VOL. IV - CHAPTER 7

Mary Billeness nee Veness

Mary Veness was baptised on 14 September 1817 at Wartling Parish Church, the daughter of Joseph and Fanny Veness (Chapter 4).

At the time of the 1841 census she was living with her parents at Mill Farm Cottage, Wartling, but had given birth to an illegitimate daughter Emily, who was baptised on 21 June 1840 at Wartling Parish Church. The entry in the parish register indicates that Emily was "Edmunds bastard".

On 29 July 1840 Mary Veness of Wartling, a single, able-bodied servant of the established church was admitted to Herstmonceux House, part of Hailsham Union with her daughter Emily Edmunds of Wartling, an "able-bodied woman" "on account of a bastard child".

On 1 August 1840 she was discharged on her own order to the parish of Wartling with her daughter Emily (East Sussex County Record Office G5/14/2 )

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act changed the system whereby each parish was responsible for its poor, a system that had been in existence since Elizabethan times.

Prior to the act overseers of the poor had the authority to remove poor from the village if they were likely to become a burden, unless that parish was their "place of settlement". In addition the overseers could issue settlement certificates agreeing to take back their parishioners who wished to travel if they became chargeable to rates while residing in another parish.

Although parishes were first encouraged to build/rent workhouses in 1722, and from 1782, the passing of The Gilberts Act enabled parishes wishing to do so to combine together for the maintenance of the poor, it was not until 1834 that parishes in Sussex were divided into convenient groups served by a central workhouse, known as a union, and Boards of Guardians were introduced to administer the poor law. It was soon after these changes that Mary and Emily found themselves being admitted to the workhouse.

A group of eleven parishes including Wartling were served by Hailsham Union and in 1836, the union was built at the junction of Union Road (now Hawks Road) and Horsebridge Road (A271). The workhouse was built to house 300 inmates and was large and grim, surrounded by a high wall. It was self sufficient with a kitchen garden, kitchens, laundry, a delousing oven, infirmary and mortuary. A system of segregation was in place where men, women and children were kept separate even if they were all from one family. The union was demolished circa. 1932 having been derelict for many years.

Whilst Commissions of Enquiry described appalling conditions in some Sussex workhouses prior to the creation of the union, the new union buildings lacked the informality of the old parish workhouses some of which were simply converted cottages in the village. It is clear from examination of the records that many old workhouses including Herstmonceux House and the Fleurs-de-Lys in Hailsham High Street continued to operate for some years after the construction of the new union.

No specific information is held regarding Herstmonceux House to which Mary and her daughter were admitted, but in 1774 Higham House and Higham Cottage in Herstmonceux were known to have housed the poor and the rise where they were built is still known as Workhouse Hill. It appears that this is where Mary and Emily were briefly sent.

Mary's admission to the workhouse seems to be after she had given birth to her daughter. The reason for this is not clear, although it was not uncommon for young girls to enter the workhouse to give birth and to leave a few weeks later, this is not clear from the record of admissions.

At the time of the 1851 census, Mary was still unmarried and is shown as a dressmaker living with her parents and Emily E, her daughter, now aged 10, who is described as a scholar, at Boreham Road, Wartling.

On 16 October 1853 when she was 35, Mary married James Billeness, a bricklayer from Wartling, at Wartling Parish Church. The marriage was witnessed by William Veness, her brother, Sarah Veness, her sister and Mary Veness presumably either George's wife (chapter 6) or Jonathan's wife (chapter 8) (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1853 Hailsham 2b 133).

James Billeness, the son of William Billeness, labourer, and Esther was baptised at Wartling Parish Church on 18 February 1827, and was some nine years his wife's junior. Whilst William was born locally in Wartling, census returns indicate that Esther was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire.

In 1861 James and Mary and family were living at 29 Turnpike Road, Wartling.

By 1871 they had moved to Comphurst, Wartling and were living next door to sister Sarah. At that stage the family consisted of:

  • James Billeness, head, aged 44, bricklayer, born Wartling
  • Mary Billeness, wife, aged 52, born Wartling
  • Joseph Veness, brother-in-law, unmarried, aged 40, labourer, Born Herstmonceux
  • Emily Edmonds, daughter, married, aged 30, born Wartling
  • Mary Jane Veness, granddaughter (Emily's daughter), aged 12, scholar, born Wartling
  • Sarah Jane Edmonds, granddaughter, aged 7, born Wartling
  • Frank Joseph Edmonds, grandson, aged 5, born Wartling
  • Emily Edmonds, granddaughter, aged 2, born Wartling.

´┐╝This is the only mention I have seen of a brother Joseph. He would have been born around 1831, a year after Joseph and Fanny's last known child was born (chapter 4). I suspect he may have been some other relative. Relations were not always referred to in the same way as they are nowadays. I can find no trace of him in any of the other censuses.

Mary Billeness died aged 68 and was buried on 27 August 1885 at Herstmonceux Parish Church (Reg Gen Sept Qtr 1885 Hailsham 2b 48).

Emily Edmonds nee Veness

Emily Edmonds was baptised on 21 June 1840 at Wartling Parish Church, the daughter of Mary Veness (Reg Gen June Qtr 1840 Hailsham 7 300).

At the time of the 1851 census Emily was a 10 year old scholar living with her mother, Mary, and grandparents at Boreham Road, Wartling.

In 1861 census Emily, aged 20 was unmarried and living with her mother Mary and stepfather James Billeness at 29 Turnpike Road, Wartling, but she had given birth to a daughter two years previously and was pregnant with a second.

  • Mary Jane Veness was baptised on 7 February 1859 at Wartling Parish Church (Reg Gen March Qtr 1859 Hailsham 2b 61)
  • Eliza Veness was baptised on 6 July 1861 at Wartling Parish Church (Reg Gen Sept Qtr 1861 Hailsham 2b 57).

On both occasions Emily is simply described as a single woman, a much kinder description of the circumstances than when she herself was baptised back in 1840.

On 9 October 1861 an Eliza Veness, infant was buried at Wartling Parish Church (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1861 Hailsham 2b 37) and this was presumably Emily's daughter.

By 1871 Emily had married Frank Edmonds, a miller. This was Frank's second marriage and Emily took on two step-children,

  • Sarah Kate Edmonds, then aged 7 and
  • Joseph Frank Edmonds (Frank Joseph in the 1871 census return), then aged 5. Joseph Frank had been baptised on 23 October 1867 at Wartling Parish Church.

In addition, by 1871, Frank and Emily had a daughter of their own, Emily Edmonds. baptised on 7 February 1869 at Wartling Parish Church (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1868 Hailsham 2b 78).

At the time the census was taken Emily and her children and stepchildren were back living with her parents at Comphurst and there is no mention of her husband Frank.

Frank reappears by 1881 by which time he and Emily had had two further sons,

  • Charles Albert Edmonds. Born 10 July 1873 in Herstmonceux
  • George Ernest Edmonds. Born 1876 in Herstmonceux. 

At the time, 51 year old Frank was a miller grinder, his 15 year old son Joseph was a grocers shipman and the remaining children were scholars.

Frank (Francis) Edmonds died later that same year, aged just 51 years old (Reg Gen June Qtr 1881 Hailsham 2b 54).

By 1891 Mary and her family living at Chapel Row, Herstmonceux next daughter to Mary's brother and Emily's Uncle George (chapter 6). The entry includes

  • Emily Edmonds, head, aged 50, widow, a charwoman born Wartling
  • Emily Edmonds, daughter, aged 22 born Wartling,
  • Charles Albert Edmonds, son, aged 17, gardener, born Hailsham
  • George Ernest Edmonds, son, aged 15, an agricultural labourer, born Herstmonceux
  • Emily Elphick, granddaughter, aged 4 born Herstmonceux (see below)

Sarah Kate Edmonds was a domestic servant working for Robert Wright, a brewer and malster and living with him and his family at The Brewery, Gardner Street, Sussex. Joseph Frank Edmonds had died in 1887 aged 21 years old (Reg Gen June Qtr 1887 Hailsham 2b 55).

In 1901 Emily was living in Windmill Hill, Wartling, the entry reads

  • Emily Edmonds, head, widow, aged 60, born Wartling
  • Charles A Edmonds, son, aged 27, single, market gardener working on own account, born Hailsham,
  • George E Edmonds, son, aged 25, single, domestic groom, born Herstmonceux,
  • Emily Edmonds, daughter, aged 32, single, born Wartling and paralysed from birth
  • Thomas F Edmonds, grandson, aged 8, born Eastbourne and
  • Mary K Hills, servant, aged 13.

Thomas Frank Edmonds was the son of Frank's daughter Sarah Kate Edmonds. He was born on 6 August 1892 at 5 Sea View Terrace, Latimer Road, Eastbourne No details of the father are given. (Reg Gen Sept Qtr 1892 Eastbourne 2b 85).

In 1911 Emily, aged 70 was living with her son George at Beacon Green, Windmill Hill, Sussex. Also at the address was her daughter Emily and grandson, George's nephew, Frank Edmonds. Also visiting was 12 year old Ethel Hills, born Eastbourne.´┐╝

Emily Edmonds died in 1916 aged 76 (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1916 Hailsham 2b 138)

The following is known about Emily's children:

  • Mary Jane Elphick nee Edmonds/Veness

Mary Jane Veness was baptised on 7 February 1859, at Wartling Parish Church, the daughter of Emily Veness.

In 1861 and 1871 Mary was living with her mother Emily and grandparents Mary and James Billeness

On 9 December 1878 Mary Jane Edmonds married Walter Elphick, a labourer from Herstmonceux, the son of Walter Elphick, at Wartling Parish Church. The marriage was witnessed by Francis Edmonds, Sarah Kate Edmonds and Sarah Elphick. Francis was probably Mary's step-father and Sarah Kate, her step sister (Reg Gen Dec Qtr Hailsham 1878 2b 165).

Walter and Mary had five children: 

  • Alfred George Elphick. Baptised 11 November 1879 at Herstmonceux (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1879 Hailsham 2b 91)
  • Walter Frank Elphick. Born 20 June 1881. Baptised 7 August 1881 at Herstmonceux,
  • Mary Ann Elphick. Born 17 February 1884 at Herstmonceux
  • Alice Elphick. Baptised 10 June 1888 at Herstmonceux
  • Kate Elphick. Baptised 23 August 1891 at Herstmonceux.

In 1881 Walter and Mary Jane were living at Herstmonceux Park, Herstmonceux. Walter, 26 was a shepherd. Their eldest son Alfred was just a year old.

By 1891, the family were living at Cavenden Farm, Lower Road, Herstmonceux. Walter, aged 36, is an agricultural labourer as are his sons, 11 year old George Alfred and 9 year old Walter Frank! Their daughter Emily, aged 4 appears to have been staying with Mary Jane's mother Emily at the time the census was taken.

Mary Ann Elphick died in 1893 aged 9 years old (Reg Gen March Qtr 1893 Hailsham 2b 69)

In 1901 the remaining family was living at Brick House Farm, Herstmonceux. Walter was a farmer working on own account at home. Of their children Walter, Alice and Kate were at home. They were still at Brick House Farm in 1911. Only daughter Kate remained at home.

Walter Elphick of Springfield Farm, Warbleton died on 27 January 1926. Probate was granted to Mary Jane Elphick, widow and Walter Frank Elphick, farmer. 

Walter and Mary Jane's son Alfred George Elphick married Nellie Wheeler in 1899 in Lewes (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1899 Lewes 2b 411). In 1901 "George" was a 21 year old brewers drayman, living at 2 Oxford Terrace, Heathfield. By 1911 they were living at Merton Cottage, Western Road, Jarvis Brook, Uckfield and 31 year old Alfred George Elphick was a railway signal porter. Alfredof 3 Park View,  George and Nellie had two children:

  • Frederick Edward George Elphick. Born 5 November 1901 in Heathfield. Frederick married Alice Hester Harber in 1924 in Cuckfield. In 1939 they were living at 64 Railway Avenue, Bogner Regis with their son Kenneth G Elphick, born May 1928. Frederick was a railway signalman. Frederick died in 1978 in Crawley.  Alice Hester Elphick died in 1987 in Chichester. 
  • Nellie Valentyne Elphick. Born 1904. Nellie died in 1919 in Cuckfield. 

Alfred George Elphick died in 1918 in Cuckfield. 

Walter and Mary Jane's son Walter Frank Elphick married Beatrice Charlotte Trigwell in 1907 in Lewes (Reg Gen March Qtr 1907 Lewes 2b 258). In 1911 they were living at Rocks Farm, Bodle Street where 29 year old Walter was a farm worker. They had a daughter Irene Marion Elphick, who was born in 1909. Irene married Robert F Burchett in 1928. In 1939 they were living at Gardener Street, Herstmonceux where Walter was a gardeners labourer. Beatrice Charlotte Elphick of 3 Park View, Herstmonceux, married woman died on 14 March 1958. Walter Frank Elphick of 3 Park View, Herstmonceux died on 20 October 1975

Nothing more is known about Alice Elphick or Kate Elphick.

  • Emily Edmonds

Emily Edmonds was baptised on 7 February 1869 at Wartling Parish Church, the daughter of Frank and Emily Edmonds (Reg Gen Dec Qtr 1868 Hailsham 2b 78).

In 1891 Emily was staying with her grandmother Mary Billeness at Comphurst, Wartling. In 1901 she was living with her widowed mother Emily and in 1911 they were both living with her brother Frank. The 1901 census indicates that Emily had been paralysed from birth.

Emily Edmonds died in 1916 aged 47 years (Reg Gen Sept Qtr 1916 Hailsham 2b 110). 

  • Charles Albert Edmonds and Minnie Jane Dennes

Charles Albert Edmonds was born on 10 July 1873 and baptised on 31 August 1873 at Herstmonceux, the son of Francis Edmonds and Emily. 

Charles married Minnie Jane Dennes in 1907. 

In 1911 they were living at Gardner Street, Herstmonceux, where 37 year old Charles was a domestic gardener.

In 1939 Charles and Minnie were living at Bank Side, Herstmonceux where Charles was a "jobbing gardener"

  • George Ernest Edmonds

George Ernest Edmonds was baptised on 30 April 1876 at Herstmonceux, the son of Francis Edmonds and Emily.

In 1911 George, aged 35 and single, was a domestic groom living at Beacon Green, Windmill Hill, Sussex with his widowed mother Emily, aged 70, his sister Emily and his nephew (Thomas) Frank Edmonds. 

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