Multiple Births: Edwardian style

Grandmother Mary Jane Robinson: her impact on me!

Mary Jane was a woman of mystery to me. She had left this earth before I could know her – I don’t count the 9 short years I was on this earth at the same time. As a 4 year old I had no real sense of belonging and with a world shattered by war, there were huge upheavals in my family – we emigrated to Australia in 1949. By May 1954 she had died at Surrey, Northern – a fact revealed to us by mail in our new home in Victoria. I do not remember the impact of her death on my mother, but I am sure it would have been devastating.

I wish I had known Grandmother Mary Jane! Such strength in the face of adversity – in this story I reveal the characteristics I have earned from her.

When Mary Jane Robinson was born on 9 June 1872 in Croydon, Surrey, her father, George, was 36, and her mother, Mary, was 39. She married Charles Harry Newland Cutting on 16 June 1901 in Enfield, Middlesex. They had seven children during their marriage. She died in May 1954 at the age of 82, and was buried in Surrey.

1872 – 1954 there is a whole life in that little dash.

Mary Jane gave birth to twin boys on 19 October 1901, just 5 months after their marriage. Obviously their marriage was hastily arranged and was conducted away from the family seat in Croydon. Mary Jane Robinson married Charles Harry Newland Cutting in Enfield, Middlesex, on 16 June 1901 when she was 29 years old. The Marriage took place at the Parish Church of St Andrews with their friends, the the Goodalls, in attendance as witnesses. Her sister and brother-in-law were also in attendance, Edith Mary and Charles Howells.

The marriage certificate states that both were living at Southbury Road, Enfield at the time of the wedding. Their fathers were listed on the certificate, but I suspect that they did not attend. Charles Harry was a 23 year old plumber. Six years difference in their ages – I wondered if this was to become an issue.

Giving birth to twins would have been challenging for Mary Jane. Especially under the circumstances with gossiping neighbours to consider. The boys were born in Croydon Infirmary (the site of the old Workhouses) and they were baptised in November 1901 back at St James Church in Surrey.

It was not long before Frank was shipped out to live with his Auntie Edie, and he spent most of his life living apart from his twin brother. I always asked why my Uncle Frank lived in one house and my Uncle Reg in another when they were young. The 1911 census lists both my Uncle Frank and my Auntie Violet as living at 70 Gloucester Road, Croydon with Edith Mary and her husband Charles Howells, a Carpenter who was born in Glamorganshire, Wales.

My mother Winifred Edith was born in 1903 and she would tell me of how close she was to her brother Reg but estranged from her brother Frank.

I noted the further multiple birth of triplets for Mary Jane in 1906. Harry, Ron and Violet were born in Kingston Infirmary and their arrival would have caused a great deal of disruption to the household. Taking care of several young children under the age of six would have been tough for Mary Jane. So having farmed Frank out to his Auntie Edie, Mary Jane could focus on the triplets. Harry was the weakest and needed much of her attention. He died just one year later; and I suspect he died from one of the most virulent diseases of the times – in 1900, pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, and enteritis with diarrhea were the three leading causes of death.
I noted with surprise (from Trove) that there was a King’s Bounty in place in that era for women who had multiple births. Then I discovered (from the Manchester Courier 9 November 1906) that the Mayor of Kingston-on-Thames, where my grandmother lived, had applied for the King’s Bounty on her behalf. Three gold sovereigns were awarded to the recipients of this bounty.
The Edwardian era or Edwardian period of British history spanned the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910. There were many boys named Edward during this period and many girls named Alexandra.
In 1906 Mary Jane is once more dealing with multiple births again, at the age of 34 as well as grieving for the loss of Harry and the estrangement from Frank. I am so sad for her. I wonder how much her children realized the hardships she faced.

There was also the intriguing story of how Grandmother Mary Jane was seen chasing Grandfather Charles Harry up the stairs brandishing a knife, from two sources, my eldest brother John and my cousin Sally. John first told of the incident and Sally filled in some details.

It appears that Mary Jane had caught Charles Harry red handed in an affair with a younger woman (infidelity would certainly have caused anger and potentially violence.)

In searching through some further records for Grandfather Charles I came across a reference to Alma ? ? who was 24 at the time of their meeting as colleagues in the same workplace. Was she the object of the infidelity?

Mary Jane lived with Charles until her death, so my guess is that they resolved their infidelities or at least did not let them breakup the family home.

By the time I came on the scene in 1945, the last of my mother Winifred’s six children, I was totally unaware of such family matters and did not begin to ask questions until Grandmother Mary Jane was long dead.

The multiple births continued in my own siblings; my closest siblings were twin boys born in 1940 – and I do know how much of a shock their arrival was to my parents. There is a story surrounding their birth that was often told to provide the context for their turbulent arrival.

“It is the height of the Battle of Britain, 1940 and on Sunday, 15 September, the Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated attack against London in the hope of drawing out the RAF into a battle of annihilation. Around 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles which lasted until dusk.[4] The action was the climax of the Battle of Britain.[16]” Source: Wikipedia

Birth in the Blitz! (Read the account from Cecil’s point of view)

Winifred and Cecil were attempting to escape the strafing of bullets from a sniper as they traveled north to Oxford after fleeing the city of London. My mum was heavily pregnant. Dad was driving and he took the car beneath a bridge for safety and it was there that Mum went into labour; not surprisingly.

The next objective of course was to get Mum to safety to give birth. The bridge was outside a small town and at the edge of the town were a few houses to which Cecil drove the car. Astonishingly the owner of one house, Madam Barishnikov, a Russian Lady,came to my mother’s rescue. She took Winnie into her house and helped as a midwife; my brother Brian appearing fairly quickly. Surprises all round when Madam Barishnikov announced to my mother, that there was another child still to come out. Mum had no idea she was having twins; a few moments later my brother Michael was born.

Then there was a flurry in the household to get two sets of infant clothes and blankets and to care for them all whilst the Luftwaffe was still swooping.

I have often imagined what this tumultuous time meant for my mother. But, I think my mother’s own strength of purpose was a legacy from her mother, Mary Jane, who had survived the perils of World War 1 and the multiple child births before her.

Multiple births occurred for my siblings but skipped me, thankfully. Both my brother and my sister had twins in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Thanks to my Grandmother Mary Jane I too have strength of purpose and owe my business enterprise, and style of parenting to her legacy.

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