Jane Elizabeth Blake
Subject Name: Jane Elizabeth Blake (b 1853 – d 1925)
‘Jane Elizabeth Blake’ was in the Guildford Union Workhouse on 3rd April 1881, the date of the national Census, a 26-year-old unmarried domestic servant born in West Clandon (1). But why was she there and who actually was she?
Jane was born in West Clandon on 22nd June 1853, the daughter of single mother Eliza Ann Blake. Her birth was officially registered as ‘Jane Emma Blake’ (2). She was baptised as ‘Jane Emma Mason Blake’ at West Clandon’s St Peter and St Paul Church on 26th June 1853. Both parents were named on the baptism register, an unusual occurrence in a time when illegitimacy was heavily stigmatised (3). Jane’s father, Joseph Mason, was a labourer from the nearby village of Albury.
Happily, Joseph and Eliza Ann were clearly in a relationship as they married two years later in West Clandon on 13th May 1855 (4). The 1861Census showed seven-year-old ‘Jane Emma Mason’, as she was now known, living in Blackheath, Albury with her parents Joseph, a 33-year-oldagricultural labourer, and Eliza Ann, age 28 (5). Jane Emma also had a brother, William, age four(6).
Joseph and Eliza Ann had six more children over the next 13 years (7).
By the time of the 1871 Census, Jane Emma, noted as 16 but actually a year older, had moved out and was a live-in general servant for farmer Richard Coe and his family at Ford Farm, Sandy Lane, just a few minutes’ walk from her family’s home in Albury Heath (8).
The timing of Jane Emma’s admission to the Guildford Union Workhouse is not known as the records no longer exist, but it was most likely close to the 3rd April date of the 1881 Census, as she was expecting a baby. Being unmarried, this was maybe the reason her name on the Census was ‘Jane Elizth. Blake’, a combination of her actual name and her mother’s, as the stigma of her situation was still as strong as it would have been with her mother 28 years earlier.
Guildford Union’s register of Workhouse Births noted that ‘Elizabeth Jane Blake’ of Albury gave birth to a daughter there on 24th April 1881 (9). The official birth certificate recorded the birth of Beatrice Winifred Blake on 24th April 1881, mother ‘Jane Emma Blake’, domestic servant of Albury (10). No father was named on the certificate.
Beatrice was baptised on 4th May at the St John the Evangelist Church close to the Workhouse (11). Sadly, she was to live only for 14 days, and was buried at Albury’s St Peter and St Paul Church on 10th May (12).
Since at least 1871, Jane’s family had lived in Albury Heath so it seems probable from her daughter’s burial record that Jane returned there after her traumatic time in the Workhouse (13). However, the 1891 Census did not show her to be with her family, instead it appears that she was ‘Emma Blake’, a 38-year-old unmarried live-in domestic servant for George Clarke, a
40-year-old widower, and his three children, in Stoughton Road, Guildford (13).
Jane’s family in 1891 were now living in ‘Post Office Cottage’, Albury Heath, although it is not recorded whether they were actually running it as a post office (14). Her father Joseph, 62, was a day labourer and her mother Eliza was 60 with no occupation noted. Jane’s 37-year-old unmarried brother William was also a day labourer, while siblings George (20) and Eliza (16) were not employed, and had ‘epileptic fits’ noted next to their names.
The first indication about who was running the post office came at the end of 1900, when the Surrey Times reported two people on trial for breaking its windows (15). It was revealed that the post office was under the ownership of the Duke of Northumberland with Jane’s brother William its keeper.
The Duke’s Albury Park 150 acre estate included the ancient Saxon church of St Peter and St Paul, recorded in the Domesday Book, with the current church also dedicated to St Peter and St Paul built in 1841 (16).
Jane, at some stage since the 1891 Census, had returned to her family at Post Office Cottage and was living there in the 1901 Census as ‘Jane E Mason’, 47, unmarried and with no occupation (17). With her were father Joseph, despite being 74 still employed as a day farm labourer, her
mother Eliza, 71, and sibling William, a 43-year-old unmarried agricultural labourer, but still no mention of him being the postmaster. Ellen Childs, ten-year-old daughter of Jane’s younger sister Ellen, was also there (18). Both Jane’s younger epileptic siblings had passed away – Eliza in August 1892 age 18 and George age 28 in March 1900 (19, 20).
The Kelly’s Directory of Surrey for 1903 gave Joseph Mason as the Albury Heath sub-postmaster, but two years later it was being run by ‘Miss Emma J Mason’ (21, 22).
In 1911, just Jane, age 57, and her 53-year-old brother William remained in the rather large house which had at least three unoccupied rooms (23). On this Census, her name was recorded as ‘Jane Emma B Mason’, sub-postmistress of Albury Heath, and signed ‘J E B Mason’ the ‘B’ most likely referring to her birth name of Blake. Their mother Eliza had died in January 1905 age 74 (24) and their father Joseph, who had been living with his daughter and her family in nearby Merrow at the time of the 1911 Census, passed away in December 1911 age 83 (25, 26).
The 1921 Census gave her as ‘Jane Emma Mason’, ‘late’ sub-postmistress, age 67 so it seems likely that she had retired and the post office had now closed for business (28). Her brother William, 63, was an agricultural labourer on the Albury Park estate. Living with them were their sister Ellen Childs and her husband Henry, both 57. He also worked at Albury Park.
Twenty years prior to this, the 1901 Census listed Ellen and Henry’s daughter Ellen with Jane and family at the Albury Heath Post Office. She was shortly to return there, a decision that would lead to a shocking and tragic outcome.
In 1919, Ellen junior had married Frederick J Carter (29), with the1921 Census showing them to be lodging at 8 Castle Street, Guildford (30). Ellen was 32, occupation “home duties”, while 31-year-old Frederick was a travelling salesman for the R. Whites mineral waters manufacturer (still in existence today) (31). They had a baby daughter, Winifred Violet Joyce.
A second daughter, Edna Irene, followed in mid-1923 (32). Around this time, the Carter family moved in to lodge with Ellen’s aunt Jane and uncle William at Albury Heath. This was to begin a sequence of events that was to lead to a ghastly tragedy, as just after 1pm on 13th November 1924, Ellen Carter was found in her doorway bleeding to death from a cut throat (33). A neighbour saw Ellen lying there, with Jane ‘in her night attire, waving her hands about’ standing alongside her stricken niece. The doctor was called, but Ellen had died before he arrived. She was just 34.
An inquest was held two days later in Albury Village Hall at which Ellen’s husband Frederick described the circumstances that may have led to Eliza Ellen (her full birth name) apparently taking her own life.
He said that after they had moved into the Old Post Office 15 months previously, his wife was responsible for taking care of her aunt. He added that Jane was “rather troublesome and worried her somewhat”, appearing to make Ellen unwell so she had been prescribed medication for the past six or seven months by Dr. Cory, the doctor who was called in the vain attempt to save her life. Frederick said that Ellen had never talked about taking her own life, and had even said to him the day before the tragedy how well she had felt with her new medication.
Dr. Cory said that Ellen had been under his care ‘on and off for a long time’ and that she was ‘very much worried by her aunt and was longing to get away from the place as she could not sleep’. He revealed that Jane had been ‘more or less an invalid all her life and had been a very trying woman at times’. The coroner had ‘no hesitation’ in ruling that Ellen ‘took her life whilst of unsound mind’.
Immediately after the tragedy, Jane, described as ‘somewhat infirm’ was taken to the Guildford Infirmary (34). She was now 71, and from the details about her presented at the inquest, it seems likely that she would have remained in the Infirmary or the adjacent Union Workhouse.
Just over 12 months later, she passed away at ‘Guildford House, Warren Road’ (the Workhouse) on 16th December 1925, age 72, from ‘senile decay’ (35). The death certificate named her as ‘Emma Jane Mason’, the version of her name she used when she was the Albury Heath sub-postmistress.
What Dr. Cory revealed about ‘Miss Mason’ at the inquest is the only known record of her condition, and certainly puts her life history into a somewhat different perspective.
October 2022, updated February 2023
Albury Parish Council Alburyparish.org
British Newspaper Archive
General Register Office Gov.co.uk
Surrey History Centre Surreycc.gov.uk
University of Leicester Special Collections Online specialcollections.le.ac.uk
For a full list of references click here