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    Borough of Epsom and Ewell’s
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     David Smith
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      Dr Andrzej Suchcitz



John Drinkwater – His Story

John Drinkwater was really called Alexander John Sullivan.

On 22 October 1906, John Alexander Sullivan, a dealer born in London in 1879, was found guilty of robbery with violence. He was sentenced to 5 years in Parkhurst Prison. He had  robbed a soldier of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery of a 10 dollar bill and £1 10s. His date of liberation was 3 October 1911 and his intended address was Horton Asylum Epsom and he was described as “insane”.

Previous convictions for John were:

  • 16 December 1897 as John Drinkwater, 12 months for robbery with violence
  • 4 July 1899  as George Wilkinson, 20 months for shop breaking  
  • 13 February 1901 as John Smith, 3 years for house breaking
  • 24 November 1903 as John Smith, 3 years for house breaking
  • He also had one conviction for throwing stones.

There is no record of a John Alexander Sullivan being born in London between 1877 and 1880, though there is a birth of an Alexander John Sullivan  born in the December quarter of 1877, reference St Giles 1b 648.

The 1881 Census had a John Sullivan, aged 3, living at 15 Little Wild Street in the parish of St. Giles in the Fields. Michael Sullivan was the head of the household, aged 35, born in Ireland. Also, present were Anne, his wife aged 25, born in Ireland, James, aged 14, Mary L., aged 11,  and twins John and Jeremiah who were both aged 3. All the children were born in St. Giles.

In the 1891 Census, Sardinia Place St. Giles  were  Owen Neil, head, aged 23, born Drury Lane, Johanna, his wife aged 21, born Drury Lane , Nellie, their daughter aged 2, Jeremiah Sullivan, his brother, aged 14, a printer’s boy, John Sullivan, his brother, aged 13, a chemist’s boy, and Margaret Sullivan, his sister, aged 10.   

Author’s Comment 

The children’s place of birth in transcription is shown as”Little Wyldott”.  The enumerator’s handwriting is poor and I think the entry reads “Little Wild Street”. Sardinia Place, Little Wild Street, and Drury Lane are all close by. All were covered by the St. Giles Registration District. In 1905, Little Wild Street was renamed Keeley Street. The census must be wrong as the Sullivan children could not be related to Owen Neil.

The Neil family is a mystery. I can find no record of a birth for Owen and Nellie nor a  marriage for Owen and Johanna.

Extracts from London The Biography by Peter Ackroyd state, “parts of St. Giles were known as the Rookeries or Little Dublin because of the Irish population……….the Rookeries embodied the worst living conditions in all of London’s history”.

The 1911 Census was taken on 2 April. In the Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Parkhurst Isle of Wight, John Sullivan, a general dealer aged 31, was a lunatic patient.

The Lunacy Patients Admission Register shows that John Alexander Sullivan or John Drinkwater was admitted to Horton Asylum on 3 October 1911. On 16 August 1912, he was transferred to Long Grove Asylum and he died there on  8 September 1918.

He was buried in Horton Cemetery on 14 September 1918 under the name of John Drinkwater.

His death is registered as John A. Sullivan and John Drinkwater aged 40, September quarter 1918, reference Epsom 2a 63.

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