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Bertha Cave: Where Did She Come From?

 No personal information on Bertha Cave that may have been submitted at the time of her application in 1903 has survived in Gray’s Inn. She appears from nowhere, with no recorded education, and after 1904 disappears again into obscurity: no marriage, death or emigration has so far been traced.

In fact, nothing would be known about her at all if it were not for the press reports in late 1904 of court hearings regarding a dispute over her faulty bicycle, which in passing name her father as James Cave and locate the family in Croydon. (Without this valuable point of reference, it would have been tempting to identify her with the Bertha Cave born in Newbury in 1869, who was the daughter of a solicitor and thus had a legal connection).

The 1901 census for 14 Temple Road, Croydon, shows a small household under the headship of Annie Cave, married woman, aged 46, of no occupation, born in Astley, Shropshire, with her son Montague Cave, aged 12, and daughter Bertha Cave, aged 20, of no occupation, both born in Brasted, Kent, plus two boarders. There is however no sign of James: since Annie is described both as head of the household and married rather than widowed it seems that he was alive but permanently or largely resident elsewhere.

The 1891 census for Brasted, Sundridge, Sevenoaks, shows the same small family of Annie, wife, married woman, aged 36, of no occupation, born in Shropshire, daughter Bertha, aged 9, and son Montague, aged 2, both born in Brasted, Kent.* That Annie is not described as head of the household implies that her husband is only absent temporarily. And indeed, at Brasted Place nearby there appears James Cave, servant, married, aged 43, born in Bulwick, Northamptonshire. He is named first of a residential staff of 10 in what is clearly a wealthy establishment, the head of which is named as William Tipping, aged 74, born in Lancashire, Justice of the Peace, living on his own means, with his wife Maria and unmarried son William F Tipping, aged 43, colonel of the militia, and four children of different surnames described as visitors.

Tipping was a businessman and later MP who became wealthy from his involvement in railways. James Cave was already his butler at Brasted Place in the previous census of 1881: James Cave, servant, married, aged 32, butler, born at Bulwick, Northamptonshire. By a useful anomaly, however, he is recorded twice in the 1881 census, the second time at Brasted Lodge: James T Cave, head, married, aged 33, butler, born at Bulwick, Northamptonshire and his wife Annie Cave, aged 27, of no occupation, born at Astley, Shropshire.

Bertha’s birth was registered in the district of Sevenoaks: she was born on 14 November 1881 at Park Lodge, Sundridge, the daughter of James Thomas Cave, butler, and his wife Annie (nee Barker). (Park Lodge, Sundridge, is presumably the same place as Brasted Lodge).

They were married on 12 Nov 1879 at Whitchurch in Shropshire: James Thomas Cave, 34, son of Thomas Cave, tailor, and Annie Barker, 26, daughter of James Barker, farmer (deceased, although the certificate does not say so), witnessed by James Barker and Emily Maria Barker, the bride’s brother and sister. (It is worth noting that James’s age as given here is lower than his real age and that the age he gives to his employers increasingly reduces in subsequent censuses, until by 1911 he has taken 12 years off it).

The only James Thomas Cave, son of Thomas, born in Bulwick around the right time was James Thomas, son of Thomas Cave, aged 38, tailor, and his wife Eliza, aged 33 (nee Breakspear; married at Bulwick on 21 May 1836) who was born in 1845 but not baptised until 1850. In the 1851 census of Bulwick he is shown as one of Thomas’s and Eliza’s six sons. He is still living in Bulwick with his parents and two further siblings in 1861, when like his father he is described as a tailor.**

Annie Barker, born Anne Barker in 1854 in the district of Atcham, appears as Anne, aged 7, in the 1861 census for Astley, Shropshire, in the household of her father, James Barker, shoemaker (aged 41, born in Haughmond), with his wife Maria, described as a shopkeeper (aged 40, born in Upton Magna) and 6 siblings (a further son was born after this census). James and Maria (nee Luther) had married in 1841. James later became a farmer of 11 acres, and died in 1878, leaving Maria to continue with the farm until her own death in 1890.

The census entries of 1871 are particularly interesting. Annie Barker was then a servant in Queens Gardens, Marylebone, London, in the household of Richard Battye, a wealthy barrister with a still more wealthy wife, Frances, daughter of the self-made shipping magnate J J Bibby, and their young daughters. J J Bibby’s country residence was Hardwicke Grange in Shropshire, so it seems likely that Annie had been a servant there and accompanied Frances to London after her marriage in 1866. Richard Battye died in 1873 in an accident at Hardwicke Grange, aged 39; Frances died a widow in 1921.

James Cave meanwhile at the time of the 1871 census was a footman at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, in the household of Earl Russell, former Prime Minister and grandfather of Bertrand Russell. This was one of the most progressive, not to say scandalous, families of the time, having particular regard to the sometimes extreme views of the earl’s son, Lord Amberley, and his wife, daughter of the Canadian-born Lady Stanley, a famous champion of women’s rights and one of the founders of Girton College. If there were a place in 1871 in which to be exposed to modern ideas on the role of women, and a great many other subjects, this was it.

Returning to William Tipping, he lived at Brasted Place from 1857 to his death in 1897. James Cave clearly joined him as butler at some time during the 1870s, and was still working there in 1894, when he witnessed Tipping’s will (from which he did not benefit) and it seems likely that he stayed until his employer’s death in 1897. The widowed Mrs Tipping then left Brasted to live with her son in Monmouthshire, and the household was broken up. James is found in 1901 as the butler of Frederick Sladen, plus wife and daughter, of Stanmore Hall near Bridgnorth in Shropshire. He gave his age as 47, thus reducing it by 9 years; he was probably worried about his employability as he grew older after finding himself back in the labour market.

Bertha has not been traced in the 1911 census. There are several possible reasons for this – including the usual ones of death, marriage, emigration, change of name, recording or transcription errors – but the 1911 census had special significance for the women’s suffrage movement. It was marked by the refusal of many supporters of women’s suffrage to participate, withholding their information even though doing so was a criminal offence. This reflects the thinking of the 1903 decision against women’s right to admission to the Bar: if women were not persons under the law, then the government had no right to enumerate them, or as it was put then, “If women don’t count, why should we be counted?”. (For further details, see the article on Agnes Edith Metcalfe). It is tempting to think that Bertha Cave deliberately evaded the census, having as she did an unusually good reason to protest about being declared a non-person.

Annie however does appear in the 1911 census, living by herself at 43 Oaklands Grove West, Shepherds Bush, and described as Annie Cave, wife, married for 31 years, aged 57, mother of 2 children both living, born in Astley, Shropshire. If this is accurate then Bertha was still alive in 1911 (and possibly still resident with Annie but not showing up, as a successful evader). Annie’s death has not yet been identified: there are a lot of Annie Caves of around the right age.

James by this time was butler in yet another household, this one in Devon: James Cave, 54, married, butler, born in Bulwick, at Delamore, Appleford, Ivybridge, the household of William Frederic Parker aged 50, retired Major, with his wife, born in India, and two children, one born in India, the other in Devon, with a staff of 10. By this time James has taken 12 years off his age.

He died on 21 April 1919, at Doverhay, Porlock, Somerset, aged 74, of arteriosclerosis, which he had had for several years, and a cerebral haemorrhage; his occupation was “butler (domestic)”. The informant, present at the death, was his wife Annie, also of Doverhay, which doubtless accounts for his correct age being given. It’s conceivable, since his occupation was given as “butler”, not “retired butler”, that despite the arteriosclerosis he was still working or had been until recently, which would explain what had brought him to Doverhay: Doverhay Place, for example, a large house of the sort he was used to working in, was still in private ownership at that date. But that is merely speculation.

The remaining member of the immediate family was Bertha’s brother Montague Cave, also born at Brasted, on 23 December 1888 (birth registered in the first quarter of 1889), and living with his mother and sister at Brasted and Croydon in 1891 and 1901 respectively. In 1910 he married Dorothy F (or M) Porter, in the district of Paddington, and had two children, Jack Douglas Cave (1911) and Hilda C M Cave (1913). In the 1911 census, he was living, like his father, separately from his wife and offspring: Montague, a commercial clerk, was boarding in Parton Street in St Martin’s, while Dorothy and their son Jack, less than a year old, were staying with her mother in Epsom. According to a genealogical message board Montague abandoned his wife and children shortly afterwards; the wife eventually remarried and had more children, but the second family had virtually no knowledge of the first. There is corroborating evidence for this: on 10 May 1913 Montague Cave, estate clerk, aged 24, travelling alone in 3rd Class, sailed from Southampton for New York on the “New York”, with the intention of settling in Canada, as clearly he did. He died on 2 March 1980 in Victoria, British Columbia, aged 91; his spouse was Romana Hinke; his date and place of birth were given as 23 December 1888, Brasted RSD [Rural Sanitary District] and his parents as James Thomas Cave and Annie Parker [sic].

It’s not clear whether he had children in Canada. As to his English children, no marriage or death has yet been definitely identified for Hilda. Jack married in 1930 and had two children, Dudley, born in 1930, who died the following year, and Marion J Cave, born in 1932 – again, no marriage or death yet definitely identified. Jack died in 1969. The point of tracing descendants of Montague would be to discover if they have further knowledge of Bertha Cave and what became of her after 1904, although in the circumstances it seems unlikely.

Interesting as it is to know more of Bertha Cave’s background, it leaves many important questions unanswered, the main one of which is what exactly motivated a young woman of modest social status and apparently limited resources to apply for admission to study for the Bar. There is no evidence of any education she may have had beyond what was normal for girls of her station of the period (she is not mentioned in the records of the University of London, for example), although a newspaper article mentions in relation to her application that she had “passed all her examinations, and has received the usual certificates of fitness” [“Shall we have lady barristers?”  Cheltenham Chronicle December 5 1903 (& repeated in Gloucestershire Echo “Unsuccessful Appeal” December 2 1903, as cited by Dr Judith Bourne: “The Vanishing Act of Miss Bertha Cave”, conference paper 9 June 2016, First Women Lawyers in Great Britain and the Empire] nor of any occupational or vocational training. A report of her rejected application was published in “The British Journal of Nursing”, 5 December 1903, and a Bertha Cave trained as a nurse in the 1890s, according to the Registers of the Royal British Nurses’ Association (now held in the KCL archives), but the dates don’t quite work: Bertha Cave the nurse began training at the Royal Margate Sea Bathing Infirmary in March 1893, when Bertha Cave the Gray’s Inn applicant was aged 11.*** It is likewise unknown whether her father had any means beyond his wages as a butler, which would not have been more than modest; the newspaper accounts of the “bicycle hearings” of 1904 make it clear that his was the only source of income in the family.

While she was clearly in communication with Christabel Pankhurst, in that they both applied for admission to an Inn of Court at around the same time and once spoke at the same public meeting (at which all the credit went to Christabel, as Bertha was reportedly a poor speaker), her place and involvement in the wider suffrage movement is obscure; apparently she has not been traced in extant records (ex inf Dr Judith Bourne). The timing of Agnes Metcalfe‘s application, which perhaps had the intention of prodding Gray’s Inn into responding to Bertha Cave’s, might imply some degree of support and planning behind the scenes.

For now it is still unknown what became of her after the bicycle hearings.

*There is also a Mary Cave, described as sister, widow, aged 43, of no occupation, born in London. Further research showed that she was the widow of Samuel, one of James’s brothers.
**A second James Cave was born in Northamptonshire in 1845, in Cold Ashby. He worked his whole life as an agricultural labourer and remained in Northamptonshire and neighbouring Leicestershire.
***A Bertha Cave, described as a “highly trained nurse and masseuse”, occurs in the British Nursing Journal between 1915 and the early 1920s as the manager of the Kensington Gardens Nurses’ Club, but she is referred to a couple of times as B A Cave, and it seems unlikely, although not entirely impossible, that this is the Gray’s Inn applicant.


With many thanks to Dr Judith Bourne of St Mary’s University, Twickenham, for her interest and ideas on the significance of Bertha Cave, and for the sight of her conference paper “The Vanishing Act of Miss Bertha Cave”, conference paper 9 June 2016 (First Women Lawyers in Great Britain and the Empire)


Census 1911 (Annie Cave) RG14 PN216 RG78 PN7 RD3 SD1 ED20 SN423 – 43 Oaklands Grove W, Shepherds Bush
Census 1911 (James Cave) RG14 PN12935 RG78 PN746 RD275 SD2 ED20 SN5 – Delamore, Cornwood, Ivybridge
Census 1911 (Montague Cave)  RG14 PN1187 RG78 PN40 RD13 SD1 ED2 SN37 – 41 Parton Street, St Martins
Census 1901 (James Cave) RG13 PN2520 FN120 P10 – Stanmore, Worfield, Bridgnorth
Census 1901 (Annie Cave) RG13 PN636 FN72 P35 – 14 Temple Road, Croydon
Census 1891 (James Cave) RG12 PN674 FN91 P17 – [Brasted Place], High Street, Brasted, Sevenoaks
Census 1891 (Annie Cave) RG12 PN674 FN91 P18 – [Brasted Lodge], High Street, Brasted, Sevenoaks
Census 1881 (James Cave) RG11 PN909 FN40 P9 – Brasted Park, Brasted, Sevenoaks
Census 1881 (James & Annie Cave) RG11 PN909 FN40 P9 – Brasted Lodge, Sundridge, Sevenoaks
Census 1871 (James Cave) RG10 PN867 FN6 P3 – Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, Petersham
Census 1871 (Annie Barker) RG10 PN26 FN23 P37 – Queens Gardens, Kensington
Census 1861 (James Cave) RG09/0962/054/15 – Bulwick
Census 1861 (Annie Barker) RG09/1867/37/11 – Astley, Shropshire
Census 1851 (James Cave) HO107/1746/320/8 – Bulwick, Northamptonshire
Census 1871 (Bertha Cave) RG10/1251/57/7 – 18 Donnington Square, Speen, Newbury

Birth cert Bertha Cave 1881 Dec Qtr Sevenoaks 2a 619
Marriage cert James Thomas Cave and Annie Barker 1879 Dec Qtr Whitchurch, S. 6a 1340
Death cert James T Cave (74) 1919 Jun Qtr Williton 5c 306

Nurses’ Club, 56 & 57 Kensington Gardens Square – British Journal of Nursing 1914-17 onwards

Andrew Mussell, Former Archivist at Gray’s Inn.

July 2017

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