Monday, 31 October 2016

Miss Isabella Frances Akers of Warren Wood Hayes

The Church of Saint Mary The Virgin Hayes contains a black and white marble pavement in the sanctuary and an oak rail in memory of Mrs Frances Whitmore and her daughter Isabella. The work was donated by Aretas Akers Douglas and his sister Mrs Eleanor Mary Norman as a memorial to their mother and sister and were to a design by Thomas Jackson M.A. carried out in 1904/5.
Isabella and her mother are buried side by side in Hayes Churchyard to the right hand side of the Hambro family memorial. Mrs Frances Whitmore died in 1900 and as we will see Miss Isabella Frances Akers died in 1903.
Aretas Akers had married Frances Maria Brandram and the couple had raised their family as he served as a clergyman. Isabella was born on 15 May 1853  but was to become an orphan at the age of 3. Her father Aretas Akers had an interesting family history;the family in the eighteenth century had considerable land and slaves in the West Indies and on the abolition of slavery was compensated by the British Government. Isabella's inheritance was invested wisely on her behalf she held among other shares in the Great Western Railway and is designated with her mother in the census as of independent means.
Their son Aretas Akers who was born at West Malling in October 1851 where his father was rector later changed his name to Akers-Douglas and in 1880 was elected to Parliament. In 1902 he became Home Secretary and later was created Viscount Chilston and had inherited Chilston Park, The change of his name was in accordance with the terms of a family will which provided his inheritance see Wikipedia 1st Viscount Chilston.
Eleanor Mary Akers married Edward Norman in 1875 two years after her mother who had remarried and been widowed for a second time had taken a lease on Warren Wood Hayes Common in September 1873.
I am grateful for the generous assistance of Jean Wilson co-author with the late Trevor Woolman of Hayes: A History of a Kent Village Volume I and her detailed research on the house. The confusion between Warren Wood and the neighbouring house which came to be known as The Warren and still stands today as part of the Metropolitan Police estate is obvious as the census enumerator in the 1881 refers to the House it's lodge stables housing as The Warren whereas in 1891 the enumerator refer's to Mrs Whitmore's Gardeners Cottage and the house as part of Hayes Common. The houshold employed in 1881 a coachman and a gardener and his family as well as domestic servants. In the 1891 census entry a butler cook and four other domestic servants are employed. The house no longer exists but was occupied after 1903.
Isabella Frances Akers was the first elected woman to serve as a Guardian for Bromley Poor Law Union. She was to fulfil her commitment to "serve the women children and disabled of the Union" throughout her years as a Board Guardian and it was typical of her commitment to serve that she died tragically entering the Workhouse to attend a Board Meeting in 1903.
We can with a twenty first century perspective only imagine what the only woman elected to serve on a Poor Law Union Board experienced in an all male Board room. Her ability as a member earned unanimous approval for her proposals and her commitment to orphans and the deserted children of the Union Workhouse emerges most strongly from the pages of Committee minutes. She was the Guardian to join the Boarding Out Committee 5 years after the all male Committee had begun to recruit foster parents in Bromley.
Isabella had worked with the matron of the Workhouse to draw up an inventory of clothing for boys and girls and her attention to the provision of winter capes for boys and an ulster caped winter coat for girls which could be made by women in the Workhouse work room to patterns (by Paton and Baldwin) was the beginning of her work to research formally propose and implement a Committee of Lady Visitors which I have previously written about.  She was to work with the Boarding Out and Cottage Training Homes Association as well as her personal visits to foster parents and children in their care and assisting Charles Gedney who chaired the Boarding Out Commitee in his efforts to obtain urgent admissions to hospitals in London or urgent alternative foster homes on the death or illness of their foster mother.
There are indications that her health had required her to go away for three months on health grounds in her formal notice of absence contained in Commitee minutes but no one at the Union was prepared for the tragedy of her death. At the age of 49 she was in April of 1903 accustomed to travelling by tricycle to meetings at the Union Workhouse. In 1901 the most popular ladies tricycle was the Rudge-Whitworth which replaced their earlier models with a "modern" front brake to replace the earlier fixed wheel brake. I am grateful to the Old Bike Museum for their help. On the23 April 1903 Isabella Akers had ridden from her home at Warren Wood to the Union Workhouse. Without gearing the journey which has several inclines would have been challenging at  Farnborough Common. The Bromley Record obituary May 1903 reports that she had pushed her tricycle up the incline at Farnborough Common remounting at the top and rode up to the lodge of the Workhouse where she fell from her tricycle and died when her heart failed. The Obituary further records that she was unable to speak and great shock was felt by all at the loss of a well respected woman.
On 23 April 1903 at Hayes Church the Rector began the service which was then conducted by a bishop. Isabella was buried next to her mother in Hayes Churchyard.

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