Evans’s end

Some time ago I looked at cause of death for my Brown and Carter ancestors.  Now I see what finished off my Evans ancestors.

harrietJ_and_me (440x616)
Nan (Harriet Jane Evans) in later years with yours truly.

Harriet Jane Evans (1887-1971)

Harriet was my paternal grandmother, and the only grandparent I can remember.  Her
story is told in Mystery Number One:  Nan (Parts 1, 2 and 3).  In brief, Nan’s life was typical for the time:  born 1887, she worked as a domestic servant, similar to Debbie, in the BBC series Back in time for Dinner, and then became a housewife and mother to four boys.  For a time she was a dinner lady at Watling Street JMI School in Brownhills.

As a child I spent many happy hours at Nan’s bungalow, but they are hazy memories.  Sometime around the age of 80, Nan was moved into the geriatric ward of St Michael’s Hospital, Lichfield, where she spent the rest of her days.  For a few months I visited with uncle Frank on Sundays, but for much of the time Nan was unable to recognise us, or to respond.

The end came on 13 September 1971.  I remember Dad telling me at getting up time, and offering me the choice of funeral or school.  I chose school.  I don’t recall my frame of mind at the time, but the Nan I knew and preferred (still prefer) to remember, was lost long before.

The official cause was:  bronchopneumonia, cardiac failure, senility.  Nan was just about 84 years old.

Harriet Jane Evans (1860 – 1936)

Great grandmother had the same name.  She was unmarried when Harriet junior was born.  Little is known about her, mainly as Nan was always reluctant to talk about her family.  From the censuses she spent some time as a domestic servant, or housemaid, and in 1911 was a charwoman (cleaner).  Pretty much a life of drudgery typical of many working class women of the time.

At some point Harriet was admitted to the County Mental Hospital, Stafford, where she died, recently widowed, on 14 January 1936, aged 75.  The cause was cardiovascular degeneration, senile dementia.  This is similar to Nan, but does it represent a pattern?

The County Mental Hospital stood in the northern part of Stafford, adjacent to the prison.  The hospital site has been redeveloped for housing.

stafford mental hospital os 1938 1946
Stafford. Ordnance Survey. Surveyed 1921-22, additions 1938, published 1946. County Mental Hospital ringed. Mainline railway station lower left. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

I looked for a news report that would tell something about conditions, but there seems to be nothing in the online archive via Findmypast.  By all accounts they were grim places.  Attitudes to mental illness, lay and professional alike, were, to say the least, primitive, even by today’s lamentable standards.  It is not so very long ago that people could essentially be locked away in mental institutions, or “lunatic asylums”, on the most feeble pretexts.

Susannah Hyde (1837 – 1919)

Harriet Jane senior’s mother was Susannah Hyde (my second great grandmother), who married William Evans, labourer, in 1858.  They would have eight daughters and two sons.

Susannah was a Black Country lass.  The 1851 census records her aged 14, a nailer, at Straits, Sedgley.  Her father, John Hyde, and 11-year-old brother Benjamin, were nailers, too.  This was an arduous occupation, often carried out in squalid conditions.  However, The Straits, to the south west of Sedgley, was an area of sporadic buildings in a largely rural setting (going on the Ordnance Survey of 1881).  Presumably, the buildings would have been connected to agriculture, and, as farm hands found alternative occupations, repurposed for production of metal products, in this case nails, which seem to have been made on a largely domestic scale, until mass production took over.  The area is much more built up today, though surrounded by various open spaces.

The Straits OS 1881 1886
The Straits, near Sedgley, Staffordshire (now West Midlands). Ordnance Survey. Surveyed 1881, published 1886. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

More about nail making in the area:  Ancient Manor of Sedgley; and Black Country Living Museum.

After marrying, Susannah would have had the usual household chores that any wife had to deal with.  Edward, apparently born on a boat, had become a boatman by 1861, but it appears he and Susannah were living in a house of some sort (see Evans the Boat).  Later, they moved to Compton Bridge House, where Susannah would have continued to look after the (large) house and family, together with boarders.  After Edward died in 1890, it appears Susannah’s role continued in much the same vein.  A hard life by modern standards, though, with several earners in the household, maybe more comfortable than some.

Susannah died on 26 January 1919 at her home on Henwood Road, Compton, Wolverhampton, aged 84.  The cause was senile decay, cardiac weakness.  A pattern, indeed.

John Hyde (about 1798 – 1849)

Susannah’s father, John Hyde, was my third great grandfather.  He and his family lived at Straits, Cotwallend (see above) and was a nail maker.

John died on 8 June 1849 at Straits.  The cause:  phthisis pulmonalis, a tuberculosis of the lungs with progressive wasting of the body.    This was clearly not a sudden death, but a drawn out decline of a man that had relied on his strength and mobility to earn a crust.  His occupation was a hard one, and it would be no surprise if coal dust and microscopic metallic material left his lungs susceptible to infection.

Ann “Nancy” Elwell (1800-1872)

Ann, third great grandmother, had previously been married to William Tomlinson (died 1823), but married John Hyde (above) in 1826, bringing son Daniel with her.  There would be six more children.

Ann died on 20 January 1872 at Blacklay [Blakeley], now a part of Wombourne, Staffordshire.  I believe this was next to the Swan Inn.

swan wombourne os 1881 1883 1884
Blacklay, Wombourne, Staffordshire. Ordnance Survey. Surveyed 1881-1883, published 1884. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The cause was apoplexy.  Essentially, this was a stroke or haemorrhage leading to unconsciousness and death.  Clearly, this is different from the others, but it is more or less what happened to my mother (and, I think, from what I was Mom told me, her mother).

The informant was Rose Hannah Boddison, who lived nearby in Blacklay.

Edward Evans (1836-1890) (Updated 6 Oct 2019)

Edward was my second great grandfather.  He was a canal boatman based in the Compton or Tettenhall Wood area of Wolverhampton.

evans edward eod 1890
Entry of death for Edward Evans. General Register Office (PDF). Crown copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Open Government Licence. Transcript below.


Wolverhampton, Tettenhall, Counties of Stafford and Salop
Fifteenth May 1890 Compton Tettenhall Stafford
Edward Evans
55 years
Canal Boatman
Cause of death: Delirium tremens.  Unknown*.  Intemperance.  Unknown*.  John Fraser M.B.
The mark of Hannah Shadbolt Daughter in attendance Tettenhall Wood Tettenhall
[Registered] Fifteenth May 1890
Joseph Farmer Registrar

* Unknown duration.

Delirium tremens (the DTs) is most often associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but there can be a range of causes.  However, the inclusion of intemperance, indicates that Edward did drink excessively, and this was his downfall.

William Evans (1797-1875) (Updated 30 Sep 2019)

Third great grandfather, William Evans, was a boatman, for much of his working life operating, and living aboard, a narrowboat on the canals, in particular the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, through the 1840s and up to at least 1865, when his wife Priscilla (below) died.  In 1858 , when son Edward married, he was a forgeman.  In the 1871 census William was an agricultural labourer.

Some time ago I used the PDF service provided by the General Register Office (GRO) to obtain a copy of the entry of death, which records that he died on 12 July 1875 at Lichfield Road, Wednesfield, Staffordshire, aged 78 years.  His occupation was farm labourer, and the informant was Jane Evans, daughter, also of Lichfield Road, Wednesfield.  The cause was old age. Another hard life.

Priscilla Mousdale (1800-1865)

Priscilla Mousdale, third great grandmother, married William Evans (above) in 1818, before William became a flatman (operating a flat-bottomed boat), and then a boatman.  I believe that the entries in the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses indicate they lived on a canal boat.  This would have been a cramped existence, especially with eight children, and must have been physically demanding, as well as emotionally challenging.

Priscilla died on 10 February 1865, probably on board, at Giggetty, Wombourne, Staffordshire.  The cause of death was recorded as:  gastritis and general debility some months.  Considerable suffering seems obvious, probably the result of lifestyle.

The informant was Mary Davies, of Ounsdale, who could have been on another boat.

Botterham Top Lock 2
Queueing at Botterham Top Lock:  the sort of cabin space that Priscilla and family would have occupied.   (No engines in their day.)




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