Monday, 4 February 2013

The Secrets of the Upwardly Mobile Victorians

The Richard Wakefield family of East Molesly Lodge, paper merchants

All families have secrets! Mine was no exception as both the Millers and the Thorpes were upwardly mobile in a big way. They had risen into the middle classes and the Thorpes epecailly were only too pleased to leave their working class relations behind in the slums of Manchester. Unpleasantly Pop and Ma Thorpe just simply dumped them and no one in the family knew either their names or from whence they came. They never imagined that anyone would find out. I did!

I always knew that I didn't belong to the upper middle classes. I was never at ease with any of them. I realised I was considered Trade and Trade was not what any well bred middle class man would look for in a wife. However to my astonishment my very top draw Oxford educated GP husband Miles Wakefield Castelhow Heffernan did.  I never got to meet his Irish gentleman farmer father Dr Patrick Heffernan. Miles wisely waited until he died before proposing.

I did have to meet his mother Winifred Wakefield Heffernan who was a great lady. No woman would have been classy enough to marry  her son and she made it quite clear that she was the real thing when it came to class and I was rather young and perhaps too pretty and she could overlook the Trade.

Winifred or Mume said she was related to Sir Edward Gibbon Wakefield who colonized Wellington, New Zealand. She was oh so proud of him, so much so that I had to give my daughter his name. Miles too always wanted to live in New Zealand because of this connection and in fact eventually we did.We met a grand niece of the great man, Miss Irma O'Conner and as she was a single lady with few friends I was able to befriend her as she badly needed a family. She and I searched her family tree but could find not a sign of these Wakefields.

The Spicer Paper connection was equally well favoured. It appears that Mume's grandmother was a Mary Spicer of the Spicer Paper Maufacturers and were rich beyond belief. I was even taken to the paper mill in Enshem outside Oxford. In truth Richard Wakefield was a rich paper merchant as can be see above in the very Victorian photo of him sitting outside his family home in Bridge Street East Molesey, Kingston on Thames.

Mume liked everything just so and I was hard pressed to come up to standard In fact I never think I never  did. I did get a bit concerned when she insisted that the milk in tea went in first!  This was a no, no in our household as it was in most upper middle class homes but I put it down to eccentricity.

Somehow I inherited the old Wakefield family wills as well as every spare chair that Miles's brother did not want. After Miles died I spent some time working out the family tree but still I had no idea who the Spicers and the Wakefields were. The wills looked oh so grand. Then along came Genes Reunited and all was revealed. What a surprise!

Mume was no more a grand lady than I was! In fact it was worse than my family. The fact that Richard Wakefield, Mume's father was a paper merchant who married a Mary Spicer was a coincidence of names for Mume's grandmother was of very humble birth. Sarah Spicer hailed from a seafaring family from Folkestone whose mother had had 22 children and practically single handedly populated Kent.

Richard Wakefield  Paper Merchant
Richard Wakefield was a self made man going from a humble clerk to owning his own paper firm and becoming rich into the bargain. No connection with Sir Edward Gibbon Wakefield at all.   My daughter who had been lumbered with Wakefield as a middle name never forgave me as Edward Gibbon Wakefield is not liked in NZ ! In fact he is hated for what he did to the Maoris.

Richard Wakefield married Emma Hill who was ten years older than he and after four children  and a huge amount of upward mobility, she died. Mume was not one of the four children!

This is where the secret of the Wakefield /Heffernan's arises for after his first wife's death Richard Wakefield. at the rip old age of 70 moved to Hove with his housekeeper Hannah Walker who had been the maid to his first wife Emma. There he fathered a child with her and did the right thing and married her. Winifred Wakefield Heffernan, the great upper middle class lady, was the daughter of a housemaid! Nothing to be ashamed of as it is thought the Queen Mum had a similar parentage.

Hannah Walker
Mume's housekeeper mother became the lady of the house. It did not last long for Richard Wakefield died just five years later leaving a five year old daughter whom he adored. His other children were furious and their father just cut them out of his will leaving everything to his young daughter. Her brothers and sisters were not amused and have disappeared in history.

Her mother, Hannah, saw to it that Mume was educated and bought up to be a fine young lady, sending her to a very swish Swiss Finishing School and Mume was married off to a 44 year old elderly Irish doctor from County Tipperary. It was not the happiest of marriages. Mume and he lived on the fortune for the rest of their lives and their sons were oblivious to the fact that although they appeared top drawer the truth was slightly less. The Spicer and Gibbon Wakefield connections being nothing but dreams!

Winifred Wakefield Heffernan
1897 -1976
I am, like Mume proud of Richard Wakefield. He was as clever and astute as my own grandparents. However he too left his poor relations behind. His mother Sarah Spicer ended up a widow in London clawing a living by beading chairs. I have one! It is now very valuable as beading is rare today. The census reveals all the secrets.

I had no need to feel ashamed of my Miller/Thorpe families because the Wakfield/Heffernans were just the same.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! What a lovely surprise to come across your wonderful blog with so much information about the family of Richard Castlehouse Wakefield. My name is Mandie and I am helping my friend (the great great grandson of Richard Castlehouse Wakefield and Great Grandson of Rev Richard Dunster Wakefield) to build his Family History Tree.

    He and his brothers knew nothing of their Ancestry, but having pulled together a tree back to the 17th Century, I was absolutely delighted to see that you have shared photos online of the their direct Ancestors.

    If you are willing for me to contact you and explore this connection further, I would be so grateful if you could contact me on, as I have some questions you may well be able to help me with. Many thanks, Mandie