Mother of 11’s story

This is a letter from an anonymous woman from 1914, a member of the Co-operative Guild, writing to Margaret Llewelyn Davies on her experiences of working motherhood. It was published in the book “Maternity” in 1915.

“Twenty years of Child-bearing

I shall be very pleased if this letter will be any help to you. Personally I am quite in sympathy with the new Maternity Scheme. I do feel I cannot express my feelings enough by letter to say what a great help it would have been to me, for no-one but a mother knows the struggle and hardships we working women have to go through. I do hope I shall never see the young women of today have to go through what I did. I am a mother of eleven children – six girls and five boys. I was only nineteen years old when my first baby was born. My husband was one of the best and a good father. His earnings was £1 a week; every penny was given to me, and after paying house rent, firing, and light and clubs, that left me 11s to keep the house going on; and as my little ones began to come, they wanted providing for and saving up to pay a nurse, and instead of getting nourishment for myself which we need at those times, I was obliged to go without. So I had no strength to stand against it, and instead of being able to rest in bed afterwards, I was glad to get up and get about again before I was able, because I could not afford to pay a woman to look after me. I kept on like that till the sixth little one was expected, and then l had all the other little ones to see after. The oldest one was only ten years old, so you see they all wanted a mother’s care. About two months before my confinement the two youngest fell ill with measles, so I was obliged to nurse them, and the strain on my nerves brought on brain-fever. All that the doctor could do for me was to place ice-bags on my head. Oh, the misery I endured! My poor old mother did what she could for me and she was seventy years old, and I could not afford to pay a woman to see after my home and little ones; but the Lord spared me to get over my trouble, but I was ill for weeks and was obliged to work before I was able. Then in another 18 months I was expecting another. After that confinement, being so weak, I took a chill, and was laid up for six months and neighbours came in and done what they could for me. Then there was my home and little ones and husband to look after, as he was obliged to work. It was the worry that kept me from getting better; if I could have had someone to look after me I would not have been so ill. After this I had a miscarriage and another babe in one year and four months. I got on fairly well with the next one, and the next one, which was the eighth, I had two down with measles, one two years old with his collar bone out, and a little girl thirteen with her arm broke. That was at the same time as I was expecting my eighth little one, and my dear husband worried out of life, as you see with all this trouble I was only having the £1 a week and everything to get out of it. What a blessing it would have been if this Maternity Scheme was in go then! I would have saved me a lot of illness and worry, for my life was a complete misery. For twenty years I was nursing or expecting babies. No doubt there are others fixed in the same way I have been. This is only a short account of how I suffered. I could fill sheets of paper with what I have gone through at confinements and before, and there are others, no doubt, have felt the pinch as well as myself. If there is anything else you would like to know and I could tell you, I should be glad, for the benefit of my sisters.

Wages 17s to 25s.; eleven children, two miscarriages.”

The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.


Elizabeth B’s story

A widowed mother managing a severely disabled son is a hard-enough prospect today, but in the mid-19th century Elizabeth B would have found it especially tough – given both practicalities around daily life and attitudes towards disability in general society.

She was born at the turn of the 19th century in Wiltshire, and the first record we have of her is her marriage to a carpenter at around the age of 20 – she needed her parents’ permission for this as she was under the age of 21.

Her husband appears to have been well off – a carpenter at this time was quite skilled and would have made anything from carts to wheels to furniture. He appears to have been attached to a great estate, which would have improved his prospects and fortunes, and through this Elizabeth would have lived quite a comfortable life for the early 19th century. It appears he owned a fair amount of land, much of it with dwellings upon, which was rented out to other families in their tiny rural community.

A son followed a year after the marriage, and then two more. However, seven years after her marriage, when she was again pregnant, Elizabeth’s husband died at the age of 31. She gave birth to her fourth and final son in the early months of the following year, and is recorded as a widow in the baptismal records. At this stage she has no profession.

Her sons were all underage, so her husband’s lands and rents all passed to Elizabeth. Tithe maps from the early 1840s record her as the owner of six pieces of land, and living on one of them herself. This may have been in trust until her eldest son hit the age of majority, but the family appears to have shared and lived on the lands in various different permutations for the next few decades.

By 1841 Elizabeth describes herself as a school teacher, teaching the youngsters of her tiny community, and is living in one of her houses with three of her sons. Two of them at least are above school age, and working as carpenters which would have helped the family’s finances.

The youngest son, however, does not have a profession given. But it is not until the 1851 census that the reason for this becomes clear. That document describes the man as “deaf and dumb”, and “incapable of anything”. Details are sketchy in this time period – it may be that he was born with a disability, perhaps having suffered in utero as the result of his father’s death before his birth – or it may be that he suffered some childhood trauma or disease that resulted in him being deaf and dumb (encephalitis due to measles is one possibility). Until the middle of the 20th century it was common for babies with obvious physical disabilities to be killed at birth – but Elizabeth’s son lived to adulthood. This may be an indication that his challenges were not immediately visible, or perhaps that he was allowed to live to provide Elizabeth with comfort after the death of her husband.

Whatever the circumstances, the judgement that someone who is deaf and dumb is “incapable of anything” is quite a harsh one to our modern ears, but says a great deal about pervading attitudes at the time. Elizabeth would have faced this judgement and perhaps stigma on a daily basis.

By the middle of the 19th century, she was living in and running the village post office – one of the properties she owned – and called herself a “letter receiver”. This indicates she was an educated woman – as one might expect of a former school teacher – as this role would have required a high degree of literacy. Another of her sons was living with her and her youngest son around this time, and the family also employed a domestic servant, showing that the family were fairly comfortably off.

Elizabeth continued to hold the post of sub-post mistress for the village for a further sixteen years, taking in occasional boarders and continuing to care for the daily needs of her youngest son.

She died at the end of the 1860s, aged 71, and is buried in the village church. Her youngest son was then cared for by one of his brothers, and died himself ten years later at the age of 52.


The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Mary L’s story

If you happened to come into some money, enough for you to live on for many years without having to work, would you keep that wealth for your own benefit or give some of it towards helping under-privileged relatives?

Mary L faced that choice. It’s unknown exactly where her inheritance came from, as she came from a fairly working-class family in Hull, Yorkshire, in the 1840s, where her father worked as a labourer and an older sister helped the family finances by making dresses.

On the surface, this would not seem the type of family to have produced an annuitant, and indeed when Mary’s father died in 1860 her mother made ends meet by becoming a laundress – not a particularly lucrative profession, but an obvious one for an unskilled widow to pick up. However, Mary – who at this stage was living at home – had come into some money and referred to herself on the 1861 census as an annuitant.

It’s unknown exactly where this money came from. There was no lottery for Mary to win in those days, and she does not appear in any UK will or probate record of the time. However, her maternal grandfather, who had emigrated to the mid-western United States in the 1830s and had done well for himself, died in 1858 – and it is possible that this is the source of her money, although it is uncertain that they ever met.

Whatever the source, Mary had enough of a cushion to support herself comfortably and become of a class somewhat above others in her family. She could afford a household of her own, and a domestic servant to help her look after it.

Later on, she occasionally took in a boarder, but still could afford domestic help. She also helped to raise two of her sister’s children. One, an older girl, seems to have lived with her for a little while. The other, a five-year-old boy, came to her when his mother died. It would seem to be the obvious choice, for relatives in insecure circumstances to send their child to a wealthy aunt to be looked after and have a better life.

This nephew lived with her for many years, and helped her to run the boarding house she eventually ran. He had an apprenticeship to a monumental sculptor, which Mary supported him through, and he married from her household in the years just before the first world war.

Mary lived to see the end of the first world war, dying in 1919. However, significantly, her money that remained was left to neither niece nor nephew, nor any other family member, going instead to a local architect.


The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Jane T’s story

Jane T was a coal miner’s daughter, Yorkshire born and bred, too jolly to be formidable but still she was no shrinking violet – she could hold her own against opposition. She used her talents for cooking, baking, home-making and even a little animal husbandry to benefit her close and wider family and the community in which she lived. Business-minded (her sisters were all shopkeepers of sorts) she also used her talents to make money, taking in a variety of lodgers to her gas board-owned home.

Jane T was born in the early 1880s in Featherstone, Yorkshire to Sam and Hannah. There were three older sisters, Harriet, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Clementine (Clemmie) and a younger brother called Seth, who died in WW1. Jane’s nephew Wilf was also brought up as if he was a younger sibling to Jane (although really her nephew). Although Jane moved to Derbyshire (a good train journey away) she kept close to her sisters and their offspring, especially those of Clemmie who died while her children were still young. she also had occasional visits from Seth’s widow and nephew Wilf and family.

Details about Jane’s childhood are elusive, except that her mother was a strict Methodist and wouldn’t let her go to the fair (or feast as they probably called it), so her boyfriend James Walker, brought a ladder to her bedroom window and she escaped through it and went to the fair – reader, she married him, it was a good marriage.

Jane and James married at the turn of the 20th century when Jane was 19. On the 1901 census the couple were living in Purston Jaglin (near Featherstone). The following year their daughter Hannah was born and two years later, the family moved to Clowne, Derbyshire. Jim had been promoted there by the gas board and Jane remained there and made friends. In 1905 Jane and Jim had another baby, this time a son called James (Jimmy) but sadly he died in 1912 in a flu epidemic. The next day, Jane gave birth to her third and last child, another boy, called Leslie – a time of grief and joy.

It’s unclear if Jane worked before she married, but she was probably in service and it seems likely this is where she picked up her interest and knowledge of food. A friend once commented that Jane’s custard was particularly lovely and rich, “have you put in two eggs or three?” – she had put six eggs in.

After marrying she made extra money by taking in lodgers and the census in 1911 shows a Robert Smith boarding with them; a regular short-term lodger was a Jewish man called Lewis Lichtenstein, he was a jewellery salesman, he sold the family a few items over the years as well as restoring some tarnished goods. Jane would sometimes cook fish for breakfast and we wonder if she picked up this idea from him.

After first moving to Derbyshire the family lived in a house owned by the gas board near the station. The family next door had a large family and were very poor. Jane would give them her children’s outgrown clothes. One day, on the way home from school, daughter Hannah saw her old dress in the pawn shop window. Horrified she went home and told Jane about it, who immediately went to the shop and redeemed it with her own money rather than let Hannah bear the indignity of being seen to have her clothes pawned!

Jane had her eye on a larger gas board-owned house and after some pushing the family moved there. She made the most of its capabilities, continuing to take on lodgers and to feed and entertain her family and friends. The house had a nice garden, but Jane also kept chickens in the next-door field and from time to time, a pig, which she would fatten up for slaughter. Jane abandoned keeping chickens when she no longer had access to the field for them to run around in (obviously an early free-range advocate).

Though Jane spent a lot of time in the kitchen her legs gave her a lot of pain, so she would often prepare the meals (peel potatoes etc) sitting down. She would also usually eat alone in the “living kitchen”, while the rest of the family would sit round the table in the dining room. When her sister Clemmie’s grandson Geoff came to visit she would have him sit with her in the kitchen and she would let him eat whatever he fancied and nothing he didn’t. She tended to take a child’s side over an adult’s, “leave the poor kid alone” being her general philosophy. She rescued her niece from being locked in the cellar and from having to wear a bonnet she didn’t like.

Jane wouldn’t be bossed about by people, when her granddaughter Joan was in service and wasn’t given leave to attend a family wedding Jane told her to attend the wedding anyway (so Joan lost her job). When daughter Hannah had been in labour for hours, she told the doctor in no uncertain terms “that poor lass has had enough pain to bring an elephant into the world, put her out!” (he did), and the baby weighed 12 lbs. Jane was doted on by this large baby, her grandson Ron, who used to try and sit on her knee when he was about 15 and would slide off her sloping lap on to the floor.

She wasn’t an early riser and when her daughter got up for school as a small child Jane would shout downstairs “give that babby an egg”, (the babby never wanted one). She made custard with six eggs and trifle with “bottoms”* in it, and she sharpened her own knives!

Grandma Walker

Despite her strict Methodist upbringing, Jane never went to church but would happily bake for chapel events if the occasion demanded, a tray of jam tarts or something similar. She would sing Old Time Music Hall songs to her granddaughter Mollie in bed. “The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo”, and others of a similar vein. It is unclear how she ever learnt the words.

Jane was house proud and hardworking, she didn’t see the value of education over earning a living and encouraged her granddaughter to go into service. But she wasn’t averse to employing help or to spending money where needed. She employed a woman to help with the washing each week and another woman would decorate a room each year in slightly garish wallpaper (chosen by Jane). The woman who delivered the milk would come in and play the piano from time to time (unpaid). Jane’s corsets were specially made by Mrs “corsetière” Rogers, she was well upholstered for special occasions. So, Jane single-handedly lined the purses of several local women, helping their families in the process. She had a “gang” of friends who would come around for supper.

When a mole on her leg became cancerous, Jane was sent to hospital in Sheffield. It was wartime and during her stay the hospital was bombed and she was sent back home with the dirt, from the rubble, still on her face. The cancer spread and Jane was confined to bed, she tried to knit but had to call on granddaughter Joan to unravel her mistakes.

Jane never returned to hospital and died in bed at home, close to the family she loved and who loved her in return, husband Jim close by to the end. She was visited daily by the doctor who would come and dress her wound, letting himself in by the back door if nobody was around. She died when the cancer reached her liver. She was 59 years old.

* sherry

Story submitted by Johanna Heath (


The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Anonymous’ story

This is a letter from an anonymous woman from 1914, a member of the Co-operative Guild, writing to Margaret Llewelyn Davies on her experiences of working motherhood. It was published in the book “Maternity” in 1915.

“Stead’s Penny Poets

I was married at twenty-eight in utter ignorance of the things that most vitally affect a wife and mother. My mother, a dear, pious soul, thought ignorance was innocence, and the only thing I remember her saying on the subject of childbirth was, “God never sends a babe without bread to feed it.” Dame Experience long ago knocked the bottom out of that argument for me. My husband was a man earning 32s. a week – a conscientious good man, but utterly undomesticated. A year after our marriage the first baby was born, naturally and with little pain or trouble. I had every care, and motherhood stirred the depths of my nature. The rapture of a babe in arms drawing nourishment from me crowned me with glory and sanctity and honour. Alas! The doctor who attended me suffered from eczema of a very bad type in his hands. The disease attacked me, and in twenty-four hours I was covered from head to foot… finally leaving me partially and sometimes totally crippled in my hands. Fifteen months later a second baby came – a dear little girl, and again I was in a fairly good condition physically and financially, but had incurred heavy doctor’s and attendance bills, due to my incapacity for work owing to eczema. Both the children were delicate, and dietary expenses ran high. Believing that true thrift is wise expenditure, we spent our all trying to build up for them sound, healthy bodies, and was ill-prepared financially and physically to meet the birth of a third baby sixteen months later. Motherhood ceased to be a crown of glory and became a fearsome thing to be shunned and feared. The only way to meet our increased expenditure was by dropping an endowment policy, and losing all our little, hard-earned savings. I confess without shame that when well-meaning friends said: “You cannot afford another baby; take this drug.” I took their strong concoctions to purge me of the little life that might be mine. They failed, as such things generally do, and the third baby came. Many a time I have sat in daddy’s big chair, a baby two and a half years old at my back, one sixteen months, and one one month on my knees, and cried for very weariness and hopelessness. I fed them all as long as I could, but I was too harassed, domestic duties too heavy and the income too limited to furnish me with a rich nourishing milk… Nine months later I was again pregnant and the second child fell ill. “She cannot live,” the doctors said, but I loved… She is still delicate, but bright and intelligent. I watched by her couch three weeks, snatching her sleeping moments to fulfil the household task. The strain was fearful, and one night I felt I must sleep or die – I didn’t much care which; and I lay down by her side, and slept, and slept, and slept, forgetful of temperatures, nourishment or anything else. … A miscarriage followed in consequence of the strain, and doctor’s bills grew like mushrooms. The physical pain from the eczema, and working with raw and bleeding hand, threatened me with madness. I dare not tell a soul. I dare not even face it for some time, and then I knew I must face this battle or go under. Care and rest would have cured me, but I was too proud for charity, and no other help was available. You may say mine is an isolated case. It is not. The sympathy born of suffering brings many mothers to me, just that they may find a listening ear. I find this mental state is common, and the root cause is lack of rest and economic strain – economic strain being the greatest factor for ill of the two.

Working-class women have grown more refined; they desire better homes, better clothes for themselves and their children, and are far more self-respecting and less humble than their predecessors. But the strain to keep up to anything like a decent standard of housing, clothing, diet and general appearance, is enough to upset the mental balance of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. How much more so a struggling pregnant mother! Preventatives are largely used. Race suicide, if you will, is the policy of the mothers of the future. Who shall blame us?

Two years later a fourth baby came. Varicose veins developed. I thought they were a necessary complement to childbirth. He was a giant of a boy, and heavy to carry, and I just dragged about the housework, washing and cleaning until the time of his birth; but I looked forward to that nine days in bed longingly; to be still and rest was a luxury of luxuries. Economics became a greater strain than ever now that I had four children to care for. Dimly conscious of the evils of sweating, instead of buying cheap ready-made clothes, I fashioned all their little garments and became a sweated worker myself. The utter monotony of life, the lack of tone and culture, the drudgery and gradual lowering of the standard of living consequent upon the rising cost of living, and increased responsibilities, was converting me into a soulless drudge and nagging scold. I felt the comradeship between myself and my husband was breaking up. He could not enter into my domestic, I would not enter into his intellectual pursuits, and again I had to fight or go under. I could give no time to mental culture or reading, and I bought Stead’s penny editions of literary masters, and used to put them on a shelf in front of me washing-day, fastened back their pages with a clothes-peg, and learned pages of Whittier, Lowell, and Longfellow, as I mechanically rubbed the dirty clothes and thus wrought my education. This served a useful purpose; my children used to be sent off to sleep by reciting what I had learnt during the day. My mental outlook was widened, and once again I stood as a comrade and helpmeet by my husband’s side, and my children all have a love for good literature.

Three years later a fifth baby came. I was ill and tired, but my husband fell ill a month prior to his birth, and I was up day and night. Our doctor was, and is, one of the kindest men I have ever met. I said: “Doctor, I cannot afford you for myself, but will you come if I need?” “I hope you won’t need me, but I’ll come.” I dare not let my husband in his precarious condition hear a cry of pain from me, and travail pain cannot always be stifled; and here again the doctor helped me by giving me a sleeping draught to administer him as soon as I felt the pangs of childbirth. Hence he slept in one room while I travailed in the other, and brought forth the loveliest boy that ever gladdened a mother’s heart. So here I am a woman of forty-one years, blessed with a lovely family of healthy children, faced with a big deficit, varicose veins, and an occasional loss of the use of my hands. I want nice things, but I must pay that debt I owe. I would like nice clothes (I’ve had three new dresses in fourteen years), but I must not have them yet. I’d like to develop mentally, but I must stifle that part of my nature until I have made good the ills of the past, and I am doing it slowly and surely, and my heart grows lighter, and will grow lighter still when I know the burden is lifted from the mothers of our race.

Wages 32s. to 40s.: five children, one miscarriage.

From the details given, this woman was born in c1873, and married in c1901, and lived somewhere in the UK.

Margaret K’s story

Being charged with child neglect is bad enough in this day and age, but being penalised for that crime when you were already locked up and therefore couldn’t physically care for your children seems particularly harsh. This was the case for Margaret, but as someone clearly scratching a living from hawking and possessing a chequered criminal past, perhaps the support and upkeep of her children during this incarceration could have been handled in another manner – even in an era where children and their rights were treated very differently to today.

The trouble with habitual criminals in the Victorian age is that often they gave false names at conviction, and could falsify other details too, so keeping track of them and their misdemeanours through documents can often be a tricky prospect. Thankfully, some were up in front of the courts often enough for judges to recognise them, and correct their names alongside their assumed moniker in the record.

Margaret appears to have been born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, in the early 1850s, the second child of Catholic immigrants from Galway, Ireland. Her father had found work in the city as a mason’s labourer, and she grew up in a family of at least four children. She didn’t receive a great deal of education, and it’s likely that her first employment was around the city’s heavy industry.

By 21, she was pregnant with an illegitimate daughter, and a son followed swiftly afterwards. The 1891 census for Sheffield shows her having taken up with a man, who may or may not have been the children’s father – they’re listed under her surname, not his – and living crammed into one room in a house of multiple occupation. Around them are a file striker, a plumber, bill hanger, general gardener, fancy case maker, brass turner, and spoon fork buffer, all with several people to a room. Her man worked as a ironworks labourer, and was nearly 10 years her senior. He’d had no education whatsoever, was a Church of England worshipper – which may have caused problems among her catholic relatives – and already had had a brush with the law at the age of 19, for threatening another man, and had served six months.

Margaret’s first brush with the justice system happened between the births of her first and second child, when she was fined for stealing clothes. She then received 28 days hard labour for stealing five shirts, when her son was only a few months old. Her children would have been left in the care of her man at this time, and perhaps looked after by someone else in one of the house’s other rooms while he was at work.

However, both Margaret and her partner were in trouble again shortly after this – having together stolen a coat and a vest. Margaret was sentenced to two calendar months in jail, while her partner received four months in the same institution – however, these sentences appear not to have occurred at the same time, as her partner was incarcerated as she was released, presumably to provide consistent childcare.

This pattern continued for Margaret, with a succession of convictions throughout the early 1890s. She stole a coat and hat, and got three months hard labour for that. Another coat only a few months later got her a further three months in the clink, and then she was charged with being drunk and disorderly and was locked up for a week. In between convictions she worked – as a tin worker, and then as a mill hand. She then stole 47 ½ yards of Holland cloth, and received a further four months hard labour.

Her partner appears to have stayed on the straight and narrow through this, but during this last period that Margaret was detained something appears to have changed. He was convicted of cruelty to two children – presumably Margaret’s daughter and son, who may or may not have been his own – while living in Barnsley, and received a month’s hard labour. Cruelty to children – in an era where children were often beaten and repressed as a matter of course in the name of instilling “good” behaviour – appears have been a much lesser crime than stealing clothing, given the more lenient sentence he received.

Despite this conviction, a year after his release Margaret married him. Her son died shortly afterwards, at the age of five. A year or so later two further daughters were born, and she appears to have been better behaved, or at least not been caught. However, there are two more minor convictions – one for assault, one for damaging glass – at the tail end of the 1890s that show that she wasn’t completely on the straight and narrow. She received a calendar month of hard labour for each offence. Another daughter was born just at the turn of the 20th century.

The 1901 census finds the family still crammed into one room in a Sheffield house, with her husband still employed as a furnaceman at the ironworks. Margaret, at this time, was unable to work as she has a very small baby. However, over the next couple of years she is charged with being drunk twice – once while being in charge of a child – and for using obscene language.

She then received six months in Wakefield prison for malicious wounding, and six months after that got a further half year – this time in Sheffield jail – for stealing a suit of clothes. By this stage she was giving her profession as a hawker. She gave birth to a son during this time in prison.

At the time of the conviction for neglecting her children, Margaret was in Derby prison. It’s unclear what she did to end up there – the prison records for Derbyshire at that time are unavailable – but the neglect took place over several dates over six months, so it’s probable that she received a six-month sentence for similar clothes-stealing crimes. The children should by rights have been in the care of their father while she was incarcerated, but in practice – as was seen in his earlier conviction – his care appears to have been minimal at best. He also died very shortly after Margaret was convicted of neglect, so may well have been ill and unable to provide adequate care – hence the blame for the children’s condition falling squarely on her shoulders. Margaret’s charges were that she “unlawfully did wilfully neglect them in a manner likely to cause them unnecessary suffering to their person at Sheffield”. She was discharged, to serve for this crime once her sentence in Derby had come to an end.

Unsurprisingly, with their father dead and their mother incarcerated, the four children were removed from Sheffield and placed in an orphanage in Sussex. Here they would have followed quite a harsh regime, but would been educated and trained, clothed and looked after – which may have seemed settled after their earlier life.

Margaret, once out of prison, still worked as a hawker. The 1911 census records her as a rag and bone hawker, who would have roamed the streets finding useful scrap and selling it on. She lodged with her married sister and family, still in Sheffield, in their tiny lodgings. Her sister worked as a fruit and vegetable hawker, so may well have roamed the streets together.

There are no further convictions, and she lived on in Sheffield until the beginning of the second world war. At least one of her daughters came back to the city once she had grown up.



To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

Marion Young’s story

Marion was at the forefront of new art teaching in elementary schools in the 1930s, but her contribution has been eclipsed by that of her rather better-known colleague Robin Tanner, and her part in this teaching epoch has been buried – possibly as her medium, needlework, was not considered worthy of a traditional art focus either then or now, and instead is often viewed merely as a woman’s practical skill.

She was born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, in the summer of 1902 – the fourth child and second daughter of an insurance agent and his wife. The family were almost certainly non-conformists in religion – Marion’s older sister was baptised in a Methodist church, and Marion herself was later reprimanded for teaching scripture lessons from the perspective of a non-CofE denomination. After moving when she was small, she was brought up in Chippenham, a well-connected Wiltshire market town, and would probably have been initially educated at St Paul’s elementary school, just across the road from her family’s home.

In her teens she decided to train as a teacher, and went to Salisbury Teacher Training College, an institution that trained women teachers for National Schools. Here she would have been given two years’ training to instruct children in English, history, geography, music, needlework, arithmetic, drawing, domestic economy and scripture – all subjects that were felt essential for children’s basic education at the beginning of the 1920s.

teacher training salisbury

It’s likely that her first job post-training was at Melksham Boy’s National School, in a town about six miles away from home, but the log book of this institution for that period is not available. In September 1923, the boys’ school amalgamated with the girls’ school, and Marion is on the staff of this new school – the head teacher’s comments about her in the school log book perhaps indicate a longer acquaintance, and she is certainly not on the staff of the previous girls’ school, which leads to the assumption that she had taught at the boys’ school.

At this newly amalgamated school, Marion taught Standards I and II and was an assistant mistress. She left her post in the summer of 1924, with no reason given – there is nothing in her personal life that would indicate why she quit. She did not get married, which was the usual reason young women teachers resigned, as a marriage bar prohibited them from working, nor did she transfer to another school. The head writes: “The departure of Miss Young from this school is a matter of deep regret to all. She has rendered extremely loyal service during her period of service at this school.”

Marion returned to the same school a year later, with no remark made upon her return, and taught there until the winter of 1930, when she secured a post at a school back in Chippenham, where she was still living.

This school was Ivy Lane Elementary School, which had Robin Tanner on the staff at that time. Tanner – an etcher and artist whose work was starting to be noticed – had been at the school for about six months, and was beginning to work with the pupils on arts and design, book binding, and painting on enamel. To this portfolio he later added weaving, with the school purchasing its own loom to achieve this. The headteacher, seeing the benefits for his pupils of this creative outlet, encouraged Tanner to include the girls’ decorative work from the needlework classes in this design work – and to this end he worked with Marion as she was the school’s needlework specialist.

Needlework at this time was very much seen as a practical skill, with utilitarian needs, and part of a preparation for girls’ future lives as wives and mothers. Because it was viewed as a woman’s skill, the decorative aspect of needlework was not considered as art in the traditional sense, but the work of Robin and Marion together changed this for pupils at Ivy Lane Elementary at least, and later displayed this to the education community nationally.

A report of late 1930 says that a striking feature of the art teaching at the school is the linking up of design with decorative needlework, and in 1931 the headteacher of Ivy Lane – Frederick Hinton – remarks that: “Mr Tanner and Miss Young have co-operated and the lessons in Design and in Needlework have been correlated with remarkably pleasing results.” He also notes that as a result of this collaboration, the girls in the school are showing a much greater interest in art and design, and that the approach was helping remedial children in the school to feel more confident about their work.

There is no doubt that Robin Tanner was the driving force behind the new approaches to art within the school, but he was ably supported and embellished by Marion’s skills. Indeed, the work going on at the school started to be noticed – initially by local schools’ inspectors within Wiltshire, and then further afield. An exhibition of the school’s handicraft, art and needlework led to senior inspectors visiting the school directly to look at the work. Then a party of students from the Salisbury Teacher Training College came to visit the school, and every class worked on art for an afternoon with them. Packages of artwork, including needlework, were sent to education conferences elsewhere – the work went as far as Dartington and Truro in the south of the country, and Durham and Newcastle in the north. Principals of art schools also visited the school, as did specialist art lecturers, and in 1934 the needlework was borrowed for a course by the Board of Education. This achievement by Robin and Marion, alongside Miss Miles, another needlework teacher who joined in the work later, brought the school to national renown. One famous comment was that those seeing the exhibited work could not believe that they had been done by children.

Robin Tanner left Ivy Lane Elementary School in 1935 to become an inspector of schools himself, and the requests for exhibited art and needlework dried up almost immediately. A new art master took over, but there is no further mention of decorative needlework being combined with art teaching. Instead, Marion’s speciality at the school became Physical Training – the older name for PE – and she attended various courses to improve the instruction for the pupils.

Towards the tail end of 1940, with Chippenham’s schools already overcrowded and waves of evacuees swelling pupil numbers still further, education in the town was reorganised. The three highest forms from all the town’s elementary schools formed a new temporary senior school, based in a building that Chippenham’s grammar school had recently vacated, and Marion’s teaching job moved to this new school. Here she remained a PT specialist, while still providing class-based general education for the 11-14-year-olds still in the elementary system.

The school drew children from across the town, some of them travelling a great distance to attend, which meant that the traditional dinner interval where children went home for a hot meal was more difficult. Until the second world war every child went home for lunch, and were given up to an hour and a half to achieve this, but rationing of food meant that collective ways to eat were becoming more popular as nicer meals were achievable if everyone’s share was amalgamated. The temporary senior school established their own canteen to provide hot meals for the children, with their own cook and Marion as the staff member in charge of the venture.

The blitz on Bath of 27/28 April 1942 meant that the gas supply to the surrounding area was cut off – including Chippenham. Marion worked with the cook, Mrs Whittle, and a troop of New Zealand soldiers that were also stationed at the temporary senior school building at that point in the war, to ensure that every child had a hot meal that day. This involved cooking in pots over camp fires.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 formalised Chippenham’s Temporary Senior School into a mixed Secondary Modern School. This also gradually moved the education format from class-based general teaching to separate subject specialisms – and Marion, as a senior assistant mistress, was still the PT specialist for the school. The marriage bar for women teachers was also lifted that year, meaning that Marion and her colleagues could marry and keep their jobs. However, at 42 she may have felt that marriage was not an option open to her. Nonetheless, it was Marion who was nominated to attend courses on how to deliver sex education to her pupils.

The school split in 1956, with the boys remaining in the old grammar school building and the Girls’ Secondary Modern School moving to new premises at Hardenhuish. Marion went to teach in this new girls’ school, as the most senior assistant mistress (today’s equivalent to a Deputy Headteacher). By this stage her specialism was English.

Here she remained as a prominent member of staff for another eight years, until retirement in 1964. When she left the school had a special assembly for her, and she was presented with a record player and record case. The staff also had a party for her in the school library.

She died at the tail end of the 1970s, having lived with her widowed sister in a sizable house, and left a great deal of money. She is buried in Chippenham’s St Paul’s churchyard, alongside her parents and one of her brothers.


The image accompanying this post is by Hannah Hill.



To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.