Jane Sarah Reeve was born on 10th January 1840 and was baptised on 9th February 1840 in St Mary’s Church Marylebone.
Her parents were Thomas Blythe Reeve and Jane Reeve, nee Brown. Her father hailed from Suffolk and her mother was born in Scotland. Her parents married on 31st May 1833 in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Jane herself never married and died in the Manor Hospital in November 1912 at the great age of 72.
As far as I can see, Jane had 3 siblings:
- William born in 1836 (died in 1901)
- Thomas Ewart born in 1838 (died 1887).
- Flora Augusta born in 1842 (died 1935)
From humble beginnings as a servant’s family, they seem to have eventually been quite comfortably off. By the date of the 1861 census the family, apart from Thomas Ewart who is in an asylum, was living with Jane’s parents in Putney. Thomas Blythe had become a gentleman’s coachman, Jane’s brother William (aged 25) was married by then, had a young baby, and was working as a solicitor’s managing clerk. Jane (aged 21) is described as a dressmaker. Flora is 18 but has no occupation.
Jane’s brother Thomas – a sad and troubled life
As mentioned above, Jane’s brother Thomas Ewart was in an asylum and seems to have led a sad and troubled life. He apparently had some serious mental issues which were described at the time as ‘ Mental anxiety’. One medical report describes Thomas as of ‘sullen manner and excited appearance’. He believed his friends were plotting against him and accused his brother, assisted by his mother, having ‘committed upon him an unnatural offence’ and he believed they were trying in ‘every way to injure him’. From the age of 22 he was in and out of various asylums until he died in 1887 aged 49.
The records he was in the following asylums :
- Munster House Fulham Private patient from 05/06/1860 to 09/08/1860
- Bethlem Asylum Southwark Private patient from 09/06/1860 to 14/06/1861
- Camberwell Asylum Pauper patient from 17/06/1861 to 26/04/1871
- Wandsworth Asylum Pauper patient from 26/04/1871 to 26/02/1877
Then it seems he was in the Metropolitan Asylum for Imbeciles in Caterham as he appears on the 1881 census for that institution. He died there of ‘Exhaustion of Dementia’ (now called schizophrenia) on 15th June 1887.
Jane’s father and stepmother
Jane’s mother died in 1863 aged 62 and Thomas Blythe remarried in 1864. He is described as a widower on the marriage certificate and his new wife, Elizabeth, was 10 years his junior. He was 61 and Elizabeth was 51 when they married.
In the 1871 census Thomas Blythe and Elizabeth are living in Cock Yard (now called St Anselm’s Place) in Mayfair. He is still a coachman and is likely to be living in what is now a small mews house (see photo) that was obviously where the coach and horses were also kept. No other family members are on the census at that address. Thomas Blythe died in 1877
The 1870s and 1880s
According to the 1871 census, I believe, Jane was living as a lodger at 89 Wigmore Street London (the census form is not very clear). She is still a dressmaker and by 1881 she is the head of the household there with one servant, Hanna Baker aged 21. Business directories show her operating a business there in 1875 and 1880. This address was probably her place of work as well as her home. Wigmore Street at the time was a high-class shopping area popular with well-to-do ladies, so it is likely she had a fairly successful business that ran for many years.
Jane’s brother, William
The 1891 census shows Jane, then aged 51, living with her brother William and his family, together with the other sister (Flora Augusta) in Oxford Villa, 11 Oxford Road, Putney (property today in photo). The properties in Oxford Road were built during the 1870s and 1880s so William could possibly have bought Oxford Villa as a new building. He was living there on the 1881 census and was by then a fully qualified solicitor working in central London. By 1875 he had become a partner in Cooper & Reeve, Bedford Row, London WC, a firm in the heart of legal London which is an indication that he was probably quite successful. By 1890 William had a business in Gray’s Inn Square, also in the heart of legal London. Jane is still a dressmaker in 1891. 10 years later, in 1901, Jane is no longer in Putney but her sister Flora still lives with their brother. William by then has 3 servants, one of whom is described as a ‘sick hospital nurse’. William died on 31st May 1901 leaving an estate of just over £7000 (worth about £880,000 now, but that ignores the exceptional rise in value of a detached house in Putney).
A ‘pauper patient’ in Manor Hospital
Research shows that in fact Jane had been admitted to the Manor hospital in April 1900 as a private patient which explains why she is not on the 1901 census at her brother’s address. She later became a pauper patient, on 19th November 1908, and died there on 1st November 1912.
An interesting case of what seems to have been a successful business woman for the times. Many questions came to mind during my research, the answers to which we will never know. What follows are some possibilities.
Jane’s father started life as a humble servant but he seems to have progressed to work in some very affluent areas of London. He ended up as a gentleman’s coachman living in premises in Mayfair so he undoubtedly worked for some wealthy families.
Two of his children (William and Jane) appear to have also lived relatively successful lives and have moved up the social ladder to become business people or professionals themselves. Thomas’s son William became a solicitor and eventually had servants of his own. Thomas’s daughters, Jane and Flora, never married but Jane, as far as I can establish, lived an independent life working as a dressmaker in a shopping area of London popular with the well-to-do. There is no record on any censuses to show that Flora ever had any occupation at all and she seems to have lived with family members for most of her life. The other son, Thomas Ewart, was in mental institutions for most of his life and suffered from what was described as ‘mental anxiety’ so perhaps there was a genetic weakness somewhere in the family.
Jane was living with her parents in 1861, then was a lodger in Wigmore Street in the 1871 census. Her father died in 1877 so did this perhaps give her some funds to set up the business there in her own name?
While living with her brother and his family she probably had a fairly comfortable life, but for some reason that came to an end in 1900 when she was admitted to the asylum in April that year. Jane was initially admitted as a private patient so the costs were being met, either out of her own resources or perhaps by her brother, the successful solicitor. She had been living independently until the 1891 census shows her living with her brother’s family in Putney. She seems to have been physically well, living to a good age for the times, so had she perhaps developed dementia like her brother Thomas Ewart? Perhaps there was some genetic link and a history of mental illness in the family. Was this why Flora never worked?
Why would Jane have been admitted to the asylum in April 1900?
The 1901 census shows William has a servant described as a ‘sick hospital nurse’ and he died in May 1901. I wonder if he had become seriously ill, needing to be cared for by the nurse, so that Jane could no longer be properly looked after at his home and she was therefore admitted to the asylum.
Why did Jane become a pauper patient in November 1908?
Did Jane’s personal funds run out in 1908 so she could no longer afford the costs of the asylum, or was it as a result of the death of her brother and later, in September 1908, of her sister-in-law? Jane remained in the asylum as a pauper for another 4 years.
She spent over 12 years in the asylum in total, which must have been quite an ordeal for her, particularly having regard to what we know of her life beforehand.