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James Murrell’s parents were married on 29th December 1862 at St Giles’ Church in Camberwell. It was a second marriage for his father James Murrell senior, his first wife Margaret having died only a short time beforehand. His mother, Jane Dale, was the daughter of a boot maker. His father’s occupation was shown as that of a jewel dealer but earlier Census records show his occupation to be that of a mathematical instrument maker. This was a precision engineering occupation where you had to have knowledge of trigonometry, geometry and algebra, so James senior must have been an educated man. However, by 1861, he seems to be a “miscellaneous dealer” which seems to be quite a vague term.

James’s birth

James William Murrell was born in the March quarter of 1864 in Lambeth. He was the first child of the marriage and became the eldest of 11 children. I have not been able to locate a baptism record for him or indeed many of the Murrell children. They may have been non-conformists at this time.

1870s – 1880s

The 1871 Census finds the family living at 189 Waterloo Road, Southwark. They are the only family at this address which seems to be a fairly comfortable area to live. The Murrell family at this time have a servant and seem to have had one for at least five years as there is a newspaper advertisement dated 13th February 1865 asking for a strong girl aged about 16, “Apply Mr Murrells”. An advert. for the property in 1867 shows it was previously a stationery shop in the main road between two theatres with good outdoor trade.

Occupants are listed as follows: James Murrell senior, head of house, aged 45 and a miscellaneous dealer, wife Jane aged 26, and the following children; James (7), Alice J (5), Helena A (4), Arthur J (2), and Alfred E (6 months). The servant was Sarah A Sparkes, aged 16, from Ilford.

1881 finds the family still at the same address with James senior now described as a tool dealer aged 56 and wife Jane aged 36. The family has grown as there are now nine children; James W (17), Alice J (15), Helena (14), Arthur (12), Alfred (10), Clara (8), Frederick W (6), Frank W (4), and Florence A (1). No occupations are shown for the older children.

James’s marriage

On 17th June 1888, James William Murrell married Sarah Charlotte Poulter, a spinster, aged 22, at St Andrew’s Church, Lambeth. Both father and son are described as “Tool Dealers”. Sarah’s father, also a James, was a Publican, although all research for him points to him being a wooden box and trunk maker. Sarah too, was the eldest child of a large family so they had that in common. According to Census records Sarah was a milliner’s apprentice. Nearly 12 months after their wedding, James and Sarah’s son, William Herbert was born on 12th June 1889. However, I cannot find Sarah or William Herbert in the 1891 Census. James can be found at 41 Anchor and Hope Alley in Southwark living with his sister Alice, who is now married to Arthur Price, a Newsagent and Tobacconist. This couple were witnesses to James’s wedding so he must have been close to his sister. There were three families living at this address. James is described as a shop keeper (tools).


On 12th June 1892, William Herbert is baptised at Christchurch, Southwark. The address given is 135 Waterloo Road (which is now the home of James Murrell senior and his family). Both James (junior) and Sarah Charlotte are shown as his parents and James’s job is that of a clerk. He may have been working for his father who was now a house agent and a tool dealer.


The 1901 Census finds the family living at 138 Railton Road, Lambeth which is part of St Jude’s Parish. It was a mixed class area just round the corner from Herne Hill station. James W was head of the household, aged 37, and seemed to be working as a carrier’s goods checker. Also living there was his wife Sarah, aged 34, son William Herbert, aged 11, and nephew John W Murrell, aged 21. I cannot find how John is actually related to James. Not sure if he is a nephew.

Later on that year, James seems to have health problems when on 28th August, he is admitted to Lambeth Infirmary from 138 Railton Road. He discharged himself on 3rd September 1901 back to 138 Railton Road with his wife Sarah. It is not clear what the problem may have been.

By 19th June 1904, James is back in the Lambeth Infirmary for a short stay but he discharged himself back to his home and wife Sarah on 30th June 1904. The address being given as 71 Herne Hill. Again, no indication why.

Admission to Horton Hospital

The Lambeth Lunatics Register for 11th June 1908 shows James being transferred from the Infirmary to Horton Hospital. Within the Lambeth Register of Lunatics, Copies of Reception Order, page 116, the medical order of 5th June 1908 states that “he had lost his memory and thought he was still in his employment of a “Goods Checker”. He heard voices and got agitated when he was stopped from following them. He was violent and threatened to knock his wife’s head off. He had been low for about a year and for the last month had lost his memory. It seems this was the first time he had been like this.”

On the Register, James’s wife is stated as Kate, not Sarah. My research supports I have traced the correct James Murrell as the age and occupation tie in with the 1901 Census. There is no other Kate Murrell that can be traced and tied into James Murrell. The address given is 48 Regent Road, Dulwich which is just around the corner from Railton Road and Herne Hill. However, it is a poor area. His wife’s details could have been recorded incorrectly or perhaps he was living with another woman.

James’s death

On 11th June 1908, James is transferred into the care of Horton Hospital where he spent the last two years of his life. He died on 5th May 1910 and was buried in Grave 749b in Horton Estate Cemetery on 10th May 1910.

Author’s thoughts

James Murrell seems to have been born into a comfortable family whose social status seemed good. His father appears to have been diversified in his employment but all the Murrell children survived to adulthood indicating there was little to affect their mortality. He and his siblings appear to have married within their social group. It is interesting to note from newspaper reports that his brother Arthur was musical and was the Manager of Ivanhoe Concert Company in the early 1890s.

It does seem after his marriage, James’s circumstances seemed to decline for whatever reason. In 1891 he was recorded as being a shopkeeper, possibly with his father, but by 1892 he became a clerk and appears to have been a goods checker for a carrier for the rest of his working life. Although he had earlier visits to the Infirmary, the medical record supporting his admission to Horton Hospital states this current episode was the first of its kind. He is said to have been depressed for about a year so without treatment his mental state had deteriorated rapidly. Perhaps this is why they moved to a street that was of a lower class as the rents were cheaper.

One can only assume his condition declined in Horton, although he lasted nearly two years until he passed away. At least he would no longer hear the voices in his head.

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