I’ve recently returned to my family tree and have been following up the story of my four-times-great-uncle John Stevens (1837-1888) who died in the Moulsford Asylum having suffered for many years with epilepsy. He had married Emma Fisher in 1857 and was incarcerated in the asylum in 1871. In the census for 1881, two of John and Emma’s sons (Henry and John) are listed as living with their uncle, Samuel Stevens – a tailor, whilst a daughter, Mary, is listed as living with her aunt, Rosetta Hunt. The couple’s youngest children, Martha and Kate are recorded, sadly, as being inmates at the Reading and Wokingham District school, which was in effect a workhouse.
I’ve wondered why the children had been left to such a fate? Was their mother unable to look after them? Or perhaps their relatives? Whilst looking for an answer, I discovered an Emma Stevens who died in Reading in 1873, and am assuming that this is Emma Fisher. I’ve ordered a copy of her death certificate to see, but if it is, then it marks another tragic episode in this family’s life, coming just two years after the incarceration of John in 1871.
If Emma Stevens died in 1873, aged just 36, then her two young daughters would have been just 4 and 2 respectively. Could they have entered the school/workhouse at that age? And what happened to them afterwards? Why could none of their aunts or uncles take them in? After all, there were 7 altogether. Given the conditions at the school/workhouse , it is quite hard to understand how they could have ended up there. More research is needed of course but I hope their stories are, eventually, happier ones.
As an aside, whilst looking at the list of inmates for the school/workhouse in 1881, one name stuck out above all others.The boy in question was there with his sister Emily. She was just 12 years old and he was 4 years younger. His name, like something from a children’s book was Cornelius Squelch. He has a story to tell, and I’d like to be the one to write it.