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TENNANT, Herbert John



Herbert was born at Saham Toney in Norfolk in January 1858. He was the sixth child of Edward and Mary Ann Tennant. His parents were married on 18th November 1842 at Beachamwell, near Ely. His father a carpenter, aged 23 at the time, and his mother Mary Ann Bellaman, aged 21, a milliner and the daughter of a labourer.

In April 1851, the family can be found, according to the Census, living at Saham Toney, his father being described as a journeyman carpenter. The Census also records his mother Mary Ann, aged 28, and two children of the marriage, Elizabeth, aged 2, and baby Amelia. Edward was also described as a Publican at this time according to Amelia’s baptism records.

Herbert was baptised on 14th February 1858 alongside his older brother Arthur who had been born in 1856. The Saham Toney register shows his father’s occupation to be a Publican. This was probably The Bull Inn at Saham Toney as supported by later records.


The April 1861 Census shows the family indeed living at The Bull Inn with Edward’s occupation shown as a carpenter, aged 42, Mary Ann, aged 39, and the following children: Elizabeth (12), Thomas W (6), Arthur (5), Herbert (3), Sarah (11 months), and a servant Virtue Herring, only 13 years old.

Edward and Mary Ann had had 7 children now but Amelia had died along with Thomas Edward by this time.

On 1st January 1862, Edward finds himself in court and is found guilty of indecent assault of Virtue Herring who was under 14 at the time. The newspaper accounts state the details were unfit for publication. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and hard labour. What effect this had on the family is unclear but by 1864, he appears to be working again as a master carpenter in Saham Toney, so it appears not to have affected his social status too much.


In April 1871, the family are living in the parish of Watton Edward. Mary is aged 49 and the children are listed as: Thomas (16), a carpenter; Arthur (15), a tailor’s apprentice; Herbert (13), a pupil teacher; Edward (8); and Sidney (6), both scholars.

Herbert finds himself in the newspapers when on 21st May 1878, he was charged with being drunk at the George Hotel in Watton and refusing to leave. We are told that Herbert is a member of the Rifle Voluntary Company and that he made a nuisance of himself and there was a scuffle. Another man was charged with assaulting him at the same time. He was fined for his troubles.


On 22nd March 1881, Herbert married Ellen Elizabeth Green at West Bradenham Church. Ellen is described as a 20-year-old spinster, daughter of James Green, a grocer. Herbert is now working as a house decorator.

The following month in the 1881 Census, they are living together at Norwich Road in Watton. This is the last time they are noted as being together in a legal document.

On 9th April 1885, Herbert’s father Edward dies in very tragic circumstances. His father was widely known in the area as a builder and a Publican, and at the time of his death he was running the Live and Let Live Public House in Watton. Edward was described as being very deaf and on returning from the Station, he took a short cut along the railway line as was his custom. The weather was very blustery and wet and it appears Edward did not hear the train that struck him and killed him. There were no witnesses to the event. Herbert was 27 years old at the time and one assumes this must have had an effect on him and on the rest of his family to lose their father in such a way.

A daughter

On 26th September 1888, a daughter named Alice Ellen Tennant was born to Elizabeth Tennant, I believe this is Herbert’s wife Ellen Elizabeth? The baptism took place at West Bradenham church on 25th November 1888. Only her mother is noted in the register as a parent – no father is given and no other children can be found of this marriage. This throws doubt onto Alice’s parentage. She has the Tennant surname but Herbert may not have been her father.

A bigamous marriage

Further proof that the couple are not together can be seen, when on 25th December 1889, Herbert marries (bigamously) Harriet Taylor at Holy Trinity Church, Heigham. He changes his middle name to Henry and describes himself as a 34-year-old bachelor. His occupation is that of a decorator and his father Edward (deceased), a builder. The signature is the same as the earlier marriage certificate and everything else ties in, so it is safe to assume they are one and the same person. His bride Harriet Taylor was a 32-year-old spinster, the daughter of Joseph Taylor a painter. The marriage appears to be timely, when their son Percy John Leonard Tennant is born on 21st March 1890 in Norwich.
It seems at this time Herbert was in a business partnership with a man named John Moore as a painter and a plumber in Norwich, as on 21st October 1890, the Norwich Mercury reports the partnership as dissolved.


By April 1891, the family had moved from Norfolk to Fulham and they can be found at 20 Dieppe Street. Herbert was still working as a painter, Harriet was aged 33 and Percy aged one. Herbert may have come to London on his younger brother Edward’s advice as he had been living in Fulham for some time. The area was of average wealth.

Percy was baptised at St Andrews, West Kensington on 11th May 1892 and the family was still living at 20 Dieppe Street. Over the next few years, the electoral roll shows the family living at 80 Britannia Road and settling at 34 Redfield Lane in Fulham until at least 1906. Both addresses being in a mixed wealth area with some poor households. Sadly, Percy died in 1895 leaving Herbert and Harriet childless. How this affected them is hard to say.

Herbert’s first wife remarries

Meanwhile Ellen, Herbert’s legal wife, bigamously marries Alfred Palmer in December 1893 and has a family with him. Alice Tennant remains with her in Norfolk. It seems both parties, Herbert and Ellen, went their separate ways and started new lives with new partners who probably did not know anything about the past liaison.


Unfortunately, we do not know what caused Herbert to be admitted to Horton Hospital on 14th June 1907 and how he came to die just over three years later at the Hospital on 1st September 1910. He was buried on 8th September 1910 in Grave 853a in Horton Estate Cemetery.

Author’s thoughts

Herbert was born into a well-respected Norfolk family, although it is hard to say what effect his father’s misdemeanours in 1861 had on them all. But it is interesting to note that Edward, his father, was able to come out of prison and resume his life as before, despite having committed what would be today considered an unspeakable crime. Newspaper reports show he continued to work as a builder and Publican.

Herbert’s trade is constant throughout his life so it seems he was able to find employment. His personal life was less stable however. How long he remained with his legal spouse is unclear and, in the days when divorce was generally out of reach for the working classes, it seems he and Elizabeth just went their separate ways and went on to have new lives with other people. Perhaps this is why he moved his new family to London and with the added bonus of more work he could cover his tracks. Although his younger brother Edward also lived in Fulham, so did he keep the secret as well?

What triggered Herbert’s admission to Horton Hospital is sadly unknown so it is not clear what happened to him. There is no evidence to support any kind of decline. He certainly had secrets but whether that weighed on his mind or whether it was something else is unclear at this point.

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