Wednesday, 18 July 2012

East Anglia meets Eastenders?

For years I've wondered what happened to my great-great-great-great aunt, Sarah Kisby (b. 1815). After convincing myself she died in south London with her illegitimate daughter, I've now solved the mystery. She died in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, only 3 miles from where she was born.

Chatteris Workhouse
Sarah's life reads like a story line in a soap opera. In 1834 she had an illegitimate daughter, Mary Ann, with a local man, Thomas Corby. In 1837 she gave birth to another baby, a son Charles, in Chatteris Workshouse - maybe she had gone to Chatteris to avoid the scandal?

In 1838 she married local farm labourer, Jonathan Catling. Charles and Mary Ann appear as Catling's in the 1841 census. Sarah and Jonathan had several children together. Then Sarah has probably the worst year of her life, when in 1848 her baby daughter Alice died, followed at Christmas by her husband Jonathan.

At this point the trail ran dry. I imagined Sarah may have left the Whittlesey area to make a new life. I found a Sarah Catling of the correct age (born March, Cambridgeshire) living in London with an anonymously named Miss M. A. Watts. I convinced myself this was the embarassed bastard daughter, Mary Ann, who had assumed a pseudonym!

But the real story was closer to home. Very close. Next door, in fact. In the 1851 Census Sarah Catling, a widow, was living next door to a Robert Haylock, his wife and young children. Robert is a full ten years younger than Sarah. Robert's wife Mary dies before she is 30 and, in 1857, he marries Sarah Catling. Mind you, they marry several weeks after the baptism of their new son John, thereby keeping up the disregard for timeous birth control and moral values! In fact Robert had accepted an illegitimate daughter, Mary Jane, into his first marriage. And to top this all, Sarah has a mystery daughter (another Alice) who is born several years after her first husband dies and a couple of years before her next door neighbour in widowed. I hope you're keeping up!

Well, for good or ill, Sarah's second marriage lasted for over 30 years. She ended her days as Sarah Haylock living in the middle of Whittlesey and finally expiring in 1898, at almost 83 years old. What a very long and productive life!!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

In the News since 1783...

The British Newspaper Archives have recently made available images of newspapers going back to the 1700's. I couldn't resist paying my £6.95 to see which Kisby's and Kisbee's had hit the headlines. Fortunately they were few and far between because generally, when they did surface, it was because of an involvement in an unfortunate accident, or a crime.

The earliest mention of the surname seemed to be in 1783, when the intriguingly named Thomas Kisby Twelvetree escaped from Bedford gaol while awaiting hanging for horse-stealing. A five guinea reward was offered for his capture, (though there's no subsequent report about whether the reward was paid out).

John Kisbee (see previous 'Kisby Crims' post) appears numerous times in the Stamford Mercury during the 1830's and 1840's, charged with various crimes from vandalism to theft. He was often living on poor relief so probably driven to crime by poverty ...or possibly sheer opportunism - in 1847 he "appropriated" £5 6s and a cheque for £11 14s which had been dropped by a wealthy gentleman. John caught a train to Peterborough and changed two £5 notes at a pub, raising suspicions somewhat. He was arrested at Stamford railway station on his return. Interestingly he was bailed from gaol by his father, George.

In the same year Elizabeth Kisby, a cook for the Duke of Brunswick, testifies in court on behalf of her master after a claim was made against the Duke by his chimney sweep. Elizabeth blamed the chimney sweep for a fire (causing £5 damage) while the sweep blamed the cook. The sweep claimed he had not been properly paid for three years, while the Duke wanted to offset the damage against the debt. Surprisingly the Duke was found at fault and had to cough-up!

Elsewhere 9 year old George Kisbee, 22 year old George Kisby and 34 year old William Kisby met tragic deaths: young George poisoned himself by inadvertently drinking carbolic acid in 1878; George Kisby was crushed to death by a coal wagon in 1890 after working, without training, in a coal mine for less than a week; William Kisby reached national attention when he and two women employees were killed by a train in October 1943, while driving across a railway level-crossing.

I've been intrigued for a while by "Edward" Kisby and "Helen" Kisby, his wife, a couple of actors who appear in the 1891 Census. The story unfolds somewhat in The Era, a theatrical newspaper of the 1890's, where E. T. Kisby performs across Britain in a variety of secondary roles. More intriguingly his young daughter seems to be a child acting prodigy, known as "Little Vera" and receiving positive reviews on each occasion. Unfortunately being a child prodigy has a time limit and the reports die out after 1897 (when she would have been 14 years old).

All-in-all a very well spent seven quid!!