In 1881, the, two Fortismere houses were occupied by the Soames and the Woods families, but which occupied which house we do not know. The Soames family first appeared on the 1861 census, when Sarah Soames, a widow of 68, was Head of Household. She had been born in Wapping and clearly thus was a shipping family because her son Samuel, aged 31, was a ship owner. Samuel and his sister Ellen, aged 37 and unmarried, were both born in Stepney. Presumably the father had owned the ships and done well enough to move from the Thames Basin to a thirty-two acre estate in Muswell Hill. The family had a footman, a cook, two housemaids, a ladies' maid and a groom of 16. Living in the stables were another groom, aged 24, and his wife.

Ten years later, by the time of the 1871 census, old Mrs Soames had died and Samuel was shown as a commission merchant. He had married Harriet, aged 30, and they had two children, a son of 7 and a daughter of 3. What happened then we do not know, but between 1871 mid 1881 Harriet died. Nor is her son (aged 7 on the 1871 census) on the 1881 schedule, so perhaps both had died, but by then he would have been 17 so perhaps he was away at school in 1881, or working elsewhere.

In the 1881 census the family appears to have been reduced to Samuel and his daughter, now aged 13. Ellen had been born in Muswell Hill and was still at school. Living with them was a nephew, George Layard. aged 24, unmarried and a BA law student, born in Clifton, Bristol. This is the difficulty with restricted records. A census form filled in on a spring night in 1881 gives tantalising clues, but only suggests relationships. Was the nephew the prospective heir, or a transitory visitor? How did this oddly associated trio get on? Were they three individuals living solitary lives, or were there warm ties? This is the province of a novelist, not a census enumerator.

To look after these three, there were eight servants; a butler, William Allsopp, aged 30 and his wife Sophia who was the cook, two years older; Emma Heathering, an unmarried housemaid aged 24, born in Totteridge, Herts; Sarah Badder, a domestic servant, was 22; Harriet Broomes, aged 25, was a ladies' maid born in London; while. Harry Narroway, 45, was the coachman and his wife Elizabeth, aged 47 and born in Eltham, Kent, was a domestic servant. The Narroways, the coachman and his wife, are listed separately on this census return, so apparently they lived in a separate building.

In the second house on the Fortismere estate was a family worthy of Iris Murdoch. Thomas Wood, aged 79 and his wife Isobel five years younger, were the heads of an extended family covering three generations. He is listed as having no occupation, not surprising at his age, but he was 'the owner of land and coal', born in Lincoln. Isobel was born in Durham, so perhaps she had brought the coal with her as a wedding dowry. They had at least six children, one deceased and the other five still living at home. Perhaps there were more. There were two sons, one an army officer in the Royal Artillery, and the other a 'late lieutenant in the 14th Foot', living in the house with his wife, aged 36 born in Leicester. A daughter-in-law, widow of the deceased son, and her eighteen year old daughter also lived at Fortismere. As well, three unmarried daughters aged 48, 39 and 36, also lived at home. All this generation and the grand-daughter had been born in Durham. A 71 year old widowed sister-in-law also lived in the house. What possibilities for a novelist.

This complicated household was attended by seven servants, including a butler, John Juno, aged 41, born in London and the cook, Elizabeth Carswell, aged 36 and unmarried. There were two women general servants of 28 and 38, both born in Gloucestershire, and a twenty year old kitchen rnaid, born in Salop. Two young brothers, aged 18 and 17 were footman and groom. As they also came from Gloucestershire, the servants may have recruited each other whenever the opportunity arose to bring yet another person from the depressed countryside to booming London. The London influx at this period was enormous.

 

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