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The Backhouse Family Story


The story of the Backhouse family, from which I descend, appears to begin with one Ann Backhouse born in about 1820 somewhere in Suffolk, England. On the national census taken on the night of the 7th of June 1841 she is a 20 year old pauper in the Hoxne Union Workhouse in Stradbroke, Suffolk with her 1 year old son James.Her age has been approximated or rounded when compared to her age at death (see below) Both Ann and James are recorded as being born in the same county (Suffolk), and this is virtually all the information I have found regarding Ann. Where she came from remain a mystery to me. I also have James’ birth certificate which shows that he was born on the 8th of January 1840 in Stradbroke to Anne Backhouse. His father is not recorded on the certificate and the registration was made by George Wright, the Master of the Union Workhouse, so his birth was either at the workhouse or was the reason for his unmarried mother’s entry there, if for example her family disowned her for being with child and left her homeless. Tragically Ann died on the 9th of June 1841 of consumption at the shockingly young age of 19! I believe James would have spent all or most of his childhood in the workhouse. Certainly by the time of the next census on the 30th of March 1851 he is still resident in the workhouse.
James however managed to survive the workhouse, escape it, and grow from strength to strength. On the census of 2nd of April 1861 there is a James Backhouse aged 21 born in Stradbroke who is a boarder in Melton Street, Woolbridge, Suffolk and is working as a Shoe Maker’s Assistant. I think this must be the same James. The next definite record I have for him after 1851 is his marriage certificate. On the 3rd of September 1873 at the parish church of St Mary’s, Stratford, Bow, James Backhouse, a bachelor and policeman of full age and resident in Bow, married Ellen Eliza Durrant , a spinster of full age and resident in Bow, the daughter of John Durrant a labourer.
James and Eliza had three daughters and one son, Edith, Flora, Emma and George. Edith Ellen Louisa Backhouse was born on February the 17th 1874 and was baptised in the parish of St George the Matyr, Southwark, Surrey on the 9th May 1875. At the time of the baptism they are said to be living in Bow and James is a Police Constable. Flora Maude Backhouse’s birth was registered in the December quarter of 1875 in the district of Poplar, I couldn’t find a baptism for her and don’t have a birth certificate either. Emma Blanche Elizabeth Backhouse was born on the 18th of November 1877 and baptised on the 9th of March 1879 at St George the Martyr, at which point their address is given as 26 Tredegar Square, Bow, and James is a Constable. George was born in about March 1880.
Tragically the family was complete for only a very short time. Ellen Eliza Backhouse died on the 19th of March 1880 at 55 Orwell Road, Bromley. She was just 26 years old and had been killed by a bout of pneumonia lasting 6 days and Puerperal fever, a bacterial infection of the vagina caused by childbirth, according to the certifying doctor. George also passed away, on 9th June 1880, aged 3 months, as a result of a 7 day bout of Bronchitis. By the census of the 3rd of April 1881, at 38 Locton Street, Bow, James is now a 40 year old widow who is claiming to have been born in Tannington in Suffolk rather than Stradbroke. Perhaps he wanted to distance himself from his origins. He is living with his three daughters who are now 7, 5 and 3. They are also living with Sarah White a 36 year old who is James’ housekeeper and a domestic servant. Sarah was born in Tannington and has with her a 1 year old son Frederick also born in Tannington.
In actual fact Sarah and Frederick’s surname was Wythe and this has been misheard by the census taker and written as White. Sarah was the daughter of John and Mary Wythe (nee Godbold) of Dennington, Suffolk. She had two children, both by unknown fathers, before 1881. Mary Jane Wythe born the 17th of January 1874 in Worlingworth, Suffolk  (and known to family legend as Ginny) and Frederick George Bloomfield Wythe born the 18th of November 1879 in Earl Soham, Suffolk.
James Backhouse married Sarah Wythe on the 31st of May 1881 at the parish church of St Mary’s, Stratford, Bow. They had three children together, Ellen Mary Ann, Rose Mary Rebecca and Ada Jane. Ellen Mary Ann Backhouse was born on the 11th of July 1881 and Rose Mary Rebecca Backhouse on the 17th of November 1883. Ellen and Rose were baptised on the 20th of November 1883 at St Mark’s Bow, along with Frederick George Backhouse, Sarah’s son now using James’ surname. Ada Jane Backhouse was born at 38 Locton Street, Bow, on the 11th of July 1886 and baptised at St Mark’s, Bow on the 9th of September 1886. Their abode on both  baptismal records is 38 Locton Street and James’s occupation is a policeman on both. James must have named Ellen after his late wife, I wonder what Sarah thought of that! Also it was probably Ellen’s impending birth that necessitated James and Sarah’s marriage. One other thing I can’t help thinking is there must have been only about 7 or 8 months between James losing his  first wife and Sarah getting pregnant, not much of a period of mourning considering it was the Victorian era.
On the night of the 5th April 1891 the census records the household of 38 Locton Street as being James 49, Sarah 48, Emma 13, Frederick 11, Ellen 9, Rose 7 and Ada 4. Edith and Flora have moved elsewhere. Notice how James is slightly younger than he should be and Sarah is now slightly older, weird! Edith is ‘in service’ with another of the servants at the same address being Louisa Pluck. Edith married Louisa’s brother Arthur Pluck on the 1st of August 1896 at the parish church of St Stephen’s, Bow. Arthur is described as a 25 year old bachelor and carman, resident at 165 Canal Rd and son of Nehemiah Pluck, a postman. Very interestingly, using his birth certificate and the certificate of the eventual marriage of Arthur’s parents in 1896, it’s certain that Arthur’s mother was Louisa March, the sister of Mary Jane March who married William Burn and whose sons later marry the Backhouse girls, this must be how they all met! Edith and Arthur went on to have four sons (including one, Albert Charles, who died aged 10 months as a result of convulsions following Bronchitis and teething) and four grandchildren in the West Ham district. As far as I can tell there are still descendants of Edith and Arthur’s alive to this day (see the genealogical page for selected details). Flora Maude Backhouse married Charles King in the Saffron Walden district of Essex in the June quarter of 1899. Flora and Charles had one daughter Mabel Blanche King (b1902) who as far as I can tell died childless in 1989 having married twice. Emma married Claude Tharratt in the December quarter of 1918 in the district of Tendring. There were no children of this marriage, probably as she was already 40 by this time. According to the writing of my great aunt, Freda Burn, her aunt Em always said that her and Claude didn’t marry for ‘that’ reason.
On the night of the 31st of March 1901 the census shows James Backhouse now living in a property called Cornells in Widdington in the Saffron Walden district of Essex. He is now a 59 year old police pensioner and is with Sarah 58, Ada J 14 a day girl (a servant who went home at night rather than living with the family they served) and Alfred C Wythe their 3 year old grandson. Alfred is the son of Ginny (recorded on his birth certificate as Jane Wythe, and on her own birth certificate as Mary Jane Wythe)  by an unknown father and was probably rescued from the Poplar Union Workhouse, where he was born on the 2nd of April 1897, by James after he had banished Ginny there for falling pregnant unmarried. Firstly there’s a bit of a double standard here as Sarah was unmarried when she fell with both Ginny and Fred and yet it’s suddenly such an awful thing when it happens to Ginny. Secondly it’s no surprise that James couldn’t leave Alfred to grow up in a workhouse given he probably had spent his own childhood entirely in one himself. Maybe he felt a connection or empathy with Alfred, who he and Sarah affectionately nicknamed Sonny, for this reason? Sadly Sonny was unable to build a life for himself as James would have hoped, he was killed at Albert in the Somme on the 28th of March 1918 whilst serving during the great war.
Ellen Mary Ann Backhouse married William George Burn on Christmas day 1902 in the Saffron Walden district. They adopted a girl, Gladys ‘Babs’ Creed, and later had a son of their own Kenneth (1924-6) who was mistakenly treated as a tumour when he was first conceived and given a lethal injection that left him very severely disabled. Despite it being unlikely that he would live long, Will and Nell still loved him dearly and managed to raise him to the age of two. Rose married Will’s brother Ernest William Burn in the June quarter of 1906 in West Ham. They had one daughter Leslie Nellie Mary born 1908. Tragically Ernie died aged just 28 in March 1911 and Leslie then died aged 7 in 1915. Rose was taken in by Will and Nell and stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Ada Jane Backhouse married a third brother Frederick Burn on the 8th of December 1912 in Tottenham. They had four children, a son who died at birth (I’ve found no record though, so he was probably a stillbirth) and then Harley Frederick James Burn 1914-91, Freda Mary Burn 1918-91 and my dear grandmother Jean Margaret Sarah Burn 1925-99. All three have left families that are now spread across the south of England.
Frederick George Backhouse is last seen, as far as I can tell, on the 1901 census. His whereabouts thereafter is unknown to me although great aunt Freda writes that he ‘joined the armed forces and served his time in India’. I do not know if he ever married (Freda writes that he remained unmarried) or had children. If he did the Backhouse name may live on, if he didn’t then the rest of this family’s story becomes that of the Burn and Pluck families which I will write more fully one day.
 Researched and written by Dan Webb (
Dedicated to the memory of all the Backhouse family members and their descendants who are no longer with us, but especially to my dear nanny Jean Burn 1925-1999. I wish I could show her the research that her passion for the family’s history and it’s stories, that she retold me on many occasions, inspired me to carry out.
Page Last Updated - 07/08/2017
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