Monday, 28 January 2013

The life and times of Granny Smith

I wonder if you might like to see a potted history of my Granny Smith. My sister Barbara and I have spent many years trying to track her story down.

I think she was about 60 here in 1933

Fanny Frances was born 'out of wedlock' in the Kensington Workhouse in 1873 so her birth certificate told us.  A stigma she must have carried with her all her life.  Illegitimacy was not good in Victorian London. Unwed mothers and their infants were an affront to morality. They were spurned and ostracized by the public relief and charitable institutions. If a young woman became pregnant while still living at home, she was forced to leave in disgrace and move into the workhouse or to an area where she was not known. Scorned by family, friends and employers alike.

We searched the Guardians' minute books at the London Metrolpolitan Archives and indeed found her mother Elizabeth Monet aged 17 in the Mary Place branch of the workhouse where she gave birth to Fanny in February 1873. It is not clear why they were in the workhouse. Perhaps through poverty or the parents disowned her because of the shame of pregnancy, who knows.
Fanny’s mother Elizabeth and grandparents Fanny and Peter were living in Notting Hill in very overcrowded conditions in streets of tightly packed houses where over the years with an increasing family they relentlessly moved from one set of crowded rooms to another paying about two shillings a week for the privilege. These conditions continued throughout Fanny's childhood.

The family consisted of several children and this may have been a reason why Fanny and her mother ended up in the workhouse. The children slept at least four, top-to-tail in one bed. Often there were another three or four families living under the same roof, where sanitary conditions were appalling and so encouraged rats to roam freely in the filthy and polluted streets.

This area of Pottery Lane historically had became known as “the Piggeries and Potteries” owing to the many pig-keepers and brick makers who had migrated from Ireland to Notting Hill during the 1840’s because of the potato famine.

During Fanny’s time this area was also known as “Laundry Land” because of the many hundreds of housewives including her mother and grandmother who had to take in washing and ironing for the families in the posh houses at the top of the hill in order to earn a shilling or two to help out with the family income. Alternatively they would take the laundry down to the Public Baths.

Kensington Public Baths 

When Fanny was three years old, her mother married a Mr Curtice, who became Fanny’s stepfather. Over the years, several more children were born, giving Fanny half brothers and sisters. The 1881 census shows a Fanny Curtice aged seven, living with her grandparents Peter & Fanny Monet in a street nearby. Whether Fanny had been living with her grandparents since her birth or maybe since her mother’s marriage is unknown. There may simply have been no room for her at home. An elderly aunt told me that it was not at all uncommon for the eldest child to live with grandparents at that time.

Fanny attended a local school which cost a penny a week. When she was 12 she was ‘put into service’ where she worked as a scullery maid doing very menial tasks including scrubbing the floors, stoves, sinks and dishes for a mere pittance of about one shilling a week and a room in the attic. She only had a few hours off each week.

In 1891 aged 18 she was working for a household in Earls Court Road where by now she had become a cook. In 1894 she met and married her husband Charles Smith. Fanny started life as a Monet, lived her life as a Curtice and upon her marriage discovered her father’s name was Shearman which appeared on her marriage certificate. She was known to never have any contact with her mother after her marriage and I wonder if she never forgave her for keeping her illegitimacy from her over the years, as well as never knowing who her father was until her wedding day. Fanny died in 1963 aged ninety years old.

Barbara and I have been to Notting Hill on several occasions and found some places of interest - but will leave that for another time.

Pictures by courtesy of The Story of Notting Sharon Whetlor, 1998

I'd like to welcome my new followers - Kitty, Elisabeth, Annmarie, and Linda


  1. What a very interesting story - great detective work.
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  2. What an amazong story Patricia.I loved to read it and thanks so much for sharing it..Can't wait for more ...
    Erna x


  3. That was a really interesting read, Patricia!

  4. Hello Patricia:
    This is all absolutely fascinating. What the story of Fanny brings home is in what poverty, until comparatively recent times, people lived. Certainly her childhood and formative years were positively Dickensian. Very sadly illegitimacy carried with it a stigma until not so very many years ago. How times have changed!

  5. Sadly this was so common in Victorian England, and shouldn't we thank our lucky stars to be living as we do now. However, for many people, even today, the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems to be getting wider.

  6. What a poignant and yet positive story! Your Granny Smith sounds like a wonderful lady. How lucky we are to live today and what hard lives people like your granny lived. I hope she found some comfort and happiness in her later years. Thank you for sharing your research with us:)

  7. Very interesting. My paternal great mother had numerous children, all illegitimate! Whether by the same father we will never know. When she eventually married, she called herself a widow. Had a good marriage late in life (lied about her age by many years) and was sadly missed by her husband when she died. He put memorials every year in the newspaper until he died. As each of her children married, they gave a male sibling name as their father. Sent us off down the wrong track for many years.

  8. More please about Granny Smith.
    You and your sister have started on a journey.. It will I am sure take you along the path to many surprises .!
    It's sad how the unwed mother's had to go into the workhouse. In Ireland.. the children were taken away from the unwed mother and given up for adoption...then the mother's had to work..but stayed in the convent.
    I remember my father telling me, before he died..many many years ago. of similar stories. They were his mother and father worked.
    looking forward to reading more about Granny smith. so very interesting Patricia. She looks a fine handsome woman.
    val x

  9. I love a bit of family history - so fascinating. Granny Smith looks like a strong woman, no doubt owing to her hard life.

  10. It's great that you've been able to trace your Granny's story in so much detail. That must have taken hours! Jx

  11. Family history research is so rewarding as one gets engrossed in the lives of family members over the generations, many of whom had such hard lives. Your Granny Smith must have had a strong
    spirit to survive those childhood days and cope with life in service at a young age.
    I've been working on my family history for quite a while, particularly in the last year and the information that one can get from the census material is fascinating. I enjoy the detective work involved in order to get an overall picture from one generation to another.
    Looking forward to hearing more about your family.

  12. Its a fascinating story Patricia, I love reading such things. It s nice when you are able to fill in some details too rather than just have the basic tree branches.

  13. I found your post so interesting.I love history and reading about our ancestors lives. What a hard start to life your Granny must have had. I find it some rewarding when you discover some new information and are able to fit another piece into the story of their lives. Sarah x

  14. Well Pat what can I say. After all our researching over all these years it's nice to see some "Meat on the Bones" the use of library pictures certainly brings Granny Smith to life doesn't it. Thanks for sharing with us, makes me want to start my story. Barbara xx

  15. Oh my gosh... This was an awesome story!!!
    My Grandmother comes from England... id love to know her history as well... your heart must be happy to have learned this!!!

  16. Fascinating story - you did some great detective work there.

  17. Hi Patricia, I first saw your post this morning and couldn't wait until lunchtime here at work so I could read it!
    I find these sort of posts so interesting and I particularly enjoyed this one, please let us hear more about Granny Smith soon! I'm really interested in the history of Victorian England, in fact i've just come back from the library after renewing several books on the subject! Thanks for sharing such a lovely post xx

  18. I found this wonderfully researched post totally fascinating, Patricia. No wonder you decided to study history! My middle sister is our family historian and I have used her material once or twice in past posts. I always feel both sad and angry that the whole shame and stigma of illegitimacy was born by the unmarried mother and her child(ren) with the father getting off scot-free. Thank goodness we are kinder nowadays. Your grandmother sounds like she made a success of her life after such an unpromising beginning. More please. :-)



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