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William Henri Colchester Mollett  Marriage 

Camberwell 1871-1903

William Henri’s wife was Caroline Margaret Smith - common surname but not ‘common’ people.  Her father was a miller in Portslade, Sussex which is part of Brighton nowadays.  So how did they come to know each other?  Well, I suspect they may have met through a business association of William Henri’s father and her grandfather who is a Russia Merchant like John Mollett, working in the same street, and moreover he lived near William Henri’s grandfather Robert in Stoke Newington.  So plenty of opportunities for the two families to be friends, or at least, acquaintances.  Anyway in 1871 she was staying with the Molletts in their home in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.  She must have been there bonding with her mother-in-law and family and discussing arrangements for the wedding because the census was taken on 2nd April, 1871 and they were married later in the month - the 22nd to be exact.  Perhaps her mother wanted her out of her hair, whilst she prepared for the wedding.  

They were married in Portslade Church, where she had been baptised, and which still looks rather lovely.  I took the two photographs at right on a recent visit there.  Two of their brothers were the witnesses, rather than any parent, but then William Henri’s father had died in 1869.  As it was a marriage by banns one can safely assume, that it was all a very proper affair, rather like the rather lovely picture above.  He was 23, she was 26 - an older woman!  Maybe as the baby of the family he was used to having older sisters and this was just an extension of that!

All in all though it must have been a pretty comfortable life for the family. 


Their first home was at 20 Grummant Road, in Camberwell.  I imagine this must have been a fairly normal, largeish Victorian house - big enough to accommodate two servants anyway, probably in the attic.  Somewhere in the 80s they moved to 75 (or maybe 95) The Grove, Camberwell.  I have not actually been able to find this street anywhere, but think it is very possibly Camberwell Grove, which runs parallel to Grove Lane - their next home.  Here they lived in the rather grander sounding Melton House, (101 Grove Lane).  Grove Lane is pictured in 1900 in the engraving at left and it runs parallel to Camberwell Grove, pictured above..  I imagine as they grew that the scene in the painting above might have been a pretty typical one, although there are a couple of disconcerting facts.  Their house, which I suspect is no longer there, seems to have been next to a skating rink - not really flash one would have thought, and it was also just up from the railway and Denmark Hill station.  But then, perhaps in those days, it was quite prestigious to be close to the railway.  The pictures at left are of the probable location of their house from Google Earth (on the right hand side of the road) and a Grove Lane back garden.  The number of servants also seems to have dwindled, from two in 1871, one in 1881 and none at all in 1891.  But then, perhaps it was just that the servants no longer lived in - they may have just come in daily, and also, as the children grew and left home, there might have been less need of a servant.  Though I certainly have difficulty imagining Caroline cooking the dinner and doing the washing and ironing for example.

So, soon the callow young man of the portrait I originally chose, and the real young man of the photographs supplied by Philip Mollett; the baby of the family, transforms into a father and patriarch.  There were nine children from the marriage - five boys and four girls, and eventually lots of grandchildren but, I guess, like most people of those days, the births were not without their tragedies.  Their fourth son (and child) was described in one census as an idiot from childhood - possibly a Downes Syndrome child, or was there an accident resulting in brain damage?  A tragedy whatever way you look at it, particularly in those days when disability of any kind was not treated well.  In any case, although he lived at home with his family at first, by the age of fourteen he was living nearby under the care of another, one Robert Jarvis, whose profession is described as lunatic attendant, though Arthur - or Barney (Barmy?), as he is named, was the only boarder.  One can only assume that he gradually became difficult to control as by the next census in 1901 he was in the London County Asylum at Dartford.  He died there in 1903 at the age of 26.   Difficult to assess the impact of this on the family.  I wonder was it a case of out of sight out of mind, or did they visit and care for him?  


The second tragedy was the infant death of one of their last children, Winifred MIldred who died at the age of three months.  There was just one more baby, Dorothy Mildred, after this one.

Caroline outlived William Henri.  Impossible to say, isn’t it, whether the marriage was a happy one or not?  Their sons followed the same sort of path as their father (with the exception of Gerald, my grandfather, who rather messed up his life), the daughters mostly married and had children, though my great-aunt Jessie, known as Aunty Jerry to us, did not.  It probably fell to her to look after her mother when her father died.



Daily Life in Victorian England - a link to a Google Book by Sally Mitchell which tells you everything you would want to know about growing up in the 1900s.

Victorian Childhood another Google Book, this time by Thomas E. Jordan.  This one is incomplete, but there’s still a lot there.

Suburbia in Focus - Camberwell - a short history of the nineteenth century development of Camberwell - with maps and pictures

Victoria’s Past - Childhood - an American site that is a bit kitsch, with some annoying music, but also some simple accounts of Victorian children’s lives.

Victorian London - Childhood - a site which is full of contemporary accounts of everything Victorian London.  This is the section on childhood

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