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Frank Henry Catley

Broken Families

Frank Henry Catley was born in Leeds in 1835, the fourth child of Robert and Ann Catley. After a period as a 'Cloth Dresser', Frank became a stone mason like his father Robert. He continued working with stone all his life, though his description of his occupation changed from Mason to Carver to Sculptor as the years went by.

In 1859 he married Elizabeth Wood, 2 years his senior. Elizabeth was born and brought up at Harewood in Yorkshire. Elizabeth's father Samuel was a joiner, possibly on the Harewood Estate.

Frank and Elizabeth had two daughters, Maria and Kate, both born in Yorkshire. At some point, between 1861 and 1871, the family moved to London.

Within the next 4 years the family had split apart. Frank appears to have abandoned Elizabeth and their children and gone off to Bury in Lancashire with a woman 14 years his junior. His new partner was Sarah Ann Wood. Despite having the same surname as Elizabeth, Sarah was born in Essex and her parents, John and Mary Wood, were also Essex born and bred.

Frank and Sarah were still together in 1881, Frank now describing himself as a sculptor, and boasting a servant and a boarder, whilst Sarah was described as his wife. I have found no trace of a marriage for the two. If there had been a marriage it would have been bigamous: Elizabeth was still alive.

Frank and Sarah went on to have 8 children. Their second child named, according to a family record, Frank Henry Catley, was registered as Frank Wood Catley, was "killed" at the age of 5 months.

Their youngest children were twins: a boy and a girl born in 1887. According to a family record, the boy was named Edward Grube Catley, although the registration of his birth gave his name simply as Edward Catley. Edward Grube was the name of a German engineer who was boarding with the family at the time of the 1881 census. He may have remained with them for several years, but I've found no documentary evidence for or against this.

Sarah died in 1888 at the early age of 39, just a year after the twins were born. The family quickly began to fall apart.

after Maud's mother died, Frank became a drunk, destitute and unable to care for his family. Grannie remembered watching him sitting in an empty house carving a scrap of soap into a cherub's head

By 1891 Frank's second family were scattered:

  • Frank was lodging at the Black Swan hotel in Peaseholm Green.
  • Maud was living with her father's eldest sister, Mary Ann Storey, a widow aged 70 who kept a lodging house. Maud, aged 16, was working as a domestic servant.
  • Ada, aged 13, was living with her maternal grandparents in Essex
  • George, aged 11, is known to have survived until about 1960, but has not yet been traced in the censuses.
  • Blanche, aged 9, is known to have survived: in 1901 she was working as a servant to Thomas and Elizabeth Senior, whose son was married to Blanche's sister Maud. I have not yet been able to find her in the 1891 census.
  • Ruth, aged 6, had been adopted by grocer William Stark and his wife Alice. In later censuses she appears as Nellie Stark. Proof that this is the same child can be found in her death registration in 1975 where both forms of name are shown with identical birth dates and reference codes.
  • I have not been able to trace the twins, Mary Ann and Edward in death records or censuses, so I don't yet know if they survived their mother. It is possible, as with Ruth, that one or both were adopted and their names changed.

Frank himself was "removed" from Sheffield in 1897 as destitute and taken to the Bury Union Workhouse where he died six months later.

What happened to the wife and daughters that Frank abandoned in London?

  • Elizabeth, his wife, found work as a nurse. In 1881 she was working as a nurse at the residence of the Rector of St Botolph's, in Devonshire Square, London. By 1891 she had moved to Chertsey, where she was a nurse at the Chertsey Union Workhouse. In both censuses she described herself as a widow. She clearly was not, but may have told her employers that she was widowed to help her get employment.
  • Maria was also working as a nurse in 1881 (aged 22). She had moved to Wallingford in Berkshire where she was a hospital attendant on the insane at Moulsford Asylum.
  • Kate, aged 17, was working as a servant at Carshalton in Surrey in 1881. By 1891 she was a pauper and an inhabitant of Lambeth Workhouse.


Thanks to Andrew Coulson for the family memories included in this account.