31 Queen’s Gate, Kensington SW

Even good handwriting can be challenging to read sometimes.

The next letter in the collection was at the end of the folder and had an incomplete date. So the archivist just stuck it at the back. There’s an embossed address on the front of the stationary – 31 Queen’s Gate, Kensington SW.

The writer apologizes to KCB for having to cancel dinner because the writer’s daughter is ill. At first glance, I thought the letter was from Sarah B. Massey.

Cursive signature of Sarah B Murray

Who was Sarah B. Massey? How did the Breckinridges know her? Why were they going to have dinner with her while they were in London?

I started by googling 31 Queen’s Gate, Kensington. It’s a hotel now.

Detailed map of Kensington, London, 1895
If I’d looked at this index key, I’d have seen that the section of Kensington I wanted to look at was not mapped. But what’s the fun in that.

Then I spent more time that I probably should have looking at Fire Insurance maps from the British Library collection. These maps, mostly by Chas E. Goad, are so much fun to look at that I just couldn’t stop. 31 Queen’s Gate is just south of Kensington Gardens and southwest of the Serpentine. The British Library’s cataloging system was a little tricky to figure out. Fire insurance maps always have a key or index that shows you what parts of town have been mapped. The detail on these maps required they be divided into many pages.

London is so dense and so big and changed a lot in the last 120 years… And you have to get familiar with the geography and landmarks of a place to really figure it out.

The maps at the British Library are divided by cardinal directions. The postcode on the letter was SW. So I started looking at sheets labeled South West. Then I realized that I didn’t need to look at South West but West on these maps. I found areas to the east of where I needed (near Victoria Station) and west of 31 Queen’s Gate but nothing around the Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College London.

So I struck out on the maps but it sure was a lot of fun.

Where to go next? What about London City Directories?

Detail from Post Office London Dictionary 1895 (Ancestry.com via the London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library)

In Ancestry, you can search city directories by address. I found a James Murray at 31 Queen’s Gate in 1895 (Post Office London Directory). A Mrs. Howard Carlisle is also listed at that address.

What if I search the UK Census from 1890? Can it be searched by address?

1891 England Census (via Ancestry.com)

And it can. I searched the England Census in Ancestry and found a Sarah Murray (not Massey) at 31 Queen’s Gate, Kensington in 1881. The address was listed as London/Kensington/Brompton/District 19b. Sarah B. Murray was married to James Murray and both were listed as born in the United States. The odd thing is that the address is listed 81 not 31 Queen’s Gate. Then I looked at the 1891 England Census and found the same household at the same 81 Queen’s Gate address.

Sarah Biays Stump Murray was born in Maryland about 1829 and her husband James was born about 1812 (also in Maryland) and is listed as a civil engineer. In their household in the 1891 census, Sarah H. Carlisle is listed as a daughter (age 40-something). The rest of the household includes servants (lady’s maid, cook, 2 housemaids, butler, and footman).

How did the Breckinridges know the Murrays? Maybe I’ll figure that out later.

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