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.
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 Dale.by Sharon Whetlor, 1998
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