Jessie Mary Woodward, my second cousin once removed, was the granddaughter of Emma Skinner, my great grandmother's sister. She was born in Bow, in East London on the 24th May 1879 to parents Robert Woodward and Margaret Alice née Cook. She married Leonard Roper, a milkman, sometime dock labourer and subsequently a grocer, in St. Luke's, Millwall on the 6th August 1900, when they both give the same address of 16 Janet Street. Between her marriage and the 1911 census Jessie gave birth to seven children of whom only four survived to appear in the census. Their first son was born in Millwall within a few weeks of their marriage but died that same year. A daughter was born at the end of 1901, and shortly after the birth of their next son in Millwall in 1903, they moved out to Leytonstone, where their next two sons both died before their first birthdays. A daughter and a son were born in Leytonstone in 1907 and 1908.The family in 1911, despite all these sad losses, looks established and settled, living in four rooms at 133 Cathall Street in Leytonstone. Leonard, now aged 32, is a shopkeeper and greengocer, and had been born in Laindon in Essex. Jessie is 31, and they have their four surviving children, two born in Millwall and two in Leytonstone. Strangely their 10 year old daughter also appears in this census living with Jessie's parents in Venue Street in Poplar, perhaps a hint of what was to come. Jessie would have been pregnant at the time of the 1911 census and a daughter was born later that year, but she also died before the year was out. Jessie fell pregnant again at the end of 1911 and a daughter Violet was born on the 11th August 1912 at 13 Union Street, Leytonstone, the address of the West Ham Union workhouse and infirmary. Whether Leonard was her father or not is a moot point; in spite of her birth certificate which gives him as the father, his address is 4 Sandal Road, West Ham, while Jessie's address, when the birth was registered on the 20th September, is the workhouse, so they would appear to be living apart. Unlike her siblings Violet did not have a church baptism, and the next time Violet and her mother appear in the records it is as inmates in the South Grove workhouse in Whitechapel from July 1914 to May 1915, for the duration of Jessie's next pregnancy. These records show Jessie to be separated, and refer to Violet as her illegitimate child. Jessie was admitted to the workhouse from 4 Duval Street in Christchurch parish, where she is trying to make a living charing, though on her admission on the 29th July she is described as destitute. Her nearest relation is her mother in Venue Street, Poplar, and husband Leonard is at 144 Hollybush Street, Plaistow. They seem to have left South Grove by the 11th August, but were both back two weeks later with Violet in the infirmary suffering from blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyes. They would appear to have been staying at 194 Hanbury Street when not in South Grove, and they were admitted from here on the 18th September with Violet going into the infirmary with bronchitis. There were many admissions from this address, and it was a Salvation Army women's refuge with a separate shelter for women with children; sadly the hint here is that Jessie may have been trying to earn a living from prostitution.On the 1st of November Jessie was admitted to the infirmary from South Grove suffering from "pregnancy &c", and at 1.25 am on the 2nd of January she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth May. They were discharged back to South Grove on the 19th of February, but Elizabeth May died on the 26th of April, with the cause of death being marasmus, severe malnutrition. The workhouse diet was probably barely enough to keep her mother alive, let alone feed a newborn baby, though the fact that Jessie was admitted to the infirmary so far in advance of the birth suggests that Jessie's health was not good anyway. On the 15th May 1915 Jessie and Violet were both transferred to the workhouse in West Ham; obviously Whitechapel felt they had done their bit and that she should go back to her own parish, nearer to where her husband was: but it was far too late to expect help from Leonard, as he had moved on and was himself the father of illegitimate twins. Leonard and Amy Roper were born on the 31st January 1914 at 144 Hollybush Street, Plaistow, where Leonard was living with the wife of a close neighbour from Cathall Street in 1911. Jessie knew he was at this address, did she know about the relationship? Baby Leonard died shortly after his birth, and Amy found herself in the West Ham workhouse along with Jessie's daughter Violet. These two girls, assumed to be sisters, were shipped off from the workhouse, along with another eleven children all aged under 12 on board the Omar, bound for Fremantle in Australia, in January 1921, presumably as part of one of the child migrant programmes organised by charities such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities. As their destination was Western Australia they may well have been going to the Fairbridge Farm School in Pinjarra. Jessie's other children must have gone to Venue Street in Poplar to live with their Woodward grandparents when their parents separated. The daughter who was already living there in 1911 got married from this address in 1920 with Jessie's brother Ernest Woodward and her brother-in-law Oscar Edwin Larsen as witnesses; one of her brothers also lived in Poplar for a time.Why Violet didn't go to live with her Woodward grandparents in Poplar might seem strange, but this does suggest that she was illegitimate, and it was the stigma attached to her and to Jessie which sent them down to Whitechapel instead. Jessie did eventually return to live with her mother and appears with her, still in Venue Street, in the electoral registers of the late 1920s by which time things had probably been forgotten or forgiven or over-ridden by more recent events. Jessie's mother died in 1936, and the 1939 register finds Jessie living in Malmesbury in Wiltshire in "The Knoll" a rather grand manor house belonging to the Luce family and still occupied at that time by three elderly Luce spinster sisters and their servants. Jessie forms part of a group of blind evacuees billetted here; the fact that they are a group suggests they might have all come from the same institution. The register, though gives a final twist to Jessie's story, for her surname has been crossed out and replaced by Parker and the date 26.8.48 has been added in the margin. Her marriage to Charles T. Parker took place in Bethnal Green (did she wait to marry until after Leonard’s death?), and she died there in 1955.Jessie's husband, Leonard Roper, was himself, illegitimate. His mother Mary was the granddaughter of William Roper who had been a master baker living and working in Brentwood High Street until his death in 1854. His sons, however forsook baking and turned to farming, probably helped on their way by the influence of their maternal line ancestors, William Stevens Collis and John Livermore, both Essex farmers. Between the four of them, William's sons were in 1861, managing nearly 800 acres in Wingletye Lane in Hornchurch (Old Redden Court Farm), Pound Farm and Blue House Farm both in Laindon, and an un-named farm in Horndon on the Hill. It was William in Horndon on the Hill who had a daughter Mary, who was the mother of Leonard. Mary was born in 1847, and although she is at home with her parents in the 1851 census, the next two censuses find her living with her father’s brother Adam and his family in Hornchurch, and in 1871 acting as governess to his children. In 1881 she is living with her widowed father William in Little Gobions Farn in Laindon with her two-year-old son Leonard. Mary never married, and she paid the price for her misdemeanour by spending her life living with various members of her extended family as a housekeeper. She died in Orsett Lodge Hospital in 1934, not far from where she had been born in Horndon on the Hill. Leonard died in the same place in 1946, which suggests that he too, like Jessie, went back home.
Bradley families: the SkinnersJessie Mary Woodward