This was a disaster for an unmarried girl. She was now ‘soiled goods’ and unlikely to be able to make a good marriage, if her ‘shame’ was discovered. Celestina Elizabeth Christmas came from a respectable family, and presumably a well-off one since her father was a silversmith. She could have expected to marry well, especially since she was a pretty young woman. But now?
And in the meantime there was the baby to deal with.
What were the options for a middle-class family in 1845? You’d expect that her father, William, would have done his best to persuade the man who got her pregnant to make an honourable woman of her and marry his baby’s mother.
But this didn’t happen. Maybe the man was already married. Perhaps he’d disappeared. Many years later there were dark hints about his identity which would have prevented their marrying.
So the only option, if she wasn’t sent away (never darken my door again!), was to hide her pregnancy. Then what? The family could keep the baby and pretend it was her mother’s, but Elizabeth (nee Swift) was 50 years old in 1845. Celestina had no married brothers or sisters to take the child in, either.
So the baby would have to be put somewhere where it wouldn’t be associated with the Christmas family. And this is where my ancestors, the Harringtons, enter the story.
All I can tell for sure is that baby Celestina was born on 20 December 1845 at 1 Grove Lane, Hackney, the house where my ancestors were living at the time, and that her birth was registered by Julia Harrington, my maternal 3x great-grandmother, as the “occupier of the house”.
Celestina was baptised just over a month later, on 27 January, 1846, at the church of St John, Hackney. There she is, sandwiched between two babies born to married couples. At least the vicar didn’t write any comment like ‘base’ or ‘illegitimate’, but it was a sad start for the baby girl.
You’ll have noticed that the baptism register has her called Marion Celestine. This is the only record of her being called Marion that I’ve been able to find; usually she’s just Celestina.
But – why was she born at 1 Grove Lane?
Grove Lane was built up in the 1830s, though a house stood on the corner in 1830 at the time Greenwood’s map of London was published. Its former name was (ominously) Cut Throat Lane and it was renamed Reading Lane in 1913. This is the first address I have for the Harringtons, from the 1841 census. By 1851 they’d moved to Gwynn’s Place in another part of Hackney.
Thomas Harrington, Julia’s husband, was described as a labourer in the 1841 census and on my 2x great-grandmother Rebecca’s baptism record in 1842. The 1851 census has him as a dock labourer. Even though Thomas was down as a policeman in the baptism record of his daughter Catharine in 1834, it’s not clear how his wife would know a middle-class family like the Christmases.
These are the facts: little Celestina was born at the Harringtons’ home and Julia registered her birth. Just over five years later she was still living with the family, entered in the 1851 census as a ‘visitor’. Not a lodger.
Later on in my research I found that Julia was being paid 2/6d a week ‘for [little Celestina’s] keep’. But this still leaves the question of why Celestina Elizabeth went to Julia for her confinement and presumably returned home soon after, leaving the unfortunate evidence of her disgrace behind. At least she was allowed to go home.
Julia was described, during the height of the scandal, as being a ‘baby farmer‘. But there’s no evidence that I can find of this. There’s only one ‘visitor’ in the 1851 census, and in 1841 the only person living with Thomas, Julia and their children is 12-year-old John Russell, who evidence suggests was Julia’s son from her previous marriage. And baby farmers generally charged much more that 10/- a month to keep an unwanted child alive. So if she was a baby farmer, she wasn’t a very successful one.
I may never know how my ancestors became involved in the Celestina Christmas story. Perhaps a Harrington relative was a servant at the Christmases’ house in King Square in Finsbury?
So there little Celestina was, ‘visiting’ the Harringtons, and there with them she stayed (though they moved house again) until 1856, when the tragedy began…
Baptism: London Metropolitan Archives, Hackney St John, Register of Baptism, p79/jn1, Item 035, via Ancestry
The Outcast photo: Jacqueline Banerjee for The Victorian Web
Map of Grove Lane from Mapco
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851, TNA, via Findmypast