I originally wrote this post some time ago, but I’m retelling the story as it just shows how hard life was for ordinary people in the past.
Alice Thompson came from Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. She was born in 1855 or maybe it was 1853… according to the census. In fact she may have been born in 1851, but perhaps even she didn’t even know. In 1871 she was working and living in the Wheat Sheaf Inn at Bullard’s End, in Whittlesey (Whittlesea), Cambridgeshire; the landlord was Joseph Lovell who lived there with his wife Maria, and three daughters, Caroline, Eliza and Maria Vawser and Maria’s baby Ada. The Wheat Sheaf was, no doubt where Alice met Henry Anderson who she married later that year.
Henry was born in the town of March in Cambridgeshire but lived all his married life in Whittlesea. Henry was an agricultural labourer from a very large family, he had ten sisters and six brothers. He and Alice had five daughters, twins Mary and Alice a year after their marriage, then Agnes, Susannah and another Mary. Having given birth to five girls Alice then had the luck to have a son, Harry. He may have been Harry James or maybe James was another son… it is not always clear when looking at census material. Caroline was born next and then Frederick. Most of the children were born in Whittlesea, but one of the daughters, Susannah was born in Denbighshire in Wales.
Henry was forty when tragedy struck; he died, leaving Alice a widow in her thirties. How hard that must have been for her to be alone with eight children. Two years after Henry’s death in 1889, another child was born and three years later in Retford, Nottinghamshire, little Lily, Alice’s last child was born. What on earth can have taken Alice to Nottinghamshire?
Having become a widow, she had to earn a living to support her remaining children. In 1891, living in Orchard Street, she was a laundress and her two older daughters at home were agricultural labourers. Her daughter Mary was fortunate compared to her twin Alice and younger sister Susannah, she was a domestic servant working for Mary Scoting who had a grocer’s and draper’s business in Thorney near Peterborough. Mrs Scoting had five children and an assistant as well as Mary.
By 1901, Alice and family had moved to Crab End, and she was now a char woman – how onerous that must have been over a hundred years ago with none of the modern appliances and cleaning equipment and materials. Her daughter Caroline, at only fifteen was a field labourer, and that was hard and horrible work out in the Fens, subject to bitter east winds. Harry was working in the brickyard and little Lily was at school.
Alice was working as a char ten years later in 1911, now living at Claygate with only her son Harry at home, still working in the brickyard, and a lodger, Joe Taylor.
Alice died in 1933, still in Whittlesea, at the old age of eight-two. I wonder how many of her children were still alive? I wonder how many grandchildren she had, maybe great grandchildren. Certainly Susannah married Ernest Walter Murdin who was known as Walter – he was a shoe laster from Kettering and they had at least one child, the prettily named Violet May. Alice and Henry’s eldest daughter Mary the twin, married John Johnson, brother of Rose, the mother of Kenneth Sellers – my uncle by marriage.
I hope Alice’s family looked after her and loved her in her old age – I don’t know what sort of person she was but she had a hard life and deserved some happiness, poor soul.