My 2 x great grandmother Emily Hill née Fox is another who’s early life is shrouded in mystery. With no record of any father to speak of she appears to have been illegitimate, a fact which she kept carefully concealed from those around her. She also strikes me as a very strong woman; losing her husband in sudden and shocking circumstances she was left to raise two young boys by herself and find ways to bring more money into the home.
Early Life and Childhood
Emily Fox was born to Maria Fox, an unmarried young woman of about twenty-two, on 31 March 1858 in Birmingham[₁]. There is no father listed on her birth certificate; however, she had a brother Thomas William[₂], one year her senior. It is not known whether Thomas and Emily shared a father.
In 1861 at the age of three she was living with her mother, brother, and mother’s sister Mary-Ann Pearson, at 15 Wavertree Vale, Wavertree, Liverpool[₃]. At some point over the next ten years the family had moved back to Warwickshire and in 1871 were living on the High Street in Leamington Priors, where Maria took up work as a confectioner. Maria’s elderly mother Sarah was at this time living with them, and they had also taken on a boarder William J. King.[₄]
It appears that Emily kept her unconventional parentage secret as according to her future daughter-in-law Avice, writing during the 1960s, she had been an only child, spending her childhood in Leamington, and lost both her parents at a very young age. She claimed that she had been raised by her aunt and uncle (a railway official) in Wavertree, Liverpool.[₅]
Despite the falseness of those claims it seems likely that Emily did experience some early heartache as in 1874 when she was sixteen her brother Thomas sadly passed away[₆]; her mother followed less than three years later in 1877[₇]. But by 1881 she had moved to the southern coast of England and was working as a domiciliary nurse for the Smith family of 10 Belgrave House, Brighton[₈].
Marriage, Family Life, and the Death of Her Husband
It is very interesting to note that at the time Emily was living at Belgrave House in Brighton, her future husband, chemist John William Hill, was living just three miles down the road on Dean Street[₉]. Is this where they first met? We will probably never be certain but what we do know is it took another eight years before they would tie the knot, John now bearing the status of widower. They were married on 10 January 1889 at Holy Trinity Church back in Emily’s hometown of Wavertree. It appears that Emily did not even confide in her husband regarding her parentage as the marriage certificate names her father as Thomas, deceased, most likely in reference to her late brother.[₁₀]
Two years later they were living on independent means in Christchurch, Hampshire[₁₁], and over the next few years moved to 2 Cockshot Road, Reigate, Surrey, where the couple’s first son William Matson was born on 13 September 1895[₁₂]. A second son, Edward John, followed just two years later on 27 October 1897[₁₃]. Both boys were baptised at St Mary’s Church in Reigate.[₁₄]
Their married lives were clearly not without problems. John suffered from bouts of depression and pains in his head, and would take laudanum to help him sleep. He would often disappear for several days at a time, and so when just two years after the birth of their second son he did not come home one day in early March, Emily was not initially concerned. Sadly, however, the body of her husband was discovered on 10 March 1899, the result of an apparent suicide. He had taken an overdose of laudanum, the same drug he had used to fight off the insomnia.[₁₅]
Probate was issued on 28 March 1899 and Emily was left effects of £788 8s. 3d.[₁₆]. She never told her sons the truth about their father’s death and thereafter raised them to believe that he had died as a result of influenza[₁₇].
Life as a Widow
Left with two young children to care for Emily took it upon herself to become a Boarding Housekeeper, and moved the family to 364 Stanstead Road, Lewisham. While there she employed twenty-eight-year-old domestic servant Fanny Streeter[₁₈]. By 1911 they had relocated yet again and were living at 12 Queens Road, Beckenham, Kent, and were still taking on boarders[₁₉].
By the end of 1915 the family was living at 101 Venner Road, Sydenham, London, where she watched her eldest son enlist in the British Army to go and fight in the Great War[₂₀].
According to Avice Hill, Emily passed away on 30 November 1924[₂₁].
[₁] The Birth Certificate of Emily Fox
[₂] 1861 & 1871 England Census
[₃] 1861 England Census
[₄] 1871 England Census
[₅] Avice’s Research Notes
[₆] & [₇] England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915
[₈] & [₉] 1881 England Census
[₁₀] Liverpool, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1921
[₁₁] 1891 England Census
[₁₂] The Birth Certificate of William Matson Hill
[₁₃] England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915
[₁₄] Avice’s Research Notes
[₁₅] The Surrey Mirror, Friday, March 17, 1899
[₁₆] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
[₁₇] Letter from William Matson Hill to Avice, dated 19 November 1965
[₁₈] 1901 England Census
[₁₉] 1911 England Census
[₂₀] The National Archives War Records (Ref:WO374/33488 C704348)
[₂₁] Avice’s Research Notes