We know that Thomas Kimber died in Long Grove on the 17th of May 1918 at the age of 51. It has not yet been possible to find an admission record that would allow us to determine exactly how long he spent in the institution. We know that he was still in the workhouse system until January 1915.
Although his death record estimates his year of birth as 1867, we know from his baptismal record that he was actually born on the 7th of January 1866.
According to the General Register Office records, Thomas was born in Lambeth and his mother’s maiden name was Tuckey. The 1881 census shows that Thomas’s mother was Sarah and she was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire in about 1836.
In the 1861 census, we find a 27 year-old Sarah Tuckey working as a domestic servant at 5, Bedford Row in Streatham, the home of Mr George Pratt, a linen draper. We discover that Sarah was born in West Thorney, a village about twelve miles from Portsmouth, so we may assume that this is, indeed, Thomas’s mother. In the birth register, we learn that Sarah was the daughter of agricultural labourer Joseph Tuckey and his wife Harriet.
In the second quarter of 1864, Sarah married Charles Kimber in Croydon. Charles, who was born in Newbury, Berkshire in 1838, was the son of William Kimber, a labourer (in a later census, described as an ostler) and his wife Elizabeth.
In the 1871 census, we find 5 year-old Thomas living in Lambeth with his parents, Charles and Sarah, and his two sisters, Ann aged 7 and six-month old Harriet. Charles is working as a coachman. On the 13th of May 1871, Thomas was baptised together with his younger sister, Harriet Ada, at Trinity Church in Tulse Hill, Lambeth.
In the 1881 census the family is living at 3, Stewarts Place in Lambeth. Charles is still working as a coachman and Sarah is a ‘washwoman’. Fifteen year-old Thomas is a milkman. Ann is no longer living at home but Thomas now has another sister, Lily, aged seven.
Little has changed by the time of the 1891 census. The family is still living at 3, Stewarts Place, although Charles is now described as a ‘groom’ as well as a coachman, Sarah is still a laundress and Thomas is still working as a milkman. Ada is now a domestic servant but Lily no longer lives in the family home.
1900s and 1910s
In the 1901 census, we find Thomas is now working as a horsekeeper/groom and is married to Emily, who was born in Norwood in 1865. They are living at 14, Vining Street, Lambeth. The only marriage on record between a Thomas Kimber and a woman called Emily between 1891 and 1901 is that between Thomas John Kimber and Emily Apted, which took place in Lambeth in the second quarter of 1898. However, while the year and the location accord with what we know of Thomas’s life, if this is, indeed, our Thomas, it would be the only document we have in which he uses a second name.
Emily would appear to be the Emily Apted who, in the 1881 census, is aged sixteen and living with her family at 2, Durham Road in Lambeth, in the parliamentary borough of Norwood. Emily works as a general domestic servant while her father, John H. Apted, is a gun finisher. Her mother, Ann, does not work.
Emily Apted next appears in the 1891 census, working as a charwoman. She is unmarried, but living with her 8 month-old daughter, Annie, at 6, Hurst Street in Lambeth. We do not know the identity of Annie’s father. Sadly, Annie died in December 1891 aged just one.
If Thomas and Emily married in 1898, their life together would last less than ten years. We do not know the nature of the mental health problems that would necessitate Thomas’s admission to Long Grove towards the end of his life. Nor indeed do we know when they began. However, we do know that his life must have already started to spiral downwards when he was first admitted to the Lambeth Workhouse in Prince’s Road on the 1st of August 1907. He remained there until the 15th of August when he was discharged at his own request. Sadly, he was readmitted the following day and on the 21st of August, he was transferred to the infirmary.
From then until the 5th of February 1908, Thomas was readmitted to and discharged from the workhouse on at least eight occasions. Although it has not been possible to find all of his discharge records, it seems that the dates of his stays were sequential and that he lived continuously in the workhouse for more than six months. On all of his admission papers up to the 5th of February, when he transferred to the Renfrew Road Workhouse in Lambeth, he is described as a stableman or as an ostler.
The Princes Road site was constructed in 1887-8 as a new ‘test’ workhouse for 200 men and 150 women. It was solely for the able-bodied, with the aged and infirm remaining at Renfrew Road. This might explain why Thomas moves between the two.
We do not know how long he stayed in the Renfrew Road Workhouse but the next time we see Thomas Kimber is when he is admitted to Prince’s Road Workhouse on the 15th of April 1908. He is, however, newly described as a general labourer – and will be described as such in all workhouse records until the end of his life.
If this is our Thomas, his date of birth is given variously as 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871 and 1872 in the Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records over the next seven years. Does this mean that Thomas, suffering from poor mental health, was no longer able to work as an ostler and was perhaps even unsure of his own age when admitted to the workhouse?
Or, that there were two or more men of the same name and similar age who were regular residents at the same workhouse in the same period of time, but importantly, whose stays never overlapped? This fact does suggest that it is just the one man.
According to the General Records Office, only two other boys called Thomas Kimber were born in the London area between 1866 and 1874. One was our Thomas’s own cousin who was born in Hampstead in 1869. In the 1911 census, he was living in St Pancras, married and working as a postman. He died in Hampstead in January 1934. The other was Thomas George Kimber who was born in Chelsea in 1868. However, it has not been possible to find this Thomas Kimber in any census.
A Workhouse Regular
If we cautiously assume that our Thomas Kimber was the only resident of that name in Lambeth Workhouse at that time then it would appear that from the 15th of April 1908 until the 4thth of April 1915, his life followed a regular pattern of admission to, discharge from and readmission to Prince’s Road, with occasional stays in the infirmary.
There are, however, some gaps in the records. Did he ever recover sufficiently to return home – even just for a few days – or is it just that the relevant admission and discharge registers have not yet come to light? Any improvement in his mental health must have been short-lived, as on the 4th of April 1914 he was admitted to Prince’s Road Workhouse. From then until the 11th of January 1915, he was continually discharged and immediately readmitted no fewer than twenty-one times.
On the 11th of January 1915, he transferred to the Renfrew Road Workhouse and nine days later, on 20th January, he transferred to the infirmary. After that, we hear no more about Thomas until his death in Long Grove three years later, having spent the last eleven years of his life in workhouses, infirmaries and asylums.
Thomas is buried in plot b514 in Horton Cemetery.
What became of Thomas’s wife, Emily?
An Emily Kimber appears in the 1911 census living at 50, Halstead Street in Brixton. Born in Brewer Street, London, she is 47 years old and working as a domestic help. Although her husband is not living at this address, the census states that Emily has been married for 13 years. These facts would seem to identify Emily as our Thomas Kimber’s wife but Emily is living with her 8 year old daughter, Mildred Mary who, we are told was born in Brixton. Unfortunately, no birth registration has been found for a child of that name. This Mildred also appears in the 1909 admissions register for St. Michael’s School in Lambeth where her date of birth is the 4th of June 1902.
Unfortunately, it has not been possible up to now to determine if Thomas and Emily did have a daughter or even if this Emily Kimber is, in fact, Thomas’s wife.
Emily Kimber sadly passed away in Lambeth in the first quarter of 1918 aged 53, just a few months before her husband.
Written by Stephen Munday December 2021