George Witheat Roberts (1854-1919)

George Witheat Roberts (the middle name was after his mothers maternal familyhas proven the most frustratingly elusive of my great grandfather’s siblings to track down. He was born in the first quarter of 1854, soon after the family arrived at Heath Cottage, Dedham, Essex. The 1881 census, taken on 4 April, shows George still at  Heath Cottage, with his sister Phoebe Maria (their ages incorrectly given as twenty-seven and twenty-three respectively) and a young servant, Phillis E. Cant. George is listed as a farmer.

He was apparently alone at Heath Cottage when the 1891 census was taken, although the entry seems to be incomplete and as the house was sold or auctioned in 1890, the year James Mackenzie died, it is odd he is still listed as living there. George probably either emigrated or worked abroad, possibly in the forces, from the early 1890s, which might explain why, in a codicil to his will written on his deathbed, James revoked the appointment of him as executor, and why he is not to be found on the 1901 or 1911 censuses.

Where was he?

George Witheat died in London on 26 October 1919, aged sixty-five (the record of his death incorrectly states sixty-nine). According to his will his occupation was a ‘veterinary’s assistant’. Perhaps this was to his youngest brother, the veterinary surgeon, Arthur Mason Robertsin Finchley Road, Hampstead

The typed transcript of George’s will gives his address as HighdeneGolders Green. I cannot find Highdene on any map of the period, nor any other reference to it, but maybe it was a misspelling of Highfield , which was a large house in Golders Green used, from May 1917, as a treatment centre for neurasthenia’ (shell shock). The home contained 100 beds and was set in 12.5 acres of garden (there is a photo of it here). Patients could stay at the home for three months and, during this time, they received electrical treatment, physiotherapy and psychotherapy. From August 1918 it was used by the RAF. Is it possible George was treated here in 1919 for a nervous disorder? It seems very unlikely, as he was sixty when war broke out so doubtful he saw any military action.

Three years ealier, in 3Q 1916, at the age of sixty-two, he had married thirty-four-year-old Mary Margaret Cameron Duncan. They married at Hendon (possibly Golders Green), MiddlesexMore on her below. I wonder if she was his nurse (a Mary Duncan is listed as a sister in the Territorial Force Nursing Service, 191420)? 

George’s will was witnessed by his brother Arthur Roberts and a Henry Mead of Manningtree, Essex. Probate was granted to his widow three years later, in May 1922. He left her just £145 10s 4d. 

Mary Margaret Cameron [Carroll?] Duncan

George’s wife was actually named Margaret Mary Cameron Duncan (born Old Machar, Aberdeen, 1882), but probably known as Mary. When the census was taken in 1901 she was eighteen years old and living at 23 Justice Mill Lane, Aberdeen, the step-daughter of George Duncan (aged forty-five). Also living at the house were her mother Margaret, or Maggie (aged forty-nine), sister Isabella V. Roberts (aged twenty-four) and brother Stanley Roberts (sixteen). The reason the three children all had the surname Roberts is that their father was also named George Roberts – although unconnected to our Roberts family. 

Maggie Cameron (c. 1849–1918) had married George Roberts (born c. 1845) in 1875 and they had at least three children: including Mary in 1882. But Roberts may have died by 1891, as Maggie was head of the household and listed as a lodging house keeper at 431 Union Street, Aberdeen when the census was taken that year (although of the children only Isabella and Stanley were at home – along with some lodgers). Around 1895, Maggie was married for a second time, to George M[urray?] Duncan, the manager of an agricultural implement works. Duncan may also have died though as Maggie was back renting out apartments at Union Street (this time as Mrs Margaret Duncan), according to the Aberdeen Post Office Directory for 1906: she was still there in 1911.

But all this means Mary’s maiden name was originally Roberts, not Duncan. Her elder sister, Isabella (born St Nicholas, Aberdeen, 1876), chose to keep her birth surname. Perhaps it was the reason Mary and George Witheat Roberts became friendly though, when she realised his name was the same as her father’s?

Mary may have been living in London by 1911. When the census was taken that year, a Mary Duncan, aged twenty-eight, born at Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, was head housemaid to the Scottish Earl of Crawford, at his London townhouse, 2 Cavendish Square. Was this her? Fyvie is not in the city of Aberdeen.

And what became of Mary after her brief marriage to George? Not long after his death, in the last quarter of 1921, a Mary M.C. Roberts married in London, to a Samuel Cohen (born in 1888). The couple lived at 5 Mecklenburgh Street, Bloomsbury.

If this was her, it would seem she was unlucky in love once more. The marriage ended after just two years, with Cohen’s death at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, Holborn in October 1923, at the age of thirty-five. He left his widow £158 7s, but it would seem no children. However the entry for Samuel’s will in the probate calendar gives Mary’s full name as Margaret Mary Carroll [not Cameron] Cohen. The name is repeated in Mary’s own probate record. So is this the right Mary? When this lady died her effects (£474) were left to an Isabella Kilgour Roberts, spinster. A girl of this name was born in St Nicholas, Aberdeen in 1876 and died at Bournemouth in 1967, aged ninety-one. Allowing for a typo in the transcription, could this have been Isabella V. Roberts, listed with Mary in the 1901 Aberdeen census?

By the mid 1930s Mary Cohen was living in Dartmouth Park, Highgate. She died at Whittington Hospital, Highgate in June 1952, aged sixty-nine. She never married again although her memorium notice in The Times (12 June 1953, a year after her death) was placed by ‘A.F.’, almost certainly Alfred Fellows of the same address, 10 Dartmouth Park Avenue: ‘Quia multum amavit’ (‘Because she loved’).

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