Plumstead in the 1880s
George Warren was blessed with three grown daughters, and doubly blessed in that each had managed to secure a marriage and so were no longer a ‘burden’ to him. His joy was not complete, however, because his wife of many years had passed away and he had been left alone for nearly two years.
After two years George thought it reasonable that, having left a suitable period for grieving, he should take a new wife. He might have hoped that his daughters would have been happy to see their father married once again, and living out his approaching dotage with a companion and helpmeet.
And Hepzibah, Harriet and Lucy would probably have welcomed a new Mrs Warren as a stepmother, if only George hadn’t opted for someone who was apparently not much older than they were. As it was his decision to marry a much younger woman was greeted with considerable disapproval. Nor did the sisters keep their disquiet at his choice to themselves; instead they brought their concerns directly to his door and in doing so ended up before a magistrate on a charge brought by their father.
In early July 1880 Hepzibah Randle, Harriet Unsworth and Lucy Nicholls were brought up before the Woolwich Police magistrate charged with ‘wantonly disturbing their father’.
According to George the trio had marched up to his home at 136 Burrage Road, Plumstead, and started knocking the door violently. They kept this up for twenty minutes at a time and soon a crowd had gathered to see what all the fuss was about. George said that they demanded to see his wife and made such a commotion that it ‘scandalised the neighbourhood’.
This action reminds me very much of ‘rough music’; a proactive whereby communities showed their contempt or disapproval of individuals that offended popular morality. Whole villages might congregate outside the home of a wife beater, scold or adulterers and bang pots and pans to keep them awake and express their disgust.
Perhaps this was what the women in Plumstead were doing; showing their father in a very demonstrative way that in choosing to marry someone so much younger than himself he was in some way embarrassing them and himself, and bring the family name into disrepute.
George didn’t see it that way of course, he felt he was entitled to marry whomsoever he liked, and the magistrate agreed. He rejected the daughters collective and individual efforts to explain that they simply wanted to meet the new Mrs Warren, or to visit their father in the wake of his nuptials.
Mr Bagley made them each promise not to disturb their ‘father’s happiness’ again or visit him in ‘an unfriendly spirit’, and award George Warren the costs of bringing the case to court. Finally he expressed the ‘hope that shortly the might be at peace and harmony, not only with their father but their stepmother also’.
I fear this might have been a little too much to ask.
[from The Standard, Tuesday, July 06, 1880]