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b.1874 – d.1914

Early Life

Ann Parkyns was born Ann Rebecca Witherington, in the March Quarter of 1874. Her birth was registered in Bethnal Green. Ann was named after her mother and was the middle child of five born to Robert and Ann Witherington (nee Tyrell).

Robert and Ann had married on the 19th Sept 1869 at St James Church, Shoreditch. The family was a true cockney family, all born within the sound of Bow Bells. For much of her early life young Ann, her two brothers and two sisters lived around Digby Street in Bethnal Green, where her grandparents and other extended family members also lived. Of the five siblings the two boys enrolled at the local school. No records could be found for any of the girls attending school. By 1880 school attendance had become compulsory for those aged five to ten, although it still had to be paid for and therefore attendance was not always realised. The girls may have got some basic learning from Sunday school but it is unlikely Ann knew much more than her basic letters and numbers.

Ann’s father Robert had various unskilled jobs, likely getting what work he could. On the 1881 census his occupation was recorded as a ‘Potman’, someone who cleared away and washed the pots in a Public House.

Family Background

Digby Street where Ann and her family lived was situated in a very poor area of Bethnal Green; it was very populous with much overcrowding and multi occupancy in most of the dwellings. The area was rife with disease as there was lack of a public sewage system. By 1871 this area was running out of space, there was then an average of eight people per dwelling, also unemployment in the area was rife.

Charles Dickens immortalised the East End and Bethnal Green, he not only wrote about it in his books but also walked around the area at night and saw the filth and squalor for himself.

Digby Street was quoted in many reports of the time as being in a dilapidated state, its houses in a distressing condition; it was originally built as a narrow alley which was usually covered with a pungent pool of filth and slime.
In 1883 when Ann was just nine years old her father Robert John Witherington died. Her mother took work as a pipe rubbler, perhaps something to do with the rubble drains in the area, which were part of various schemes to help sort out the local drainage.

Like most widows with young families at the time, Ann Witherington remarried, this time to Charles Dalton, a horsehair dealer; their wedding took place at St Thomas Church, Bethnal Green on 30th January 1888. Not a lot can be found out about Charles Dalton but I suspect he is the same person recorded a few years later on the 1891 census as head of the family, now using the name John Jones, whether or not they are one and the same person, John Jones had gone on to assume the role of husband and father to Ann’s children and they had also taken the surname Jones. No third marriage record has been found.

By now the ‘Jones’ family had moved to York Road in Battersea and John Jones was recorded as a bottle dealer and so was young Ann (his step-daughter). This must all have seemed a great change for the Witherington children, Battersea is south of the River Thames and what must have felt a world away from the familiar East End.

Battersea was a healthier environment to live in. By the end of the nineteenth century, streets of better quality suburban housing were built there, although in the north of Battersea where Ann was to live the conditions remained impoverished although a vast improvement from Digby Street.

John and Ann Jones variously worked as ‘dealers’; and it appeared they ran a marine shop in York Road. John Jones had a criminal record. In 1897, the year after young Ann’s marriage, he was found guilty of receiving stolen property; a newspaper article from the time gave some of his background and stated that he had four previous convictions, once serving seven years penal servitude. It also stated that he had been at liberty for the last nine years during which time he had married Ann’s mother and together they ran the marine store in York Road. John Jones was sentenced to eighteen months hard labour. Young Ann’s life would never have been far from crime.

Married Life

Ann Rebecca Witherington was twenty-two years old when she married Henry George Parkyns, he was twenty-nine. The marriage in 1896 (March Quarter) was recorded in the Wandsworth district. Henry George Parkyns was born in Westminster (according to the 1871 census), although his birth registration has never been found. His father had been a painter and decorator in the Hammersmith area and Henry also became a painter’s labourer, perhaps working with his father. Henry was also named after his father, who was originally from Eton in Buckinghamshire, however Henry George Parkyns senior died before the young couple’s marriage. This may have affected young Henry’s work chances. Ann’s stepfather was by now in prison. Henry and Ann Parkyns may have found their new married life quite difficult, with little support, they moved around a lot in those first few years and Henry was taking different jobs.
A year following their marriage in 1897 Henry and Ann had their first child Henry George Parkyns, sadly he died aged four months and was buried on 31 July 1897.

At this time the family was living at 151 Ingrave Street, Battersea, very close to Ann’s mother in York Road.
The following year a second son Alfred George Parkyns was born on 16 July 1898. The family was still living in Battersea now at 45 Verona Street and Henry was working as a labourer. Alfred lived only nine months before he too died and like his brother was laid to rest in the burial ground at Morden. Burials often took place a few miles from home as by this time the churchyards were closed to new burials and the handful of cemeteries were spaced around London. How much support Ann would have got is not known, her own mother lived nearby and so did Henry’s mother, both were now widows and having to work to provide for themselves.

On the 1901 census Henry and Ann Parkyns were living at 78 Gwynne Road in Battersea, they were sharing the house with another family of five. Gwynne Road was a new development of houses built in the late nineteenth century, the area was still poor, its inhabitants ‘very rough’. Most dwellings housed two or three families, as subletting rooms to lodgers helped make ends meet. Henry was working as a painter’s labourer by the time their third son was born on 19th November 1901; the family was still lodging in Gwynne Road. This third pregnancy must have brought great anxiety.

Henry and Annie Parkyns

George William Parkyns was baptized at Christchurch, Battersea on the 18th December 1901 aged four weeks.

Ann had no time to enjoy baby George, as when he was barely three months old she was admitted to Hoxton House Asylum. By the early 19th century, nearly all London’s private madhouses were in Hoxton and the area became synonymous with lunacy. One hundred years later things were beginning to change and the cluster of hospitals at Epsom are emerging.

Ann Parkyns was admitted to Hoxton House on 12th February 1902 and three weeks later she was transferred to Horton Asylum on 7th March 1902, Hoxton House closed then after 200 years as a mental institution and its 280 patients all transferred.

Lunacy Admissions; 26452 Parkyns, Ann
1911 Census for Horton Asylum

Ann stayed at Horton for nearly twelve years and at 40 she died on 7th January 1914. She was buried in the Horton Cemetery on 13th January 1914.

Baby George did survive and he was seen on the 1911 census adopted by Emma Jane Day, a sixty one year old widow whose occupation was recorded as ‘foster parent”. He lived with this family until his marriage. It is not known what happened to Henry George Parkyns.

Author Notes

In addition there are several Sanitation Reports available on Digby Street around the time the family were living there and shortly afterwards. Growing up in the East End was tough but there would have been so many relatives around. Many of the extended family continued to live in Bethnal Green after Ann had left. Ann’s grandfather Joseph William Tyrell was still living in the old family house at the time of his death. Joseph worked as a soap maker/perfumer.
Young Ann was nine when her father died; he was just 33 years old and left five young children. Ann’s mother remarried to Charles Dalton but within a few years she was living with John Jones. I tend to think of these men probably being the same person. John Jones had a criminal background and had been convicted several times. He was known to use an alias. We may never know but together Ann, John and the family moved to Battersea and ran a marine shop. It is likely young Ann worked in the Marine store with her step father, together in 1891 they were both working as Bottle dealers and living at the shop in York Road.

When young Henry George Parkyns married Ann Rebecca Witherington they must have hoped for a bright and happy future together but tragedy struck them after losing their first two babies soon after marriage. Following the birth of a third son Ann was admitted to Hoxton Asylum and a month later transferred to Horton Asylum. Was this a puerperal depression? Sadly Ann stayed at Horton and died there twelve years later. I have been unable to trace what happened to her husband and wonder did he change his name and start another family elsewhere? Divorce would have been very difficult at the time. Ann and Henry’s third child William did survive, he kept his last name Parkyns and lived with his adoptive family until his own marriage many years later. I have never found a family connection with the adoptive family and on the 1911 census the adoptive mother gave her occupation as foster mother, she also had a nurse child living with her, so I suspect her job was a paid one to take in children, either privately or through poor law.
Ann Rebecca Parkyns nee Witherington has been fascinating to follow and get to know more about. Although Ann came from a very large family, in her final years she would have been very much alone. If she did ever get visitors whilst she was at Horton Asylum, I will never know but the distance, the journey, the fares, visiting restrictions and the culture perhaps made this unlikely.

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