Susan Lee

Susan Downing (née Lee), c. 1880

Susan Downing (née Lee), c. 1880

Susan Downing (née Lee), c. 1880

Susan Downing (née Lee), c. 1880

Susan Lee was born on 24 Apr 1827 and was the second wife of William Downing, married on 5 Aug 1856. She was the mother of Thomas Lee Downing and Fanny Downing.

The Lee family were from Welton in Northamptonshire. Susan’s father Thomas was a farmer. She had one brother who died young and five sisters, only two of whom married.

Susan’s youngest sister was Lottie who married William Morfill, later first professor of Russian at Oxford University. Charlotte Maria (Lottie) Lee was born in 1836. The children’s mother died shortly after this date leaving a young family.

These were similar circumstances that were to befall Susan’s future husband William Downing. William’s first wife Emma died in 1851 of consumption and Susan was to inherit three young children.

William Downing, although at heart very much a farmer like Susan’s father, was an increasingly successful and wealthy businessman in Smethwick. He inherited property on his mother’s death in 1858 and ploughed the proceeds into building a large malting business. It is not clear how Susan came to meet and decide to marry William as it is about fifty miles between Smethwick and Welton but it is likely to be some business connections possibly reinforced by the church.

Susan’s first child, Fanny, was not born until 1865 after nine years of marriage. The family was brought up in the newly built Holly Lodge, where Susan lived for sixty years until her death in 1920. During that time the Lodge and its attached farm were subsumed in the surrounding industrial conurbation of burgeoning Smethwick.

Susan Downing died at Holly Lodge, Smethwick on 30 Jan 1920. Her estate was valued at £20,547.


  • The photos here come from a collection held by Fanny Downing’s granddaughter Sally Mellersh. One photo matches exactly the framed photo tint that is in our possession (top) and came from Upton.
  • Only one of the two daguerreotypes is labelled. The second is likely to be another sister and could even be Susan Lee herself before her marriage. One of the other sisters, Frances Lee, married Thomas Edens and emigrated to Australia. In later life Fanny Edens returned to England, a widow, and is staying with Susan at Holly Lodge at the time of the 1911 census, aged 80.
Last updated on 25 November 2020 by JJ Morgan