Mystery Women of Southwell Workhouse

Master repremands a pauper

Karen Winyard, volunteer researcher at The Workhouse, has written and directed the 2017 Museums at Night storytelling events. Here she reveals a puzzling story behind one of the characters featured in ‘Masters and Matrons Misbehaving –Scandal at The Workhouse 1824-1850’.

Karen Winyard

Karen Winyard

Volunteer researcher The Workhouse

I’ve been researching the lives of three of the Masters at The Workhouse for this year’s Museums at Night event on 20th May and unearthed a bit of a mystery. John Fogg and his wife held the job of Master and Matron for six years from 1832 to 1838, when John was forced to resign under a cloud. Previously we knew little about John Fogg and even less about his wife who is never named in any of the surviving records. Piecing together his story I’ve discovered that he was a colourful character with an interesting past — and the women in his life have a tendency to vanish. 

John was born in Nottingham in 1792, the son of James Fogg, a silk throwster who lived on Sheep Lane (now Market Street). He had two sisters and a younger brother. In December 1813 John enlisted to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, serving in Captain L.A. De Noe's Company of the Nottinghamshire regiment, the 2nd battalion, 59th Foot. They didn’t fight at Waterloo itself but played an important role in blocking the main Paris to Brussels road from where they were stationed at Hal. The regiment was disbanded in 1816 and John returned to Nottingham. 
There aren’t many details about John’s life in Nottingham but his brother dies aged 15 and, in 1821, his sister Ann marries Luke Thorpe. John himself may be a pew opener at St James Chapel in 1827. 

In April 1832 he and his wife are appointed as Master and Matron of the Workhouse and move to the Southwell area. When he leaves The Workhouse John returns to Nottingham where he has a house at 1 Grosvenor Place, just off Upper Parliament Street.  His unmarried sister, Mary, seems to join him as she is living there at her death in December 1839. John writes 3 letters to the Poor Law Commission to London from this address, the latest one dated March 1840. And then he disappears.

I believe he moves to London, first to the parish of St Giles, Camberwell in Lambeth where the 1841 census lists an ironmonger of that name living with his wife, Amelia, who was born in foreign parts. Then on the 1851 census he is living in the household of a surgeon, Henry Matthews, of the Marylebone Dispensary on Welbeck Street. He is now working as a porter and his wife as a house servant, and the census gives his place of birth as Nottingham and his wife’s as Brussels. This made sense to me as I’ve found no record of his marriage in England and he was in Belgium during the Napoleonic War.

Then I came across a piece in The Nottingham Review of 18 October 1839 marking the death at East Bridgford of Mary, daughter of the late Mrs Foster, and “for many years matron of the workhouse, Southwell.”  Could this be John Fogg’s wife? There are two workhouses where Mary Foster might have worked as Matron, but we can rule out the earlier House in Southwell itself (now the Baptist Church on Nottingham Rd), as Naomi Wass was Matron there for over ten years until it closed in 1837.

I can also rule out the three women who were Matron at The Workhouse prior to Mrs Fogg. The first, Mrs Kirkham, did not hold the post for more than a year before moving to the workhouse at Worksop. The second, Susannah Wedge, died in childbirth in 1826 and is buried at The Minster. The third was the wife of William Clarke, John Fogg’s predecessor and they left to take the job of Master and Matron at the workhouse at Claypole in Lincolnshire, and from there moved to Leicester where Mrs Clarke is still the Matron in 1843. 

So who was this mysterious woman who was Matron of The Workhouse? Was she the wife of John Fogg and if so was she legally married or only a common law wife? I would be very surprised if the position had been given to a couple who were not legally married. 

Then again, who is Amelia Fogg born in Brussels?

Finally – what became of another woman whose name is linked to John Fogg, an inmate of the Workhouse called Elizabeth Barnsdale? We know Elizabeth left The Workhouse to go to service in November 1839, a month after the death of the mysterious Mary Foster and then she too disappears from the records. Of course not every record survives and it may be a coincidence that I cannot find a notice of her marriage or death. Yet I cannot help but wonder whether she is living with John Fogg in London under the assumed name of Amelia. 

Perhaps you can help shed some light on these mystery women. We’d be thrilled to hear from you.

The full story of John Fogg’s time at The Workhouse, together with those of John Taylor and Thomas Weightman, will be told on Saturday 20 May 6.30-8.30pm and tickets are available via the website:

A second instalment of the fascinating stories of ‘Masters and Matrons Misbehaving from the later years 1860-1900 will take place on Saturday 28 October 6.30-8.30pm. Tickets available as above.