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b. 1858 – d. 1910

On Thursday 26 January 1893 a destitute 34-year-old man named George Fletcher with his 9-year-old daughter Florence was admitted to Lewisham High Street Workhouse. This is George’s story which thankfully due to case notes I have been able to piece together and corroborate members of his family to bring to life his difficult struggle.

His Parents

George’s parents were George Henry Fletcher and Elizabeth Lemmy. They were married on 16 April 1854 in Beckenham Kent. At the time of the marriage George was 28 and Elizabeth 30 which ties in with the family history in their sons’ medical records. From what can be ascertained they were locals to the Greenwich or certainly the Southeast London area.

Their first traceable recorded child was Esther Frances Fletcher born on the 11 May 1856 in the Greenwich area.

George’s Birth and Baptism

Esther was followed by the birth of George on 23 November 1858. His birth certificate records the grand name of George Henry Dodsworth Fletcher (The origin of Dodsworth being unclear at present) but by the time of his baptism in 4 March 1859 the Dodsworth name had been dropped.

George was baptised alongside his sister Esther (whose birth year was given as 1855 – the birth certificate shows this to be 1856) at St Alphege’s church in Greenwich. The family are shown to be living in Bennet Street and that their father was a labourer.


And so, by the time of the 1861 census the family can still be found in Bennet Street at number 37 living with another family. George senior recorded as aged 36 a labourer, Elizabeth his wife aged 38 and the children Esther (5) and George (2).

During this decade the family was further expanded by the arrival of –

  • Emma Eliza born July 1861
  • Rose born August 1864
  • Josiah Charles born in 1867

The 1870’S

The next census show the family still in Greenwich just off Old Bath Street in Bath Place. George senior and his wife are recorded as both being 45 years old. George is a Bricklayers Labourer and Elizabeth a washerwoman. The children living at home are listed as George H (12), Emma (8), Rose (6) and Josiah (3) all born in Greenwich. There are a total of 11 people living in this property and it appears the eldest daughter Esther has already left home to ease the burden.

The Accident

George’s problems seem to stem from an injury he sustained around the period 1878 to 1880. According to his case notes George was 20 years old working as a Cheesemonger/poulterer when a pole fell on his head. It made no wound at the time but the next day he suddenly had a fit and then drifted in and out of consciousness for the next 3 days. He did not return to work for another 2 weeks. Clearly, he had suffered some brain trauma, but he returned to work but “he seemed irritable” and had to be discharged from his job although he had been employed with seemingly no problem for the previous 8 years.

The 1880’s

His employment must have ended after the time of the 1881 census as he can be found living and working at 81 Oxford Terrace Park Road in Clapham as a poulterer for Ann House. His parents and brother are now living at 67 King Street in Lewisham. His sisters have all left home.

A lot of what happened to George during the 1880’s would not be known if it was not for the presence of case notes as searches in conventional records proved elusive. According to the family history supplied by George’s sister Rose he left work and then married. Research proves this was the case.

In the September quarter of 1882 George married Eliza Atkins in the Billesdon district of Leicestershire. It appears that the couple may have meet in Clapham as in 1881 Eliza was working as a servant at 51 Lilleshall Road in Clapham. Their places of residence show they lived within 15 minutes’ walk of each other. Rather than marry in London they went back to Eliza’s home. This might have been because Eliza was pregnant, and she wanted the child to be born where she had family to help her.

There were 2 healthy children born in 1882 and 1884. A son John Fletcher Atkins born in the same quarter as their marriage in Billesdon and a daughter Florence Emily born in Deptford on 14th May 1884. John remained with his Grandparents and did not go back to London with his parents and can be found living with his Uncle Harry Atkins in 1901 and Uncle Arthur Atkins in 1911. There is a death certificate for a John Fletcher in the March quarter of 1913 so sadly he may have died aged 30 years old.

Florence Emily’s birth confirms her mother was Eliza Atkins. The date of birth ties in with the Baptism record.

The confirms that Eliza Fletcher died 22 August 1889 at 76 St Johns Road, Deptford of a form of TB. Although George is mentioned he did not report her death. According to the case notes it is at this point George’s fits seem to return.

1891 Census

After his wife’s death George and his daughter Florence can be found now living with George’s parents at 16 Merton Place, Blackheath. He is incorrectly noted as a Grandson. His parents are aged 67 years. His father’s occupation is a general labourer. Also living there is George’s widowed sister Emma Taylor (27) and her children Emma (5) and John (1).

Admission to the workhouse and the Asylum

On 26th January 1893 both George and Florence were admitted into Lewisham Workhouse. For some reason George and Florence could no longer be supported by the Fletcher family and they were destitute as George was unable to work. It must have been desperate for the 9-year-old Florence trying to care for her unpredictable epileptic father. At least there was a way forward for her as on 10th March 1893 she was discharged by Nurse Hermitage to Anerley School (North Surrey District School).

For George his fate was sealed. The Reception Order of 6th April 1893 states he is found to be a Lunatic. Suffering from epilepsy, sullen, morose and vacant. At times irritable using violent and obscene language. The workhouse attendants deem him to be dangerous to others and difficult. So, he is discharged to Fisherton House in Wiltshire, where he remains until 16 October 1893 when he is discharged but not improved. There is then a gap in his care where there are no records until 20 Match 1900 when he is admitted to the Manor Asylum.

Admitted Fisherton House, 6th Apr 1893 – Discharged ‘Not Improved’ 16 Oct 1893

Manor Asylum

The admission notes from the Manor show he was admitted from Claybury Asylum. From this date the case notes give a clear view of his health situation.

Admitted Manor, 20th Mar 1900 – Discharged ‘Not Improved’ 3 Mar 1902

He is described “as a sullen looking man with a dejected appearance. Says he is very low spirited but can give no cause for this. He is solitary in his habits and takes no interest in his surroundings. He fits at intervals”.

6282-14-1 Manor Male Case Book

He is set to work in the Kitchen Garden, but his fits continue. He can be found in the 1901 census as a pauper patient deemed as a Lunatic of Manor Hospital.

St Ebba’s Colony

As his situation had not improved, George was transferred to the newly opened St Ebba’s Epileptic Colony on 16th October 1903. He seems from the notes to give very little trouble and works well. His behaviour causes no concern and is described as pleasant and amenable between the “crops” of fits. He is deemed to be well nourished and in good health and he is set to work on the farm as fresh air and exercise was considered beneficial.

The fits continue despite the medication being increased. His notes show he was prescribed bromides which was the accepted treatment of the day. On his admission he seems to have on average 15 to 20 fits in a quarter but after a couple of years this increases to about 25 and in the main, they are described as severe and frequent.

Copy statement of Death

In the end for George, it wasn’t the epilepsy that killed him. He developed an Axilla swelling which is in the armpit area. It was a Cancerous growth which grew and grew and sadly was to be the primary cause of his death and he passed away at 11.30am on 8th June 1910 at St Ebba’s Colony aged 51. He is buried in Grave 977b at Horton Estate Cemetery.

The Address Book

We are lucky to also have a list of relatives for George which has also been instrumental in locating his records.

  • Father George Fletcher – 6 Albert Terrace, King Street, Lewisham SE
  • Mother Mrs Fletcher – 7 Drysdale Street, Lewisham SE
  • Brother-in-law- W E Price 11 Reginald Place, Deptford SE
  • Sister – Mrs Cullerne – 21 Coltman Street, Greenwich SE

It has proved difficult to prove when Mr Fletcher senior died. I have not been able to find him in the 1901 census and indeed Mrs Fletcher calls herself a widow by this date.

Mrs Fletcher died in 1918 and lived with her daughter Emma Taylor.

Mr Walter Edwin Price was the husband of Esther Fletcher and travelled all over the world as a Bricklayer. The couple moved around frequently and Walter even more so. He seems to have taken responsibility for George’s daughter Florence. In 1939 they are both living at 22 Blissett Street and when he dies in 1943 probate is granted to Florence of £238 5s 6d rather than to his own children.

Mrs Cullerne was actually Rose Fletcher (George’s sister) She married Thomas Cullenne in 1884. Rose was responsible for providing the family history for the Asylums notes, she obviously cared enough about George to provide what data she could. We need to be eternally grateful to her as it gave the key to unlock this case. She died in 1929.

Authors Thoughts

George’s life could have been so different. Sadly, the brain trauma he suffered at 20 years old literally set him on course for many years of suffering. There was little understanding or treatment available to him so it is no surprise that he ended up where he did. The fact he survived for such a long time shows he was quite a strong man. From his notes he seems quiet and only confused when his seizures got the better of him. I look at his photograph and I don’t see a sullen and morose man but rather a sad resigned soul with red hair and blue eyes and I like to think of him helping on the farm with the sun on his back and perhaps a smile on his face on a good day.

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