May B. Carlyle?

During my visit to London in early April, I was able to visit some sites that my great-great-great aunt May frequented during her adult life in London. I learned about these places initially through her letters to my great-great grandfather John, her brother, which I transcribed this spring, and then by conducting subsequent research.

In addition to visiting the site of May’s home during WWII, (detailed in this post and this one), I paid a visit to St. Patrick’s Soho Square Roman Catholic Church, where, from the letter transcribed below, I knew May attended Christmas mass in 1925.



Letter from May, Christmas 1925

Postmarked: London, W.C., [ ] p.m., Dec 14, 1925 C POST EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS
Addressed to: Mr. J. J. Enright, 6,327 Dorchester Avenue, Chicago U.S.A.
Header: 14 12/25, 129 Kings Cross Rd., London, W.C. 1


Jack dear. Very many thanks for yours & enclosure. I do hope your being so kind does not inconvenience you. The weather here is wretched snow [& frost?]. [Glad?] you liked Percy if only for Cis’ sake; I must say I was disappointed in him; to my mind he does not seem nearly good enough for her, still she is happy; so that is all that really matters. I have not heard from her for some time, but very likely she will find time to write for Xmas. As you will see I have not gone home; it is no use. Jack; I cannot bring myself to do so; of course if I had money & could go well dressed & leave when I felt like it it would be different; but as things are with me at present it is not to be thought of; & I may tell you they are about as bad as they come [&?] very well be; still I’m hoping that with the New Year, something good will surely happen. I’ve always been one to look on the bright side of things but turn which way I will I can’t find one; but enough of me & my troubles; no doubt you have your own tho; I hope not. I know nothing of Moss, except that he is supposed [‘to?] be with his wife; if he is I may see him at Xmas; as his wife will be coming to spend the holidays with her [sisters?]. Do you thinking the boundary question is really settled at last? I should like to believe it were true; we must only wait & see. I enclose some [cutting?] which I think will interest you; if you know please tell me how does U.S.A. owe us £500,000,000. I had a few lines from Mother last week the first for nearly two months; time was when she wrote me & expected me to answer every week. She says she feels she is getting old & won’t live very long; but I don’t take any notice of her I have been hearing that for the past 20 years. She also said she has just heard from you & that you seemed well & happy. Strange Bill does not write—perhaps he will for Xmas I hope he will to Mother at least I know she would be glad to hear from him. A [fortnight?] from now [&?] Xmas will be all over I won’t be sorry. It is a miserable time, when one is alone & feels down & out. On Xmas Eve I will go to St. Patrick’s church Soho Sq; for mid-night mass you & your dear ones will be remembered in my prayers My dearest wishes to the boys for all the luck that life can bring them. To you & Nora all that you [wro?] yourselves that we may all spend a Xmas together is my earnest wish. A happy Xmas & prosperous New Year Jack dear; [fondest?] love from May


The purpose of my visit to St. Patrick’s was not only so that I might step into a building May had been to on at least one occasion; it was part of my attempt to piece together another area of her life, namely, the story of her marriage. May was likely born Mary B. Enright, though this itself is difficult to determine, as the baptismal record index at the Listowel parish church, at least for May’s family, has a number of inaccuracies that other family researchers have identified. Presumably, she took on the nickname “May” sometime before she was 19, as a May B. Enright, born in Ireland, age 19, appears in an English census record from 1901. I believe May was born in 1882, which squares with this record.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 5.21.48 PM
Screenshot from the 1901 English census entry where May appears

The census lists May as living at 73 Fulham Place in Paddintgon, London with a Maria M. Baker and her daughter, Gladys M. Baker. May is listed as the niece of Maria, which, through research into Maria and her daughter, I have been unable to corroborate. In fact, I haven’t discovered any connection between the Baker and Enright families, though there is very little information to go on. My assumption, for now, is that either May, Maria, or both thought it would be best for purposes of the census that May be listed as a relative, rather than an unrelated boarder. All this to say that, in 1901, May was still using the last name Enright, rather than the later Carlyle with which she signed all the letters in my possession.

The next written documentation I have containing May’s last name is a 1908 obituary shared in 2015 by my uncle from the Kerry Sentinal newspaper. It was written on the occasion of the funeral of May’s eldest brother Gerald.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 5.12.34 PM

In it, May is recorded as “Mrs. Carlisle,” sister of the deceased. From this data, I gather that May married a Carlyle, which is how she spells the name in her return addresses, sometime between 1901 and 1908. It is possible, of course, that she changed her last name and form of address without having married, though it seems unlikely. By December 17, 1913, the date of the first letter that I have, May talks of having “no one.” In rationalizing her decision to not go home to Ireland for Christmas that year, she writes the following:

“You said for me to be [sure?] & go home for Xmas & not disappoint Mother, well dear I’m sorry to say I’m not going, but I don’t think Mother will be very disappointed as she has got Alice & is used to doing without me, I think I am the one who is most disappointed, you have Nora & the boys, Cis has you! But Bill & I have no one, & I do wish Xmas was over.” (Bill is one of their unmarried brothers who moved to the western United States to work).

This passage (and the lack of any mention of a spouse or partner in the seven subsequent letters) leads me to believe that, by 1913, May is separated from Carlyle, whether by death or separation of another kind. At this date, WWI had not yet kicked off, which might have been one explanation for a husband’s departure. The curious thing in all of this is that neither May, her siblings, nor her mother ever mention Carlyle in any of the correspondence in our possession. In the past months, I’ve spent at least a dozen hours trying to locate a record or mention of May’s marriage or husband, without success. I’ve searched census and voter lists, birth, marriage and death records, and immigration and military records in Britain, Ireland, and even the U.S. in an attempt to find any clues. In fact, the only written records of May after the 1908 obituary are her letters and the letters of her family members. This has a number of potential explanations, including the fact that women’s suffrage in the UK was not fully granted until 1928 (and, as an Irishwoman living in England, I’m not exactly sure how suffrage laws at the time would have applied to her), the fact that she was often likely subletting rooms, and that her lessors might not have wanted this information published in censuses, the fact that censuses in the UK were suspended during the war years (May lived through two World Wars), as well as the fact that she probably would have gotten married in a Roman Catholic church.

This last point may likely be the strongest explanation for my inability to find a record of any marriage. Through my research, I discovered that, in England, where the protestant Church of England is the official state religion, the majority of catholic registers, at least from this period, remain in the custody of parish priests. Catholic churches kept their own records, but very few of them have found their way into The National Archives and other national databases. Catholic organizations and genealogists have done a great deal of work to locate and compile British Roman Catholic records (the Catholic Record Society, the Catholic National Library, and the Society of Genealogists are just a few), but in general it is difficult to search for them unless one knows the parish or diocese in which the record might be located. Certain diocese seem to have more digitized records than others. Another difficulty in locating catholic records is that, before the Second Vatican Council of 1965, the majority of catholic records were kept in Latin. This means that names were often Latinized, too—Mariam or Maria for Mary (and likely for May, too), Joannem for John, Jacobus for James, etc. However, it should be borne in mind that since Carlyle is typically an English surname, it’s possible they were wed in a protestant church (there certainly were English Catholics in these years, but they were a minority of the population). I have found a small number of Irish nationals during this time period with the name of Carlyle, though none that fit the correct profile.

Given the importance of knowing the specific parish or diocese in order to locate Roman Catholic records and the little I had found out about May’s married life, I followed the only lead I had in regards to the parish in which she may have attended services. This of course led me to St. Patrick’s, Soho Square. I figured that, if she attended Christmas mass there, she might have gotten married there, too (if she had been married, if it had been in a Roman Catholic ceremony, and if it had been in London—as always, a lot of “ifs”).

We stopped in at St. Patrick’s the week before Easter on our last day in London. Upon entering, we found church employees and a crew of volunteers spiffing up the nave, polishing candelabras and mopping floors. I was hesitant to ask to speak with the priest during what seemed like a very busy time, but my friend spurred me on, asking an eastern European woman wiping down one of the pews where we could find the priest. She directed us to the sacristy on the south side of the nave. At the sacristy door, which was propped open, another volunteer hollered to a Father Andrew, whom I spied on all fours cleaning out some kind of closet across the room.  He approached, face flushed, and inquired what I was looking for. Upon mentioning that I was looking for a marriage record, he abruptly asked if I had the year and maiden and married names. I told him I had both maiden and married names and a range of years, 1901-1908. He said that once I figured out the year, I could email him the information, as it wasn’t something he could look up easily at the moment–it required a great deal of time to go through the registry. Thanking him for his time, I turned to leave, as it was clear he wanted to get back to the daunting task of tidying up the church in time for Easter.

Following are some pictures of the exterior and the nave, including an interesting plaque about a narrow miss during the air raids of 1940. Although I haven’t yet reached out to Father Andrew about locating a record of May’s marriage—I’ve been trying as much as I can to narrow the range down from seven years, so that he has less to sift through—it was still a valuable experience to visit the location where  May attended Christmas mass in 1925 and thought about her brother and his family in far-away Chicago.

My friend Eugenia and I outside the front entrance of St. Patrick’s on Soho Square
Plaque on one of the piers in the church nave
Bell tower viewed from Sutton Row

The parish itself has a “colourful” history (the church website’s word, not mine), which you can read about here. It was an especially important institution for London’s Irish immigrants. By sheer coincidence (I think), St. Patrick’s was first consecrated as a chapel in a building behind Carlisle House, originally the home of the Earl of Carlisle, later occupied by Teresa Cornelys, a famous entertainer and courtesan. Carlisle House stood on the current site of the church before today’s Italianate structure was built between 1891 and 1893.




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