This is Ellen Freed Benn, the matriarch of our particularly large branch of the Tapply family tree. There is no date on the picture, but it's bound to be early. She had12 children in all, 11 living. Her ancestry is a knot still to be totally unraveled. I've been working on that for a while now.
Sometimes it's worth sending off for vital records, even if they cost a bit. This was once of those times. The family Bible said that Ellen Benn was born in Sutton Valence, but her records didn't turn up there. Oh, I found a christening entry, but no birth record. When London turned up on the hints in Ancestry, I had to know more.
From this record we have an exact birth date, a place, her father's occupation and some information about her mother. By March, when this certificate and the christening entry were filed, her mother Mary Ann Frid (Freed) was recorded as "deceased". Perhaps this was in childbirth, birth complications, or illness. Life was tough back then in the poor neighborhoods of London. A little research into Somers Town has told me that.
Crawley Mews doesn't exist anymore. At some point when roads were straightened and reorganized, the road and the mews disappeared.
This all looks very leafy now, but the descriptions online of Somers Town at the time are of real poverty. Charles Dickens' childhood home is only a block away.
This is from a book about the mews of London. Imagine now that John Benn kept his "rig" and his horse in the stable and mews below. He and his wife and child lived above.
The neighborhood of SomersTown is near Old St. Pancras Hospital, St. Pancras Station and King's Cross Station (of Harry Potter fame). Today it's a very mixed bag of working people and immigrants. Even then, the police blotter that cousin Holly found describes some blocks as very affluent and some as quite poor. To give you some context, I found an antique map where you can just read "Crawley" inside the red circle. I suspect the three horizontal buildings there are the mews. The modern map below shows how changed it all is.
For Americans unfamiliar with London, I'm including a wider map too.
After her mother's death, Ellen went to live with her Freed relatives in Kent. First she lived with her aunt, then an uncle. I believe this aunt is the "mother" who presented her with the family Bible. My research leads me to think that her father may not have survived long after her mother. I don't find anything that's certain, but he seems to disappear. The police notes Holly found come from the London School of Economics and they chronicle an officer walking his "beat" in 1898. He makes note of a "cab master who is a considerable proprietor" living on Crawley Mews. So Crawley Mews continued to be home to London cabbies for a time.
The police blotter also records that "the gardens of Oakley Square remain private". I was trolling around the internet trying to find some very early pictures of Somers Town. I found a few pictures of Old St. Pancras church and the railway stations, but the picture that made me smile was this one.
This picture from that very time is of the hippo in Regents Park Zoo. Somers Town is right on the edge of Regents Park. With the local green space closed to them, I like to think that maybe John and Mary Ann Benn took a stroll through Regents Park and perhaps enjoyed a look at the animals in the zoo. It's a nice thought, since their happiness was so brief.