Saturday, November 12, 2016

Probationer Jessie Mary Fenn, Sussex 54 VAD

Jessie Mary Fenn (pictured above left with her older sister, Kathleen) was born at Dover, Kent in 1886, her birth registered in the district in the December quarter of that year.  She appears on the 1891 living at 86 Maison View Road, Dover with her well-to-do family.  The household comprised, Edwin Fenn (head, married, aged 53, a Colchester born physician and surgeon), his wife Mary (aged 39, born in Stratford St Mary, Suffolk) and five children: Grace Fenn (aged 19, born in Fletching, Sussex), Kathleen Fenn (aged 15), William Fenn (aged 14), Leonard Fenn (aged 11) and Jessie (aged four).  The youngest four children had all been 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 locate her older brother, Edwin Anthony Fenn (born about 1870) on the 1891 census but another brother, Ernest J Fenn (born around 1868), was working in London.

Mary was Edwin Fenn’s second wife, his first wife Alice having died in 1881 at the age of 42.  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.  Jessie was therefore a half sister to the other Fenn children.   

According to the 1901 census, at some stage 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 Jessie and Kathleen 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.   

Jessie was still living at home with her parents when the 1911 census was taken. Edwin is recorded as a 73-year-old retired doctor of medicine.  

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 and is mentioned in Chailey’s parish magazine but he does not appear to have been called up.

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