Sunday, July 9, 2017

Annie Reed

Market place, Barnard Castle 
(cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Ben Gamble )
Now that I've traced back through Alfred Pearson Bentley's forebears, it's time to have a look at his wife Annie Reed. As I've mentioned before, Alfred and Annie were married in Dewsbury in Yorkshire in 1869, and moved to Salford in Lancashire before 1872. In 1879, soon after the birth of their fifth child, Alfred sailed to America, apparently promising to send for his family as soon as he was settled. Instead he entered into a bigamous marriage in Boston with another Annie (Anne Jane Smith from Cheshire in England) and poor Annie in Salford either believed, or made believe, that he had died in the USA.

The castle at Barnards Castle
photo by Francis Hannaway
via Wikimedia Commons
At first glance it's not clear how Alfred and Annie Reed could have met, since he was born in Hunslet, part of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire and she grew up in Barnard Castle, a market town in Teesdale, County Durham. However, her father, Henry Reed (b 1804), a carpet weaver, originally came from Leeds, so perhaps Annie's childhood family maintained some connections with Henry's family in Yorkshire. Her older half-sister, Jane, also married in Dewsbury in Yorkshire in 1853 and went on to live there, providing another connection to that county.

Annie's childhood

Annie's mother, Margaret Waite, was Henry's second wife. His first wife, Elizabeth Stout, bore him at least six children, all girls, but only two, Sarah (b 1827) and Jane (1831), survived childhood. Elizabeth herself died soon after the birth of the last ill-fated child in 1834.

Annie was the youngest of Margaret's four children. Hannah (b 1838) and John (1841) were a part of her childhood, but Annis (1844) died soon after birth. Henry, Annie's father, died in 1859 when she was about 13 years old.

In the 1861 census she was the only child still living at home with Margaret. The financial hardship caused by the loss of Henry's income might have led to Annie being sent to her relatives in Yorkshire, or perhaps she found work as a servant there. Her mother continued to live in Barnards Castle until her death in 1875.

Marriage to Alfred Pearson Bentley

When Annie married Alfred at the age of 23, she most likely thought her chances of having a more comfortable life than her mother were fairly good. Living standards for the working class in England had been improving over the previous years, and Alfred's skills as an engraver gave him good prospects for employment. He may well have inherited his father Ben's ambitiousness.

Their first child, James Henry was born in Dewsbury in 1870, and they were still living there at the time of the 1871 census. By the time their second child, Margaret Ann, was born they had moved to Hollinwood St, in the Ordsell district of the city of Salford, Lancashire. Their neighbours in this area of booming population included a "gold beater" and a lithographic printer along with masons, bricklayers, shop keepers and mill hands.

Sadly little James died in 1873. The following year Annie gave birth to another son, John Alfred, then Walter Horatio in 1876 and Ernest Reed in 1878. It was then that Alfred senior decided to go to Boston.


Perhaps he and Annie really believed that he was going to find a better life for his family in America and they would join him there, but then, somehow, he just got sidetracked from his plans after he arrived. Or perhaps the promise of a better life was just the story he told Annie, while secretly planning all along to meet up with Miss Annie Jane Smith in America. Or possibly his marriage with Annie had fallen apart and they tacitly agreed that, since they couldn't afford a divorce, he should conveniently disappear to America.

Whatever the case, Annie was still describing herself as 'married' on the 1881 census. By 1891 she had begun to call herself a widow. Whether she had received news that led her to believe this to be the case, or simply found it best to make this her story, she clearly didn't expect Alfred to return. Did she ever learn that he and his new wife and son had returned from America in the late 1880's and were living just across the county border in Cheshire? We'll probably never know.

Life must have been hard for Annie as a single mother with four children. In the 1881 census the family had an elderly woman, Jane Bastow, boarding with them, but she was on Parish relief, so she couldn't have provided much in the way of rent.

Arthur St, Pendleton (just north of Liverpool St)
from 1930 map of Manchester*
Click to enlarge.
By 1891 the family had moved to Arthur St in Pendleton, between Langworthy Park and the Salford cattle markets. Annie was taking in washing and ironing to make ends meet, and had another lodger staying with her. Any hope she might have had of her children having a better standard of living had gone west with Alfred. Nineteen year old Margaret had by now left home and was working as a servant, and the two older boys had jobs, John as a bricklayer's labourer and Walter as an office boy. A year later Margaret, still single, gave birth to a son, John Henry. She never married.

Annie died in 1899 at the age of 53. The doctor who wrote the death certificate gave "cirrhosis of the liver, ascites, syncope" as the cause of death. (Thanks to my cousin David for this information). It's impossible to know whether the cirrhosis and the associated ascites (fluid in the abdomen) were the result of alcohol abuse or some other cause, but her last few years must have been spent in very poor health. Neither the registrar nor the person providing the information were aware that Alfred was still alive and well. Annie was described on the death register as "widow of Alfred Pearson Bentley, an engraver journeyman".

*Map extracted from:
The site has a wonderful collection of old maps from all over Britain.