This a tragic little tale with a Surbiton connection.
Charles Vyse was a straw hat maker, straw hats being very popular in mid Victorian England. His premises were at 30 Ludgate Street in London. In 1847 bankruptcy proceedings were taken out against Charles, but he was allowed to continue to run his business from 30 Ludgate Street. In 1849 he was advertising that he was selling fashionable ‘Parisian bonnets’ and other fancy headgear from his shop.
Charles died in July 1850 at the age of 66 and left the entire business to his wife Mary, and after her death to his children. But his son Edward, he ruled in his will, was not to be a partner in the business, but to receive a salary. Why this was so is not clear. In the 1851 census, Mary is listed as the head of the household, with son Augustus manager of the business.
Meanwhile, son Valentine, a bankers clerk, meets and marries Anne Cornish Saunders, the daughter of a chemist, in January 1851. They live together in Surbiton and begin to bring up a family. It would appear that after 1858 Valentine then took over the family business. Then things started to go horribly wrong.
Around June 7 1862 a notice appears in several newspapers reporting that Mrs Vyse of Ludgate Hill, then 33, had been committed to Newgate on a charge of wilfully murdering her children, Alice Kate and Annie Howard. At her trial at the Old Bailey it was revealed that she had been charged with poisoning the two children.
Valentine and Anne at that point actually had five children, though only the two girls had up come with her to see the Great Exhibition in London on that particular that day. Three weeks earlier, Anne had visited a chemist’s to buy some rat poison. A servant, sent out to fetch some more poison, returned home and knocked on the bedroom door, only to be told to wait. Becoming suspicious, she called Mrs Vyse’s sister Sarah Saunders, and they forced open the door.
There they found a scene of horror. Anne was standing over the sink bleeding from the throat with a cut throat razor in her hand. The two girls were found dead in their beds, fully clothed. The court records show that Anne: “said that she was mad and wished to die, and that her children were in heaven.” An analyses of their stomachs found large quantities of strychnine.
Anne Vyse’s defence at the trial cited that she was pregnant and depressed. She had lost a child in 1860 to diphtheria, in Surbiton. Elsewhere in her family, one cousin had tried to commit suicide, another had been confined in a lunatic asylum.
Anne was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity. She was sentenced to be detained for life, but by 1871 was living in Wimbledon, with a family. Anne died in 1889 and is buried in St Paul’s churchyard in Hook – in the same grave as the two little girls.
For more on this sad case, see the excellent London Street Views blog at https://londonstreetviews.wordpress.com.