A Desperate Wife


In/loving memory of/Henry Rees/ (of Marine Parade Hythe)/who died September 20th 1880/aged 68 yearsAlso of/Zillah Anne/wife of the above named/Henry Rees/who fell asleep in Jesus/ Novr 29th 1893./aged 79 years
“ Not gone from memory or from love/but to her Father’s home above”
And of Josephus Chapman Rees/son of the above/who died April 8th 1900/aged 49 years

Henry Rees was born in Huntington, then part of Radnorshire, now in Herefordshire. His parents were Thomas Rees and Mary nee Evans. Thomas Rees was a distinguished scholar and independent minister of religion who arrived in the district in 1802. He wrote that he found the ‘moral and spiritual state of the neighbourhood truly deplorable’ and promptly set about preaching to convert locals to the paths of righteousness. This was not always well-received: while speaking at Gladrestry a bull was set loose among the crowd of listeners and at Eardisley, in 1804, he was shot at. He eventually, however, had charge of two chapels, at Huntington and nearby Gore, and was appointed schoolmaster of Goff’s School, a charitable foundation which used part of Huntington chapel as the schoolrooms. It had about seventy pupils.

The chapel and school at Huntington

Henry was the oldest son of Thomas and Mary, though there were at least six other children, and he also became a minister of religion. When his father died on 14 May 1858, he succeeded him in both his ministerial and school posts. This continued until Autumn 1861, when accusations were made against him, specifically that he had ‘behaved in an ill manner towards one of his pupils, a young girl’. The trustees of the charity, who ran the school, dismissed him from his position as master and he was expelled from his churches over what was described as ‘a matter of great imprudence.’

Henry and Zillah, his wife, sold up everything, including all their household effects, and moved to Hythe, where Zillah’s parents had retired.

Henry had married Zillah Anne Chapman on 29 March 1850. She had been born in Gravesend on 28 April 1814, the only son of Josephus and Susanna Chapman nee Martin. Her father, too, was an independent minister of religion, who baptised his daughter and conducted her wedding ceremony. He was, like Thomas and Henry Rees, both minister and schoolmaster at the chapel in Princes Street, Gravesend, which had two schoolrooms. After their marriage, Henry and Zillah lived with Henry’s parents in Huntington. They had two sons, Josephus and Henry, and a daughter, another Zillah.

Once in Hythe, the couple lived at West Parade, with their daughter – the boys were away at Shireland Hall School in Harborne, which accepted the sons of clergy of all denominations

West Parade, Hythe

Henry became the minister of the Ebenezer Chapel in Hythe, although he resigned from this position in January 1866 for undisclosed reasons. The congregation presented him with ten pounds, as a parting gift. He continued for a while to call himself a minister, though he had, in fact, became a rate collector, working for the town council. Had he lost his faith, or had the scandal followed him to Hythe? There is no way of knowing. From subsequent events, however, it seems that he had again strayed from the straight and narrow path.

In 1875, Zillah petitioned for divorce.

In 1875, divorce was not respectable. It was particularly unrespectable for the daughter of a minister of religion who was the wife of another minister to accuse her husband of adultery and either cruelty or desertion, for those were the criteria which had to be met for a woman to obtain a divorce (men had only to prove adultery). In fact, this possibility had only been available since 1857: before that it took an act of parliament to legally separate a couple. Zillah must have been desperate to take such an extreme step, but it was to no avail. She was unable to prove her case and it was dismissed the following year. However, she had not long to wait for her freedom.

In his later years, Henry suffered from heart disease. Out walking with one of his sons after supper on a September evening in 1880, he suffered a heart attack and died immediately.

After Henry’s death, Zillah remained at Hythe for a while, letting out rooms to make ends meet, though either her husband or her father, who died in 1879, had left her an annuity. Her lodgers, though, were refined ladies: Mary Guyon and her sister Elizabeth Barr, who had recently moved to the town from Bath. Mary was the widow of Lt. Col. Henry Guyon of the Bengal Army who had died in 1879. Elizabeth was a maiden lady. The sisters brought with them their nurse.

Zillah had rooms to spare because her children had flown the nest. Josephus and Henry had by 1880 set up in business in Witham, near Braintree in Essex, and their sister Zillah joined them as their housekeeper. Josephus had served an apprenticeship with a draper in Fareham, Hants. Once settled in the little town, Henry also acted as honorary organist at the Congregational church, but Josephus, meanwhile, seems to have defected to the Church of England. He attended Vestry meetings and was appointed as a parish overseer of the poor in 1882. Zillah, at least for the present, stayed true to her non-conformist roots and, in 1881, married Francis Richard Wheatley (‘Frank’), another draper, in the independent chapel at Witham. They lived with her brothers at their premises in the High Street.

The chapel at Witham where Henry was organist and where his sister married.

In 1888, Josephus and Henry moved to Newbury, Berkshire, where they set up again as drapers. Their mother joined them there: her lodgers had found permanent accommodation in Hillside Street, Hythe.
The Wheatleys, with their two children, moved to Lowestoft and set up their own, much larger drapery business. They were well off enough to employ a nurse for the children and two live-in servants as well as six assistants. It seems that they, too, changed their religious allegiances. In his later years, Frank was a churchwarden at the Anglican parish church

The Newbury stay was a short one. In about 1892, Josephus and Henry moved again, to Leamington in Warwickshire. Zillah, their mother, died there soon afterwards. The brothers opened another drapery in Warwick Street, this time specialising in black cloth of all sorts, which was useful for mourning, and also for maids’ outfits.


But Josephus died aged 49 in 1900, leaving Henry to carry on the business alone. He still traded as ‘Rees Brothers,’ but moved to different premises further down the road and changed his approach. The black fabrics were gone, and now he stocked ladies’ underwear and baby linen.

By 1911, his business seemed to be thriving, and he had five live-in assistants.  Like his brother Josephus, Henry did not marry.

He died in 1939 in Lothingland, Suffolk, the same registration district where his sister, Zillah Wheatley, had died three years previously.