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b.1879 – d.1917

This lady seems to have spent much of her life needing support.


Emily was born on 6th August 1879 in Bethnal Green, to William James Smith, a brass finisher, and Fanny Adelaide Smith, nee Horsey, of 41 Monteath Road. They had married in 1871 in Hackney.

Emily was baptised at St Thomas Bethnal Green on 14th March 1880 and her actual birth date is noted.

Baptism 14 Mar 1880 / Birth Aug 6 1879


The Smith family are at 45 Driffield Road, Parish of Bow, in Tower Hamlets in the 1881 Census. Emily Clara has two sisters – Ada and Minnie. In view of her life after this date, this links well with later records.


I traced Ada, Emily Clara’s aunt’s marriage to Charles Simmonds in 1890 and her father was still a brass finisher. Both Ada and Charles signed the register and witnesses were Charles’s father and Ada Horsey. We know Clara’s mother’s maiden name was Horsey but I have not managed to clarify who this Ada is. Ada is Emily’s sister not aunt as stated.

In the 1891 Census, Emily is aged 12 and at school in Dr Stephenson’s Children’s Home and Orphanage. This is a home for orphan and destitute children. The note on the bottom of the page of the first record of the school states that ‘many of these children are friendless and destitute when received within and it is quite impossible to ascertain where they were born’. I cannot find out why, when or by whom Emily Clara was sent here.


Emily Clara, a servant, was admitted to Hackney Union Workhouse on 31st October 1903, by order of Curran(perhaps a doctor) from ‘Hackney’. I wonder if this was the Hackney Infirmary as there is correspondence from it elsewhere.

The London Poor Law Removal and Settlement records have correspondence between Hackney Union and Bethnal Green trying to ascertain where Emily had been living prior to admission. The Parish of residence was liable to pay her maintenance. There are long lists and Emily does seem to have moved around. One record describes her thus:

Emily Clara Smith (a Lunatic)

Some thirteen pages of documents from Hackney Union are about Emily – claiming expenses relating to her care from other places, assessing her condition and where she has been living. Whether she was working is hard to assess. In one place she is recorded as a servant.

Emily seems to have moved around as different lengths of time are recorded where just a place  is mentioned or a coffee shop. I am not sure whether she was living at the addresses or just working there and sleeping elsewhere. I believe Havelock Place and Wellington Road may be where her sisters were living.

Some places listed and time spent there.

Sleeping odd place2 weeks
8 Havelock Place3 weeks
Salvation Army Home3 weeks
8 Havelock Place5 weeks
82 Oswald St, Clapton Park6 weeks
Coffee shop, (Lawson’s)  Old Ford Rd2 weeks
Empress of India Coffee shop2 weeks
Rose and Crown, Bunhill Row3 weeks
11 Wellington Road1 year
46 Bradwell St Mile End Old Town2 years
Tower Hamlets Rd, Forest Gate2 years
In Leyton Union8 weeks

The Guardians of the Poor are the authors of  several items  – especially those seeking repayment of the 9 pounds, 4 shillings and 7 pence for one year’s lodging, medicine, maintenance , clothing and care. This equates to about £750 in present currency.

The Union pursued payment even when Emily Clara was in Horton Hospital in 1903.

In the notes from Hackney Union, ‘Mrs Smith, step-mother was seen’, so presumably Fanny Adelaide had died, as one note in 1903 says Fanny died ‘about 9 years ago ‘.

I have unsuccessfully looked for a registered death of Fanny Adelaide Smith between 1892 and 1898.

Two Fanny Smiths are registered as dying in Bethnal in 1892 and 1895 but no Fanny Adelaide.

Who pays?

This document shows that every place that Emily Clara had lived, even if only for a few days, was important in assessing who should pay her maintenance.

It mentions both of her sisters and her step mother. Both her sisters were approached about where she had been living . This may or may not mean they were in touch with her. Likewise her step-mother.

In most documents, Emily is just recorded as a lunatic (common parlance at the time) and in a couple her age was ‘about 24’.

The list seems to show that many people did their best to help Emily Clara, but ‘sleeping in odd places’ for two weeks, three in a Salvation Army Home and many other temporary addresses, suggest a far from settled lifestyle.

Emily Clara was not incapable of work. As a friend said they had worked together at the dairy. Emily also stayed with ‘Nurse Lilian’ in Green Street and went to Dover to convalesce, but no more detail is recorded.

The Guardians of the Poor, who were the responsible body, are mentioned in several items from both Bethnal Green and Hackney Unions.

Emily goes to Epsom

On 10th November 1903, Emily is recorded going to The Manor Asylum.

In 1904, she is in the London Lunatic Asylum at Horton, in the County of Surrey and on the 10th June 1911, she was admitted to Long Gove Hospital. There she died just 6 years later, in 1917. She is buried in grave 1352a.

We cannot guess what sort of illness befell Emily Clara Smith, but at least through these snippets, her life is not forgotten. We may yet be able to add more to her story.

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