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It was difficult to trace Bertha at first. The age recorded on her burial record was misleading. This led me to trawl a wider date range for her birth and I found a potential birth in the Kensington district in 1878. This was further confirmed that I had the right person by her death certificate and her former address. This in turn led me to search the unindexed records for Fulham which at last gave me the information I was looking for.

Bertha was born on 19 March 1878 in Kensington to Alexander and Harriet Joyce. Her mother appears to have been in her mid to late 40’s when Bertha was born so possibly a late surprise for her parents.

Before Bertha

Alexander Joyce was a Smith from the parish of St Giles in the Fields in London and followed in his father’s footsteps. He was born around 1835 to John and Maria Joyce. Harriet Waterman came from a rural background. She was born in a small village called Charlton in 1831 which is just outside Andover in Hampshire. Harriet’s mother Mary appears to have died around the time of Harriet’s birth and she was brought up by her maternal Grandmother Sarah Wright who ran a small shop in the village. Her father Henry remarried in 1844 and started a new family. Once her grandmother had died in 1854 there was no reason for Harriet to stay in Hampshire. So, at some point Harriet moved to London, possibly in search of work and a new life.

The couple married in the parish church of St Martin in the Fields on 7 March 1858. The following year the couple’s first child was born, a son named after his father Alexander on 18 September 1858, who was baptised in the same church on 20 May 1860. The family were living at 14 Endell Street and Alexander senior was now working as a Gas Fitter. The Gas industry was growing at this time and the skills learnt as a Smith were easily transferable to joining lead gas pipes.

By 1861 the family had moved to 24 Star Street in Paddington and were sharing accommodation with 5 other families. The census shows Alexander, aged 25, who was working as a Gas Fitter and Bell Hanger, Harriet aged 26 and baby Alexander aged 1.

In the first quarter of 1862 the couple’s second child Emma was born, followed by another daughter Eliza in the second quarter of 1864. Ada was born in the third quarter of 1866.

Then disaster hit the family. Ada died in March 1870, followed by the death of Alexander junior and Emma in 1871. So, what happened for 3 children to die in quick succession?

Ada died on 9 March 1870 at 37 Market Street in Paddington of Scarlatina Maligna or Scarlet Fever and its complications (Abscess Thoracic resulting in convulsions by Absorption). With no antibiotics and possibly poor health and living conditions poor Ada did not stand a chance. It must have been hard to suffer and even harder for her poor family. 

The newspapers reported in September 1870 that epidemic diseases were rife in the area and that Scarlatina was the most prevalent.

More sadness was to follow.

The 1871 census reveals the family living at 17 Church Place in Paddington. Alexander aged 39 (actual age 35) working as a Gas Fitter, Ann (Harriet) aged 40,  Alexander aged 11 (who, it states, is working as a Gas Fitter too! This must be an error?), Emma aged 9 and Eliza aged 7 both, scholars. Little did they know that shortly after this their family was to dramatically decrease.

Emma died aged 9 on 22 April 1871 of Scarlatina complications too, at 17 Church Place. This time Scarlatina had caused Uremic poisoning and would have affected poor Emma’s kidneys and probably led to kidney failure.

Just 12 days later Alexander junior died aged 11 on 4 May 1871 at 17 Church Place of Enteric fever or Typhoid Fever which he had had for 2 weeks. This was probably caused by poor sanitary conditions. Again, at this time there was no cure. Poor Alexander and Harriet lost 3 of their children in the space of 14 months.  This must have been devastating for the family.

Bertha’s arrival

I cannot trace any other children arriving for another 7 years until our Bertha was born on 19 March 1878 at 72 Star Street. I hope this brought some joy to the family.  At that time, she only had one older sibling alive, Eliza who was 14 years her senior.

Bertha’s birth certificate.


The 1881 census shows the family were still living in Star Street, at number 72, a multiple occupancy house. Alexander was aged 40 (actual age 45) a Gas Fitter, Harriet aged 43 and Bertha aged 3. Eliza had left home and was working just around the corner in 35 Norfolk Square as an Under Housemaid for John Goode aged 64, a Knight and Civil Engineer from Cornwall.

On 2 October 1881 Bertha was baptised at Mapledurham church in Oxfordshire. It states the family are living in Paddington.  As to why Bertha was baptised there is a mystery. I can find no family connection and there is no evidence to say the family are living here. Was Alexander working in the village at the time? We will never know.


By 1891 the family are still living in Star Street at number 77. Alexander aged 54, a mechanic, Harriet aged 56, Eliza aged 27 a dressmaker (mantle) and Bertha aged 12, a scholar. Again, they are living in a multiple occupancy house of 4 households made up of 14 people.

Bertha’s father Alexander died in the September quarter of 1898 aged 63. 


In 1901 Bertha, aged 23, had left home and was working as a servant south of the river Thames at 52 Gresham Road in Lambeth for the widowed Florence Artesani aged 48. Her sons Herbert aged 22 and Roberto aged 19 lived at home as well as a boarder named Reginald Cox aged 22. This must have been hard work for Bertha to keep this household running.

I have not been able to find Bertha’s mother Harriett with any certainty.

The Infirmary and the Workhouse for Bertha

I can find nothing more about Bertha until the Religious Creed books of Fulham Union reveal she was admitted to St Dunstan’s Infirmary on 13 March 1909 when she was promptly sent to Fulham Palace Road Workhouse on the same day. Her address is given as 43 Conmel Road just off the Fulham Road. This was said to be her sister’s address, Mrs Seager. Is this Eliza? I believe it is. 

Mrs Seager

On 15 May 1892 an Elizabeth Clara Joyce married Henry Charles Seager aged 38 at St Marylebone Church in Marylebone Road. Not Eliza but Elizabeth Clara Joyce, a spinster aged 38. It is stated the father is Alexander Joyce, a Gas Fitter. Further census records for the couple show the age on the marriage certificate is incorrect and that the age of the bride is 28. This is the correct age for Eliza. I can find no other children born to Alexander and Harriet Joyce despite Harriet declaring on the 1911 census that she had 6 children of which only 2 were alive (Eliza and Bertha) I can only trace 5 children. It is possible Harriet had another child who could have been stillborn as these births were not registered.

How can I be sure I have the right Mrs Seager? The 1911 census shows Elizabeth and Henry Seager living at 43 Clonmel Road with their 4 children, Henry junior aged 19, Hector aged 16, Winifred aged 14 and Muriel aged 7. Also living at the same address was Harriet Joyce (mother-in-law) aged 78. The address of 43 Clonmel Road and the presence of Harriet Joyce confirms I have the right person. It seems as if Eliza started to call herself Elizabeth Clara when she married.

Bertha’s journey to Long Grove

After spending one month at the Workhouse Bertha was sent back to St Dunstan’s Infirmary, Ward C1 on 5 April 1909. She then went back and forth between these two institutions another 6 times, never returning home until on 8 April 1910 she was sent to Long Grove Hospital. 

There are no records available to say what her mental state was, but her death certificate gives an explanation. It suggests she was suffering from General Paralysis of the Insane for 3 years. This was Syphilis. The timescale ties in with the dates she had first entered Fulham Palace Road Workhouse.  With no antibiotics there was no cure. That is, if the diagnosis was correct.  The secondary cause of death was Pulmonary Tuberculosis which was all too common in the Asylums.

Bertha’s death certificate

Bertha’s home address on her death certificate was given as 43 Clonmel Road.

43 Conmel Road, Fulham

Clonmel Road today courtesy of Google Maps. Number 43 is nearest to us on the right.

The Electoral Roll shows the family appear to have moved here around 1907 and it became their home for many decades. An advertisement dating from 1900 suggests they had the upper part of the house with a Kitchen and Bath with hot and cold water. Booth’s Maps describe it as a fairly comfortable area but not as select as the next street. There were often 2 families in one house. 

The 1911 census shows they shared the house with one other family who lived in 3 rooms. The Seagers had the remaining 5 rooms in the house.

The 1921 census shows Henry Seager aged 68 was self-employed in the wholesale business, Elizabeth aged 56, Winifred aged 24, working as a Shorthand Typist, Muriel aged 17 at home, and Harriett Joyce at the grand old age of 87. 

On 9 February 1923 Henry died granting probate to Elizabeth and Winifred. His effects were valued at £433 8s 6d which is worth around £33,000 today. So the Seagers had done quite well for themselves. Harriet died a couple of years later in the January quarter of 1925 aged 91 which is a very long life.

By the time of the 1939 Register Elizabeth, Winifred and Muriel are still living at 43 Clonmel Road. By now Elizabeth is described as incapacitated.

Elizabeth died on 20 September 1954 and her will shows she died at Fulham Hospital but was still living at 43 Clonmel Road at the time of her death. Her effects were £1700.   I can track Winifred and Muriel living there through to the 1960’s. Winifred married in 1965 and died in 1981. Muriel never married and died in Kettering on 3 January 1996. Perhaps after Winifred married in 1965 the Seagers finally left Clonmel Road after nearly 60 years of occupancy.

Author’s thoughts

Sadly, I cannot trace a Reception Order for Bertha and no case notes have survived from Long Grove which would have given an insight into her health.

I feel that, given her mother’s age and the gap between births, Bertha must have been a surprise for her parents. They were certainly aware that life was precious seeing they had already lost 3 children to diseases that today would not be fatal. Given that they had only one child surviving who was 14 years older than Bertha it must have been difficult to adjust. I would imagine Eliza helped to bring her baby sister up. 

Bertha went into service which was expected at that time. In 1901 she was in service to the Artesani family in Lambeth. Mrs Artesani was the widow of Francis Artesani who was the chief clerk in the Spanish Department of Baring Brothers Bank so they were comfortably off. There were 3 young men in this household, and I wondered if this was where Bertha contracted syphilis. Having researched the 3 young men there is no evidence of this. So one can only imagine how Bertha came into contact with the disease. 

After an 8-year gap in Bertha’s story she became unwell and her sister seems to come to the rescue perhaps just as she did when Bertha was a child. Eliza could do no more for her and Bertha became too ill to be looked after at home and so she went to St Dunstan’s Infirmary in Fulham. She never returned home and after a year in and out of the workhouse and infirmary she was sent to Long Grove where she died 14 months later.

It seems somewhat ironic that as a child she managed to survive where her siblings did not, only to succumb to a sad fate as an adult. For her mother who was blessed with longevity it was another loss of a child which was all too familiar.

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