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The GRO Death Index records that Walter Howe was aged 39 (giving him 1863 as year of birth) when he died in 1902. Research has found that this was incorrect and that he was 35 when he died, having been born on 9 September 1866 in Milton, Cambridgeshire.

Walter’s parents and siblings

Walter’s father Harry was aged 21 when he married 19-year-old Ann Day 29 October 1859 in All Saints Church, in Milton, a village near Cambridge. Even though Harry was a labourer and Ann a servant, both appeared to be educated and signed their names on the wedding entry with Harry spelling his surname without the ‘e’ on the end as in other later records.

The young couple’s daughter Elizabeth Ann was baptised the following year on 7 October 1860 in the same church that her parents had married in. When the 1861 census was taken, the family was recorded as living in Fen Lane, Milton, where Harry worked as an agricultural labourer to support his new family. Two years later their son William Charles was born, followed by their daughter Emma Louisa in 1864 and Walter himself in 1866. 

Harry and Ann Howe’s Children

NAMEAll Saints Church, Milton, Cambridgeshire. Images from the Cambridgeshire’s Bishops Transcripts of baptisms and burials 1538-1983 via www.familysearch.og
Elizabeth Ann
Baptised 7 October 1860.

Died aged 10. Buried 16 July 1869
William Charles
Baptised 3 August 1862.No burial found in Milton.
Emma Louisa
Baptised 5 June 1864.

Died aged 4 years. Buried 8 August 1867.
Baptised 7 October 1866.
Buried in Horton Estate Cemetery Epsom, 1902.
Harry Watson
Baptised 4 April 1869.

Died aged 10 months. Buried 1 December 1869.

Sadness followed in 1867 when Walter’s 4-year-old sister Emma died. She was buried on 8 August 1867 in All Saints’ graveyard.

Having had a child every two years since her marriage, there was a gap of three years before Ann gave birth in 1869 to her last child, Henry Watson Howe. Henry’s middle name was given in memory of his paternal grandmother’s maiden name.

Deaths in the family

Whether or not Harry was with her is unknown but Ann, aged 28, died two months later, on 23 June, from phthisis pulmonalis [also known as TB, tuberculosis or consumption] and was buried on 26 June 1869 in All Saints’ graveyard. Her sister Emma Day was present at her death and was the person who registered the sad event. 

The sadness continued that year with the deaths of Walter’s 10-year-old sister Elizabeth in July, and his 10-month-old brother Harry in November. Again, the deceased were buried in in All Saints’ graveyard. Without sending for their death certificates, it is unknown if the children died from the same contagious disease as their mother.

Admission to the workhouse

One may ask then, after all this sadness, what happened to their father Harry? His whereabouts in 1871 have not been found but it seems Harry was unable to cope with his two remaining children as Walter and his brother William were recorded in the 1871 census as being pauper inmates in the Linton Union Workhouse, Cambridgeshire. It is unclear what happened to William after this, as no further censuses or other records, including a GRO death record, have been found for him.

Walter’s father remarries

After extensive searching through available records, it transpires that Walter’s father started a new life in Hammersmith with a 40-year-old widow named Emma Newton, née Parker, and had married her in 1874 aged 36.

Their son Henry Watson Howe [yes, the same name as Harry’s deceased son] was born on 15 October 1875 in Peckham. It was at some point after this, reason unknown, that Harry changed his surname to Harris. Harry and Emma’s daughter, Alice Harris, was born on 29 August 1877 and baptised on 14 October. Emma was aged 45 when she gave birth to their daughter Ada who was baptised on 4 June 1879; Ada’s death was sadly recorded in the 1880 March quarter. 

The remaining family of four appeared on the 1881 census as living at 107 Glenthorne Road, Hammersmith, along with two lodgers to supplement Harry’s wages as a labourer.

Walter’s half siblings from his father’s second marriage
Henry Watson HoweBorn: 15 October 1875 Peckham2 June 1954 Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England
Alice [Mary Agnes] HarrisBorn: 29 August 1877 Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa
Ada HarrisBaptised: 4 June 1879 HammersmithDied in March quarter 1880

Did Walter join the army?

As for Walter, there is an 1881 Census record of a Walter Howe, aged 15, being a ‘Special Inmate’ in the Industrial School in Milton-Next-Gravesend, Kent. This lad’s place of birth was just recorded as being in England. Was this “our” Walter?

The next record found that looked promising was one for a Walter Howe who had trained as a baker before attesting in Dorchester on 2 February 1885 into the Dorset Regiment for a period of 12 years. This Walter’s military records note that he was aged 19 years 7 months old, had been born in Milton near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, that he was 5 foot 4 ¾ inches tall, weighed 111lbs, had a chest measurement of 32 ¼ inches, a fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair, and that his religion was Wesleyan. Walter also stated that he had previously been in the 3rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment but not why he had left. 

Reading through the images of the original documents, they all pointed to this Walter being “ours” until he stated that his father was WALTER Howe of Milton near Peterborough. Further searching for any other Walter Howe, born 1866, in Milton with a father named Walter came to a blank. Bearing in mind Walter’s father had left him at the age of 5 in the Linton Union Workhouse, could it be that he did not know his father’s first name?

Seven months later this Walter was in some sort of unrecorded military trouble and on 2 September 1885 was awaiting trial. He was imprisoned until 16 September 1885 when he was released to return to duty as Private 1539. Walter’s list of engagements is listed below:

PlaceFrom – ToAdmitted to Hospital for treatment for:
Home:02.04.1885 – 08.03.1886
Egypt:09.03.1886 – 09.08.1886Diarrhoea 
Home:10.08.1886 – 07.02.1888Sore throat
Mediterranean:08.02.1888 – 14.07.1889
Egypt:15.07.1889 – 26.09.1893Sore throat, Laryngitis, Syphilis, Colic, Bronchitis, Alcoholism, Dyspepsia, Rheumatism and Prostate gland problems. 
India:27.09.1893 – 28.04.1896
Home:29.04.1896 – 01.04.1897

Having served his 12 years, Walter’s character, on discharged at Dorchester on 1 April 1897, was recorded as Latterly Good, but he did not receive medals or awards. Walter was put on the Army Reservist list as number 336.

Walter gave 4 Cambridge Road, Hammersmith, as his intended address, but moved instead to Jubilee Chambers, Kings Street, Hammersmith, and found employment as a baker with Mr Thorneyfield of Chiswick Mall, Hammersmith. This was short lived and on 27 April 1897, Walter attested at Finsbury Barracks for another four years military service into the Royal Fusiliers as Private 4539. By now he was, according to his attestation papers, 31 years 7 months old.

At his medical on 31 May 1897, his height was measured at 5 foot 5 inches tall, and his weight as 154 lbs. His chest measurement had also increased to 34 inches, with 2 inches expansion. It was also noted that he had acquired a tattoo on his left forearm of a Maltese dancer with a flag.

On 8 August 1898 Walter was noted as being absent. After this, information on how and when Walter left the Royal Fusiliers is unknown. 

Having found all this military information, the question again is, was this “our” Walter? It would explain why there is no sign of “our” Walter in the 1891 census.

Bearing in mind the GRO Death Index recorded that Walter was born in 1863, these next records are most certainly about “our” Walter. 

The 1900s

On 3 November 1900, Walter Howe, ‘aged 38’, was admitted into the Tower Hamlet Workhouse in Stepney. His address was recorded as 19 Brick Lane and his occupation as a gardener. Walter was suffering from phthisis, the same disease that killed his mother in 1869, and was not discharged until 9 January 1901. 

The 1901 census was taken on the night of 31 March and Walter Howe, ‘aged 38’, was recorded as being a pauper patient in the Bethnal Green Infirmary. He was recorded as being married, and a market gardener working on his own account (self- employed). More importantly his birthplace was recorded as being Balsham, Cambridgeshire, which is about 12-15 miles from Milton.

Admission to the workhouse

Another record was found that on 26 June 1901 a Walter Howe, aged 39, was admitted from the parish of Chatham into the Medway Union Workhouse in Kent. His occupation was noted as a jobbing gardener and his religion as Church of England. Was he travelling around Surrey/Kent finding work where he could? This Walter was discharged by his own request on 19 July 1901.

At 12.10pm on 22 July 1901, Walter Howe, ‘aged 39’, was admitted into the Tower Hamlet Workhouse Casual Ward. His address was recorded as 177 Chapel Road and his occupation as a gardener. Although a positive marriage has not been found, it was noted again that he was married. Walter was still suffering from phthisis and was transferred to the City of London Union Workhouse on 12 October 1901. At his own request, he discharged himself on 17 December 1901.

Admission to Horton Asylum

The Poplar Union Workhouse record that prior to admission on 15 March 1902 when he was sick again, Walter had been living in Bromley. He was later discharged on 19 March 1902 into the care of Horton Asylum in Epsom. 

On 5 May 1902, the Poplar Union Orders of Removals in the Poor Law Removals and Settlement Records regarding Walter Howe, record that Walter’s father and deceased mother were Harry and Ann Howes. Amongst the files is a copy of Walter’s birth certificate, on which his birth year of 1866 has clearly been altered to 1863. 


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A copy of Walter Howe’s birth certificate issued in May 1902

Information in the file also records that for a period of three years prior to 1883, Walter’s father Harry had been living at 107 Glenthorne Road, Hammersmith. Harry and his second wife Emma were still living at this address in 1901, along with their son Harry, daughter-in-law Emily and one-year-old grandson Arthur. Harry at the time was working as a bricklayers’ labourer.

After only spending five months in Horton Asylum, Walter was actually aged 35 when he died there on 21 August 1902. His death certificate however states that he was 39 years of age and a market gardener admitted from Poplar Union Workhouse. The post-mortem, that was certified by Dr. David Ogilvy, revealed that he had died from acute general tuberculosis. Walter’s body was buried in grave 39 in the Horton Estate Cemetery on 27 August 1902.

Walter Howe’s death certificate

Walter’s father

Nine years later, Walter’s father filled in his 1911 census stating that he and Emma had been married for 37 years [1874] and that they had had six living children but three had died. As only the births of Harry Watson Howe (the second), Alice and Ada have been found, and considering Emma was 40 when she married Harry, were Harry and Emma getting confused with their first families? Harry, aged 73, also wrote that he was working as a Parish night watchman for the local County Council and that they were living at 223 Guinness Buildings, Hammersmith. He gave their names as Harry Howe Harris and Emma Howe Harris.


After researching Walter’s life, I did a bit of research about tuberculosis. An interesting web page here Infectious disease in asylums: a fact-finding investigation to prevent tuberculosis contagion in the early twentieth century in Italy | SpringerLink stated the following and in particular, the last sentence caught my eye:

“The authors reported that the frequency of TB could also affect the health of subsequent generations. Furthermore, the authors affirmed that TB was almost always present in the genealogical trees of the alienated. A. Grimaldi then also referred to his publication where, in the genealogical tree of a paranoid, he highlighted the presence of an ancestor suffering from TB. The authors also underlined that other conditions as syphilis and alcoholism could be associated with neurodegenerative diseases and psychopathological conditions, and also that these conditions were hereditary.”

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