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Mary Smith LANE 1851-1932




In 1880 Mary was 29 years old when she married Walter, a bootmaker who was 9 years her younger. She was fortunate, many single women of that age would have resigned themselves to being a spinster; the proverbial ‘old maid’. If Mary hadn’t given birth to their daughter Susannah just 12 days after the wedding perhaps she too would have become an old maid.

They lived in Walworth, London with Walter’s parents Charles, a master baker, and Ann, who were both born in Kent. Walter’s older sister, Margaret, also lived here. She was described in census returns as an imbecile and died aged 61 in Caterham Asylum.

Sadly, baby Susannah died a year later from Dentition Diarrhoea. She was 10 months old. Nineteenth-century medical reports stated that infants were more prone to disease at the time of teething. Symptoms were restlessness, fretfulness, convulsions, diarrhoea, and painful and swollen gums. Often teething was reported as a cause of death in infants, most likely due to poor hygiene.

Soon after, in October 1882, Mary and Walter had a son, Joseph Walter Charles. He was a fit and healthy baby, much loved and cherished by everyone, particularly Mary, who, not long before, had to lay to rest her first born.

In January 1884 Walter’s father Charles died at home, surrounded by his family after suffering a stroke nine days previous. He left his personal estate amounting to £498.0s.0d. (Equivalent to £38,500) to his devoted wife Ann.

Only two months later, in March 1884, when Joseph was only 17 months old, tragedy struck the family once again. Walter had contracted Phthisis (Chronic wasting away due to, or a name for, tuberculosis or consumption) and died in St Saviours Union Infirmary, Walworth aged just 24 years. In Victorian London TB was the most common cause of death in the working classes. At this time Ann could no longer cope with the demands and special needs of her daughter Margaret so, reluctantly, sent her to Darenth Asylum.

Devastated by these losses, Mary and her son Joseph, (her only remaining connection with Walter) continued to live with Ann, who looked after Joseph whilst Mary worked as a dressmaker. This arrangement continued for ten years, until Ann’s health deteriorated and she died at home of Senile Decay, Bronchitis, and Heart Failure in January 1894. Ann left only £14.2s.4d – to her married daughter, Harriott.

In June 1894 Mary had to make the most painful decision ever – she had no money, no home of her own, nobody left to help look after her boy - what would become of Joseph? There were no real options; both mother and son would have to go into the workhouse or Mary needed to find some other way to ensure Joseph was safe, well fed and protected.

Mary approached her parish church, St Andrews Newington, for help. It was arranged for Joseph to be sent to King Edward’s School, Witley (formerly the Bridewell Royal Hospital, charitable House of Occupations) where pupils were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and history as well as being trained in occupations. Joseph left the school in October 1897 after learning the trade of a tailor and took a job working as draper’s porter. Mary worked as live-in domestic servant for various employers whilst her son was at King Edwards.

Mother and son were finally reunited and lived together in Paddington until 1901, when Joseph enlisted for Army Service with the 7th Foot Royal Fusiliers. Joseph was invalided out of WW1 in 1916. He lost his right leg in a battle in France and, whilst convalescing from his wounds in Brighton he met Annie Louise, who he married in 1917. That, my friends, is another story!

And Mary? Well, she lived close by her son; his wife Annie and their four boys in Mortlake where she died peacefully in 1932 aged 80. Mary was always remembered by Joseph and Annie with dedicated affection. Annie visited Mary’s grave every week to leave flowers, come rain or shine. Joseph died in 1956 from carcinoma of the oesophagus. Annie died tragically from multiple injuries as a result of being knocked down by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve in 1959. Every bone in her body was broken and the driver was sent for trial at the Old Bailey, where he received a 7-year custodial sentence. Joseph and Annie are both sadly missed by all the family.

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