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WALLER (WALL), John William


John’s burial record incorrectly records his surname as Waller but there is no corresponding death certificate under that surname. There is however a death certificate for a John William Wall and a corresponding Lunatic Register entry. The death certificate confirms that it is in fact John William Wall and not Waller.

Early Days

John’s parents Thomas Wall and Matilda Amelia Yarwood married on 2 May 1858, at St Saviours Church, Southwark. Thomas was the son of a plumber and Matilda the daughter of a hatter. They both originated from Southwark. 

John William was born on 10th June 1866 in Chelsea. He was their fourth child in a family which would eventually comprise 8 children, including twins. He would not be baptised until 31 May 1874 at St Mark’s Church, Battersea alongside his brothers Thomas, Robert, Frederick and Henry.

Thomas Wall senior had taken his father’s trade and worked as a plumber. In 1871 the family were living at 37 Chatham Street in Battersea. Thomas was aged 39 and Matilda 35 years old. The family at that time comprised Matilda (12), Thomas (10), Robert (8), John (4) and Frederick (1).

Over the next four years the family expanded with another son Henry known as Harry being born in 1873 and twin daughters Kate and Ophelia in 1875. 

John received some of his education at St John and All Saints School, Lambeth, where there is a record for him being readmitted on 1 July 1878. His address appears to read as 7 China Walk, which at the time was The Cock and Bottle Public House. Perhaps the family were living above the pub or it is a mistake?

The 1880s

In 1881 the family were living at 27 Paradise Street in Lambeth which was described as a “Mixed area” by Booth. A newspaper advertisement in 1890 describes this building as a double fronted house with 10 rooms, a wash house, cellars and all conveniences. There was a yard at the rear. Let to respectable families. Producing 16s per week. No wonder there were 4 families living there in 1881, a total of 40 people including 12 aged 10 and under.

Thomas was still working as a plumber and Matilda was looking after the home and the children. Matilda the eldest daughter (22) was a dressmaker, Thomas junior (20) a warehouseman, John now aged 14 was employed as a ruler which was a skilled job setting up the inking pens for a printing machine. Son Robert had left home and was working as a waiter. The younger children Frederick (11), Harry (8) and twins Ophelia and Kate (5) are described as scholars.

Early September 1886 John’s father Thomas died aged 54. How this affected John aged 20, we can only speculate. 

The 1890s

Matilda Wall, John’s mother carried on and in 1891 she is living at 29 Canterbury Place aged 63 with her youngest children Frederick (21) who is a druggists assistant, Harry (18) who is a warehouse porter and the twins Ophelia and Kate (15) are both working as tea weighers. They were all supporting their mother. But what of John?

There is only one likely hit found in the 1891 Census for him. At 4 Homer Street in North Lambeth there is a John Wall, a General Labourer aged 23, born in Chelsea living in this house alongside 9 other people. One is a Harriett Wall, aged 22, from Blackfriars who is stated to be his wife. I have yet to find a marriage for the couple so it may be that they were just posing as man and wife. It was a seemingly unremarkable household in a generally mixed street just north east of Lambeth Palace.

1900 and Beyond

Nothing more is known about John until the next census where the most likely identification for him can be found at 43 York Street, just off the Walworth Road in Newington where he is a visitor of William Scandrett aged 40 who is a dresser at a theatre. 

John’s occupation is that of a stage carpenter. He would have been building and making sets for theatre productions. William Scandrett seems to have worked in the theatre for a number of years, as he was working as an extra at the Lyric Theatre in 1881 according to the census and in 1911, he was still described as a “theatre dresser”. I assume John may have worked at the same theatre. John’s proper residence could have been elsewhere? 

His mother was living at 73, Cooks Road not far away or another possibility is 78 St Pauls Road, Southwark. This was the address on John’s marriage certificate dated 29 September 1901 when he married Annie Kate Trimnell aged 27, a spinster from Dartford in Kent. The marriage took place at St Paul’s church in Lorrimore Square, Southwark. He is noted as being a bachelor aged 35 and a carpenter. The witnesses were Frederick Henry Wall (John’s brother) and Edith Emily Trimnell (the bride’s sister).

There were two known children of the marriage, Sydney John born 1 July 1902 and Henry Eric born 4 April 1905. According to Henry’s baptism record, at St Anne’s church, South Lambeth on 20th April 1905 the family were living at 11 Radnor Terrace in Kennington. This is borne out in the electoral registers of 1906 and 1907. John is now described as a labourer so he may not have been connected with the theatre anymore. The electoral register states they had two rooms unfurnished on the first floor. The area was described by Booth as ‘mixed’. 

By 1908 the family had moved to 65 Albert Mansions in Kennington. On 17 October 1908 John William Wall was admitted to Horton Hospital. He was working as a window cleaner of 64 Ingelow Road in Battersea as confirmed by his death certificate, which reveals he died of “General Paralysis of the insane”. This is described as a form of dementia caused by syphilis of the nervous system. Untreated it may have been caused by an infection from many years ago. Usual symptoms were delusions and mania and was probably the cause of his admission.  He is buried in Grave 865a in Horton Estate Cemetery.

Life after John

By 1911 Annie Kate Wall, John’s widow, had moved back to her family home town of Dartford living at 15, The Brent with her younger son Henry. She was a housekeeper for a George Simpson. 

Not far away, Sydney was boarding with a Charles and Annie Smith who appear to have been neighbours of the Trimnell family for some years. They were probably good people to look after Sydney as looking back at the 1891 Census, they had taken in three children of the Brown family, whose parents were attendants at the nearby Darenth Lunatic Asylum. 

Annie went on to remarry a man named Washington Head in 1923. He was 18 years older than her and died in 1925. He left her well provided for as his probate was worth £712 which has about the purchasing power of £44,000 today. She in turn gave probate worth £698 (£40,000) to Sydney in 1940 when she died.

Both Sydney and Henry lived into their 80’s although I did find a newspaper article in the Kent Messenger and Gravesend Telegraph dated 27 May 1916 which stated Sydney aged 14 nearly died in an accident with a gun when he and his friend were out in Darenth Woods. He was in a critical condition for a while but records show he survived.

Author’s thoughts

John William Wall seems to have led a fairly normal life, his father was in work and the family did not live in extremely poor areas. All his siblings survived to adulthood so they must have been fairly strong, especially his twin sisters. It would be nice to know more about his time as a stage carpenter but as yet there is no further information.

His cause of death and the symptoms he may have displayed would have undoubtedly been the reason for his admission to Horton Hospital. Onset of the symptoms of syphilis could be sudden and dramatic causing hallucinations; his mental functions would have been compromised and poor John possibly had personality and speech changes too. It must have been extremely frightening for him and those close to him. Sadly, the infection and his past had caught up with him.

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