Poor Edith…

The first in a rather long series of Poor Ediths, Poor Agneses, Poor Amys, and others.

Edith Agnes Elizabeth Piper was my first cousin twice removed; the daughter of Arthur Henry Piper and his wife Agnes (née Draper). Arthur was the brother of my great-grandmother, Mary Piper.

Edith was born in Oxford in September 1888, the eldest of three siblings; she was around a year younger than her cousin Evie Smith, my grandmother. The two were very close, and kept up a correspondence. I had never seen a picture of her, until I found these images in my collection of family papers and photographs. They show a very beautiful young woman, with striking almond-shaped eyes.

In 1915 she married Joe Venables, a printer’s machinist, and private in the 1st Batallion of the Rifle Brigade. On May 4th 1918, the couple had a son, Eddie (seen in the final image below, with his cousin May Dolling – whom I remember meeting in the early 1970s).

Sadly, Edith died on May 27th 1918, around 3 weeks after Eddie was born, from post-partum meningitis; she is buried in the same plot as her grandparents, William and Elizabeth Piper, in Rose Hill Cemetery, Oxford.






Edith’s death was not the first tragedy to visit the family, nor the last. Her mother, Agnes, fell ill 3 weeks after the birth of her third child, in August 1893, with post-partum psychosis, or puerperal mania as it was called then, and was admitted to Littlemore Pauper Lunatic Asylum:

“A pale and anaemic woman who looks weak and ill. Is under the delusion that Angels haunt her room, also that a man had been standing at the window of her room with a big stick in his hand, & waving it in a threatening manner at her. Her Nurse informs me she is at times violent, refuses food, that she fancies men are about the house. Patient seated and incoherent on admission – talked about being put asleep & an illegal operation being performed”.

Apart from a couple of home visits, from which she was promptly recalled, Agnes remained in Littlemore for the next four years. In 1897, she was discharged, “at the request of her mother, who undertook all responsibility”. In 1898, she was hurriedly readmitted.

“Her countenance expresses mental pain. Memory markedly defective, not able to sustain a conversation. Language obscene. Bursts of laughter alternating with crying. States that she hates her mother. Her mother states that she has threatened to beat out her (mother’s) brains; that she wanders about at night without any cause”.

There Agnes stayed, in one asylum or another, for the rest of her life. She died on March 22nd 1922 in Buckinghamshire County Lunatic Asylum at Stone, from Lupus and TB. Her husband Arthur died just three days later from a stroke. His sister wrote: “Poor Agnes. They had been married 36 years, and had only spent six years together when she was taken away”.

So much pain, within just one family.