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BLEWITT, Emily Florence

b.1859-d.1917

The 1860s -Emily’s parents

Emily Florence Blewitt was born on the 4th of July 1859 to Charles James Blewitt, a wine merchant, and his wife Ann (née Allum). At the time of her birth, the couple were living at 4, Sidney Place, Brixton Hill, which was also the address of Charles’s wine business. The couple had married in the 1st quarter of 1849 and Emily was their second child, after Frances who was born in 1858. Emily was baptised at All Saints Church, Clapham Park, on the 13th of November 1859.

In the 1861 Census, the family comprises Charles, Ann, Frances, and Emily. Living with them is Charles’s older sister, also called Frances, a ‘professor of music’ and Sarah Till, a house servant. They share the property with just two other people, an ‘independent’ woman and her house servant.

The 1870s – two deaths in the family 

By the time of the 1871 Census, the family has moved to 24, Clarewood Terrace in Lambeth, occupying the entire property. Ann has given birth to two more daughters, Kate, born in 1861, and Elinor, born in 1866. Charles’s sister is no longer living with the family and the house servant is now called Mary Collins. Sadly, Emily’s sister Frances died in the 1st quarter of 1862 aged just 4. One can only imagine how painful her death must have been for the family.

On the 5th of March 1873, at the age of 50, Charles died, we learn, at 3, Sloane Street in Chelsea. As this was the address of Ye Olde Swan public house we may assume his death was sudden and unexpected but we do not know its cause. Charles’s effects, valued at ‘under £2000’, were left to his widow, Anne. This was the equivalent of more than £200,000 today which suggests that the family was quite comfortably off. Charles was buried in Norwood Cemetery on the 10th of March 1873.

The 1880s – two more family tragedies

In the 1881 Census, Emily is living with her mother, her sister Elinor and her aunt Frances, now described as a teacher of music, at 377, Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. Again, they are the only residents in the property. We are told that Anne lets furnished apartments and Emily, now aged 21, is ‘involved in household duties’.

In the same census, Emily’s sister Kate is working as a draper’s assistant and living in London Road, Lewisham, at the home of draper Frederick Hill and his family. Three years later, on the 21st of December, 1884 Kate married engineer Charles Hicks at St Jude’s Church in East Brixton.

In the 1st quarter of 1885 Kate gave birth to the couple’s first – and, it would appear from later records, only – child, a son named Charles James. Sadly, Charles died in the same quarter, aged less than three months. 

Another tragedy would befall the family just three years later when Emily’s sister, Elinor, died in 1888 at the age of 21. We do not know the cause of her death. Like her father, Emily was buried in Norwood Cemetery on the 3rd of May, 1888.

The 1890s – Emily’s mental health problems 

In the 1891 Census, Emily is still living with her mother and her aunt Frances in Coldharbour Lane, assisting her mother with ‘household duties’. Kate and Charles – now described as a ‘machinist’ – are lodging at the home of ‘sea-going engineer’ Alfred Scott and his family at 29, St John’s Church Road in Hackney.

We do not know if Emily had always suffered from mental health problems and they worsened as she got older, or if she experienced a sudden onset of psychotic symptoms, but on the 24th of April, 1897, at the age of 40, she was admitted to Cane Hill Asylum in Coulsdon, where she would remain for ten years.

The 1900s – admission to Long Grove and death

In the 1901 census Anne, now aged 76 and described as an annuitant, is living at 14, Corrance Road in Brixton with her former house servant, now paid companion, Mary Collins. They are the sole occupants of the property. Kate and Charles – now an engine fitter – are living at 28, Dunlace Road in Hackney. By the time of the 1911 census the couple had moved to 21, Carlton Square in New Cross. Charles is working as a tool maker.

Ann died in the 1st quarter of 1906 aged 82. The following year, on the 18th of June 1907, Emily was transferred to Long Grove where she sadly died on the 14th of February 1917, having spent the last twenty years of her life in mental institutions. She is buried in plot 1382a in Horton Cemetery. 

Emily led a very uneventful life due, perhaps, to the mental health problems that would ultimately necessitate her admission to an asylum. However, as the documents used to trace her life imply her family was not without financial means, one is tempted to ask why she was sent to a paupers’ asylum and, after her death, buried in an unmarked grave. In the Long Grove admissions register, there is an addition to Emily’s entry which suggests that she became a private patient on the 21st of June 1907 (three days after her admission) but reverted to pauper status on the 1st of April 1908. No reason is given for this temporary change in Emily’s status in the institution. Had Ann left a sum of money in her will for Emily to be treated as a private patient – a sum which ran out in 1908? Without further evidence we can only speculate.

Emily’s sister Kate died in Greenwich in the 3rd quarter of 1937, less than a year after the death of her husband, Charles. She was 75 years old.


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