Caroline T’s story

Caroline was steeped in the cloth trade of the East End of London. Both her parents came from weaving stock, so had been around the manufacture of cloth since childhood, but by the time Caroline – their first daughter and oldest child – came along her father was making a living from making straps and dog collars. Since the neckwear of vicars in the 1880s was more usually referred to as a clerical collar at that time, it’s likely that Caroline’s parents’ income depended on fancy collars for pampered pooches.

Production of luxury, non-essential items, was far from unusual in Shoreditch in the last two decades of the 19th century, where Caroline and her seven siblings grew up. The households surrounding them housed tailors and other cloth workers, invariably of Jewish descent and having arrived in the UK from Russia or Poland, and from the census records of their occupations it is clear that their work involved non-essential clothing and fancy or decorative items.

edwardian embroidery 1

By 1901 Caroline – who by this stage was in her early 20s – and her whole family were working together to produce luxury fabric items. Her father still made dog collars, while her mother stitched shirts, two of her sisters were machinists while a brother worked with them. Caroline herself was an embroidery cutter, so would have be involved in fiddly and intricate work that put the gloss and style on the products the rest of her family made.

By this stage, Caroline might have been expected to get married, but instead she chose to continue her embroidery and stay working within the family business. This was also a choice made by several of her sisters – the entire family stayed working together for the next decade. The sister closest to Caroline in age died in 1910, in her early 30s, but had worked closely with the rest of the family until that point.

With seven active family members working, their fortunes went up. They were able to move from Shoreditch to Mile End, and Caroline’s father acted as the official salesperson for their products, as a hawker. Caroline herself, alongside one of her sisters, embroidered ladies’ jackets, while one brother made belts, a sister produced garments for horses, another produced hand lace, and the youngest sister was apprenticed to a dress maker.

edwardian embroidery 2
Walking suit ca. 1905. Hunter green wool in herringbone weave. Long jacket, trimmed with passementerie and faux buttons and with a faux vest in velvet with cream embroidery. Lined in cream silk satin; weighted hem. Pleated skirt with decorated front panel.

The difference in the economy caused by the First World War meant that luxury items were less in demand and the situation changed for Caroline’s family. She, alongside several of her younger sisters, married during the four years of the war.

The man of her choosing was a widower with three young children – who had relied on his younger unmarried sister for family support for five years after his wife’s death until Caroline came into the picture. She gained a new family, but at the age of 40 was probably getting past the age of child-bearing, so did not have any children of her own. They moved to Marylebone, where her husband worked as a French polisher and undertaker.

Caroline died ten years later, at the age of just fifty, making her husband twice widowed.

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Frances B’s story

A minor member of the peerage, through both her birth and her marriage, Frances B was one of the early recruits to the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the beginning of the Second World War, and died while on active service.

Born in Bermuda, while her naval commander father was serving in the area in the 1890s, Frances was the oldest of three children. Her parents had married in Malta, and Frances had by far the most exotic of her sibling’s births – the others occurring in Kent and Oxfordshire.

Despite her father’s position in the navy, which would have required him to be at sea for long periods of time, the family settled in Portsmouth while they were in England, and had a comfortable existence supported by domestic staff – including a nursemaid for the children.

Later on, as her father’s career was winding down, Frances’ family moved permanently to a village in Kent, to a house that her parents had returned to when they were between periods of service. By 1911 she was the only child left at home – her brother was at public school, and her sister was elsewhere. Frances, having left any education she was given, was at this stage of marriageable age, and would have been expected to make a good match.

Her brother was killed on active service in France in the first half of the Great War, and both Frances and her sister married the following year – her sister to a military musician, and Frances to a naval lieutenant in active service, so the pattern of traveling she experienced as a child continued into her adulthood.

Her husband saw service on many naval vessels, and their daughter and only child was born while Frances was based on the north-east coast of England at the tail end of the first world war.

In peace time the family settled in Cheshire. Her husband retired from the Navy on medical grounds, becoming a company director, and their daughter grew up and married. Frances led a comfortable existence during the early half of the 20th century.

However, the outbreak of the second world war ended that lifestyle. Frances’ husband was recalled into the navy. Frances herself, who had always lived alongside the military, joined the fledgling Auxiliary Territorial Service. This unit for women was attached to the territorial army, and members received two thirds of the pay that a male member of the TA would be given.

At the time Frances joined the ATS, the women in the service were employed as cooks, clerks and shopkeepers, helping to keep institutions and structures running during war time when men were getting scarcer. Some became telephonists, with more than 300 women sent to France to support troops in the very earliest part of the war. Frances, with her background in the military and high social standing, became a senior commandant – an equivalent to the male rank of major – and would have been in charge of many other women volunteering to help the war effort.

Later on, the roles of ATS members expanded to include orderlies, postal workers, ammunition inspectors and drivers. However, Frances did not live to see these changes. She died while on active service at a hospital in Oxford, during the spring of 1941. The hospital does not appear to have been part of the blitz, however. She was included in the UK Army Roll of Honour.

Frances’ personal effects and her money were given to her husband – who was also awarded during World War II – and her married daughter.

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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.

Lilian Y’s story

The railway age is often seen as a romantic one, with clouds of steam and breathless brief encounters perhaps eclipsing the reality of filthy hard work and clothes full of soot smuts. However, the community around railways could at least partly be described as romantic in that many people met their partners among the multifarious professions employed on and around the rails.

Lilian Y was one of these, as she came from a railway family, and married a railway man. However, where her tale differs is that she did not remain associated with the rails and instead became landlady of a pub.

She was born in Bristol, the second child of a railway platelayer – someone who inspected the conditions of the track – and his wife at the beginning of the 1890s. Six younger siblings followed, and the family grew up beside the harbour railway  in Bristol’s docklands, alongside boats working with tobacco, coal and other heavy industry.

In her teens her father moved to a similar role on the Strawberry Line or the Cheddar Valley Line, and the family went with him. Upon leaving school Lilian found work as a waitress in a restaurant, possibly in the station café, and boarded out of the family home.

By 1915 Lilian was in a Wiltshire market town with a strong railway industry, possibly due to her father’s next job. She married that year, to a railway guard who was more than ten years her senior.

Initially they lived behind the town’s brake and signalling works, and their first son followed later that year, with another born five years later. The gap in their children’s ages would perhaps suggest that her husband served in the first world war, but there is no evidence for this.

Things changed in early 1932 when they bought a pub – including all the fixtures, fittings and cutlery, and even including the 60 tulip bulbs in the garden – which was one of two frequented by railway workers and those employed in the next-door bacon factory. This had several rooms – a bar, smoking room, club room, drawing room, and kitchen with meat safes.

Her husband, who had long been employed on the railway, kept his job as a railway guard while being landlord at the pub. However, in practice with him employed down the road – despite gaps in trains arriving and departing the station, and the pub being only a stone’s throw away – it would have been Lilian who would have opened the bar for trade and served the beer, in addition to providing any food that the pub would serve and keeping the place clean and tidy. She was aided in her landlady’s role by her two sons, but they also had jobs elsewhere – one at the post office and the other at the bacon factory. Despite this huge amount of work, and her official role as landlady, the 1939 register tersely gives Lillian’s profession as “unpaid domestic duties at home”.

A year into World War II, her husband died – only in his late 50s – and Lilian ran the pub alone with the help of her sons. However, with pressure to join up and fight the eldest son went into the air force not long after his father’s death. He was killed in a nearby flying accident around nine months later, while awaiting his wings, leaving Lilian with two close bereavements within a year of each other.

She continued to run the pub, now landlord in name as well as action, sometimes with her remaining son, alongside a bar manager until 1957, when she retired and moved elsewhere in the town. She died around a decade later, and is buried alongside her husband and elder son in the grounds of the church in which she married.

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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.

Cecelia W’s story

Magdalene laundries are more usually associated with Ireland, but institutions for penitent women were found in many countries.

The more usual name for these institutions were reformatory schools or refuges for penitent women, and they were run by a collection of nuns with the aim to cleanse the souls of those accommodated within, and focus the mind on good work through useful industry.

The more usual view is that admittance was via loose behaviour – either bearing a child out of wedlock or engaging in prostitution – but young catholic women could also be placed there for other reasons, such as engaging in petty crimes.

It is unknown what Cecilia W did to end up in a convent reformatory, but there is a record from someone bearing her name in 1879 who was charged with two counts of fraud. This young woman admitted her guilt, and was released – but may have been placed in a reformatory by her parents to keep her on the straight and narrow.

She’d been born in Newport, South Wales, into a large catholic family of eleven children. Her father worked as a sawyer, while her mother ran a public house.

Whatever she did to end up as a penitent, by 1881 she was placed in a convent institution in Bristol, spending her time employed in laundry work and needlework.

She stayed there for at least the next twenty years. In 1891 the institution, which was run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd – who had other convents and reform schools elsewhere in the UK – had 67 penitent women on their books alongside 59 reformatory girls and 20 school children. By 1891 Cecilia’s needlework role appeared to have been dropped and she was merely working as a laundry maid. She was similarly employed in the same institution in 1901.

By 1911, however, she appears to have left the convent as she does not appear on the list of inmates – so perhaps her debt to society had been repaid in the eyes of the church. A woman bearing her name was living in a flat in Brighton, on the south coast of England, as the travelling companion to an American visitor of Irish descent. In the absence of an obvious death record it would be nice to think that, after many years hard laundry labour at the hands of the nuns, she had a nicer and more comfortable life in her later years. There is no further record of Cecelia, so she may have travelled back to America with her new-found companion.

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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.

Amy W’s story

Entering a convent and becoming a nun, giving up your life to God and a regime of worship and good works, might have been done for several reasons in the 19th century. For poorer catholic girls, it was a way to achieve a more comfortable and stable life. For others, it was a way to avoid the institutions of marriage and children. The convent offered an opportunity for leadership and prominent positions unavailable to women outside the institution, and perhaps gave women a chance for creative expression or female education that would not otherwise be offered. Some may have felt a strong calling to devote their lives to God. More monied and prominent catholic families might have expected one or two of their daughters to enter the convent in time-honoured tradition, and a convent dowry was usually less than a marriage dowry so could have been seen as making economic sense.

Amy W and her twin sister were the youngest daughters in a prominent and landed Catholic family, born at the beginning of the 1830s in the south of England. They had six older siblings, including three older sisters. At least some of their childhood was spent in a convent in Taunton, although by the time they were 19 they had been brought home and possibly were in the market for husbands.

Two of their brothers married – one going on to have fourteen children of his own – but none of their older sisters married. They all, along with Amy and her twin, spent their lives in convents serving either as nuns or nuns who had a remit to teach children or penitents.

Amy, on re-entering the religious profession at some point in the 1860s, had the most prominent career of all her sisters. While her twin remained with the Franciscan sisters in Taunton, she became part of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, an order that had first come to London in 1841 and gradually founded other convents throughout the UK.

She rose to become the superintendent of their Glazenwood convent in Essex, under a Belgian priest. This institution was effectively a refuge and reformatory for penitent women, and there were 31 inmates at the turn of the 1860s – a mixture of former laundresses, seamstresses, domestic servants, parlour maids, dairy maids, farmer workers and nursery maids. The nuns in this house, with Amy at their head, offered care and instruction to the inmates.

During the following decade, she moved to become the prioress of another Sisters of the Good Shepherd convent in Bristol. This institution, set in a former great house, was again a reform school and refuge for penitent women but on a much larger scale than the one in Essex. In this position Amy had an assistant, a choir of 12 nuns, and 12 lay sisters underneath her. There were 127 penitent women and girls in the institution, all employed in laundry and needlework. In many cases these women would have been undergoing penance for loose behaviour with men or prostitution, but those who had undertaken other crimes were also admitted for correction and soul-cleansing.

By the mid-1880s, Amy had moved to the original Sisters of the Good Shepherd convent at Hammersmith in London, and by the turn of the 1890s she was serving at their convent in Blackley, near Manchester in Lancashire. By this stage she was 59, and possibly in less robust health as she did not serve as superioress or prioress, and was instead second in command. This was another institution for penitents, with 20 nuns and 128 inmates.

While one of her sisters had some small amount of money, which she left to Amy, when Amy died at the early part of the 1890s she had nothing to leave anyone. She passed away while serving at the Lancashire convent. Her twin sister continued to live and serve at the Taunton convent until she died in the run up to the First World War.

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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.

Annie B’s story

Annie’s parents had emigrated from Russia to London during the later part of the 19th century, escaping from a part of the country that is now in modern-day Poland, and probably driven out by anti-Jewish pogroms. They resettled in the East End of London, in the heart of the Jewish community there, and Annie was perhaps the first of their nine children born in their new country.

Her father worked as a cabinet maker, which not only supported his family but enabled him to place two of his children, Annie and her brother, in a paying school in the 1890s.

Later on, Annie found work as a cigarette maker in the burgeoning tobacco industry in the early 20th century East End. Previously, cigars had been more popular, but by this time cigarettes – which were cheaper and more plentiful – were gaining in popularity.

Cigarette and cigar making was not government controlled in London, and was considered a “food industry”. Many Jewish people in the area became garment workers, boots and shoe makers, and cabinet makers – cigarette and cigar makers were initially a smaller part of Jewish industry but a significant one. At this time, tobacco smoking was still widely believed to have health benefits, a fiction that persisted until the middle of the 20th century. By 1911, East London had 76 factories manufacturing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, snuff, but equally numerous small household manufacturers too – it’s unclear whether Annie’s work was in a factory, or as a smaller producer – however, her living circumstances point to the latter.

She lived with one of her sisters in a flat above a shop in Spitalfields, helping her sister – an embroiderer and tailoress – to run the shop, and it is likely that her cigarette making was another part of her income. This appears to have been a successful business partnership for many years, and one stable enough to accommodate the raising of two of her younger brother’s children during the Second World War, when they lost their mother.

At the tail end of the war, Annie’s sister married and their business appears to have hit hard times – they gave up the shop to a hat maker, and Annie went back to making cigarettes for a living. She eventually left their flat and moved into lodgings with another family. She kept this lifestyle going until she died in the mid-1950s.

The buildings the family occupied no longer exist, and have been replaced by modern flats.

 

For more information about the tobacco industry at the time, see:

http://eastlondonhistory.com/2014/04/28/cigar-makers-of-the-east-end-of-london/comment-page-1/

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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.

Ruby G’s story

Divorced in the 1920s, as marriage dissolution became more affordable for couples – if no less stigma-laden – Ruby G kept a successful teaching career alive in a marriage-bar era and raised a daughter too.

Born into the industries surrounding and supporting the fishing trade in the North East of England, Ruby grew up in a family of daughters with a father who had political ambitions. Clearly bright, she followed her older sister into school teaching – a respected position for unmarried women to hold at the beginning of the 20th century.

Teaching at this time was a profession open to both single and married men, but only single women – the exceptions being older women married to school teachers in predominantly rural areas who might teach the infants or the girls in a small school, or widows who had previously been teachers. Like many other skilled professions at the time, unmarried teachers were expected to give up their job at marriage and be supported by their husbands. In her second proper teaching position, at the beginning of the 1920s in Wiltshire, Ruby was no exception – despite four years’ service, school log books refer to her expected resignation throughout the year, indicating that she was stepping out with a beau, and her resignation occurred as the school year closed. Sure enough, marriage records show that she married that summer.

A daughter was born over the following few years, and by societal expectation she would have been based caring for family and home while her husband worked and earned. However, this marriage was clearly not a happy one, and a divorce happened at some point before 1930. Divorces, although still frowned upon by general society with the generations-held belief that marriages should be made work at whatever cost, were easier to obtain at this time. A private member’s bill introduced to the UK parliament in 1923 – which passed as the Matrimonial Causes Act – helped this process by making adultery by either wife or husband the sole grounds for divorce, where previously the wife had to provide extra evidence of faults against her husband. The Summary Jurisdiction (Separation and Maintenance) Act, passed in 1925, also extended the grounds on which either partner could obtain a separation.

Whatever the grounds for Ruby’s divorce, she found herself alone with a young daughter to support. The school she had resigned from took her back on temporarily, despite the fact that she had been married, when a member of their staff was sick and indisposed for a few weeks. She was then taken back on to that school’s staff permanently the following summer. Being divorced meant that she was not married, and therefore was not subject to any restrictions under the marriage bar. Therefore, the school could employ her without a problem, and did.

She taught at the school for another six years, during which the department of education approached her twice with a view to her taking on a headship of a school elsewhere – which is more likely an indication of her skill as a teacher than any lingering stigma about employing a divorcee. On both occasions she refused, and chose to remain in position at the Wiltshire school. A couple of years before the second world war began, she chose to resign of her own accord, and moved herself and her daughter to Shropshire. They lived with her father, now a widower, and spent the duration of the second world war there.

In 1935 the marriage bar for teachers was removed by London County Council, but that only applied in their area of jurisdiction. The National Union of Women Teachers had campaigned for this change for a long time. The marriage bar was removed for all teachers in 1944, meaning that Ruby’s unmarried colleagues could now keep their jobs if they chose to marry – many female teachers were life-long spinsters, as they loved their work too much to end it.

Ruby herself never remarried. She died in Somerset in the early 1960s, leaving her possessions and money to her unmarried daughter.

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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.