The Keelings Of Epsom

Number 1 - Dentists And Druggist

There are two interesting tales to relate about these Keelings, relayed to me by my colleague, Brian Bouchard, but stories need context, so we will have a short frolic through the family to set the scene.

The Keelings were an old and extensive family from the Potteries area of Staffordshire, but we will start with Enoch, who was born in about 1791 in Newcastle-under-Lyme. For many years he lived in Etruria, which was home to Josiah Wedgwood and one of his potteries. Enoch was cashier/accountant to Wedgwood and was sometimes described as his business manager.

Etruria Hall, the Wedgwood family home.
Etruria Hall, the Wedgwood family home.
Photograph © Steven Birks and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Two of Enoch's sons came to live in Epsom and they were George Ratcliffe (1822) and Henry (1833), both born in Etruria/Hanley. They established a partnership called Keeling Brothers in Epsom High Street, which was partly a chemist's shop (Henry) and partly a dental surgery (George). They dissolved the partnership in 1862, but both continued in their respective professions. At some stage in the 1870s Enoch came to join his family in Epsom and he died there on 9 January 1880, aged 89.

Enoch Keeling of Epsom 'aged 87', his son GR Keeling and grandson GR Keeling junior
Enoch Keeling of Epsom 'aged 87', his son GR Keeling and grandson GR Keeling junior.
Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre
Copyright of Surrey History Centre

The Keelings were Wesleyan Methodists and most of George and Henry's children were baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel in Croydon. In 1844 at St George, Hanover Square, London George married Elizabeth Hayward Skitter from Suffolk, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Skitter. The latter had come to Epsom from Brentford, Middlesex, where George had been an assistant to her husband, who was a chemist. Mrs Skitter died in 1848 and was buried in St Martin's. George and Elizabeth's children were as follows.

Name Born Married Died
Elizabeth Ann c. 1846 - 19.7.1851
Fanny 2.9.1847 - 1920
Mary Louisa 1849 Cuthbert Edward Wood 1941?
Anne 28.8.1851 Henry Telfer Cowley Possibly 1934
George Ratcliffe Jnr 16.10.1853 Ellen Elizabeth Potter unknown
Jane 11.4.1856 - 1922
Emily 16.4.1858 - 20.10.1859

In August 1858 there was a tragedy at George Senior's surgery. A young woman of 22 (according to the newspapers, but she was actually slightly older), who worked as a servant for a local doctor, went there to have a tooth extracted. George applied a small amount of chloroform as a local anaesthetic and extracted the tooth, whereupon the woman fainted. She could not be revived and, when the frantically summoned doctor arrived, she was certified dead.

Chloroform had been used as an anaesthetic only since Sir Joseph Simpson had discovered its properties in 1847. The intention was to find a replacement for ether, which, in itself, had been introduced as a surgical anaesthetic only in the previous year. The potential dangers of chloroform were not properly appreciated by Simpson (it can cause abnormal electrical activity in the heart, leading to heart failure) and it became a kind of 'wonder drug', particularly used in childbirth, even by Queen Victoria. After the death of the patient at George Keeling's surgery the editor of The Lancet said, 'It is chiefly fashionable ladies who demand chloroform. This time it was a servant girl who was sacrificed; the next time it may be a Duchess.' In one way this was a deplorable comment, as if the girl's life did not matter very much (she was not even named in the newspaper reports that I read, although she was described as 'tall', which presumably meant that she should have been more resilient than a shorter person - her name was actually Louisa Stone and she was from Bristol), but it did open up the whole subject to debate and, before very long, dentists had gone back to using nitrous oxide ('laughing gas'), which was safer and is still in use today. The coroner attached no blame to George for the death of his patient, but did caution against the use of chloroform for minor procedures.

George continued in his dental practice and in 1878 he succeeded Henry Dorling as Chairman of the Local Board of Health. He died on 20 October 1891 and his wife in 1892.

Mary Louisa

Mary Louisa married Cuthbert Edward Wood, whose background is described in the article on Maria Willis Wood. Cuthbert was a commercial traveller in wholesale stationery and they lived firstly in Epsom and later in Sutton. There were five children.


Anne married Henry Telfer Cowley, a bank clerk who was born in Malta of British parents in about 1849. It looks as if they were separated for many years. Henry died in 1927.

George Ratcliffe Junior

Let me confess immediately that I have completely 'lost' George after 1901. Like his father, he was a dental surgeon, practising at Ormonde House in the High Street. On 11 January 1888 he married Ellen Elizabeth Potter (born 1865 Epsom), daughter of the late racing trainer James Potter (died 1881) and his wife Elizabeth; the Potters lived at York House, Woodcote End. A daughter, Ellen Gladys Keeling, was born later in 1888.

Ormonde House at the corner of East Street & Station Road [now Upper High St]
Ormonde House at the corner of East Street & Station Road [now Upper High St]
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The marriage was unhappy and in due course Ellen took her daughter to live with Elizabeth Potter at York House. Mrs Potter had a lodger called Harry Constable Palmer, who was generally involved in the racing world, being at various times a commission agent, horse dealer and sporting journalist. Ellen Keeling was said to prefer the company of jockeys and trainers and rumours started circulating around town that she and Palmer were 'an item'. George eventually heard these rumours, investigated and found that Ellen and Palmer had spent a night together in a restaurant in London (one presumes that the place had rooms). In 1894 he divorced her.

This was not a case of Ellen and Palmer living happily ever after - not together anyway. Palmer had already been married - whether or not his wife was still alive I cannot discover, but he did not marry Ellen. In fact, she married someone else the year after her divorce. Her second husband was Edmund Patrick Ferguson, a widower, who ran 'The Horns' Hotel in Kennington Park, London, which accounts suggest was a fairly lively hostelry and, therefore, probably more to Ellen's taste than a dentist's house. However, the marriage did not last very long, for on 11 October 1898 Ellen died in Margate, aged just 33. Palmer popped up on the 1901 census as a boarder in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and in 1911 he was in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey with a new wife of eight years' standing (although I cannot find any marriage record). I have been unable to track down his background - his place of birth is variously given as Newmarket or Chelsea and the year of birth also changes, but was probably about 1860.

As I have said, another mystery is the eventual fate of George. By 1901 he had evidently left Ormonde House and was in modest lodgings over a shop in Pikes Hill, Epsom. I have been unable to find him ever again. It may be that he emigrated.

I can at least tell you something more about George and Ellen's daughter, Ellen Gladys. She cannot be found in the 1901 census - she may have been with her stepfather, who was also 'missing', or her grandmother (ditto) - but she resurfaced in 1911 as a shop assistant (drapery), with Elizabeth Potter in Kingston, Surrey. At some point after that she went to Australia and died unmarried in Leura, a town in the Blue Mountains, 100 kms from Sydney, in 1953. She is recorded as coming to England once in the 1930s, her address here being given as the YWCA in London, which perhaps suggests that her financial resources were stretched and that she had no close family left in the UK.


Jane initially appeared to be another 'census disappearance', but it looks as if she had been institutionalised. In the 1911 census there was a female called J Keeling, aged 54, born in Epsom and stated to be a former housekeeper, in the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum at Netherne (opened in 1903 and considered progressive for its time). The margin note said that she had been a lunatic since the age of 37, which would put her initial incarceration at about 1893. In the 1901 census there was a 'JK' in the Banstead asylum who very roughly matched. We then have a Jane Keeling of the right age dying in 1922 in Reigate district, which also fits. My theory is that she was running the family home after the death of her parents, her mental health swiftly disintegrated and the family then did likewise - pure hypothesis though!


I cannot help thinking by now that this family was quite sad towards the end of the 19th century, in that it became fragmented and, it appears, relatively impoverished after the deaths of George and Elizabeth in the early 1890s. I do not know what George left in the way of property, if anything, but his personal effects amounted to just over £1,000, which was not a great amount when divided among the children. The fate of Fanny sums it up. She never married and in 1901 was living alone on her own means in Victoria Place, Epsom. By 1911 she was on parish relief, lodging with an unemployed family at 59 Albert Road, where she remained until she died in 1920.

Henry Keeling

We can now return to Henry, the other son of Enoch Keeling. As previously mentioned, he was a chemist and druggist in Epsom, but he did not last long, dying on 8 November 1868, aged only 35.

Henry Keeling
Henry Keeling.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

On 29 September 1859 at Kingswood he married Mary Miles, daughter of local market gardener/farmer Richard Miles. On her husband's death she was left with six young children, who were as follows.

Name Born Married Died
Richard William 1860 Mary Charman Probably 1901 Lambeth
Alice 28.9.1861 Christopher Mills unknown
Enoch 20.10.1862 Harriet Elizabeth Freeston 1932 Notts
Mary Esther 1864 Arnold Hamilton Geller 1943 Essex
Henry 1866 Emily Grace Brierley 1921 Lancs
Lucy Isabel 1867 William Charles Whait 1909 London

None of the children stayed in Surrey, but one of them, Henry Junior, followed in the family footsteps and became a dentist, settling in Southport, Lancashire. Richard William's widow, Mary, returned to her mother in Ewell and died in 1938.

Number 2 - Clergymen And Schoolmasters

This Keeling is William Theodore, born in 1871 in Northampton, who came from a distinguished family. His father, the Reverend William Hulton Keeling from Blackley, Lancashire, was headmaster of Northampton Grammar School and subsequently Bradford Grammar School. His brother, Sir Edward Herbert Keeling, was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Twickenham, Mayor of Westminster, General Manager of the Turkish Petroleum Company and author of In Russia under the Bolsheviks (1920), a critique of the post-Revolutionary regime. His sister, Margaret Adele Keeling (later Fairley), was one of Canada's leading Communist intellectuals. William Theodore was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, ordained in 1897 and became an assistant master at Liverpool College. He was in Epsom only from 1897-1901 and taught at the College. He moved onward and upward rapidly and in 1912 emigrated to Canada, where he continued to teach theology and latterly resumed clerical duties in Vancouver. Towards the end of his life he returned to England and died at Bournemouth on 29 November 1946.

One of his children, William Nevill, was born in Epsom and was a Squadron-Leader in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Number 3 - Cabinet Maker

William James Keeling was born in Brixton in about 1873. His father, Albert, was a coachman and in 1881 the family lived in rooms over stables in Croydon. William was already a cabinet maker in 1891 and by 1901 he had come to Epsom, living initially in Hook Road. By 1901 he had set up shop in the High Street, although from the photo below it is not too clear what might have been going on inside. William died in 1960.

W J Keeling's premises at 15 High Street, Epsom.
W J Keeling's premises at 15 High Street, Epsom.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Number 4 - Architect

I quite like some symmetry in articles and am conscious that we have rattled through three completely separate lots of Keelings, although they were all born and/or lived in Epsom at some stage, which is a connection of sorts. Paradoxically, Number 4 was neither born nor lived in Epsom (he came from Sunderland), but he was also called Enoch and was related to Number 1.

This man was Enoch Bassett Keeling (1837-86), architect and surveyor, who designed and built the Wesleyan Chapel in Waterloo Road, Epsom (possibly because his cousins were fed up with travelling to Croydon for their baptisms etc), which later became the Foresters' Hall. His father was a Wesleyan Minister, the Reverend Isaac Keeling.

Architecturally speaking, Enoch was described as 'High Victorian Rogue Gothic Revival' (i.e. so over the top that you either love it or hate it, like Marmite), which probably shows in the photo below. His most 'extraordinary creation' was reported to be the long-demolished Strand Music Hall and he was noted for his use of 'outrageous' polychromatic bricks (building something with differently coloured bricks), which I think are wonderful but we are not here to discuss my architectural preferences.

Forester's Hall, Waterloo Road
Forester's Hall, Waterloo Road. Date not known.
Initially it was built in 1863 as a Wesleyan chapel but
it was later taken over as the meeting place of the Foresters.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

St George's Church, London W8, designed by Enoch Bassett Keeling
St George's Church, London W8, designed by Enoch Bassett Keeling, showing the use of polychromatic brickwork.
Photograph © Peter Jordan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Anyway, whatever one's opinion of Enoch's architecture, it was not boring, which is apparently more than can be said for his father's sermons.

Linda Jackson © March 2012

 Family History
 War Memorials

 What's New


Donate to The History Centre
Adam Hogg
Adam Hogg
Hilda Andrews
Hilda Andrews
The Glyns
The Glyns
Journey Time
Journey Time
Thomas Tresize
Thomas Tresize
Blake Charles
Blake Charles
Blake Girls
Blake Girls
Barnards of Epsom
Barnards of Epsom
EW Martin
EW Martin