Geoffs Genealogy Update 8 December 2015
Sunday December 6th, 2015 | Geoff
Records of divorce proceedings are always of great interest to family history researchers. Athough the events outlined in these records inevitably caused pain and unhappiness to the parties involved, we love to uncover these records in our research. For sure they are inevitably interesting. In recent times I have come across a couple of divorce proceedings that impacted on either my wife’s forebears or the Bankes Pedigree, although I am pleased to say that neither of them related to my direct forebears.
John “Mathetes” Jones (1821 – 1878) was a prominent Baptist minister and scholar in Wales in the nineteenth century. He was married three times, and had six children, one of whom was William Jones, born in 1861 at Llanfachreth, Anglesey. In researching William we found that he had married a certain Lydia Anne Griffiths in June 1886 in Swansea, but were more than a little surprised to see that he married a lady of the same name in 1909! What can have happened here? Of course, we had to investigate, and when we searched the Ancestry.co.uk archive we found some very interesting information.
In June 1899 Lydia Anne Jones nee Griffiths began divorce proceedings against William Mathetes Jones in the High Court of Justice Divorce Division. Lydia’s affidavit states that after the marriage she and her husband had lived in Swansea, and had two children – Frederick Mathetes Jones (b 1887) and Florence Irene Jones (b 1889). However, around 1887 William appears to have become violent towards his wife, and had frequently “assaulted her by catching her by the throat”. He also “hit her about her head and in the face with his fist”. In addition to this, in 1894 William had committed adultery with an unknown woman, and contracted a venereal disease, which he then passed on to his wife. As if that was not enough, in 1896 William had committed adultery with Harriet Griffiths of Merthyr, for which he had been convicted at Swansea Police Court, and fined. Lydia asked the court for a dissolution of her marriage and custody of the children. She also asked for the granting to her of any other available relief.
Lydia was granter her divorce, but for some reason that we are unlikely ever to understand she re-married William Mathetes Jones in 1909, and on the 1911 census they were enumerated together. It must have been love, I guess. According to this enumeration William was a commercial traveller in the drapery business, and in the same Swansea household was their daughter, Florence. The entry tells us that they had had three children in all, but one had died before the date of the enumeration (2 April 1911).
I turn now to my most recent Divorce discovery. Louisa Fiveash (b c1872) was the daughter of George Fiveash (1832-1873) and Martha Jane Sears (b 1863), the family living in Newington, South East London. She married William John Fruin (b c1872) at St Stephen, Walworth Common on 29 May 1893, but according to her affidavit in support of her divorce petition in June 1896 it did not take long for the relationship between her and her husband to turn sour. She stated that after the marriage she lived with her husband at 40 Mann Street, Walworth and later at 1a Thurlow Street, Walworth. On her marriage she said that she became entitled to a sum of money, amounting to £20, but save for the cost of a few items of furniture, her husband took possession of this money, and spent it. He then assaulted Louise, turning her into the street and “refused me my home”. He once knocked Louise down in the street, causing her injury to her head. On this occasion he was arrested and appeared before the Lambeth Police Court, being fined ten shillings as an alternative to seven days of imprisonment.
Louise said that since 10 December 1893 William had not contributed at all to her support, so she returned to a previous employment as a ward cleaner at Champion Hill Infirmary in Newington. We can see that when she filed her divorce petition her stated address was 29 Sedan Street, Walworth, which was her mother’s address, so it looks as though she had returned to live with her mother.
She also states that by December 1895 William was living in adultery with a certain Louisa Spencer at No 1 Ethel Street, Walworth, and that he was still living with this person.
Louisa’s petition was not contested, and a Decree Nisi was granted on 8 August 1896, followed by the final decree on 15 February 1897. On the 1911 census we can see that she was living as a lodger at 15 Grosvenor Park, Newington, London, and was employed as a Cook. I do not yet know what happened to her after April 1911.
Although cruelty towards wives and partners was by no means an unusual occurrence in Victorian England, as is evidenced by numerous records and publications relating to the period, by any standards the behaviour of William Fruin towards his wife was quite obviously abominable, and certainly in contravention of the Victorian Married Women’s Property legislation. It is interesting to learn that that his behaviour had landed him in Court. I have checked the online databases that are available to me, without finding any record of his conviction.
The money that Louisa (Fiveash) Fruin received on her marriage was almost certainly a marriage grant from the Bankes Trust, I would think. Many years ago I searched the Haberdashers’ Company records of these grants, but I only noted those that appeared relevant to the lines of descent from Mary Mitchell, so would not have noted this payment. Certainly the amount that Louisa said that she received would have been typical of a grant from the Bankes Trust.
In support of her petition Louisa provided her marriage certificate, and this is still there in the file. Thus, I was able to see this document, which we had not previously seen.
All in all, I hope that you can appreciate from this short post the immense value of divorce records to our family history research. Apart from their intrinsic interest, the details that they can give us helps immensely to fill out and add colour to our research.