A tragic letter written by young housemaid, Charlotte Ellen Reeve, about her pending suicide formed the chief evidence at her inquest in London. The letter began by expressing regret at the trouble about to fall on her sister.
The Liverpool Mercury, 2 June 1900
A remarkable letter, or rather series of letters, written by a housemaid who committed suicide under painful circumstances, formed the chief evidence at an inquest held on Thursday at Horsleydown by Mr Samuel S Langham. The young woman, Charlotte Ellen Reeve, aged 23, was in the service of Mr Cooper, of Glenhurst, Clapham Park, and it was to her sister, in service at Hyde Park Gate, that the extraordinary document, whose opening pages were dated April 29, was addressed. The letter began by expressing regret at the trouble about to fall on the sister, and continued –
“On the night I post this to you I shall have left here forever; so will you please have my boxes fetched to you, or wherever you like to have them sent? If Mrs Cooper says anything to you about our late butler spare his name, as he is nothing whatever to do with me. He is entirely innocent of the cause of my leaving here. Why I am going I need not say; you can guess. The one who has caused me to go I can’t say, and even if I did, it would do no one any good. My only wish is that I could take Clephan [her illegitimate child] with me. He is my only worry now. Oh! if I could only take him with me; but that I can’t do. Bad as I know I am, I must stop short at murder. If my machine and boxes are pawned I daresay they will fetch a few shillings; enough to pay for Clephan until they take him into the union [workhouse], as that is where he must go unless I can force myself to take him with me at the last minute…Myself I hope and trust you will never hear of again. My body may be found in the river near the docks, or I may go further away than that. I cannot fix on the certain place till the time comes, but I have taken all the washing marks and names off all the clothes I wear, so that no one will know me, and I don’t want any one to identify me. Better for my sake and all the others. I shall have a black silk ribbon around my neck, with a small gold heart-shaped locket and a 22-carat gold wedding ring strung on…Don’t let mother know of this. Let her think I am too lazy to write to her. I have not written since January. I have left you a dreadful lot of hard work to do for me, I know, but when it is all over I am sure you must think it is the best thing I could do, and what I ought to have done three years ago, and saved my family all the disgrace of these last three years. Just fancy! My first boy in Heaven, my second on earth, and my third in hell with me. How awful to have such a record. Now, for your own sake and the sake of your family, don’t scream or faint, or do anything like that when you read this, as I must warn you it is very shocking; but it can’t be helped now. I am not unhappy, but I wish I could go now instead of waiting three weeks.”
The next date on the letter is May 10, and the deceased speaks of the loneliness of her life. Then, under the date of May 14, the letter goes on –
“My mind is slowly but surely going. I only hope it will last one more week. I wonder if anyone else ever felt as nervous as I do about dying. I am going out tomorrow to finish up the last of my business. Then I shall have nothing else to do but wait for Monday. I am starving myself this week as much as possible so as to be too weak to struggle long in the water, as I dread a slow death more than anything else…I wish the weather was warmer, then the water would not be so cold. I tried yesterday and fairly shivered.”
Finally on May 21 the deceased ends her letter without signature –
“Goodbye, Clara. Pray for me.”
Evidence was given that the body was recovered off Stanton’s Wharf on Tuesday, with the black ribbon, heart locket, and ring upon it, and the jury returned a verdict of ‘Suicide whilst temporarily insane.’
While the tragic fate of Charlotte Ellen Reeve was reported, what became of her beloved son Clephan was not. Clephan Harry Reeve’s birth record shows that he was born in Hackney, London, on 28 Mar 1899, so he would have been just 14 months old when his mother took her own life. However, it seems he was not destined for the workhouse after all. He is recorded as a 12 year old in the 1911 UK census, living with his grandparents John and Sarah Reeve at Farthingstone, Northamptonshire. Living with them is the recipient of Charlotte’s desperate note, her sister Clara Reeve, who we can presume did everything she could to ensure that Clephan was cared for. Clephan went on to live a long, and hopefully happy life; he died in Northampton in 1994, at the age of 95.