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Childhood: 1861-1878

Edward Hackett was born Robert Edward Hackett on 23 October 1861 in Newington, Surrey (now part of the London Borough of Southwark). His parents were Richard (né William Richard) Hackett, a boot and shoemaker, and Caroline Hackett (née Humphreys). The couple were wed in October 1856 and had four other children during their nine-year marriage: Francis Richard Hackett (1857-1895), Charles Hackett (1859-1865), Harriet Elizabeth Hackett (1860-1861) and David John Hackett (1864-1892).

At the time of the 1861 census – taken six months before Edward was born – the family was living on Bermondsey New Road in Bermondsey, Southwark; according to Charles Booth’s London poverty map, residents of this street ranged in social status from “fairly comfortable” to “middle class”.

Following the untimely death of Edward’s mother Caroline in 1865, his father remarried. The 1871 census shows Richard Hackett living with his new wife Harriett Emma Hackett (née Logan) and the following children:

  • CHARLOTTE EMMA ELIZABETH WEST and ANNIE MATILDA WEST: Harriet Emma Logan’s children from her previous marriage
  • ALICE MAUDE HACKETT and ELIZABETH HENRIETTA HACKETT: children of Richard and Harriet Emma Hackett (i.e. Edward’s half-siblings)
  • FRANCIS RICHARD HACKETT, DAVID JOHN HACKETT and EDWARD ROBERT HACKETT (presumably our Edward Hackett): surviving children from Richard Hackett’s previous marriage to Caroline Humphreys

This large, blended family resided on Great Dover Street, an area whose inhabitants were characterised by Charles Booth as a mixture of “well-to-do” middle classes and “fairly comfortable” families with “good ordinary earnings”.

Early adulthood: 1878-1891                                   

Edward’s father, Richard Hackett, died on 11 October 1879. He left a personal estate valued at under £100 (less than £13,800 in today’s money), the entirety of which was granted to his widow, Harriet Emma Hackett (née Logan); this was a meagre sum considering that 82% of businessmen born in the same cohort as Richard (1800-1840) left estates of over £40,000.[1]

Now parentless, at the time of the 1881 census 20-year-old Edward Hackett appears to have been living at 14 Globe Street, Newington with an Uncle Thomas. Edward was an ‘engine driver’ – a category which included not only drivers but also ‘watertenders’, ‘stokers’ and ‘firemen’ of steam engines (not railway, marine or agricultural)[2] – and his uncle a master tailor. The street on which the pair were residing was colour-coded blue (a mixture of light and dark) by Charles Booth and his team of social investigators; this represents a low-income (“18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family”) area containing a few “very poor” (dark blue) pockets. Those who occupied these dark blue clusters lived in “chronic want”.

Ten years on, Edward was no longer working with steam engines or living with his uncle. The 1891 census shows that he was by this time boarding at 57 Arnott Street, Newington, and his recorded occupation was a butcher.

David John Hackett: a brother in distress

According to the UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers (1846-1912), on 8 July 1891 Edward’s younger brother, David John Hackett, was admitted as a ‘pauper lunatic’ to Peckham House asylum in Camberwell, Southwark. As patient files for Peckham House have long since been destroyed, neither the reason for David’s admission nor his patient experience are known.

What is clear is that David ended his days in the asylum system, dying at Peckham House on 3 May 1892, almost ten months after admission; he was buried six days later, at just 28 years old, in grave 12496 of Camberwell Old Cemetery. One can’t help but wonder what impact this tragic event had on Edward and the wider Hackett family.

An autumn wedding…?

Amongst my more puzzling findings was a marriage banns and corresponding record of marriage between an Edward Robert Hackett and an Ellen Elizabeth Storey. According to the marriage record, Edward and Ellen (a widow) were married at St Peter’s Church in Walworth, Southwark on 18 November 1894. The details appear to match: Edward Robert Hackett’s profession is recorded as a butcher (as in the 1891 census), and his father is named as bootmaker Richard Hackett (deceased).

After this mysterious autumn wedding, however, no trace can be found of an Edward (or Robert) Hackett living with an Ellen Hackett/Storey/Martin (her maiden name) in the matrimonial home. In fact, at the time of the 1901 census, Ellen Elizabeth’s marital condition was still recorded as ‘widowed’, and she had kept her deceased husband’s surname (Storey); she was residing on Ripley Street, Newington with three of her four children from her first marriage (George Robert Storey, Albert Edward Storey and Henry Arthur Joseph Storey). Perplexingly, Edward Hackett is nowhere to be seen.

Hard times: 1900-1911

By 1901, Edward had seemingly fallen on hard times. His place of residence – 61 Borough Road, St George the Martyr, Southwark – was a ‘common lodging house’, owned by vestryman James Hogan. Common (or ‘low’) lodging houses were essentially hostels for the poor; in London, the standard rate for a rented bed in one of these ‘kips’ was 4d a night (approximately £1.50 in today’s money).[3]

All 25 of James Hogan’s lodgers in 1901, including Edward, were recorded as either:

  1. Deaf and Dumb
  2. Blind
  3. Lunatic
  4. Imbecile, feebleminded

At this time, Edward – who, confusingly given his apparent marriage to Ellen Elizabeth, was still recorded as single – appears to have been externally employed as a porter.

The 1901 census is the last in which Edward Hackett appears. On 24 April 1911, Edward was admitted to St George’s Workhouse in the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark; he might not have known it then, but he would never break free from the shackles of institutionalisation.

221 days in the workhouse

Located on Southwark’s Mint Street, St George’s Workhouse is thought to have inspired the iconic scene in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) in which the starving nine-year-old boy begs the poorhouse master for gruel with his famous request: “Please, sir, I want some more”. In 1865, the Lancet Sanitary Commission had condemned the “abominations” witnessed in the workhouse infirmary, and declared that the entire institution “ought to be removed, and one built better adapted to fulfil its duties to the poor and sick of the neighbourhood”.[4]

Just 14 days after his admission to St George’s, Edward was discharged to the workhouse infirmary (a fact potentially explained by clause 45 of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834). He would not be readmitted to the workhouse until 30 May 1911; his recorded occupation at this time was a window cleaner.

Long Grove Asylum: 1911-1917

On 1 December 1911 – a little over seven months since he was first admitted to St George’s – Edward Hackett was discharged from the workhouse to Long Grove Asylum, Epsom, Surrey. According to his admission note, 50-year-old Edward was in the midst of his first ever ‘attack’, which had begun the previous year; his diagnosis upon admission is recorded in the Long Grove death register as primary dementia (schedule symbol II7).

Death and burial

Edward Hackett died a ‘pauper lunatic’ on 8 February 1917 at the age of 55. His principal cause of death was arteriosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries caused by cholesterol plaques), with myocardial degeneration (death of heart muscle cells due to inflammation) listed as a contributing factor. Of the 330 deaths that occurred at Long Grove between December 1916 and December 1917, the majority (34.4%) are reported to have resulted from heart disease. In Edward’s case, the presence of arteriosclerosis raises the possibility that his dementia might have been vascular.

Exactly one week after his death (on 15 February), Edward was laid to rest in plot 1390 A of the Horton Estate Cemetery.

Author observations

Sadly, multi-generational pauperism seems to have been a somewhat defining feature of the Hackett family history. Following the death of their father (Edward’s paternal grandfather) in 1840, Richard Hackett and his siblings, Harriet and Thomas, all appear to have spent several periods in the Christ Church Workhouse on Marlborough Street in Southwark. Part of an unfortunate group known as the ‘ins and outs’, the youths yo-yoed between the workhouse, Mr Drouet’s notorious ‘baby farm’, and menial work.

Whilst Richard Hackett might have eventually escaped the clutches of pauperism, securing and maintaining family homes in “fairly comfortable” areas, his disposable income would have been minimal. Wages in the ‘sweated trades’ – a category that included boot/shoemaking – were notoriously low, a fact seemingly evidenced by the relatively small sum left in Richard’s will.

Edward’s paternal aunt was even less fortunate: the London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records suggest that Harriet Hackett remained among the ‘ins and outs’ well into adulthood, and it appears that her first child (Edward’s first cousin, George Henry Hackett) was actually born in St George’s Workhouse on Mint Street, where Edward himself would later wind up.

But perhaps my most interesting discovery was the admission of Edward’s brother, David John Hackett, to Peckham House asylum. Whilst a lack of surviving documentation regrettably means we know even less about David’s mental state than we do about Edward’s, the simple fact of his admission certainly makes one question whether there was perhaps something hereditary (whether biological or social) at play.

[1] Nicholas, Tom. “Wealth Making in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Britain: Industry v. Commerce and Finance”. Business History, vol 41, no. 1, 1999, p. 21. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076799900000200.

[2] Woollard, Matthew. The Classification of Occupations in the 1881 Census of England and Wales. Department of History, University of Essex, Colchester, 1999, p. 40, http://www.henleycensus.info/articles/Woollard_1881_Classifications.pdf.

[3] White, Jerry. London in the Twentieth Century: A City and Its People, Bodley Head, 2016, p. 240.

[4] “Dickens’ Southwark: Mint Street Workhouse”. Southwark Heritage Blog, 2022, https://southwarkheritage.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/dickens-southwark-mint-street-workhouse/.

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