This story doesn’t have a happy ending.
In my last post, introducing the “Chatteris Casbons,” I made brief mention of 13-year old Harry Casbon in the home of his grandmother, Emma Allpress, in 1881.
Detail from 1881 census, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. (Click on image to enlarge)
After considerable effort, I found Harry in the 1871 census, also living with his grandmother Emma. The “considerable effort” comes from the fact that the census entry is among the most badly misspelled that I have ever seen.
Detail from 1871 census, Chatteris. (Click on image to enlarge)
This record was transcribed as “Emma Trep,” with daughter Emma, son John, grandson Henry Skele, and son Lester Seklen.” I interpret the spelling of Emma’s surname as “Press,” with the last two letters “fs” being the typical way to write “ss” at the time. The census enumerator has left off “All” from Allpress. How he got Skele and Seklen out of Casbon is a mystery. (Hint to fellow researchers: when a surname search fails to find someone, try searching again with pertinent facts but leave out the surname. In this case, a search for “Harry,” born 1866-1867 in York, residing in Chatteris, yielded the 1871 census for Henry Skele)
As in the 1881 census, “Henry’s” birthplace is listed as York. The names Harry and Henry tend to be used interchangeably in records. There is little doubt that Harry and Henry in these two records are the same person.
I wanted to know more about Harry. Since he was with his grandmother in both censuses, it seems likely that she was raising him. If so, why? Based on his age in both censuses, he would have been born in 1867 or 68. Who were his parents? Emma had three children from her first marriage to John Casbon (~1818–1848): Lester (1841–1921), Sarah Ann (1844–?), and John (1846–1931). I could not find a record of Harry (or Henry) born to any of them in the 1860s.
Harry’s birthplace only added to the mystery. York (in North Yorkshire) is some 113 miles away from Chatteris. None of my records placed any of Emma’s children in Yorkshire. On the other hand, my records are incomplete. Any of the three could have been in York in about 1867.
I needed to find some kind of records of Harry’s birth. An initial search told me that a birth was registered for Harry Casboine in York, 1867. This was a promising lead. Then I was able to find Harry’s baptismal record.
Detail from baptismal records, 1867, parish of Holy Trinity Micklegate, York, Yorkshire.
(Click on image to enlarge)
We can see that Harry Casbon was baptized on July 20, 1867. His mother’s name was Kate Casbon, single woman. No father’s name is given. Who was Kate Casbon? If Emma Allpress was Harry’s grandmother, then Kate must have been Emma’s daughter. But, there is no record of a daughter named Kate being born to John and Emma Casbon. The only daughter on record is Sarah Ann, who disappears from census records after 1861.
A search for Kate in census records turned up a startling discovery. I found this entry in the 1871 census of Bradford, Yorkshire.
Detail from 1871 census, Bradford, Yorkshire. (Click on image to enlarge)
We see Kate Casborne, living in the home of Clara Brandon on Wharf Street in Bradford, Yorkshire. Kate is 25 years old and unmarried. Her birthplace is recorded as Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. Clara Brandon’s occupation is “Gay Girl,” and Kate’s is written as “do,” meaning ditto. You’ll also notice that two men, “NK” – names not known – were present in the house. If you haven’t already guessed, Gay Girl was a euphemism for prostitute.
Is she Harry’s mother and Emma’s daughter? This record would explain why Harry was born in York. In the 4 years between Harry’s birth and the 1871 census, his mother could have easily moved from York to Bradford, a distance of about 30 miles. Kate’s birthplace of Chatteris doesn’t quite make sense, because Emma’s children were born in Colne, and she didn’t move to Chatteris until sometime between 1851 and 1861. But Colne is quite close to Chatteris (about 6 miles), and Kate could have easily listed her “home town” instead of her birth town on the census. Kate’s age of 25 in the census would give her a birth year of 1845 or 1846. Why can’t I find birth records for her, in Colne, Chatteris, or anywhere else in England? Is Kate her real name?
My questions were answered a few days ago, when I received an email containing additional information about Harry. I had been unable to trace Harry in any census records beyond the 1881 census, so I looked for death records instead. An online search told me that the death of Henry Casburn, age 14, had been recorded in the North Witchford registration district in 1881. The North Witchford district includes Chatteris, along with other nearby parishes. Was this our Harry? I ordered a copy of the actual death registration, and this is what arrived in my email.
Death registration for Henry Casburn, 18 Jun 1881, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. (Click on image to enlarge)
This shows that Henry Casburn, 14 years old, died at Slade End, Chatteris, on June 18, 1881. Henry was the “son of Sarah Ann Casburn, domestic servant.” Cause of death was “Tabes Mesenterica.” The informant was “Emma Allpress Grandmother.” Although not shown, he died on his birthday.
It all came together. Harry was Sarah Ann’s son, and Sarah Ann was Kate. Emma raised Harry because Sarah Ann/”Kate,” an unwed mother, was working the streets as a prostitute.
As satisfying as it is to solve the puzzle of Harry’s birth, the underlying story is a very sad reflection of the times. Why did this happen? Although we can’t know the exact reasons, we can make some reasonable guesses.
The Casbon/Allpress household must have been under constant financial strain. 23-year old Emma (Taylor) Casbon became a widow, with 3 small children, ages 2, 4, and 6, in 1848. She married John Allpress, an agricultural labourer, in 1850. By 1861, she had four new daughters, the oldest being 10 years old and already working as an agricultural labourer herself. Emma’s husband ,John, was not in the house in 1861; he was working on a farm in Somersham, about 5 miles from Chatteris. The household could probably not support the three older children from Emma’s first marriage. They were not in the home in 1861, and were presumably working elsewhere.
What happened to Sarah Ann? Her 1861 census entry only lists her as a “spinster” (an unmarried woman), and a visitor in another household. She might have become a domestic servant – that was very common for lower class girls. But if she was working as a servant and became pregnant, she almost certainly would have been sacked, and left with few options. Like the servant Ethel Parks in Downton Abbey, her dire situation could have driven her to work as a prostitute.
On the other hand, the scenario above might reflect a stereotypical view of Victorian life and morals, and may not be the only possibility. It’s also possible that Sarah Ann chose this life as a better alternative compared to the harsh working conditions of the time. One author writes, “In actuality, the seldom-voiced truth was that in comparison to other occupations, prostitution was a leisured and profitable trade, by which women improved their circumstances.” There is simply not enough information to know what led to Sarah Ann’s situation.
I don’t know what ultimately happened to Sarah Ann. After the 1871 “Gay Girl” census, I have lost track of her. I haven’t been able to find definitive census, marriage, or death records. We can only hope that things went well for her.
But we already know that things didn’t go well for Harry. He died from tabes mesenterica, or “tuberculosis of the mesenteric and retroperitoneal lymph nodes” (from Latin tabes, a wasting away). “Until the latter part of the 19th century it was a diagnosis frequently employed to cover a group of cases in children characterized by malnutrition, swelling of the abdomen, and frequent copious stools.” Tuberculosis was common and generally incurable in the 19th century. Whether Harry’s condition was tied to his living situation, or just bad luck, is impossible to say.
I don’t have a good way to wrap up this story, other than to say that life wasn’t easy for many in Our Casbon Journey. I hope by telling the story we can have a better understanding of our heritage and of the struggles endured by our ancestors.
 “1881 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7572/CAMRG11_1686_1691-0638 : accessed 25 January 2018), Harry Casbon in household of Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Bridge St. schedule 35; citing The National Archives RG 11/1689/35/7.
 “1871 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7619/CAMRG10_1608_1610-0230 : accessed 25 January 2018), Emma Trep (age 48), Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Slade End, schedule 52; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1609/34/8.
 Jon Casbon, “Chatteris,” 31 Jan 2018, Our Casbon Journey (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/chatteris/ : accessed 4 February 2018).
 “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2X3J-DZS : accessed 20 January 2018), Harry Casboine, 1867; from “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Birth Registration, York, Yorkshire, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England.
 “Yorkshire Baptisms,” database with images, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fyorkshire%2f007569090%2f00240 : accessed 20 January 2018), image 109 of 117, Harry Casbon, 20 Jul 1867, Yorkshire, York, Holy Trinity Micklegate, p. 189, no. 1506; citing parish records; citing Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.
 “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7619/WRYRG10_4460_4463-0520?pid=25975371 : accessed 20 January 2018), entry for Kate Casborne in household of Clara Brandon, Yorkshire, Bradford, Wharf St, schedule 133; citing The National Archives, RG 10/4462/83/23.
 “Ex-French Emperor in 1871 Census,” 21 Mar 2005, para. 10; online archive, BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/4367997.stm : accessed 31 January 2018).
 “England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007”, database, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fd%2f1881%2f2%2faz%2f000054%2f281 : accessed 25 January 2018), Henry Casburn, 2d qtr, 1881, North Witchford, vol. 3B/840.
 England, death registration (photocopy) for Henry Casburn, died 18 Jun 1881; registered 18 Jun 1881, North Witchford district 9D/15/59, Chatteris sub-district, Cambridgeshire; General Registry Office, Southport.
 England, birth registration (photocopy) for Harry Casboine, born 18 Jun 1867; registered 20 Jul 1867, York registration district 9D/15/332, Micklegate sub-district, Yorkshire; General Register Office, Southport.
 “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2NTN-CPR : accessed 4 January 2018), John Casborn, 1848, 1st quarter, St Ives, Huntingdonshire, vol. 14:178, line 148.
 “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2CHM-XGY : 13 December 2014), Emma Caseby, 1850; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1850, 2d qtr, vol. 14/ 303, St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
 “1861 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8767/camrg9_1038_1044-0896 : accessed 25 January 2018), Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Slade End, schedule 51; citing The National Archives, RG 9/1043/34/8.
 “1861 Census of England,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8767/HUNRG9_974_977-0728 : accessed 20 January 2017), John Allpress in the household of Frederick Watson, Huntingdonshire, Somersham, Margett’s Farm, line 5, schedule 193; citing The National Archives, RG 9/ 977/40/35.
 “1861 Census of Engand, Wales & Scotland,” database with images, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbc%2f1861%2f0012553059 : accessed 11 November 2016), entry for Sarah Ann Casborn in household of Martha Ann Moor, Cambridgeshire, Grantham, Spittlegate, Back Street, schedule no. 90; citing [The National Archives], RG 09/2351/90/17.
 Dr Brooke Magnanti, “Downton Abbey’s treatment of sex workers rings true today,” 5 Nov 2012, The Telegraph, html edition (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/9652123/Downton-Abbeys-treatment-of-sex-workers-rings-true-today.html : accessed 8 February 2018).
 Jan Marsh, “Sex & Sexuality in the 19th Century,” n.d., para. 6, The Victoria and Albert Museum (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/sex-and-sexuality-19th-century/ : accessed 9 February 2018).
 Stedman’s Medical Dictionary Illustrated, 23d edition (Baltimore: William & Wilkins, 1976), 1399, “t. mesenter’ica.”
 Jerome R. Head, M.D., “Tuberculosis of the Mesenteric Lymph-Glands,” Annals of Surgery 83 (May 1926), 622-33; image copy, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, PubMed Central (PMC) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1399041/ : accessed 9 February 2018).