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The Youngest child

Archibald Box was a young 24-year-old man when he was admitted to Hackney Workhouse. Scared and confused he would live out the rest of his days in an asylum. What was his background and how did he get to such a desperate point in his life?

Archibald was born the youngest child of his father’s two marriages. He was the last child of a family of 11 children This would have an impact on his life.

Archibald’s parents were George Box and Eliza Roberts and they were married on 23 December 1866 at the parish church of St Mary in Lambeth. George was a widower who lived in Broad Street working as an Ironmonger. Eliza Roberts was single, described as being of full age and her father was James Roberts. 

George Box

George Box originated from Withyham in Sussex, the son of a Blacksmith and his first wife was Eliza’s older sister Jane Roberts. She had married George on 3 October 1847 in Penshurst, Kent. The couple went on to have 5 children.


In 1851 the couple were living next door to George’s parents in Withyham. George had followed in his father’s footsteps working as a Blacksmith.

1860’s a move to London

By 1861 George and Jane had moved to Lambeth and were living at 31 Broad Street. George was an Ironmongers Assistant. George was listed as being aged 35. Jane aged 34 and the children were named as Anna M aged 8, Emily aged 5, Helena aged 2 and Arthur George aged 7 months. Based on the children’s places of birth this puts the couple’s move to London around 1852. 

A further daughter Edith was born in 1865 before Jane died on 15 October 1866 the cause being a “softening of the brain”. This could mean she was suffering from Encephalomalacia, a brain haemorrhage or an inflammation of the brain or even someone with severe depression. At that time, it was a general term used to cover a number of medical issues.

The informant was a Mary Roberts who was one of Jane’s sisters. Jane left her husband with 5 children to look after. The youngest Edith was only a babe in arms.

So, 3 months later on 23 December George remarried and his bride was Jane’s younger sister Eliza who was 24 years old at the time. This is probably not as callous as it sounds, and it was probably more of a practical solution. George obviously knew Eliza and he needed someone to look after the children. For Eliza it meant she had a husband who had a good source of income and could provide for her. Perhaps she also felt she could care for her sister’s children.

During the 1860’s George advertised the main output of his business was Boat nails and he proudly claimed he sold “Boat nails of any description”.

1870’s the business was doing well.

By 1871 George who was now aged 45 was doing well for himself as he was described in the census as being an Ironmonger employing 2 men and 2 boys. The family are still living at 30/31 Broad Street. Eliza is described as being 31 years old. This is now a blended family so all the children from George’s first marriage and his second are all living together. Anna M aged 17, no occupation, Emily aged 15, Helena aged 13, Arthur aged 10, and Edith aged 5. They are joined by 2 sisters from George and Eliza’s marriage. Florence Jane aged 2 and Minnie aged 1.

The couple also have a servant living with them called Sarah Powell.

In 1875 Anna Box married Henry Bixby and left home. The following year Arthur died aged 16. This was followed by the death of Minnie in June 1879 aged 9.

The Family home

Image courtesy of Borough Photos.Org/Lambeth dating from 1882 showing a plan of Broad Street showing the renumbering of the street. This accounts for the family address varying from 30/31 to 29. They had not moved it was still the same house. Now Black Prince Road. Broad Street ran east to west from the river Thames with Lambeth pottery at the east end of the street.

1880’s a growing family but a change of fortunes

Ten years later The Box family are still living at the same address and the family has grown.  George, now aged 55, was continuing to work as an Ironmonger. With wife Eliza aged 40, daughter Helena aged 22 is working as a draper. The other child, Edith, aged 15 was described as a scholar. Florence Jane aged 12, Henry aged 9, Clara aged 6 and Ethel aged 2. 

Archibald the youngest child.

So, Archibald became the last child of the family when he was born on 22 May 1882 at the family Broad Street address.

He was baptised at St Mary’s the Less church in Lambeth on 5 March 1883.

Life continued as normal, we imagine, until 1887 when the Commercial Gazette indicates there were problems with the Ironmongery business. The Commercial Gazette shows the following entries from the Register of County Court Judgements. 

23 October 1887 George Box of 27 Broad Street Ironmonger £16 12s 8d

17 November 1887 George Box of 27 Broad Street Ironmonger £15 1s 5d

5 December 1887 George Box of 27 Broad Street Ironmonger £11 14s 3d

These were extracts from the County Court judgements (Civil Court). It was not necessarily for debts George had incurred. It could have been for damages or a disputed course of action. So, either way George owed money or monies were owed to him. It is difficult to say whether this was the same amount of money decreasing or three separate sums. £16 pounds in 1887 is worth about £2,600 in 2024. This was therefore a substantial amount of money.

With a large family to maintain it was important money was coming in, so with money problems and George’s health starting to decline the family was in trouble. George Box died on 16 February 1889. Leaving his wife Eliza with 3 children under 14. Poor Archibald was only 6 years old. Being the youngest child, this was catastrophic.

 George died at St George’s Union Infirmary in Fulham Road after being transferred from St Thomas’s Hospital. Curiously his cause of death was cerebral softening the same cause of death as his first wife.

The decision had already been made on 9 February 1889 that Archibald aged 6 and his sister Ethel aged 10 were to be admitted to Norwood School whilst their father was in St Thomas’s Hospital. The older children presumably could manage for themselves, but the youngest children of the family could not so perhaps it was decided they would be better being put into the care of the Union. Or there was no choice. Norwood School was a residential workhouse school in Elder Road ran by Lambeth Union not to be confused with the privately owned “school of Industry” in Upper Norwood. Archibald and Ethel would have been separated at this point and on 12 March 1889 after his father’s death Archibald was transferred to the Infants School. He was only 6 years old.

1891 Census

Archibald and his sister Ethel must have remained in the Norwood Schools as they can both be found in the School’s Census for that year. Their mother Eliza is living at 39 Henry Street in Kennington. Eliza is noted to be a 51-year-old widow. With Eliza was Archibald and Ethel’s older siblings Henry aged 17 and Clara aged 16 who are both working. The older girls Anna and Emily were by now married. The whereabouts of Helena and Edith are unclear.

The 1890’s a decade in and out of care

By 4 May 1892 Archibald is transferred from Lambeth Workhouse to the New School in Lower Norwood. He must have not been in good health as on 28 May 1892 as it states he was sent to “Sandgate” which is on the Kent coast and is near to Folkestone. There is limited information about Sandgate and its relationship with the health of individuals in Poor Law care. From what I have been able to deduce there were Seaside Convalescent Homes where it was considered beneficial to take the sea air. In fact whilst Archibald was there The London Samaritan Society and Homerton Mission opened a new purpose-built facility called Beach Rocks Seaside Convalescent Home on 25 June 1892. Although I cannot prove Archibald was ever in this facility and I have unearthed various articles that show the London Boards of Guardians did indeed send children to Sandgate Convalescent Homes for periods of 3 weeks.

 It appears these Homes were run by a controversial Director named John James Jones for The London Samaritan Society. There were reports that some children were “dumped” into unsuitable accommodation with unsatisfactory conditions where disease was rife. Hardly a seaside “cure”.

Archibald’s convalescence was just over 3 weeks and he returned to Norwood Schools on 20 July 1892 and from there on 23 July 1892, he was returned to the care of the Lambeth Workhouse with his sister Ethel on 23 July 1892.

From there it is unclear what happened to him but on 24 November 1894 he is admitted to Gordon Road Workhouse with his Mother Eliza.  From there on 5 December 1894 Archibald was sent to Brighton Road School, another workhouse school. He remained in their care until he was 16 years old and discharged on 26 August 1898.

Curiously, on 27 January 1898 he was admitted to Peckham Park School which is not a Poor Law School, and he was at that time aged 16 above the age where he was required to be at school.  He left on 18 February 1898.

In the meantime, Eliza Box Archibald’s mother had been sent to Cane Hill Asylum on 23 October 1897 which meant he was a young 15-year-old with no parents to look out for him. Luckily it seems as if Archibald’s sisters came to the rescue.

1901 Census

Archibald went to live with his sister Clara Louisa who had married Edward Lewis and their two children.  The 1901 census shows they were all living at 103 Naylor Road, Peckham. Archibald was working as a warehouse porter. 

1900’s where a seaside “cure” failed and a decline in Archibald’s health

Archibald’s later settlement records show that shortly after this he moved to live with his sister Mrs Florence Trinder at 436 Hanover Buildings. Florence had married William George Trinder in 1892 and was living at this address in 1901 with her husband and two children Florence and William. Ethel too was living with them. So at least he was with his family.

On 20 January 1903 Eliza Box died in Cane Hill Asylum.

 Cause of death Chronic Intestinal Hepatitis and Oedema of the Lungs.

The following year it is recorded in the settlement papers that in 1904 Archibald began a 2 ½ year stay at Bexhill on Sea “Hydro”. Was this the Metropolitan Convalescent Home at Bexhill? This was opened in 1881 overlooking the marsh and fields to the sea. In 1905 another home was built in an area called Cooden for the male patients.

According to the Bexhill Old Town Website the Convalescent homes were opened to provide convalescence for patients discharged from London Hospitals who had no suitable accommodation to facilitate this. Coupled with Bexhill’s alleged therapeutic water qualities and the sea air it was considered a good place to send patients from the city. I cannot find anything that specifically relates to a “Hydro” so I cannot prove Archibald definitely went there.

What it does suggest is that Archibald did not have good health and wherever he was sent in Bexhill it must have been thought the sea air would help him.

In May 1906 Archibald moved back to Bermondsey at 496 Hanover Buildings again with his sister Mrs Trinder. But it was not his sister Florence, for she had died in the June quarter of 1905. Her husband William had gone on to marry Ethel Box the sister of Florence and Archibald. A case of history repeating itself in the family. Whilst it may have been comforting to return to the family for Archibald, for his sister Ethel who was heavily pregnant with her first child it must have been hard. She had to look after her young Nephew and Niece who were now her stepchildren and her brother who clearly was not well. 

It turned out to be not for the best. On 6 July 1906 Ethel and William’s daughter Doris was born and shortly after this Archibald’s health took a turn for the worse.

On 19 July 1906 he was admitted to Hackney Union Infirmary and his Reception Order makes for sad reading. He was described as a single 24-year-old porter. This was described as his first attack with no history of insanity. He had been unwell for 7 days and was not epileptic or dangerous to himself or others. It is said there is no history of insanity in the family although his mother had been admitted to an asylum. His relative’s name is given as Mrs Trinder who is his sister living at 496 Hanover Buildings, Bermondsey.

His state of cleanliness shows he is in “good bodily condition. He has dandruff but there are no marks of injury or violence. Bones intact.

He has small, scattered scars on trunk and extremities. A small bruise on his left knee and vaccination marks on his left arm”.

The examination revealed – 

“He imagines that the London Council are sending electric shocks through him for the purpose of killing him, that his skin is torn off his back and feet by electricity, that people follow him about and can hear him, saying that they want to hold an inquest on him”.

Poor young man.

There are 9 pages of settlement papers charging Archibald’s care from Hackney to Bermondsey and this has been helpful in filling some gaps in his life. It has also raised some questions. Settlement inquiries stated he had previously lived in Bermondsey and Bexhill on Sea. Hackney Union claimed £2 6s 2d from Bermondsey for their costs incurred.

Archibald was sent to Bexley Asylum on Dartford Heath on 19 July 1906. From there he was transferred to Long Grove Hospital on 18 June 1907.

He died on 3 April 1911 of Pernicious Anaemia. This is a Vitamin B12 deficiency that affects the Red Blood cells.  Pernicious Anaemia is an autoimmune condition that affects the stomach and means the body is unable to absorb Vitamin B12 and the exact cause is unknown. 

At this time research into the condition was in its infancy and little was known about it. So, in Archibald’s day it was a fatal disease. A famous sufferer was the wife of Abraham Lincoln who died of Pernicious Anaemia in 1888. She was institutionalised and apparently suffered from eyesight problems, falls, damage to her spinal cord, weakness and fatigue. Gait problems, rapid heartbeat, mouth soreness and most significantly irritability, delusions and hallucinations. Was this the cause of Archibald’s confused state of mind when he was first admitted to Bexley Asylum?

Archibald is buried in Grave 1125b in Horton Cemetery.

Archibald’s illness

Having discovered Archibald’s cause of death was Pernicious Anaemia piqued my interest as I have personal knowledge of this illness. It is an auto immune disorder. Luckily, now there is treatment, and it is no longer fatal. In Archibald’s day it was very different. It is very likely that Archibald was experiencing its effect even when he was a child. He could have been lacking iron and other problems which would have made him weak. Pernicious Anaemia can make you short of breath too. It appears as early as 1892 he was sent to the seaside to see if the sea air would help and of course it didn’t.

By 1901 he was managing to be in employment but the illness I would imagine would have been getting progressively worse and so it was the case. Archibald was sent back in 1904 to the seaside in Bexhill for a long period of two and a half years. The decision to discharge him could have been for multiple reasons, perhaps it became clear there was nothing else could be done and possibly care would no longer be funded so he was sent back to his family. Possibly, problems with his mental state were more obvious than was admitted. Having investigated what happens to people with untreated Pernicious Anaemia.  It would have been a desperate situation. His sister Ethel had more than enough to contend with being heavily pregnant and having two young stepchildren to care for without having her very ill brother at home. It was inevitable he would end up in the infirmary and given his hallucinations and confused state of mind the journey to the Asylum was inevitable.

The Box Family

After Archibald’s death I have been able to trace what happened to some of his siblings. His Half-sister Anna who was married to Henry Bixby did not have any children. She was widowed in 1899 and worked as a Tailoress in Holborn. She died in 1938 aged 85. Emily Box married a Richard Webb and can only be traced as far as 1901 living in Marylebone. Neither Helena nor Edith Box can be traced after 1881. 

Of Archibald’s full siblings I have traced the following. Henry Box enlisted into the Royal Sussex Regiment in May 1891 and he appears to have been discharged in 1902. He may have gone on to marry and he appears to have died in 1936. Clara after marrying Edward Lewis emigrated to Canada after 1901 and lived out her days there. That leaves Ethel who after marrying her brother-in-law William George Trinder in 1906 went on to have 3 daughters. Doris was born in 1906, Lilian in 1911 and Elsie in 1915.

We learn from Ethel’s obituary that William, her husband, was a victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic and died in 1919. On the 9 May 1919 daughters Doris and Lilian were admitted to Bermondsey Workhouse as the family were described as destitute. On 10 May 1919 they were sent to the Peckham Schools. By 1921 Ethel is recorded as living with Florence, Doris, Lilian and Elsie at 82 Devon Buildings. Florence is working as a teacher at Old Montague Street in Whitechapel.  Of her stepson William it is unclear where he is.

Curiously I cannot find marriages for any of the stepchildren or biological children of Ethel. Florence lived until she was 79 years old. Doris until she was 86, Lilian sadly only 46 and Elsie was aged 59.

Ethel’s obituary reveals she had been ill nearly all her life. Perhaps she had Pernicious Anaemia like her brother? According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society there is evidence it can run in families. Or did she have something else that her daughters did not want to be passed down and that is why they did not marry? The girls seem to remain close to their mother.

Courtesy of British Newspaper Archives. The South London Observer 21 September 1945.

Author’s Thoughts

What has struck me with this story is that an all-too-common unfortunate twist of fate can play a huge part in the battle for survival for people at this time. In this case a few unfortunate twists of fate.

 Archibald’s parents came from hard-working families and my research of his uncles and Aunts show that both the Box and Roberts families have their fair share of upwardly mobile people. Aunt Emily Box was a teacher who did missionary work in Burma. Uncle William Box worked in the Prison Service nearly all his life becoming a Chief Warden. After retirement he went on to become a respected councillor in Essex. Uncles Charles and Ebenezer Roberts were military men. Charles went on to be a Registrar in Woodstock Oxfordshire. Uncle Henry Roberts was a Tailor in Tunbridge Wells whilst Aunt Maria was a Lodging Housekeeper in Tunbridge Wells.

George Box, Archibald’s father seems an ambitious man too. Moving to Lambeth and working in an Ironmongers Shop and then going on to run it as his own business. Things seem to be going well until money troubles in 1887 and subsequently George’s ill health and death. Without a way of maintaining the family and especially the younger children Archibald’s mother clearly could not cope. Thus began Ethel and Archibald’s life in the care of the Union authorities.

Archibald sadly had a condition of which little was understood let alone treat it. The onset of the disease can be insidious and slow.  It is unclear when he became unwell. This may have been picked up whilst he was at Norwood School when they had medical checks. So, in 1892 when he was aged 10 years, he was sent to Sandgate for a 3 week stay at the seaside. He returned to school and then seemed to live with his mother for a while. Over the years his illness must have progressed so much, and he was sent to the seaside again as a young adult aged 22. But without treatment Pernicious Anaemia was basically a death sentence. 

It would not be until the 1920’s when it was discovered that eating raw liver helped the symptoms and over the course of the 30 years research developed injections that would mean it would no longer be a fatal disease. Too late for poor Archibald and even though he received a lot of care from his families and the authorities eventually the effects of Pernicious Anaemia overtook him and robbed him of his faculties and his life.

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