Finding evidence for William’s life prior to his entry to the workhouse and then asylum system has been very challenging. This has been a time-consuming labour of love and still there are gaps in the detail.
In one census, William states he was born in Walworth, Southwark, London but it has not been possible to find a birth for him in the area.
One possible birth is in Thanet, Kent in 1858. What makes this likely, in terms of evidence is the 1881 census, when William says he was born in Ramsgate, which is in Thanet. There is another William George in the Thanet area (Eastry/Woodnesborough) in 1860 but this one remains in the area until the 1901 census.
The William Oldfield in the 1861 census for Ramsgate is 3 years old. His father is not present and his mother is Harriet Mills, suggesting she remarried or perhaps she had not married William’s father. The stepfather is also not present. William has two siblings Harriet aged 7 years and Elizabeth aged 5 years. They are both Oldfields. There is another child called George Mills who is 6 years old and labelled as ‘son-in-law’. This is likely to be Harriet’s stepson.
William George marries Elizabeth Edwards on December 17th 1877 at St John the Evangelist in the parish of Walworth, Southwark. His father William has died. Elizabeth’s father, George Edwards is a carman like William. William’s address is 113 Barlow Street, whilst Elizabeth’s is 274 East Street. They are both of the parish and of full age.
In 1879, a son William George is born to the couple and baptised on April 27th 1879 in St Andrew’s Church Newington. We know this is him because the maiden name is correct. There is a potential death registered within a year for a child of that name. According to a later reference, the couple have another son named William born in 1885. It is not unusual for people to name a subsequent child after a child which has died.
The William and Elizabeth we find in the 1881 census is for no.77, 7 Britannia Buildings in Newington. The record says that William was born in Ramsgate. He is a carman and Elizabeth, stated as born in Southwark, is a sewing machinist. Their births suggest they were born in 1858 and 1857 respectively. They do not have any children living with them.
Later records for their children tell us that there were births from 1884 onwards.
There is a school entry for two Oldfield children on October 1st 1889. Elizabeth b. 30th September 1883 and William born 25th January 1885 start at Webb Street School. No other children are apparent in the records at that time. Their father is William in the records and their address is 16 Rothsay Street. This is very close to Tabard Road, which becomes relevant later.
It feels very likely that the family are hiding in plain sight. A challenge for another researcher would be to helpfully locate this family!
What is frustrating is that the number of children born in the 1880s should make it very possible to locate the family in the 1891 census. The family are generally static in the area of Newington, Southwark. It is possible that the whole family was out of the area on the night of the census.
It is from this point in time that we can be fairly sure of our research evidence. This is thanks in part to the thorough record keeping at the workhouse.
In 1901 (March 31st), the census records William and his family living at no.8 Sylvester Buildings B Block, in Trinity Parish Newington. He is a carman and his wife Lizzie a charwoman. The record says he that was born in Walworth London but the record says ‘not known’ for Lizzie’s birthplace. The children with them are Jenny aged 10 (b. about 1890), Alice aged 12 (b. about 1888) and Harry aged 7 (b. about 1894). The children were all born in Bermondsey.
An incorrect transcription entry into a record disguised a key detail. There are two confusing entries for Henry starting school at Yaxon Street School in Bermondsey. In the first record, his father is correctly given as William. Henry starts school on September 18th 1899, with the added detail that he moves to Chaucer School on January 1st 1900 and left there on June 7th 1902. We know this is our family because the home address matches.
Then on October 2nd 1901, there is another entry for Henry starting school at Yaxon Street School. His father is named as Henry but we know it is our William as the address given is the same as the census – 8 Sylvester Buildings. It would appear that perhaps Henry left Yaxon at some point during the year and re-joined. To think of the young children at school while their father is falling ill and is in and out of hospitals, is very sad.
William Enters the Workhouse
It is in 1901 that we first find William entering the hospital. Here he starts his journey to Long Grove.
On November 1st 1901, William is discharged from St Bart’s Hospital to the Bow Road Workhouse. Described correctly, as a carman and married, there is no date of departure for him from Bow Street in the record. What could have been the reason for a hospital stay and the need to convalesce?
On May 31st 1903, William and Lizzie’s son, George marries Lydia Watmore at St James’s Church Bermondsey. William is shown as a carman, a detail which links him to later references in the workhouse. His brother William is a witness to the marriage. George is 22 years old, having been born about 1881.
On September 21st 1903, William George enters the Christ Church workhouse in Southwark. He stays there until October 29th 1903 when he is discharged.
There is a lot of background details for him in this record. His daughters are Elizabeth aged 19, Alice aged 15, Jane aged 13 and his sons are William aged 17 and Henry aged 11. It says all of them are living at 14 Boards Buildings, Tabard Street.
Given the stability of a family around him, it would be fair to assume that William was very unwell rather than it being for any reasons of poverty that he found himself in the workhouse.
William enters the Mint Street Workhouse in Southwark, on May 11th 1904. He leaves to go to Newington workhouse on May 20th 1904, described as temporarily disabled. Above his name and on others too, are the letters AL, which might mean ‘a lunatic’. He discharges himself on May 23rd 1904. He enters Newington again on June 13th 1904.
On April 22nd 1907, William leaves the Newington Workhouse and goes to the Hill Infirmary, described as temporarily disabled.
On June 10th 1907, William enters the Christchurch Workhouse, Marlborough Street, in Southwark. In brackets under his name in the records is 21.09.1903 referring to the previous admission. He is a carman by trade and 47 years old. William is a widower and Church of England by religion. He leaves two days later on June 12th and goes to the Newington Road workhouse, Southwark. He eats an ‘infirm’ diet and is temporarily disabled.
His notes also tell us that he has six children, three boys and three girls. His last known address was 14 Boards Buildings, Tabard Street, the house of his father-in-law George Edwards.
William arrives again at the door of the Mint Street Workhouse on April 16th 1909. On May 6th 1909, William moves to Long Grove Asylum. He had been in Mint Street for a month.
William died on February 15th 1910 as listed in the records at the Surrey Family History Centre. He was laid to rest on February 18th in plot 869a in Horton Cemetery.
After William’s Death
Just a couple of months later, on April 17th 1910, his daughter Alice marries, aged 23 years. She is living in Trafalgar Street and her betrothed lives further down the same road. He is Arthur Finch and he appears not to be literate as he gives his X mark, whereas Alice appears to sign her own name.
The certificate indicates that William George is still alive which we know not to be true. Does this mean that the family had completely lost touch with their father? Perhaps other people did not know that he was in an asylum. A Jennie Oldfield witnesses the marriage. This could be an error and could be Jane, Alice’s sister.
In 1911 census, we find George living at 32 Brunswick Court, Bermondsey. He is now a carman like his father, working for a bottle merchant. He and Lydia Ann have been married for eight years by then but they have no children as yet. Another researcher on Ancestry has evidence that George dies in 1921 and Lydia remarries a Joseph Law at St Olave’s in Bermondsey.
Written by Theresa Kenefick-Conway in January 2022