The Craxford Family Magazine Red Pages

{$text['mgr_red1']} Gretton 1.4.2

The Croxton Conundrum and Other Mysteries: The Pollard Girls

by Alan D. Craxford, Edward Ellis, Matthew Pollard, Elizabeth Thomas and Frances Brown.


The previous article in this series The Gretton Craxfords: Chronicle I - The Tangled Trees is the story of the children and grandchildren of John Craxford, who was born in the village in 1795, and his wife Jane Ashby. In common with many villagers in mid and late Victorian England, several of these Craxfords foresook the rural way of life and headed for the betterment and riches promised by the industrial big town. This promise proved at best to be a disappointment but for many was more often than not a slide into poverty, disease and an early grave. The article also demonstrated the close nature of the association between families of the village and the complex entanglements through marriage and other relationships. It is well known that for most of the Victorian period, England was full of villages in which generations of intermarriage had resulted in a community tied together by a complex network of blood relationships. In a population of between three and five hundred people, after six generations or so there are only third cousins or closer to marry. During most of human history, people have lived in small, isolated communities of about that size, and have in fact probably been closer to the genetic equivalent of first cousins (1). For the Craxford family this was the case with the Pollards, the Pridmores and the Readyhoffs.

The previous article also introduced the relationship between David Craxford (one of John Craxford's grandsons) and Mary Ann Pollard and the mystery of the naming of their offspring which ensued after David's premature death in 1904. Mary Ann's younger sister, Matilda, moved to Leicester, married and their families became neighbours for a short period at the turn of the twentieth century. Matilda's life too has thrown up a raft of strange occurrences which have been only partly explained. It is a tale multiple infant deaths, unexplained disappearances, the Workhouse, the Asylum and expatriation to the Dominions. What follows is an account from two girls' point of view.

The Pollards of Gretton

The name Pollard first appears in the Gretton Parish Records around the turn of the nineteenth century when William settled in the village with his new bride Mary Bates. They had married in Ashley on the Northamptonshire border near Market Harborough on October 12th 1800. Three children (William, Mary and Thomas) were baptised between 1801 and 1807. William suffered a double loss in June 1808 when his daughter Mary died followed two days later by his wife, Mary. William may have married again in 1813 to widow Mary Eaton of Benefield. Another Pollard (no known relative) arrived in the village in 1808 when Zacchariah from Stamford married Jane Pruden.

William and Mary's oldest boy, Robert, was born in 1800. He married Susannah Dalby in the nearby village of Deene on October 19th 1828. Initially moving to Thornhaugh, a hamlet 8 miles south of Stamford, they went sent back to Gretton in 1829, the subject of a Removal Order as they had failed to gain Legal Settlement. By 1850 they were the next door neighbours of John Craxford and Jane Ashby and their son John and his wife Susannah Redshaw. Of Robert and Susannah's nine children, it is third son Joshua, born about 1836 who is of interest in this story.

Throughout his life Joshua ran into trouble with authority. He achieved some lasting notoriety in 1857 when he was one of the last miscreants to be sentenced to spend six hours in the stocks on the village green for non payment of a fine and for drunkeness (2). (He was not the last; that honour went to Nathaniel Warner the following year. -- Ed)). Joshua married Matilda, the eldest daughter of William Pridmore and Jane Satchell on September 22nd 1858. Despite his frequent enforced absences, Matilda did give birth to nine children over the next twenty years although three died in infancy. Their eldest daughter, Emily Satchell Pollard was baptised the same day (April 3rd 1860) as the three children of John Craxford and Susannah Redshaw.

For the best part of thirty years, Joshua was regularly brought before the Courts. Charges included poaching, trespass in pursuit of game, drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Sometimes cases were discharged through lack of evidence but more often he would be subject to a fine. By February 1874 he was noted to have had at least eight previous convictions (3). He was subjected to at least eight terms of imprisonment which included hard labour for offences ranging from the theft of 9 turnips (one month) to burglary (18 months). This history was by no means unusual for the peasantry in Victorian times. In November 1864 he was committed to Northampton County Gaol in the same session as Amos Crane (one of the Crane brothers whose story is told in The Crane family of Cottingham. Part 1: Victim or Villain?). In later life he would have presented a formidable appearance, bearing the visible signs of previous injuries. His nose, which had been broken, bore a large scar across it. The middle finger of his right hand was noticeably deformed and he had prominent scarring on his left knee. His history was summed up in a plea of leniency delivered by his solicitor in yet another case in 1885 who said "the effects of imprisonment taken in conjunction with his previous unsteady course of life were such that he had been ill ever since his release from prison". (4) His last reported Court appearance was in February 1889 before the Northampton Assizes. He was found guilty of malicious wounding and grievous bodily harm and was sentenced to 9 months hard labour. There is a hiatus in Joshua's historical record after that date. After what must have been a trying life for her, Matilda died in the village on September 1st 1890. She was 54 years of age.

Victorian Leicester [A]

The medieval town of Leicester was enclosed on three sides by walls which ran roughly along the line of Sanvey Gate to the north, Church and Gallowtree Gate to the east and Millstone Lane to the south. The western boundary was the river Soar. The ensuing pattern of lanes and thoroughfares persisted into the Victorian area. The focus of the town moved eastwards in the 1860s with the construction of the Clock Tower. The main routes out of the town diverged from this point like the spokes of a wheel.

During the nineteenth century, there had been a rapid expansion of housing and factories in Leicester which had transformed the medieval market town into an industrial city [A]. Its population in 1831 was 38,904 which grew in the 70 years to 1901 to 211,579 , much of which went to power the demands of the hosiery and boot and shoe trades. To accommodate these workers, cheap and poorly constructed cottages were "in-fill" built into courtyards behind or in the garden spaces of existing buildings. These overcrowded areas were concentrated in the city centre, particularly in and around Belgrave Gate, Sanvey Gate and Wharf Street. The cramped cottages were accessed through narrow passages from the main road, lacked sunlight and poor ventilation and had only shared and grossly inadequate sanitary arrangements. Toileting arrangements usually consisted of a communal soil bucket or ash pit which was emptied once a week by night soil men. Courts often shared space with small rudimentary slaughterhouses which had no proper refuse disposal or storage facilities. It is estimated that there were 104 such premises in Leicester in 1903.

Over half a century of reports by Medical Officers of Health and charitable organisations are on record deploring the declining standards and deteriorating public health conditions in the town. Joseph Dare, a Unitarian social missionary, made yearly reports between 1846 and 1877 on working class conditions in Leicester. His report of 1864 (5) includes: "I have ascertained that there are at least 1,000 dwellings in this town that have neither back doors nor windows. So that allowing five inmates to each, which will be found under the mark, as the lower the grade of the population the thicker is the crowding together, there are no less than between seven and eight thousand sweltering in these unhealthy abodes. The habits, too, of the inmates of backyards and confined courts are altogether different from those who live in sunlight and fresh air. Seldom seen by respectable people, they are heedless both of personal appearance and domestic cleanliness. From the common use of the same filthy 'midden' and vulgar familiarities between themselves, gossiping in common at each other's houses, they lose all decency and manners and sink into both moral and physical corruption. Hence it will be seen that moral causes have much to do with the sanitary conditions of towns. In addition to scarlatina, typhus fever and measles, it is also well known that smallpox spreads its fearful ravages widely amongst us".

Nowadays these outbreaks are likely to be attributed to food contaminated with the organism Escherichia (E.) coli, the so-called hamburger disease. In the days before knowledge of bacteria however, the cause of these epidemics was hotly contested. Talking about the outbreaks of summer diarrhoea, which killed one in four of Leicester's infants under the age of one year annually, the Medical Officer of Health between 1867 and 1874, Dr J. Wyatt Crane (no family relation as far as we know) did not believe in the infection theory but blamed it on the demands of factory employment preventing mothers from properly nursing their infants.

Merridale Road, New Humberstone

The ancient village of Humberstone lay some three miles north east of Leicester. As the population expanded so did the requirement for land to accommodate them. A large portion of the village was absorbed into the town in 1892 and this became known as New Humberstone. Its southern border was defined by the railway line between Leicester and Melton Mowbray. (6)

New Humberstone map

New Humberstone detail from Leicester Map 1904. Merridale Road is marked red; Moreton Road, green

At the turn of the century, this area of the town was still under development as reference to the map from 1904 displays. The area behind Merridale Road to the west was open to fields. However, this appearance belies the circumstances on the ground as the following eyewitness report confirms. Tom Barclay was born in 1852 and grew up in the slum districts of Leicester. In 1895 he was living in Eastbourne Road (two streets to the east of and parallel to Merridale Road) when he wrote this report for the weekly magazine The Wyvern (7). He describes two streets of concern: Moreton Road which lay between Merridale Road and Eastbourne Road, and Dover Road.

"To the left of the Uppingham Road and not three-quarters of a mile from Old Humberstone is New Humberstone. Though flat as a pancake it is salubrious, having a sandy soil and doctors have ordered rheumatic and phthisic patients to live there. We are not all slums ... Eastbourne Road is quiet and plodding but Dover Road and Moreton Road have got a bad name, and if, as great philosophers have averred, poverty is the greatest of crimes and the poor 'bad in the lump', then a lot of us want improving off the face of the earth. New Humberstone has been a city of refuge to us when forced to flee from the wrath of the landlords of Leicester; and yet some parts look as though belonging to a city of the dead. In Moreton Road are 27 houses 'hand-running' all shut up, and have been now for nearly three years. Window opening are mostly boarded up, the fanlights are broken, the windows (when any are left unbroken) are only semi-transparent with dust, and the thresholds and jambs are glutted with dirt. Entry doors are all fastened, but where there is a grille you can see the backyard stones covered with rank grass. In some cases all doors are open save the front and you can step in through the window frame on to the brick-end and bottle-covered floor."

The Croxton Conundrum

Joshua and Matilda Pollard's third daughter, a two year old who was called Mary Ann, died in December 1864 while Matilda was heavily pregnant with her next child. The new baby was baptised Mary Ann in memory of the dead infant in Gretton on March 6th 1865. As a young woman she was taken before the magistrates on several occasions on charges of poaching, theft and damaging property. At the time of the census of 1891 and with her father absent from the village, Mary Ann and her younger brother, George, found a home with Catherine Craxford and her son Robert. Catherine's husband, Robert, had died of tuberculosis in November 1885. Mary Ann took over the housekeeping duties. At around the same time, Mary Ann became pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter which she named Matilda Pridmore Pollard on October 7th 1891.

Sometime during the next couple of years, Mary Ann made the transition to Leicester. It was there that she married David Craxford at the Leicester Register Office on October 11th 1894. It seems more than likely that Mary Ann and David had forged an association which dated back to their early years in Gretton. David was the younger son of John and Susannah (Redshaw) Craxford, and was born in Gretton on April 11th 1854. He was baptised with his brother and sister four years later. Having spent his early adult years in the family home and working on the land he moved away from the village in the 1880s. To date his name has not been found in the census returns of 1881 or 1891. As a young man there is evidence that he had recurrent trouble with the law particularly with regard to poaching activities. He was fined £ 1 with 13s. 6d in September 1877 (8). In October 1886 he was fined £ 1 16s 8d. for game trespass and when he defaulted on payment he was sent to prison for fourteen days with hard labour by Kettering Police Court (9) (Coincidentally Joshua Pollard appeared at the same hearing and was fined for a similar offence). Another fine followed for poaching on the Cardigan Estate, Deene Park, in February 1887. David then appeared before the Leicestershire Quarter Sessions on July 1st 1890 charged with stealing game fowl. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour (10).

It is Mary Ann and David's family life which has presented the biggest riddle to the research of this branch of the family tree and one which is as yet only partially solved. In the early 1890s David resurfaced in Leicester where he was employed doing general labouring work. At the time of their wedding the couple were lodging in Stone Bridge Street, just a few doors away from where Sarah Pridmore (the eldest daughter of Robert and Catherine Craxford) was living with her daughter Sarah and husband John Tarry.

After they were married, David and Mary Ann lived for a time in Lancaster Street, Leicester. Within months Mary Ann became pregnant but the baby was born dead in early June the following year. It was buried in Welford Road Cemetery in one of the many unconsecrated areas which accepted stillbirths and neonatal deaths. David moved the family to Dover Street, which runs between Granby Street and Wellington Street to the south west of the town centre. Another pregnancy followed in 1896 and that was where daughter Ada Jane was born on September 22nd that year. A son, John, followed on May 16th 1898. Mary Ann took responsibility for registering the birth which appeared on the certificate in the name of Croxford. It is noteworthy on this and future registrations, that Mary Ann did not sign her name but was only able to make her mark. Mary Ann was again pregnant at the beginning of 1899 and gave birth to a daughter, Susan, on October 15th of that year. The birth took place at 65 Merridale Road and the baby was registered with the surname Croxton. Susan survived for less than a year, dying in October 1900. Her death was registered as Susan Cratchford, adding further to the confusion. She was buried in section M plot 239 of Welford Road Cemetery on October 29th 1900. At the turn of the century the family had moved again, this time to 11 Merridale Road. This was just a few hundred yards east of Elm Street where the Pridmores had lived fifteen years before. Next son, David, was born on January 7th 1901. At the time of the 1901 census, Mary Ann's daughter Matilda had become known as Craxford. The little boy, David, survived only seven months, dying on August 21st 1901 of some form of enteritis. He was buried three days later at Welford Road Cemetery in the same plot as his sister Susan.

It is with the arrival of the next child, another daughter they named Susan, on June 21st 1902 that the mystery really takes off. Mary Ann again registered the birth and again she entered the surname as Croxton. The following year, Mary Ann became pregnant for the seventh time and another little girl was born on Christmas Day 1903. This time Mary Ann registered the baby as Kate Craxford, although the home address was given as 3 Merridale Road, perhaps suggesting that the family were not settled in their abode. The following summer, David was taken ill with a severe chest infection. He was admitted to the Leicester Infirmary but died there on June 15th 1904.

The life and death of Kate Craxford

Kids in care

The fate of the family is now unclear. It seems likely that Mary Ann was unable to cope with her young children and the financial position she found herself in on her own and had to move out of the family home. With her five remaining children, Matilda, Ada Jane, John, Susan and Kate, she sought temporary refuge in the Leicester Union Workhouse in Sparkenhoe Street. All the children were registered with the authorities under the surname Croxton. On this first occasion they stayed for ten days before Mary Ann voluntarily removed them from care.

Mary Ann took the four younger children back to the Workhouse to which they were admitted just before Christmas Day 1904. Mary Ann entered the Workhouse herself on December 27th 1904. At the beginning of the new year Ada Jane and John were transferred to the Cottage Homes at Countesthorpe. In the mean time, the infants Susan and Kate remained with their mother. Kate was taken ill with a severe chest infection during that first month. She was transferred to the Workhouse Infirmary but died on February 1st 1905 of bronchopneumonia. Her death was registered by Assistant Workhouse Master Charles Bates. Presumably on Mary Ann's request, Ada Jane and John were returned from Countesthorpe on March 10th 1905 and the family left the Workhouse with instructions to attend the Office of the Board of Guardians in Pocklington's Walk for follow up.

Mary Ann did find some work during this time as a charwoman at a property in Lancaster Street, about a twenty minute walk south from Merridale Road. Unable to cope on the outside, she was taken back into the Workhouse with her three children on June 21st 1905. Ada Jane and John were once again sent to the Cottage Homes on September 1st 1905. Susan remained with her mother. Perhaps unexpectedly, during the summer that year Mary Ann became pregnant yet again. Another son which she named George Christopher (a reference no doubt to her own younger brother) was born in the Workhouse on March 22nd 1906. He was registered with the surname Croxton but curiously Mary's surname which was originally written as Croxford in the informant's column on the certificate was crossed out and replaced by Croxton. No father is named. Mary Ann disappeared from the historical record after this date. On balance it is likely that she died in that institution.

Cottage Homes Countesthorpe

One of the cottages at The Cottage Homes, Countesthorpe, Leicestershire (12)

The Leicester Poor Law Union, overseen by a Board of Guardians, came into being in 1836 following the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. As a result a decision was made to construct a purpose-built Workhouse on a site in Sparkenhoe Street close by the main railway station. It opened in 1838 and over the following decades was remodelled and enlarged to accommodate up to 1000 inmates. The Workhouse contained its own infirmary and with the inception of the National Health Service ultimately became known as Hillcrest Hospital. In the mid Victorian period, many Poor Law Unions set up accommodation for pauper and orphan children in rural locations away from the Workhouse. The Leicester Union set up its Cottage Homes in the village of Countesthorpe about 8 miles south of the town. The home consisted of a number of cottages each of which held between 16 and 24 boys or girls overseen by a resident house-father or mother.

As well as the Workhouse and the Cottage Homes, the Leicester Union and subsequently the Borough Council also ran a number of smaller units variously called Scattered Homes or Short Stay hostels around the city. Each home housed between 10 and 12 children supervised by a house mother. The principle behind this was that the children were less isolated from the real world. Discipline was still strict but they attended ordinary schools and would be more prepared for life when they finally left the home.

After her initial stay in the Workhouse, oldest daughter Matilda Pridmore Pollard entered domestic service. By 1911 she living with the family of outdoor beer seller Arthur Chamberlain in Frank Street which was a few hundred yards west along Humberstone Road from Merridale Road. She married Oliver Dyson in May the following year. She continued living in Leicester until her death in 1940.

Matilda Pollard

Matilda was the seventh child (and fifth daughter) of Joshua Pollard and Matilda Pridmore. She was born in the spring of 1872. She seems to have grown up in Gretton without attracting the notoriety which attached to other members of the family. By the time of the census of 1891 she had entered domestic service and was living at the Bottle and Glass Inn, a public house run by landlord George Massam, in the village of Normanby near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

Sometime during the next few years she made her way to Leicester, possibly to be near her sister Mary Ann. She initially found accommodation in London Road. She met George Biddall, a musician about the same age that she was, and they were married at the Leicester Register Office on September 2nd 1896. They made their first home in the village of Billesdon to the north east of the town. Within weeks, Matilda was expecting a child. Her first born daughter appeared on July 17th 1897. They named her Louisa Ellen. The little girl from sickly from the start and failed to thrive. She died on October 23rd 1897, the cause of death recorded as malnutrition. Elizabeth Seaton, a neighbour, was with the baby when she died and reported the death.

Towards the end of the century, George and Matilda moved to a house at 29 Merridale Road, a hundred yards or so away from David and Mary Ann Craxford. In quick succession, Matilda presented George with a son, Wilfred, and a daughter, Ivy. The little girl was born in the autumn of 1900 but succumbed to an intestinal infection on February 16th 1901. She was three months old.

The life and death of Ivy Biddall

It appears that Matilda was deserted by George soon after Ivy died. At the time of the census at the end of March 1901, they were in temporary accommodation in Upper Charles Street in the centre of town. Commercial directories published either side of census show the primary business of this address to be a butcher's shop or a fishmonger. Shortly afterwards, Matilda moved back to Merridale Road taking up residence at number 9, the house next door to her sister. This address had been marked as unoccupied on census night. She found work locally as a laundress. Matilda soon became pregnant, the date of conception being estimated around the middle of May, and gave birth to a daughter on February 14th 1902. The girl was named and registered as Elizabeth Ann Pollard. Although no father was named on the document, another man, possibly a neighbour, Joseph Forman had by this time moved in with her. For some time they lived together as man and wife. Another pregnancy ensued at the beginning of the following year. Elsie Forman Pollard was born on September 8th 1903. As far as is known Matilda never saw George Biddall again.

The life and death of Elsie Pollard

Between the Workhouse and the Lunatic Asylum

The Towers

The Leicester Asylum (from an old postcard)

Things took a dramatic and terrible turn for the worse at the beginning of the new year, 1904. Joseph Forman had been living with Matilda now for nearly three years and they had moved across the street to number 18 Merridale Road. Over several weeks Matilda had developed episodes of depression and was beginning to neglect herself. She had fits of aggression and violent outbursts. She complained that she was afraid to live in the house because it was haunted and that "the lights of Hell were being lit". In desperation Joseph sought the advice and help of a medical practitioner, Dr Philip Ephraim Snoad of Aylestone Road who declared Matilda a person of unsound mind. On March 3rd 1904 Justice of the Peace Charles Crossley signed an Order under the terms of the Lunacy Act 1890 for Matilda to be detained under care and treatment at the Leicester Lunatic Asylum.

On admission Matilda was described as a fairly built, nourished woman of average height. She had a pale complexion, dark hair and blue eyes with dilated pupils. She was in a generally filthy and dishevelled state and her hair was matted and infested with vermin. She was noisy and very violent, lashing out at anyone who came near her. The condition had been building up over the previous three to four weeks and there was no previous or family history of insanity. She was known to be still suckling a five month old baby. A diagnosis of acute mania was made. Her initial course over the next few days after admission showed her to be most uncooperative, refusing food, and was particularly noisy and restless at night. Over the following few months her condition slowly stabilised. There were periods when she could be quite rational, do small amounts of work and could use the 'airing courts' (these were enclosed courtyards which gave access to exercise facilities and the outside fresh air) but in between she became excitable and violent. She tended to remain dirty in her habits and at times incontinent. Over the next two or three years there was a slow general deterioration in her physical condition and she became increasingly feeble.

By the end of the decade her general medical and mental condition was considered static. She took very little interest in her surroundings, did not communicate with anyone but gave no trouble. The medical records do not indicate that any specific tests or investigations were carried out and no results are recorded. The diagnosis of acute mania was not refined. The only medication given was Sulphonal, an old hypnotic and sedative drug which had been introduced in 1888 and was commonly used in the treatment of insanity, agitation and insomnia. The last entry in the records is dated August 5th 1912

With their mother committed to the Asylum, son Wilfred, now known as William, and daughters Elizabeth and Elsie were taken into the care of the Leicester Union Workhouse. All three became known variously as Beddell or Biddles. William was moved on to the Cottage Homes at Countesthorpe on June 6th 1904, interestingly his transfer note recorded that his mother was in the Asylum and that he had no father. Little Elsie was never well and her condition deteriorated over the next few months. She died of bronchitis on October 7th 1904. Her death was registered by Assisant Master, Charles Bates. Elizabeth was sent to one of the Girls Scattered Homes on November 22nd 1906 but did not stay there long. She may have absconded and made her way back to Merridale Road for she was returned to the Workhouse on March 26th 1907 by a Mrs Dakin, described as a family friend. She had a further short period in the Workhouse after a spell as an in patient at the Workhouse Infirmary in March 1909. She was sent back to the Scattered Home at 50 Halstead Street, North Evington where she was living at the time of the 1911 census.

Matilda remained in the Asylum for the rest of her life. By the summer of 1930 she was a resident on Ward 6. Her condition started to give cause for concern. Her next of kin was recorded as Miss E D Bedell (daughter) who was said to be residing at the Poplars, Rampton State Institution Retford, Nottinghamshire. From the date of Matilda's admission, no trace of Joseph Forman has ever been found. A notice of concern was sent to his last known address at 39 Spinney Hill Road but this was returned 'not known here'. Similarly family friend Mrs Dakin has not been identified. Matilda died in the Asylum on February 16th 1931. The registered cause of death was tuberculosis of the pleura and the spine. She was recorded as the wife of ______ Beddell, (No first name known - ED) occupation unknown. A Joseph Swift registered the death and took charge of the funeral arrangements ('causing the body to be buried') as there was no identifiable next of kin.

Continued in column 2...

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Added: January 22nd 2016
Last updated: February 6th 2016

Rampton and Leicester Frith

Leicester Frith Hospital

Leicester Frith Hospital (13)

Matilda's daughter, Elizabeth Bedell spent eleven years in the high security psychiatric hospital at Rampton in two sessions. Her first admission was on February 24th 1922 from where she was discharged three years later on July 22nd 1925. She was readmitted on October 29th 1929 and was finally discharged on December 31st 1937. No judicial or criminal explanation has been found for her commital and incarceration. No formal psychiatric diagnosis has been discovered and it is known that she did not die in Rampton.

The recent release of the 1939 Register has advanced Elizabeth's story somewhat. These records show that she was an inmate of the Leicester Frith Hospital, Glenfield. Her diagnosis was 'Incapacitated Certified Mental Defective'. She remained there for at least eleven years. Her record contains the cryptic mark in pencil "R.G.C. 5/5/50".

The Mansion House at Glenfield on the north western edge of Leicester was built in 1870. During the first World War it was appropriated as a home for soldiers suffering from shell shock or neurasthenia. After the war it was bought by the Borough Council as a home for mentally defective children. The Leicester Frith Unit opened at the end of August 1923 under the auspices of the Borough Mental Deficiency Committee. The site was developed as a series of six villas each of which could accommodate 60 patients. With the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, Leicester Frith joined the Glenfield Hospital group. (14)

Elizabeth was apparently moved from the wards of the Leicester Frith. She spent her final years in a house at 23 Berkeley Close, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire which was part of the hospital campus. On September 12th 1975, she was found in a collapsed state and was taken to the Loughborough General Hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival. A post mortem examination confirmed the cause of her death to be heart failure and coronary artery disease. The Assistant Deputy Coroner for North Leicestershire, P.J. Tomlinson, decided that a formal inquest into her death was not required and issued a death certificate. No mention of mental incapacity was made. There were no known surviving relatives and a publically organised cremation was arranged.

Who was George Biddall? [B, C]

So, who was the man that Matilda Pollard married? At the start this was by no means clear as so many factors have obfuscated our research. We were certain of his whereabouts for the ten year period leading up to the turn of the century. This section presents our progress in charting the rest of his life.

Matilda Pollard married George Biddall in 1896. Within the next five years they had three children of which their two daughters died. On the five certificates relating to these events (one marriage, two births and two deaths) George has entered two occupations: private in the 17th Leicestershire Regiment and musician. The first of these activities ties in with the Militia Attestation Statement dated February 22nd 1890 in which George, as Badell 3678, signed up for a six year service engagement.

There was never any doubt that George had a connection with one of the famous travelling show and fairground families of the same name. However even here confusion is built in to the picture. Although groups of Biddalls can be found, usually based in adjacent caravans, in census returns from 1851 onwards, the family name was Freeman. It is reasonable to assume that George was uncertain where he was born, although probably as a guess, he has stated Glasgow or Scotland on several occasions. Determining George's year of birth accurately from declarations on his records is impossible too but falls within the range 1870 to 1876. No birth certificate in the name of Biddall has been found to match these parameters. He also declared his father's name to be George, a deceased musician, on his marriage certificate to Matilda.

Perhaps the most intriguing but potentially misleading piece of evidence is the census return of 1871 for Prudhoe (a small town between Gateshead and Hexham in Northumberland). Two Biddall families are resident in adjacent caravans. The first is headed by the matriarch Hannah (Baker) Biddall with her son George and his wife Selina and her three month old grandson George. George and Selina had been married in Darlington, County Durham the previous year witnessed by brother Samuel. Hannah's grandson was said to have been born in Cleator Moor near Whitehaven in Cumbria. Next door but one is Hannah's son Samuel with his wife Augusta (although she is listed as his sister which has raised a comment in the margin by the enumerator) and three more of their children. They were all show people. Selina and Augusta were sisters with the maiden name Smith and the stage name "Ohmy!". Mainstream wisdom has believed the infant George to be the last born of Samuel and Augusta's children. The alternative view is that the infant George was the first born of George and Selina's children and he would have been named George in accordance with Victorian naming conventions. For a time this appeared to be borne out by the birth certificate dated December 20th 1870 from Cleator Moor for George, the son of George and Selina (formerly Smith) Sinclair. The father was a musician. Even more telling is the joint baptism on January 8th 1871 of George Sinclair, son of George Sinclair and Selina Smith and Ellen, daughter of Samuel Sinclair and Augusta Smith - both fathers being musicians. Unfortunately, the baby George died in July the same year rendering this theory void. This left 'our' George Biddall, the subject of this section, without confirmed parents or a date of birth.

The life and death of one George Biddall Freeman

Industrial School

Desford Industrial School (15)

It is nearly 20 years later that George Biddall entered Matilda Pollard's life and married her in Leicester. How and why he became separated from his travelling family (who spent most of their time in the North of England and Scotland) and why in Leicestershire remains something of a mystery. George was picked up by the police having been found wandering in the streets of Castle Donnington near Loughborough with another young boy in March 1886. He was taken before two Justices of the Peace to whom he declared himself to be 10 years old and had been born in Scotland. The place he gave could have been Lagg, a small hamlet on the Isle of Arran. He had run away from home with his brother because they had been badly mistreated. He said that his mother's name was Augusta and that his father was William Palmer. It is clear from the records that George's natural father, Samuel Freeman, had died in Glasgow in 1878 and that Augusta had entered into a second marriage to William Palmer in 1879. Other information suggests that George was probably born in 1873 or 1874. It is not known who the other boy was. George did not have a brother of a similar age. Is it possible that his companion was his first cousin, Joseph, the son of George and Selina Freeman, who was born in 1875?

George was ordered to be detained at the Industrial School in Desford, a village some seven miles west of Leicester, until he reached the age of sixteen. This school was opened in January 1881 under the care of superintendent Thomas D Adcock and was certified to receive up to 150 boys between the ages of 8 and 12 years. It was designed to provide education, exercise and training facilities and workshops to teach boys useful trades. George was placed in the training programme to become a tailor. In February 1890, George received special dispensation to apply to join the Army. His Attestation Form shows that he signed on for a six year term with the 3rd Battalion, the Leicestershire Regiment. In the spring of 1891, it appears that he was reunited with his mother and brothers. His step father William had died the previous year, leaving Augusta to run the family business. George was documented on the census return for Durham as George Palmer. The correspondence files show that his attendance with the militia at the end of 1890 had been patchy. George wrote to the school in March 1891 from the Post Office on the New Quay, North Shields saying that he was trying to join the Navy. This spot was within easy reach of his mother Augusta across the river Tyne by ferry.

There are no surviving records to show where George actually served with the Leicestershire Regiment but with the arrival of three children in quick succession it seems unlikely that he would have spent much time out of the country. The School correspondence files document George moving to Warley Barracks in Brentwood, Essex, in 1892 and to Chatham in 1893 where he was deployed with the 2nd Battalion. In 1899 he spent some time on attachment at the Curragh Camp, County Kildare, Ireland. In later years, George always wore a large flambouyant ruby ring which he told his family he had taken off a dead soldier in his Army days. It is also clear that George left Matilda sometime in 1901. It is possible that he was sent to serve in South Africa towards the end of the Boer War. The family were in Merridale Road when baby Ivy died in the February. The census return at the end of March showed them to be in Upper Charles Street, and Matilda was back in Merridale Road toward the end of the year. Where did George go? Again that cannot be proved, but a George Biddill, musician, boarded the RMS Numidian in Glasgow on March 26th 1904 bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Silver War Badge

Silver War Badge

The final piece of the puzzle is added by the two photographs below. George Sinclair Biddall Freeman (a 32 year old musician) married Ruth Pearson in Darlington on May 21st 1907. The couple had met when George had taken lodgings with the family when working at a local theatre. George's brother (again there is no family recollection of the brother's name) had been courting Ruth's sister, Minnie, at the time. George named his father George Samuel on the marriage certificate. They had one daughter, Myra. The census of 1911 shows George the proprietor of a grocery store (although the first entry, musician, has been crossed out). George served for a short time in the Army Service Corps during World War I (Private R4/091443) before being invalided out with a Silver War Badge because of an infection. In her diary, Myra describes her father being with the Army at Woolwich 'teaching tailoring'. His khaki uniform bears three Good Conduct stripes (indicating 12 years previous service) and a crossed cannon insignia on his left sleeve. The other photograph appears to show him holding drumsticks or a baton. He is wearing a dress uniform with bandsman's shells on the shoulders.

After the war ended there is evidence that George continued working as a drummer and was constantly moving the family from place to place. Myra recalls that he was away for four years on engagements in theatres in London. In 1926, the family arrived in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. Eventually George and Ruth separated, although they were never divorced. He left Scunthorpe about 1930 and Ruth and Myra never saw him again. George was found dead in Wesham Park Hospital, Blackpool on January 26th 1956. He had been suffering from atherosclerosis and dementia. He was 85 years of age. The first thing Ruth knew about his death was being notified by the police knocking on her door. George died without leaving a will and Ruth was granted Letters of Administration for his remaining effects.

Dress uniform
George's family

Left: Note the dumsticks and bandsman's epaulettes, Right: Note the 3 long service strips left forearm; the crossed cannon (artillery) badge.

Canada! Oh Canada!

Middlemore Home Children

It is estimated that between the 1860s and the 1930s over 100,000 children were sent to Canada during what is known as the Home Children scheme. This involved children who were orphaned, abandoned or paupers on the presumption that they would benefit from a healthy and moral life in the countryside where rural families accepted them as cheap farm labour and domestic help. The scheme was run by a number of charitable organisations, one of which was originated by John Throgmorton Middlemore (1844 - 1925) (16, 17). John Middlemore was born in Birmingham but trained as a doctor in the United States and then travelled extensively in Canada. On his return to England he was appalled by the comparison of the filthy crowded slums of his native city with the clean open spaces in Canada. In 1872 he opened a home for boys on St Luke's Road, Birmingham, and, soon afterwards a home for girls on nearby Spring Street. These two homes became known as the Children's Emigration Homes. In May 1873, he took 29 children across the Atlantic from Liverpool to Quebec City, then on by train to Toronto, finding homes for them in Toronto and London, Ontario. Between then and 1936 more than 5,000 young immigrants, aged 2 to 18, arrived in Canada. Many Poor Law Unions, including the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes under the authority of the Leicester Board of Guardians, subscribed to the scheme transferring suitable subjects to Birmingham for onward resettlement. In 1912, it cost the Board of Governors five shillings per week to send each child to Birmingham. The cost of emigration to Birmingham was estimated at £ 15 (18).


Left: RMS Carthaginian (19), Right: RMS Minnedosa (20)
The Carthaginian belonged to the Allan Steamship Line until 1915 when taken over by the Canadian Pacific Line which owned the Minnedosa

It is noted above that Matilda's son William was transferred to Countesthorpe in 1904. The three eldest children of Mary Ann Pollard, Ada Jane, John and Susan, followed in 1905. In John's case his records state that his mother had deserted, father deceased. Christopher George followed in 1909. All Mary Ann's children were registered in the name of Croxton. At the time of the 1911 census Ada Jane was being trained 'for service'. John and William were the first of the children to leave the country. They were transferred to the Emigration Home in Birmingham on March 18th 1912 and from there embarked on SS Carthaginian in Liverpool on May 26th 1912. Both John and William were settled into homes in New Brunswick.

John grew to be of modest proportions reaching 5 feet 5¼ inches in height. He was of medium complexion with brown eyes and brown hair. In his middle teens he became a farm labourer in the township of Debec in Carleton County, New Brunswick. This rural community was only a few miles east of the border with Maine, United States of America. As a nineteen year old John enlisted with the No 2 New Brunswick Forestry Corps which was part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the first World War. He saw service with the No 4 District Bordeaux Group which was seconded to the Directorate of Forests in France. It is estimated that the Canadians supplied 10,100 skilled men and 3,400 unskilled labourers to this scheme which undertook forestry and logging work. John's full World War 1 service record can be seen here (Note: this is a large file and will require an installed pdf reader to view it.) He named his older sister Matilda Pridmore (Pollard) Croxton as his next of kin and his younger sister Ada Jane Croxton his beneficiary in his Soldier's Will. After the war he returned home to Debec, passing through American immigration at Houlton in Maine, giving as his contact a friend Burns Hemphill. In 1924 he moved to Maine spending time there as a labourer. He returned home to New Brunswick on December 31st 1931.

By 1933 John made his home in Hay Settlement, a community a mile or so south of Woodstock, Carleton County on the western bank of the St John River. At the age of 60 years he married 18 year old Marion Louise Finnamore on November 4th 1958 in a ceremony at the residence of the Reverend A Hatfield in neighbouring Bath, New Brunswick. Although he declared his denomination to be Episcopalian, the service was conducted in Marion's Primitive Baptist tradition. It is certain that the couple knew that John was dying of a terminal illness when the marriage took place. The previous year he had undergone surgery for cancer of the rectum. John passed away on Christmas Day 1958, the final diagnosis was carcinomatosis. He was buried in the Methodist Cemetery at Woodstock on December 27th 1958.

William became known as William Bedell on his arrival in Canada, probably because of the coincidence of the name of his initial placement with the family of farmer William J Montgomery. They lived in a small hamlet called Bedell Settlement in Carleton County, New Brunswick. It had been founded in 1866 as a farming community by Joseph, the son of a Loyalist settler John Bedell. It was about six miles north of Debec. William gave his place of origin in England as the 'Receiving Home', Leicester and his next of kin as Lizzie (Elizabeth) Bedell. Like his cousin John, William was of relatively short stature as a young man, reaching 5 feet 5¼ inches. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He had a noticeable scar on the left side of his chest. On May 22nd 1916 he signed his Attestation Papers to enlist with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He embarked for France where he joined the 6th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery as Driver 335917.

WW1 Victory medals

British War and Victory Medals

By the end of the summer of 1918 the object of the Allied forces was to break through the Hindenburg line. This was a vast system of defensive fortifications which included concrete bunkers and machine gun emplacements, heavy belts of barbed wire, tunnels for moving troops, deep trenches, dug-outs and command posts which had been constructed during the winter of 1916-17 in north eastern France. The line stretched from Lens to beyond Verdun. The Allied strategy was to utilise the entire front from the river Meuse to the English Channel and attack the line at different points simultaneously. Canadian forces were to advance toward Cambrai, situated in the Nord-Pas de Calais region in northern France. On September 2nd 1918 the Canadian Corps were ordered to attack the enemy on the Queant-Drocourt line which lay close to the village of Buissy in the Pas de Calais, east of Arras. The 6th brigade were ordered to advance in close support of the infantry. The overall aim was to break through the line and drive on to the strategic targets of the Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood and Cambrai. Although the offensive was successful, heavy casualties were suffered and William Bedell was killed in action on September 3rd 1918. He is buried in the Queant Road Cemetery in Buissy. (There is a more detailed account with maps of the summer and autumn offensives along the Hindenburg Line in the article Percival Joseph Anker, MM (1892 - 1918) which describes the life of another ex-patriot Englishman enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force who was killed in action in September 1918). William's full World War 1 service record can be seen here (Note: this is a large file and will require an installed pdf reader to view it.)

On September 22nd 1921, John's half brother George Christopher Croxton emigrated aboard RMS Minnedosa to Canada to join him. His fare was paid for by the Leicester Board of Guardians.

Christ Church

Christ Church (parish) (26)

Ada Jane remained at the Cottage Homes working first as a domestic servant and then becoming the housekeeper of Cottage House. She too emigrated to Canada to join her brother, embarking on SS Regina in Liverpool on October 14th 1922. She settled in Debec where she took up work as a housekeeper. She met farmer Frederick McLean Cosman from Pemberton Ridge about 30 miles to the south in York County, New Brunswick. They were married in Christ Church parish church, Fredericton on March 18th 1925.

After Frederick died in 1938, Ada Jane continued to live in Debec. She remarried on September 4th 1940 to widower George Arthur McMillan. He was a farmer from nearby Benton. The marriage took place at the United Baptist Parsonage, Meductic, another bankside community on the St John River. Ada Jane died in Canada on August 2nd 1990.

Susan remained in Leicester into the 1920s, living in Berners Street close to the Spinney Hill Park. She married William Edward Marshall in 1933 and moved to Kent where she died in January 1996. There is no evidence that any of their descendants knew of their Craxford origins. On the official notification of his marriage John had declared that his father's name was David Croxton but he did not know his mother's maiden name. Ada Jane declared her mother's name to be Elizabeth Mary Pollard.

James William and the reappearance of Joshua.

James William (also known as William James) Pollard was the oldest of Joshua Pollard and Matilda Pridmore's three sons. Born in 1869 he was between his sisters Mary Ann and Matilda in age. At the beginning of the new century he moved to Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. He married Eliza Smith, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Tranetta Smith, in 1904. Both sides of this family were of Romany stock although Thomas was living a settled life, earning his living as a labourer at a blast furnace. Towards the end of the decade, Tranetta Smith became infirm and moved into the Uppingham Union Workhouse where she died. She was buried in the graveayard of St Peter & St Paul Church, Uppingham on March 17th 1909. James and Eliza moved into a cottage at Edmonthorpe near Melton Mowbray where he took up work as a gamekeeper. At the time of the 1911 census Thomas Smith had moved in with them. After a gap of nearly 30 years, Joshua Pollard had reappeared and was also living with them, spending his time pottering around the garden. There is no indication where he had been in the interim. He was now aged 75 years. No record of his death has been discovered.

Further Reading

The book The Slums of Leicester (2009) by Ned Newitt
Myra Heath

The covers and website

[A]: For an authoritative guide to the housing stock and the overcrowding which ensued in Victorian Leicester we recommend "The Slums Of Leicester" by Ned Newitt (2009), The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited, Derby. ISBN: 978-1-85983-724-5. The book comprises a photographic record of many of the streets and courtyards in the centre of the city prior to the slum clearances of the 1930s and early 1970s. It is illustrated with contemporary accounts of residents who lived there.
[B]: "Fairground Strollers and Show Folk" by Frances Brown (2001), Ronda Books, Taunton, Somerset. ISBN: 0-9521282-1-7. In the early Victorian era, one Henry Freeman-Biddall turned his hand to practicing wizardry in fairgrounds. As his children and grandchildren married and mingled with other touring and circus performers, the family developed an empire of travelling shows widely known and immensely popular with such titles as Freeman-Biddalls' Temples of Magic and Pepper's Ghost Illusion Show. Frances has produced an engrossing biography of the history, lives and times of this fascinating family which is fully illustrated with over 150 photographs.
[C]: The diary of Myra Heath: Myra Freeman, born in 1909, was the daughter of George Sinclair Biddall Freeman and Ruth Pearson. Myra was 96 years of age when she died in 2008. She had written an account of her own reminiscences from her earliest days and her own family story. Myra's granddaughter, Elizabeth Thomas, has transcribed Myra's Diary and placed it on this website which is amply illustrated by many photographs and collections of documents. Neither family knew the full nature of their history. This has been one of the keys to splicing them together.

A vote of thanks

The authors would like to express their thanks for the help, comments and suggestions from the following in the construction of this article: Jenny Moran at The Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ; Mark Stevens at Berkshire Record Office ; Alexa Rees at Nottinghamshire Archives ;Ron Abbot, Michaeldr at The Great War Forum


1. Shoumatoff, Alex: The Mountain of Names: A history of the human Family with introduction by Robin Fox; Kodansha International, New York, USA (1995). ISBN 1-56836-071-1
2. Old Time Papers - In the Stocks: Blackburn Standard. November 16th 1889. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
3. Petty Sessions Oundle. Northampton Mercury February 28th 1874. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
4. Petty Sessaions Kettering. Northampton Mercury March 14th 1885. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
5. Quotation from Report of the Leicester Domestic Mission: Joseph Dare 1864; pg 36 "The Slums Of Leicester" by Ned Newitt (2009), The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited, Derby. ISBN: 978-1-85983-724-5.
6. Parishes added since 1892 Humberstone A History of the County of Leicestershire Volume 4. British History online
7. Quotation from 'New Humberstone': Tom Barclay in The Wyvern June 14th 1895; pg 172 "The Slums Of Leicester" by Ned Newitt (2009), The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited, Derby. ISBN: 978-1-85983-724-5.
8. Using dogs for the purpose of taking game: Petty Sessions, Oundle Northampton Mercury October 20th 1887. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
9. In default of paying fine: Kettering Police Court: Northampton Mercury October 23rd 1886. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
10. Stealing two tame fowls value 6s. Leicestershire Quarter Sessions: Grantham Journal. July 5th 1890. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
11. The workhouse in Leicester in Peter Higginbotham's web site The Workhouse
12. Cottage Homes, Countesthorpe. Photograph Cottage No. 9. From Leicestershire, Leicester and Ruitland Record Office at Leicestershire Villages. Reproduced under the terms of the Creative Commons license as stipulated on the site.
13. Photograph: Leicester Frith Institution, Leicester 1921 Britain From Above. Reproduced in accordance with the Terms & Conditions stated on their website
14. Glenfield Hospital Records Leicester Frith The National Archives
15. Photograph: Industrial School, Desford Britain From Above. Reproduced in accordance with the Terms & Conditions stated on their website
16. Middlemore Home Children at British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa
17. Patricia Roberts-Pichette John Throgmorton Middlemore and the Children's Emigration Homes Local history at Newman University Birmingham
18. Board of Governors Report to the District Council: County News - Southam. Leamington Spa Courier Friday May 24th 1912 The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
19. SS Carthaginian of the Allan Steamship Line. Norway-Heritage: Hands Across the Sea
20. SS Minnedosa of the Canadian Pacific Line. Norway-Heritage: Hands Across the Sea
21. Photograph: John Croxton headstone by Beverley Quigg Kirk, Member No: 48093671 at Find A Grave
22. William Bedell (335917) First World Ward service record for Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (includes Attestation Papers and Soldier's Will. Soldiers of the First World War 1914-1918. Library and Archives of Canada
23. Bendell W CWGC; Commonwealth War Graves Commission
24. William Bedell Remembered Page 366: First World War Book of Remembrance Veterans Affairs Canada
25. Photograph: Cosman headstone by Aaron Gullison, Member No: 47078252 at Find A Grave
26. Photograph: St Anne's Chapel of Ease from Our History at Christ Church (Parish) Church, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

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