A workhouse family

Edwin Benjamin Newing was a painter and decorator. In 1869, at the age of 21, he married Fanny Jane Pattenden, who was 19, and that same year their eldest son, also called Edwin Benjamin, was born. He was followed a couple of years later by Fanny Philadelphia, then Nelson, Nathaniel and eventually Charlotte.

The year after Charlotte was born, Edwin died at the tender age of 31, and his wife died just a couple of years later, leaving Edwin, Philadelphia (as she was known by this point), Nelson, Nathaniel and Charlotte to the tender mercies of Blean Workhouse, at the ages of 12, 10, 6, 4 and 2 respectively.

Life in the workhouse was bleak, with few toys, although there were occasionally appeals in the local press, and sometimes these resulted in gifts of books, the occasional football, and once a magic lantern and some magazines. Christmas was a special event, with local people supplying gifts of tobacco for the men, snuff for the women and oranges and nuts for the children. Normally food consisted of gruel for breakfast and supper for the children, while the adults had tasteless black bread, and meat that was more fat and gristle than nourishing fare. Living was cramped, and water had to be pumped from the well for washing.

There were stories amongst the children of a girl who at Philadelphia’s age had been punished by being locked up with a corpse for a night, but that was before the Newing family’s time, and thankfully for them the new Master and Matron were kindly people who did their best for the inmates and tried to improve the buildings, which were dark, badly ventilated and rather damp and unpleasant.

Adults were expected to work for their keep, but for the children there were classes within the workhouse, led by a schoolmaster and mistress. Philadelphia would help out with the younger children when she could, particularly her younger siblings, and sometimes had to help out in the hospital wards as she grew older and stronger.

When Edwin was old enough he left the workhouse and took his siblings with him. In 1892 Charlotte and Nathaniel accompanied Edwin and his wife Mary to Halifax, Nova Scotia, sailing out on the Carthaginian, an Allen Line ship. Two years later, still in Halifax, Mary gave birth to young Philadelphia Ellis, named for her aunt.

In 1897 the original Philadelphia was on a ship herself, sailing for New York on the St Paul.

Edwin, Nathaniel, Charlotte, Mary and the young Philadelphia travelled back to England sometime after the daughter’s birth and in 1901 they were all staying at 3 Seaview Square, Herne Bay, only a few miles away from the workhouse where the older generation had grown up.

In 1906 Philadelphia’s brother Benjamin William was born.

By 1911 the Newing family ran the local post office in Eddington, an area between the town of Herne Bay and the village where the workhouse was. Mary and Philadelphia ran the shop while Edwin worked as a builder, following in his father’s footsteps.

Edwin died in 1925. Nelson died in 1935. Around that time it’s possible that Charlotte travelled out to New York to visit her big sister.

the old workhouse

The old workhouse now turned into houses

The workhouse was turned into a hospital for chronically sick and elderly people in 1948, with the advent of the NHS, although residents were allowed to stay if they wished – and some did, for it was the only home they had known for years.  In 1987 it was closed down completely, the buildings being rather unsuitable for a modern hospital. A few years ago it was turned into  a housing estate, with some properties being converted from the original workhouse building and others built to blend in.

Note: this is all based on historical research. We can’t find Edwin’s and Mary’s passage to Nova Scotia, but we know their daughter was born out there and we found records of Charlotte, Nathaniel and Philadelphia senior all travelling out. The rest is based on census records and other historical documents, particularly related to the workhouse, which is not far from where I live. All this was sparked by finding a list of the inmates of the workhouse in the 1881 census and becoming fascinated by the name of Philadelphia Newing, aged 10, scholar. Not bad for an evening’s work! Thanks to ancestry.co.uk for birth and census records, and the book Historic Herne and Broomfield for information about the workhouse itself, plus http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Blean/

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