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BURFITT, Matilda Georgina



A Word of Caution

Burial records state Matilda was 42 years old at her death. I have been unable to find any records that correspond to that age group. Burfitt is quite an unusual name and I have researched a Matilda Georgina Burfitt born 10 years earlier. This is the only record that seems to correspond. It is possible her age was recorded incorrectly.

Early Days

Matilda Georgina Burfitt was married and her maiden name was Brown. Her parents were George Brown and Elizabeth Ellis. They married at St James’s church in Paddington on 6th August 1854. Matilda was their second daughter.  On Matilda’s baptism record it states she was born on 28th December 1857 and she was baptised at Mary’s church in Paddington Green on 28 February 1858. Her father was employed as an Omnibus Washer and their address at the time was Hall Park.

The 1860’s and 1870’s

By the time of the 1861 census the Brown family were living at 2 Dudley Street in Paddington which would be their home for the next 30 years. According to Booth’s Poverty maps this was a very poor area.  At this time George and Elizabeth were sharing the house with George’s parents Thomas and Sophia Brown. The children of the family are listed as Elizabeth aged 5, Matilda aged 3 and Lou aged 10 months.

Over the next 10 years Matilda is joined by further siblings – George in 1861, Walter in 1864, Albert in 1865 who sadly died in 1866, James in 1867 and Justina in 1870. So, in April 1871 at the time of the census the family were at 2 Dudley Street with George senior still an Omnibus Washer and the children listed are Elizabeth aged 16, a domestic servant, Matilda aged 13, George aged 10, Walter aged 6, James aged 3 and Justina aged 1. What happened to baby Lou (Louisa Jane) who was mentioned in the previous census is unclear. 

They are the only family at the address but have taken in 2 lodgers to obviously help with keeping the family afloat.


On Christmas Day in 1880 Matilda married William Francis Burfitt at St James’s church in Paddington. William was a sailor. He was the son of Francis and Maria Burfitt. The family also lived in Dudley Street so it is very possible that Matilda and William had known each other since they were children. William had a good career in the Royal Navy and his medal history shows he was involved in the Anglo Zulu War between 1877 – 1878.

The newly married couple do not seem to have had long together as by April 1881 Matilda is living with her parents at 2 Dudley Street with her younger siblings George, James, Walter and Justina. Interestingly, her surname is given as Brown even though she is recorded as married. 

William is on his ship the HMS Duncan at Sheerness. On 6th June 1881 he deserted whilst his ship was at Sheerness and was court martialled on 18th November. The reasons for this are unclear as up until that point his conduct had been good, even exemplary. He did remain in service and afterwards spent time on HMS Gannet in the Pacific monitoring the waters. 

I assume William’s absences account for the fact that no children of the marriage were born until 1884 when Matilda and William’s first-born child William Arthur Burfitt was born on 9th November 1884. The baptism records of 11th November 1884 show the family living at St John Street and that William was a seaman. Sadly, baby William did not survive past his 2nd birthday, dying in October 1886. Around this time his father finished his 10-year term in the Royal Navy and returned home to Matilda. 

Over the following 7 years William and Matilda had a further 5 children but unfortunately none of them survived beyond 6 months of age:

  • George Henry, born 20th October 1887, died Jan 1888
  • Rose Lilian, born 25th November 1888, died Jan 1889
  • Frederick Arthur, born 4th September 1890, died April 1891
  • Ellen Louisa, born 8th December 1891, died July 1892 
  • May Harriett, born 9th February 1893, died July 1893

 For most of this time the couple gave their address as 2 Dudley Street, Paddington, the address of Matilda’s parents. However, they cannot be found in the 1891 census at that address although I think it is safe to say they were there as baptism records support this. 

All these deaths must have been heart-breaking for the couple but it does point to whether there was a genetic problem or a disease causing this or just sheer poverty. They lived in a very poor area where disease would have been rife. 

Nothing further can be found about the couple together.

Tragedy at Colney Hatch Asylum

 There is an entry in the UK Lunacy Admission Registers for a “Mat’a Georgina Burfitt” (Mat’a being an abbreviation for Matilda) being admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum on 27th January 1901. Looking through the 1901 census for this institution to find her was difficult as all the inmates are noted by just their initials but I did find a female “MGB” aged 33 from London. This does seem to be plausible as they thought she was 10 years younger than she actually was. William her husband is lodging in Woodchester Street in Paddington so there is evidence that the couple were apart.

Colney Hatch Asylum had a terrible reputation and on 27th January 1903 a fire broke out in one of the timber wards and 52 women lost their lives.

A report from a newspaper describes the awful sight:

“Some of the lunatics were burned in their beds, and the charred remains of others found huddled together in corners, while groups of partially consumed bodies on the site of the corridors showed many persons lost their lives and sacrificed those of others in their frantic attempts to force a passage through the flames to the main building”

Matilda must have been affected by this and registers show she was transferred elsewhere only a few days later on 3rd February 1903.  She was possibly to Horton for this is where a burial record is recorded for her nearly 7 years later on 11 January 1910 where she is buried in Grave number 661a. What she experienced in those intervening years can only be imagined.

Matilda’s death certificate reveals she suffered from Epilepsy and congestion of the lungs. This indicates that her general health had declined. How long she had suffered from Epilepsy is unclear. Her husband who is just referred to as “Burfitt” of unknown occupation seems to be in Paddington Workhouse. I have not been able to verify this.

Author’s Thoughts

Matilda seems to have started life in a stable but poor family and married someone she had probably known since childhood.  William seems from his naval records to have had a good character although his desertion is a mystery. His brothers, according to newspaper articles, were violent men both being in court for violent crimes to women. One hopes he joined the Navy to escape from this and that he himself was not a violent man. The records show they did not spend much time together in their early married life.

 The deaths of all their children as infants were tragic and this must have had an effect on them both, especially Matilda. They never had more than one child alive in their home at any point in their marriage. It appears that she had epilepsy, but when this developed is unclear.  With scant information of her later life, it suffices to say she ended up in an asylum with an awful reputation and then probably witnessed a traumatic fire at the very place that was meant to be protecting her. This must have been so frightening. How and when she ended up at Horton is unclear but one can only hope it was a better place for her to end her days.

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