Adelaide Hawken

Adelaide Hannah Hawken

Adelaide Hawken in a newspaper clipping discovered by Snapping the Stiletto volunteers

Southend Museums Service have five postcards in their collection showing a mother and baby clinic at the Westcliff Institute taken between 1915-1918.  They decided to research more about the woman who established these clinics and a volunteer challenge was created attracting a team who have been working with the museum service researching this and stories of other amazing Essex women.

The story of Adelaide Hannah Hawken described below has been uncovered by this team of volunteers.

Originally from Gloucestershire, Adelaide Hawken spent much of her later adult life in Leigh where she had a real and lasting impact on the life of women and children in Southend and beyond.

Born in in 1863, in Eastington, Gloucestershire to Mary and John Bryant the family moved to Stroud when Adelaide was seven. She was one of four children (two sisters and one brother). The team traced Adelaide through the census returns which were taken every ten years.  In 1881 she was working as a pupil teacher and by 1891 Adelaide and her sisters Musa and Louisa are no longer with their parents and are living at 71 Albert Road, Portsea, Portsmouth.  Adelaide is now 27 and describes herself as head of the household and a dressmaker.

We know that Adelaide married William Blacker Hawken at Portsea Island, Portsmouth and that in 1896, when Adelaide was 33, she gave birth to her son John William. In the 1901 census we found the family living in Horsham, Surrey and by 1911 the family have moved to 62 Broadway, Leigh on Sea, a seven-room home. William is listed as a Gentlemen’s Outfitter. Sadly, it appears that sometime between 1901 and 1911 Adelaide had given birth to a child who died.

Following welfare work in the First World War, Adelaide was inspired to improve health and social care within Southend.  Her campaigning led to the opening of the first child and welfare clinic in Southend in 1915.

Babies being weighed at the Westcliff Institute
Photo courtesy of Southend Museums Service

The clinic at the Westcliff Institute provided essential support and aimed to reduce mortalities amongst mothers and babies. After this first clinic opened three others were added and it was reported that

Mrs Hawken was superintendent of them all, devoting four afternoons each week to their unremitting oversight.  The work of which she was the virtual founder has now grown till there are over 20,000 attendances at the centres.’ (Southend Standard 1929)

Mother and babies inside the Westcliff Institute
Photo courtesy of Southend Museums Service

Adelaide Hawken was also Vice-Chairman of the Governors of Westcliff High School for Girls and was on the governing body of the Westcliff Boys’ High School, while she was a school manager for the western district of the Borough.

In 1919 Mrs Hawken was elected as a Councillor for the Leigh Ward- a position she was re- elected to in 1920, 1923 and 1926- she was only the second woman in Southend to have been elected as a Councillor. During her time as a Councillor, she served on the Health Committee, the Housing and Properties Committee, the Public Library and Museum Committee, the Town Hall Committee and the Town Planning Committee as well as being Chairman of the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee.

As if this wasn’t enough- in 1920 Adelaide was one of the first women in the country to be elected as a Justice of the peace. She became the visiting magistrate for Holloway Prison.

An obituary published by the Southend Standard wrote of Adelaide that

She, herself, had traced her entrance to municipal life to membership of the Leigh Debating Society, before whom she appeared as an advocate of woman suffrage.  She was the Society’s first woman member and, as the result of her activity in this direction she was appointed on the Children’s Care Committee of the Southend Education Committee.

Adelaide Hannah Hawken had a huge impact on the life of many in Southend and beyond. The team researching her were delighted to discover that the location of the first Mother and baby Clinic at the Westcliff institute is now a family centre (the Trinity Centre) and, as this short film shows, her influence lives on.