In May 2023, Paul Foreman contacted the Badsey Society concerning his Knight ancestors. Paul’s father, Malcolm Foreman (1931-2010), by the time of his death, had accumulated a vast amount of material relating to his mother, born Ada Knight in Badsey in 1898, and his aunt, Daisy Knight, 19 months younger, who had both been sent to an orphanage after the death of their mother. Using documentary sources provided by the orphanage that the girls were sent to, combined with information from Badsey records, this is the story of Ada and Daisy Knight.
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Knight family background
On 21st November 1894, a young couple, both aged 20, married at St James’ Church, Badsey. They were Badsey-born Henry Knight and Ann-Maria Wilkes of Stretton on Fosse, Warwickshire. Henry was born at Badsey on 7th June 1874, the seventh of eight children of Richard Knight and his wife, Jane (née Mowbray). Henry came from a long line of Badsey and Aldington Knights, his ancestor, Joseph Knight (4xgreat-grandfather), having moved to Aldington at the end of the 17th century. Anna-Maria was born on 15th April 1874, the third of nine children of William and Elizabeth Wilkes.
Henry and Ann-Maria settled in Badsey and had four daughters: Jane Elizabeth (1895-1971), Violet Ellen (1896-1960), Ada Winifred (1898-1973) and Daisy May (1899-1971). Henry was a market gardener and they lived at Cotswold Terrace, Badsey (present-day No 7 Sands Lane).
Tragedy hit the family when Ann-Maria died in March 1903 in Evesham Nursing Home of pulmonary tuberculosis, aged just 28, leaving Henry with four little girls under the age of eight.
Unable to cope
It seems that, after Ann-Maria’s death, Henry turned to drink and was unable to look after his young family. His older sisters, Sarah Jane Hutchings and Emma Collett, with the aid of some friends, looked after the girls. After three years, this was becoming a considerable strain on the family. Documents obtained by Henry’s grandson, Malcolm, reveal that in 1906, the Knight family began considering placing his youngest daughter, Daisy (then aged seven) in an orphanage. The orphanage in question was the New Orphan Houses at Ashley Down, Bristol.
The first document, a medical certificate confirming good health, dated 10th September 1906, confirms that Daisy was in good health. A sad letter written by her aunt, Sarah Jane Hutchings (Henry’s older sister), two months later to Mr Bergin, head of the orphanage, tells a sorry tale:
I am writing to ask you if you could take into your home a little orphan girl age 6 years, her mother is dead and her father drinks so much that he don’t care anything about his little children. He was left with 4 little girls and kind friends have took to the other 3 but there is still this one little girl wanting a home very bad and unless you can take her in, I don’t know what we can do with her. I am her aunt, but am a widow myself with 4 children to keep of my own, so I cannot keep her myself or I should be pleased to do so but I have to work for my own. It is a sad case so I hope you will do what you can for her – as unto the Lord and forgive me for writing to you as I know you have a lot of little ones to provide for. I should not have wrote had it not been a needful case. I should be glad to have a line back by return if possible to say about her. Believe me.
Sarah Jane Hutchings
Auntie Sarah to all the 4 girls
Richard Harvey of the New Orphan Houses responded on 1st December. Albert Wyles, fruit grower of Netherfield, Badsey, wrote a note to Mr Harvey on 5th December 1906, revealing that the family now wished to place Ada in care as well as Daisy:
Application for admission of a girl named Knight
Mrs Hutchings of Badsey, the aunt of the child, has put into my hands your letter of 1st inst, that I might reply to same, and endorse and recommend the application. This I now do.
The father is a drink victim. Many attempts have been made to convert him from his evil ways, but without permanent success at present. His wife (the child’s mother), a humble sincere Christian woman, died in 1903. There are 4 children, all girls, viz:
Jane aged 11 years 3 months
Violet aged 9 years 10 months
Ada aged 8 years 10 months
Daisy aged 6 years 3 months
The relatives are not in a position to maintain them, and they (including the father) are now desirous that the 2 youngest should be admitted to your homes if possible.
The various points named in your letter (1, 2, 3, 4 & 5) have all been considered and wuld be gladly complied with.
I am not in any way related to, or connected with, the family, but for the children’s sake I would endeavour to bring them to Bristol myself.
Yours very respectfully
Richard Harvey responded promptly requesting the following information: marriage certificate of parents, birth certificate of each child, certificate of the mother’s death and doctor’s certificate of the health and vaccination of each child. Mr Wyles was also asked to respond to the following questions:
What is the employment of the father? “He is a gardener – out of work – a slave to strong drink.”
How have the children been provided for since the mother’s death? “Partly by the aunts – who are not able to continue to help – partly by other friends a little, at irregular intervals from the father.”
Where, and with whom have the children been living since the death? “Chiefly with the aunts, one, Daisy, lately with another respectable woman in Badsey (Mrs Wm Keyte, Badsey Mill).”
Have the children any particular bodily infirmity, and if so, what is it? “None.”
Are the children subject to incontinence of urine? “No.”
What are the exact names and addresses of the relatives, and what are their employments?
Henry Knight, address unknown, father, gardener out of work
Charles Knight, Badsey, uncle, gardener
Mrs Sarah Jane Hutchings, Badsey, aunt (father’s side), widow
Mrs Emma Collett, Badsey, aunt (father’s side), married woman
Albert Wyles returned the forms on 12th December with the following note:
Applications – Ada and Daisy Knight
I return the forms and send the certificates herewith, with the exception of the “father’s consent” form. We have not his address at the present moment. He wrote from Sevenoaks in Kent, 10 or 12 days ago, expressing his desire that the children might be admitted into your home – but he said he was leaving Sevenoaks in search of work, as he had none. So soon as his sisters hear again from him, they will immediately send him the form to sign.
PS – The doctor who kindly examined the children has mentioned a question in regard to their heads which is I understand having immediate attention.
The address of Henry Knight’s new lodgings at a public house in Sevenoaks (Rock and Fountain, Hibs Hill) was soon forthcoming and he wrote the necessary letter giving permission for his two youngest daughters to be admitted to the orphanage. This was duly forwarded to the authorities. On 28th December a medical certificate was sent for Ada and confirmation that she had been re-vaccinated as requested.
Confirmation of acceptance at the Orphanage
Confirmation was sent by the orphanage on 29th December 1906 that they would admit the girls, on condition that the relatives agreed to resume charge of them if necessary. Henry Knight, Sarah Jane Hutchings, Emma Collett, Charles Knight and Albert Wyles all signed to this effect.
There was a request for Daisy to be re-vaccinated and also, it seems, a request for further information about Daisy’s care. Albert Wyles responded on 15th January 1907:
Replying to the other portion of your letter, the father is a drunkard and a wanderer – he left three of the children with relatives or friends who have cared for them without payment. The fourth (and youngest) child, Daisy, he left in the carge of a respectable (but poor) old woman named Mrs Wm Keyte, Badsey Mill, near Evesham, promising to pay her 2/6 weekly towards the child’s support. This promise he has not kept well, and the payments are in arrears. Trusting that you will soon be able to admit the 2 children.
After Albert Wyles sent his response on 15th January 1907, there appears to have been no communication for a few weeks. He sent a chasing note on 2nd February. At last came definite confirmation, sent on 7th February, that the girls could be admitted. Ada and Daisy had to be brought to reception at New Orphan House II at 3 pm precisely on Thursday 14th February. They were to be accompanied by a near relative or a responsible person and they should come with all their clothes. It was the girls’ aunt, Sarah Jane Hutchings, who took them to Bristol.
Life at the New Orphan House
Ada and Daisy were admitted to New Orphan House II in February 1907. Although they were known as new, they were not that new, having been built between 1849 and 1870 by the Prussian evangelist George Müller to show the world that God not only heard, but answered, prayer. They were also known as the Müller Homes and were situated in the Ashley Down district of north Bristol. The five Houses held 2,050 children at any one time and some 17,000 passed through their doors before the buildings were sold to Bristol City Council in 1958.
Initially, only children bereft of both parents were admitted. By the end of the 19th century, the equivalent of one and a half houses were standing empty and the decision was taken to start admitting "partial" orphans, ie those who had lost only one parent and the survivor was unable to cope. It was on this basis that Ada and Daisy Knight were admitted.
The girls wore long green and blue plaid cloaks in cold weather, and a shepherd's plaid shawl in warm weather. Their summer walking out dresses were lilac cotton with a small cape. A straw bonnet was worn all year, to which was attached a green and white check ribbon for tying the bonnet on. Everyday wear consisted of navy cotton dresses with white polka dots. Girls up to the age of 14 wore blue-checked gingham pinafores indoors, after this they added aprons and were promoted to "House Girls". As part of their domestic training, the girls made their own clothes.
Boys left Ashley Down at the age of 14, while girls of the same age moved from the classroom to spend their final three years in what was, effectively, a domestic science school. They helped with the cleaning, cooking, laundering, dressmaking, and parlour-maid duties, while others helped in the nursery and infirmary. These girls were paid 6d a week, although threepence of this was banked on their behalf to build up a cash sum to be given on their eventual departure.
Discharge from the Orphanage
On 25th November 1914, having spent nearly eight years at the orphanage, Ada Knight was discharged. Now aged 16, she had been given a position as general servant to Mrs Lefeaux of Tintagel, Devonshire Road, Sutton, Surrey.
Daisy left the orphanage on 1st August 1916, discharged to her eldest sister, Jane Knight, who lived with Mrs Geden at West View, Badsey. Jane said that she wished to provide a Christian education for her sister. Jane had remained in Badsey throughout her childhood and it appears that, once she left the care of her aunts, she went to live with Henry and Sarah Ann Geden, a childless couple. Jane was certainly living there by the time of the 1911 census. The Gedens were staunch members of the Badsey Society of Friends Meeting House in Chapel Street, Badsey. In 1918, Jane married Walter William Blake who was Mrs Geden’s nephew and moved into a house on Bretforton Road. Following Sarah Ann Geden’s death in 1929, Walter Blake inherited West View and the Blakes lived there for the rest of their lives.
What happened to Henry Knight?
Having moved to Kent towards the end of 1906, Henry made a new life for himself in the county. He married again in 1907, to Rose Arnold, and they had a son, Henry Victor (1910-2003), born at Farningham on 8th March 1910. Henry Junior was baptised in the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Farningham, at the end of July. At the time of the 1911 census, they were living at Button Street, Farningham, together with Violet, Henry’s second daughter from his first marriage. Henry was working as a farm labourer for a fruit grower. Violet married Henry W Brown in 1920 and moved out of the family home. She had four children, was widowed in 1933 and died in the Bromley district in 1960.
Henry and Rose went on to have five more children: Arthur Lloyd George (1912-1987), Wilfred Garnet (1913-2009), Reginald James (1917-1974), Elsie Rose (1919-1983) and Albert Frederick (1921-1992). By the time of Wilfred’s birth in 1913, they had moved to Longfield Hill, Kent, and by the time of Reginald’s birth in 1918 they had moved to Hextable, Kent. They were living at 3 Princes Road, Hextable, at the time of the 1921 census (Albert was born a few months after the census). Henry was out of work at the time. His occupation was given as builder’s labourer and he had last worked for W Blay of Spital Street, Dartford.
By 1939, Henry and Rose were living at 55 Rollo Road, Hextable, with their four youngest children (their two eldest children, Henry Junior and Arthur, had both married).
Henry is thought to have died in the Dartford district of Kent (this was the registration district for Hextable) at the beginning of 1948 and Rose is thought to have died in 1956.
Ada Knight’s life after leaving the orphanage
On leaving the orphanage in November 1914, Ada went into service with Mrs Lefeaux of Tintagel, Devonshire Road, Sutton, Surrey. Over 6½ years later, she was still with the Lefeaux family. The 1921 census records Ada as working as a general domestic servant for Leslie and Ada Lefeaux and their eight-year-old daughter, Muriel. Mr Lefeaux worked for the Bank of England and they were now living at Seabrooke, Woodcote Road, Wallington, Surrey.
On 19th April 1923 at Christ Church, Croydon, Ada married Samuel (Sam) Foreman. They had two sons and a daughter who died in infancy: Brian Samuel (1926-1997), Malcolm (1931-2010) and Elizabeth A (1937-1938). The birth of her eldest son, Brian, was registered in the Evesham area in 1926, so he was probably born in Badsey. For a time in 1931, Ada Foreman was living in the home of her sister, Jane Blake, of West View, Badsey, as revealed by the admissions records for Badsey Council School. Brian enrolled at the school on 13th April 1931. Ada’s second son, Malcolm, was born in Badsey on 21st May 1931. This was probably at the time when Sam, who was a builder, who was building a home for his family at 53 Windborough Road, Carshalton.
They were living there at the time of the 1939 register, though it would appear that Samuel was living in a separate location in Carshalton. According to his grandson, Paul, Samuel left the family during or soon after the end of the Second World War. He was a local character, known in the pubs and clubs of wartime Surrey. As a young man, Paul met a number of old guys who recalled Sam with a mixture of amusement and fondness. He was certainly a drinker. Ada was a traditionalist, refusing to accept marriage separation, and told everyone that Sam had died (on Malcolm’s wedding certificate, it refers to his father as deceased).
For six months in 1940-1942, Malcolm was an evacuee in Badsey, again staying with his Aunt Jane at West View. He entered Badsey Council School on 16th September 1940 having previously been at Stanley Road School, Carshalton. He left Badsey School on 29th May 1941 to return home to Windborough Road.
Brian and Malcolm were estranged from their father until they had families of their own, at which point they regained contact with Sam in the late 1960s, then living in Seaford, East Sussex. They discovered that he had married again and had two grown-up children. They remember him as a loving and caring old man who was thrilled to be reacquainted with his sons and meet his grandchildren after a long estrangement.
Ada died at Abbeyfield Old People’s Home, Woodcote Road, Carshalton, on 3rd November 1973, and was buried six days later at Sutton.
Daisy Knight’s life after leaving the orphanage
Immediately after leaving the orphanage, Daisy went to live with her eldest sister, Jane, in Badsey. How long she stayed there is not known – possibly until Jane married in 1918. Daisy is next heard of in 1920 when she married Jesse Charles Sandles in Bromley, Kent. Possibly Daisy had gone to Kent to be with her father and met Bromley-born Jesse there. Jesse was a cleaner of engines for South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company. At the time of the 1921 census, they were living at 6 Fulchers Buildings, St Mary Cray, with their first-born child, Grace. Daisy and Charles went on to have four more children. By 1939 they lived at Beddington and Wallingford, Jesse now working as a painter decorator. Jesse died in 1961 in Surrey and Daisy died in 1971 in Surrey.
Maureen Spinks, June 2023
- Information for this article has come from Ada Knight’s grandson, Paul Foreman, primarily using orphanage records obtained by his late father, Malcolm Foreman.
- This has been supplemented by information from Badsey records and by access to sources on Ancestry and FindMyPast.