I came across a curious item yesterday from the Essex Newsman newspaper published on October 7 1905.
Headlined “Death of Mrs W E J Heenan” it announced the recent death of the wife of a man living in Southend, a coastal town in South East England.
The transcription of this item reads:
We regret to announce the death which occurred early at Southend, of Mrs Heenan, wife of Mr W.E J Heenan. The deceased lady had been recently confined and her death was due to the exhaustion following confinement. She leaves her husband and one little boy.
Mr Heenan is a nephew of Major Lane, a former Governor of H M Prison, Chelmsford and is well known and much liked both in Chelmsford and Southend. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Chelmsford and was afterwards at the Arc Works, Chelmsford.
Thence he went to Northampton on appointment as electrical engineer to the corporation there. Afterwards he came to Southend as electrical engineer and here he carried out much good work for the council and town. Recently he was selected out of many applicants for the position of electrical engineer to the Bermondsey Borough Council and his tenancy of the Bungalow, Southend, only expired this Michaelmas-Day. Great sympathy will be felt with him in his sad bereavement. The funeral took place at Teddington on Thursday.
Why is this a curious item?
The first thing to notice is that the name of this unfortunate woman is not mentioned anywhere in the article. She is simply Mrs W. E J Heenan. Not that unusual given that this comes from 1905, a time when married women typically did not have an identity of their own.
No, the really curious thing is that although this is meant to be about the death of Mrs Heenan, the article is actually all about her husband. We get to know what school he attended, his career progression and even the name and occupation of a relative.
But about Mrs Heenan, there is nothing apart from the fact that she died after childbirth and when her funeral was held. She is largely invisible….
Fortunately as a result of my own research I can at least give this lady a name.
W. E J Heenan was born as William Edwin Heenan into a quite well-to-do family. His father William Henry Heenan was a dealer in government bonds who then became a land overseer in Hampstead, London. William Edwin was his third child, born in 1870.
In 1896, William Edwin Heenan married Edith Annie Watkin at St Sepulchre in Northampton. She was the daughter of the owner of a building company. According to this newspaper report the couple had one son but civil registration documents actually show there were two sons.
Claude Watkin Heenan was born in 1903. He had a brother James Calvert Heenan born in 1905 – this is the child whose birth led to the “exhaustion” and was the cause of her death. The couple were living at 30 Cambridge Road, Southend on Sea at the time.
In her will Edith Annie Heenan left an estate valued at £60 to her husband. He went on to marry twice more – once in 1908 and then after his wife Ethel Mary died in 1922, he married Alice Daisy Barrett in 1925.
William Edwin Heenan was the grandson of James Heenan, a tobacconist in London’s prestigious Regent Street (read his story here) .