This page explores the life of my great grandmother who grew up in Wedmore as Harriet Fisher but then lived and died as Harriet Pope.
There was nothing in the early life of Harriet Fisher to distinguish her from
any fairly run-of-the-mill child born to any country blacksmith of the time. Yet
it was what happened to her and how she chose to handle it that was the
rationale for my bothering to research the Fishers of Wedmore and put up this
Harriet was born on 24 Feb 1847 at Wedmore to Joseph and Amelia Fisher, and the 1851 census showed her age 4 with them there at Coombe Batch, along with her siblings. By 1861 at just 14 she was, like most of her contemporaries, out earning. She was an unmarried nurse at Flood Street, Wedmore.
By 1971, though, Harriet had moved to London where her social life was presumably much more exciting. The census shows her at 24, as a nurse, born Wedmore in the house of Thomas Bowk... [?] at 25 Fawcett Street, Kensington. There are no more records until the 1881 census, which shows her, somewhat surprisingly as a mere parlour maid, which must have been something of a come-down from a nurse. One cannot help but wonder why that happened. She was still working in a solicitor's house, now in Hampstead, at 58 Avenue Road, and whether she knew it or not at the time, she was in the early stages of pregnancy with my grandmother.
Harriet had come from a family where illegitimate births was not in the least out of the ordinary. Both her mother and her grandmother had borne illegitimate children. Yet Harriet began a story of cover up that was worthy of novel. Not only did she invent a husband and create an alias identity for her illegitimate daughter, she kept the fabrications up for the rest of her life. She was, presumably, determined that her daughter would not suffer for her indiscretion.
Harriet's daughter was registered Maud Amelia Pope Fisher and Harriet lived as "Harriet Pope", widow of "Jacob Pope deceased". I strongly suspect that it was indeed a Jacob Pope who fathered Harriet's child, but that is a story for Jacob's page and Maud's own page, as are the fabrications that Harriet's daughter told her own children, including my father.
Harriet did not return to Wedmore to have baby Maud. Maud's birth certificate shows Harriet as a house-manager at a beer garden in Hampton Wick, Middlesex. Neither did Harriet return to Wedmore to live after having Maud. Maud was left with Harriet's mother, Amelia Fisher. Harriet presumably sent money back to Wedmore for Maud, because anecdotal evidence that came down in the family was that Maud was well educated, played the piano well and was trained as a dressmaker. Harriet showed up in the 1891 census at Bethnal Green, London as Harriet Pope, widow, age 46, a silk winder. She was lumped together with the other workers as all born in London; the anonymity would have suited her. No other Harriet Pope or Harriet Fisher of similar age was in the census.
The 1901 census gives a new twist to the story. By then Amelia, Harriet's mother and Maud's grandmother, had died, and Harriet was, herself, living with "Maud Pope" daughter in Wedmore at Coombe Batch. Harriet had somehow managed to get herself listed as Harriett Pople (rather than Harriet Pope), the Poples being an old and respected Wedmore family. The stated age of 54 is totally accurate for her. She was listed as a grocer/shopkeeper with "own accommodation, working from home" and Maud, stated as her daughter, age 19, was with her, "a dressmaker working at home".
After 13 Apr 1903 Harriet was left alone because Maud married and moved away to Edmonton, on the outskirts of London. Harriet died age 60 at Coombe Batch, Wedmore on 17 Feb 1908 of vascular disease of the heart. The informant was Maud who had come up from Edmonton, to take care of the details. The death certificate documents Harriet as Harriet Pope, age 60, widow of Jacob Pope.