b.1867 – d.1918
George Barnes Cushnie was born on the 28th August 1867 to William Cushnie, aged 38, and his wife Eliza (née King), aged 36. At the time of his birth the family was living at 65, Lower Thames Street in the City of London, close to the Customs House and Billingsgate, a Fish Market.
On the 22nd of September George was baptised in the parish church of St. Dunstan’s in the East on St. Dunstan’s Hill, halfway between London Bridge and the Tower of London.
George’s father, William, was born in Scotland and at the time of George’s birth he was a constable in the City police force. His mother, Eliza, was from Kintbury in Berkshire, the daughter of Sarah and Charles, an agricultural labourer. George was the couple’s sixth child. His older siblings were Charles, then aged 15, Annie (12), William (7), John (5) and Elizabeth (2). In 1861, another sister, Eliza, had died at the age of just three. Two years after George was born, in 1869, his mother gave birth to another daughter, Emma.
In the 1871 census we learn that the family was now living at 66, Lower Thames Street, number 65 having been demolished. Eliza is described as head of the family though not a widow. William does not appear on the census. George’s brother, Charles, is now working as a cellarman and his sister Annie cleans offices. George, William, John and Elizabeth are all attending school.
William’s absence from the census is explained by the fact that on the 25th of March 1871 he was admitted to Camberwell Lunatic Asylum where he remained until the 30th of December. No reason is given for his admission. On the 15th of March 1872 William was re-admitted to Camberwell Lunatic Asylum where he remained until he was discharged on the 3rd of October 1874. Again, no reason is given for his admission. We next find William in the 1891 census where, now described as an ex-City constable, he is a patient at the City of London Lunatic Asylum in Stone, near Dartford in Kent. On the 17th of April 1894 he was admitted to Bow Road Workhouse where he died on the 1st of September 1895. He was buried in the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery four days later.
There is no mention of the Cushnie family in the 1881 census but, according to the Register of Deaths, Eliza died on Sunday, the 11th of March 1888 while living at 20, Brymer Road in Camberwell.
On the 25th of August 1889, George, now aged 22 and, according to the marriage certificate, working as a porter, married Emily Jane Browne, also 22, at St Peter’s Church, Walworth in Southwark.
Emily was born in Coffinswill, near Newton Abbot in Devon, the daughter of Maria and John, a carpenter. On the marriage certificate, George’s father, William, is listed as ‘dead’ but we know this is not true. At the time of the wedding he was probably a patient at the City of London Lunatic Asylum. Had the family lost touch with William and presumed he was dead or were they too ashamed to admit that he was in an asylum? Was Emily aware that her father-in-law had been admitted to an asylum – just as her husband would be some twenty years later?
At the time of their marriage both George and Emily were residing at 72, Westmoreland Road in Southwark. Their first child, Charles, was born five months later on the 4th of January 1890.
In the 1891 census we learn that George’s brother William, like his father, is now a police constable in London, living with his family in police accommodation in New Union Street, St Giles, Cripplegate.
George, described as a ‘packer, mixed drapery’ is living with Emily and Charles at 5, Larcom Street in the Elephant and Castle, Newington. According to the 1893 electoral register, after the birth of their second child, Ella, in 1902, the family was living at 68, Dover Buildings in the Old Kent Road in Southwark. The 1894 register, however, gives their residence as 19, Madron Street, just off the Old Kent Road, which was to be their home for the next fifteen years.
According to the Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, Herbert was admitted to a Southwark workhouse or hospital on the 11th October 1899, transferred to another workhouse or hospital (or readmitted to the same one) on the 4th of November and finally discharged on the 20th of December 1899. Was Herbert ill or was this an early indication of a decline in the family’s fortunes?
In the 1901 census George is now a draper’s warehouseman. He and Emily have six children, Charles, now aged 11, Ella (9), Herbert (5), May (3), Hilda (2) and William (2 months). Emily gave birth to another son, Frederick, in 1903.
According to the 1908-9 electoral register the family was still living in Madron Street. However, the following year’s register shows George living at 87c, Albany Road in the Old Kent Road. We do not know if he was living alone or with his family. There are six dwellings listed at 87, Albany Road (a-f) which would suggest the family was living in reduced circumstances. This is confirmed by the fact that on the 20th May 1909 George was admitted to the Constance Road Workhouse in Camberwell where he is described as ‘temporarily disabled’ and ‘destitute’. His job is given as ‘packer’. He was transferred to Long Grove on the 28th of May 1909.
What were the psychiatric problems that necessitated George’s admission to Long Grove?
In the 1911 census George is still a patient there and, under ‘infirmity’, he is described as ‘lunatic’. As his father also spent time in an asylum one might assume his illness was hereditary.
In the same census Emily and her children are living at 21, Minnow Street, East Street, Walworth. Charles, now 21 and a packer in a shirt and collar manufacturer’s warehouse and Herbert, 15, a shop assistant in a grocery are, presumably, providing for their mother and their siblings. According to the census, Ella, now aged 19 and working as an egg-packer, is a patient at The Home in South Lancing, Hove, a convalescent home for women, many of whom came from London.
At the time of the census eight year-old Frederick was a patient at the Queen Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Carshalton. The census also reveals that, prior to George’s admission to Camberwell Workhouse, Emily had given birth to two daughters, Winifred, born in 1907 and Marian (Minnie), born in 1909. Had George’s concerns about providing for his growing family – and the poor health of some of his children – exacerbated an already fragile mental state?
Sadly, Marian died in Guy’s Hospital on the 20th of April 1912 aged just two. One can imagine Emily’s anguish at losing her baby daughter so soon after seeing her husband committed to an asylum.
After nearly nine years in Long Grove, George died there on the 21st of April 1918.
Emily died on the 28th of November 1955 aged 89, some 37 years after the death of her husband. She never remarried. Seven of her nine children survived her. May had died in 1927 aged 29 while giving birth to her fourth child.
George and Emily’s last surviving child, Hilda, died in Lewisham in 1993 aged 94.