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McGOVARIN, Laura

  • Story Version number = 1
  • Friends of Horton Cemetery Researcher – Linda Miles-Cartwright

Laura was born a long way from London in fact she was born in Fredericton in Canada to Alfred Carter a British soldier and Annie Bell McLeod a Canadian girl. It would seem Alfred was stationed there. A date of marriage of 14th July 1866 can be found in a public family tree but this cannot be substantiated. Laura appears to be their eldest child and the first of a very large family of 16. She was baptised in Canada 5th August 1868 so it can be assumed that perhaps she was born in the summer of 1868.

By 1870 the family were in Cork where her sister Mary Adelia was born and by 1872, they were in Aldershot where her brother Alfred was born. Judging by the places of birth of subsequent siblings the family moved to Manchester in 1875 and Fleetwood in the following year before settling in South Petherton in Somerset by 1877.

By the time of the 1881 the family address is Hayes End in South Pemberton and Alfred Carter aged 40 is shown to be a Sergeant in the Army and her mother, Annie as his wife aged 30. Laura has been joined by sisters Mary (11) and Annie (5) and brothers Alfred (8), Henry (4), Charles (3) and Albert (1).

The later census for 1891 shows the family remained in Somerset over the next 10 years with the birth of further 6 siblings in the county. What happened to Laura during this time is unclear but on 2nd October 1890 she married Thomas McGovarin at Marylebone Registry Office. Thomas was the eldest son of Thomas and Mary McGovarin from Stratford, Essex. Thomas senior was a licensed victualler who ran successful public houses at The Lion in Angel Lane and later The Pigeons in Romford Road. This can be supported by Newspaper Adverts for the time.

How she met him is unclear but by the following year in 1891 the census finds Laura and her new husband living with Laura’s family at the Red Lion Hotel in Somerton, Somerset. Alfred Carter, Laura’s father has now left the Army and took over running this establishment in December 1890. It appears Thomas is helping with the running of the Hotel as he is described as a Licensed Victualler stating he was born in Limerick, Ireland. This was not the case as he was actually born in Bethnal Green but Thomas is a man with a past which will later be discovered.

Laura and Thomas’s first daughter Mary Adelia was born 6th September 1891 in Somerton presumably named after Laura’s sister. In 1894 the family had moved to Peckham in London where their second daughter Annie Elizabeth was born on 9th February 1894 (again named after one of Laura’s sisters) followed by Olive Maud in the quarter April to June in 1895 in Greenwich. Around this time according to Mary’s school records the family were living at 28 Sharratt Street which seems to be a mixed area of residential standards according to Booths Maps. The following year Olive died at about the age of one but Laura may not have had too much time to dwell on it as another daughter Nellie Louisa arrived in the July to September quarter of 1896. Poor little Nellie only survived for 2 years as she died in July 1898 and she was buried at Southwark on 2nd August 1898.

Laura again would not have had much time to dwell on things as the couple’s first son arrived on 16 February 1899 and he was baptised on 22nd March at St Jude’s Peckham and given the name Thomas Alfred Alexander. The family were now living at 64 Leo Street off the Old Kent Road. Thomas, Laura’s husband, was described at this time as a cellarman. The McGovarin family were still living at this address on 24 March 1901 when their second son Stanley Kenneth was born.

The Census in April 1901 shows the family still at 64 Leo Street and Thomas senior is now working as a Steam Motor Driver. Laura aged 33, daughters Mary aged 10 and Annie aged 7 and sons Thomas aged 2 and an unnamed child under 1 month. The unnamed child would be Stanley.

1901 census

They also had a lodger Eliza Caskett a nurse aged 62. This would have brought some extra money in. There were 2 families living at this address with a total of 11 people living there. Shortly after the Census disaster struck the family again when little Thomas died and he is buried at Southwark 15th May 1901.

It seems from a Newspaper article that it is around this time between the death of Thomas and the birth of Gladys that the past catches up with Laura’s husband. He is confronted by a woman who questions him about his situation. That woman is Ellen Sophia McGovarin his legal wife!

On 30th August 1882 at St Matthews Church in Bethnal Green Thomas McGovarin had married Ellen Sophia Dennis. They had lived at Finsbury and Stepney and a daughter was born who sadly died. In May 1887 he deserted his wife. Some years later, Ellen somehow finds out that Thomas had married Laura and he admits he was living with Laura and that 6 children had been born. Ellen apparently says “I’ll go round and see her” to which Thomas McGovarin replies “Oh don’t do that she’s got quite enough trouble”. The trouble according to the papers was an approaching accouchement (birth). Ellen did not go and could not trace her husband after that date.

On 8th August 1903 the couple’s 7th child Gladys May is born. At this time the couple were living in New Cross Road. Sadly, by 11th February 1904 all is not well for Laura and she was admitted to Greenwich Workhouse from 25 New Cross Road being described as “deranged”. After 15 days she is moved to Horton Hospital where she stays until 27th December 1904 when she is discharged as being “Recovered”. Presumably she went back to the family home.

Whilst Laura is away at Horton Hospital Ellen McGovarin proceeded to file for divorce on 8th September 1904. The papers are served on Thomas’s sisters as he could not be traced. One of the sisters is named in the Newspaper as Louisa Casey. Louisa states she knew about her brother’s marriage to Laura but had presumed he had divorced Ellen. Oddly Louisa had been divorced in similar circumstances to that of her brother in 1899. She had started a relationship with John Casey whilst still being married to her husband Thomas Cottrell. Although she had not gone through with a bigamous marriage like her brother. At that time, it was very rare for the working classes to divorce so it is extremely unusual to find two in the same family. It was also against the law to enter into a bigamous marriage so that was another reason for Thomas McGovarin to lay low. His sister would have known that.

After Laura was discharged from Horton Hospital she returned home and it is not clear whether she knew about her husband’s wife. I think not as Thomas seemed at pains to keep them apart. In July 1905 Thomas was in trouble with the law. A Newspaper article from the Nottingham Evening Post states that on 13th July 1905 he was found drunk in charge of a steam Lorry and causing bodily harm to a man whom he knocked over on the Old Kent Road. He was found guilty and served one month’s hard labour. By the end of 1905 his divorce became final and he was free to marry again. But why would he if Laura thought they were already legally married?

On 27th January 1906 Laura and Thomas’s last child, Adelaide Velda was born and she was baptised at All Saints, Deptford on 25th September 1906. By then the family were living at 10 Evelyn Buildings and according to the children’s school records they moved to 167 Canterbury Road just off the Old Kent Road around 1907.

Sadly, Laura’s mental health must have deteriorated after 3 years because she was admitted to Constance Road Workhouse in Camberwell on 18th May 1910 with the comment “Alleged Insane”. Diagnosis and prognosis were swift and on 24th may 1910 she was readmitted to Horton Hospital. In less than 10 days after being sent there Laura McGovarin died and she was buried on 7th June 1910 in the Horton Estate Cemetery in grave number 875a.

Laura seems to have been born into a large stable family. Her father had a good job and although I have not gone into detail here, I have researched the rest of the family and they seem to do well and are healthy. They all survive into adulthood. Some of the family went into the drapery business and at least 3 of her siblings emigrated to New Zealand. Laura’s life feels different to that of the others possibly by her choice of marriage.

How the couple met is not known but Thomas felt brave enough to go through a marriage ceremony with Laura so she would believe she was in a legal relationship and possibly she never knew the truth. The evidence suggests she didn’t. He must have fallen in love with her and because divorce was near impossible at that time, he decided that he would just enter into another marriage and hope he didn’t get caught. It was often the only option for the lower classes.

The deaths of 3 of her children between 1896 and 1901 would have affected her greatly. Her first visit to Horton Hospital in 1904 lasted 10 months and she must have recovered sufficiently to return her to her family. Thomas’s brush with the law in 1905 must have also weighed heavy on her, looking after 4 children when perhaps she was not well herself whilst he was in prison. When Thomas McGovarin said to his wife Ellen about Laura “She’s got quite enough trouble” did he mean more than just the impending birth of her 7th child? It could be the case.

Despite returning home supposedly recovered Laura’s demons became worse in 6 years and she went back to Horton Hospital. This time however she could not be saved. Her rapid demise suggests she was not in a very good state of health when she went into the workhouse. She was described as “Alleged insane” on her admittance so her old problems had returned but worse this time round. Within 15 days she was dead.

Burial Date = 7/6/1910


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