A sad tale… with a happy ending


My mother-in-law spoke fondly of her grandmother, Sarah Jane Day who married John Colgate in 1874 in Bletchingley, Surrey where the Colgates lived. Sarah was believed to have come from Suffolk but no-one seemed to know anything about her or how she had arrived in Surrey.

Sarah, her daughter (Annie?) granddaughter Dorothy, daughter-in-law Augusta, granddaughter Adeline, husband John. This photograph may have been taken while Ernest was serving in France during the First World war, maybe taken for him.

I wish I had found out Sarah’s history sooner to have shared it with  my mother-in-law. Sarah was born in Lidgate, sometimes spelled Lydgate,  near Bury St Edmunds which is not far from where the Elsdens came from. She was born around 1855 and lived to be eighty-eight. Her father was Robert Day and he  was the son of a publican John and his wife Avis née Fisher. John and Avis married in 1806 and seven years later they had a daughter Jane, and then Robert who was born in the spring of 1817, and baptised on April 13th 1817. It is Robert’s sad life that I wish to record… no-one else may remember him.

Robert was a labourer and married Susan and began a family, Elizabeth Avis  born in 1851,  Sarah Jane  born in 1855. There seems to be no trace of a marriage record of Robert and Susan; she was also born in Lidgate, according to the 1861 census but at present her surname is unknown. By 1861 the little family had moved to London; agriculture in the fenlands of East Anglia was not in a healthy situation and many labouring families had to move. The Days were living at 17, Norland Road, St Mary Abbots, Kensington. In this census Sarah is recorded as Janat, the enumeraters were not always as literate as one would suppose. Robert gave his date of birth as 1820, maybe he couldn’t remember, maybe it was just a mistake, maybe he had a Suffolk accent which baffled the Londoner writing the record.

Sadly, a year later Susan died probably in or after  childbirth giving life to a little boy, James. Robert was left a widower with a baby and  two little girls aged eleven and six. Three years later he married Eliza Ballard and by 1871 they are living in Surrey with two more daughters, Alice who is six and Emily aged three.  Robert now records his date of birth as 1823; he appears to be six years younger than he really is; could this be because Eliza was born in 1835 and it would be more seemly to be twelve years older than her than nearly twenty? Eliza herself is a mystery as I can find no trace of an Eliza born around 1835 in Wiltshire as she claims in the census. His older daughters are not with him, however.  Sarah is in service in Willesden with the Mr and Mrs Stanton, three little children and a mother-in-law and another servant; Elizabeth is also in service in Marylebone, London with Mr and Mrs Greatback.

Sarah returned to Surrey and there she marries John Colgate in 1874, the start of a long and very happy marriage. She and John celebrated their golden wedding anniversary two years before he died in 1926. However happy the wedding was, the following year tragedy strikes Robert again; Eliza dies in 1875.

1881 and Robert has fallen on hard times; he is now in the workhouse in Reigate separated from his family. Sarah is married and living nearby with two young children, Alice who was named after her half-sister, and born in 1876 and new-born baby Ernest. As ever the day family was not free from sadness; Sarah and John had had another baby, little Annie s born, 1876. Of Robert’s other children I can find no trace; Elizabeth was probably married, probably in London where she had been a servant. James, Alice and Emily… who knows.

Poor Robert Day, literally; in 1891 he is a pauper in a workhouse in Guildford and in Guildford he died aged 81 in 1898.

Entry showing Robert’s death in Guildford workhouse, aged 81

Did Sarah Jane know of her father’s death? When he died she had lost another child, little Edith who only lived for two years.  Her daughter Alice married James Knight and had a little girl, Ruby, but Alice died young in 1914 aged only thirty-eight. For all the happiness Sarah must have had from her marriage and from her grandchildren, there continued much sadness too…

John Colgate and his son Ernest

However, Ernest made a very happy marriage to Augusta Brown, he had four children, he has five grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren and so far thirteen great-great-grandchildren.


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