SCAMBLER, Thomas William

This is the fascinating story or Thomas William Scambler where a detailed court case makes for a good read

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b. 1823-d.1902

Thomas William, the son of Thomas [1790-1847] and Frances Augusta Scambler, was born on 11 April 1823 in Pimlico, London. His father Thomas had married Frances Augusta Williams [1787-1827] on 22 June 1813 in St George Church, Hanover Square, Westminster.

When Thomas was baptised in the same church on 18 May 1823, the family address was recorded as Little Eaton Street, and although his father’s occupation was recorded as a porter at the time, he eventually became a greengrocer.

Thomas had three older sisters – Mary Ann born in 1813, Eliza Frances born in 1816 and Sarah born in 1819.

Thomas’s mother dies

Thomas was aged four when his mother Frances died in September 1827. Just over a year later, on 11 October 1828, his widowed father married Ann Marnham, in St James’ Church, Westminster. Thomas was aged 16 when his sister Eliza died in 1839.

Fruiterers and greengrocers

Throughout his life, following in his fathers’ footsteps, Thomas worked as a fruitier and greengrocer. When the 1841 Census was taken, Thomas was enumerated along with his father and stepmother as living in North Street. Thomas senior was recorded in the census as being a greengrocer and although Thomas junior was not recorded as such in this census, he was recorded two years later in the 1843 London Directory as having a fruit shop at 61 North Street, Edgware Road. Thomas was aged 24 when his father died in 1847.

Thomas marries

On 4 March 1850 Thomas married spinster Ann Moore in St Marylebone Church, Westminster. He was recorded as being a greengrocer and, rather strangely, that his father had been a book seller (the marriage entry does not however record that his father was deceased).

The couple had six known children:
Thomas William (junior) 1851-1914: Married Mary Ann Mead in 1878 and had three known sons. Occupations Baker, Tailor, Draper. Lived at 7 Ferne Park Road, Stroud Green, Hornsey before moving to East Bergholt, Suffolk, in 1891. Aged 50, he had returned to Hammersmith and by 1901 and was living at 160 The Grove.

Joseph 1854-1919: By 1891 he was working as a cook at the Frank Lambert Union Workhouse, St Margaret, Leicestershire. He married a local girl, Ethel Mord (sic) A Joyce in 1893 and by 1901 he was working as a cook and confectioner in Leicestershire.

Robert Charles 1855-1938: Arrived in Sydney, Australia, on 5 August 1875. Married twice – Beniae Cordell, nee Murdoch in 1886 and then Clara Elizabeth Taylor Wallin in 1897.

George Samuel 1857-1929: Married Elizabeth Wilkinson, nee Mead (sister of Mary Ann Mead above), in 1892 and had one known daughter. He had worked as an omnibus conductor but by 1911 he was a grocer living at 17 Lansdowne Terrace, Archway Road, Highgate.

Henry Jasper 1859-1860: Died in 1860.

Eliza Annie 1862-1943?: Married Frederick H Bennet in 1886 and had three known children. By 1901 they were living at 121 The Grove, Hammersmith (same road as her older brother Thomas junior) where her husband Frederick worked as an advertising agent on his own account. This indicates that he was acting as an intermediary between newspapers and people wishing to place advertisements.

1851 Census

The record shows Thomas’s stepmother as still running a greengrocery shop at 6 North Street while Thomas, his wife Ann and their son Thomas were living and trading from their greengrocery shop at the other end of the same street.

On 13 February 1859 Thomas and Ann’s three sons, Joseph, Robert, and Henry, were all baptised in St Marks Church, Regents Park. The family address was recorded as being 5 Pembroke Terrace, Gloucester Road, where Thomas traded as a greengrocer.

Sadly, Henry died the following year. He was buried on 5 December 1860, and the burial entry shows that the family address was in Dalston Lane, Hackney. The 1861 census later pinpoints the remaining family as living at 30 Medina Villas, Hackney, Middlesex.


By 1871 Thomas and his family had moved to Sandringham Road, Hackney – firstly to number 37 and then to number 174. In 1875, Thomas and Ann’s 19-year-old son Robert became a seaman and eventually married and settled in Australia.

At the beginning of 1877, Thomas’ 53-year-old wife Ann died and was buried in St Marylebone churchyard on 27 January. The 1881 census recorded that only Joseph and Eliza were still living with their father Thomas at 174 Sandringham Road, with Joseph working in the greengrocers with his father while Eliza acted as housekeeper.

Quite how Thomas had met his second wife, 36-year-old Hannah Raven, is unknown but on 25 January 1886, Thomas, aged 62, married Hannah in St Johns Church, Southend, Essex.

Hannah had been born in 1850 in Wakering, Essex, and had had two illegitimate daughters – Lavinia Ellen born in 1872 and Bertha Ann in 1878. Hannah’s daughter Lavinia was a witness to her mother’s marriage to Thomas.

In 1871, aged 21, Hannah had been working for retired victualler John Pritchard and his 26-year-old daughter as a domestic servant in their home at 4 Royal Terrace, Prittlewell. Despite becoming pregnant twice while in his employment, Hannah appears to have kept her job and by 1881 she was employed as his housekeeper.

John’s son Frederick and daughter Fanny were also living there on the night of the census while both of Hannah’s daughters were boarding with William and Mary Ann (nee Raven) Bolding/Bolden in Great Wakering. It is uncertain at this time how Hannah and Mary Ann were related.

For a few months following their marriage, Hannah stayed in Southend with Thomas frequently visiting from Sandringham Road that was not too far from Fenchurch Street, the London terminus for the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. Hannah gave birth to their son Walter Jasper on 18 December 1886 and registered his birth in Essex. She eventually moved to Sandringham Road where their son, Julian Septimius (he was Thomas’ seventh son, hence the middle name), was born on 4 August 1888.

A Court Case

Everything would appear to be happy but as they say, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors and on 7 August 1889 Hannah appealed for a legal separation from Thomas. The court case documented that Thomas had treated Hannah with great unkindness and cruelty and had frequently been physically violent and used offensive language towards her.

Hannah had also claimed that she had suffered from bronchitis in the winter months and had been confined to bed. During this time, she alleged that Thomas had refused to supply her with coal for a fire in her bedroom or to buy food, coal, and clothes for her children, so she had to use her small private income to supply them.

She also claimed that in October 1888 that while she was holding her baby Julian, that he struck her in the face, and then threw open a window to annoy her saying that if she closed it, he would cut her throat. Later, on 4 June 1889, she claimed that Thomas took a knife from a box and ran after her saying that he “would do for her if she dared to moved”.

The abuse and threats continued until 1 August 1889 when after Thomas had threatened to kill Hannah with a razor, she was forced to leave the home and seek refuge in a nearby shop.

However, it would seem that the couple managed to sort out their problems without the courts’ final decision as on 11 January 1890, Hannah’s solicitor gave notice to the court that both parties had settled their differences.

Thomas and Hannah may have decided that it would be better to live apart for a while as Hannah was recorded on the 1891 Census as living on her own means with her two daughters and two sons at 27 Glenarm Road, Hackney. The census records that Thomas was at 174 Sandringham Road on census night and that staying with him was his married daughter Eliza, her husband Frederick H Bennet and their 3-year-old daughter Frances.

When Thomas and Hannah’s youngest child Julian started school in Sidney Road on 26 August 1895, the family address was given as 72 Median Road, Hackney. Whether Thomas was living there with Hannah and the rest of the children is unclear as only Hannah was listed as living at that address on the Electoral Registers.

Admitted to Fisherton Asylum

With the exception of 1890 and 1891, when number 174 Sandringham Road does not appear on their list at all, the Electoral Registers record that Thomas lived at number 174 until 1896, which would coincide with Thomas being admitted to the Fisherton Asylum in Salisbury on 22 January 1896. It would be safe to assume because of his mental state that Thomas’ family had closed his greengrocery shop.

Fisherton Asylum was founded in 1813 as a private mental institution. By the 1890s, patients were being sent there by authorities from as far away as London and the South-East, largely because of lack of provision locally. The Fisherton Asylum Admissions register ref. J7/170/13, provides the following information for Thomas William Scambler, which included his last address as being 72 Median Road:

Admitted 22 Jan 1896; case no 9867; age 74; married; greengrocer; 72 Median Road, Lower Clapton, N.E.; chargeable Hackney; Dementia; Feeble body; discharged 7 July 1896; not improved. The opening sentences of his case notes state the following:

Thomas Wm Scambler – 74, Married, Greengrocer, Wesleyan, first attack of 5 weeks duration, cause unknown, not epileptic nor suicidal, but is dangerous being violent to those about him, no heredity. [At the time there was an assumption that mental illness was something that could be passed between generations].

Certificate – Says he has given birth to a child. His ideas of time, place and persons are quite confused, he imagines that he is picking up eggs from hen’s excrement. Has been violent & dangerous to his wife & children.”

Thomas’ medical records not only give an insight into his mental state but also a physical description of him stating that he was a short man measuring 4 foot 11 inches tall and weighing 7 stone 9.5 lbs. More physical details were recorded including the following: “A short thin pink complexioned old man with lateral scoliosis (curvature of the spine); bald except for a fringe of grey hair; blue eyes, right pupil smaller than left; mouth drawn slightly to the right – left side face smoothed out”.

William Boddie M.B., C.M.Aber., who was the Assistant Medical Officer, recorded Thomas’ mental state as “Sub-acute mania. His manner is peculiar – fussy and excitable. His memory is impaired – thus, he has no recollection of telling the Dr. at Hackney the statements in the certificates nor is he sure of how long he was in Hackney. In conversation he is rambling. He says that part of his business is egg-dealing & that “in a dream” he saw new-laid eggs enclosed in chicken dung. Regarding his “having a given birth to a child”, he says it must have been a “phantom of the brain”.

On 5 February 1896 a further note was made “Repeats the above story & added that “he saw, as it were, three strips of parchment wriggling about”. Seven days later another addition was made “Feeble minded & childish in manner & conversation. Has had no further dreams but sticks to the account given above”.

No changes were observed over the next week but on 26 February the following was recorded: “A self-important fussy old man. Says he saw three streaks of light in which were three strips of parchment wriggling about; he can give no explanation of this hallucination. Is at present in bed with oedema of feet and ankles from heart disease & is being treated by digitalis & stimulants”.

On 4 March it was noted that Thomas was up and about again, but his mental state was unchanged. The same observations continued to be made but on 22 June Thomas denied having seen the three streaks of light and saying that he was ‘in the best of health, Thank God’.

Move to Banstead Asylum

Thomas was discharged on 7 July 1896 to Banstead Asylum in Surrey as ‘not improved’. Unfortunately, the records for Banstead Asylum are not available online so it is unclear how long Thomas was an inmate there but the Electoral Registers for 1897 recorded only Hannah as living at 72 Median Road.

The next online record found for Thomas was when he was admitted to the Hackney Workhouse on 1 September 1900. By then, according to the Electoral Registers, Hannah was living at 85 Alkham Road, a terraced house in Hackney. Thomas, however, was not listed as living there and was still recorded as an inmate in the Hackney Workhouse when the 1901 Census was taken on the night of 31 March. The enumerator recorded Thomas as being a 77-year-old pauper, married, and a greengrocer working on his own account from home.

Even though Thomas was still alive, Hannah declared herself to be a widow living at 85 Alkham Road with her sons Walter, aged 14, who was working as a clerk to a solicitor, and 12-year-old Julian. Also living there were two boarders, Frederick Collins and Walter Morley. Hannah employed 16-year-old Ellen Doming as a domestic servant to help run her home as her daughter Lavinia had married William Cleary in 1892 and her other daughter Bertha was away working in Upper Clapton Road in Hackney as a domestic servant. Bertha later married Charles Edward Cooke in 1902.

The move to Horton Asylum

On 6 May 1901, by order of the workhouse medical officer, Thomas was transferred to the workhouse infirmary where he stayed until 18 May 1901 after which he returned to the workhouse. On 8 July 1902, Thomas was once again moved to the infirmary before being discharged from Hackney Workhouse on 12 July 1902 into the care of Horton Asylum in Epsom.

Thomas was aged 79 when he died there later that year on 25 November 1902; his body was buried on 1 December in grave 79 in the Horton Estate Cemetery.

Family life after Thomas’ demise:

By 1911 Hannah had moved back to Essex with her son Julian and was aged 84 when she died on 18 July 1935. A newspaper funeral report for Hannah characterised her as ‘possessing the sterling qualities of the Victorian school of women’. The article also stated that she was the widow of Thomas William Scambler but mysteriously claimed that he was the grandson of Henry Scambler who had set up a charitable fund known as ‘Scambler’s Gift’, for the widows of livery men. As far as our research has found, Thomas’ grandparents were Thomas and Margaret Scambler, so where this claim came from is unknown.

Walter was working as a commercial traveller for a biscuit manufacturer in 1911. During WW1 he served as gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Walter married Violet Constance Hostead on 11 December 1920 and by 1939 was living in Northampton working as a flour mill representative. He died on 13 January 1966 in Hampshire leaving administration to his will to his brother Julian, a retired accountant.

Julian was working as a clerk for a wine and beer company in Essex in 1911. He served as a Sergeant in the Labour Corp, Essex Regiment during WW1. He married Amy Mary Ann Bouts in 1917 in Essex and by 1939 was living in Heston, Isleworth working as an office manager for a bread and cake manufacturer. He died on 24 December 1974 in Hounslow.

 Thank you to fellow researcher Roger Miller for his help tracking down the Fisherton Asylum records for the researcher.

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