Alice Isn’t Dead: A Cautionary Tale, a Family History

Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.

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Mary Jane Stayman Culley holding eight-week-old Alice Maud Culley in August 1879. Albumen carte de visite. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as cautionary tale, not unlike one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”

The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”

Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.

Alice’s mother, Mary Jane Stayman, was a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed.

Alice Maud Culley was the daughter of Henry Edward Culley. He was born in 1847 in Cockfield, County Durham, England, a village on the edge of Teesdale. Alice’s mother, the beautiful and elegant woman pictured, was Mary Jane Stayman, a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed. In 1851, Mary Jane was born in the historic Teesdale market town of Barnard Castle. The town takes its name from the venerable fortification at whose foot it grew, which was erected in the 12th Century by Bernard de Balliol and rebuilt by Richard III.

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A postcard of Barnard Castle taken in about 1910.

Alice’s maternal grandparents were Thomas Stayman (d. 1893) and Elizabeth Stokell, the former of whom was born in 1817 in East Layton Yorkshire; Elizabeth was a native of Winston, Durham, born 1811. They married in early 1839 in Teeside. By 1851, the Staymans lived in Barnard Castle, the census reporting that Thomas worked as an agricultural laborer with his wife and children Ann (b. 1840), Elizabeth (b. 1841), John (b. 1842), Margaret (b. 1846), Thomas (b. 1849), and baby Mary Jane living in the home.

In 1861, the Staymans lived in Galgate Street, Barnard Castle, only a few doors from the Teesdale Union Work House, built in 1838 to hold approximately 140 of the paupers of Union’s 44 parishes. Later, the family lived in Baliol Street.

Alice’s father, Henry Culley, was the son of William Blakey Culley (1817-1893), a flax worker, and Maria Snaith (1817-1880). The family appears on the 1851 Census of Hartwith cum Winsley, Yorkshire—a smattering of houses in the ancient parish of Kirkby Malzeard in the West Riding, now part North Yorkshire. Henry’s eldest sisters Eliza and Jane were, at this date, both “factory girls;” his older brothers William and John were scholars but also factory workers; the youngest children—Margaret, Henry, and Robert were under their mother’s care at home.

By 1861, the Culleys removed to Barnard Castle. William Culley listed his employment as “flax dresser.” Henry was then the eldest child still living at home, with his brother Robert and youngest sisters Maria and Elizabeth. All of them attended school and Henry’s good, clear signature remains on extant documents.

The new trooper swore an oath to “defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors, in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”

Henry’s elder brother John joined the British Army’s 2nd Regiment of the Life Guards, formed in 1788 as the monarch’s main mounted protectors. Military attestation papers state that John brought his brother into the same regiment on 27 May, 1868, when Henry was a 19-year-old blacksmith. The following day at Marylebone, the new trooper swore an oath to “bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors” and to “defend Her Majesty…in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”

The records also include a description of Henry: He was 6′ tall with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and sandy (later described as “reddish brown”) hair. His medical exam related his appearance in even more detail: He weighed 162 pounds; the circumference of his chest over the nipple was 37″; his muscular development was “middling;” he had been vaccinated against smallpox in childhood but was revaccinated two days after joining the army. We even know that on 27 May, 1868, whilst he sat for the military physician, his pulse was 72 beats and his respiration was 20 inspirations per minute.

Henry Culley and May Jane Stayman married at the Register’s Office, Teeside, Durham, on 26 September, 1869. Mary Jane’s elder brother Thomas became a blacksmith, as did Henry, so it is possible that the couple met through her brother, or perhaps they became acquainted long before, during their adolescence in Barnard Castle. The 1871 Census, taken on 2 April, placed Mary Jane, then pregnant, in her hometown with her family. She may have visited before the birth or spent part of her pregnancy there. Her child, Henry Edward, Jr. (Oct. 1871-31 July, 1930), safely arrived later that year in St. Pancreas, London.

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An early photo of the 1747 Market Cross at Barnard Castle by Walter Benton & Company, Glasgow, Scotland. Henry Culley and Mary Jane Stayman would have known this view well.

In late October 1872, Henry committed a breach that separated the couple for six months. His records note that on 28 October he was placed in confinement for insubordination. The following day he was tried and imprisoned until 16 April, 1873. When released, he was no longer a trooper, but made a horse-shoeing blacksmith for the regiment instead. He then settled into military life without further incidents, his commanding officer noting “Habits regular. Conduct very good.” After two years, he was promoted to corporal-farrier on 28 June, 1875.

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A corporal-farrier of the Life Guards.

The image at right shows an unknown corporal-farrier dressed as Henry would have appeared on parade. The Farriers’ uniforms were sombre blue and they wore axes at the side.  When on parade, troopers drew their swords and the farriers drew the axes, as pictured.

At the time of his promotion, Henry and Mary Jane had a second son Charles Snaith, born in 1874 at Barnard Castle (d. 1950). A third, John Stayman (d. 1973) arrived 12 July, 1876, at Windsor. Alice Maud, the first daughter, came into the world in late Spring 1879, either at Regent’s Park Barracks, St. Pancras, London, or at the Knightsbridge Barracks at Windsor.

When she was two months of age, she traveled with at least her mother and likely with her father and gaggle of brothers to the Somerset holiday town of Weston-super-Mare, where the Birnbeck Pier offered a pleasant walk in the salt air and the little boys could play at the water’s edge.

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Weston-super-Mare in the late 1890s. Alice and her mother were photographed here in 1879.

At some point during their holiday, Mary Jane dressed herself in fashionable raiment and Little Alice Maud in what may have been her christening dress. At Davies’ gallery on the busy High Street, mother and daughter sat together for their portrait, which I hold in my hand today, 138 years later.

Of the photographer, “John Davies was born in Tetbury 1839. He was apprenticed to a watchmaker in London; however his interest in scientific instruments was such that he designed and made” at least two brass and mahogany orreries sold in 2009 by a descendant, wrote Dreweatts Donnington Priory Salerooms, which sold the objects. “Photography was another interest which resulted in him setting up in business, in partnership with his brother Martin, as photographers, printers, booksellers, and stationers at 14 High Street, Weston-super-Mare, in 1873. ‘Davies Brothers’ continued to trade after John’s death in 1919 until the premises was destroyed in an air raid in 1942.”

Henry Culley’s medical record states that he suffered from the effects of a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood.

In 1881, the Culleys lived at 40 Red Hill Street, St. Pancras, according to the census. Mary Jane was pregnant with another boy, Thomas Alfred George (d. 1968), who was born that summer. Emma May arrived in 1883 and Frederick Barnabas (d. 1969) in early 1885.

Corporal Henry Culley had begun to suffer greatly from the negative health effects of his career. His medical record states that as early as 1869 he suffered from a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood. He had tonsillitis in June 1870 from “catching cold in the stables,” bronchitis from “exposure” in March 1873, and “acute rheumation”—probably of the hands—in July 1875, also caused by exposure.

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A pressed glass souvenir bowl commemorating Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the British throne, called the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Large and enthusiastic celebrations took place all around Britain 20 and 21 June, 1887. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Henry received a severe burn to his foot in June 1877 (one hopes a hot horseshoe was not the cause); another attack of rheumatism followed in July 1882. The final entry to his record was “paralysis (local)” on 12 May, 1886. Whether the cause of this condition was a stroke or otherwise, it left him permanently unable to perform his duties. Shortly thereafter, Henry was “discharged in consequence of being found unfit for further service.”

Now without a prestious position or income, former Corporal-Farrier Culley and his brood left London for Leeds, Yorkshire, taking up residence there before the birth of Edith Victoria on 21 June, 1887 (d. 1966)—her mother having labored through the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Before the 1891 Census, there was yet another daughter born named Ethel. (A tenth child and final son, Sam, would be born in 1894 when his mother was 43. He died at age 13 in 1907, the only Culley child not to reach adulthood.)

On Sunday, 5 April, 1891, the census takers found the Culleys at 57 Anchor Street, Hunslet, Leeds. Henry, aged 42, and his teenaged son John worked as advertisers for Watson’s, soapmaker. Joseph Watson and Sons ran their soapworks out of Whitehall, Leeds, and I believe that Henry and John Culley may have been two of many individuals who walked the streets wearing large painted banners and boards, pitching products such Watson’ Matchless Cleanser and others the soapmaker sold.

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Anchor Street, Hunslet, Leeds, in 1964. At the turn of the century, the Culleys lived at number 57, which is the terrace house farthest left. Photo courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service.

A decade later, the family was still almost fully intact at 57 Anchor Street. Henry had taken work as a porter and the girls as assistant chemists and apprentice bonnet or cigar makers. One son was a postman, another a steam engine fitter.

Alice married Tom Booth the following summer on 3 August at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Hunslet. The son of Yorkshireman James William Booth (b. 1856) and Jane Briggs (b. 1859), he followed his father’s trade of glass bottlemaking. Tom was born 10 September, 1879, and baptized at age ten at St. Mary the Virgin. Much like Alice, he had grown up in a terrace house bursting with siblings—for at least some of that time at 11 Springfield Place on Woodhouse Hill. Alice gave birth to a son 1 June, 1902, who was named Harry after her father. A daughter, Ellen, was born 1 July, 1908.

In 1911, the final census to which we have access, Tom, Alice, and their children lived at 1 Balmoral Grove, Hunslet, with Harry and Ellen. Mary Booth was born in 1911 and Alice Booth in 1913. I hope that when the 1921 Census becomes available in 2022 (or sooner, if genealogists have their way), that the stories of the Booth children can be added to meaningfully.

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The block of Balmoral Grove where Tom and Alice Booth lived in 1911. West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Harry Booth wed Agnes Bell in the same church as his parents, St. Mary the Virgin, on 17 March, 1928. His namesake grandfather and his grandmother almost certainly attended the service. Henry Culley would live another two years, dying in January 1930, aged 81. Toward the end of that year, Alice Maud Culley Booth, the not-dead infant of the summer of 1879, followed him out of life. (Her husband outlived her by 13 years, dying in June 1843, also in Leeds.)

Mary Jane lived to see her granddaughter Ellen marry Thomas Reginald Wilson, a boilermaker, the son of John William Wilson, cable layer, on 16 March, 1935, also at St. Mary the Virgin.  Mary Jane passed away at age 87 in early 1938. On 8 March, 1948, Harry Booth, then of 2 New Pepper Road, died at 128 Beckett Street, Leeds. The estate he left was £399 14s. 6p. His wife Agnes died in late 1960, with her daughter Ellen Booth Wilson following in 1965. Ω

Author: Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Writer, journalist, editor, historian.

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