Reuben Stenning, After Florence

Previously I told the story of Florence May Chappell, a young Edwardian lady who ran away to Canada with a married father of six, Reuben Stenning.

The story was pieced together from records held within the Stenning family, census returns, passenger lists and immigration cards to solve the mystery of where Florence went in 1912 when she vanished from Brighton and ceased using the name of Chappell.

Reuben’s story is just as startling though so it seems only fair I write about him too.

Reuben was born in about 1877 in Croydon, the seventh child of Phillip and Rhoda Stenning who were in their late thirties. Phillip and Rhoda had nine children in total, eight sons and one daughter. Phillip worked as a coach builder with help from his sons.

Reuben stayed at home working with his family until 1899 when he married Harriett Sarah Gosling. Reuben was 22, Harriett was 23. Harriett’s family was smaller and her parents were a decade or so younger than Reuben’s. Her father was a clock maker.

Within a year of marriage Reuben and Harriett had moved to Brighton and on the 1901 census they’re recorded there with their one month old son and Reuben is working as a coach painter. By 1911 the couple had been married twelve years. They’d lost one son in 1905 at the age of 5 but had five children still living including a babe in arms.

It was in the summer of 1911 that Reuben met Florence. By the spring of 1912 she was pregnant and in July 1912 Reuben vanished to Canada. For the next ten years Reuben and Florence lived in Canada as a married couple and had two sons. Meanwhile Harriett stayed in Brighton, struggling to look after the children with no idea where her husband had disappeared to.

In 1922 when Florence died, Reuben was left with two young sons and appears to have done something very audacious. He contacted Harriett and asked her to come to Canada. What Harriett made of Reuben’s return to her life can only be imagined but in 1923 she said yes.

Harriett’s entry card for Canada is a very emotive document. By now she was 46, working as a dressmaker (a hard and poorly paid job) and carrying just £3 in cash. Her passage was paid for by Reuben, her object in going to Canada is listed as ‘going to join husband’. Her three youngest children travelled with her.

Descendants of the family tell me that Florence’s children and Harriett’s lived alongside each other as equals and made fresh new lives within their community. An unusual but peaceful ending to this Edwardian drama.

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