Harriet Mary Lawrence was the registered name of a daughter born at home at 14 South Square, Grays Inn, London, England. She slipped into this world on March 9, 1875, child of Frank Thomas Lawrence, a student at law, and his wife Isabel Campbell. Harriet missed the stigma of being an illegitimate daughter by 78 days. Isabel Campbell, more than five months pregnant, finally married Frank Thomas Lawrence on December 22, 1874.
Harriet Mary Lawrence is my Grandfathers oldest sister. Our family knew nothing about his female siblings and very little about the rest of Grandfathers life before he immigrated to Canada at the age of 18 in 1889.
In order to find out about Grandfathers life and family, the research was gathered from civil and church records. These records are very factual. They have no heart. They have no emotions. They are the facts as put down in the required records. It is up to us to see past the hard, cold facts to try to imagine the everyday life she might have led.
The first census that recorded Harriet Mary Lawrence was in the 1881 United Kingdom census of England and Wales. The family was living at 21 Berners Street in Marylebone, a district of the city of London, England. She was 6 years old and her name was listed as ‘Harriet Mary'. Household members included an older brother, Douglas age 7; younger brothers, Lester age 3 and Frank, age 2, her mother, Isabel and her father, Frank Thomas, who was a barrister in practice and a tutor for undergraduates of London University. There were five military students boarding with the family as well as a resident cook and a housemaid. Her father's father, David Lawrence, age 62, married, was listed as a visitor. Her eldest brother, Archibald, age 10, was not at home.
On the 1891 census her name is listed as 'Harriett M L Lawrence' age 16, single, a scholar, born in London, England and a visitor in the household of Howard Houlder a 'ship agent broker' and his wife Mary M. Holder who resided in Croydon, Surrey, England. Meanwhile, Harriet’s parents were living in the village of Holborn, London. This census is the first hint that her name changed from her registered birth certificate.
The 1901 census lists her as 'Harriet M A Lawrence' daughter, age 26, single, occupation as 'actress'. She is living with her mother, Isabel, brothers Lester, a journalist and Frank, a clerk. Their address is #6 Blandford Square, St. Marylebone, London. One can only imagine what the life of an actress entailed. In the day and age of King Edward, most respectable young women were definitely married by the age of twenty six!
Jump ahead 10 years to the 1911 census. There is a Harriett Lawrence living with her ‘uncle’ John Davis working as a 'house keeper’. She is 37 years old which means her birth year is 1875... that is correct. Her great grandmother’s maiden name is Davis. John Davis was born in London and could well be a relative. So far there is not another Harriet that shows up on the 1911 census. Is this our Harriet? Could be. More research is needed!
The War years are upon the Lawrence family and every other family in the United Kingdom. Harriet's brothers enlisted to fight in the war to end all wars. Archibald joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Douglas and Frank enlisted in different regiments of the British Army. Lester headed to the continent to become a war correspondent for Reuters News Service.
Harriet wrote regularly to her brother Archie from Edinburgh where she had joined her sister, Isabel, who was teaching there in a girls school. These letters were the source of frustration in determining the members of the Frank Thomas Lawrence family. In all of the notes made by Archibald in his war diary, he referred to his sister Lorna.
Who was his sister Lorna? There was no evidence of another child, but, clearly Archie had a beloved sister Lorna who regularly sent him parcels, newspapers and letters. It took years of research clear the frustration. Then, her death certificate was found! The death certificate refers to Lorna Mary Harriet Lawrence as the name of the deceased. Clearly the informant, who was her great niece, was not familiar with her given names and in what order they appeared on her birth certificate. Not an unusual occurrence in any given family, but very frustrating to a researcher a century later who can only go by the official records. Archie did indeed have a sister Lorna whose registered given name was Harriet Mary!!!! The two are one. That problem is solved.
The war years and those that followed were hard for Lorna. She lost her brothers Douglas age 44 and Frank age 39 in 1918 in the last year of the war. In 1919 Archie returned to his family in Canada. She would never see him again. Her father died in 1924 at the age of 80. The Lawrence's mourned, along with thousands of families, the loss of the men in their lives. Perhaps Lorna mourned a man that should have been in her life! Lorna and her younger sister Isabel, died spinsters.
The dirty thirties were equally as hard. Her brother Lester, age 56, died of cancer in September 1933, her Mother died at the age of 81 in January 1932 and her Aunt Fanny died in June 1931 at the ripe old age of 83. In a period of fifteen years Lorna lost six close family members.
According to London, England Electoral Registrars Lorna lived with her bachelor brother Lester in 1929, 1930 up to his death in 1933.
In 1940 Lorna 65 years old, is living in the county of Lancashire. Her address in the phone book is 30 Kingswood Drive, Crosby, Lancashire in the 'Central Exchange'. This agrees with an address in one of her brothers diaries.
In the following letter, sent to Archie in 1950, Lorna refers to 'being back again among old friends in London”. It would seem that she and her sister Isabel, who never married, were living somewhere else and had returned to London. Perhaps Isabel had retired from teaching and choose to retire in London. In 1950 Isabel was 69 years old and Lorna was 75.
This letter sent to Archie on January 8th 1950 places Lorna [Harriet] and Isabel living in London at 409 Hawkins House, Dolphin Square, London.
The letter reads:
Here is the list of the "heirlooms' which were collected for packing on Jan 5th & should reach in about three weeks. Such a collection of junk but I hope you will get a laugh out of them anyway. Isabel made the list & fixed the dates & they are sent in "anticipation of our demise". However we have no intention of demising yet so you need not worry. I believe you are notified & will have to say you know what they are & why they are sent to you. We had to get licenses form the Bank of England & the Board of Trade, I don't think your government bothers about such things but of course they must not be sold, though no one in the world could want to buy them. The green vinaigrette was Mothers, all that is left of what once was her dressing case. We are much enjoying our cosy little flat & being back again among old friends in London & its very pleasant being so close to the river. We are just on the Embankment about five minutes from Chelsea Hospital Gardens, you remember the old army Pensioners. We often walk along to Chelsea the old Chelsea Church where Sir Thomas Moore was buried, was wiped out by German bombing but they are cleaning up & rebuilding. We had a quiet Christmas, we went to the Abbey for the morning service, the choir signing was heavenly. I expect you were all over the family parties for the moment. Have you had Br...h's book Isabel sent you for Christmas? Hope to hear from you soon that you are all well & happy.
Love from Isabel & self Your affectionate sister Lorna
The letter was accompanied by two pages listing the 'Family relics’!!! Thank you Lorna and Isabel for sending them and the relic list to your brother, our grandfather. We would never have been able to piece together the family history or any proof our Virtue ancestors had not the portraits been among the so called 'relics'!!!
Lorna Mary Harriet Lawrence died at age 96 on 14 July 1971 in the Edenbridge War Memorial Hospital, just south of London. Lorna died of “Hypostatic Pneumonia” and “Acute Parotitis”. Her sister Isabel was a patient at the same hospital and died five months later on December 19 1971. Isabel died one month after her 90th birthday. Someday as more UK census records become available we may find where the sisters lived between 1950 and 1971 and how long they were patients in the hospital in Edenbridge.
Even though Lorna caused a lot of extra research because she used a different name, it was worth the effort track her life and piece together the hints to form the story of the sister responsible for keeping the heirlooms in the Lawrence family. Archie was the only sibling to marry and have children. For now, we can be glad that we have a small understanding of our grandfathers oldest sister, Lorna Harriett Mary, who clearly loved him and knew the importance of family.