The first dry few days of June 1853 had broken into refreshing rains that, according to newspaper reports at the time, were sufficient to give the kitchen garden ‘goodly promise of early and plentiful supply of peas, beans, potatoes, cabbage, etc’. (Oxford Chronicle & Reading Gazette, 25 Jun 1853). Warmth came with the rain along with the birth of a son for William and Matilda Burnham (nee Brown) of Maidenhead, Berkshire.
Frank Burnham’s parents had married in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 1844. His father, William, had described himself as a Stationer on Frank’s birth certificate, having his own shop on Maidenhead High Street and it was here, on 21 June 1853, that Frank Burnham was born. William and Matilda had four sons already and Frank would be their 5th and final child. Did Matilda long for a daughter for company among the male dominated household or even for help with this large family and a business to run?
Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just 16 years and George Hamilton Gordon was the Conservative Prime Minister. The Crimean War would begin the following year, Britain and France having declared war on Russia.
We find Frank Burnham in the 1861 census, aged 7, living with his family in Maidenhead High Street. Unhelpfully the enumerator hasn’t given numbers but this would have been above the shop. His father is described as a Printer and Stationer. Directories of the time also just gives ‘High Street’ for William Burnham, Stationer and Bookbinder. It would have been quite a full household as, along with his parents, there were Frank’s four older brothers, including one set of twins, and also his father’s unmarried brother and sister. A total of nine people in what would have been a tenement building above the shop.
Frank’s eldest brother was not following in the family business but, at 16, was a Banker’s Clerk. Frank and his other brothers were scholars, showing that William and Matilda were concerned with giving their children a good education as schooling from aged 5 was not compulsory until the Education Act of 1880.
In December 1861 the whole country was shocked at the early death of the Queen’s Consort, Prince Albert, causing Queen Victoria to descend into a lengthy mourning.
Tragedy first struck Frank Burnham’s family in 1867 when his mother died, aged 50, of Ovarian Dropsy, he was just 13 years old. Ovarian Dropsy is a painful condition where large ovarian cysts fill with fluid causing the abdomen to become noticeably swollen. At 13 this must have been a very difficult time for Frank as well as his family. Maybe his uncle and aunt were still living with them at the time and, therefore, were able to help William look after his family. The eldest son was likely not living at home by that time, but there were four sons who would be desperately missing their mother and a grieving husband.
Just over a year later Frank Burnham’s father had re-married to Jane Fenner and in 1871 they are still living in Maidenhead’s High Street. This is likely to be number 93 as this was where they were 10 years later. By now, Frank’s eldest brother William and one of the twins, Tom, have left home to forge their own careers but Frank and the remaining two brothers are at home and working for their father. They are showing as General Printers, as is their father. The family are also now able to employ a general servant.
On Saturday, 1 February 1879, now 25 years old and still a Printer, Frank Burnham married Emma Caroline Burdett by licence at St Luke’s Church, Maidenhead, Berkshire. In its Horticultural section, the Berkshire Chronicle, on that Saturday morning had references to the severe weather continuing so it is very possible the wedding was not blessed with ideal conditions for the day.
The only address given for Frank on the marriage certificate is St Mary’s Maidenhead and for Emma, St Luke’s, where they were married. Witnesses to this marriage were Susanna Burdett, most likely Emma’s mother, and a William E Harper. Looking at both the 1871 and 1881 censuses, William E Harper/William Edward Harper, respectively, is shown as Sexton of St Luke’s Church
Tragedy would strike again, just a month later. In March 1879 Frank’s brother, John Joseph (known as Joseph to the family), died from Epilepsy at the young age of 31. He had suffered the condition since a young boy and had been in a coma for 3 days. Exhaustion was also cited as the cause of his death. Four years earlier the family had almost lost John Joseph in an accident outside their father’s shop after having a fit and almost being run over by a cart.
Later that year was a happier event when, in October, Frank and Emma celebrated the birth of their son, Frank Burdett Burnham. His middle name coming from his mother’s maiden name, and would, in time, be passed down to his own son. For reasons that are unknown at this time, Baby Frank Burdett was born at 26 Museum Street in Middlesex. I cannot find any reason for this move, especially as the occupation given for his father, Frank, on the birth certificate was Bookbinder, suggesting that he was still working for his own father’s business in Maidenhead.
The birth was registered by an unknown name, C L Abbott who had been present at the birth. Baby Frank Burdett was born just 8 months 11 days after Frank and Emma’s marriage, but I would have thought this would have been close enough to have not aroused suspicion but maybe the family thought it would be best to be away for the birth. There is a George and Caroline Abbott living at 26 Museum Street with their family in both 1871 and 1881 censuses but I cannot find a connection to the family at this time.
It is known that Frank and Emma went to live with her parents, John and Susanna Burdett, after their marriage, as in July 1880 there was a report of ‘Audacious Burglaries’ at the Burdett’s and two other properties. Frank Burnham was a witness for this at Maidenhead Borough Bench having been living with Mr Burdett at the time.
Frank and Emma can be found in 1881, with one year old Frank Burdett Burnham, and they are still living with Emma’s parents in Bridge Street, Maidenhead, however, by 1885 Frank Burnham is on the Electoral Register as living in Gloucester Terrace, Broadway, Maidenhead. Broadway is still there today and runs parallel to the High Street although almost all of the old houses have since been demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park and offices! Frank has now listed himself as a Printer. His father also had a printing works, probably in Bell Street, Maidenhead and Broadway is between both the shop in the High Street and the printers in Bell Street, therefore, close to where Frank would be working.
As Emma was not qualified to vote at this time, and therefore not on the register, it could be presumed the she was living at Gloucester Terrace with Frank, however, tragedy would strike once again with Frank’s early death on 27 March 1888, at only 34 years old, from Typhoid Fever, complicated by pneumonia. Frank died at 81 High Street, Maidenhead, the address given on later censuses as his father’s address and the informant was his brother, James, who was in attendance. He would be buried at St Michael’s Church, Bray, Berkshire in what was a very cold start to the year.
Transcription: On Tuesday, Mr. Frank Burnham, youngest son of Mr. W. Burnham, of High-street, died of inflammation of the lungs, at the early age of 35. He had been ill for about a month. The funeral, which takes place today, will be attended by the Fire Brigade, of which body deceased was a member.
Was Emma with her husband when he died, maybe unable to have the strength to register his death? Were they living with his father or just visiting, which seems unlikely if he was that ill as they would have been living just round the corner? Or maybe just Frank had been living with his father and step-mother to be cared for in his illness?
All that can be certain for now is that less than 3 months later, Frank’s wife, Emma Caroline Burnham (nee Burdett) married Henry George Warren, a Traveller, in the Parish of Chiswick, Middlesex. We don’t know if any close family attended, but they did not sign the marriage record as witnesses. Finding Emma after this is proving difficult for now.
Frank did not live to see his son, Frank Burdett, marry, his three grandchildren born or the worry of his son in the First World War as a Sapper. It appears he was their only child.