In 1858, Henry Franklin Hiron, an engineer, married Matilda Fell in Stepney. Matilda was the daughter of another engineer and plumber, Richard Fell, who also happened to be Henry’s boss and later partner. Henry was the son of a silk throwster from Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire.
The couple’s first child, a son called Thomas was born in Newington the following year followed in 1861 by the birth of Matilda Lucy Hiron in Hampstead where the family were now living in a household which also held Matilda’s parents Richard and Edith Fell. At least three more children were born by 1870, five children in total. Surprisingly, little Thomas is not recorded as living with the family on the 1861 census and I have been unable to trace him elsewhere. He does appear in later years so perhaps he was staying with relatives following the birth of his sister or it was a mistake of the enumerator. The 1861 Census also shows that the family had a live-in servant so would appear to have been doing well. By 1863 the family had moved to Hackney.
In July 1860 Henry and his father-in-law, Richard, were awarded a patent for the invention of ‘an improved vertical paddle wheel’ but the patent was voided in 1863 because of non-payment of the stamp duty.
In 1861 a Henry Franklin Hiron dissolved a partnership with a Samuel Hall, a grocer of Union Street, Southwark, which was reported in the London Gazette. It seems an unlikely business enterprise for an engineer but the name and location matches so there is a strong possibility that this is the same Henry Franklin Hiron. Perhaps, with the support of his father-in-law, he was able to concentrate on engineering?
A new baby – and admission to the workhouse
The couple’s fifth child, William Wycombe Hiron is born in 1870 and his birth is registered by his father but a few weeks later Mother Matilda and children Matilda, Edith, Henry and baby William were all admitted to Homerton workhouse. I can find no further trace of Henry Franklin Hiron until a possible death in 1888. What happened to cause such a downfall for the family in 1870 so far remains a complete mystery.
The industrial school
In November 1870 Matilda, Edith and Henry were all transferred to the industrial school at Forest Gate. Industrial schools were established to educate and train destitute and vagrant children. Girls were usually trained in the skills needed to become domestic servants and boys were given a trade or prepared for the services. The school was residential so Matilda and her siblings would have been separated from their mother. Many industrial schools had poor reputations for the standards of care they provided. It is difficult to imagine how Matilda and her siblings must have felt being removed from a comfortable life with their parents and grandparents to live alone in an industrial school.
The 1871 Census shows the three children still in the industrial school. Their older brother Thomas is living with his uncle in Newington. On the 24th December 1871 Richard Fell, Matilda’s grandfather, died in the Hackney workhouse.
After the workhouse – working as a nurse
No records have yet been found to show when the family left the workhouse but in 1877 Matilda’s two brothers Henry and William are baptised in Chislehurst, Kent, By the 1881 Census Matilda was working as a nurse in the family of Alexander Samuel in Islington. On the census she is recorded as ‘Lucy Heron’, there was an older servant in the household called Matilda so she was known by her middle name, not an uncommon practice.
In 1888 a Henry Franklin Hiron died in University Hospital, Gower Street, London. We can’t say categorically that this is Matilda’s father and have no way of knowing if the family were still in contact with him. But when Matilda’s brother William married a few years later, he described his father as a deceased gentleman.
The 1891 census showed Matilda working as a live-in nurse for Abraham Isaacs, a gold and diamond merchant who lived in Highbury. Matilda was looking after two children under the age of two years and there was also an under nurse to help her. The same census showed Matilda’s mother and brothers living together in Denbigh Street, London.
Admission to an asylum and death
There is then no sign of Matilda found so far, until the 1901 Census. Matilda was now a patient at the London County Lunatic Asylum in Coulsdon.
Meanwhile her mother is established as a boarding house keeper and has her daughter Edith and son Henry living with her. She is able to keep a servant and has five boarders. A considerable improvement in circumstances. Matilda’s mother died in 1904.There is a record of a Matilda Lucy Hiron being admitted to Norfolk Lunatic Asylum on the 5th December 1905 and leaving on the 15th April 1908, condition not improved.
Could this possibly be our Matilda? Did she take a post in Norfolk before she became ill? Either way just one week after leaving Norfolk Asylum, Matilda was admitted to Manor where she died on the 14th January 1909.