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b.1878 – d.1907

Dunkinson has been spelt in a variety of ways on the sources discovered, however I believe they are transcription errors and that the documents found all refer to Matilda Dunkinson buried at Horton Cemetery in 1907. I have used the Dunkinson spelling throughout.


Matilda Dunkinson was born on the 8th November 1878 at 25 Reform Place, in the district of Whitecross Street, in the County of Middlesex.

In 1878 the Whitecross Street District was within the civil parish of St Luke’s in the County of Middlesex. Today the area is considered part of Central London, being in the Borough of Islington, near the Barbican Estate, and the areas of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch.

Reform Place was knocked down in the 1880s after new housing legislation was brought in to allow the clearance of slums, but old OS maps show it was situated in the area south of Old Street, between Whitecross Street and Golden Lane, two roads which still exist today.

Matilda was the 7th and youngest ‘known’ child of William Dunkinson, a tooth pick maker and Maryann Dunkinson, nee Harris. Two older siblings, a sister and a brother, died in infancy. Sarah Ann Dunkinson (b. 1870 d. 1872) died days before William Dunkinson (b.1872 – d.1872) was born in September 1872. The other siblings appear on census records and are referred to below.

William and Maryann, Matilda’s parents, according to census records, were also born in the Shoreditch area, William in about 1838, and Maryann in about 1844. I have found a marriage entry on 29 October 1860 that could be for the couple, it took place in St James’ Church in the Parish of Shoreditch, between a William Dunkinson and a Mary Ann Harris, however it records William’s profession as cabinet maker, which does not seem to fit with other records I have found, so I have kept an open mind as to whether it is correct.

At least two of their children were baptised although no records have been found to confirm if Matilda was.


The first record found for Matilda, after her birth, was the 1881 Census taken on 3rd April 1881, when she was about 2 years old. The address where the family lived was 8 Turk’s Head Court, still within the Whitecross Street district.

1881 census

The head of the family was her father, William Dunkinson, aged 40, now a labourer (who appears on the preceding page). The last column on the record states that William had a broken ankle.

W. Dunkinson, 1881 census, Broken ankles

Her mother, Mary was aged 39 and had no profession or occupation. Three daughters and two sons were also listed: Emily, aged 18, Caroline, aged 15, Henry, aged 8 and W G (William George), aged 5. The three youngest were scholars. From the record it appears that Caroline was working although I am not sure exactly what sort of work she did, it looks like “Leaf Work” on the record.

The next record found for the family was the 1891 census taken on 5 April 1891. They had moved again but not far away, they were still in the Whitecross District but the address was Bell Alley.

1891 census

William G. Dunkinson, now 50 years old, was still described as head of the family, and a labourer. However it records he was not working at the time, I wonder if his broken ankle referred to on the census 10 years earlier was a contributing factor to him not working. His wife, Mary A., aged 47 was employed as a shirt ironer and the older two sons living with them Henry, aged 17 and William G. aged 14 were employed as labourers. Matilda, the youngest child, was now aged 12 and a scholar.

In 1901 we find just Matilda living with her parents, at St Thomas Place, Finsbury, still in the civil parish of St Luke’s. The 1901 Census taken on the night of 1 April 1901 shows William G Dunkinson, aged 64, working as a toothpick maker living with his wife, Mary A aged 63, a shirt ironer and daughter, Matilda aged 22, working as a tin or box maker.

1901 census

The Workhouse Years

We next come across Matilda a year later, aged 22, when she entered the workhouse at St John’s Road (now Way) Workhouse, in Upper Holloway, Islington on the 29th April 1902. However there is more to her story as, also admitted on the same day is a female infant. It transpires that Matilda arrived possibly in labour and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter on the very day she was admitted to the workhouse.

Illegitimate child born, 14 May 1902, Marie

We don’t know why she ended up in the workhouse but, at that time, many workhouses had infirmaries attached to them and for many poor people this was the only source of medical help available to them. Another possibility was she may have been disowned by her family, common at that time, and so the workhouse would have been the only place she could have gone to for support or medical help.

Matilda called her baby daughter Marie, born 29 April 1902 and she was baptised on 14th May 1902 at St Stephen’s Church, Upper Holloway.

The admission record states her calling as a factory hand, which I feel may be incorrect, and that she was admitted by order of her Master. The baptism record only two weeks later gives a different insight into what Matilda had been doing. The baptism record for Marie states that Matilda’s trade or profession was as “servant”, we have no further details as to what work she did. I believe this is more likely to be her calling or profession and subsequent records confirm this.

So who was Maria’s father, assuming Matilda was in service? If so, was this a consensual relationship or was she bullied into a relationship for fear of losing her job? Sadly, we will never know.

Matilda and Marie were discharged together at Matilda’s own request soon after Marie’s Baptism on 17 May 1902, having spent only 19 days there.

Baptism Marie Dunkinson May 14 1902

Sadly this appears to be one of the first of a number of stays in workhouses local to the area she lived.

Two years later she entered the Holborn Workhouse, City Road on the 14 June 1904, on her own, it is not clear where Marie, her daughter was. Again, she is listed as a servant. This time her stay was longer and she spent almost 2 months in the workhouse. On the 11th August 1904 a Henry George Dunkinson was admitted to the same workhouse, the record states he was born to Matilda and was an illegitimate child. Like Marie, Matilda’s first child, he too was born in a workhouse, the Holborn Workhouse on the 11th August 1904. He was discharged with his mother on 5th September 1904, when he was two weeks old, again at her request.

Two years later, on 22nd June we find her again entering the City Road Workhouse, but only for one night before she was discharged to Archway Road Workhouse, where she remained until 8 August 1906. Again there is no sign of her daughter Marie or her son Henry George.

Within months of being discharged from Archway Road Workhouse, on 11th December 1906 she was admitted again to City Road Workhouse. She remained there until 16th January 1907 when she was discharged to The Epileptic Colony in Ewell.

It appears that she remained within the cluster of hospitals until her death on 15th October 1907. Although she was admitted to the The Epileptic Colony, she died in The Manor Asylum, Epsom shortly before her 29th birthday having been admitted to The Manor on 25 April 1907, according the the register of patient family and friends.

The cause of death was recorded as General Paralysis of the Insane about 2 years and; Valvular heart disease PM. George Rogers, her brother in law, from Walthamstow registered the death. George Rogers was married to Catherine Dunkinson, Matilda’s older sister.

General paralysis of the insane (GPI) or paralytic dementia is a neuropsychiatric disorder affecting the brain and central nervous system. The condition’s connection with syphilis was made in the 1880s and by the turn of the century, it was difficult to argue against a link between GPI and syphilis, even though the relationship between the two remained ambiguous. In 1905 the picture became clearer when Fritz Schaudinn and Erich Hoffmann in Germany identified the bacterium that caused syphilis. A year later, also in Germany, August von Wassermann and Felix Plaut developed serological tests for syphilis, and a number of asylums reported positive test results in GPI patients. General paralysis, as many had thought, was the outcome of untreated syphilis that finally attacked the brain and rendered its victims utterly helpless.

We do not know when Matilda caught syphilis, however it was prevalent in London in the late 18th century. At the time that Matilda was suffering there was no known cure. It is likely she had had it for a number or years, and that she was suffering from the later stages of the disease when she was admitted to the Epsom hospitals.

She was laid to rest in the cemetery at Horton in grave number 23a in October 1907.

What happened to her children, Marie and Henry George?

It appears after Matilda and Marie left the Workhouse in May 1902, that they did not remain together. I believe Marie went to live with her Aunt Caroline and her husband George Rogers in Walthamstow. A ‘Marie Rogers’ of the right age was found living with them on the 1911 Census. Although the census states that this is their daughter I would suggest otherwise. Careful examination of the census record suggests that one child was born alive and then died, this has been overwritten with the number ‘two’ to reflect Marie, the next entry in the record.

A marriage record has also been found for Marie Dunkinson and an Edward J Rogers who married in Q2 1926, in West Ham, Essex. I have not been able to find a connection with her Aunt’s husband’s family but I suspect there is one, maybe Edward is a nephew of George’s.

Both Marie and Edward appear on the 1939 Register, a married couple, living in Walthamstow and the date of birth for Marie is the 29th April 1902, which is the same date given on the Workhouse register.

Another person is on the 1939 Register, called Elizabeth A., it originally said Harris, which was crossed out and Dunkinson was written above, a second name was also recorded, the surname of Titheradge. It is not a child of Marie and Edward as Marie would only have been about 14 at the time of Elizabeth’s birth. Further research has revealed it is a cousin of Marie’s. Her Uncle Henry moved up to Bolton, Lancashire and married there. Elizabeth A. appears to be his youngest daughter who married Lawrence E Titheradge in October 1941.

Henry George Dunkinson was not as lucky as his sister, I believe he died before his first birthday, I have found a death entry that states the cause of death was ‘post basic meningitis otitis media (left)’ and that he died at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The death entry suggests that his father was a Matthew John Dunkinson, a general labourer of 8 Thomas’ Place, Goswell Road. This was the address that Matilda and her parents were living at in 1901. It is also the address Matilda gave at the time of his birth, 5 months before, but at that time she did not record the name of the father. However for some reason, at the time of his death, she felt the need to provide a name for the father, maybe because she was in the more formal setting of a hospital.

Did Matilda pass on the syphilis infection to her newborn son or did her condition contribute to do with his death?

Author’s Note

My research has lead me to believe that Matilda did have a supportive family, born out by the fact that her sister took in her daughter Marie and that Marie was in contact with her cousins. Documented evidence for this was found in the Surrey History Centre with details of the addresses of Patients and Patient’s Friends. This confirms she was in contact with her family.

Most of my research was carried out on ancestry.co.uk, where I have started a public ‘Dunkinson tree’. Despite finding out a lot about Matilda Dunkinson and her family, there are many unanswered questions which may be answered as more documents become available or other relatives/researcher discover the tree.

Further information is likely to come to light as more records are unearthed at the Surrey History Centre, as this happens I hope to be able to add further information and even a photograph of Matilda Dunkinson. (File: 6292/27/8 Case book, St. Ebbas, Female No.1, Case #134).

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