A Tale of Five Camillas

Tracing the lives of the first five Camillas whose births were registered in Great Britain reveals five diverse stories of women in Victorian England.

When I named my daughter ‘Camilla’ in 2008, my family lived in California, and the then-future Queen Consort was very far from my mind. I simply thought it was a pretty name, and rather English. I also liked the fact that it was unusual in both countries (‘Camila’, with one ‘l’, has risen to be the 11th most popular girl’s name in the U.S., but ‘Camilla’ is rare in the US and is only currently ranked about 450th for baby girls’ names in the UK). The recent coronation got me thinking about my daughter’s name afresh, and about Camillas in history.

It will be interesting to see whether the name gains in popularity with the ascendance of Queen Camilla to the throne. However, if we don’t see nursery schools filling up with Camillas three years from now, that doesn’t necessarily point to negative attitudes towards the Queen Consort; I was surprised to learn from britishbabynames.com that ‘Victoria’ was not among the 150 most commonly registered names in the UK in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 or 1890. But were there, I wondered, any Victorian Camillas? And who were the first?

I discovered that in the first three years of civil registration of births (3rd Q 1837 – 3rd Q 1840), just after Queen Victoria came to the throne, there were just ten babies registered with the first name Camilla. (It’s possible that some of their parents had read Fanny Burney’s novel of 1796, and admired Camilla Tyrold, the eponymous romantic heroine. In 1830, Camilla was also the name of a new ship and a thoroughbred mare!) My interest piqued, I decided to take a brief look (using only digitised records) into the lives of the first five Camillas whose births were registered, and I discovered, to my surprise, a wide range of experiences across social classes and across Great Britain. I’ve shared some short biographies of the first five Camillas below …

Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser, 28 January 1830

  1. Camilla Hood LAITY, b. 3rd Q 1838, Redruth

Camilla was the daughter of John Laity, a butcher, and his wife Sarah, known as Sally. Camilla was born in Cornwall, at Tuckingmill, Camborne near Redruth, but she was baptised at Perranuthnoe on the South West Cornish coast. In 1841 and 1851 the family of at least eight children was living at neighbouring village Marazion and then at Perranuthnoe.

Perranthuthnoe and St Michael’s Mount

In 1857, Camilla married John Pascoe, a miller and miller’s son, at nearby St Hilary. Camilla signed the register with her mark. Within just a few weeks, their son William Thompson Laity Pascoe was born. However, he died a few months later. Three more children followed, including a son, John, in 1866. However, by 1869, Camilla was a widow, and when she baptised her legitimate son John in 1869, she was described as a ‘single woman’. An illegitimate child, Sarah Vivian Pascoe, was born to her in 1870. By 1871, Camilla, John and Sarah were in dire straits, and found themselves in Helston Union Workhouse. Camilla’s 1871 census entry, in the workhouse, stated that she was a ‘tin miner’s widow’, so it appears that her miller husband had tried his hand at mining.

However, Camilla clawed the family back from destitution, and in 1878 she married Cornish widower Francis Vingoe, a carter and labourer … in Marsden, West Yorkshire! The new blended family, living 350 miles from their birthplace, included Camilla’s legitimate and illegitimate children, Francis’s children, and several children they had together. By 1891, the Vingoe family had relocated again to Bolton in Lancashire.

Camilla Vingoe died in Bolton in 1906. She was 67.

  1. Camilla COLTMAN, b. 4th Q 1838, Durham

Camilla was born at Back Lane, Durham, one of at least eight children of William, a wool spinner, and his wife Margaret. Margaret died when Camilla was a teenager, and William did not remarry. In 1861, aged 61, he was still working and supporting the family; by then Camilla was 22, and surprisingly she had no occupation.

Camilla married George Smith Ross in 1863 and they lived at Shincliffe, southeast of Durham and then settled at Framwellgate Moor, one of several new colliery villages that had been built to the north of the city, with Pity Me and Brasside. Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Durham and Northumberland, 1873, would not have tempted people to visit the area: ‘A turn leads right through a hideous country, in which the lanes, in wet weather, are one quagmire of liquid coal dust, upon which other coal dust is constantly falling through the heavy blackened air, from tall chimneys around. The coal village which is passed through looks its name of “Pity Me” at every corner. The hedges are one blackened wall of smut, the trees leafless skeletons which look as if they were made of cast iron.'(1)

George sometimes gave his occupation as ‘general labourer’, but at times he had specific employment as a coke drawer and coke yard labourer. The Framwellgate Coal & Coke Co. ran two collieries, employing hundreds of men. By 1894 the daily output was 900- 1000 tons, half of which was converted to coke, using 239 coke ovens.(2) Uses for coke included locomotive engines. A coke drawer’s job was to draw the coke out of the oven using an iron rake.(3)

The website of Framwellgate Moor P.C. describes the accommodation that was developed for pit workers in early Victorian times:

‘The Colliery owners could not cut their expenditure on the pit so economised on housing for the workers they needed to attract. They built rows of tiny mostly one storey terraces, with an open drain running down the middle of each pair. From the north the original names were Dyke Row, and The Cottages, which together are now North Terrace, Newcastle Row, now Newcastle Terrace, Durham Row, now Durham Terrace, Close Row and Pump Row, both now demolished, and Smoky Row, now called Garden Avenue. Ash privies, or netties, were in groups in the middle or the end of the rows. A shared pump for water, unpaved roads, poor drainage,  overcrowding, open ashpits and a constant battle against dirt and noise made life hard for all.’ See a photo of some of the village’s last remaining pit cottages.

The ancient street of Framwellgate (pictured here in the 1890s) was the route from Framwellgate Moor into the centre of Durham. Camilla Ross may well have walked down this road towards the cathedral, perhaps to a market, leaving the coal-dust behind her for a brief time.

Camilla and George had seven children, two of which were born just nine months apart. Unusually, all of the children survived childhood. Camilla must have worked relentlessly to care for the family, including waging a continual battle on the black dust on their clothing. Her husband’s income would not have been secure, and this must have been a constant worry, with so many mouths to feed. In 1892, hundreds of thousands of miners across the country went on strike (known as the ‘miners’ playtime’), including 92,000 in Durham, due to wage reductions. However, political action in the mining community wasn’t exclusive to men; miners’ wives of Durham and Northumberland organised a protest against the high prices charged by local butchers in 1872.(4) Was Camilla among them?

By 1901, only two of Camilla’s children remained at home, both adults: Elizabeth worked as a machinist and George S. Jr., like her husband, was a coke drawer. Camilla Ross died on 20 January 1907, aged 68, and was buried in St Cuthbert’s churchyard. Her widower George continued to labour at the colliery into his old age.

  1. Camilla Sarah FARQUHAR, b. 1st Q 1839, Bethnal Green

Camilla was the daughter of George Farquhar and Frances (née Hutchinson). Sadly, she only lived for four months, and she was buried at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green on 2 June 1839. In the 1830s, on average between one in three and one in four children under five died(5).

Even more tragically, her father George died in the fourth quarter of the same year. Widowed mother Frances, with two surviving children, worked as a charwoman, and in 1871, she and both of her teenage daughters all worked as fancy box makers, while also supporting Frances’s elderly father.

  1. Camilla Charlotte Augusta Bradney SHAW-HELLIER, b. 4th Q 1839, Warwick

Camilla Shaw-Hellier was the youngest child of Thomas Shaw-Hellier and Alice Titterton (née Perhouse), who also had two older daughters and a son. Her father, a Gentleman and keen huntsman, had been an assistant fellow at Downing College, Cambridge before inheriting The Wodehouse in Wombourne, Staffordshire — the family seat since 1786, when Camilla’s ancestor Thomas Shaw inherited it from his childhood friend Sir Samuel Hellier. Sir Samuel was a Georgian landscape designer and musicologist and he had added to the estate a temple to the memory of Handel, a music room, a Druids’ temple, an exedra, a grotto and a hermitage! A condition of the bequest was that Thomas take on the Hellier arms and name, thus becoming Thomas Shaw-Hellier.

Camilla was baptised at Wombourne, and must have been very familiar with The Wodehouse during her life, but she lived in several other grand houses; we find her at Packwood House, Warks in 1841 (now a National Trust property, pictured on the left), Harrington Hall, Lincs in 1851 and Rodbaston Hall, Staffs in 1861.

In 1867, Camilla married Russell Wing, a clergyman, at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, Pimlico. Her address was given as the Palace Hotel.

Marriage register entry for Camilla Charlotte Augusta Bradney Shaw-Hillier and Russell Wing, City of Westminster Archives Centre; London, England; Westminster Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: SPES/PR/2/9, via ancestry.co.uk.

In 1871, the couple were living at Denton Rectory in Dover. However, for most of his life Rev. Wing did not hold any clerical positions. In the 1881 census, at Putney, his position was unclear. In 1891 Camilla and Russell were at the home of Russell’s brother, Thomas Twining Wing (a retired solicitor and banker) and Russell was a ‘clerk in Holy Orders living on own means’. And in Wandsworth, 1901, he was simply described as a ‘Church of England clergyman’. Camilla and Russell had no children, and usually lived with two servants. When Rev. Russell Wing died in 1901 a newspaper report reveals that he had given up the living at Denton and ‘relinquished clerical duty’ due to poor health.

Surrey Advertiser – Saturday 02 November 1901, via britishnewspaperarchive,co.uk

Camilla’s brother Thomas, the heir to The Wodehouse, was Director of the Royal Military School of Music and a breeder of Jersey cattle. After a ‘disastrous’ marriage in his 60s, he spent his last years in Sicily, where his circle of friends included artists and writers. He commissioned Arts & Crafts architect Charles Robert Ashbee to build him a marble hilltop villa there. According to Ashbee’s biographer, Ashbee and Shaw-Hellier were both probably gay or bisexual. The Shaw-Hellier line ended with Thomas’s death in 1910, after which The Wodehouse passed to Thomas’s nephew, and stayed in the family until 1981.

In 1911, Camilla was a visitor at 2 Hyde Park, the home of widow Mary Berry, who had 11 servants. In 1921 she was in her own home: 11 Dorlcote Road, Wandsworth.

Camilla Augusta Bradney Wing was the longest-living of our five Camillas, and can be tracked in censuses from 1841-1921; she died on 4 December 1923 at her home, aged 84, and was buried at St John’s, Hale City in Surrey. She left an estate of nearly £33,000 (£1.6m today). Her life seems to have always been very comfortable, but it may have been been constrained by her husband’s illness. As with so many women in the past, there is little to no trace of Camilla’s individual achievements, and no insights into her thoughts and feelings. However, I was able to find a photograph of Camilla seated next to her brother Thomas, c1870, on an excellent website that documents their family history.

Camilla Wing née Shaw-Hellier in mourning clothing, seated.
Published here with permission from John Morgan of morganfourman.com.
  1. Camilla Prestwood BELLEW, b. 4th Q 1839, Crediton

Like Camilla Shaw-Hellier, Camilla Bellew was born into a wealthy family, a daughter of John Prestwood Bellew and Mary Ann Bellew (nee Hancock). John was a financially independent landed proprietor and later a Magistrate for Devon. From the 16th century to the 20th century, the Bellews’ seat was Stockleigh Court in Stockleigh English, Devon.

In 1841, baby Camilla and three older sisters benefited from a live-in governess and six servants. Whereas the girls received their education at home, Camilla’s two brothers attended boarding schools. By 1851 Camilla’s sisters were all 18 or older, and although she was only 11, there was no longer a governess in the household.

Stockleigh Court (Grade II listed), from britishlistedbuildings.co.uk

Camilla, two of her sisters and her younger brother remained unmarried into middle and older age, and lived with their mother at ‘The Cottage’, Brampford Speke after the death of their father in 1862. Then, finally, in her forties, after the death of her mother, Camilla gained her independence, living on her own means with one servant in Exeter St David’s.

Camilla’s father, and then brother, were the heirs of the Rev. John Froude II, who was ‘an extreme and notorious example of the “hunting parson”‘. He sounds absolutely dreadful!

Camilla Bellew died at The Cottage on 27 August 1891. Her executor was her sister Mary, who was buried with her in 1905.

The Cottage, Brampford Speke, via Historic England

The first five Camillas whose births were registered in the UK led five very different lives. While two endured poverty, hard domestic labour, and at worst the workhouse, another two lived comfortably, even luxuriously, albeit without the opportunities and independence afforded to their male relations. And one Camilla, sadly, never grew up at all.

Select sources not referenced above:

(1) Framwellgate Moor Parish Council: Our rich history

(2) Durham Mining Museum: Framwellgate Moor Colliery

(3) A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population, 1921.

(4) The Auckland Project: Appeal to shine a light on the strong women of north east history

(5) Statista: Child mortality rate (under five years old) in the United Kingdom from 1800 to 2020

The biographies in this article were primarily compiled from parish registers, civil registration for births, marriages and deaths, censuses and newspapers. To obtain any of my sources for this blog, please drop me a line at ckirkancestors@gmail.com.

Thank you to Sue Wilson and Dr Sophie Kay for pointing me to resources about coke drawers. And thank you to my cousin Hannah Stirling for explaining the geography of Framwellgate and Framwellgate Moor.

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