Who is “Miss Casbon … Late of Claremont house”? From census records, it is clear that she is Fanny Sanders Casbon. Very few records of her life exist, but I think they are enough to tell us that she was a remarkable woman for her time.
Fanny was born in Meldreth in 1846, the fourth daughter, and youngest of six children born to James (1806–1871) and Susanna Hayden (Sanders; 1806–1850) Casbon. We were introduced to James and Susanna in earlier posts (here, here, and here!). In these posts we learned that James was a landowner – a step up from his other Meldreth cousins. He wasn’t wealthy by any means, but his status probably allowed his children to pursue careers as tradesmen or to marry into the lower rungs of the middle class.
For her time Fanny was in a minority among women; she never married, and she achieved independence and success on her own.
We only have snapshots of her life through census records. In 1861 (age 15), she was living with her father and one brother in Barley, Hertfordshire, and listed as “housekeeper.” James’ third wife is not listed in this census, and it’s possible that they were estranged, or that she was already deceased. Both the 1871 and 1881 censuses list Fanny as a “visitor” in the household of Ebenezer Cayford, in London. This is odd – how likely is it that she would be visiting the same family during two consecutive censuses? I suspect she was either lodging with or employed by the family. The 1881 census lists her occupation as “dressmaker.” However, her age and birthplace are listed incorrectly, so it’s likely the census enumerator transcribed someone else’s information into her entry.
So, other than the fact that she was either living or visiting in London in 1871 and 1881, we don’t really know anything about Fanny’s life from the time she lived in Barley until the 1891 census.
In this census, Fanny’s relation to head of household is listed as “Mistress,” and her occupation as “Superintendent.” The census entry for this address – 12 York Place – begins on the previous page. Evidently this was a large boarding house or tenement, with 49 occupants – all female – listed on the census form. As “mistress,” Fanny must have been something like the apartment manager or “dorm mother” for all of these working women.
We know from the advertisement and article at the beginning of this post that, by 1899, Fanny had moved to Folkestone. She remained there for the rest of her life. Here is her entry in the 1901 census.
I’ve highlighted two entries in this census. The first shows Fanny, age 55, and gives her occupation as “Boardinghousekeeper.” The second has the name “Lavinia Do.” “Do.” stands for “ditto,” and this entry is for Lavinia Alice Casbon, age 30. Lavinia was Fanny’s niece, the daughter of her brother George S Casbon (~1836–1914). Lavinia was born in Barley, Hertfordshire, in 1870.
Being unmarried and childless, Fanny seems to have “adopted” Lavinia as a favorite niece. Look back at the 1891 London census. Five entries above Fanny’s name, you can see Lavinia, age 20, single, living at the same address, and with the occupation “Bookseller.” Fanny probably helped Lavinia to get settled in London. Then, Lavinia either moved to Folkestone at the same time as Fanny, or shortly after the boarding house was established. Like her aunt, Lavinia never married, and remained in Folkestone for the rest of her life.
What do we know about Folkestone, and the boarding house at 12 Trinity Crescent? Folkestone is located on the southeast coast of England, not far from Dover. At the time Fanny and Lavinia lived there, it was a popular seaside tourist destination.
Google map of Folkestone and surrounding areas (Click on map to explore. )
One of the most popular destinations in Folkestone was, and still remains, the Leas, a 2-mile promenade with beautiful lawns, situated on top of the cliffs overlooking the English Channel. If you click on “view larger map” above, then choose satellite view and zoom in, you will have a good view of the Leas. This 1908 map shows the location of Trinity Crescent and its proximity to the Leas.
Detail map of Folkestone. Trinity Crescent is circled; The Leas are underlined. (Click on image to enlarge)
Google Street View shows the building currently located at 12 Trinity Crescent
(Click and drag to explore; use mouse wheel to zoom in/out)
This is probably the same building that Fanny operated as the Casbon House. Isn’t it lovely?
Fanny advertised her boarding house widely during the first decade of the twentieth century. The advertisements drop off abruptly after 1909. We learn why from her obituary, published January 20, 1912 in the Folkestone Herald.
The accompanying death notice that she died “after a long illness, patiently borne,” and that “Miss Lavinia Casbon tenders her sincere thanks for condolence and sympathy in her bereavement, also for the many beautiful wreaths sent.” I think it’s interesting that other nieces and a nephew attended her funeral. Maybe she was a doting aunt to all of them.
As to Lavinia, she apparently took over management of Casbon House after Fanny’s death. I haven’t been able to locate Fanny’s will, if she left one, but later advertisements refer to Lavinia as the proprietress. At some point, she moved to a nearby home on 14 Castle Hill Street while the boarding house remained in business. Lavinia was frequently mentioned in newspaper articles for her participation in church and charitable organizations.,, One article stated, “Much credit is due to Miss Casbon whose work as Secretary of the local Baptist Missionary Society is worthy of the highest praise.” Lavinia was also active in the temperance movement (see “Pleasure Gardens and the Temperance Movement”) and warned young people about “the evil of strong drinks.”
Unfortunately, the online archives of the Folkestone newspaper end in 1935, two years before Lavinia’s death, so I don’t have a copy of her obituary. I’m sure it would contain many kind words about her. She died on May 11, 1937, and was buried in the same cemetery as her aunt Fanny.