Charles Blake Of Epsom

Charles Blake
Charles Blake

Charles Blake (the author's great great grandfather) was born in 1820 in Littlehampton, the illegitimate son of another Charles Blake (1792-1844) and Sarah Burcher (1800-46). Originally he was known as Charles Burcher, but was legitimised in 1822 when his parents eventually married. The Blakes had been butchers for several generations and Charles was no exception, setting up shop with his brother, John, in Littlehampton.

In about 1853 Charles and his wife, Jane (nee Cooper, daughter of a Littlehampton saddler), left Littlehampton and set up shop in Yapton, an undistinguished village just north of Bognor Regis. After having several more children there, they moved to Epsom in about 1858/9, where Charles had a butcher's shop in South Street, next door to the 'Queen's Head' public house. In all, Charles and Jane had twelve children and there is evidence to suggest that by the early 1870s they had financial worries. They had also lost two of their sons, Harry and Frederick, between 1871 and 1873. Frederick died of pneumonia, aged 20, in January 1873 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery without a gravestone. Neither a death record nor burial place for Harry has yet been found. The eldest son, Thomas, born 1849, was tubercular and by 1873 was in a very bad way. Additionally, Jane's eldest brother, a retired mariner, had hanged himself on 29 November 1872.

By the end of April 1873 Charles was in a state of depression and told the family that he was going down to Brighton to see his brother, Thomas, also a butcher, to see if a change of air would do him good. On 29 April 1873 Thomas took him to see the newly opened Brighton Aquarium but Charles showed no interest, saying only that he 'should probably see it no more'. Jane, at home in Epsom, then received a letter from him saying that by the time she received it he would be no more. Two of the older children immediately took the train to Brighton, to find that Charles had left his brother's house before Thomas and his wife had awoken. About ten days later his body was recovered from the River Adur at a small village near Brighton called Upper Beeding. The verdict was suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed. Charles was not returned to Epsom but was buried at the secluded St Peter's Churchyard in Upper Beeding. He left no will and his effects were under £600.

The River Adur at Upper Beeding
The River Adur at Upper Beeding

A newspaper report on the death of Charles Blake
A newspaper report on the death of Charles Blake

On 19 June 1873, just a few weeks after his father's death, the eldest son, Thomas, died of tuberculosis and Bright's disease [a kidney disease], leaving Jane to carry on the butcher's business with the help of her surviving sons, Charles Junior (the author's great grandfather), Herbert and Morris, all butchers. Five of her six daughters were still at home. In the 1881 census Jane was still in South Street, described as a butcher, with six of her children, aged between 14 and 29. In the early 1880s most of the children married and Jane's death of heart disease, aged 58, on 30 September 1884, was the cue for the sons to move away. Charles Junior went to Hounslow in West London. Herbert remained a butcher and went successively to Croydon, Bournemouth and Lymington, Hampshire, where he died of heart disease in 1902, aged 44, leaving a widow and nine children. Morris never married, going with Charles to the Hounslow area and became a cab driver, dying of phthisis [tuberculosis] in 1895, aged 32. Most of the daughters married men involved in racing or with racing connections and they will be the subject of a separate article.

Linda Jackson © August 2011


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