The Grandson of a high-flying career man who fell from grace.
Charles proved to be difficult to trace as the Find a Grave website had Charles’s surname noted as Skinner. After a search his Death Certificate was found under the surname of Skirner. A further search in the UK Lunacy Registers gave the surname as Skirmer. The census returns found him under the surname of Skermer, which matched with his birth certificate.
Charles’s parents were Charles Holland Skermer born in Liverpool in 1850 and Elizabeth Dove born in Northamptonshire in 1866. I cannot trace with any certainty Elizabeth’s family, but Charles’s paternal Grandfather Thomas Skermer was quite notorious and abandoned his family when Charles’s father was only 11 years old. See my closing statements for some detail about this story which led me down a rabbit hole, but it does bear some relevance to the story as it’s the reason the Skermer family found themselves in very different circumstances to their forebears.
I have been unable to trace the marriage of Charles Skermer senior and Elizabeth Dove which according to the 1911 census took place around 1883. I have found a newspaper article from December 1883 which shows Charles was working as Coachman living in with his employer at 9 James Street, Rugby from April to October 1883. He was sacked for using bad language. There was no mention of a wife. They may or may not ever have been married.
Life in the 1880’s
The couple’s first child Annie Elizabeth was born in the March quarter 1884 in the Rugby area. She was probably born in late November or early December 1883 as she was baptised on 9 December 1883 at St Andrew’s church in Rugby. Sadly, she died aged 1 month and was buried on 24 January 1884. However, by the end of the year the couple were to welcome their first son Charles Holland Skermer named after his father on 21 December 1884. Sadly, it appears that Charles was probably born with a lifelong condition which would cause him and his family many problems and later lead him into Long Grove Hospital.
How the family coped with this is not known but the Skermers moved to the Paddington area of London sometime before 10 September 1886 when a daughter Edith was born, and she was baptised alongside her older brother Charles on 21 February 1888. The family were living at 96 Christchurch Residences in the parish of St Barnabas, Marylebone. Their father was employed as a Coachman.
Over the next 2 years the family expanded with the arrival of William Henry in October 1888 and Kate Emily on 16 August 1890.
The Skermer family can be found living at 4 Harcourt Street in West Marylebone. This seems to be a fairly comfortable area. Charles senior aged 41 although recorded as aged 38 is working as a Groom/ Cab driver with his wife Elizabeth aged 31 from Northampton. Their children are listed as –
Charles aged 6 born in 1884 in Clifton Warwickshire
Edith aged 4, William aged 2 and Kate aged 7 months all born in Marylebone.
Shortly after the census was taken Charles Skermer senior was fined 10s and was charged with being drunk in charge of a horse and cart from the Kilburn Times dated 8 May 1891.
British Newspaper Archives
On 21 April 1899 the Kilburn Times reported a list of accidents, and it appears poor Charles aged 14 was run over by a cart in Marylebone Road and he was taken to St Mary’s Hospital with rib injuries.
British Newspaper Archives
The census shows the family are living at 15 Bridport Square in East Marylebone. Charles Skermer senior now aged 51 has continued in his employment as a Cabman/Groom. Elizabeth his wife aged 41 and the children – Charles aged 16, Edith aged 14, William H aged 12 and Kate aged 10. There was also a visitor staying with them at the time, a William A Dove aged 13 a relative of Elizabeth.
Times must have been difficult as I have found numerous advertisements where Mrs Skermer was applying for work describing herself as a respectable woman wanting daily or weekly work cleaning.
Nothing is heard of Charles until 21 July 1907 when it seems the Police took him to Edmonton Workhouse. He was found roaming around Winchmore Hill which is a good 9.5 mile walk from his home. He was acting strangely and following people. He is stated to be of the Roman Catholic faith and his mother Elizabeth is noted as his next of kin. It shows he was admitted to Napsbury Hospital on 24 July 1907. Napsbury near St Albans was completed in 1905 for the Middlesex County Asylums. Unfortunately, there are very few documents available for Edmonton Workhouse but a Settlement and Relief document from St Marylebone dated 4 October 1907 reveals a bit more information. It is assumed that his parents have no means to maintain him so the costs for his care are transferred to St Marylebone on the following grounds. Edmonton Union had already paid £8 10 shillings and 10d for his care in Napsbury Hospital.
It does also give a list of his known addresses and some of these can be cross referenced and dated with his mother’s advertisements for work
16 Church Place, Paddington 7 months? (1907 onwards)
43 Chapel Street 2 years (1906)
Bermondsey 5 months
5 Ranston Street , Lisson Grove, 2 years (May 1905)
St James Street and 6 Bridport Street 1 year. (1901 census)
It is noted he spent “Nearly all his life in St Marylebone”.
Luckily access to the case notes from Napsbury Hospital has revealed a lot more about Charles.
Charles’s case notes
Civil Register of Admissions, male patients 1907-8
Admission No 676
Date Admitted 24th July 1907
Usual abode 16 Church Place, Paddington Green
Whence brought Edmonton Workhouse
Male, single, RC
Chargeable to Edmonton
By whose authority sent Charles Sorrell JP
Date of medical certificate 23.7.07 signed by William B Bejafield
Discharged 24.3.08 Not Improved
Removed to LCC(?) A at Long Grove, Epsom
Medical Case Book Male Patients 1907
Admitted 20/7/07 aged 22
Elizabeth Skirmer, mother, 16 Church Place,Paddington Green
Under treatment of Dr Forbes Hinslow, Euston Road
Supposed cause: Not known?
Insane Relatives: Not Known
Age 1st attack: since birth
Duration of existing attack: life
Med certs first signed by Dr B Benjafield, Edmdonton
Appears strange and silly as if he is a congenital imbecile, laughs and grins in a silly, idiotic way; rambles inconsistently in his talk which is generally quite unintelligible
Committed by Order: of Stephen Bird Police Constable 2777 of Old Southgate Police Station who found Charles Skirmer walking and wandering at Hades Hill (?) Hinchmore (possibly Winchmore) Hill in front of people, throwing his arms about and making strange noises, followed a lady and children who was much frightened by his way of acting
Now aged 22
Transferred, not improved, March 21st 1908
History obtained from mother.
Marriage – father 34, mother 24
2nd in family, 3 sisters, all living
Born 2 years after marriage at Clifton, Warwickshire
Labour instrumental? No
Run over and broke 2 ribs aged c14.
Rickets, no to everything else
Disposition: very cheerful and affectionate
Family –no history of interest
Condition on Admission:
6 stone 10oz
General bodily health fair
Fairly old scarring on back
Cranium, narrow base (temporal region), microcephalia (?)
Forehead: broad and flat
Features: poor, small, flat
Furrows and expression lines absent
Palate normal, teeth poor
Hair: on cranium thin, brown
Ears, small, bad shape, symmetry bad, upper parts stick out, upper halves prominent, lobules small, shrunken, absent
Respiratory system: no cough, poor movement
Shape of thorax asymmetrical – rickets?
Heart regular and distinct
Neurosystem: no tremors or motor impairment, basically OK
Genitive system: development of organs poor
Mental: consciousness defective, conversation slow
Doesn’t know time, day of week, date, etc, mutters
Reasoning powers, bad, impaired, memory poor, no hallucinations
Delusions, idiot, low intelligence, answers yes to any question, vacant
No suicidal impulse or destructive or mischievous impulses, no erotic,
Musculature: poor flabby
Family affection poor
No alcoholic habits
Peculiarity of speech Yes
Social ability No
Progress of Case:
Is suffering from imbecility, is dull, vacant, in depression and oblivious to surroundings. Reaction to questions very imperfect and articulation is defective. Bodily health fair
6.8. Perfectly contented, a low grade imbecile, understands imperfectly what is said to him; answers Yes and No in haphazard way, health fair
13.8 Unoccupied, being unable to apply himself; eats and sleeps well, general health satisfactory
21.8 No apparent change in general condition
18.9 A low grade imbecile, very undeveloped mentally untidy, will do anything he is asked; in fair health
18.10 A quiet imbecile in fair health
11/12 Low grade, undeveloped imbecile; does not alter in any way
24/3/8 This patient was today transferred to LCC Asylum at Long Grove, Epsom
“Transferred, not improved”
Looking at the notes there was a suggestion that the doctors may have thought he suffered from Microcephalia probably due to his slow development and intellectual incapacity. Looking at his symptoms this is a possible explanation. Sufferers do tend to be small and underweight generally born with a head much smaller than their body and their brain does not develop properly. It is a rare and lifelong condition. It can lead to many complications.
It appears that Charles was not “perfectly contented” but he obviously found it difficult to live in a world that didn’t understand him and as an adult there was no one to help him. His parents seemed happy to let him wander wherever, or perhaps they were too busy trying to make ends meet that they did not have the time to keep an eye on their fragile son. This could explain how he came to be run over aged 14 and how he came to be so far from home when he was taken in by the Police.
Charles’s move into institution meant he was safe from roaming the streets and was certain of a meal. He remained at Long Grove until he died of Pneumonia on 19 February 1911 aged 26 years old.
He is buried in Horton Cemetery in grave 1514b and he was interred on 22nd February.
After Charles’s death
Charles’s mother the “respectable woman” died in December 1912 aged 46. His father then seemed to hit on some bad times and is recorded as going in and out of the St Marylebone Workhouse at least 8 times from 13 February 1913 to 23 April 1913. He was noted to be a Roman Catholic, occupation a coachman but unfortunately, he was destitute. Each time he discharged himself only to go back in shortly afterwards. He can be found in the 1921 census still unemployed, and he died in 1925.
William Henry Skermer who was Charles’s only surviving brother sadly died in 1918 in Iraq, a victim of the First World War leaving a young widow and son. Of his two sisters both Edith and Kate went on to marry, have families and live a long life.
Charles’s Paternal Grandfather
What of Thomas Skermer? Although this is Charles’s story, his Grandfather is worthy of a mention as it is his change in fortune which led to Charles’s parents being in the situation they were.
Charles’s paternal Grandfather Thomas Skermer has an interesting story, and his actions turned everything on its head. Born in Leicestershire in 1825 to a respectable farming family he chose to move to Liverpool for work. He became a bookkeeper and married Margaret Bowes in 1846. He joined the Police Force and very soon became an Inspector. There are numerous newspaper articles demonstrating his hard work and experience with dealing especially with fires. In 1857 he received many recommendations and became Chief Constable of Coventry Police Force. So, the family moved to Coventry He continued to work hard and gained much respect and became head of the Voluntary Fire Brigade. However, nothing was quite as it seemed, and Thomas appeared to have money troubles dating back to his time in Liverpool and in November 1861 he felt he had no option but to abscond with a sum of around £37 (£5,600 in 2023). This was the monies he was meant to use to pay the Police Officers wages. He disappeared without a trace. It turned out he had been borrowing money all over the place and was about to be brought in front of the Watch Committee.
It appears he did have some sympathy for his situation and his friends offered to cover the money if he could be found. However, sometime in 1862 he moved to Australia where his sisters had settled and joined the Police Force there. He married again, although it is said that did not work out. He died in 1891 in Adelaide leaving a substantial estate but sadly no one in Britain saw any of that money.
For his wife Margaret it meant she went from living comfortably on an annual income of £140 per annum (£21,500 per annum) to living in Leamington, Warwickshire working as a Needlewoman with her sons Charles and Thomas working as a Labourer and an Errand Boy, this being their only income.
It seems that Charles’s father had to take work as a labourer and then a Coachman and work hard all his life struggling to make ends meet. This was probably not what was originally expected when his father was a prominent member of the Police Force.
Had Thomas Skermer remained in his job who knows where his career would have taken him and there may have been funds to look after his Grandson and give him a better life.