14 May 2016

An Orphan in the Family

In 1871, Sarah Elizabeth Cole was a little orphan girl of seven.  With her sister Frances Annie, aged 14, she had been sent to live far away from her former home in London.  How would the experience affect her future?

Sarah and Frances were not quite alone in the world, but their surviving relatives may not have been wealthy enough or well enough to care for the girls.  I do not know what happened to their brother James, who would have been around nineteen or twenty at the time.

Their eldest sibling, Welcome Cole, aged 21, worked as a cabinet maker.  Two years earlier, he had married Mary Elizabeth Moulding in Bethnal Green.  By 1871, they had a son, aged one, another Welcome Cole.

Twenty years earlier, in 1851, the elder Welcome had himself been a young son of about one.  His parents had married in 1849 in Bermondsey.  His father, another Welcome Cole, then aged 26, worked as a fruiterer and coal dealer.  His mother, Frances, formerly Hedley was still only about twenty years of age.

In 1851, the family lived in Melville Place, presumably the one then in Northdown Street, in the parish of Saint James in Clerkenwell.  Welcome and Frances, known as Fanny, and their young son lived with Welcome's parents, Welcome Cole, then aged forty-seven, an inspector for the London District Post Office, and Sarah Elizabeth, formerly Nash, aged fifty-one.

Welcome and Sarah also had five other children living in the household in 1851.  The second son, Charles, aged 22, was a labourer.  The four daughters, aged from ten to nineteen, were Mary, Eliza, Sarah Elizabeth and Ann.

In 1871, the most senior Welcome Cole was sixty-seven, a widower and a pensioner, according to the census.  He was living in the village of Hambledon near Godalming in Surrey.  During that time, he had an eleven-year-old grand-daugher living with him, Fanny Smith, and a twenty-year-old servant called Alice C Fry.

My great, great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Cole was born in Islington in London on Tuesday 29 September 1863.  She was Christened on Sunday 25 October 1863.  At the time of her birth, she had four older siblings.

According to the 1861 census, her father Welcome, then aged thirty-five, was the head of his own household in Gordon Terrace, St Mary's Islington.  He was working as a railway porter.  His wife Fanny was thirty-one.  The younger Welcome was eleven.  James was nine.  Frances Annie was four and Mary was two.

Young Welcome was born on 25 July 1849 in St Pancras. He died in Islington in 1916, aged sixty-seven.  His son Welcome was born in Islington in 1869.  He lived to be eighty years of age and died in 1950.  The Hambledon Welcome Cole, had been born in Richmond in Surrey in 1806.  He lived to be eighty-seven.

James Cole was born on 18 September 1851.  Frances Annie was born on 27 October 1856.  Mary Eliza was born on 10 December 1859. There was also another brother, Joseph Alexander, who was born on 7 June 1862.  Soon, Sarah Elizabeth had two younger brothers, Frederick Walter, who was born in February 1866 and Frank, born 13 April 1868.

But tragedy struck when Sarah Elizabeth was still a baby.  First, young Joseph Alexander died before the age of two, on 16 February 1864.

Her grandmother, also called Sarah Elizabeth Cole, died in Hambledon on 16 March 1867.  Young Frederick Walter, at about eighteen months of age, died on 24 September 1867.  Then Frances Cole, the mother of the children, died on 1 December 1868 at the age of thirty-nine.  On 7 February 1869, the infant Frank Cole died.  Then, in December of that year, Welcome, the father of Sarah Elizabeth, and her sister Mary Eliza, aged ten, both died.

By the beginning of 1870, therefore, many members of my great, great grandmother's immediate family had died.  I do not yet know the cause of their deaths, or why Sarah Elizabeth and her sister Frances Annie survived.

When thinking about changes in the population of London, or any large city, statistics rarely reflect the biographical consequences of those circumstances.  There are plenty of statistics on the causes of death in young children at that time.  One of the most common causes of death in children and adults of the time was tuberculosis, then known as consumption or phthisis.

But I have only just discovered that my great, great grandmother and her surviving sister were sent to the New Orphan Houses in Ashley Down, an area of Bristol.   Were any of your ancestors ever connected with Ashley Down Orphanage?  Have you ever heard of the work of George Müller?

There is now a museum dedicated to the history of the orphanage. There is also a Müllers Facebook page.  The work begun through the orphanages still continues today, not just in its original location but also globally.

In the 1871 census, the orphanages were described as St James and St Paul, Gloucestershire.  The currently available orphan records indicate that over 17,000 children were housed there, with more than 2,000 being in residence when Sarah and Frances were there.

In the 1881 census, Frances Annie Cole, then aged twenty-four, was living in Hambledon, with her grandfather, aged seventy-seven, and her cousin, Fanny Smith, aged twenty-one. The senior Welcome was listed in the census as superannuated from the General Post Office.  The two young, unmarried women were there to provide him with care in his later years.

I do not have any record of what happened to Frances after that.  I know that Fanny was still unmarried in 1891, when she was still living with her grandfather at the age of thirty-one.

Meanwhile, my great, great grandmother had entered domestic service.  In 1881, she was seventeen years of age and working as a housemaid in Laura Place, Hackney.  Her employer, Walter Vellacott, was a bank official from Devon, aged fifty-four, and his wife Emily, aged forty-two.  The Vellacott children were Clara aged eleven and Alfred aged seven.  Sarah also had the company of another seventeen-year-old servant, Ellen Till from Ipswich.

Tom and Sarah Ginn and family
In June 1889, Sarah Elizabeth Cole married a much older man, a widower called Tom Ginn.  My great grandmother Annie was born the following March.  Annie was followed two years later by my great, great aunt Florence, known as Florrie, then by three younger brothers.

Embroidery and knitting were regular activities in Annie's life, skills she passed on to her daughter, my grandmother.  I have only just discovered that the knitwear made for me by Sarah Elizabeth's daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughters, when I was growing up, were probably at least partly based on the skills taught to my great, great grandmother at the orphanage.

The Fizwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a display about the needlework from the orphanage.  I have some of the needlework my grandmother did when she was a young woman.  My aunt has some of the needlework Sarah did as a fifteen years old and still living at the orphanage.  How many thousands of households can say the same of their ancestors?

Until today, I thought Sarah Elizabeth Cole had spent her whole life in London.  Like many Londoners, though, her family history included provincial origins. I did not know that she had spent much of her childhood in Gloucestershire.

I wonder how Sarah Elizabeth would have felt when her sister Frances Annie, being seven years older, left the orphanage to live with their grandfather, probably at around the age of seventeen.  From the information I have been reading about the orphanage, the girls would have been well prepared for the life ahead of them.  They had received nutritious food in hygienic surroundings and a relatively good education.

I am yet to discover much about the family history of Sarah's mother, Frances Cole, formerly Hedley.  The only person with a similar name, in the relevant area of England, at the time of the 1841 census, with a matching birthday, was recorded as Frances Hadley, who was then around eleven years of age and living in Ossulston Street, St Pancras.

You may know something about my fair ancestors in Mayfair and other aspects of my London family history.  Earlier this year I reflected on my family connection with Finsbury Park.

Records from other researchers into the Welcome Cole family line have a handwritten note stating that Frances Hedley was born on 14 February 1829.  But who were her family members?  Was she an orphan?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.