I nearly did not find Martha Coltman as her age was incorrect but this, I later found, was a mistake made when she was institutionalised. There were no obvious workhouse records although I did find Lunacy Register entries. She could not be found in any census and although Coltman is not a common surname it was misspelt or misread. This led to confusion. A lucky break with a marriage certificate gave me a break when I discovered that Martha’s maiden name was Vickers. This led me to her story
Martha Vickers was a country girl born in the April quarter of 1860, the fifth child of John (a shepherd) and Caroline Vickers née Lucas. The couple had married on 2 May 1852 in Little Compton which is now in South Warwickshire. They soon moved to Fewcott at Stoke Lyne, in Oxfordshire, 4 miles from the market town of Bicester. This was where Martha was born and she was baptised on 1 June 1860 at the parish church.
In 1861, the family can be found at Fewcott Bridge where John is listed as aged 45, an Agricultural Labourer. This job generally covered all agricultural duties. Caroline was aged 32. The children were listed as Thomas (9), William (7), Ann (5), Samuel (3) and baby Martha aged 11 months.
By 1871, the family had moved to Somerton just 5 miles west from their previous home. Agricultural workers were more mobile than might be thought and they often moved for better money and conditions and this may be the case for the Vickers family. John, aged 55, is now listed as a shepherd. Caroline is aged 41. The family has grown and Harry (9), Eliza (7), John (6) and Philip (4) have joined the other children.
In the October quarter of 1878, Martha’s father died aged 63. She was aged 18 so she may have already left home by that time. So, it is not clear what impact this would have had on her.
A lot of country folk left their roots at this time to try their luck in London and Martha was no different. Whilst the rest of her family stayed in the countryside, she can be found in service in 1881 as a housemaid at 8, Alexander Square in Kensington. Only her sister Eliza would follow her into the city.
By 1891, Martha had met the man she would marry. Charles Coltman aged 36 from Uxbridge, West London was the youngest child of Thomas and Ann Coltman. He had previously been working as a hairdresser, but the 1891 Census reveals he was working as a potman at the Railway Hotel in Wembley where Martha was working as a domestic servant.
It is clear that Charles was not necessarily a good catch as just before their marriage (28 January 1893) he was found by a Policeman, drunk and incapable, lying in the road of Oxford Gardens, Kensington. His face was covered in blood and he was almost incapable of walking. He was taken to the police station where he was seen by a doctor. Charles claimed he was stunned by a blow when he was with 2 friends who had stolen his watch and chain. The magistrate fined him 2 shillings (Source British Newspaper Archives, West London Observer).
Only a few days later (6 February 1893) Charles married Martha at St Michaels and All Angels church, Ladbroke Grove with his face presumably still battered and bruised. Not a good start to the marriage.
The couple set up their home at 3 Telford Road, Kensington where Charles had resumed his occupation as a hairdresser. The street is described as a mixed area by Booth and Newspaper accounts support this. The couple had their first child, a daughter Nellie Eliza born in the January quarter of 1894, followed by Lydia Mary born on 1 February 1895 and then a son Charles John in the April quarter of 1896.
Sadly, baby Charles died possibly shortly after his birth. All this time, Charles senior was trading as a Hairdresser as supported by various Trade Directories. Unfortunately, it will soon become apparent that the family’s life was going to unravel with catastrophic effects for all concerned.
A family in turmoil
Kensington and Chelsea Workhouse records are the key to what happened next. On 28 April 1896 Charles was admitted and, after being examined by doctors, was considered to be of an unsound mind. He was to be admitted to Claybury Asylum. A policeman had found Charles the day before in Telford Road. Charles claimed a man had been murdered and proclaimed that he (Charles) was the King of England. The cause was considered to have been drink and that he had been unwell for several weeks. Clearly Charles’s drinking had been a problem for some time.
What did poor Martha think of all this? Sadly, it had a devastating effect on her as on 13th May she was in Kensington Infirmary, incorrectly being described as 30 years old when she was in fact 36 years old. She was examined for reception as a pauper lunatic into Claybury Asylum. Martha seems to have moved around the corner from Telford Road to Raymede Street which was a very poor street.
She was not considered suicidal or dangerous but it was said, “She is in a state of melancholia, crying and talking incoherently. Doing no work.”
The Ward Nurse stated, “This patient is very unhappy. Crys continually, talks incoherently and fancies the other inmates are talking against her. She will not dress herself or keep herself clean”.
Martha was judged to be of an unsound mind and followed her husband into Claybury Asylum on 21 May 1896. Not that she would have seen him as male and female patients were housed separately. It is no wonder poor Martha was in a terrible state, her baby son had died, and her husband was deranged. She may have been suffering from post-natal problems and she was left with two small daughters with no apparent means of support.
What of the little girls, Nellie and Lydia? They were taken into Kensington and Chelsea’s Poor Law schools. Firstly, at Marlesford Lodge in Hammersmith which was like a stepping stone into Banstead School in Ewell and when they were old enough, they were transferred there. They stayed until they were 16 and then went into service.
Sadly, it appears Lydia ended up at Claybury Asylum where she died in 1918.
Martha never came out of Asylum care and neither did Charles. They were both still in Claybury at the time of the 1901 Census. On 8 May 1901 she was transferred to Leicester Borough Asylum and from there on 15 November 1902 to Horton Hospital.
On 2nd July 1903 Martha must have improved as she was “relieved” and sent to Fisherton House in Salisbury. She stayed there for 4 years before being sent back to Horton. This was her final journey and on 23 September 1910 Martha died and was buried in Grave number 901a on 29 September 1910.
And her husband Charles? There is a UK Lunacy Register entry for a Charles Coltman being admitted to Hanwell Asylum in Middlesex on 11 April 1905 and being discharged on 14 January 1909 as “Improved”. Is this him? He was still in Claybury in 1911 according to the Census and there is a record of a Charles Coltman being buried in Horton Cemetery on 20 May 1938 aged 81 in Grave b1492.
Martha came from an ordinary country background and like a lot of people she moved to London seeking more opportunities. Only her sister Eliza followed her to London and was a witness at her wedding. Martha seemed capable of managing on her own but when she fell into a relationship with Charles Coltman things changed. The catastrophic ending of their marriage seems to indicate she had a total breakdown once Charles was admitted to the infirmary. How long had he had delusions he was “The King of England”?
Charles came from a large family and his father died when he was 12 years old. Whether this influenced him we shall never know but what we do know is that he liked to drink. This was the cause of his arrest before his marriage and seemed to be a factor in his mental decline. He did have a sister Priscilla who was also admitted into a mental asylum in 1904 being described as “feeble minded”. Was there something hereditary within the Coltman family?
There is also a possibility that Martha’s sister Eliza was admitted to a Lunatic Asylum and died at Banstead Asylum in April 1911 although that is just conjecture on my part. Then there is Lydia Coltman the daughter of Martha and Charles who also died in Claybury Lunatic Asylum in 1918.
A very sad family indeed. The only survivor Nellie Coltman never married and died in Uxbridge aged 45.