I’m not one to gossip but…
Lydia Ellen Druce was born into a farm labouring family in 1855 in Goring Heath, not far from Oxford, she had an older brother and a little sister. She went into service in Abingdon with her sister as cook and housemaid, and in 1876 she married Charles Mason in the Staines area, half way between Reading and London.
We don’t know the circumstances here, who are we to judge, but somewhere along the lines, Lydia left her husband Charles and “took up” with John Free, an engine driver in London. Maybe John knew of Lydia’s past, maybe he didn’t but they were living as husband and wife, and while they were living together in 1881, Lydia was going by her middle name of Ellen.
Lydia’s family in general didn’t seem to do too well with relationships, at the same as Lydia had left her husband to live with John, her father, it would appear, had left his home and his wife and was living in the workhouse in Bradfield as a widower while her mother was still living at the family home, although head of the household, she still kept her status as a married lady. Oh what scandal, I expect the ladies of the village dined out on the gossip behind net curtains for months when that little bit of information surfaced.
Meanwhile, in August of 1883, a “respectably dressed and ladylike woman” was causing more than just a few raised eyebrows elsewhere. The ladylike woman in question viewed a room for rent in Wakefield street, in London. After agreeing to take the rooms, the lady left, apparently to collect her luggage, but when she didn’t return the landlady went to inspect the rooms and found a baby girl of about two months old. John and Lydia Ellen must have been one of the two or three “respectable couples” who came forward to adopt the little girl as she was given the name Mable Free and registered in the same month.
Lydia finally married John in June of 1886 and although her previous husband Charles Mason was still alive, and very much alive until 1907, Lydia was registered as a widow. And so the three of them, John, Lydia and Mabel became a family.
How long the “happy family” lasted we’ll have to work out for ourselves, but it was at least until 1891 when Mable Clara was in school.
Did something go wrong during the next ten years ? Who knows ? In 1901, Lydia has once again reverted back to her middle name Ellen and is living with just Mabel in London but John is nowhere to be seen.
Mable Clara married Robert Tyler in 1907 and by 1911 they have two daughters of their own, in another twist though, Mabel’s father John is living with them on the 1911 census, and Lydia ? Well Lydia is Ellen again, and has moved back to her hometown of Goring where she’s working as a servant in a small household. Lydia Ellen has filled in the census form in 1911 saying she is widowed again, but with another surprise for the twitching net curtains, more details are asked for on the 1911 census, and Lydia lets slip that she has had two children from her former marriage, one child still alive, and one deceased.
Lydia Ellen leaves us with one more bizarre twist to her story, her final resting place was in Southampton in 1919.
Photos of Lydia Ellen Druce, John Thomas Free and Mabel Clara Free, thanks to Jeff Burbridge.
More from before : Fun, facts, and juicy bits from my “Family tree“.