A plumber’s daughter, Sarah Tanner grew up relatively comfortably in the 1840s and 50s in the rapidly expanding Wiltshire market town of Chippenham. The youngest of at least seven siblings, her family did well after the railway came to the town and her father’s business grew big enough to support employees and keep daughters at home until they married rather than sending them out to work.
However, while two of her elder sisters chose to remain at home until they wed, Sarah did not choose this route. By the age of 18 she and her eldest sister Mary were running a seeds and food shop on Chippenham’s High Street, which – given the town was growing rapidly at this time – almost certainly saw good trade.
At the age of 30 her sister Mary married a widowed yeoman farmer turned publican, and presumably left Sarah to run the business herself. Her brother in law’s career may have led Sarah to meet her own husband – Joseph Buckle, the widower landlord of one of Chippenham’s biggest hostelries on the town’s market place – who she married at the age of 28.
This marriage gained her two step-children from her husband’s previous marriage – a girl aged 8 and a boy aged 4 – and her husband had a stepson of his own from his former wife’s marriage. It also gained Sarah a pub, a business that kick started a career that lasted over 30 years. Although her husband was named landlord, the 1871 census record has Sarah’s occupation as a licenced victualler’s wife – indicating that she was fairly active in the day to day life of the establishment – but the enumerator concerned has crossed this description out, as it was considered invalid.
Sarah had her own daughter a year or so after her marriage. She was heavily pregnant again with her son Joe when her husband died suddenly, leaving her the business, his money, and their combined children. Her son was born a month after his father’s death, and Sarah renewed the pub’s licence in her name within another month.
She ran the pub with the help of her step-children and a couple of domestic servants for another three years until she married again. The marriage took place at Chippenham’s parish church, and was witnessed by her stepdaughter. Her second husband was a former soldier who came from Nottinghamshire, and in accordance with the law of the time he took over the hotel and pub licence – if the woman was married, her property became her husband’s. The couple ran the pub together for another four years – with her eldest stepdaughter as barmaid – and had a daughter together. They then gave up the business, and moved a few streets away. It’s unclear what they were surviving on – when their second daughter was baptised a couple of years later Sarah’s husband’s profession is given as a former soldier and a hotel business isn’t mentioned – but it’s possible that her inheritance from her first husband was enough to keep them comfortably.
However, this existence did not last. Sarah’s second husband died in 1887, aged 40, leaving her widowed for the second time. At this stage her stepchildren were adults, but she had four dependent children – a son aged 14 and daughters aged 15, 9, and 2 – and no visible means of support.
She went back into the pub trade to provide for her family, based on the many years of experience she’d had at the hotel. She founded a Wine and Spirits vaults in Chippenham’s market place, just a stone’s throw away from the original pub and ran that until 1892. At this point business was clearly booming, despite the growth of the temperance movement, and she was able to both found another pub/hotel in the market place and run a second one nearby for another ten years, taking her through to the early 20th century. She did not marry again, and therefore kept the income and status her businesses generated.
In the early 1900s, when she was getting on in years, she relinquished the pub trade and moved in with her unmarried son Joe Buckle as his housekeeper. He, and the husband of one of her daughters, ran a popular fishmongers and poultry shop on Chippenham’s high street in a timbered building that no longer exists, and it’s likely that Sarah helped out with this business as she aged too. Joe also became the town’s fire chief, and was a well-known local figure.
She died in her mid-70s, at the beginning of the 1920s. Her son eventually married four years after her demise.
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