The Family’s Black Sheep

All I originally knew of my great grandfather, Edward Alfred Parsons, came from the birth & marriage certificates which  I obtained soon after starting my family research and, more recently, the 1891 & 1901 censuses. He was born in Westminster in 1864 and married Annie Elizabeth Leigh in 1884. They had four children including the eldest, my grandfather Edward James Leigh Parsons in 1887 and the youngest, Doris Ada Parsons born in July 1900. On the 1901 census, his profession was a pottery storekeeper.

So far, so ordinary.

However, in 2000, I tracked down a cousin of my father’s, and the son of Doris Ada. When I first spoke to him, the conversation quickly turned to whether I was aware of the family scandal…

Scandal? What scandal?

According to the story, Annie discovered that Edward had an illegitimate family in North London, including another Doris Ada Parsons.

But that turned out to be only the half of it…

I was to discover that Edward was a serial adulterer, a practised liar, (possibly) a bigamist, a perjurer, an imposter and a wife beater…

As well as the life he shared with his real wife in Lambeth, I discovered that, from at least 1897, he was also living together as husband and wife with Eulalie Annie Hawken in Camberwell, both under the pseudonym Pearson – but there is no evidence that they were bigamously married.

In August 1898 they had a daughter, Doris Mary Pearson. On her birth certificate, Edward described himself as a “Stoker-Steamer” – a classic cover for someone who was often away from home – suggesting that he was also deceiving Eulalie and that, at that stage, Eulalie knew nothing of his real wife.

Edward hid his second family until around 1906 when Annie somehow discovered his secret and her sons threw him out of their house and their lives. She divorced him in 1907.

According to the Divorce Proceedings, Edward also had an affair with Sophia Cook in Brighton in October 1899 and another child, as yet unidentified, was born in July 1900, the same month that his daughter Doris Ada was born to Annie. But the documents make it clear that, seven years after the affair, Sophia was now respectably married – yet Eulalie is barely mentioned; she’s not given a forename, her affair with Edward is said to have begun only in 1906 and her surname was spelt wrong. I guess Edward chose to lie to the Court in order to protect Eulalie and keep her out of the divorce. I also find it strange that no mention is made of the fate of Sophia’s child.

More worryingly, the Proceedings also describe how, from 1903 to 1905, Edward repeatedly threatened, punched, kicked and abused Annie, eventually threatening to decapitate her with a razor held at her throat.

The Divorce was granted in October 1907 and, now free of Edward, Annie married her lodger Charles Frederick Chinnery, the Stable Manager for the Daulton pottery company in Lambeth. My grandfather and his siblings (or, at least, the ones we know about) apparently regarded Chinnery as their father and we don’t know whether they ever kept in contact with Edward.
Edward finally married Eulalie Hawken in late 1907 under the name Parsons. He lied again on the marriage certificate, claiming to be a widower. On the 1911 census, they were living in Camberwell with their daughter, Doris Mary – now aged 12, and Eulalie’s mother. True to form, they falsely claimed to have been married for 13 years.

Edward died of tuberculosis in the Newington Workhouse Infirmary in Westmoreland Road, in 1917.

Doris Mary married Sidney Chubb in 1921 under the name Pearson and Eulalie died in 1958.

I wonder whether the cruelty was exaggerated to facilitate Annie’s plea for divorce – but perhaps that seems like I’m trying to convince myself he wasn’t that bad – something I have no intention of doing. But at that time, a woman could only gain a divorce (a very rare occurrence in those days) by demonstrating cruelty – adultery would not have been sufficient grounds.

I guess every family has a dark character and I suppose he could have been so much worse. As well as repeatedly lying on official records, he openly admitted in court to serial adultery, cruelty, assault, battery and, arguably, grievous bodily harm. But, since these admissions were made in a Divorce Court, there is no suggestion or evidence that he ever faced criminal charges.

In 2010, via this website, I was contacted by a direct descendent of Edward and Eulalie. My new-found cousin, Steve Wing of Colorado, is the grandson of Doris Mary and Sydney, and had been researching the family, but had no idea about any of our story, except that he hadn’t been able to trace Edward Alfred Pearson. He wrote:

“By the way, according to my Nan (as my mom recalls) – Edward indeed was a bastard and was very cruel to her as a little girl. Mom has always been puzzled by the two surnames that used to come up – both Parson and Pearson. Your information has helped explain why.

My Nan told my mom there were periods when Edward wasn’t drinking that he was quite amiable. Eulalie told many stories to my Nan, depicting Edward as at times very religious. One interesting aspect of him was that he occasionally sported a moustache, not a big deal in and of itself, but wait:

Apparently, they lived in fear of the moustache being shaved, as this often meant he was on another drinking binge and was quite cruel to my Nan. When she was 18, he’d have her come home from work during her lunch hour to scrub the stairs, he’d inspect the crevasses it with a pin, find a small piece of dirt and make her scrub them all over again. Understandably, she was quite elated when he passed away. This behaviour leads my mom to think that perhaps his abusive relationship with his first wife was a result of his drinking.

As for Sophia Cook, cited as an adulterous partner and mother to Edward’s illegitimate child in 1900, we knew only that, by 1907, she was married to a Mr Mckay of Anderson Walk, Lambeth. In fact, Henry Mckay married Sophia Cooke, a widow, in 1902. In 1911, they lived with their son Henry, aged 6, who we can assume was not Edward’s child.

Sophia was born Woods, father Charles, a sewerman, and married Alfred Mitchenor Cooke in 1883 in Lambeth and they lived in Tyer Street, very close to Edward. Alfred Cooke died in 1898.

So what happened to the child Sophia had with Edward in 1900?

I’ll solve it. One day.