Charlotte Dionis, b. 1761

Handicapped Foundling Cared for by the Parish

Placed in the care of one of the wealthiest parishes in London, Charlotte Dionis received remarkably good (and expensive) care throughout the first two decades of her life.

A Foundling

The first two decades of the life of Charlotte Dionis can be traced in the records of the parish of St Dionis Backchurch in the City of London. She was just one of the many foundlings and abandoned children who fell to the charge of this parish in the eighteenth century. Parish records show the payments made and the care provided at parish expense, in some cases over many years, to orphans given the surnames Dionis, Dennis or Dinnis (see also the life of Timothy Dionis). Charlotte Dionis was amply provided for up to the age of 19 years when she disappears from the records.

The exact date of Charlotte's birth is not recorded, nor are any details of how she came to be abandoned to the care of the parish. She was listed as being at the pauper farm used by the parish in Rose Lane, Spitalfields in late 1761. At that point she was a few months old and sickly. The parish paid one shilling to another of its paupers at this workhouse, Ann Woolno(r)th (or Woolnough), for nursing Charlotte, and ordered breast milk to be provided for this "wasting" baby. A further shilling each was paid to three other paupers in the workhouse - Richard Roberts, Margaret Morgan and Elizabeth Thomas - to "stand gossips" (godparents) to the baby when she was baptised at St Dionis church on 1 January 1762.1

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In the Care of Nurses and the Pauper Farm

Captain William Wyld, under-churchwarden of St Dionis Backchurch, was responsible at the end of December 1761 for passing Charlotte into the care of a parish nurse, Ann Collop and her husband, Nathaniel, in the good country air of Chigwell Row in Essex. Collop served as a dry nurse to many of the parish pauper children. However, during the first few years of her life, Charlotte was taken back and forth between Spitalfields and Chigwell Row as her health caused constant concern. Later records show that Charlotte suffered from "fits", probably an epileptic condition, which placed exceptional demands on those who had care of her. The parish certainly took her care very much to heart. In 1763, they reacted quickly to the receipt of a letter "importing the ill state of health of Charlotte Dionis, the Foundling" by giving orders for her to "have all proper assistance."

Charlotte spent the vast majority of her first nineteen years with Mrs Collop and her husband, though sometimes she was at Rose Lane, Spitalfields, where she could receive more nursing care than could be given by the Collops. It may be reasonable to suppose that a strongly caring relationship was built up between them. To start with, Mrs Collop was paid 3s a week to wean her and provide care, clothing and maintenance. This care was costly, with, for example, £16 13s 6d being paid out in total in 1762 and 1763, a significant amount of it on "physick".

In June and July 1762, Charlotte was twice taken up to town by coach. Twenty-six weeks nursing was paid for in the autumn of 1762 to Richard Birch, who ran the pauper farm at Spitalfields. Another 26 weeks nursing was paid in April 1763. There were further payments to Birch for clothing her. In April 1765, he was paid £7 19s, and in April 1766, £7 16s. In 1767, he was paid for providing nine months lodging for her.

However, from late 1767, Charlotte returned to Chigwell Row, and payments for her were again made to nurse Collop, at 4s a week, with a generous payment each year for her clothing. "Physick" featured from time to time in the costs covered, together with occasional coach hire to take her to London. She seems to have spent a week at the Spitalfields pauper farm early in 1768, but in general the pattern set for the decade between 1767 and 1777, was for payments for her keep and clothing at Chigwell Row to be made to Ann Collop. These payments ranged from £8 17s to £9 9s 11d a year. A small cost for schooling was added (around 1s a week in the early 1770s) though there is no information about what this consisted of.

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When Charlotte was 16 years old in 1777, the records suggests the parish attempted to put her out to service, and a list was compiled of the clothing she would require for this. The parish calculated the cost of settling Charlotte in service, as £8 to cover Ann Collop's costs, and another £1 2s 8d for clothing. There seems to have been a delay in finding suitable work for Charlotte, and it may be that this proved impossible because of her health. In January 1781, when she was nearly 20 years old, she was still living with nurse Collop. At this time she was "out of place", the reason being that she was "subject to fits".

In March 1781, an agreement was drawn up with a Mrs Owen, landlady of the large inn, the Kings Head, in Chigwell, for Charlotte to be her hired servant for one year at a wage of £2 12s for the year. Mrs Owen was to provide most of the clothing she would require. Ann and Nathaniel signed as witnesses to this document, and Mrs Owen placed her mark accordingly. The space defined for the "mark" of Charlotte Dionis was not filled in. Perhaps she was unable to take up this chance of employment because of her ill health. On the other hand, since her name does not appear in the records of St Dionis Backchurch after this date, she may indeed have taken up the post and, having held it for a year, been able to support herself. Successful completion of a year's service would also have had the effect of transferring her legal settlement from St Dionis Backchurch to the parish of Chigwell, and hence relieving St Dionis of its obligation for her care. It is also possible that Charlotte died.

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External Sources


1 Family Search, consulted 17 April 2010.

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About this Biography

Created by

Deirdre Palk 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker