Henry, william, alice and james hart

Subject Names :  Henry Hart (b 1867 – d 1948)
                              William Hart (b 1869 – d 1921)
                              Alice Hart (b 1871 – d ?)
                              James Hart (b 1873 – d 1953)

Researcher :       Viv Bennett

Four deserted children from the Hart family – Henry, William, Alice and James – were resident in the Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881, but from such dark beginnings, at least three of them were to find success either in England or the United States, thanks in part to the foresight of the Guildford Union Board of Guardians.

The children’s parents were Charles Henry Hart and Jane Charlotte Sawyer, who married on 9th July 1865 at All Saints Church, Wandsworth, London.  Charles was a 24-year-old coachman while Jane, with no occupation noted, was 23.

Charlotte was their first child born on 27th January 1866, so it seems likely that Jane was pregnant at the time of her marriage.  The family were living at 16 St Alban’s Road, Kensington with Charles, a groom.

Charles Henry, sometimes known just by his middle name, was next, born on 15th October 1867.  The family home was now at 18 The Row, Brompton, Kensington, one of many moves made by them.  William followed on 21st October 1869 when the family was living at 7 Hollywood Mews, Brompton.

At some point during the next 18 months, the family moved out of west London to Guildford.  This may be because father Charles was born there, but all was not going well, as on the 1871 Census he was an unemployed cab driver.  Charles, along with wife Jane, and children Charlotte (5), Henry (3) and William (1), were lodgers in the household of another cab man, Henry Jackman, at North Square, Guildford.

However, Charles was back at work again as a coachman later that year when their second daughter Alice Ann was born on 2nd October 1871.  The family were now living at Milkhouse Gate, Guildford.

Their fifth child, James, was born on 25th August 1873 at The Mint, Godalming, the family’s latest home.

By 1875, they had moved to Park Place, Farnham, as shown on the admission records of Charlotte, William and Alice to the town’s East Street Girls and Infants School.   However, the trio were only there a few months, as they were all withdrawn from the school on 11th October 1875.  What could have been the reason for this?   It may just be that they moved to a school with no retained records as was probably the case with their brother Charles Henry, but as their mother Jane was expecting her sixth child, she may have needed help at home from the children when husband Charles was out working.

On 31st March 1876, Jane gave birth to George in the Farnham Union Workhouse.  Charles, while noted as a groom on the birth certificate, was also a resident of the Workhouse, so it has to be assumed that their children, aged between 10 and 2 – Charlotte, Henry, William, Alice and James – were there too. 

Sadly, Jane was suffering from phthisis (a form of tuberculosis), passing away just ten days later age 34 in the Farnham Union Workhouse.

More tragedy soon followed, as baby George died from tuberculosis and asthenia (physical weakness) on 7th August 1876 age 4 months.  He passed away at George Street, Godalming, where his father Charles, a fly (small cab) driver, was now living. 

This sad certificate of George’s passing is the last official record found for the children’s father Charles, although later information was to show that he was soon to desert his children and could not be traced.

Although Charles’s five other children may well have been with him in Godalming at the time of their brother George’s death, Charles would have struggled to bring them up on his own.  This may well have been when Charles abandoned them as, at some stage, the four youngest children, and most probably Charlotte too, found themselves in the Guildford Union Workhouse.  There are no admission records to show when this happened, but a note from the Guildford Board of Guardians Minutes of 9th March 1878 reporting on Workhouse children at Stoke National School indicated they were residents by then: ‘C. Hart threw a stone under the Gates when shut which chanced to hit the Porter on the ankle. Boys reprimanded’.

The 1881 Census confirmed that four of the Harts – Henry (13), William (11), Alice (9) and James (7) – were inmates and scholars of the Guildford Union.  The eldest of the quintet, 15-year-old Charlotte, was visiting relatives in South Street, Guildford and listed as a general domestic servant, the training for which she may well have received whilst in the Workhouse. 

What happened to the Hart children after 1881?

Apart from Henry, their lives were to remain interwoven for many years.  Henry, though, was to go on to help provide care for children, much as he had experienced in his own life.

(Charles) Henry Hart

In the 1881 Census, Henry was 13 and would have been due to leave the Guildford Union Workhouse, having completed his schooling and probable training for the outside world.  No records have been found to show where he first went after leaving the Workhouse, nor has he been traced on the 1891 Census. 

The first record found is his marriage to spinster Flora Jane Bull, age 22, at Sevington, near Ashford, Kent on 1st June 1895.  Using his full name of Charles Henry Hart, he was a 26-year-old bachelor and machinist, a skill he would have learnt since leaving the Workhouse.  The certificate said that his father was deceased, although this has not been proven to be true.

The couple had just the one child, Flora Elizabeth, born in 1896.  The 1901 and 1911 Censuses showed the three of them living at Ashdown Cottage, Sevington where Charles, as he now called himself, was employed as a railway painter, probably at the nearby South Eastern and Chatham Railway Works at Ashford.

Although Charles’s wife Flora had no occupation listed in either of those Censuses, she was clearly planning the family’s future, as the Kentish Express reported on 22nd March 1913 that ‘Mrs F Hart and Miss Flora Hart, both of Sevington, were appointed respectively as foster mother and assistant at the Cottage Homes’, a children’s home which was part of the East Ashford Union Workhouse at Willesborough.

Charles soon became involved as well, with the East Ashford Children’s Homes Committee appointing him and wife Flora in 1915 as foster parents at ‘£70 per annum, with the usual rations, with their daughter to continue as assistant’.

Charles, at 48, was too old when conscription began for World War 1 in 1916, but he did sign up for the Royal Air Force age 50 on 7th October 1918, just over a month before the Armistice.  He was described on his record as 5 ft 3in (1.60m) tall, dark-haired and a sallow complexion with a ‘VG’ (very good) character and a ‘Sup’, presumably superior, degree of proficiency as a machinist.   Charles was transferred to the RAF Reserve on 5th February 1919 until he was discharged from service on 30th April 1920.

The 1921 Census showed his family to be running a children’s home in Charing, a village just to the north of Ashford, Kent.  Flora, 47, was the Poor Law Superintendent appointed by the West Ashford Union Board of Guardians.  Rather unusually for that time, she was noted as the head of the household over husband Charles, age 53, who was a self-employed ‘house decorator’.  Their daughter Flora, 25, was a foster mother at the Home with ten ‘inmates’ aged from 16 down to three under their charge.

By the time the 1939 Register was taken, both Charles, 72, and Flora, 66, had retired and were living at Rosemary, The Leas, East Ashford.  Their daughter Flora had married Albert Henry Skeates in 1931 and they were in Minster on Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

At some stage, Charles and Flora also moved to Minster, where Charles passed away age 81 on 20th November 1948.  Flora remained in Minster until her death on 30th March 1952, age 78.

Alice and James Hart to Canada

Alice and James, the two youngest of the Hart children, remained in the Guildford Union Workhouse after 1881. 

In early 1883, the Guildford Board of Guardians started to consider sending orphaned or deserted children to Canada.   A number of child migration schemes were already in place in England including that run by John T. Middlemore who, since 1873 from his base in Birmingham, had been taking disadvantaged children from around the country to a receiving home in London, Ontario, from where the children would be sent to a suitable family to live with.

The Guildford Union’s reasoning to follow this path was partly economic – the cost of feeding, clothing and educating a child at 3 shillings per week/£7 10s per year (15p/£7.50) when set against the emigration costs would pay for itself in 18 months.

The Board also felt that the children would be more likely to ‘make better members of society’ and stand a better chance of earning a living in Canada.  The Chairman of the Board of Guardians, Mr Halsey, said that he ‘knew from personal experience in Canada that the children were exceedingly well looked after, and much sought for. They had good homes, and a much better prospect than they could have in this country. However, he did admit ‘It was an experiment on the part of the Board, but it had been thoroughly well thought out’, the Victorian mind-set seemingly overlooking the possible emotional trauma that could be caused to children separated from everyone and everything that they knew.

In May 1883 the Clerk of the Guildford Union wrote to the Local Government Board stating ‘…. The Guardians of this Union wish to emigrate to Canada the following Children namely Alice Hart, aged 11 and James Hart aged 9. Brother and Sister. Mother dead and Father has deserted them for more than 3 years and is a very bad character. He cannot be found although a Warrant has been out against him for a long time’.  The Local Government Board approved, provided that ‘the children would signify their willingness before the Justice at Petty Sessions’.

The following month, Alice and James, along with fellow Guildford Union Workhouse inmates Frederick and Horace Fowler, were seen off from Guildford by Mr Halsey himself.  They were then taken by Mrs Davis, the Matron, to Mr Middlemore’s Children’s Emigration Home in Birmingham.   

There they joined a group of 125 children from workhouses around the country and on 7th June, sailed on the SS Circassian from Liverpool, arriving in Quebec eleven days later and then onwards to Mr. Middlemore’s Guthrie House base in London, Ontario. 

Alice and James’ placements

Alice was sent to live with the Moncrief family in Petrolia, Ontario, about 100km west of Guthrie House.  She appeared to settle in well.  In November 1884 she wrote an ‘affectionate and cheering’ letter to Miss Spottiswoode, one of the Guildford Board of Guardians.

A report some two years later said Alice was ‘quite healthy, happy and contented’.

James meanwhile went to Mr Walter Menhenick on a farm in Thamesville, Ontario, about 50km south of where his sister was – no consideration was given to keep siblings together. 

A report written in about 1887 when James was 14 said that ‘he suits Mr M. very well…brought up as one of their own’.

These reports on James and Alice, and other Guildford children sent to Canada including
Walter Shires who had been in the Workhouse with them, were seen by the Guildford Board of Guardians, who expressed satisfaction that ‘the experiment has justified the claims put forward on behalf of this new system of emigration, and that the children are doing well’, although they did ignore a couple of reports of troublesome children who had to be returned to the Guthrie Home!

Alice disappears

Alice’s life, though, was to take a serious turn, as the 1891 Census showed 18-year-old Alice with a seven-month-old baby ‘Chas’ at a mother and baby home back in London, Ontario.  Unfortunately, no records have been uncovered regarding Chas’s birth nor what happened to the two of them following that Census.  The 1901 and 1911 England Censuses do show an unmarried Alice Hart of the correct age born in Guildford working as a domestic servant in Hampshire, but with no other evidence found to back this up, it can only be a possibility that this is her.

James marries

Alice’s brother James in 1891 was an 18-year-old apprentice to harness maker James Ward and his family in Oil Springs, Ontario, a short distance north of his first placement in Thamesville.  Five years later, he married Emma Dartch in Oil Springs on 3rd April 1896.  The certificate noted his parents’ names as ‘James and Martha Hart’, but as he would have had little or no memory of either of them, it is not surprising that he was incorrect.

James and Emma had two sons both with names reflecting their father’s British heritage – George Loyd in 1896 and Virgil Kitchener two years later. 

The 1901 Canada Census showed 27-year-old James to be a saddler, living with his family in Woodstock, Ontario, about 90 miles (140km) east of Oil Springs.

Hart family reunion

In 1907, James’ eldest sister Charlotte Searle, without her husband Ben, emigrated to Detroit, United States with six of her children.  The passage had been paid for by Charlotte and James’ brother William who was a rigger boarding at 620 Junction Avenue, Detroit, which is where Charlotte was heading.  James was now also living there, noted as a stitcher.  Whether James’ wife Emma and children were there as well is not known. They may have already separated as she was to divorce James in 1911 on the grounds of ‘cruelty and non-support’ .

Exactly when William had emigrated to the US is unclear.  After being in the Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881 as an 11-year-old, he has not been traced until the 1901 England Census.  At that time he was living with his sister Charlotte Searle and two of her children in Acton, west London, age 30.  Unmarried, and a laundry carman, his name was written in error by the enumerator as William Searle.  Although Charlotte said on that Census that she was a widow, her husband Ben was named as father on the birth certificate of her youngest child Lilian, born just a few months before emigrating in 1907.

By 1908 Charlotte, William and James were living at 425 Lemay Avenue, Detroit.  Charlotte and William continued to live together, regularly moving addresses.

The 1910 US Census showed 42-year-old Charlotte, a laundress, and four of her children at 4a Fort Street, Ward 11, Wayne, Detroit.  35-year-old William was a ‘chauffeur for an auto company’. No record has been found in this Census for James and his family, possibly explained by the likely upheaval ahead of his imminent divorce from Emma.

Charlotte remained in Detroit, at times sharing a home with William in the 1910s, though James’ whereabouts remain unclear.  However, after the US entered World War 1 in April 1917, James reappears, enlisting in November that year at the age of 44, becoming a sergeant in the repair section of the Motor Transport Corps Repair Section in Washington DC.  Any doubts about James, Charlotte and William not actually being the siblings from Surrey because of inaccuracies previously mentioned could now be discounted as James’ birth date matches up with the Godalming birth certificate – 25th August 1873.

James was discharged from the Army on 20th June 1919 and was back in Detroit on New Year’s Day 1920 for his marriage to 38-year-old German-born Delia Meyer.  Both were noted as ‘auto trimmers’ so it would seem that his early training in working with leather had been put to good use.  James had his son Loyd as a witness.

An unexpected move

The 1920 US Census, though, did not show James and Delia to be living in Detroit.  Instead, they were almost 1,000 miles (1,600km) south on Sapelo Island, Georgia, living with James’ sister Charlotte, plus her 15-year-old son William, and next door to James and Charlotte’s brother William.  James, 45, was a ‘farmer foreman’ with his wife Delia, 38, a housewife.  Charlotte, 50, was the ‘acting post mistress’.  Most improbably of all, perhaps, was that 48-year-old William was the ‘Caretaker Island’ living in a separate lodging.  He had already been on Sapelo Island for a number of years.

The reason for this rather unlikely scenario was that their employer, Howard E Coffin, co-founder and vice-president of the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, had bought a large part of Sapelo Island and its surrounds back in 1912 which he was considering turning into a tourist destination.  William may have been Howard Coffin’s chauffeur, or worked for the Hudson Car Company, as hinted at in the 1910 Census. Whatever the connection, it was decided that William was the right person to have the responsibility of looking after Sapelo Island.  Coffin himself was going to be fully occupied as he became a member of US President Woodrow Wilson’s Council of National Defense during the nation’s involvement in World War 1.

The 1920 US Census identified 299 people living on Sapelo Island, all of whom apart from the five members of the Hart family were born and raised in Georgia, chiefly working on small farms.  The Census also noted that all these residents were ‘B’ (black) while the Hart family were noted as ‘W’ (white).  Most, if not all of the locals, were descendants of former plantation slaves that were emancipated after the American War of Independence ended in 1865.

Development of Sapelo Island, including the rebuilding of the former slave plantation mansion South End House was well under way, where Howard Coffin would soon host guests such as US Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as well as aviator Charles Lindbergh.  Sadly, William and Charlotte were not to see this happen as both lost their lives to illness in 1921 within a few weeks of each other. 

William died from appendicitis on 19th October, just two days before his 52nd birthday while Charlotte passed away on 5th November age 55 from an intestinal obstruction.   Both were buried at the St Andrews Cemetery in Darien, on the Georgia mainland close to Sapelo Island.

William’s obituary said that he was prominent in the secret order circles being a member of the Masons and the Odd Fellows and was held in high esteem by all who knew him’.  He had ‘been in charge of Sapelo for the past five years’.

James was the informant on both of his siblings’ death certificates.  Although he and wife Delia were then still on Sapelo Island, with Delia having taken over Charlotte’s role as postmaster, by the time of the 1930 US Census they had moved to mainland Georgia. James was back in his old job as an ‘auto trimmer’ at 23 Ridgeville, Darien.  They were home owners, with the Census giving its value as $3000.

The Census ten years later showed that they were still in Darien.  67-year-old James was an auto trimmer at an automobile factory, but when the Census was taken he was ‘unable to work’ (probably retired).  In 1950, James, 77 and Delia, 68 were living in 2nd Street, Darien.

James passed away in Darien on 12th February 1953, age 79. He was given a military veterans’ headstone in the St Andrews Cemetery, where his siblings Charlotte and William were also interred.  His wife Delia died ten years later on 16th June 1963 age 81 in Florida, and was buried alongside James in Darien.

Whatever the rights and wrongs were about forced emigration of children from England, it is certain that James’ life was transformed and led to a remarkable reunion with his siblings William and Charlotte.  Along with their brother Charles Henry’s work back home for under privileged children, they all showed great drive and ambition, some credit for which must go to the Guildford Union Board of Guardians for having given the Harts the opportunity to achieve what they did.

November 2023, updated March 2024


      Ancestry.co.uk / Ancestry.com
      FindMyPast.co.uk / British Newspaper Archives
      Government Register Office    GRO.gov.uk
      Surrey History Centre, Woking
      The National Archives, Kew, London

For a full list of references click here