Elizabeth Marchant, "of Epsom": a Victorian tragedy,

Woman With Dead Child By K├Ąthe Kollwitz
Woman With Dead Child By Käthe Kollwitz

Amongst the burials at Epsom Cemetery listed on this site appears: -

Last Name First Name(s) Description Age at Death Place of Death Date of Burial Grave No. Register No.
Marchant Elizabeth daughter of Elizabeth Marchant 3 of Epsom 12 October 1872 E337 73

In itself an unremarkable record, it represents a story of seduction, abandonment, want & poverty, murder, attempted suicide, derangement and a degree of compassion.

The child's birth had been registered in Epsom for the September Quarter of 1869 as Elizabeth Fordham Marchant.

Her mother, also called Elizabeth Marchant, suggested to have been born in 1849 in 'Marston' Kent, is likely to have been the child whose birth had been registered at Maidstone for the March Quarter of 1851. A respectable domestic servant, Elizabeth was working in 1871 as a servant for Philip Woolridge, the licensed victualler of the 'George Inn' in Epsom High Street. With her was a daughter Elizabeth who was reported on the census for that year as aged 12 months.

As revealed by later events, she had become acquainted with a man called Charles Fordham, a groom, who seduced her. They subsequently shared a cottage on Epsom Common and the daughter had resulted from their union. Fordham was reported to have treated Elizabeth, the mother, 'very cruelly' and ejected her with the child from the house. On 7 October 1872 she sought out Fordham at Sutton seeking a reconciliation but was rejected. Having walked with her child back to Epsom she applied at the Queen's Head, South Street, 'where she was known', for lodgings. She purchased only a bottle of ginger beer before retiring for the night.

When a failure of the woman and child to appear in the morning was investigated Elizabeth Marchant, senior, was found sitting up in bed bleeding from a wound to her throat. Her daughter, lay across her knees with similar injuries, 'quite dead'.

With medical assistance, the mother survived. At an inquest at Epsom the following Friday she pleaded that her actions were driven by desperation. The jury returned a finding of 'wilful murder'.

The case came up at the Spring Assizes of 1873 only to be adjourned because the prisoner was 'pregnant at that time and unable to take trial on account of her imminent confinement'. It was heard at Croydon on Tuesday 29 July 1873 when Elizabeth appeared with a baby in her arms. She expressed great sorrow for what she had done and said that she had told the woman who had found her in the room "I have killed my darling babe; send for the police". Asked how she could have committed such a deed, Elizabeth replied that want and poverty had driven her to it, and she wanted to die. She also explained that she had been all over the neighbourhood looking for work but no one would employ her because she was four months pregnant by Fordham with her second child.

Mr Arthur O'Brien Jones, surgeon in Epsom (and to the Metropolitan Police, Epsom Division), [LINK to The Shrubbery], called by the defence, opined that the distress and misery in which the prisoner found herself at the time had unsettled her her brain and brought on temporary insanity; her condition of pregnancy could also have had some effect.

The defence barrister 'made an earnest appeal to the jury on behalf of the prisoner and he called witnesses who proved that she was a kind-hearted good-tempered young woman'. She was said always to have shown extreme fondness for the deceased child.

The jury acquitted Elizabeth Marchant on the grounds of insanity but she was ordered to be detained in custody during her Majesty's pleasure.

Extract from the Assize Ledger, click image to enlarge
Extract from the Assize Ledger
Click image to enlarge

Elizabeth subsequently appeared in the 1881 census, aged 32, as an inmate of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Sandhurst, Berkshire. At the age of 40, she was still there in 1891. Sadly, the death of Elizabeth Marchant appears to have been registered at Easthampstead, Berks. in the December Quarter of 1915, aged 65, - since that Registration District included Sandhurst, she may be assumed to have spent the remainder of her life after aquittal in the asylum.

Nothing more is known of the fate of her younger child.

The marriage of a Charles Fordham to Louisa Jane Riggs was, however, registered at Epsom for the June Quarter of 1876. In 1881 this couple are found living in Rooks Nest Cottages, Banstead with two young children. Charles, a Coachman aged 31, had been born in Beverley, Yorkshire and Louisa Jane, his wife 24, at Tolpuddle, Dorset. For the 1901 Census they are enumerated at Poole St James where Charles had become a Quay Labourer and appear again 10 years later. Deaths were registered in Poole - Charles, 68, 6/1915 & Louisa J., 67, 12/1925. Assuming that this Charles has been correctly identified as the father of Elizabeth Marchant's two children, he pre-deceased the unhappy woman.

Brian Bouchard © 2010
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society
With contributions from Hazel Ballan.

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