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A tale of poverty and illness

Alice was born on 12 May 1882, but she was registered under the name of Alice Maud Lehan. Her parents were Timothy Lehan who would later be called Edward Lehan, and her mother was Hannah Stratford. She became known as Alice Harley after her mother started a relationship with a blind musician named William Samuel Harley.

Alice’s Parents

Timothy or Edward Lehan was, as far as I can tell, born in Ireland around 1842. When he came to London is unclear, as I have been unable to find him with any certainty. Possibly he came to London to escape the effects of the Potato Famine in Ireland. He appears to have settled in Deptford where there was an Irish community.

By 1871 Timothy “Lehone” aged 30 was living at 18 Cannon Street in Deptford and working as a Market Garden Labourer.

Alice’s mother Hannah Stratford was born in Deptford in 1849, the daughter of John Thomas Stratford and Hannah Sherratt.

By 1871 Hannah too was living in Cannon Street, Deptford working as a servant. So, it is easy to imagine how Timothy Lehan and Hannah Stratford met.

On 2 June 1873 in St John’s Church, Deptford the pair married. They were recorded as living at Knott Terrace in the parish. It is here we find that Timothy’s father was named Dennis, a labourer, and Hannah’s father is confirmed as John Thomas Startford, a Pipe maker. Neither party could write, and the service was witnessed by John and Susannah Hawkins who was the married sister of Hannah.

Timothy and Hannah settled in Deptford and the family soon started to grow. It is from this time Timothy occasionally started to use the name Edward. It is not certain why. 

It seems as if there may have been a son born before marriage named Timothy. I have found a Roman Catholic baptism confirming that a son called Timotheus Gulielmus (Timothy William) was born on 27 July 1872 to the couple and baptised on 29 September 1872 at the Roman Catholic Church of Assumption in Deptford.

On 9 April 1874 a daughter Emily Jane was born, followed by another named Annie Elizabeth on 5 September 1876. They seem to have a Church of England baptism a few years later.

Times must have been very hard for the family as on 21 February 1877 they were admitted to Woolwich Road Workhouse as they were destitute. And in later census entries we learn that Hannah senior became blind around this time. At some point Timothy/Edward, Hannah and Timothy junior were moved to the infirmary. It is not clear what happened to Emily and Annie after they were admitted. On 17 March 1877 the whole family was discharged. Hannah and young Annie were again in Vanburgh Hill Infirmary on 21 September 1877.

By the September quarter of 1879 another son was born to the couple called Thomas Dennis followed by another son William John who were both baptised at Nicholas’s Church in Deptford on 1 August 1880. The family address was recorded as 81 New Street.

1881 Census

The family were still living at this address at the time of the census with 15 other people. Edward had found work again; he was now aged 40 working as a Market Gardener’s Labourer. Hannah is recorded as Ann, aged 32 and the Children are listed as Edward aged 9, Emily aged 7, Hannah (Annie) aged 5, Thomas aged 3 and William aged 1.

In the 1880’s two more children were born to the couple. 

0n 12 May 1882 Alice was born and was given the name Alice Maud. She was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith on 14 October 1883 at the Church of the Assumption in Deptford. Her baptism name seems to have been Maria Anna and I questioned if this was correct and whether I had the right baptism. However, I have not traced another child born to the couple with this name and the date of birth was given as 12 May 1883, so the wrong year of birth must have been recorded. The difference in the name should have been the Latin equivalent for Alice’s name which was Alicia. So, I am unsure why she was given a name that she never used again. Given her father’s fluid approach to his name it is probably not surprising.

Her birth certificate shows her place of birth as 1 Addey Street in Deptford. In Booth’s time the notebooks describe this street as overcrowded, and the living conditions appalling. The Police described it as the “worst part of town”. Small 2 storey houses with 4 rooms and an attic, frequented by criminals and prostitutes. A difficult place to start your life.

Alice’s baptism record which records her date of birth incorrectly.

The children of this family were given a mixture of Catholic and protestant baptisms. Alice’s brother Thomas had two baptisms in both faiths. Another daughter Eliza was born on 30 March 1884 but  sadly died on 24 September 1885.

It is about this time that Alice’s father, now always known as Edward, starts to appear regularly in the Workhouse records for Woolwich Road and Vanburgh Infirmary. The earliest entry I can find is 30 April 1883 followed by another period from 16 August 1883 to 15 September1883. In 1884 he could be found in the Infirmary again.

Thus, Edward senior began a life in and out of the Workhouse and Infirmary. There are over 200 traceable entries for him including about 20 visits to the Infirmary. He very rarely had a place to live or a job, always described as destitute. Was he ill and could not hold down a job or just he could not make ends meet?  I have not found any evidence he was involved in criminal activities. His inability to earn a steady income did seem to possibly influence his marriage.

Edward and Hannah appear to separate around 1885 when Hannah started a relationship with a widower by the name of William Samuel Harley who at the age of 49 was 13 years Hannah’s senior. He was a blind fiddle player from Deptford. William’s wife Mary had died in March 1885. He had six children. 

In February 1886 Edward Lehan junior was admitted to the Workhouse infirmary and Hannah’s address was given as 7 Richardson’s Place, Off Church Street in the parish of St Alphege’s in Greenwich. 

The illustration above from Charles Booth’s notebooks describes it as an area of chronic want. 11 houses around a courtyard with wash houses. Very filthy. This was the environment that Hannah and her children were living in.

Hannah and William’s first child Lillie Elizabeth Harley was born 29 July 1886 just around the corner in Lamb Lane, a slightly better street to live in.

Hannah has named William Harley as the father, and she is using the name of Harley.  This date of birth would place the couple getting together just after Eliza Lehan’s death in September 1885.

Curiously Hannah has Emily and Annie Lehan baptised on 3 November 1886 at St Paul’s Church in Deptford with the given surname as Lehan and names the father as Edward Lehan. It’s almost as if she was still living with Edward. The given address was 1 Alfred Place again just off Church Street.

 A son Arthur William Harley was born in Jan 1890.

1891 Census

The family are now all using the surname Harley and have moved south to 95 Linden Grove in Peckham. Alice is now known as Alice Harley and she is living with William who is described as the married head of the household aged 53, a fiddler who is blind. The notes suggest he was blind from the age of 18. Her mother Hannah who is described as William’s wife is aged 46, blind from the age of 26. Alice’s siblings living at home were Edward aged 19 a Carman, Emily aged 16 with no occupation, Alice by now was aged 8 at school, and half siblings Lily aged 4 and Arthur aged 1. 

What happened to William’s family with Mary Ann Smith? It seems as if the older children forged their own life elsewhere without their father. It is unclear what happened to the youngest daughter Susannah. What is even more confusing is that William Harley had a son called Edward Harley who was a year younger than Hannah’s son known as Edward who is now using the Harley surname.

 I have found entries for William Harley’s sons John and Edward in the 1891 census. They had joined up and were soldiers in the Royal West Kent Regiment stationed at Cheriton, Folkestone in Kent.

On 3 May 1893 Alice and her half-sister Lillie were admitted to Maryon School. They were living at 2 Regents Place, Regents Road. The notes say they were previously at Woods Road school. The stay was not long as it seems on 12 May 1893 they returned to Woods Road School.

The Lie

On 23 June 1895 Alice’s mother Hannah married William Samuel Harley in All Saints Church in Newington despite the fact her husband Edward was very much alive. William is described as a 56-year-old widower with the address of 2 Regents Place, Southampton Street in the parish of St Luke’s Peckham, his father being Samuel Harley, deceased. These are all correct facts. However, Hannah is far from presenting the truth about her status. She describes herself as Hannah Sherrett (her mother’s maiden name) a 47-year-old widow from Sunwell Street. Hannah was not a widow. She could not afford to divorce her husband as the cost of divorce was out of reach for the lower classes.  So, she took the only route open to her. She lied about her surname and married Willam Harley. I think she was aware her husband was alive but of course it was in fact a bigamous marriage. 

The witnesses were Thomas and Harriet Stratford, who were Hannah’s brother and his wife who lived locally.

1895 to 1900

On 26 June 1895, just 3 days after the marriage, Alice aged 12 was admitted to Constance Road Workhouse in the parish of St Giles, Camberwell. It is noted she is suffering from epilepsy. 

Alice does not appear to have been discharged from Constance Road Workhouse until 4 July 1895 at her own request “By sister”.

Alice’s older sister Emily Harley married Edward Brett at All Saints Church in Walworth on 5 April 1896 and Edward (Alice’s older brother) married Florence Ridley on 30 January 1898. 

In the meantime, Alice’s older sister Anne Elizabeth was admitted to Fisherton Asylum in Wiltshire on 2 April 1897. She was not an epileptic and not considered dangerous or suicidal. She stayed there until 6 October 1897 when she was transferred back to Constance Road Workhouse. She was discharged at her own request into service on 15 November 1897. It is unclear what the problem was.

Sadly, her improvement was short lived and a couple of weeks before her brother’s wedding she was admitted back to Fisherton on 18 January 1898. On 21 April she had not improved and was sent to Hanwell Asylum.

On 9 March 1900 this article appeared in the Brockley News reporting on an incident regarding Hannah Harley and her daughter Emily Brett. The “sons” she talked about were probably William Harley’s sons John and Edward who were both in the Army. I have found records that John served in South Africa from 1900 to 1901 so I presume Edward did likewise although I have not found any records.

Sadly, on 8 June 1900 Alice was admitted again to Constance Road Workhouse but not just because of her epilepsy. She was pregnant. She discharged herself on 11 June 1900 described as destitute. It is unclear whether she went home.

On 13 September 1900 Alice went into labour and entered Constance Road Workhouse to give birth. Unfortunately, her daughter was stillborn. It must have been so hard for Alice to cope with this loss. We will never know the cause although her untreated epilepsy may have played a part. On 29 September 1900 she discharged herself and I assume she went back to the family home.

There are other workhouse entries for an Alice Harley but I cannot link them directly to this story, so they have not been included.

1901 Census

Alice was living with her family at 45 Daniels Road, in the parish of St Antholus in Peckham. This street is described in Booth’s notebooks as being “1863 housing with 2 stories and flush to the pavement. Numerous and noisy children, a low standard street where it’s difficult to see what people do for a living”. It was a poor area opposite the Nunhead cemetery.

 William S Harley was now aged 64 and working as a Hawker, probably selling cheap goods in the street. Noted as being Blind but not from childhood. Hannah, his wife aged 51 also noted as blind. Alice was aged 18 with no occupation and is described as having fits. Lilly aged 14 and Arthur aged 11. Also living at the same address was Edward Harley and his wife Florence whom he had married in 1898 with their two small children.

Alice’s father Edward Lehan finally died in the workhouse on 4 September 1901 aged 59. It is debatable she ever remembered him. One presumes he must have led a difficult life, suffering from illness and destitution and an absent family. The circumstances of how this came about remain a mystery.

More sadness was to follow with the death of Annie Elizabeth Harley in Hanwell Asylum on 30 June 1904. She was only 27 years old.

On 17 September 1908 Alice’s mother Hannah died at St Giles Workhouse aged 58. She is buried at Camberwell Old Cemetery. Poor Alice, who was epileptic, was now without her mother, being cared for, one presumes, by her blind Stepfather and her siblings. But this was not for long.

William Harvey was clearly not well as on 14 November 1908 he was admitted to the Infirmary from Constance Road Workhouse. He was now 72 years old. It is not known how long he remained there, but he was not able to care for Alice.

There is an admission record for Camberwell Workhouse dated 11 January 1909 showing Alice was admitted with epilepsy. The Religious Creed Register shows her address was 63 Daniels Road. It also confirms that she stayed in Constance Road until she was admitted to Long Grove on 8 September 1909 where she would remain for 2 years until she died on 23 September 1911.

Alice died of Lobar Pneumonia, a type of Pneumonia that affects the lobes of the lungs. It is a bacterial infection and generally community acquired. She was only 29 years old.  She is buried in Grave number 1292a at Horton Cemetery. 

Family health

After researching Alice’s mother’s family I have found evidence to show that Uncle Thomas Stratford was blind by the time he was 35 years old. He lived near to the family in Nunhead and was a Hawker and Aunt Susannah Hawkins was blind by the time she was 50. She was admitted to Claybury Asylum in 1907 with what was described as “delusional Insanity”.  It does not seem as if blindness was inherited by the next generation. Alice also had a cousin on her mother’s side who was epileptic. The health of the Lehan family is unknown but perhaps her father suffered from an illness.

Alice’s death was followed by that of her stepfather William Samuel Harley in Constance Road Workhouse on 19 December 1911. His burial was arranged “by friends”. 

Of Alice’s siblings Edward and Emily survived and both had large families. I can find no definite trace of Thomas Lehan. Her half siblings Lillie and Arthur similarly settled and had families.

Author’s thoughts

Alice came from a very poor background and had such an awful start in life.  Her mother had already lost her sight by the time she was born. Her father seemed unable to get regular employment and she was born in one of the poorest streets in Deptford. Before she was 3 years old her parents’ marriage had failed.  

Whether it was lucky for her or not, her mother’s new partner may have brought a regular income to the household although William Harley was also blind. His employment was that of a musician, his instrument being a fiddle. Quite how much money he earnt is hard to say. It seems to me as if the family may have lived hand to mouth.

The family initially lived in the poorest streets in Deptford but after a while they moved to Nunhead, though their addresses still reveal they were living in the poorer areas.

When Alice’s epilepsy manifested itself is unclear, but she is described as epileptic aged 12 when she was admitted to the Workhouse in 1895.  Six years later at the age of 18 years old she was pregnant and entered the Workhouse during her pregnancy, probably due to ill-health. When she went into labour she admitted herself back into the Workhouse. Tragically, the daughter she was carrying was stillborn. The cause is not clear, but Alice’s poor health would not have helped. She must have been devastated but perhaps given her circumstances it is difficult to see how the child could have been successfully cared for. Poor Alice went back home. It’s difficult to imagine how her welfare was managed. Presumably her siblings kept a look out for her. 

Once Alice’s mother died Alice’s own health deteriorated further and it wasn’t long before she was admitted to Long Grove where eventually pneumonia was to end her short, troubled life at the age of 29.


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