b.1858 – d.1912
Early years 1858 to 1871
Maria Milton was born in January 1858 in Tunbridge Wells Kent. Her maiden name was Mowcoomber and her parents were George Mowcoomber and Sarah Prout. Maria’s parents married on 23rd January 1858 and I believe this must have been after Maria’s birth, as Maria was baptised on 24th January 1858.
Maria was the eldest of 6 full blood siblings. Her brothers and sisters were:
George Henry born in 1860
Ambrose born in 1862
Charlotte Alice born in 1865
Patience Ada Blanche born in 1867
Maude born in 1871
There was also a half-sister born to her mother in 1851, Elizabeth Susan Prout, so presumably before her involvement with George Mowcoomber.
By 1861, according to the census that year, the Mowcoomber family had moved to Islington and were living with what appear to be Maria’s grandparents (Sarah Prout’s parents) at 81 Upper Bemerton St Islington. There is no indication of what brought them to London from Kent.
By 1871 the Mowcoomber family had moved to 191 Offord Road Islington. Offord Road is just a short walk from Upper Street Islington, where Maria eventually lived with her second husband.
First Marriage and children of that marriage
On 29th March 1875 Maria married her first husband, Nathaniel Edward Giles in St Paul’s church, Islington. He is shown as 28 years old and a clerk, but I believe he was a little older as the only matching birth I have found was in 1844, which would make him 31 at the date of the marriage. Maria is shown as being 21 but in fact she was only 17. Perhaps she was marrying without parental consent so stated she was 21.
Neither of her parents were witnesses to the marriage. Also, their first son, Reginald, was born on 25th September 1875, so Maria must have been pregnant when they married. Perhaps there was a rushed marriage which is why she stated her age to be 21. Nathaniel seems to have been 13 or 14 years older than Maria.
Four more children followed fairly quickly:
Lilian (Lillie) born 1877
Amelia (Millie) born 7th February 1880
Frederick Alfred born 5th November 1881
Ada Rosabel born January 1883
The 1881 Census is not very legible but seems to show the family living in Hackney which ties in with where the four eldest children (Reginald, Lilian, Amelia and Frederick) were baptised. Nathaniel appears to be using the name Edward on the census and is described as a servant. The 4 children were all baptised on 2nd December 1881 in St Augustine’s Church, Hackney and their address at baptism is shown as Oriel Terrace Homerton. Nathaniel is shown as working as a Railway Clerk.
Ada was baptised in All Saints Church of All Souls, Clapton on 26th October 1883. The family was then living in Pedro Street Clapton.
Maria’s husband Nathaniel was admitted to the Islington workhouse on 28th November 1882 . We do not know the circumstances under which he went to the workhouse, but he is described as ‘insane’.
On 4th December, only about a week later, he was transferred to the Colney Hatch asylum, described as an institution for the ‘pauper insane’. He died in the asylum on 14th September 1883 aged just 38. The cause of death on the certificate is ‘general paralysis’, which usually means untreated syphilis. Colney Hatch Asylum
Maria, only in her mid-20s, found herself a widow with 5 young children to take care of.
Second marriage and later children
At some point not too long after Nathaniel’s death Maria must have become involved with James Milton, who was to become her second husband.
In the 1891 Census Maria is still using the name Giles, is 33 years old and living at 348 Upper Street Islington with James Milton and, by then, 7 children. She is described as married and a housekeeper, but she was in fact a widow at that time. James is 46 years old, considerably older than Maria, and is also shown as married but his wife is not listed. I have not been able to find a previous marriage for James Milton.
James’s occupation is listed as a greengrocer on the census. Upper Street Islington was and still is the main road through Islington and is mainly a shopping area so perhaps James had a shop there which they all lived above.
Maria’s 3 youngest children on the 1891 census were born after the death of her first husband so they are likely to be James Milton’s children although they are listed with the name Giles.
James William, born on 11th February 1887
Maria Blanche, born on 24th September 1889
Polly M (who I believe was actually named Ethel Maud), born on 6th September 1890.
Ethel had a twin named Daisy Maud who sadly seems to have died within weeks of birth. She is buried in Islington Cemetery.
Two further children followed soon after:
Grace born 30th October 1891, who also died as a baby and Ivy Violet born 7th June 1893
As you can see, Maria gave birth to at least 11 children, and we know 2 died as babies. She must have had a hard life, coping on her own with 5 young children when her first husband was placed in the workhouse, then an asylum. It’s no wonder she moved in with James Milton fairly soon after her husband died. She then went on to have more children.
James and Maria eventually married on 10th October 1894.
Time in Institutions – 1898 until death
On 24th January 1898 Maria was admitted to Hagar Ward at the Islington Workhouse, described as a ward for ‘Alleged Lunatics’. The entry for her admission shows she was taken there by her husband, James Milton. According to the entry, lunatics should not be kept at the workhouse for more than 14 days so on 3rd February 1898 Maria was discharged. I think the note on the record says to the care of friends.
However, she did not stay out of institutions for long. On 16th June 1899 Maria was admitted to Horton Hospital. The hospital records then show her being transferred to and from various institutions until her death on 7th April 1912.
The dates are:
- 3rd Oct 1898 – Bethnall House – 16th June 1899 (Relieved)
- 16th June 1899 (Admitted) – Manor Asylum – 25th Aug 1904 (Recovered)
- 23rd Jun 1904 – Epsom Colony – 17th Nov 1910 (Discharged Not Improved)
- 17th Nov 1910 – Epsom Manor Asylum – 7th Apr 1912 (Died)
The Horton admission document in 1899 states she had her first ‘attack’ at age 38, which perhaps is what resulted in her earlier admission to the Hagar Ward at the workhouse. The cause of her condition is described as ‘probably drink’. She also had a scar on her leg from a syphilitic ulcer, probably as a result of contracting the disease from her first husband, Nathaniel, who we know had syphilis.
The medical report upon admission says she is said to have delusions that her husband James has women in the house and accused him of setting fire to the house. She also accused him of beating the children, committing various crimes against his customers and saying that he wished to kill her.
It was initially believed that her mental state was as a result of domestic troubles and an excess of alcohol. Her appearance was generally dirty and she spoke nonsensically. It was believed her condition could be cured by her removal from the family home and some sympathetic treatment.
Subsequent reports state that although her delusions continued, ‘on the whole she is happy and content’.
Sadly, Maria died on 7th April 1912 and is buried in Grave 1379a at Horton cemetery
There are a few family trees on Ancestry.com that suggest Maria had numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren many of whom may well be alive today.
Maria must have had a hard and difficult life having so many children at such a young age, being widowed in her 20s and trying to deal with everything on her own. It is no wonder she sought solace with an older, perhaps financially secure greengrocer.
During her life she had different surnames – Prout, Mowcoomber, Giles and Milton – which she used in varying ways. This has made research a little difficult at times. She also was inconsistent with her age from time to time so I hope I have found the right lady in the various records checked.
An initial read of the Horton hospital reports, etc. suggests to me that she did receive some sympathy and understanding from the staff there upon her first admission. It could be that Maria was the victim of some domestic abuse that would not be tolerated today, but was perhaps fairly normal in the 1890s. Maybe not all her delusions were unfounded! This is perhaps evidenced by the fact it was thought she could be cured if removed from the home in Upper Street.
Perhaps she was unable to cope with her life at home, with 9 young children to care for and a husband who was part of her problem. If so, who could blame her for drowning her sorrows in alcohol sometimes.
Living away from home in the institutions did seem to ease her condition as she was later reported as happy and content, although still delusional, after being in Horton for a few years. It seems unlikely that she had access to alcohol at Horton which no doubt helped.
A later photo shows a happier looking lady.