Charlotte Hayes, née Ward, aka O’Kelly was a highly successful Georgian brothel keeper and for those of you watching the TV series Harlots you will know her as the character, Charlotte Wells.
We have briefly touched upon Charlotte in another of our blog posts about Samuel Derrick and much has already been written about her, but we came across her name in the newspaper in connection with another matter regarding her coachman and her cook, which simply had to be investigated further.
London Courier and Evening Gazette, 5th September 1815
THIRTY POUNDS REWARD – MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE – The said Reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as shall ascertain the time and place of marriage of Thomas Nelson. He was Coachman to Charlotte Hayes alias Mrs O’Kelly, Marlborough-street, in 1770 and soon afterwards kept a House the Corner of Hollen-street and Wardour-street; then lived in Winsley-street; in 1775 kept the Larder in Gerrard-street, Soho; then a House is Norris-street; in 1777 the George in Drury-lane; then the Cardigan Head, Charing-Cross; afterwards Almack’s, 56, Pall-Mall; and died at No. 60, Pall-Mall, in 1792.
His Will describes his Widow as Mary Nelson, the daughter of John and Mary Fogarty, but it is supposed he married Mary Kelly (who was Cook to the said Charlotte Hayes) by whom he had two Children, and who died in Duke-street, St. James’s, about 1785. Apply to Mr. Fielder, 9, Bennett-street, St. James’s.
We’re going to claim the £30 reward for this as we have found the marriage certificate that John Fielder was searching for.
But … everything is not quite as it seems. Clearly he married Mary Fogarty as it’s there in black and white and he was also very specific in his will, leaving everything to his ‘loving wife Mary, daughter of John and Mary Fogarty’.
When you dig deeper there are one or two anomalies. Thomas states he was a bachelor – was this true? Thomas appears to have moved around somewhat, changing his address and occupation.
Some ten years previously there was a reputed marriage for a Thomas Nelson to a Mary Kelly, the cook to Charlotte Hayes. So far there is no evidence that this marriage actually took place but, on 1st August 1774 at St Clement Danes, we find the baptism of a girl named Charlotte who seems to be their daughter, then on 26th August 1777 at St Mary-Le-Strand the baptism of a second daughter, Sophia Augusta. She was named as daughter of Thomas and Mary Nelson of Drury Lane.
It wasn’t until 12th February 1816, when a case came to court pertaining to Thomas’ daughter Sophia Augusta, that things began to unravel. John Fielder, named in the above newspaper report was clearly trying to gather evidence against his wife Sophia whom he married in 1797.
John wanted the marriage nullified after almost 20 years, as he claimed that when he married Sophia her mother Mary gave permission, as Sophia was a minor, but that her mother, Mary (née Smith) was not married at the time and therefore should not have given her permission and that Sophia was born illegitimate.
So we now have three women all named Mary, connected with Thomas Nelson – Mary Smith, Mary Kelly and Mary Fogarty. The only one we can validate as his legitimate wife is Mary Fogarty.
During the case witnesses were produced, one of whom asserted that Nelson was married to Mary Kelly in April 1771, but we can’t find any proof to support this claim.
Mr Watts, an upholsterer, deposes that he furnished a house for Mr Nelson, upon his marriage with one Mary Kelly; that he, the deponent, was not present at the marriage, but he remembers their going out to be married; that, on their return they were married, and he dined with them upon the occasion, that they lived together two or three years, but then disagreed and parted; that he the deponent, was a trustee for Mrs Nelson; that he believes that he died in 1792, but knows that she was alive many years after the year 1788.
That in 1774 Mr Nelson removed into a street opposite to the Pantheon, in Oxford Street from thence to Gerrard Street, Soho, where he kept the Royal Larder, and lastly to Drury Lane, in 1776, at all which places he kept a gaming house and that whilst he lived in Gerrard Street, he went one evening with the deponent, to Bagnigge Wells.
That they there met with two young women, one of whom, Mary Smith, who from that time lived with Mr Nelson as his wife; that they had four children, to one of which he, the despondent, stood godfather; that he believes it was Sophia Augusta, and that she was born in 1777; that he often saw her during her infancy and latterly at the house of her mother, in Pall Mall, as Mrs Fielder.
If you are confused by this, spare a thought for us as we have tried to untangle it. Overall, though it would appear that Thomas Nelson cohabited with one or perhaps two Marys and produced several children including two daughters, then proceeded to walk up the aisle with Mary Fogarty, to whom he remained married until the end of his life (Thomas Nelson died in January 1792). It seems feasible that the witnesses in the court case could have been induced to lie to support Mr Fielder’s claim or quite simply believed that he was married to Mary Kelly and took the couple at their word. As to quite what the truth of the matter is we will probably never know – a secret he took to his grave.
For more information on Charlotte Hayes and the incredible but true story behind Harlots, see The Covent Garden Ladies: The Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List by Hallie Rubenhold.
St James’s Palace with a View of Pall Mall, British (English) School, National Trust Collections