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BARFORD, Maria Celia

b.1863 – d.1918


Marian (or Maria) Celia Barford was born in Brixton in the first quarter of 1863 to Frederick Sayer Barford, aged 39, and his 31 year old wife Elizabeth (née Wallace). She was baptised in St. Matthew’s Church, Brixton on the 24th of June 1863.

Marian Celia Barford Baptism Record

Frederick, the son of Charles Barford, a bookbinder and Elizabeth, the daughter of baker Richard Wallace, had been married in St. Matthew’s on the 17th of March 1859. On the marriage certificate, Frederick is described as a ‘callisthenics master’.

Marriage of Maria’s parents in 1854
In the 1820s, callisthenics – the name originally given to female gymnastics – had become very popular in continental Europe. This form of exercise soon spread to England where, in 1823, it was introduced as part of the official curriculum in women-only schools. Although initially advocated for girls, it soon become a popular activity for well-off women to practise in private. It is not known if Frederick worked in a girls’ school or as a private instructor.

At the time of Maria’s birth, Frederick and Elizabeth were living at 4, Belgrave Terrace in Lambeth with their sons Frank, aged 3, and two year-old Morris. The 1861 census suggests that the family was quite comfortably off as, not only did they have the entire property to themselves, they were also able to employ a nurse/servant (Mary Hazeltine) and a general servant (Emma Hulks). In the census, Elizabeth is described as a ‘proprietor of houses’. Frederick is now a ‘teacher of drilling’. Drilling usually implies instruction or training in military exercises but at the time it may have also referred to callisthenics.

Tragedy hit the family in the first quarter of 1865, when Frank sadly died, shortly before his fifth birthday, and again in 1870 when a second daughter, Jessie Elizabeth, who was born in 1867, died aged just 3.


In the 1871 census, we learn that Elizabeth has given birth to four more children, Frederick, born in 1865, Grace (1866), Charles (1869) and Edwin (1871). The family is now living at 7, Ramsey Terrace in Lambeth and they have one domestic servant, Mary Easton. Frederick is described as a ‘drill master’. Maria, aged 8, is a scholar.


According to the 1881 census the family is now living at 6, Cambridge Terrace, Nunhead Lane in Camberwell. Elizabeth has given birth to an eighth child, Ernest, born in 1873. Frederick, aged 57, is described as a ‘drill master’ and ‘Chelsea Pensioner’. The Royal Hospital provided a pension to all former soldiers who had been injured in service or who had served for more than twenty years. According to British Army Service records, Frederick was discharged from the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade in 1856, described as ‘unfit for further service’, having sustained injuries while fighting in Balaclava during the Crimean War. As Frederick was still living in his own home he would have been known as an ‘out-pensioner’. Before enlisting in the army at the age of 17, Frederick had worked as a labourer. Did he discover the benefits of callisthenics while recuperating from his injuries?

The father Frederick, is on the previous page of the 1881 Census

We also learn from the census that Morris, aged 20, is a stockbroker’s clerk and Frederick (16) is a warehouseman’s clerk. Maria, now aged 18, is no longer a scholar but has no occupation or profession. Although this was not unheard of for young women of her class at this time, it could be that she was unable to work because of the mental health issues that would dominate her later life – particularly as we see in the 1891 census that her sister, Grace, is working as a clerk in a steam laundry and Maria is still without occupation.

Maria’s father, Frederick, died in the third quarter of 1884. His personal estate of £97-10s-6d was left to Elizabeth.


According to the 1891 census, Elizabeth, now aged 59 and a widow, is living at 12, Nunhead Lane, Camberwell, with Maria, Grace, Charles, Edwin and Ernest. Elizabeth is described as ‘living on her means’. This probably refers to income received from the properties we know she owned. Her four youngest children are all working as clerks.

We see nothing more of Maria until the 7th of October 1898 when, now aged 36, she is admitted to Constance Road Workhouse and described as ‘alleged insane’. She remains in the workhouse until the 20th of October when she is discharged to Claybury, a County Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Woodford Bridge. Does this move indicate a deterioration in Maria’s mental state that the family cannot manage alone? But if that is the case, why is she sent to a pauper’s asylum rather than a private institution? Have the family’s finances taken a downward turn?


In the 1901 census we learn that the Barfords are still living at 12, Nunhead Lane. Although no further reference is made to Elizabeth’s ‘living on her means’, all four children are working: Grace is a laundry shop assistant, Charles is a commercial traveller, Edwin is a merchant’s clerk and Ernest is a draper’s assistant. Also living in the house is Elizabeth’s 67 year old sister, Emma, described in the census as ‘feeble-minded’. Might this indicate that mental illness runs in the family?

Maria was a patient in Claybury until the 5th of October 1905 when she was transferred to Fisherton House in Wiltshire, the largest private asylum ever to have existed in the United Kingdom.

Fisherton, Admitted 5th Oct 1905, Discharged (Not Improved) 11th July 1907

The asylum housed both private patients and paupers paid for by the local authorities.

Long Grove, Admitted 11th July 1907 – Discharged (Died) 12 July 1918

On the 11th of July 1907 Maria was admitted to Long Grove. She died there almost exactly eleven years later on the 12th of July 1918. Maria was buried 6 days later on 18th July 1918, in Horton Cemetery plot #492b.


Just two months later, on the 18th of September 1918, Maria’s mother, Elizabeth, died.

Of Maria’s siblings we know that Grace died in 1949, aged 84 and Charles died in 1931, aged 62. Edwin lived to the age of 94 and died in 1965. Ernest, the youngest Barford sibling, died in 1930, aged 57. It has not been possible to ascertain the whereabouts of Morris and Frederick after the 1881 census.

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