Bessie G’s story

The name “Miss B Gramlich” is given as a co-chair of the West Wiltshire WSPU, alongside Lillian Dove-Willcox (a prominent member known to have relocated to Trowbridge from Bristol) in 1911-12.

This would appear to be Elizabeth Gramlick, one of several daughters of a wealthy family who at that time were living at the now-demolished grand house of Springfield, on Hilperton Road in Trowbridge.


Bessie was born in c1881, at least the fifth child of seven from Bethnal Green-born John Thomas Gramlick and his wife Emily Hornsby. Like most of her siblings (she had five sisters and a brother), she was born in Vienna, where her father made a good living as a plumber, putting in water supplies and indoor plumbing for grand palaces. The family were part of a good number of English people – despite their Germanic surname, John Thomas appears to have been English for several generations back – in the Austrian capital, and seem to have played a big part in that society. He is known to have been a founder of the Vienna Cricket and Football Club.

At some point around the turn of the century, Bessie and her family returned to the UK. Her father appears to have retired from running the plumbing business full time, and left his son and oldest child in charge. It’s unknown where they settled at first – the 1901 census has the family holidaying at a boarding house in Brighton – but by 1904 when Bessie’s mother died the family were clearly well settled in Trowbridge society.

The local newspaper report of Emily Gramlick’s funeral reports on many tributes from local people, and floral arrangements from all daughters including “Little Bess” – a pet name for Bessie.

There are sporadic reports of the family in newspapers of the first decade of the 20th century. The Misses Gramlick appear to have played tennis among other society women, and attended grand weddings – Bessie contributed a fancy cushion as a present to one, while her sisters offered a butter knife. There is also a report of Bessie being a fair amateur actress in a production of Red Riding Hood at Staverton School Room in 1906, which involved various of her sisters. Bessie played the Queen of Sylvania, and reportedly acted it in a “graceful and artistic way”.

Bessie’s name appearing as the co-chair of the West Wilts WSPU in 1911-12 is concurrent with her appearance on the 1911 census. On this document she is 30 and has no profession – like all of her sisters. She’s given by her full name Elizabeth. All her sisters are at home, and unmarried.

A reception for women to discuss votes for women was held by the WSPU at Trowbridge Town Hall on 14 March 1911, but while the invitation came from Lillian Dove-Willcox there was no mention of Bessie’s connection to the movement. There is no further connection of the WSPU to Bessie Gramlick in the newspapers at the time.

Instead, the next record available shows that she volunteered for the Voluntary Red Cross at Trowbridge in February 1916. She worked six hours per week at the Wilts War Hospital Supply Depot, as a member of the BRCS, and was retained until 1919. She was awarded a VW badge for this.

In 1921 it appears both Bessie and her sister Mary married, probably at the same time. Bessie Gramlick became Bessie LeCount as she married Charles J Lecount in West Ham. She would have been 40 years old when this marriage took place, and probably regarded as a confirmed spinster by the society circles she moved in.

However, her father’s will, enacted around six months after her wedding took place, refers to both Bessie and Mary as spinsters. Their married status probably hadn’t had a chance to be updated by the time he died in early 1922. Bessie, Mary and another spinster sister Emily inherited nearly £6,000 and were still given as living at Springfield in Trowbridge.

Bessie and Charles appear to have a son – Charles – in 1922, when she was around 40, and a daughter – Peggy – in 1929 when she was around 48, and lived in West Ham. Her unmarried sister Emily appears to have kept up the family home at Springfield, but used her inheritance to travel – the late 20s and early 30s have her going back and forth between the UK, Italy and Indonesia – while Bessie stayed in Essex with her husband and children.

Bessie Lecount died in 1955 at the age of 73, in Essex. Family trees online give Bessie’s death, unmarried, as 1951 in Trowbridge. However, there is no record that backs up this account.


Women’s genealogy talks

The Women Who Made Me project is currently touring Wiltshire, UK, speaking in libraries about women’s genealogy. This is against a background of the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK.

Talks are currently taking place at Salisbury Library on Tuesdays at 11.30am, Chippenham Library on Thursdays at 5.30pm, and Trowbridge Library on Fridays at 5.30pm.

Yesterday, project founder Lucy Whitfield was interviewed by That’s TV in Salisbury, ahead of the first talk of the series.

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.