Saturday, November 12, 2016

Probationer Alice Kathleen Fenn, Sussex 54 VAD

Alice Kathleen Fenn (pictured above right with her younger sister Jessie), was born at Dover, Kent in 1876, her birth registered in the district in the March quarter of that year.  She appears on the 1881 census living with her family at 4, Camden Crescent, Dover.  The household comprised Edwin Fenn (head, married, aged 42, a Colchester born General Medical Practitioner), his wife Alice Anne (or Annie) Fenn (aged 42, born in Ardleigh, Essex) and five children: Ernest J Fenn (aged 13), Edwin Anthony Fenn (aged 11), Kathleen (recorded as Alice K Fenn, aged four),  William C Fenn (aged four) and Leonard H Fenn (aged one).  The two older boys had been born in Fletching (as had a sixth child, Grace Fenn, born about 1870); the other children had all been born in Dover. Lending a hand at the house were 18 year old Alice Watson, a general servant and 14 year old Ellen McPay, a nursemaid.   

By the time the 1891 census was taken the children’s mother had died, their father had re-married and the family had moved to 86 Maison View Road, Dover.  There was also a new half-sister for the Fenn children.    Alice had died in 1881 at the age of 42, her death recorded in the December quarter of that year.  Edwin had then re-married.  My research suggests that he married Mary Ann Oliver in North London in 1884, their marriage registered at Edmonton in the September quarter of that year.   The 1891 census notes Edwin as a physician and surgeon.  His wife Mary is recorded as 39 years old and born in Stratford St Mary, Suffolk.  Children noted are: Grace (aged 19), Kathleen (aged 15), William (aged 14), Leonard (aged 11) and the new arrival, Jessie Mary Fenn (aged four, born in Dover).  Also at the house were a 19 year old Swedish boarder (Adele Damfelt), a cook and a housemaid.  I have been unable to find Edwin but Ernest was working in London.   

Ten years later, according to the 1901 census, the family had moved to Ardleigh near Harwich in Essex.  Edwin Fenn, now aged 63, is recorded as a retired physician and surgeon.  With him in the house are his three daughters: Grace, Kathleen and Jessie.  Kathleen is recorded by her first name, Alice.  Although Edwin’s status is recorded as “married” rather than “widower”, Mary Fenn does not appear on this census return.  Ernest, William and Leonard had all moved away from home.  Edwin had died in Dover in 1895 at the age of 25.    

I am unsure when Kathleen and her younger half sister Jessie joined Sussex 54 VAD.  There was already a distant connection to Chailey Parish through their brother Ernest who had been born at Fletching and it could be that when their father died in 1911, the sisters moved away from Essex.  As a physician and surgeon I have wondered whether they picked up any of his skills but there is no mention of any trade or occupation against any of the girls’ names on the 1901 census and their father was presumably sufficiently well-off, even in retirement, to look after them.  

Kathleen appears on the 1911 census as a 35-year-old single matron working at Dulwich College.   

The two Fenn sisters are mentioned in the East Sussex News dated 9th February 1917.  Reporting on a pantomime staged at Beechland House, the unnamed journalist notes that “Misses J and K Fenn” took on the roles of fairies.   Nothing else is known about these two ladies.  Their brother Ernest attested for service with the army in January 1916 but does not appear to have been called up.

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