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Thomas William Hankinson (1830-1894)

Great grandfather of Henry Austin Lane - Generation 4.


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Thomas was the only child born to his parents in Shoreditch, Middlesex. His father was an auctioneer and appraiser, and since he lived with his family in London's East End, it is likely that he conducted his business in local public houses and inns rather than in established auction houses.


Thomas was raised by his parents until his father's death, after which time he and his mother were left in an impoverished condition. His mother abandoned Thomas in the Hampstead Workhouse, and within 6 months was working as a silk winder, had reverted to using her maiden surname, and was living her life without him. In short, at the age of 10 years, poor Thomas was left to fend for himself.

Workhouses were originally established for the instruction of youth; the encouragement of industry; the relief of want; the support of old age and the comfort of infirmity and pain. After the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in Parliament, the emphasis moved away from the relief of destitution to the deterrence of idleness. The workhouse as an institution became widely feared and was used as a last resort by those who were too sick or impoverished to take care of themselves.


The buildings themselves were deliberately designed to appear unwelcoming, and the culture and regime within them was harsh and degrading. Victorian morality demanded that the poor did not beg on the streets, but it also believed that the impoverished were idle and irresponsible. On entering the workhouse, family members were separated, their personal items taken from them, they were forced to wear a prison-like uniform and were required to fully comply with the institution’s rules and regulations however unreasonable. The advantages were that children could learn a trade, and free healthcare was available to all inmates.


Worthy of note, is the fact that Thomas’s mother never re-married, and ended her days living in the ‘Brewers Alms Houses’, Mile End Old Town, Middlesex. This was a group of six alms houses established by the will of John Baker (died 1818), for six poor women aged over 50, until they were destroyed in the bombing during World War II (1939-1945).


Thomas worked as a cordwainer (boot and shoe maker), using skills he acquired during his formative years spent in the Hampstead Workhouse. He practised this trade for the rest of his life. There is no knowing how Thomas was affected by the death of his father, followed by his mother's betrayal and the degradation of living in a workhouse.


He was first married to Caroline Culling, a glover, with whom he had eight children. Like Thomas, she had spent some of her childhood living in a workhouse following her father’s untimely death, however, she was not abandoned by her mother. As a couple, they lived with their family in staunchly working class districts in the East End of London. Although not well off, with the exception of their youngest son Richard Frederick Hankinson, their children thrived.


After 24 years of marriage, Caroline died from fibrous peritonitis (probably caused by a ruptured appendix). She was 47 years old, and left Thomas on his own to care for eight children aged between 3 and 23 years.


Through his daughter Amelia Augusta Hankinson, Thomas met Elizabeth Martha Worrall. Since she too had been widowed in 1873, and left with a large family to support, it was fortuitous that they met. This enabled their families to come together and support each other. It's almost impossible to imagine how chaotic life must have been for these two families, with fifteen people living under the same roof.


Two years later, Thomas and Elizabeth shared a double-wedding ceremony with Elizabeth’s son Henry Barnaby Bartlett Lane, and Thomas’s daughter Amelia Augusta Hankinson, with each couple acting as witnesses for the other.


Thomas and Elizabeth worked side-by-side, and were married for 19 years until Thomas died from influenza at the age of 63 years. Elizabeth outlived Thomas by 15 years. Following his demise, she lived with her son Henry Barnaby Bartlett Lane and worked with him as a tailoress until her death from bladder cancer at the age of 80 years.

Courageous Cordwainer

Thomas's life had barely begun

and prospects he had none

when a workhouse became his home

and he found himself very much alone.

As a cordwainer he was trained

and in that profession remained

supporting eight children and a wife

until his beloved lost her life.

Another lady and her family came along

once again making him strong

as his grieving was thwarted

and a family of fifteen he supported.

© Mel Hamson, 2018

Note: If you would like to know more, or have information that improves this history, we would love to hear from you.

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