William – a difficult subject to trace
William has proved difficult to trace and, after twenty hits on a potential birth certificate, it has been narrowed down to one possible case of a William Arthur Johnson born in Newington, London in the January to March quarter in 1867. So, my review has focused around this starting point.
Unfortunately, Johnson is a popular name so again there have been difficulties in tracing his roots. I have found one family however that could be a possibility for him and it is this story I will tell.
William’s parents may have been an Edward Andrew Johnson and a Mary Leahy who were married on 31 October 1859 at St. Giles in the Fields, Holborn. Edward was a 26-year-old bachelor working as a wheelwright living at 23 Charles Street, the son of William Johnson a hosier.
His mother, Mary was a 23-year-old spinster from 13 Jurston Street, Lambeth the daughter of William Leahy, an Irish coppersmith. In 1875, Jurston Street was described in the newspapers as, ‘the poorest street in Lambeth’ so Mary came from a tough background.
The 1860s and 1870s – two family tragedies?
At the time of the 1861 Census, the couple can be found living at 20 Union Street in Lambeth. Edward, recorded as still being aged 26, is continuing to work as a wheelwright. Mary Ann, aged 25, was busy looking after their newborn son, John who was 3 months old at the time.
What then happens to the family is unclear as the 1871 Census shows that Edward has died and baby John is no more, replaced by another John born around 1867.
The 1871 Census shows the family living at 22 Frederick Place, at Newington Butts which is an area running south west of the Elephant and Castle junction. Mary Ann is aged 33 a widowed Charwoman with her children Edward aged 9, William aged 6 and John 4. The two younger children appear to have been born at Newington Butts. No baptisms can be found or death certificates for Edward or the first baby John.
The 1880s – William is working as a stone mason’s labourer
By 1881 the family were living at 8 St Albans Buildings, China Walk in Lambeth. This was a very poor area with 7 people living at this address. Mary Ann, aged 44, is still working as a charwoman and has been joined by her older widowed, childless sister Johanna Yelloly, who had been born in Ireland. Johanna was 60 years old.
The boys were listed as Edward aged 17 working as a warehouse boy and William, aged 16, a Stone Mason’s Labourer. The younger John seems to have disappeared, presumably passing away at some point. Again, it has been difficult to pinpoint a death certificate.
The 1890s – William’s fortunes take a downward turn
In the 1891 Census Mary Ann and Johanna are still living at 8 St Albans Buildings, aged 55 and 71 respectively. Mary is still working as a charwoman. Edward and William are no longer at home. In fact, they cannot definitely be traced at this time. Johanna passed away in 1892 but it is unclear what happens next to Mary. There are a number of possibilities in the 1901 Census but nothing definite for her.
William entered St George’s Workhouse, Mint Street, Southwark on 9 July 1897. He is described as being 31 years old, Church of England, a labourer from Newington. He was discharged the same day.
An entry in the 1901 Census shows a William Johnson as a lodger at St Olave’s Chambers in Tabard Street, close to St George’s church in Newington. This was a lodging house built in 1882 for tramps. It could accommodate around 500 men and cost 4d a night.
Was William’s mother a pickpocket?
Looking through newspaper articles for the family, I found articles about a Mary Johnson living in Lambeth who in 1900 was a well-known, ‘pickpocket’ aged 55. Is this William’s mother? She was described as a stout woman who was known to the Police. She used to try the pockets of the ladies waiting for tramcars and had been in prison before. She is in trouble again in 1905 attempting to ‘pickpocket’ again, this time described as a `decently dressed woman of a quiet demeanour’, who refused to give her address. She was sentenced to 12 months hard labour.
Admission to Horton Hospital and death
The Lunacy Register shows that William was admitted to Horton Hospital on 23 January 1906 and where he remained for 4 years until he died on 22 August 1910 and he was buried at the Horton Cemetery in Grave 641b.
Hopefully when more information becomes available William’s backstory will become clearer.