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Dear Reader #93

Dear Reader,

While searching for ancestors who witnessed the Great Fire of London – an ongoing search – I discovered that my 10 x great grandfather Benjamin Troutbeck served on the 100 gun warship HMS Sovereign of the Seas, later renamed The Royal Sovereign. 

While serving as a mariner on The Royal Sovereign, Benjamin participated in two major battles, the Battle of Beachy Head (1690) after which he made his will, and the Battle of La Hougue (1692). The ship went down in 1697, the year Benjamin died. Coincidence? More research required.

‘The true portrait of His Majesty’s royal ship the Sovereign of the Seas’, a contemporaneous engraving by J. Payne

A romantic headline. Meanwhile, some of the sub-headlines are relevant today, and grim.

‘Wealthiest Woman in England Marries Penniless Poet – the Romance of Modern Times.’ The engagement of heiress Annie Winifred Ellerman to American poet and athlete Robert L. McAlmon is announced, Nottingham Journal, 14 March 1921.

My latest translations, the Spanish and Portuguese versions of The Devil and Ms Devlin, Sam Smith Mystery Series book fifteen.

Whitby Market Place 1880 by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe.

Nancy Wheeler, my 3 x great grandmother, was born in 1857 in Lambeth, London the twelfth and youngest child of Henry Wheeler, and the fourth child of his second wife, Mary Ann Thorpe.

As a teenager, Nancy worked as a servant for James W Micklefield, a lighterman, and his young family. Lightermen transferred goods to and from ships on the River Thames.

In May 1873, aged sixteen, Nancy left James W Micklefield’s employment because she was six months pregnant. On 1 June 1873, she married the baby’s father, twenty-five year old James Noulton, in St Mary’s, Lambeth.

Along with the social stigma of giving birth to an illegitimate child, Annie would have faced practical considerations for herself and her baby, therefore whatever her romantic feelings towards James Noulton marriage to him would have appeared the best option. Although the parish would have granted Annie some relief, without James’ support circumstances might have forced her to place the baby in a foundling hospital.

Illegitimacy in England was never common. During the post-medieval period the figure was under two per cent. That number increased to three per cent between 1590 and 1610 and rose again to three per cent in the 1700s. However, by the 1840s seven per cent of babies were born out of wedlock, a figure that decreased to four per cent in the 1890s. When Annie was pregnant with her first child she was not alone, for around a third of women were pregnant at the time they took their marriage vows.

A detail from Henry Nelson O’Neil’s 1855 painting ‘A Mother Depositing Her Child at a Foundling Hospital.’

Earlier, in 1866, eighteen year old James fell foul of the authorities and spent three months in Wandsworth Prison. His crime: he stole fifteen feet of lead. James’ prison record reveals that he was 4’ 10” tall with a lean left leg. Blue eyed and fair haired, he worked in the local pottery. James entered Wandsworth Prison weighing 6st 12lbs and left weighing 6st 8lbs. After his release, James does not appear in the criminal records, so presumably he’d learned his lesson.

On 31 August 1873, Nancy gave birth to James Henry Noulton, the first of six children she had with James. The family lived at 13 Salamanca Street, Lambeth, while James worked as a cement porter. Charles Booth’s poverty map of Victorian London reveals that Salamanca Street was a poor area with families existing on 18s. to 21s. a week.

Salamanca Street on Charles Booth’s poverty map.

After her marriage, Nancy changed not only her surname, but also her first name. She created a new identity for herself as Annie Noulton, and gave that name to her fourth child, my 2 x great grandmother, Annie Noulton.

My 2 x great grandmother Annie Noulton with two of her daughters, c1920.

Aged forty, James died on 20 December 1888 and on 22 May 1893 at St John the Evangelist, Walworth, Annie married widower, Frederick Thomas Canty, a stoker. The couple produced one daughter, Elizabeth.

On 8 May 1897, Frederick entered the county asylum. He died in the asylum on 20 June 1897.

After a hard life in a rough neighbourhood, Annie died on 27 July 1904 aged forty seven. In her forties, she lived at 39 Neville Street, LambethOn 6 August 1924, Eveline Downing died from an illegal operation in Neville StreetThe Coroner said that it was “a very unsatisfactory case that would have to be left undecided because there was a conspiracy of silence to defeat the ends of justice.”

Eveline Downing’s death remains a mystery, but what of Annie Noulton; why did she change her name from Nancy Wheeler? Her parents and upbringing offer an explanation and I will explore that in a future post.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

2 replies on “Dear Reader #93”

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