where the family later lived.  It shows how close to the river they were.


Apparently centuries earlier this was one of the theatre districts of London which is an interesting but irrelevant fact.  All I can find out about Church Street, is that some almshouses were built in it a hundred years or so earlier - maybe the family lived in one of them.  The street shown below is not Church Street, but a street next to Christ Church itself (the black dot just below the river and below Blackfriars Bridge), and therefore probably very similar to the area in which Catherine lived.  The engraving further below of Christ Church itself shows a rather more decrepit building nearby.  Whichever is the true nature of Catharine’s first home, I’m sure it would not have been that wonderful, although very possibly not the poorest of the poor dwelling, for her father was a painter and glazier, a tradesman, who generally speaking were somewhat better off than mere labourers.

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For some reason, Catharine was not baptised as a new-born baby.  She was baptised with her two older sisters, Martha and Mary Ann, now young children, at St, John the Evangelist in Walworth, on April 29th 1849.  I do not know why this should be unless it had something to do with the infant deaths of three of her parents’ earlier children.  Maybe they wanted to wait to be sure that the children would survive after so many deaths.  They had also moved from across the river in St. Pancras to Southwark, also perhaps a new start.  By now the family had moved to Goodwin Square, a little further up the road, and there one more baby - another girl, Henrietta was born the next year.  So maybe for a while there was relative peace and happiness in the household.  The girls may have had the opportunity to relax, in between helping their mother with her chores, playing in the street, with the neighbourhood children.  It was probably pretty much a slum, but there must have been quite a community life in these small yards and alleys.  Inside would not have been attractive, so there would have been a lot of living going on in the street.

In the next census the little family (now minus Martha - I can currently find no trace of her), is living on the other side of the river in Dorset St. Spitalfields - the street shown at right.  Dorset St. was to become notorious some twenty years later, for being the scene of one of Jack the Ripper’s murders.  Not that the area was much more salubrious then.  But here is the surprise (well not really, considering her circumstances).  Catharine’s mother has married again - James Hopkins, a schoolmaster (at this stage).  So off I rushed to the indexes and found that the marriage took place in Hackney, nowhere near Southwark, on March 23 1854.  James Hopkins, at the time of the marriage was a surveyor, a widower and around eleven years older than Ann.  She was thirty nine when they married and he was fifty.  So maybe it was a marriage of convenience for them both - there were no children from the marriage, although Ann was still of childbearing age and I do not know if James had children from his earlier marriage.  Maybe Ann’s more than 50% failure rate on the childbearing front may well have been a huge discouragement to her trying for more.

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But then tragedy struck in the form of the death of their father in September 1852.  I have only just found his burial record at Christ Church and have yet to find the correct death certificate, so I have no idea why he died.  Was he sick?  I am sure that a painter and glazier in those days would have been exposed to all sorts of dangerous chemicals, or maybe he had an accident - also a pretty likely outcome.  Whatever the reason the family was suddenly left without support.  Catharine was only four years old, her baby sister Henrietta just two.  Even Martha, the oldest, if she is still alive, was only ten.  They were all too young to be of much assistance in earning an income to sustain the family, indeed they were a liability to their mother.  It must have been a desperate time for her.  And because of the date (a year after thecensus) I can only guess at what happened to the family in the next ten years - well not entirely.

So what does this fact tell us about Catharine’s life, for this is Catharine’s story, not Ann’s.  Catharine had not experienced the early baby deaths, and so her childhood would have been relatively happy one would have thought - unless of course her father and/or mother were drunks and treated their children abysmally, but there is no reason to suppose this.  And then suddenly her beloved father (let us assume) is taken away from her and the family is virtually destitute - well they must have been.  There was no welfare in those days - welfare was the Workhouse so let us hope that Catharine, her mother and sisters were not forced to queue for admission to the Workhouse, like the desperate souls in the picture at left.  More likely, I think, is that Ann sought help from relatives on the other side of the river.  I do not think her parents were still alive, but maybe she had brothers or sisters who could help.  And she worked.  The 1861 census record lists her as a seamstress - and her three girls too, even though Henrietta was a mere 11 years old, and Catharine only 13.  The picture of a sewing sweatshop at left, shows that small children often helped out, sometimes from a very early age.  For little girls were taught to sew as soon as they were able.  Dressmaking and being in service were probably the two most important ‘respectable’ jobs for girls at the time - I sincerely hope that prostitution was never an option.  And then somehow Ann met James Hopkins and was ‘rescued’ after two years of a hard life.  The little family were probably crowded into one room somewhere, desperately sewing away to earn enough to feed themselves and pay for the room.  And you would hope that Mr. Hopkins was kindly - after all, not only did he get a young wife, which may have been an advantage, but he also got three very young girls for whom  he was now responsible.  And it seems he took responsibility for them, because in the 1871 census record, Mary Ann and Henrietta who are still living with him have taken his surname.   

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So a hard childhood after a relatively good start.  The change in circumstances must have taken its toll and the sisters obviously dealt with it differently.  Although they were working at a very early age - along with most of the urban poor it has to be said - they probably did receive at least a minimal education, even if it was only from their stepfather.  The rather lovely photograph of the serious young girl at right to me personifies how Catharine might have been at this time of her life.

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He kept on changing his occupation though.  When Ann married him he was a surveyor, then in 1861 a schoolmaster.  In 1871 he is a clothes dealer, and the family are his assistants.  Did this mean he was a no-hoper or an entrepreneur?  Who knows, and not really Catharine’s story.  


By 1871, the time of the next census, the Hopkins family had moved back to the other side of the river - to Deptford.  I have no idea at what point they made this move, or why.  But it is likely that here Catharine, her sisters and mother continued to sew until their stepfather set up his clothes dealing business and they all helped in the shop.  In 1871 the two sisters are shop women so there must have been a shop.  He was not just a rag and bone man.  I think it is likely that Catharine met John James Magee in Deptford - he was born here after all and was living in the same sort of area in 1861.  He was the man she was to marry.

Where they met we cannot tell.  Maybe Catharine worked in the shop too, and they met there.  But then I think they both moved out of the parental home and moved to Borough where Catharine had spent her early years

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