Elsie W’s story

Born in rural Devon, Elsie W was the eldest of three children born to a former bootmaker who had taken to agricultural labouring.

In the 1880s, in her early teens, she lost her mother and her father remarried twice, producing more siblings. She spent a little time as a domestic servant in Devon, working for a naval engineer. She then followed her father and newest stepmother to the Bristol area, where he had established a shoemaking business.

At the age of 25 she married a man nearly fifty years her senior, who had been widowed by his first wife only two years previously. He was a Chelsea pensioner, and had run coffee shops among other professions in Bristol throughout the 19th century, but with a wife to support and a new clutch of children appearing, he took to working in a ropemaking establishment to provide money for his family.

Elsie’s first child, a daughter, followed well over a year after their wedding. The next, a boy, died within six months of birth. And a third, a daughter, was born a couple of years later, when her husband had reached the age of 79.

She was widowed at 36, with two daughters to support, and took to running a pub in central Bristol – with a boarder in the house to make ends meet. Her daughters helped run the pub. This pub also operated as an off licence, and she ran it until 1931, when her youngest daughter took over the business.

She died in 1941, at the height of the Bristol Blitz, but was not a victim of any of the bombing raids that destroyed the city at that time.

Mabel M’s story

Mabel M worked in a stamp factory before World War I, a fact that she always credited for the early loss of her teeth – possibly due to the sugar in the gum on the back of the stamps. She ran away from home to marry an older man, who hopped aboard a boat to Australia two days after the wedding and didn’t return for nearly four years, leaving Mabel to face the wrath of her mother alone. He wrote occasionally, calling her “Kiddie”. Her mother, who was a staunch Church of England attender, objected to her new son-in-law for his Catholicism as well as having taken her daughter away, and ripped up the marriage certificate – thus enabling Mabel to keep working. Her husband returned in 1916, and a new certificate was issued. They went on to have five children.

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