Sylvia Cox and her Grandmother.

* * * *

The characters

Grandmother: Elizabeth Ann Maishman née Humber.

born 13 February 1874 (Ratcliffe, London)

died 11 May 1939

Grandfather: Alfred Maishman

born 23 April 1869 at Hemel Hempstead, Herts

died 1959 [winter time]

Their Marriage: 25 December 1892 (Xmas Day)

at East Ham church – St Mary Magdalen

(now known as East Ham Old Church with the churchyard as a nature reserve)

Sylvia’s Mother:

Winifred Doris May Maishman

born 22 June 1911 (Upton Park, London)

known as Winnie

Sylvia herself:

born 15 March 1934 at Eastbourne

The story:

In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of WW2 when Sylvia was just 5, she was living at “Hillside View”, Castledon Road, Wickford, Essex – the home of her grandparents Alfred and Elizabeth Maishman. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Humber and she was the youngest of three sisters. In the family she was usually known as Lily.

The Humber family came from East London and it was customary at that time to have a Sunday tea of brown bread and butter with shrimps. At Wickford, a street shrimp seller would tour the roads with his basket or barrow selling sea food. At this particular time the shrimps must have been stale because shortly after the usual family tea, Sylvia and Lily were both taken violently ill. Alfred was not ill because not liking shrimps, he had not eaten them. Alfred was an eccentric and believed in weird home-made remedies made of various curious substances. He promptly dosed Sylvia up with his mixtures and she was extremely sick. But Lily refused to take his medicines and remained very ill. Sylvia cannot remember how long it was before Sylvia’s mother, Winnie, came home from her workplace and saw how ill her mother was. Alfred had refused to call the doctor – it cost too much! Sylvia remembers being told that her Nana was still wearing her corsets but it could have been several days at least. Winnie immediately went into Wickford town to get the doctor.

Thus it happened that Lily arrived at the Chelmsford and Essex hospital being treated as a special case – ie with individual nursing. It is not known how long she stayed like this but Sylvia was told that her Nana seemed to be recovering and asked if she could have a cup of tea. “Certainly, my dear” said the nurse and went to get the tea. But when she returned to the ward, Lily had died. It is suspected by Sylvia that it was due to botulism. Sylvia loved her Nana who had brought her up since she was a tiny baby and now suddenly her Nana was not there and Sylvia cannot remember what she was told or how she felt. It is very unlikely that she went to the funeral at St Margaret’s church, Castledon Road, Downham.

This is Elizabeth Maishman as a young woman.


And this is Elizabeth with her grand-daughter Sylvia. (1939)

The Inquest

The Newsman, Saturday June 10th 1939


Wickford Woman’s Sad End

A shrimp tea and a woman’s subsequent death formed the subject of an adjourned inquest at Chelmsford on Wednesday on Mrs Elizabeth Ann Maishman, aged 65, wife of Mr Alfred Maishman, of Hillside view, Castledon Road, Wickford.

The husband said his wife had fair health. On April 22 they had breakfast and luncheon together, with no ill effects. He went out, returning home at 8.30pm, when he found his wife in dreadful pain, and he put her to bed. His little granddaughter was also bad. The following day witness found some shrimps in the kitchen: he smelt them, found they were bad, and threw them on the fire. A doctor was sent for, and on May 7 the wife was removed to Chelmsford Hospital, where she died. Witness did not put his wife’s illness down to the shrimps at the time. He thought she had a bad bilious attack. His granddaughter, who had also eaten some of the shrimps, got better after three days.

Mary Jane Humber, sister of the deceased, said she had tea with the deceased on April 22. They had about half a dozen shrimps each. An hour later the deceased complained that she had a very bad pain. Witness had no ill effects.

Dr. J. D. Wells, Billericay, said he had made enquiries in the district, and had not found any cases of poisoning in similar circumstances.

P.s.Joslin said in accordance with the Coroner’s directions, he traced the source of the origin of the shrimps, and found that some barrows which conveyed shrimps from Billingsgate Market to Liverpool Street station were in a very dirty condition.

Dr. F. E.Camps, pathologist, Chelmsford, said there was no evidence of gross toxaemia. From the history of the case, it suggested that deceased was suffering from some form of bacterial food poisoning. It was impossible to say the exact food which caused the illness, but the fact that the deceased and the child were taken ill and both had shrimps suggest that it came from that source. The mere fact that the shrimps were “off” did not necessarily mean that they contained a germ of food poisoning. The shrimps may have become contaminated in their travels or in the house itself.

The Deputy-Coroner (Mr H. M. Pinney), returning a verdict of Death from Misadventure, said the woman came to her death by food poisoning, and his opinion was that the food which brought about the poisoning was the shrimps. It was not his duty to say how they became contaminated, for he was not concerned with any civil matter. There was no criminal negligence in any way.

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2 Responses to (04)

  1. Note that Elizabeth was taken ill on 22 April but it was not until 7th May that she was taken to hospital

  2. Sylvia has many memories (still unwritten) about her aunt Mary.

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