EastEnders has now run out of pre-filmed episodes, after shutting down filming during the coronavirus lockdown. The BBC One soap opera is instead airing a series of special programmes looking back at some of its most iconic moments. In tonight’s episode, Stacey Dooley will be joined by Danny Dyer himself and his on-screen wife Kellie Bright, who plays Linda Carter.
The pair will be looking back at their characters’ best moments and revealing behind-the scenes tidbits, including one embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
However, it was on the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in 2017 that Danny managed to delve back into his own family’s history.
During this journey tracing his ancestors, there was one secret he uncovered that he wished he hadn’t.
Danny found out that his great-great-grandmother Mary Ann gave birth to a baby at 17 years old, but the baby died and she hid the dead body in a bucket.
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Danny Dyer discovered a heartbreaking secret in his family history
Danny’s great-great grandmother Mary Ann
The body was later found and she was prosecuted for it.
Danny discovered this when he searched for her name in the criminal records, found Mary Ann’s name, and saw that she was bailed at police court in 1895.
Her crime was written as: “Having been delivered of a child, by secret disposition of the dead body, endeavour to conceal birth thereof.”
He saw that she pleaded guilty and was absolutely gobsmacked.
Danny Dyer and his Eastenders co-star Kellie Bright
The actor said: “I did not expect that. I thought it would be petty stealing.
“When you’ve held your own newborn in your arms and it’s such a vulnerable, little weak thing, it always makes me feel slightly sick the idea of a baby dying before it even gets started on this earth.
“The idea of it being a baby of all things, not babies.
“I feel like I’m starting this journey, I want to grow to love these people, because these are my blood.
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Danny put his head in his hands when he first found out about Mary Ann’s secret shame
“I don’t want to find out stuff like this.”
Mary Ann was an unmarried servant at a time when giving birth out of wedlock was extremely stigmatised.
Danny later spoke to historian Dr Daniel Grey at the Bishopsgate Institute who had a copy of her indictment and of the baby’s death certificate.
These two documents indicated that Mary Ann had not deliberately killed her child, but its death was the result of a tragic accident.
Dr Grey said: “So what’s really crucial here about the cause of death is that it says, ‘found dead, haemorrhage from umbilical cord from want of proper attention at birth’.
“There’s no evidence of violence. No one’s tried to hurt the baby in any way.
“What’s happened is that shortly after giving birth, when the umbilical cord’s been cut, no one’s tied it and that means you can bleed to death very quickly.”
He added: “What she could have got – and what they give women who they suspect of having deliberately killed their children – is two years imprisonment and hard labour.
Historian Dr Daniel Grey
“But this is basically a suspended sentence, no jail time, they seem to have decided this was very much a tragic accident.”
Danny revealed that he felt “slightly relieved” at this news.
After this horrific period in her life, Mary Ann went on to marry and have 10 more children.
The youngest of these children is called Sylvie and was the only one left alive to speak to Danny.
He went to meet his great-aunt Sylvie, who was cared for by her daughter Iris.
In a heartbreaking conversation, Danny revealed to Sylvie what he found and she told him her mother never told any of them that story, she had kept it a secret her whole life.
Ironically, Iris revealed that later in life Mary Anne helped deliver a number of other babies.
She said: “It’s funny she lost a baby at 17, because in later life she delivered all the babies.
Danny Dyer’s great-aunt Sylvie was shocked when she heard the story
“She delivered me, she delivered my sister, she delivered all the babies in the flats and they used to call her Aunt Polly – ‘Go and get Aunt Polly, there’s another baby coming!’
“So she turned out to be, like a midwife really.”
Sylvie also told her great-nephew that her mother had a “heart of gold”, recalling one story of when someone asked to borrow two shillings and she did not have any money to give them, but instead gave them some laundry to pawn, so they could get “a few bob”.
EastEnders: Secrets from the Square airs tonight on BBC One at 8pm.