Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sarah Jane St Leger

In my mother's family, Sarah Jane Orton (nee St Leger*) has an unhappy reputation. She was apparently a hard-hearted business woman, who turned her son's family into the street when he developed tuberculosis and was unable to work in the barber's shop attached to their accommodation in Hankinson Street, Pendleton (which Sarah Jane owned). While Albert was in a sanatorium being treated, his wife and four children (including my mother) were taken in by a kind neighbour or friend. Meanwhile Sarah Jane brought in another hairdresser to work in the shop.

We'll probably never know the full story, since no-one is alive who can still remember the details. Certainly I can't remember my Mum ever talking about her grandmother as someone she knew and loved. But what is known about Sarah Jane?

Sarah Jane St Leger was the youngest daughter of Samuel St Leger and Alice Dodd. Samuel and Alice had a rather unusual relationship. Five of Alice's children - Ralph (1841), an earlier Sarah Jane (1845, died 1848) Samuel (1848) Alice (1850) and William (1853) were born while Alice was still single, though Samuel seems to have been their father.

Sometime between the birth of William in 1853 and Mary Ann in 1857 they seem to have moved in together and Alice took on the name St Leger, though I can't find any record of a marriage.

Hebden Bridge
Sarah Jane was born in Salford, the dockland area south west of Manchester city, in November 1862. Sometime before she turned 6 years old the family moved to Hebden Bridge, near Todmorden in Yorkshire. (Her younger brother David was born there in 1868.) As I mentioned in my previous post, it's possible that the family were one of many who moved from Lancashire to Yorkshire seeking work during the Lancashire "cotton famine" of the 1860's.

The family were still in Hebden Bridge at the time of the 1881 census. Samuel senior died there in 1882. It seems that Alice and most of the children except Ralph moved back to Manchester, though not as a family. In the 1891 census Sarah Jane was boarding with a family named Stokes in Napier Street, Gorton (an area of Manchester) and she was working in a cotton mill.

Later that year she married Albert Edwin Orton (senior), a barber who lived at the time with his parents Thomas and Sarah Orton in Gorton. Albert's sister Augusta and brother Ernest were the witnesses.

Their first child Edith May was born in July 1893, when Sarah was 30 years old. Lillian (1894), Harold (1898), Frederick (1901) and Albert Edwin (1903) followed. Lillian and Frederick both died in infancy. The family lived at 28 Hankinson St, previously owned by Albert's brother Percy, for many years. Albert senior died in 1919 and Sarah seems to have inherited the property.

The notorious eviction of Albert junior's family seems to have happened in the mid to late 1930's, not long before Sarah Jane died in 1938. She would have been in her seventies at the time, and may well have been suffering from dementia. Her cause of death (provided by my cousin David) was myocarditis and senility.

*The name St Leger is not an easy one to research. It appears as St Leger, St Ledger, Ledger, StLedger and several other variants. Samuel and Alice seem to have changed the spelling to St Ledger as time went on, and sometimes they were recorded as plain Ledger.

Photo of Hebden Bridge By Leg1ndyoll at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

War and its effect on families

On this Remembrance Day, which marks the end of the First World War, I've been reflecting on the effect that wars have on families and the impact of war on my own family's history. 

In some cases a war has had a very direct effect on individual's lives. If there had been no war in 1914, my grandfather Thomas Henry Ward would probably have stayed in Milnrow, Lancashire. He almost certainly would never have travelled to Colchester if he hadn't been sent there to train for military service, and he wouldn't have met my grandmother, Rosina Beales. He wouldn't have experienced the horrors of the Mesopotamia campaign. And Grandma would probably never have moved from Essex to Lancashire.

Rosina's mother, Eliza Whybrew, also came from a family that knew well the impact of war. Eliza's father David Whybrew, an Essex teenager, joined the British Army and travelled via the Maori Wars in New Zealand to Australia. There he met Eliza's mother, Susan Mason. Susan and David's children were born in three different countries as the family moved around with the army.

Susan and David lost one son (David Henry) to the Boer war, and, it seems, another son (William) and a son-in-law (George Howard) in WW1. Rosina's brother William James Beales also fought in WW1, but fortunately survived.

On the other side of my family, two of my grandmother's cousins, John Henry Bentley and Thomas Bentley died in WW1. But it was the second World War which had most direct impact on my maternal grandparent's and families, with the blitzing of Salford and the evacuation of my grandmother and the younger children to Rossendale.

Wars have emotional and psychological impacts which affect not just those who experience the war directly, but their children and grandchildren. Fears and anxieties get passed on, sometimes without any explanation. Attitudes learned in war-time become the next generation's norm. As a simple example, I was brought up with a strong sense of 'waste not, want not', a carry-over from the rationing and scarcity of my parent's childhood.

Wars also have economic and social impacts. For instance, the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815 resulted in taxes being raised steeply to fund the war. This resulted in great hardship for many people. How many of the children who died in infancy in this period might have lived if their parents had been even slightly better off? It's difficult to say.

A major factor in the "Lancashire cotton famine" of 1861-1865 was the American Civil war, with imports of raw cotton blockaded and exports reduced. Unemployment in some places rose dramatically, and many families found themselves in poverty. 

Some left Lancashire to find work in the woollen mills of Yorkshire. Perhaps that was the reason why Samuel and Alice St Leger moved with their family to Hebden Bridge about that time. (More of that in my next post.)

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