Marian Baker, born in Surrey, England in 1858, married a Grocer from Scotland named John Ronald, in December of 1883. Seven months later, their first daughter was born: Cecilia Ellen Jessie Ronald. Roderick William John followed in June 1886 and Grace Victoria Louise in April 1887. The three children were baptized on the same day in the Church of England, St. John’s Parish, Surrey in September of 1890 and then . . .
. . . well, then their father, John Ronald, took off on them.
He decided to go to seek his fortune in South Africa and left Marian with three little ones and no household income. His mother in Scotland apparently had a couple of letters from him in South Africa but after a year’s time, her letters were returned and nothing more is known of him.
Now, Victorian England was not an easy place to live, especially for the poor and especially in the cities. The industrial revolution brought increased coal mining, immigration from other European nations, overpopulation, housing shortages, child labour in factories, inadequate sanitation and brutal poverty. In 1834 The Poor Law was passed that basically made being without work punishable by law. And the workhouses were the punishment for being homeless, sick, insane, physically disabled, old or destitute.
That is where Marian and her children ended up in Christmas week of 1891: a workhouse — the Kingston and Chelsea Workhouse in Surrey on Britten Street in SW London, to be exact. Without a regular income, Marian would have been unable to afford any kind of housing or food for herself and her children. She had family in the area but it appears they were unable or unwilling to take them in. Thus as winter settled in, Marian had to take herself and her children to a workhouse where they were promptly separated from each other and variously put to work. The brief video below provides an introduction to workhouses.
We have records that indicate that the Ronalds were discharged after some months but that the children were re-admitted to the same workhouse in June of 1893 and then again in November of 1893. They also spent some time in Workhouses in nearby Banstead and Epsom, although we have no direct records. It was John Ronald’s sister Jessie Ronald in Edinburgh who eventually came up with a proposal to change this grim situation.
To be continued . . .