Selina C’s story

Despite the existence of a clutch of brothers, it was Selina C who took on her father’s coach building business when he died in the 1870s. All of the children had been involved in the business since childhood – as painters and trimmers and later acknowledged as builders themselves – but it was she who ran the business after he had gone.

Selina was even called a coach builder herself on the 1871 census, but the enumerator has crossed this out – perhaps as her father was the business owner at that time, and women, particularly those who were not married, were not supposed to have acknowledged jobs like that. Once he had gone, though, it was her name that appears in trade directories as the business owner, and her brothers worked alongside her.

Later on, she owned a fancy repository shop, perhaps selling ornaments and fripperies to the denizens of the small town she resided in. This change in profession isn’t reflected in the profession of her brothers, who instead ran their own coach building businesses, but perhaps reflects that she may have found shop-keeping an easier way to be taken seriously in business – as most coach builders were men. She also ran a boarding house, but the shop remained a going concern until her death in the 1920s.

To find out more about the women in your ancestry, contact Once Upon A Family Tree.

Flora W’s story

Flora W lost her mother to puerperal fever – a complication of childbirth – at the age of 12, and subsequently took on domestic and caring duties for her father and clutch of brothers in rural Cambridgeshire.

She married at 20, to a machine worker for a sugar refinery, moved to London and had two sons. A great favourite with children, as she would always have time for games rather than chores, she took in washing to put her children through college.

Later, she served as a councillor for one of the London boroughs, eventually being made one of the first female mayors of a London borough in the mid-1950s.

After her term finished, she served as alderman for the same borough, and had a block of flats named after her in the 1960s.

Phoebe B’s story

The daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant, unlike her three sisters Phoebe B did not marry into the moneyed society that surrounded her. Instead, she became an educator, with a wide circle of pupils drawn from all over Edinburgh in the mid-Victorian era, and engaged in benevolent works to improve the lives of the city’s people. This was drawn from a deep Christian faith. She lived with her bachelor brother, also an educator and teacher, but worked alongside him rather than keeping the house. He spent periods of time away working teaching in India, attempting to promote the work of the church in the country, while she stayed home and continued to work with the young people of the area – both educating the daughters of wealthy families and providing instruction for the poorer children of the district.

On her death at the age of 81, she left a trust of three hundred pounds a year to the support of “such indigent and infirm gentlewomen”, the recipients to be decided upon by female members of her extensive family. A portion of her estate was to be donated to hospitals, missions, asylums and sick societies in Edinburgh.

An obituary says that:

“More than half a century ago she was one of a chosen band of territorial visitors whom the late Dr William Robertson of New Greyfriars enlisted for service in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh.

“Her social and philanthropic work, both public and private, rested on the missionary basis of helping men and women to a higher as well as a happier life; while her educational zeal, alike in the communication of culture to the daughters of the well-to-do, and in the provision of elementary instruction and industrial training for the children of the poor, was ever hallowed by the desire to prepare the young at once for usefulness in this world and for citizenship in heaven.

“By the congregation of New Greyfriars’ and by its successive ministers and missionaries, Miss B was equally venerated and beloved. She held in that church a unique position of unobtrusive yet all-pervading influence – the outcome of a character in which there was a remarkable combination of strength and sweetness, decision and gentleness, righteousness and mercy, wisdom and zeal.”

Hannah C’s story

Having given birth to an illegitimate daughter at 18, while resident in a workhouse, Hannah C might have been considered to be a scandalous fallen woman by Victorian society, and condemned to a life of poverty and shunning.

However, within a few years she’d fallen in love with a steady man, had two further daughters, and was making a living for herself as a milliner. The only trouble with this arrangement was that he was already married to someone else, with children – so on the 1851 census she and her daughters are recorded as visitors to the household, and his wife is nowhere to be seen.

They were able to formalise their relationship when his first wife died a couple of years later. Her first daughter had an illegitimate child herself, and Hannah brought up her grandson in addition to her three daughters.

When her husband, who had worked as both a gardener and a “private wheelchairman” died, Hannah lived with her youngest daughter and family, and again supported herself by taking in sewing.

Dinah R’s story

Dinah R would have needed parental permission to marry, as she wished to do so before the age of 21 and that was the law in the mid 19th century. The object of her affection was a lead miner from North Wales, and they had a son together a year later. Eight further children followed, but the death of her husband’s father meant a change of prospects – and they inherited farm land.

Rather than leaving her profession blank on subsequent census records, Dinah called herself a farmer’s wife – and unusually no enumerator crossed this out considering it irrelevant.

The farm grew, from 14 acres to 46 1/2 acres, and Dinah continued to work on the land, gradually including their children in the workforce as the size increased.
She was bi-lingual, speaking both English and Welsh fluently.

When her husband died she was left the farm in its entirety, providing that she remained a widow. This she did, running the business and working on the land for a further 32 years, and in each census record it is her that is credited as farmer and head of the household though her sons and daughters remain.


Find out more about the women in your family, contact Once Upon A Family Tree.

Kate P’s story

An illegitimate daughter of a laundress, Kate P gained a new surname when her mother married a soldier and she was considered his daughter.

In turn, she herself married a gunner in the Royal Artillery. They had thirteen children born around the turn of the 20th Century, but lost eight in infancy – two in quick succession to diphtheria, and one to whooping cough, both of which diseases are routinely vaccinated against today – and others due to a suspected strain of congenital syphilis.

Around 1904 something happened to her husband, perhaps an injury, and he lost his job as a soldier – instead becoming an officer’s mess waiter, which put the family in reduced circumstances so they took in boarders to make ends meet.

Another son died in an accident involving fire and cheap fabric in 1907, and a daughter suffered a brain abscess after the First World War.

Despite all these losses, and the illness she herself must have suffered, she still kept going until the age of 75.


Find out more about the women in your family, contact Once Upon A Family Tree.