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A short life leads us to learn about two women who prevailed against the odds 

The London Metropolitan Archive holds the register of the baptisms that took place in the Chapel of the Horton Asylum between 1902 and 1948 (ref H22/HT/G/01/001). Inserted in the register is a folded sheet of paper headed ‘Births’. This is a carbon copy of a typewritten list of patients who gave birth at the Asylum between 1902 and February 1912 with handwritten additions made between April 1912 and December 1921. 

The second entry in the list is for 12th September 1902 and records the birth of a male child to Edith Hellicar. Under a column coldly headed ‘How disposed of’ is noted ‘Died’ with a date of 13th September.  

The birth and death certificates for the baby show that he lived only six hours and died not on the 13th but on the same day he was born. The cause of death was given as ‘Inanition’ which seems to have been used at this period for infant deaths where the baby was unable to feed. The certificates record no name for the baby and it appears he was not baptised.

The mother’s name is given as Edith Hellicar formerly Mills of 67 Stanhope Buildings, Southwark and the father’s name and occupation as Albert Henry Hellicar, Packer and Warehouseman. 

Inevitably, after such a short life, this story necessarily has to be mostly about the unnamed boy’s mother and grandmother, and the family that he never knew.

Edith Mills was born on 11th June 1884 and had married Albert Henry Hellicar, born on 10th September 1883, on 9th May 1902 at the church of St George the Martyr, Southwark. The Lunacy Patients Admissions Register records her admission to Horton Asylum on 26th July 1902. She had been admitted to Newington Workhouse in Westmoreland Road, Southwark three days previously and transferred from there to the asylum.  

So, Edith had married at 17 and, just after she had turned 18, was admitted to the workhouse and then the asylum where, a little over a fortnight later, she gave birth to a baby that lived six hours. 

Edith’s disrupted early life: Birth in Yorkshire and move to London

Edith’s birth was registered in Leeds, Yorkshire, in Q3 1884. Her parents, who had married in March 1883 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, were John Thomas Mills, a cordwainer or bootmaker, born in Newington, South London, and Emma Maria North, born in Norwich. 

Edith had an older half-brother Harry, born before Emma’s marriage. His birth had been registered as Harry George North in Dewsbury in Q1 1882. The family, or at least Emma and Harry, must have moved south shortly after Edith’s birth as Harry’s baptism as Harry George North was recorded at St Giles, Camberwell in November 1884 with Emma shown as a single parent under her maiden name. She had in fact been married for over a year. Her address was given as ‘The Workhouse’.

Edith’s younger brother Jonathan (or John) was born in August 1886. His birth was registered in Saint Olave, Southwark and he was baptised at St Katherine’s, Rotherhithe with both his parent’s names recorded. 

A sister, Lillian, was added to the family in July 1890. Her birth was registered in Camberwell. 

By the time of the 1891 census the Mills family were living in Bath Street near the Peckham branch of the Surrey Canal.  Harry’s surname was given as Mills and he was known by that name for the rest of his life. Later records have his forename as Henry.

A further daughter was born to John and Emma in 1892. Amy Hilda’s birth was registered in Camberwell in Q2 and she was baptised at St Giles, Camberwell on 31st May.  No occupation was recorded for John in the baptism register. 

John and Emma Mills’ children

  • Harry [Henry] George [North] Mills b. 1882
  • Edith Mills b. 1884
  • Jonathan [John] Mills b. 1886
  • Lillian Mills b. 1890
  • Amy Hilda Mills b. 1892

Emma and her children are admitted to the workhouse 

The next document found for Emma is for her admission to Havil Street Workhouse, Camberwell with Harry, Jonathan, Lillian and Amy on 22nd February 1894. They are recorded as the children of ‘John a Bootmaker’ and the reason for the family’s admission is ‘neglect’.  Edith is recorded as being admitted to the same workhouse on 16th March 1894. 

There follows a series of transfers of the children between the workhouses in Havil Street and Gordon Road and the South Metropolitan Schools District’s Poor Law Schools in Brighton Road, Sutton and at Banstead. 

Harry, aged 12, was transferred in May 1894 from Gordon Road Workhouse to Brighton Road School and then to the Training Ship Exmouth, operated by the Metropolitan Schools Board to prepare boys to enter the Royal Navy. He then disappears from the official record until 1920.

Jonathan, aged 7, who had been with his half-brother Harry in Gordon Road Workhouse was also transferred to Brighton Road School and then later to Banstead School as were Edith, aged 10 and Lilian, aged 3.

The youngest child of the family, Amy aged 1, who had been transferred with her sister Lillian to Gordon Road Workhouse, sadly died in Camberwell in March 1896 aged 3.

The family leaves the workhouse and are reunited

In November 1896 Emma, was reunited with Edith, Jonathan and Lillian in Constance Road Workhouse, where she had been transferred in late 1894, and they are all discharged with the remark ‘Own Request’.

It seems that John Mills returned to the family – there is a school admission record in March 1897 for Lilian that mentions him – but that Emma and Lillian spent a further period in Gordon Road Workhouse in September 1898 with John’s address recorded as unknown.

However, by the time of the 1901 census Emma and the children are living at 93 Portland Street, Newington and John Mills is again back with them, working on his own account as a shoemaker. 

Edith’s marriage

Less than a year later in March 1902 Edith, still not quite 18, had married. Her husband was Albert Henry Hellicar who was an 18-year-old warehouseman. Their address was given as 3 Bermondsey New Road, Southwark and their ages as 20 and 21 respectively. Edith’s mother Emma was a witness to the marriage.

Four months later Edith was admitted to Horton Asylum and six months later her unnamed son was born and died.

Her husband Albert Henry was the eldest of eleven Hellicar siblings. Of his six brothers who survived into adulthood, five had criminal records. The most prolific amongst them was his youngest brother Sidney who appeared in court first in 1909 at the age of 12 charged with stealing money. Another nine court appearances are recorded for him between then and 1924.

A 1908 newspaper court report of a theft of butter involving Albert’s brothers William and Stanley, then aged 19 and 16 respectively, quotes a police officer as saying that ‘The Hellicars had a very bad home’.

Edith’s family after the asylum

Married young to a man who, who though not a criminal himself, came from a family many of whom were criminals; admitted pregnant to the asylum; and then her baby dying so soon after birth – It did not seem that Edith’s prospects were very promising. However …

Edith was discharged from Horton Asylum in March 1903 with the note ‘Recovered’ just over seven months after she was admitted.

She and Albert went on to have another seven children, all of who survived into adulthood.

They were:

  • Albert Henry Jonathan (1906-1976)
  • Jonathan Ernest (1909-1991)
  • Edward Leslie Alfred (1912-1996)
  • Joseph William (1914-2003)
  • Ernest Harry (1916-1983) 
  • Edith Agnes (1920-2006)
  • William Arthur (1922-2003)

Marriages have been found for all their children together with the births of at least fifteen grandchildren.

The 1911 census finds Edith living with her mother Emma and her two eldest children at 12 Heber Road, Camberwell. This address will turn out to be significant for the family. If their earlier lives were characterised by disruption then 12 Heber Road represented stability. Electoral records starting in 1920 show Emma living there for a considerable period of time with Edith and Albert Henry and her sons Harry – reappearing in 1920 for the first time in official records since his transfer to TS Exmouth in 1894 – and Jonathan. We can assume that Edith and Albert’s children were also part of the household.

It has not been possible to find Edith’s husband Albert Henry in the 1911 census but electoral records confirm that he was at 12 Heber Road from 1920 until 1932. His death was registered in Camberwell on 8th November 1932 aged 49. 

Edith appears on the electoral register at 12 Heber Road between 1920 and 1934. She died in Camberwell aged 51 in June 1935. 

What happened to Edith’s father, mother and siblings?

Edith’s father, John Mills the bootmaker, disappears from the record after the 1901 census. Emma Mills describes herself as ‘Married’ in the 1911 census which indicates that he was alive at that point, or at least she though he was.

Edith’s sister Lilian had died in Camberwell on 8th December 1908 aged 18. 

At the time of the 1939 register five members of the family were found at 12 Heber Road. 

Emma Mills aged 78, a widow. Her occupation is ‘Unpaid domestic duties’

Jonathan Mills aged 53, a Hotel Kitchen Porter

Henry [Harry] G Mills aged 57, a Bill Distributor (Unemployed).  


Edith’s sons Joseph Hellicar aged 25, a customs clerk, and William Hellicar aged 17, Post Office messenger. 

Harry’s death in Q3 1952 at the age of 70 was registered in Camberwell as Henry G Mills. He was buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery on 24th July.

Emma died at the age of 93 in Tooting Bec Hospital on 17th January 1955. Her probate record gives her address as 12 Heber Road. Administration was granted to her last surviving child, Jonathan Mills, Nightwatchman.

Edith had recovered after her admission to the asylum and went on to create a large and apparently close family. It was intriguing to discover that her mother Emma had too been an asylum inmate as a young woman. The Lunacy Admissions Register shows that she was admitted to the West Yorkshire Asylum aged 18 on 10th February 1880 and discharged recovered on 31st August 1880, a very similar length of stay to that of her daughter twenty-two years later.

In the 1901 census Jonathan aged 15 had been described as an Errand boy/Grocer’s porter. No record was found for him in the 1911 census. He appears on the electoral register at 12 Heber Road from 1920 until at least 1953. Jonathan died on 28th December 1962 aged 76 in Newington Lodge [Newington Lodge Public Assistance Institution], Walworth. Probate was granted to Edith’s son Joseph Hellicar.

A note

In April 2020 during the first lockdown, I started to research the patients whose names appear in the Horton Chapel Baptism Register. One of the first people I worked on was Edith Hellicar. I shared what I found with Kevin McDonnell and he involved Hazel Ballan. Together, we realised the potential of researching the families of the patients buried in the Horton Cemetery. As a side note, I spent a lot of time researching the wrong Edith Hellicar until Hazel pointed out my error!  RM

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