Sad case of poverty and neglect at Weymouth 1896

A court case appeared in the local papers in March of 1896 of a family who were living in Weymouth at the time, it display the horrors of poverty and neglect that some families found themselves in during the Victorian period.

Lucy Eudora Stickley  had been born in the little village of  Milborne st Andrew in Dorset in 1857, daughter of Thomas and Mary, a labourer in the village.

In 1878 Lucy met and married  Walter Gunstone, an 18-year-old lad from Downton in Wiltshire. By the time of the 1881 census, the couple had moved to Christchurch where they were lodging with another large family. They had had two little lads, Reginald and Rosslyn, Dad Walter was working by then as a stone mason.

The next census, 1891 found the family back at Christchurch, by then they had had 4 more children, Lucy, Margaret, William and little Walter. all the children had been born in different places, showing perhaps that the family were itinerant, and moved where the work was to be found. But life wasn’t easy for the family, and it seems that Walter had been less than the perfect husband and father.

According to the details that came out in court, life hadn’t been kind to Lucy, her husband Walter was a violent man, and frequently beat her. In 1892 things had got so bad that he had been charged at Bournemouth with assaulting her, after having stripped her naked and beating her with a rope.

For this ‘little misdemenour’ he was fined 25/-.

At this stage, either Lucy had had enough and left her husband, or he had simply disappeared leaving her and the children homeless and penniless because Lucy entered the workhouse. While she was there Walter sent her a letter, informing her that he had found a younger, prettier girl down in Weymouth, who was keeping him as he was out of work, this rather gullible female made a pittance doing needlwork!

Walter, when he gave his evidence in the court case replied that most of those facts were true, but he hed been giving Lucy money…15/- a week in fact…(not sure whether to believe that one!)

Lucy must have somehow got herself out of the workhouse and made her own way down to Weymouth to find Walter, with 3 of her children, 12 year old Lucy Agnes Eudora, 8 year old William and 7 year old Walter. Lucy and her family were living at no 2 Adelaide Court, East Street, but perhaps ‘living’ is being a bit optimistic, they must have been on the point of starvation.


Someone must have brought the attention of the pitiful state of the children to the police. Daughter Lucy was brought to the police station before the Chief Constable under the Industrial Schools Act. So shocked was he with the state of Lucy that Dr Browning was sent for and she had to suffer the indignity of being examined in front of her mother, she was described as being vermin ridden, weak, pale and very thin, with disease of the legs (rickets?) from malnutrition.


Constables were then sent to the home to bring in the two boys who were also found to be in a filthy and neglected state from head to toe, Walter was thin and starved, and had bruises on him, William in an emaciated and neglected condition.The house deemed to be no fit place for anyone to live, their bed clothing being filthy, all they found foodwise in it was 3 pieces of bread and some butter. Lucy was sent to the East-street Girls Home, and the lads to Union Home.

Mum Lucy was hauled before the courts charged with neglect of her three children. Being found guilty, she was sentenced to three months in prison.

By the next census Mum Lucy was working as a laundry assistant in Bournemouth, no children were with her, and the next census, 1911, gives a little more information. By then she’s working as a live in servant at Dorchester, the information that she supplied on the form stated that she had given birth to 9 children in her time, 5 of whom had sadly died.

Maybe she wasn’t a natural and caring Mum, or more likely life had dealt her a cruel hand, and she had to try and do what she and her children could to survive, but failing miserably.

Walter on the other hand seems to have done o.k. for himself. Not long after wife Lucy was put in prison he must have moved in with another lady and started a new family, maybe it was the pretty young female from Weymouth that he had so cruelly bragged about to his wife Lucy while she was in the workhouse.

The 1911 census shows him and his younger wife Ellen living with their family of 8 children, not a sign of any of his children from his marriage!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian Gunstone says:

    Hi Susan, WOW! what can I say, Stumbled across your blog during a haphazard google search as I Have just started researching my Family tree. It would appear that Walter and Lucy above are my Great Great Grandparents, their Son Reginald being my Great Grandfather, so your post as made for very “interesting” reading! I Would love to get in touch with you via email if you have the time to pick your brains on the Gunstones and the local area in General.


  2. cannasue says:

    Hi Ian,
    I’m glad that it found its way to a family member, but I just hope that it wasn’t too upsetting to read about the less than perfect life that they led.
    Life was very tough for many people, and not everyone managed to ‘struggle’ their way through in one piece.
    Feel free to get in touch with me, not sure what I can help with, but will give it a try.


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