By  Mary. E Phillips (1840-1922)

The Phillips crest is not necessarily the correct  one for this branch of the Phillips family 





This document has been reproduced from the original held by Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham, which was presented by a Mrs. J Schwitzer in 1981.



Please refer to the Introduction for the background to the family but then more specifically the reference to the Cholera epidemic that hit London in 1866. The references to the pressures placed on hospitals and the nursing staff, and their dedication to duty in very harsh and difficult times, has very close parallels to the situation we face today with Covid19. 





As I think it may be interesting to the rising generation to know something of their ancestors and the places they lived in etc., I am going to try and jot down a few particulars.


There is a genealogical chart of the Phillips family, dating as far back as 1610 when William Phillips resided at Radwell Grange, near Hitchin. From that time up to my father’s I believe the eldest son on each generation has been a well-to-do farmer.


Several generations back the baptisms of the family are registered in the parish Church at Baldock, but when the ancestors of our branch of the family became a member of the Society of Friends I do not know.


 My Great-Grandfather must have settled in Tottenham about the year 1746, as I have heard my father tell me that he rode up part of the way from Royston in company with the escort bringing the Scotch Lords Kilmarnock, Cromarty and Balmarino to be tried for high treason on account of their support of the young pretender. Cromarty was liberated, but the other two were beheaded on Tower Hill in 1746. They were the last two men to suffer this penalty.


My Great-Grandfather Thomas Phillips’ first residence in Tottenham was the house, now much altered and made into two residences, lying on the east side of Tottenham Green, north of the hospital. His father having died, he must soon after have moved with the rest of his family to an estate which was standing, in my younger days, on the site now occupied by the Broadway. He farmed all the land up to the New River, and covering where the Seven Sisters Road now runs. My father remembers the making of this road for the purpose of having easy access between the West End of London and Cambridge.


The flying coach is a memory of my early childhood; later on came the Great Eastern Railway. I remember the important event of the Queen and Prince Albert coming by rail from Cambridge to the Hale station and driving thence to Buckingham Palace, when my childish veneration for Royalty received a rude shock from seeing Prince Albert in a Holland coat, the sort of garment my father only wore in the hayfield.


In the year 1798 my Great-Grandfather Thomas Phillips died and his sons Michael and John, bought that portion of Duckett’s Farm known as Grainger’s Farm of sixty-nine acres for £3,890. Neither of them resided on this property, but at the adjoining farm called Broadwaters, which they rented from Chauncey Townsend Esq. As yearly tenants until 1861, a period of 70 years. The latter farm was more conveniently situated as a residence, and they added considerably to the house, the builder being Hobson, who built the Martello Towers along the southern coast of England for the purpose of repelling the expected invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte and his army. So great was the fear of a French Invasion that an inventory was taken of the horses, carts and implements on this farm and others around London, in case this event took place.




The reminiscences of Mary E Phillips and her experiences of living in Tottenham are reasonably long so please refer to the following summary of the contents. If, however, you wish to read the complete document and associated illustrations then please CLICK HERE.  
  • Mary E Phillips was born in Tottenham in 1840 and died in Tottenham in 1922 aged 83 years.
  • Her Great Grandfather, Thomas Phillips, first settled in Tottenham in 1746.
  • The Phillips family had owned both Broadwater Farm and Grainger's Farm in Tottenham.
  • Her father, John Phillips, married Mary Payne in 1838. He became the tenant at Broadwater Farm and the owner of Grainger's Farm.
  • John and Mary Phillips had four children:  Mary, John, Alfred and Ellen
  • Much of Mary E Phillips education was conducted by a resident governess but she later attended finishing school in Brighton.
  • In 1861 the family moved to a larger house located at 575 High Road.
  • The younger daughter, Ellen Phillips, was a nurse during the 1866 Cholera epidemic and she later married Dr. Alexander Fox.
  • Ellen Phillips was trained under the guidance of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who later became the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and surgeon.
  • Ellen and Alexander Fox, along with Mary E Phillips, opened in 1867 a small clinic as a dispensary for woman and children. It later moved to larger premises and was to become The Queens Hospital for Children in Hackney Road.
  • In 1881, as only Mary and her father John Phillips were living at 865 High Road, they moved into a smaller house on Tottenham Green where Mary was to live as a spinster for the next 40 years.



When stumbling across this article once again recently, I was taken by a paragraph that refers to the Cholera epidemic that hit London bank in 1966. The references to the pressures placed on hospitals and the nursing staff, and their dedication to duty in very harsh and difficult times, has very close parallels to the situation we face today.  

 As we know Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a very prominent physician in Victorian times and later a leading member of the suffragette movement.  Her sister was Millicent Fawcett who was also a member of the suffragette movement and has connections with Tottenham.

Thus the nineteen years that elapsed between the change of residence was fraught with many important episodes in our family history.


One of the most prominent was my sister’s tarriance in the London Hospital during the time of the Cholera epidemic of 1866. It came about in this wise. She had felt much inclined to study medicine, and had as a preliminary step become associated in work with Mrs Garrett Anderson, and later had obtained leave to visit at the London Hospital daily in order to become better acquainted with what would be involved in undertaking the study of medicine. While thus engaged the epidemic of cholera broke out. To the London Hospital were sent the first cases, creating quite a panic amongst the staff, and some resignations followed. My sister offered as volunteer, and was accepted, and was at once placed in charge of the cholera wards, which filled with alarming rapidity.


“Doctors differ, but patients die”, was the discouraging verdict of Sir Andrew Clark. I treasure for her descendants a paragraph from the Lancet dated July 28th 1866. It runs:-

“ In the Cholera wards of the London Hospital, in a scene of suffering and death, sufficient to try the stoutest heart, a lady volunteer nurse has passed her time since the beginning of the epidemic, moving from bed to bed in ceaseless efforts to comfort and relieve.  So very youthful and so very fair is this devoted girl, that it is difficult to control a feeling of pain at her presence under such circumstances. But she offered her help at a time when, from the sudden inroad of cases, such assistance was urgently required, and nobly has she followed herself sought duty. Wherever the need is greatest and the work hardest, there she is to be seen toiling, until her limbs almost refuse to sustain her; and the effect of the young creatures presence has been that the nurses have been encouraged by her never-failing courage and cheeriness, so that dread of the disease has been lost in efforts to combat it. This is an instance of devotion which it would be an insult to praise--- it needs only to be recorded”.  The Lancet 28th July.1866.


Background  image-House on Tottenham Green





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