Mrs Pepper of Badingham White Horse


The #OnePlace blogging prompts have been helpful starting points for my writing this year. As has happened before, I started looking for #OnePlacePubs inspiration in the newspaper archives. Inns, after all, were constantly in and out of the news – inquests, brawls, license transfers, coaches, gossip. During this particular research session, one name popped out over and over: Hannah Pepper.

It turned out that Hannah Pepper had no known children. As is so often the case, this meant that she didn’t appear in numerous online family trees, many of which record only direct ancestors of the compiler, not their childless siblings. Here in a One-Place Study, Hannah and her husband William are remembered as part of a much wider community – such is the bonus of this type of research.

I cannot help but imagine Hannah as quite the formidable landlady. As a widow in her later years, living in a female household, with guests who were often drunk at best and violent at worst, I cannot see that her responsibilities would have been perpetual plain sailing. Ruling a large household as housekeeper during her earlier life must have taught her much and given her confidence and many of the required skills to keep order, I think. Do you know of Hannah Pepper? Can anyone reading this shed further light on her character?

Here’s what we know so far.

Who was Hannah Pepper?

Hannah Pepper began life as Hannah Bennett, probably the daughter of Joseph and his wife Elizabeth, baptised 12 October 1817 at Otley.* The most tempting records for 1841 might suggest she remained in the area and worked in domestic service by the time she was 26, perhaps on the Thoroughfare in Woodbridge.

In 1851, we can confidently place Hannah Bennett in a large household in Hollesley. The Barthorp household might ring a bell if you know something of the Suffolk Punch; Hannah worked on the family estate that 29 years later would create the famous stud by bringing in its first Suffolk Horse. Nowadays, you can visit The Suffolk Punch Trust: Home of the Hollesley Bay Colony Stud.

But I digress. 

Along with Mr and Mrs Barthorp (John and Mary at this time), Hannah looked after two of their children and visitors. The live-in staff numbered four in 1851, and if the order in the enumeration book is significant, then, at 36, she may have been the housekeeper. Below Hannah is listed Harriet Tye, 24; William Pepper, 37; and Warner Goodall, 30. Ten years later, both William and Hannah remained with the Barthorps, now enumerated with an address: Red House, from whence John Barthorp farmed 1136 acres. We can also be grateful to the 1861 census for furnishing us with job titles: William was then the butler, and Hannah the housekeeper and cook. 

In a very Downton Abbey move, Hannah and William wed in early 1864. They had worked side by side for at least 13 years by then (barring leaving and rejoining the staff between census returns) and would have been nearing 50. What did they do once married? Something very logical: they moved into the hotel trade. William took on the license at the East Suffolk Hotel on the High Street in Aldeburgh in 1866.

William and Hannah remained at the East Suffolk Hotel into the 1870s. The 1871 census includes a niece, Cassandra Smith, aged 18, as a barmaid. We know the couple had moved to the White Horse by 1875 because on 22 October, the ‘deeply lamented and respected Mr William Pepper, of the White Horse Inn, Badingham [died] aged 63 years’. He is buried in the village churchyard. Further investigation shows Mr Burrows, the former landlord, had to give up the Inn after an incident in which 13 windows were smashed in 1874 (a story for another day), so the Peppers had not been in residence very long by the time William died.

By the time of the 1881 census, Hannah was the head of household, licensed victualler with a live-in ‘assistant’, Georganna (sic) Burrows, aged 16 and born in the parish (not the former landlord’s daughter). By this time, Hannah’s name had already appeared in local papers, charging drinkers with nuisance.

Who were those Hannah saw to the Bench?

At Framlingham Petty Sessions in April 1876, David Fulcher, a Badingham brickmaker, was charged with refusing to quit the White Horse Inn when requested by Hannah. He pleaded guilty and was fined 11s and costs 9s, in default 14 days’ hard labour. 

A year later, William Baxter, a labourer living in the parish, was charged with refusing to quit the Inn. He was fined 5s and costs, in default, seven days’ hard labour. He paid. Intriguingly, at the same court sessions, James Thurlow, another labourer, this time of Yoxford, was charged with having “on the 22nd March, obtained beer and biscuits of Hannah Pepper, of Badingham, under false pretences.” Unlike most of the other incidents mentioning Hannah, the latter case was dismissed.

A few months later again, under the title ‘When the Wine’s In the Wit’s Out’, the Framlingham Weekly News recounts a story relating to William Chandler, dealer. In addition to being drunk and refusing to quit, this gentleman was also charged with having “at the same time and place committed wilful damage, to the amount of 14s., by breaking 10 mugs, 8 tumbler glasses, 1 benzoline lamp, and 1 square of glass, the property of Hannah Pepper.” A Mr Watts, appearing for Chandler, pleaded guilty on his behalf in both cases. 

There is somewhat more information given in this case. The newspaper reports that he had called at the pub at 8 pm “in a very drunken state” and called for a 1/2 pint of penny beer. Hannah said no. However, Chandler sent a little boy with a penny and got the beer surreptitiously. Chandler became “drunk as a beast” and threw mugs, glasses and chairs “up to the ceiling and out of the door; his language was too bad to be repeated.” The newspaper reports that Hannah was “very much upset.” Not surprising, I don’t think. 

Something must have been going on between the families. Mr Watts claimed that Hannah had strong feelings against his client. That she “was inducing [Chandler’s] father to neglect his home, which was rendered miserable by her harbouring him at unreasonable and unseasonable hours.” His client was, he said, a steady respectable and hard-working young man. Hannah was unable to reply although she wished to. 

In the end, William Chandler was given significant fines for both offences, each of which carried a default of a month’s hard labour. The fees were paid. The Bench intimated to Hannah that “not withstanding the statement of the Counsel, she would in the absence of all evidence to the contrary, leave the Court with the same character as she entered it.”

[It’s almost the end of April, and this blog topic, as I make the final changes to this post, so it is a job for another time to see what became of this William Chandler. Where had he gone by 1881? I have Chandlers on both sides of my family tree so I daresay I am somehow connected.]

Perhaps the most serious incident reported during Hannah’s years at the White Horse was an assault that took place on 31 January 1878. A hawker by the name of William Woolnough appeared at Framlingham Petty Sessions charged by Hannah Pepper with having assaulted and beaten her. He pleaded guilty. Hannah described how she was sitting in the kitchen at the White Horse when she heard a noise outside. On investigating, she found the accused and ordered him off her premises. Instead of leaving, he forced his way indoors, trod on her toes and struck her. Hannah admitted slapping William’s face in self-defence. He argued that she slapped him two or three times before he struck her. William was fined £3 3s and costs of 16s 6d, in default two months’ hard labour. It was considered more serious than the other offences listed here; the Bench noted that his next appearance would be met with imprisonment.

William’s (possible) wife, Eliza, had herself been before the Bench a few months earlier, charged with assaulting Maria Goodchild, also of Badingham. The case was dismissed. Neither was it William’s first transgression, having been hauled up in 1876 for assaulting a bricklayer in the village; on that occasion, the two men had paid expenses between them.   

Another year later, in February 1879, William Meadows, a hawker in his 30s who lived in the village, was charged by Hannah for being ‘drunk and quarrelsome on her premises’. He pleaded guilty. Giving evidence, Hannah said William came into her house very drunk and “behaved badly several times.” Hannah asked the Bench to be lenient as he was disabled. William was fined £1 10s., costs 19s, in default one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. The money was paid.

On a visit from his home village of Laxfield, painter George Read became ‘quarrelsome [and] disorderly’. He refused to leave the Inn on the night of 29 April 1883 and stood further charged with breaking the glass of a door at the White Horse Inn, valued at 3s. He pleaded guilty and was fined the large sum of £5 9s 6d including costs, in default two months’ hard labour. The sum was paid. A George Read, painter, is enumerated in 1881 as being only 19. Later records suggest he migrated southwards to Wanstead – perhaps for a fresh start and better opportunities.

How long did Hannah stay in Badingham?

In October 1886, Fred Mayhew applied for temporary authority to carry on the license at the White Horse Inn. 

Towards the end of her life, Hannah went to stay with a Mr John Martin (and presumably his wife, Sarah Ann) in Orford. She died there on 31 December 1890, aged 76. Hannah was buried at Orford, not brought back to Badingham to be interred next to her husband. 


Hannah Pepper comes across from the archives as a strong woman who stood up for what she thought was right. The dates and ages don’t quite match up, but she was nearly 60 by the time she arrived at the White Horse (going by the 1881 census) and soon widowed – yet she remained at the helm for 11 years, by which time she was 70. As we’ve seen, Hannah had replaced the glass in her door several times by then. She’d been through countless arguments and even been physically assaulted (she hit back). From housekeeper to landlady, this was a lady that was comfortable with being in charge.

I’m glad I met you, even if only through the documentary record, Hannah.


*A 30-year-old Hannah Bennett was buried in Otley in 1846. With more time, I will work out who she was; if she was single, perhaps this baptism is not the correct one.

Framlingham Weekly News, 30 October 1875, DEATHS, Page 3.

Framlingham Weekly News, 20 June 1874, EXTRAORDINARY LARKING, Page 4.

Norwich Mercury, 29 April 1876, FRAMLINGHAM, Page 7.

Framlingham Weekly News, 7 April 1877, FRAMLINGHAM COURT HOUSE, Page 4.

Framlingham Weekly News, 17 November 1877, WHEN THE WINE’S IN THE WIT’S OUT, Page 4.

Framlingham Weekly News, 9 February 1878, ASSAULTING A LANDLADY, Page 4.

Framlingham Weekly News, 12 May 1883, FRAMLINGHAM COURT HOUSE, Page 4.

Framlingham Weekly News, 23 October 1886, FRAMLINGHAM COURT HOUSE, Page 4.

The Ipswich Journal, 10 January 1891, DEATHs, Page 8.


Under-recording of women’s work in the census 1841-1881

Are the Victorian censuses of England and Wales a reliable source for studying the work of women? A good question to ask for the #OnePlaceWomen prompt.

Quite a big question to take on in a blog post, and I couldn’t do it justice here. So, in this post, I’m going to take on a smaller question: are the census returns of 1841-1881 for England and Wales a reliable source for studying the work of women in Cransford?

(Spoiler: the answer to both questions, I feel, is ‘no’. However, it is still one of the top sources we have, as long as we treat it objectively, understanding its shortcomings).

In the planning stages for this post, I tweeted a poll asking whether other researchers believed the enumeration books to be a reliable source for women’s occupations. Sixty-four people voted, 84% of whom said ‘no’. The ‘yes’ vote came in at 5% and the ‘not sure’ at 11%. Quite the landslide. 

Before I can sum up whether there is any evidence that supports this widely held opinion for this place, Cransford, we need to know what the returns for the parish do tell us about women’s occupations.

The background

Who was doing what (and was recorded as such) between 1841 and 1881? In 1841, 16 women were recorded with an occupation, 15 of those as F[emale] S[ervant] and one as a charwoman. Ten years later, the number had risen to 20 women. While most were still in domestic service (11 house servants, five housekeepers), there was also a needlewoman, a schoolmistress, a shoe binder and a wheelwright.    

Oddly, in 1861, the number of women recorded with occupations fell to just 13. That number was spread more evenly across various roles because the women were categorised more precisely than in previous years: a cook, four dairymaids, three house servants, two housekeepers, a nursemaid. In addition, there was a dressmaker and a schoolmistress. Was the enumerator in 1861 – so keen to record women as ‘ag lab’s wife’, ‘blacksmith’s wife’ etc. – obscuring other work they were undertaking relative to the enumerators before and after him? 

Despite a falling population, the number of working women – at least as far as the census was concerned – rose back over 20 in 1871. The 21 women in 1871 included ten house servants, four housekeepers, a cook, a dairymaid: similar roles to those performed throughout the century. Yet it also recorded a dressmaker, a milliner, two schoolmistresses and a farmer. 

The final census used for this post, 1881, featured 16 women with occupations. Again domestic work was prominent, taking up half of these roles. Still, there were also two governesses, two nurses (likely monthly nurses), the now regular feature of a schoolmistress, another dressmaker, a grocer and a post office assistant.

This is a small study, but the data suggests a gradual increase in the types of work being undertaken by women as the years went on. It also points to an increasingly proportion of women in regular work. Lastly, there is also limited evidence of growing prosperity in some parts of the population and the ability and desire to hire nurses, governesses and the like. 

What’s with the italics?

I want to look in a little more detail here at the wheelwright, farmer and grocer because they have something in common despite being recorded in different years:

  • Ann Cook, Head, Widow, 29, Grocer, born Badingham [five children under eleven at home]
  • Mary Ann Smith, Head, Widow, 59, Wheelwright, born Stradbrook (sic) [living with three sons, also wheelwrights]
  • Sarah Barham, Head, Widow, 55, Farm 33 acres employing one man, born Blaxhall [with children; 23-year-old son noted ‘farmer’s son’]

Widows, of course, had greater autonomy than married women, and it was, therefore, more ‘seemly’ for them to carry on a business than their married counterparts. However, are we to believe that they had nothing to do with the family business before their husbands’ deaths? That they simply learnt how to run the business after their other halves were gone? It seems unlikely to me; I suspect they had more experience than that. Either the census had no mechanism for recording their involvement (especially in its earlier years), and/or the enumerator’s interpretation of the instructions meant that he (always a ‘he’ in Cransford at this time) did not think it correct to record it.

Is there evidence in other sources that some of the women recorded with no occupation or as ‘so-and-so’s wife’ on the census were doing other roles that we might consider ‘work’ or ‘occupations’?

Yes. Women running businesses sometimes appear in trade directories, but this only tells part of the story – they were often widows like the three women above. But what of women’s work other than the widows of tradesmen?

A succession of ‘Wanted’ notices appear in local newspapers looking for men to fill situations vacant, both in Cransford and other local parishes. What makes several of these particularly interesting is that many note that the man’s wife would have her own duties. Below is the example that set me off on this piece of research; it appeared in the Framlingham Weekly News on 25 September 1880, p. 4.

Example 1: Framlingham Weekly News, 1880

I believe I have found the couple appointed enumerated in the census taken the following year. While John is noted as ‘farm bailiff 130 acres employ 3 men’, his wife is listed only as ‘wife’ (copied again in the occupation column). 

In 1881, the following advertisement appeared in the Norfolk News (17 September, p3) hoping for an engine driver with a wife that could manage a small dairy and poultry:

Example 2: Norfolk News, 1881

I do not know for sure if this role was filled and by whom. However, married women with occupations were absent from the enumeration books for Cransford in 1891; the wife’s work went unrecorded if the couple were indeed residing there.

Forgive me, but this final example relates to a vacancy in nearby Peasenhall, which I thought was a particularly good advertisement. It was printed in the EADT on 22 August 1891 and underlines again that farm workers’ wives were often expected to muck in (pun intended):

Example 3: EADT, 1891

Joshua Moore lived at Yew Tree Farm in 1891 and 1901. In neither set of enumeration books can you spot a wife with an agricultural occupation listed. In fact (as is a familiar tale to researchers) women in the parish were rarely noted to have any profession or occupation at all

We know women took up informal work because it is recorded in sources like diaries and news reports. For example, in Labour and the Poor: The Rural Districts (Vol. VI), we hear from a woman near Bury St Edmunds who was questioned about her budgeting:

“We never gets pork, except on Sundays, and then my husband is at home. I don’t think about none all the week, and it is no use a thinking about it, if you can’t get it,” said the sharp little woman, resuming her work at making flour sacks, at which she informed me she could “arne,” if she got up before daylight, and worked all day, the remunerating sum of 6d.” 

As such, the evidence for women’s work is hidden from some of the most popular sources we access, and where it is referred to in others, we get only examples, not a comprehensive list. Our job – as always! – is to find the evidence, evaluate it, and apply it to our places.

Does this mean that the census records are wrong?

In Cransford, in agriculture at the very least (there is limited evidence of other trades and callings in the village at the time), the census does not appear to give a comprehensive reflection of the scale, type and variety of women’s work. Does this mean that the enumerators were negligent in their duties, though? No.

In 1841, enumerators were instructed as follows:

“Profession, Trade, Employment, or of Independent Means. – Men, or widows, or single women, having no profession or calling, but living on their means may be inserted as independent, which may be written shortly, thus “Ind”.

The profession, &c., of wives, or of sons or daughters living with their husbands or parents, and assisting them, but not apprenticed or receiving wages, need not be set down.” See Genuki for source.

We have to remember that the census was not taken for our purposes as local historians 150 years later. Made by and for men and copied up by enumerators who were predominantly men, it – and other contemporary records – must be viewed in the context of its creation and purpose in the 19th century.

Just what counts as a ‘Rank, Profession or Occupation’ after 1841?

In 1851, the instructions were more extensive. Where farmers are concerned:

“The term FARMER to be applied only to the occupier of the land, who is to be returned – “Farmer of [317] acres employing [19] labourers;” the number of acres, and of in and out-door labourers, on March 31st, being in all cases inserted. Sons and daughters employed at home or on the farm, may be returned – “Farmer’s Son,” “Farmer’s Daughter”.

In Cransford, two farmers’ daughters were specifically recorded in 1871, and four in 1881. In 1861, the enumerator diligently recorded women as ‘carter’s wife’, ‘rector’s wife’, ‘journeyman’s wife’ against a further 17 women (33 were not written-up as such). The big problem is that we don’t know to what extent these women were involved in their father’s or husband’s occupations or whether they were also undertaking additional informal or casual work. Still, the enumerator may well have had his reasons for choosing to record ‘x wife’ or not.  

“In TRADES the Master is to be distinguished from the Journeyman and Apprentice, thus – (Carpenter – Master employing [6] men)”

On this point, the wives of tradesmen are rather left out. The wife of a blacksmith, for example, would be neither Master, Journeyman, nor Apprentice. If and when her husband died, the enumerator might write down the trade against her name for want of a Master and/or because she had taken the householder’s role (occupying alone or as head of household).

The last paragraph of the list deals with women and children:

“The titles of occupations of ladies who are householders to be entered according to the above Instructions. The occupations of women who are regularly employed from home, or at home, in any but domestic duties to be distinctly recorded. So also of children and young persons.” 

We might expect lots of female occupations, then? Hmmm. Note that enumerators were told to record ‘the occupations of women who are regularly employed‘. This statement has the potential to keep many women’s occupations out of the census records because their work was decidedly irregular. (It is worth noting that many men did not have a steady wage, either. In Suffolk at this time they may have been employed by the week, or even by the day. However, men were perhaps more likely to be identified as an ‘ag lab’ even when not receiving a regular wage: their occupation was their identity as much as their job). Consequently, for decades after 1851, researchers will be familiar with a blank box to the right of a married woman’s name in the enumeration books. 

Life as the wife of an agricultural labourer in the 19th century was tough – regardless of any additional duties beyond the house, children, and perhaps a vegetable patch and a pig. Making ends meet was an unrelenting struggle for vast numbers of labouring families trying to keep themselves and their children warm and fed, especially if they had a large young family that could not yet contribute to the family pot. 

It is purely logical that women would have sought ways to add to the family’s income, whether that be through assisting in their husband’s trade or business, farm work, laundry, piece work, domestic service or the like. But their employment could be casual, seasonal, informal or taken as and when available; interrupted by childbirth, sick nursing and other responsibilities, perhaps with blurred lines between ‘domestic duties’ and ‘domestic service’. The census was deliberately timed not to coincide with the harvest when many women might have taken on agricultural work. Wives might earn 5s a week in 1840s Suffolk if they were lucky (significantly less than their male counterparts, but enough to make harvest in Cransford ‘the good times’).

Census records do not include all women’s occupations, but they were never meant to.

Does everyone agree that women’s occupations are not reliably recorded?

No, although it’s more a debate about how reliable they are in various places and circumstances rather than a yes or no question. 

There is, as one would expect, to-ing and fro-ing about just how far we should trust the picture offered by the census in as far as women’s occupations are concerned. Some argue that there are exceptions to the rule and that, for example, married women doing factory work in Lancashire may be better recorded than might be expected when compared to married women in rural areas. 

Others in my twitter replies mentioned under-recording in their own places relative to working on the canals and women in small scale business and enterprise, encompassing everything from boarding houses to midwifery, sporting business to beer making. My gratitude to all that replied with their experiences.

Conclusion and further reading

The question I posed at the beginning was: are the census returns of 1841-1881 for England and Wales a reliable source for studying the work of women in Cransford?

I feel the examples in the post show that it is not reliable if we want to view a comprehensive record of the informal, irregular and seasonal work of the agricultural community in Cransford, especially for the female part of the population – and we don’t know exactly how big an omission this is. However, over the years this post covers, the census records do begin to show an expansion in more formal roles with regular wages. If we keep these things in mind, we can view the records in a more objective and focused way.

I prepared this blog for #OnePlaceWomen, the One-Place Studies blogging prompt for March 2021, tying into Women’s History Month, but I think the theme is important all year round. I couldn’t help but notice that even the 2021 census only wanted us to record the job we spent most hours doing. I will go down in history as a Marketing Manager, not a Qualified Genealogist. In these days where so many of us – and perhaps particularly women – have a ‘portfolio’ career, still doing multiple flexible and part-time roles to fit around children and expensive childcare (even besides the pandemic!), the most recent census won’t answer the questions of researchers in a century’s time, either…

I hope my thoughts and sources have raised questions about interpreting the census enumeration books, particularly in their reflection of women’s roles. I’d be interested to hear your insights below.

For further reading, see:

  • Higgs, E., Wilkinson, A. (2016) Women, Occupations and Work in the Victorian Censuses Revisited. History Workshop Journal, 81 (1), 17–38.
  • Mackay, A., Brooks, S. (2019) The Morning Chronicle’s Labour and the Poor, Volume VI: The Rural Districts, 271-292.
  • You, X. (2020). Working with Husband? “Occupation’s Wife” and Married Women’s Employment in the Censuses in England and Wales between 1851 and 1911. Social Science History, 44(4), 585-613. doi:10.1017/ssh.2020.32

One-Place Tragedy

There is perhaps more talk of tragedy in the press today than at any time in most of our lifetimes. The coronavirus pandemic has brought changes to all of us, and most of us know of someone lost years before their time. Badingham and Cransford residents and former residents have been no exception, and my heart goes out to all affected. 

A theme of #OnePlaceTragedy for February, then, might have seemed a bit much. On the night I did the first research for this piece, it was pretty awful – I’ll be honest – to read about all the horrible things that have happened in my places one after another. Yet it’s hardly surprising that Badingham and Cransford have seen their fair share of nasty accidents, illnesses, drownings, burnings – even murders. The sheer amount of time the places have existed and the thousands of inhabitants that have come and gone during that time makes it inevitable. Covid-19 isn’t even the villages’ first pandemic, of course, although the way this one is playing out has been unique.

Yet if we don’t write about tragedy, we miss a huge number of stories and end up with a lopsided study. As such, I am writing this blog as planned. I don’t want to glorify sad things that have happened, nor do I want to celebrate perpetrators of horrendous acts. However, I do wish my blog to remember the lives of those directly (or indirectly) affected by tragedies – and not just individuals, but their communities. No One-Place Study should look to provide a rose-tinted view of the past; the point is to record research and stories as best we can for the future, not deliberately record just the ‘nice’ bits – a lot of history wasn’t very ‘nice’!

The lady I’m going to write about here was much more than her death, and for that reason, she deserves to be remembered. There is, I’m sure, much more to Annie’s life than her untimely death, but as with many things local history and genealogy, it is the manner in which she passed that brought her the most column inches in the local press and a window into her life. 

With no further ado, I’d like you to meet Annie.

Annie Jemima Backhouse was unusual for Badingham in 1884 for a straightforward reason. She wasn’t born in Suffolk, let alone within five miles of the village. Today that wouldn’t be very unusual, but it made her part of a small minority back then. She was a Yorkshire lass who arrived in the parish in 1883 to teach at the elementary school – now the village hall. (‘Primary’ schools didn’t exist then). I imagine she talked somewhat differently to everyone else; her arrival must have been quite the locals’ discussion point. 

[Was it really so unusual to come from out of county? Analysis of local census returns during the Victorian period shows that almost everybody living in Cransford and Badingham was born reasonably locally. It was usually the preserve of the vicar, preachers, and their respective families (and perhaps the richer landholders), to be born out-of-County at that time.]

What do we know of Annie’s life before she came to Badingham? She was born in Bradford in 1859, the daughter of John, an upholster’s clerk (later Master Upholsterer), and Mary. Annie grew up in Bradford’s West End and later in Manningham, an industrial area known for its mills and back-to-back housing. By 1881, Annie was an Assistant School Mistress, living with her parents, elder sister Julia (Assistant Librarian) and elder brother Arthur (French Polisher). 

What brought her to Badingham? Did she answer an advertisement? Did her uncle (living in Ipswich) influence her ambition or her appointment? Had she held other posts in between? Was she, like her uncle, a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), and did this help determine her journey to Suffolk? After all, Backhouse is a name with strong connections (although this may be a red herring in Annie’s case). All of these questions and more arise, and perhaps somebody else reading this blog will already have the answers. For now, I will be honest and say that I do not. I would love to get my hands on some more records, but for now, the archives remain closed, and the material I’d like to look at isn’t yet digitised. [eg TNA: ED21/16305]

For whatever reason, Annie found herself in Badingham. A topic of gossip as the residents of Badingham probably found her, she, in turn, must have viewed the village as vastly different from her home. She had made a significant shift from urban to rural living in a community where perhaps she had no connections at all, a brave thing for a single woman in Victorian England. Yet one thing hadn’t changed: her role as a schoolmistress. 

The 1881 census of Badingham included about 70 scholars. The image below is somewhat later than this but nevertheless gives an idea of the school’s size and the building’s look a couple of decades later. It was a National School built in 1875 for 84 children. By 1888 it had an average attendance of 65 (Kelly’s 1888). 

Badingham Elementary School, dated 1915, from my collection of village images. Copyright untraced – possibly EADT.

We know that Annie took up her position in 1883 and that, sadly, she did not hold it for long. This post is, after all, a blog about a tragedy. Much of the information contained in these paragraphs comes from newspaper reports in local newspapers (including the Ipswich Journal, Framlingham Weekly News and Norfolk Chronicle) following her untimely death on 3 March 1884 at the age of just 24.

Monday, 17 December perhaps started as any non-Sunday in Victorian Badingham. It was most likely cold, and Annie would have been grateful for the roaring fire in the schoolroom. Relatively new at the school – having been in post only a few weeks – Annie worked through the morning and, we can imagine, had some lunch after that. But the afternoon would bring horror. At about 2 pm that afternoon, she stood, as usual, marking the register – with her back to the fireplace. 

“Governess, you are on fire!” came the call from one of the boys in her class, a lad of 10 or 11 called Charles Smith. Such, we learn from the inquest. 

We can only imagine the panic that ensued.  

Annie ran first to the Assistant Governess, Miss Short. Unfortunately, according to the inquest evidence, Miss Short was too frightened to render any help. Another newspaper report notes the same for the school monitor, Amy Rose (who was but 13 years old or thereabouts). The newspaper stories are not identical, but it seems that both probably ran into the road to seek help. Luckily Low Street was (and remains) one of the more populated roads in the village, but that was not to be of much immediate use to Annie.  

As others cried for help, Annie ran to some cottages near the school (I suspect these include the ones pictured beyond the school in the image above). If the newspapers are correct, both doors were closed on her by their occupants, who were ‘fearful and frightened’. 

Poor Annie next fled to Mrs Rebecca Newson’s house, where, one paper reported, ‘she caught hold of the palisading in front of the house, and stood there in flames’. Mrs Newson’s son happened to have been one of the boys from the school, and he had run home to tell his mother what had happened (a good candidate is Alfred William Newson, who would have been about 11, but he also had a younger brother, Frederick Harry, who’d have been about 7).

Rebecca, unlike her neighbours, leapt to action, dragged out a rug and ran straight for Annie. 

Again, the write-ups differ slightly in their details. However, it seems Annie was running along the road towards Rebecca and her palisade fence (also pictured) as that lady dashed from her sitting room with her rug. When they met, Rebecca ‘enveloped’ Annie in the carpet. Together with some other neighbours that came onto the scene, the community managed to extinguish the flames, but it took as long as half an hour to put them out entirely. 

Regretfully, the damage was done. Annie had been ‘fearfully burned’. 

Annie was taken back to the school and then on to Rectory Farm. Dr George E Jeafferson, a doctor and surgeon based on the Market Hill in Framlingham, was called to attend her. He continued to do so for the period between her accident and her death – well over two months. According to him, she had ‘suffered a complete loss of skin from the buttocks to the ankles’, and her ultimate cause of death was ‘exhaustion in consequence of the burns’. It must have been horrifyingly painful to linger with such terrible burns.

My modern-day medical expert suggests that having survived the initial shock and fluid loss, the most significant risk to Annie’s life from her burns was the ever-present chance of infection. Butter or fat would not have cured her burns, and there were, of course, no antibiotics. At best, she may have had some pain relief in the form of laudanum, but it must have been terrible, however bravely she bore the results of her ordeal.

The Jury brought in a verdict of Accidental Death at an Inquest held at Rectory Farmhouse on Wednesday, 5 March 1884. Annie’s body was laid to rest in the churchyard at St John the Baptist Church in Badingham two days later. 

It seems that once the flames were out, Annie was shown great kindness and sympathy by the parishioners. After the inquest, the Framlingham Weekly News published her father’s and uncle’s (Rev. S. Collinson, of Ipswich) ‘special and heartfelt thanks to the Rector, and the parishioners in general, for the very great sympathy shown to deceased in her period of sufferings, by many kindly acts and presents to her.’

As we have seen, Rebecca Newson, wife of Badingham’s carpenter, Cornelius, had the presence of mind and calm in a crisis that makes us wonder what might have happened had she lived closest to the school. Through this blog, Rebecca’s actions can be remembered, along with the other community members that tried to help and the kindnesses shown by even more of the village as Annie suffered.

The story leads us to ask whether Annie’s cause of death was unusual. It probably comes as no surprise to many readers that women’s clothing in the 19th Century could be frighteningly flammable. I wrote a blog about it on my personal website back in 2016, but that post focused on celluloid and its accompanying dangers. Unfortunately, burning to death or dying as a result of burns was much less unusual at a time when candles, oil lamps and open fires were the norm for heating and lighting. This risk was especially real for women, who wore clothes with more fabric and more width than their male counterparts.

We do not know precisely what Annie was wearing, but it was almost certainly a long flowing dress. While the widest of crinolines had gone out of fashion by the later years of the 1800s, the fabrics used – even in less showy clothes perhaps worn by school mistresses – still posed a risk. There was still plenty of material to catch fire in a pleated skirt, even in a narrower style of dress than was popular earlier in the century. 

The Ipswich Journal led with a more damning introduction than the other papers when reporting the inquest: ‘The fashion and its results – no guard’. The writers and editor evidently frowned upon the prevailing women’s fashions (not much has changed there, some might argue). 

Is it possible that Annie had a heavily decorated outfit, a particularly full pleated skirt or perhaps even a small bustle? By the time of this Badingham tragedy, women’s fashion was shifting towards fullness in the back of the dress, the same part which caught fire in her case. Multiple layers would have made it more difficult to extinguish the flames. 

For me, the ‘no guard’ part stands out. The same paper noted that a fireguard had been supplied to the school since the accident. A simple action that might have prevented the tragedy in the first place, or at least reduced its likelihood.

Whatever she was wearing, Annie was one of thousands of women in Victorian England who died from burns; a number exacerbated not just by the circumstances in which they lived but by the very clothes they wore. 

Next time I’m home, I will seek Annie in the churchyard and pay my respects. I admire her bravery, heading to Suffolk to teach such a long way from her family, and hope one day to learn more about her life before tragedy struck.


1881 Census, England and Wales, Badingham (various entries)
Norfolk Chronicle, 8 March 1884, BADINGHAM, Page 6
Ipswich Journal, 8 March 1884, BADINGHAM, Page 5
Framlingham Weekly News, 8 March 1884, BADINGHAM, Page 4


One-Place Landmarks

This month’s blogging prompt from the Society of One-Place Studies is One-Place Landmarks. Or rather, #OnePlaceLandmarks.

Where to start, I wondered. It may be a cliche, but here goes, anyhow:

Landmark. “An object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognised from a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.”

Thank you, Google, but this definition being as it may, I think there is an additional dimension to landmarks that is somewhat more personal and emotive – and perhaps less easily framed. As such, this blog isn’t going to list all the more obvious landmarks in my places: the churches, chapels, rivers, village signs, pubs, manor houses, former schools, industrial sites and ancient buildings. All of those and more could be argued landmarks; some for mere decades, others centuries. Apologies if that’s what you came here hoping for, but I daresay all will appear elsewhere in my blog in due course.

For me, the status of landmark includes elements of people, memory and community – for better or worse. What follows is a round-up of some of the landmarks that have left enduring etchings in my brain. If you will allow, this blog’s definition of a One-Place Landmark is rather more as follows:

“An object or feature of a landscape or town that is remembered and recognised in situ or in memories or archives, especially one that emotes a feeling of connection to an event, a place, a community, or all three.”

Long-time readers will know that I grew up in Badingham. Despite getting on for a year of lockdown and just a solitary visit in this past year, I can of course still conjure up plenty of images of the village, as well as neighbouring Cransford, in my mind. Here are a few of them, some that are unlikely to be ‘landmarks’ to many, but others that have been landmarks to thousands.

Let me start with – of all things – the bus stop; not just any village bus stop, but the one on the corner of Mill Road and Low Street. Mum calls it Aunt Bessie’s corner because it’s outside what was once Aunt Bessie’s house. I never knew Bessie Stanley, but she can still be located in Badingham today under a cross right outside the church porch: my landmark, was once her landmark.

The bus stop was a place I walked to and from for most of my primary and secondary school life. I can remember warm days, snowy days, gloomy days, and the days we walked there across Auntie Muriel’s garden (one of several non-biological aunts and uncles I had in the village) because May Gurney had dug up Low Street and left it that way…for months. Very clearly, I also remember the day that Dad gave me a double-thumbs-up as I looked out of the bus window, him having that day won a case in small claims court. Family events, given a One-Place backdrop.

For me, the path ‘up the fields’ is a landmark, if not a very geographically specific one, being a ‘route’. We walked the dogs across sleeper bridges and along field edges to the pond and woodland at the top, from whence you could see Dennington. Come crisp frosty days, parched sun-bleached days or sad and lonely teenage angsty days, one or more of us would walk up there accompanied by each of the Labradors I’ve known – each one a family member themselves.

To get ‘up the fields’, you have to cross the River Alde, really rather small here in my place, but, nonetheless, liable to flood its banks occasionally when I was little; a bit of excitement for us kids because it might just mean a day off school and a neighbour spotted in a dinghy. Our house sat on a hill out of the water’s way, giving us a bird’s eye view across the river to the fields in front.

Our house and garden offered a place to observe the passing of the seasons; the combine in the field at harvest time and the beautiful colour of the trees beyond during autumn. Of course, the house is perhaps the most important landmark of all in my collection of One-Place landmarks: journey’s end and ‘home’ even now.

What else might I include? There’s the field in front of what was once a Rectory (Badingham has several!). For many years Dad and his friend set off the village fireworks and managed the bonfire arrangements, and the field was the venue. The family involvement meant many trips back and forth to check on arrangements, set up tents and ropes, distribute sale-or-return soft drinks and later eat burgers and onions from Dot and Rita’s BBQ while watching increasingly large displays as the years went on. Perhaps best of all, the morning after, we’d walk around the fields nearby collecting rocket sticks in the chill of a November morning.

There can be barely anyone that doesn’t think of the village hall as a landmark. Once a school, in my lifetime it was the building that hosted my playschool, and, later, my 18th birthday party when I took to the ‘stage’ (a side room!) to play bass with my Sixth Form band. It was also the site of my one-and-only Brownie meeting (not my thing, it turned out) and the 50th Anniversary of VE Day. It was (and remains, pandemic aside) a key destination for many a village function and meeting.

Like the village hall, it almost goes without saying that The White Horse is a landmark to residents and locals alike, being immediately apparent from the main road. “Where’s Badingham?” “Do you know the pub on the A1120?!” I must admit, though, that I am yet to spend much time there. For me, it doesn’t hold the same kind of memories as other places in the village; once able, it was to Framlingham that my friends and I gathered. I did, however, attend my little brother’s 30th there. That event took place just a few days after I found out I was expecting what would turn out to be my second son: me, a secret, and a pub dinner.

I am just about old enough to remember the old post office and shop next to the church, full of dusty china horses and chocolate I wasn’t allowed. I believe many people have memories of what, to me, was an intriguing and mysterious place – I’d love to hear them in the comments.

The route of my Badingham Echo and Church Magazine round, which I suspect I could still walk today, took in all kinds of heritage buildings. Farmhouses, converted barns, old workhouses, and a more modern landmark, ‘New’ Lea (built when I was a child). It was with a little sadness that I noticed the stables (where I once poo picked and stamped down the muck heap in exchange for £2.50 an hour) were falling into disrepair. This is another of my landmarks. I spent many an hour busy there for the ultimate prize: riding lessons on a beautiful Irish Draught called Morris.

The church, of course, will feature as a landmark in many a place. I remember Dad helping to mend the floor, burying time capsules, playing in the churchyard with my brother while Dad cut the grass around the headstones, rounders in the corner, fundraising to repair a big crack in the wall, and putting up the refreshment tent for flower festivals. For a short time, I even sang in the church choir (apologies to all listeners), and for a slightly longer one was on the readers’ list, attending services occasionally with Mum in my childhood.

What of Cransford, you ask? My early memories involve my Great Grandmother’s bungalow. For most of my childhood Stick Grandma (as we knew her – she had a stick by then, of course) was a resident at a local nursing home, but I remember Mum and Grandma helping to organise her things when she moved. Another landmark in the village for me is the church. It’s where I attended my first funeral – also Stick Grandma’s, as it happens. She is buried next to her husband, Frederick Seggons, who was born and bred in Cransford. He grew up in the Post Office and later lived at Red House Farm.

The Chapel is one of the places Mum took me to show me family graves when I first became interested in my ancestors. ‘Great Nana’ was buried there in her 100th year. Born in Badingham and moving to Poplar Farm in Cransford after her marriage, she brings together my two One-Place Studies with a lifetime.

Coming back to my own landmarks, I would now have to include a gorgeous farmhouse that I am researching in great depth. A happy and welcoming home as well as a working farm it has endured through tragedy, celebration, wars and unrest. It has witnessed births, deaths, romance – and the lives of a string of strong and inspiring women. More on that one day, I hope.

Here’s to our One-Place landmarks. If you know Badingham and Cransford, I’d love to hear your landmarks below…


Cransford – 1871

It’s that time again, and I’m pleased to bring you the headlines from the Cransford census of 1871 compared to the preceding schedules in 1861. 

Just like last time, my first headline is that Cransford has shrunk in terms of the population if not the acreage. Many of the 284 individuals here in 1861 have gone – either to the grave or pastures new. The number of people in the parish now stands at just 237, a drop of 16.5% on ten years earlier and 23.3% on twenty years earlier. In the space of a generation, this must have felt like a pretty significant change.  

Households too have dropped, from 70 to 65 and now to 54, with two dwellings standing unoccupied. Are the latter the same two as ten years before? No. Although one could be. Have some cottages gone completely? Perhaps. Or have some houses, previously home to more than one family, become home to fewer residents? Some map and community reconstruction work may suggest the answers.

As is now traditional, it’s time to look at the age headlines. The first thing to say is that for the first time in the compilation of one of these census posts, we have a lopsided age pyramid: where did all the women go? Granted there are only 17 more men than women, but at 46% vs 54%, we could start to find that young men could struggle to find a match (if this pattern is repeated in surrounding areas) – especially as the largest gap is in 11-20-year-olds. It seems many teenage girls/women had left their rural homes for domestic work in the city of London or elsewhere. This in itself is interesting as it’s often assumed that the men left alone for economic opportunity rather than women. 

This ‘gap’ in the women’s list contributes to the mean age of a woman in Cransford in 1871 being 30.7 – significantly higher than the 25 seen in 1861. Men, too, were older on average, with a mean age of 30.4. 

Only four babies (half the number of ten years earlier) appear in the enumeration book. This is part of a more significant reduction in the number of younger members of the community. While those between 0-10 remain the largest proportion of the population, the percentage has fallen from a chunky 33% to just 22%, an almost identical ratio to the 11-20 age group. It rather suggests that couples are choosing to move elsewhere, and their children are not being born in Cransford.

More than half of the village’s women were 30-60 and just over 4 in 10 men. The dent in the pyramid remains between the children and the over 40s, especially in the male half of the pyramid. Is it a stretch to say that until the 1860s men were more likely to seek opportunities in urban areas and now women are doing the same?

Surnames in the community have taken another tumble by the 1871 census, with only 53 in the village, compared to 64 in 1861. This time around, only ten are needed to cover more than half of the inhabitants (14 in 1861). Chilvers, the most common ten years earlier, has surged ahead from 18 to 26 individuals – making them more than 10% of the entire parish.

The top ten names are as follows: Chilvers (26), Robinson (16), Watts (15), Banthorp (13), Barker (11), Crane (11), Eagle (9), Harling (8), Barber (7), and Kerridge (7). Interestingly, the Bakers fall out of the top ten after decades of being towards the top of the table. The Goodchild family disappear altogether before the census. At the same time, the Robinsons are brand new – a small population means a family with many children can immediately find themselves towards the top of the league table. 

Which brings us nicely to the comings and goings over the preceding ten years! 56% of those present in 1861 were gone by 1871 (182 people), leaving 44% (102) to stay put. These are similar proportions to my last post.

So what became of them? Just as in earlier posts, there are a few where I reserve the right to re-assess my conclusions, but here are my numbers as they stand:

  • 30 (at least) died. (16.5%)
  • 95 (52.2%) moved locally. Whole families often move together; most of them seem to remain in agriculture, domestic service or their current occupation for the next census. It is not proving the case that families lived their whole lives in one parish by this time.
  • 44 (24.2%) moved elsewhere in the UK. Almost equal numbers of men and women took this route, the average age of men 23, and women just 15. This time London was dominant, but it’s interesting to see the number of teenage girls working in vicarages and the like around Norfolk and Suffolk. I suspect that Rev Pooley (or his wife) played a part in finding many of the girls ’places’.
  • 13 still need to be pinned down with a bit more certainty!

In previous years much of this movement was balanced by newcomers. By 1871, though, numbers hadn’t broken even for well over a decade. Between 1861 and 1871, 182 left, but only 129 ‘arrived’ (either through birth or migration). As ever, this misses out anyone that came and went again between census years. 

  • 51 (39.5% of my 129) are under ten, so couldn’t have been in the 1861 census, a significantly smaller proportion than the 50+% ten years earlier. The vast majority were born in the village.
  • 38 (29%) are what I have classed ‘new workers’. Fifteen were married. Twelve are ag labs or male farm servants. Eight are farmers; it seems there has been a seachange in the tenant farmer community, perhaps partly due to the arrival of Lord Rendlesham as a significant landowner. The new women workers are mostly domestic servants (eight), with the last two being a milliner and the new schoolmistress. In the male contingent, there is also a gardener, tailor, wheelwright/grocer, two blacksmiths, a carpenter and two apprentices. 
  • 15 of the ‘new workers’ brought a wife with them (12%). Women’s work is often underrecorded. The enumerator lists these women’s occupations as ‘so and so’s wife’ but that doesn’t mean they weren’t economically active.
  • 13 more are family members of the new workers aged over ten years old (10%; the same as ten years earlier).
  • 4 ‘existing’ Cransford men married and brought their new wives home (3%). 
  • 1 Cransford lady brought a husband to the village (quite the rarity!) – very possibly he actually moved in before he met her, though!
  • The final 7 (5%) were widowed mothers and other family members that had moved to be with their families (or were just visiting). (4%). 

In conclusion, by 1871, the slide had become a slump; the parish was also older and less fertile. However, there was work for those that remained, including 52 agricultural labourers (only down from 58) and several tradespeople. No one was recorded as a pauper or out of employment.

The exodus was not yet complete, though. Next time we’ll look at the 1881 census, by which time the population would slump still further, to just 182. Just 79 of those had been in the parish in 1871, and only 25 ag labs remained… 


Cransford: Remembrance

Today is the 11th of November. It is only right, then, that today’s post lists the names on a War Memorial at Cransford, and attempts to add a little more information about each individual remembered. A similar post for Badingham will arrive at a later date.

Are you connected to any of the men mentioned? I can see from popular online family history sites that there are modern-day descendants, nieces and nephews. Please leave a comment below with additional information, or contact me if you would be willing to share images to illustrate the rest of the information.

Cransford’s First World War Memorial is a white marble tablet inside the church. It reads as follows:

“To the Glory of God and to the grateful memory of our fellow parishioners who fell in the Great War.

John Ronald Buckmaster
Australian Infantry

William Chilvers
Royal Fusiliers

James Fisher Mann
Suffolk Yeomanry

Father in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servants sleeping”

John Ronald Buckmaster was born in Framlingham on 13 September 1894, but by the time of the 1911 census was living at Church Farm in Cransford with his parents and two younger brothers.

In November 1913, aged 19, he set out for Fremantle, Australia; certainly not the only local farmer’s son to seek a future abroad. In fact, his brother Bertie had sailed for Canada only months earlier. By 1916, he was apparently settled in York, Western Australia, 60 miles east of Perth, but his war career had already begun (details from electoral register).

John, known to his family as Ronald, had signed up to the Australian 11th Infantry Battalion on 18 August 1914 – almost immediately following the outbreak of war. At the time his occupation was ‘clearer’ – preparing land for buildings, farmland etc. He embarked for Gallipoli and was later sent to hospital there with influenza. After a spell of a few days, he embarked for England where he was admitted to University College Hospital on 9 September 1915 and afterwards, the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield House.

Ronald recovered and rejoined his unit in Egypt in January 1916. In the first draft of this blog, I wrote that ‘we can hope he was able to see his family while in England’. The Framlingham Weekly News confirms that this was indeed the case: “Ronald Buckmaster, who had to be brought home from the Dardanelles, where he was engaged with the Australian troops, owing to a physical breakdown, has made excellent progress under hospital treatment and is now spending a few days with his parents at Cransford. He now shows little ill effects of his strenuous and trying experiences at the peninsular and from all appearances will ere long be quite fit again.”

A couple of months after he rejoined, his Batallion moved to Marseilles. Sadly, Ronald was reported missing on 25 July 1916 and later recorded Killed In Action at the Battle of Pozieres. He was just 21 years old.

Back home in Cransford, his parents endured the agony of the unknown while waiting to hear about his whereabouts. A note in the Framlingham Weekly News on 12 August that year states that “Mr and Mrs Buckmaster of Cransford continue to feel very anxious regarding their son Ronald, from whom they have not heard for more than a month. It is believed that he was engaged with the Australians in the attack on Pozieres in July.”

He is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial within Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.

Ronald’s youngest brother Richard was reported to be the youngest of the local territorials and one of the last to receive leave back from the front. His other brother, Herbert Arthur (Bertie, mentioned earlier), was of the 6th Suffolks was wounded at least three times. In August 1915 we know that he spent some time at home before leaving for service abroad. The Framlingham Weekly News stated that “In physique he is a splendid type of British soldier, being little short of 6 ft in height, and correspondingly well-proportioned in girth, and from all appearances he is in possession of abundant stamina and intelligence – acquisitions which will go a long way in repelling the enemy hordes and ultimately carry our beloved flag to victory.” (14 August 1915, P4).

Despite everything, Bertie survived and settled in Australia. Richard (‘Dick’), also came through the war and although he travelled, settled in Suffolk. The brothers also had a sister, Katie, who married into the Carley family who appear elsewhere on this blog.

William Chilvers, of the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment), died on 4 November 1918. He is remembered at Cross Roads Cemetery, Fontaine-au-Bois, a cemetery only begun in the first week of November 1918.

In 1911, the census captured William, aged 30, in a multi-generational household near Cransford Chapel. He was a farm labourer like his father and was born in neighbouring Badingham.

At this stage, I know little about William’s service, but do know that his battalion joined the 149th Brigade in July 1918. The Brigade took part in the Final Advance in Picardy, which ended on 11 November 1918. The 4 November 1918, the day that William died, coincided with the Battle of the Sambre, but more research is yet needed to understand the circumstances of his death. He would have been about 37.

James Fisher Mann died in hospital in Egypt on 23 January 1918. He was a private in the 15th Battalion Suffolk Regiment (and formerly the Suffolk Yeomanry). James was the son of George and Ellen Mann (nee Fisher), who lived at Snow’s Hall, Peasenhall in 1901. The family later moved to West Farm, Cransford, close to Fiddlers Hall where more members of the family lived. Three of the extended Chilvers family lived-in and worked on the farm.

The 15th was formed in Egypt on 5 January 1917 and came under the command of 230th Brigade in 74th (Yeomanry) Division. They were part of the Egypt and Palestine Campaign in 1917 and 1918.

James is buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, his headstone carrying the personal inscription “youngest beloved son of George and Ellen Mann of Cransford, Suffolk.” He was 25.

Cransford was a close-knit community where everybody knew each other. Even researching these three men alone reveals obvious cross-overs between families and households. A further memorial in the church remembers Lieut-Commander of the HMS Invincible, John Cyril Fitzrobert Borrett, youngest son of Major-General H C Borrett at Cransford Hall. He was killed in action at the Battle of Jutland and will be featured at a later date.

Other men from the village returned, and they too should be remembered, along with the part the rest of the parish played in both World Wars and other conflicts since. This blog will aim to record further stories in the future, along with those from neighbouring Badingham.

We will remember them.


OPS Shared Endeavour: Employment Q4

A couple of weeks ago, the latest quarter’s Shared Endeavour prompts landed in my inbox. I don’t claim to have got very far through a long list of things I’d like to do with my Cransford study, but answering some of the questions posed (to the best of my knowledge to date, at least) seemed a good theme for my next blog.

So here goes…

Task 1: Extremes

What is the earliest-named occupation in your place that isn’t related to farming?

Ultimately both of my parishes have been – and remain – rural, so the vast majority of roles fit directly and indirectly into agriculture: from the farmers and ag labs to the wheelwrights, blacksmiths and mole catchers that worked beside them. I guess in common with several other studies, the answer to this question is those working in the church – in Cransford, the vicar – although you can tell me if that’s an occupation, a vocation or both!

Who employed the most people? Was this in a mill, on a farm, or elsewhere?

In 1851 at least, this accolade went to Nathaniel Steptoe of Cransford Hall Farm, who employed four labourers on ‘his’ 309 acres (Nathaniel was occupier but not the landowner). Two of them, Isaac Crane and George Spalding, were enumerated in the ‘Hall Farm Outhouse’. Another lived under his roof along with his wife, daughter, and a female servant.

Who employed the greatest number of domestic servants?

George Pooley, the incumbent in 1851, had the distinction of the largest number of servants in his household that year. Three were house servants, women between 18 and 23, and he also had a groom. The curate had another three, while most of the farms had at least one live-in domestic.

Cransford Hall, when remodelled into a magnificent residence, employed more. A sale advert boasted five servants’ bedrooms as late as 1946. It later became a girls’ boarding school and is today a 15-bedroom private mansion. A few of my favourite situations wanted appear below, with a hat tip to the British Newspaper Archive.

Framlingham Weekly News, 24 September 1881
East Anglian Daily Times, 22 August 1891
East Anglian Daily Times, 22 February 1893

Of the people who employed domestic servants, which was the ‘lowliest’ occupation they held?


Who were the youngest and oldest residents of your place in paid employment? What jobs did they perform? Did that change over the period you studied?

In 1841, there were apparently three ag labs over 80 as well as a farmer of a similar vintage. The youngest was an ag lab aged 14. Women were rarely recorded as having an occupation in that census, but the oldest appears to be 55-year-old Mary Masterson, F[emale] S[ervant].

Ten years later, the men over 80 were most often noted as paupers, but James Mouser, aged 74, was still an ag lab. Again, the youngest in employment was 14 – a house servant at Fidlers Hall (sic). As far as women went, those over 80 were either annuitants or paupers. However, there was a 71-year-old housekeeper and a 15-year-old house servant.

Lastly (for the purposes of this post at least), in 1861, James Mouser – who must have been made of strong stuff – was still an agricultural labourer at 82 (slightly at odds with his age in 1851!). Had he remained the oldest man in employment for a decade or more? Some boys as young as eight were included as ag labs in this census. As far as the girls went, the youngest girl in employment recognised by the enumerator was a 12-year-old house servant, closely followed by a 13-year-old nursemaid.

The above similarities mask lots of changes that were taking place somewhere in the middle of the age pyramid.

…as for tasks 2-4, I’ll visit those another time!


Cransford – 1861

For the next chapter in the history of Cransford, I compare the make-up of the parish in 1861 with ten years earlier (see the last instalment here).

As noted before, the census is only one way to look at a parish. Still, it is a reasonably good representation of how the population looked on the surface – age, sex, occupation, family size and the like. 

The most obvious change compared to 1851, is that by 1861 the population had started to slump, dropping from 309 to 284. This fall is not, perhaps, an enormous nosedive in the number of individuals, but a reduction of getting on for 10% was nonetheless probably felt in the community. A corresponding fall from 70 to 65 households can also be observed, along with two unoccupied houses (where before there had been none). One of these houses is a very special one, but you’ll have to wait for more on that…

And so we turn to the age profile. In 1851 this was almost even across men and women. No significant change had occurred were it came to the numbers of men and women in 1861: there were 142 women – and 142 men! Men and women were both a mean age of 25, a little younger than the mean ten years earlier. Eight babies and three residents over 80 bookended the population, both figures only a little lower than in 1851.  

But were there significant changes in the population pyramid? Overall, the bottom of the pyramid was still chunky. 30% of the population fell into the age group 0-10 in 1851 and 33% in 1861. In the 11-20 group, the percentage increased by two points. However, the number of 21-30-year-olds fell from 13% to 11%, and the 31-40s from 13% to 9%. The pyramid had a dent by 1861. While it was a dent in both sexes, it was particularly prominent in the men’s column. 

The total number of surnames present in the village had tumbled from 76 to 62 by 1851, rising back to 64 in 1861. Twenty-one of those surnames were held by one person each, usually an unmarried servant or agricultural labourer.

In 1861, 14 surnames were needed to cover half the village, and there were a few changes compared to a decade earlier. The names, in order of popularity, were: Chilvers, Crane, Watts, Baker, Goodchild, Jay, Manning, Mouser, Smith, Barker, Harling, Osborn, Vincent and Capon. 

The Fisks, Banthorps, Reeves and Palmers of 1851 remained but in much smaller numbers, while the Balls name had disappeared. Manning, Osborn and Vincent were all unknown in the 1851 census, but the arrival of a large family of each catapulted them straight to the top of the name charts. 

Which brings us nicely to the comings and goings over the preceding ten years. 58% of those present in 1851 were gone by 1861 (181 people). This is even higher than the figure for 1841 – 1851 (52%). 

So where did they go? Just as before there are a few where I reserve the right to re-assess my conclusions, but here are my numbers as they stand today:

  • 59 (at least) died. This is significantly more than the decade before.
  • 70 (almost 40%) moved locally. Again, single women married and moved to new parishes, single men and women moved to work as dairymen and ag labs on neighbouring farms, children moved with their families to new villages where their fathers found work. 
  • 35 (ten more than my previous comparison) had moved elsewhere in the UK but to quite a variety of places. 21 were men, 14 women, the average age in 1851 was just 17, suggesting it was still younger men that were most likely to travel further.
  • 17 still need to be pinned down with a bit more certainty!

In no particular order, here are some observations about those that travelled out-of-county.

  • Many of those that left remained in agricultural occupations, even in areas we would not now consider countryside, like West Ham and Harrow. 
  • William Balls ended up at Holburn Hill Eating House, along with a few others born in the Cransford area – suggesting some kind of connection.
  • Leavers went all over the country. It is far to say that most went towards London, but also Surrey, Sussex and Kent as well as further afield: Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Wales. 
  • At least two become police constables, part of a wider pattern from other surrounding villages. 

All this of those that left; but we know several came into Cransford to take their places. 163, in fact. As before, it should be noted that others probably came and went between census years and are missed from the analysis altogether. It transpires my numbers don’t precisely add up – I’m working on why! (309 – 181 + 163 = 291, not 284!)

  • 87 (53% of my 163) were under ten, so couldn’t have been in the 1851 census. This is a similar percentage to ten years before.
  • 33 (20%) were what I have classed ‘new workers’. A third of this group were married, the others all unmarried or widows. Interestingly, all but two had left again by 1871. They were carters, ag labs, dairymaids and other domestics for the most part, but also three farmers, two carpenters, the Baptist minister and the schoolmistress. Again, the percentage is relatively similar to ten years earlier.
  • 11 of the ‘new workers’ brought a wife with them (7%)
  • 17 more were family members of the new workers aged over ten years old. Most of them were in their teens (at 10% this is five times the percentage ten years earlier, which might suggest the men bringing their families into the village were older than before and young men were choosing to move their new brides away or leaving before marriage?). 
  • 8 ‘existing’ Cransford men married and brought their new wives home (5%) 
  • 1 Cransford lady brought a husband to the village (quite the rarity!)
  • The final 6 were widowed mothers and other family members that had moved to be with their families (4%) 

And so, by 1861, the population had begun to slide. It appears that those that moved in were often older than those that left. Fewer Cransford men married and brought new wives to the village – more took their wives to pastures new and plenty of others left before they even thought about marriage.

Unlike in 1851, the population was no longer quite able to sustain itself. Although large numbers of children were still being born – and perhaps more were surviving – those children weren’t, it seems, looking towards a lifetime in the local area.

By the time the 1871 census came around the population would have tumbled by another 20% – but we’ll take a look at that next time.


Cransford 1851

This past few days, I have been enjoying my first three days on annual leave and *without children* since well before lockdown. It’s been a great excuse to write some more of my book and get on with a few local history projects I’ve been tinkering with since 2018.

Without spoiling all the stories that will eventually come into print (I hope!), I thought I’d write up a little about the differences observed in the parish of Cransford through the lens of the decennial census, specifically that for 1851 vs 1841.

At first glance, the Cransford community shown in 1851 census appears similar to that recorded in 1841. The population remained almost the same – up to 309 from 303. In 1851 all houses seem to have been occupied (a total of 70 dwellings) so the population certainly wasn’t in freefall. The number of homes had risen from 61 to 70. 

The age profile is astonishingly similar across men and women in 1851, perhaps reflecting the dominance of married agricultural labourers and their families compared to single itinerant labourers. The mean age for a man was 27.3, and a little younger, 26.8, for a woman. Both figures are almost identical to ten years before. There were three baby boys, and six baby girls, and the sexes were split 154 men to 155 women. On the other end of the scale, four women were over 80, and two men. 

In both 1841 and 1851 it took precisely 13 surnames to achieve more than half the village, many of them unchanged from 1841: Baker, Chilvers, Crane, Watts, Barker, Smith, Fisk, Goodchild and Banthorp. Mouser, Reeve, Balls and Palmer replaced Boast, Cornish, Masterson and Wightman in the latter.

Yet digging a little deeper, these stats obscure some significant changes and the beginnings of a trend. The stable size of the population hides the fact that apart from those stalwart families mentioned above, most of the community had actually come or gone in the preceding ten years – 52% (158) of those enumerated in 1841 were not still in Cransford for the 1851 census.

Although it took 13 names to cover more than half the population, the total number of surnames dropped from 76 down to 62 by 1851. The age profile had shifted in the ten years since the last census, too. 

Starting with the smallest, a whopping 30% of the population was ten years old or younger in 1851, up 5% on the decade before. That’s a total of 46 boys and 48 girls.  

Conversely, the proportion of teenagers dropped substantially over the decade. Those aged 11-20 made up just over a quarter of the population (26%) in 1841. Ten years later it was down to only 18%, but this is magnified further when looking just at the males in the enumerator’s book: a drop from 28% to 16%. Something – or rather many things – must have been pushing young men away from Cransford and/or pulling them towards somewhere else. The rest of the population pyramid remained broadly the same.

The first question, then, is where the 52% (158) went? You could guess some of the answers, and you would probably be correct. Here’s what my research so far suggests… (I admit I do not have solid conclusions for every single individual yet, so take this with a pinch of salt for now).

  • 37 of those that ‘left’ appear to have died (as you might guess, mostly the oldest and the youngest). 
  • 80 (just over half) had moved locally; single women married and moved to their new husband’s parish, single men and women moved to work on neighbouring farms or couples took their families to different, predominantly rural, parishes. The average age of women that moved locally was just 18 in 1841 (20 for men). 
  • 25 moved further afield, most of them single men who were in their teens in 1841. 
  • 16 remain on my ‘to be confirmed’ list!

Of those that moved beyond Suffolk, Essex and London proved to be a draw for many, taking men to be boot makers, drapers, coffee house servants, sawyers and meat vendors. However, the young men of Cransford also dispersed across the country as wheelwrights, railway workers, soldiers and agricultural workers. Of the nine women that moved further afield, five moved with their husband or father, and the four remaining all become domestic servants (or in one case a barmaid) in London.  

And so we turn to where the 164 ‘new’ people came from to replace the outward migration of those above. It should be noted that others probably came and went between census years and are missed from the analysis altogether.

  • 89 (54%) were under ten, so couldn’t have been in the 1841 census. They were, in effect, the new generation growing into the gaps left by those ahead of them.
  • 33 (20%) were what I have classed ‘new workers’, mostly agricultural labourers and domestic servants, but also the new Rector, a curate, and two blacksmiths. At least six of this group were Cransford-born and had perhaps been living-in on another farm a decade earlier before coming back home to start their married lives when jobs and cottages permitted. This group are almost universal local even if not born in Cransford itself. The vast majority were from parishes very close-by like Badingham, Sweffling, Great Glemham, Bruisyard and Parham.
  • 13 of the ‘new workers’ brought a wife with them (8%)
  • Four newbies were family members of the new workers over ten years old (just 2% – a small number suggesting most moved early in marriage). 
  • 13 men present in 1841 married and their new wives feature on the 1851 census (8%) 
  • The final 12 were mothers, widowed daughters, grandchildren or other family members that had moved to be with their nearest and dearest in Cransford (7%) 

It may not come as a surprise that while men married and brought their wives ‘home’ to Cransford, not a single woman appears to have married and whisked a husband back to her home village!

In 1851, the population was, as demonstrated, able to cope with the emigration of its youngsters. New families grew from the teenagers-turned-young-men-and-women that remained in (or returned to) the parish, or from those drawn in from surrounding villages. 

Over time, even fewer people were born outside of Suffolk and living in Cransford – just ten by 1851. Included within those were the Rector and his wife, the curate and his wife, and six children, grandchildren or other relatives staying with extended family who weren’t as much immigrants as they were returning extended offspring.

The parish population was in effect self-sustaining at this point. Enough children were born and surviving to plug the gaps left by those striking out. But that was about to change.

First World War One Hundred Years Ago People Uncategorized

Bessie Carley: Badingham’s Decorated TFNS Assistant Matron

It was in March 2017 that I first wrote about Miss Bessie Carley. She grew up in Badingham and had a varied nursing career in several English institutions before war broke out. After the declaration of war, she worked at the First Eastern in Cambridge and the 55th General in France, becoming decorated with both the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) for service at home and, two years later, the Royal Red Cross (1st Class), for service abroad. To receive both was, and I quote, ‘pretty impressive’!

Bessie has intrigued me ever since I ‘discovered’ her, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to sit down and research her life in a little more detail. And I’m so glad that I did. What follows is the story so far, but I’m sure there’s more to tell. I’d love to hear more in the comments.

Bessie is nothing short of an inspiration. A remarkable woman, through hard work and determination, Bessie rose right up to Matron by the age of 38. She probably nursed at least one of her parents before training formally, and went on to be ‘intensely useful’ for the rest of her life, even, according to the local newspaper, working under bombardment.[i] The legacy she leaves is one of which her family (and her ‘place’, Badingham) can be very proud. 

Two things happened earlier this year that reawakened my interest in Bessie after three years of spending most of my free time with my two consecutive babies. Firstly, a twitter contact was tweeting about nursing records that Bessie most likely appeared in – and it turned out that she did.[ii] Now, having a copy, I know that those records are full of moving additional details beyond her war service, including letters from her family (more on that later). I unwittingly received the documents almost one hundred years to the day since Bessie’s death. 

Secondly, and almost concurrently, I received an email from a gentleman who had letters written by Bessie in his possession. Bessie had nursed Chris Payne’s grandfather, Sergeant Charlie Payne, in his final days, and had written to his family on more than one occasion. Again, these letters give us additional insight into Bessie’s life. 

The next task seemed to be whether we could unite all of these records with Bessie’s modern-day family, and, potentially, find a photograph of her to put a face to her name. 

I am delighted to say that we were able to do just that, and so much more. Bessie’s Great Nephew has kindly allowed me to share images of some family archives. So, without further ado, here she is:

Bessie Carley, probably taken during her time at Warneford Hospital.
Another photograph of Bessie. With grateful thanks to her family.

Please note these photographs are shared here with the permission of Bessie’s family. Please do not re-use them without speaking to them first; I am happy to pass on your details to them.

Bessie’s early life

Bessie was the seventh child of eleven registered by her parents John Carley and Jane Adeline Carley (nee Mills; her first names have, on occasion, been noted as Jeanie and Adelaide).[iii] Bessie was born at the Red House in Badingham, the family farm, which amounted to 172 acres in 1881.[iv] Three elder sisters and an elder brother were living at the time of her birth; two more brothers had sadly died young.[v] Three additional brothers and a sister would arrive after Bessie came along and before the next census.[vi]

Seven of the surviving nine Carley children were still at the Red House in 1891 with their parents and two servants, one of whom was 16-year-old Elizabeth Baldry, my Great Great Grandmother.[vii] Eldest sister Ellen was a teacher (still at home) while Bessie’s eldest living brother was boarding at Framlingham College with the sons of many other local farmers.[viii] Janet, also missing, was staying with her aunt and uncle at their grocer’s shop on the High Street in Hemel Hempstead.[ix]  

It was to be Bessie’s father’s last census. He died at the Red House just a few months later, on 29 January 1892, aged 53.[x] John had for many years sat on the Board of Guardians for Hoxne and ‘endeared himself to a large circle of friends by his genial nature and sterling worth’. He was important to the parish and valuable to the community, and as such his funeral received several column inches in the East Anglian Daily Times.[xi]  

Interestingly for Bessie’s story, this meant that she grew up with her father involved in the treatment of the poor locally. There are other relevant clues in her father’s obituary too. We know, for example, that according to the newspaper, he had ‘for many years [been in] delicate health’ and had ‘fallen at last a victim to the prevailing epidemic’.[xii] It seems most likely that the epidemic in question was the ‘Russian’ or ‘Asiatic’ Flu pandemic, which was widely reported in the local news at the time. It came in several waves, the third occurring from approximately November 1891-June 1892.[xiii] 

‘Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, and the prevailing sickness (which prevented all the female members of his family attending the funeral) a large number of relatives and friends assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to the memory of an old friend’.[xiv] Did Bessie herself succumb? Her brother attended, so I am not sure her absence can be entirely explained by the family isolating. At the time of writing, the parallels with today’s funerals without family members in attendance are striking.

By the age of 11, therefore, Bessie had experienced the influence of a pandemic on her own family. Potentially she had played a part in nursing her father, or at least observed others doing so. And there was more to come.

On New Year’s Day, 1899, her mother sadly died too, again at the family home. ‘The deceased lady had been in somewhat delicate health for some time past, but it was not until a few days before death that she was compelled to take to her bed’.[xv] Bessie and her eight surviving siblings now found themselves without either parent, and this time around, at the age of 18, we might imagine Bessie had done more of the nursing, especially as at least one of her elder sisters had already left home.   

The family at the Red House was much reduced by 1901.[xvi] It would be a very unusual circumstance to find nine siblings happily sharing a property after their parents’ death, and it was no different for the Carley family. As one might expect for the time, Richard, the eldest son, was enumerated as the head of the household, farming the land. The sister immediately before Bessie, Annie, was acting as the housekeeper, and the youngest child, Robert, was still at home, being just ten. 

Where had the other children gone? Ellen was already married and had taken her younger sister, Janet, as Governess for her children in Middlesex.[xvii] Agnes, too, was a Governess, this time for the Brown family in Melton.[xviii] The boys, John and Samuel, being younger than Bessie and still of school age, were boarding at Beccles College.[xix] They would later strike out for Australia.[xx] As for Bessie, her nursing career had begun…

Bessie’s early career

Perhaps being a governess or housekeeper like her sisters wasn’t for her and nursing presented itself as a good alternative option for a single woman in want of an occupation. Perhaps she had known she wanted to be a nurse for some time. Either way, the 1901 census finds Bessie as the youngest nurse (just 20) living in at The Warneford Hospital.[xxi] The hospital opened in 1832 and closed in 1993, and records are deposited at Warwickshire County Record Office.[xxii] It was at Warneford that Bessie completed her training. She left home at a time when more and more hospitals were establishing training schools, and probably attended lectures as well as learning ‘on the job’. It may be that her work on the wards covered her training, bed and board for her first years in the profession. This photograph shows nurses on the Hitcham Ward at the hospital in the 1900s, and there are several others on the site for interested readers, although generally from after Bessie’s time. 

The first image in this blog likely coincides with Bessie’s time at Warneford. The photographer was local to Leamington Spa at the turn of the century.[xxiii]

From Warneford, Bessie worked in at least two other institutions. In 1911, the census placed her as a ‘fully trained sick nurse’ living at the Nurses’ Home on Brook Street, Ipswich.[xxiv] It is unclear under what logic the staff were recorded, but Bessie was the first nurse in the list. By 1911 she had more than a decade’s experience under her belt. At the time, the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital was at Anglesea Road. Interestingly, staff records are among those held at Suffolk Record Office for the period 1881-1951 – something for another day![xxv] 

First World War – home service

According to the local newspaper, before war broke out, Bessie was in charge at Dovercourt Nursing Home.[xxvi] Her service records, which amount to 77 pages, give details of her wartime career as well as providing touching connections to her family back home in Badingham, where her eldest brother and next of kin, Richard Carley, still lived at Red House Farm.[xxvii]

Her records say that Bessie joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) on 10 August, 1914, just days after Great Britain declared war on Germany. At the time she was a Sister-in-Charge and lived at the ‘Dovercourt Branch of the Ipswich Nurses Home’. There were several hospitals in Dovercourt during the First World War. It is unclear for now at precisely which one Bessie worked. The Borough of Harwich already had an Isolation Hospital and Cottage Hospital before the war, and almost immediately after war was declared it had several more including Dovercourt Military Hospital and The Women’s Suffrage Hospital. For more details of local hospitals, please see here.

After joining the TFNS, Bessie initially worked at the First Eastern General Hospital at Cambridge, incidentally where my Great Grandfather (and more than 70,000 others) received treatment. The site is now home to the University Library.

Bessie remained at the hospital for more than two years. Her first annual report in August 1915 described her as methodical, hardworking and punctual with a good deal of initiative; ‘her ward has a good tone’. All essential qualities in a Ward Sister. A year later, the same Matron, Annie Macdonald, described her as ‘self-reliant…instructs the Red Cross Workers well and has a good influence on the ward’. It seems she was able to keep her ward – and the men and staff on it – in good order.

There is a fascinating video about the hospital on the University of Cambridge website, narrated by Dr Sarah Baylis. I think I may have spotted Bessie herself in some of the stills within the video; see what you think! 

At its peak, the hospital had 1700 beds, a cinema, post office and other recreational facilities for those well enough to bowl or box. It was, in essence, a small town within a city, but one known for its open-air wards and curative use of direct sunlight, saline baths and massage therapy (Bessie was certainly trained in the latter). Having been mobilised right at the beginning, Bessie would have seen the hospital mushroom in size over the course of ten weeks.

While she was working in Cambridge, her younger brother Samuel signed up for war service from New South Wales, Australia, where he was farming with their brother John (Jack) at Mountain Creek.[xxviii] He would later be posted to France. Her sister Annie, perhaps inspired by Bessie, volunteered with the Red Cross and took on general duties at Easton Park Hospital for a couple of years, just a few miles south of Badingham. The 27-bedroom mansion on the Easton Park estate had been turned into a Red Cross Hospital under the care of Mary (Dowager) Duchess of Hamilton.

Although the First Eastern Hospital was in England, conditions during those first years were not easy. Being open to the elements brought challenges from storms, floods and pests, and the number of wounded being admitted was often overwhelming. It was difficult to blackout the wards and the fear of Zeppelin raids was real. Although commercially-produced postcards were posed showing the staff and patients looking relaxed, they disguised the true nature of nursing under canvas with patients often in great pain and the constant rotation of new admissions. Trained staff were in short supply, and Bessie would have worked on her feet for long hours, probably collapsing into bed exhausted at the end of each shift, ready to do it all again a few hours later.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">In March 1917, Bessie was decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace with the Royal Red Cross.<a href="//33A27A68-F68D-4499-AC15-70E1338A4C72#_edn29"><sup>[xxix]</sup></a> I wrote in my <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="; target="_blank">original blog</a> post that, according to the local newspaper, her portrait appeared in the <em>Sketch</em> and the <em>Mail</em>. Having now performed a search of the <em>Sketch</em> myself and asked a friend to check her access to the <em>Mail</em> archive I remain empty-handed, but I will keep looking.<a href="//33A27A68-F68D-4499-AC15-70E1338A4C72#_edn30"><sup>[xxx]</sup></a>In March 1917, Bessie was decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace with the Royal Red Cross.[xxix] I wrote in my original blog post that, according to the local newspaper, her portrait appeared in the Sketch and the Mail. Having now performed a search of the Sketch myself and asked a friend to check her access to the Mail archive I remain empty-handed, but I will keep looking.[xxx]

The Sketch features several high-society women who selflessly toiled in hospitals during the First World War. Bessie, of course, was not a society lady. She had reached her rank not through her position in the prevailing class structure but through hard slog: scrubbing and caring and cleaning and instructing. While she had been born the daughter of a farmer (and employer) rather than an agricultural labourer, I am sure she was no stranger to hard work, and she was deserving of the honour. 

This photograph of Bessie, supplied by her Great Nephew, may well have been taken at the First Eastern:

First World War – service abroad

Shortly after receiving her RRC (2nd Class), Bessie was promoted from Sister to Assistant Matron of the Eastern General Hospital (No. 55 General) for Active Service overseas.[xxxi] The request was agreed and confirmed in May 1917 with her appointment dating officially from 30 April. According to a memo in her record, the hospital was to have 1040 beds. Bessie was among many staff transferred from the Cambridge hospital to France, leaving the base in Blighty ‘acutely short-staffed’.[xxxii]

No. 55 General was a Base Hospital at Wimereux, a coastal town three miles north of Boulogne. With today’s transport, it is about 90 minutes from Ypres (to the east) and Arras (to the south-east). During the First World War, Wimereux was a critical hospital centre, and it is while Bessie was there that she nursed Chris Payne’s grandfather, Charlie.

The Wellcome Library has digitised twelve images of No. 55 on its website and has allowed me to share some here on a CC BY NC license.[xxxiii] Full details and the rest of the photos are available at this link.

‘1915 55 General Hosp. BEF’
[No caption on reverse]
‘Convoy arriving. 55 General Hospital. BEF.’

On 17 July 1917, a couple of months after she arrived, Bessie’s Report Form (part of her service record) says that she had good health, good conduct and excellent character; ‘capable, energetic, hardworking. Has plenty of common-sense and is a great help in my work’ remarked her Matron, still Annie Macdonald. 

Armbands from Bessie’s First World War Service

At home, Bessie’s elder sister Annie, who still lived at the Red House, Badingham, died on 29 August.[xxxiv]She was only about a year older than Bessie. Both Bessie and Samuel were noted as being on active service in the funeral report published in the Framlingham Weekly News, Bessie being ‘unable to reach home in time for the funeral’ from ‘a base hospital in France’.[xxxv] 

There must be a great deal more to learn about No. 55 (or ‘the 55th’). Bessie’s service was unbroken, and we know from her record that in January 1919 she was recommended for promotion once again. Her Matron, still Annie Macdonald, who had worked with Bessie from October 1915, first as Sister and later as Assistant Matron, had this to say when recommending her for promotion:

‘She is a well-trained woman interested in all branches of nursing, a good administrator and teacher. She quickly sees important points and her judgement can be relied on. Very even-tempered, tactful, energetic and hardworking, her one desire is to be useful. I find her the greatest help in my work.’ 

In response, the Commanding Officer, Lt Col. Rodink, noted ‘I thoroughly agree with all Matron has said’! Col. Thurston concurred, and the Matron-in-Chief, Emma McCarthy,[xxxvi] described her as ‘A most capable woman, kind, conscientious, reliable and a loyal supporter…came to France 30 April 17’.

It was during her last months at No. 55 that Bessie nursed Charlie Payne, otherwise Sergeant C. F. Payne 235435 of the 2/5 West Ridings.[xxxvii] Charlie was admitted to the hospital dangerously ill with broncho-pneumonia on 6 February 1919.[xxxviii] The hospital was in the midst of the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic that swept around the globe in waves from 1918-1920, ultimately killing more people than the war itself. Now a trained nurse under pandemic conditions, it must have brought back pangs of the influenza that most likely killed her father. (Writing about previous pandemics in the midst of another is not lost on me; I do wonder what Bessie might have thought about the response to Covid-19.)

It is a particular privilege to read letters penned in a subject’s own hand. Through a handwritten message, there is a tangible connection to the past and the people that existed in it. For many that have left us no such link exists because it has not survived (or never existed in the first place), but with Bessie, we are lucky. Bessie wrote to Sergeant Payne’s wife twice, and these letters have been treasured by the Payne family ever since, first by Charlie’s wife Ida – who stored them in a black Victorian hatbox – and later by Chris’ father and finally Chris himself. 

According to Bessie’s first letter, of 9 February, Charlie’s condition on admission was ‘most serious…we thought some of it might be due to the journey during this severe weather and that quilts[xxxix] of warmth and treatment would perhaps make a great difference but I regret to say so far he has failed to respond to any treatment’.

She goes on, ‘his breathing still remains as laboured and…his pulse is very feeble. I am so sorry to have to send you this sad report realising all too well the anxious time you will have been passing through ever since he came out here…I can assure you that everything possible will be done for his comfort and towards his recovery – but the next week or so will be most critical and until that is past I dare not give you any definite hope.’

Sadly, Bessie was to write again ten days later with the worst news. ‘It is indeed with sadness that I write to tell you in spite of all possible care and skill your poor husband got gradually weaker and weaker until he passed into his well earned rest at 4.45 pm today. I am sorry to say that I have no message or last wish for you. He slept the greater part of the time and when awake his breathing was too distressed for us to worry him or encourage him to talk’.

The last paragraphs of the letter deal with how any of his ‘treasures’ will be returned (‘we are compelled to send these through official channels’) and the statement that ‘when the first great sorrow is over you will always have the proud satisfaction of knowing that he made the Supreme Sacrifice for his country and as one of the Great War Heroes his name will ever remain sacred’.

I find myself wondering just how many times Bessie wrote to bereaved families and how she felt writing that last. There was not much Bessie would not have seen in a wartime hospital. She was surrounded by the sick and injured, dealing with death every day. Her letters come across to me as very professional. She would have been schooled to be so and was, after all, operating within a highly regimented and hierarchical nursing environment. Her letters are also enduringly honest. She does not sugarcoat or skirt around there being ‘no message or last wish’, but, ultimately, her letters are kind and, I think, genuinely sympathetic and caring. 

My Mum, herself a farmer’s daughter and life-long nurse, once told me to be ‘firm but kind’. Bessie seems to embody that sentiment in these letters. She writes the truth, with no truck for embellishment, but in a way that hopefully would become a lasting comfort to his widow and the four young sons he left behind in England. 

In his emails to me, Chris describes how he discovered the letters, along with some from his grandfather written earlier, among his family’s archives. He believes Charlie’s wife Ida must have found them of value because she always kept hold of them. Chris is writing about his grandfather Charlie on his website and in a forthcoming book.

Charlie and Ida Payne, supplied by Chris Payne. With grateful thanks.

Please contact Chris through his website is you have any queries about the Payne family.

After Bessie’s war service

Following her recommendation, Bessie’s career might have progressed even further. However, her war was nearly over, and she came home on leave in July 1919. While back, she needed treatment for varicose veins and had an operation on the 21st of that month at the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital. It may be the case that prolonged standing during her duties was part of the reason that Bessie’s condition developed this far: a physical response to the constant hard work of being a nurse. The Medical Board reported that her condition predated her service (as far back as 1902) but answered ‘Yes’ to active service conditions having aggravated it.

Her file includes several letters written by Bessie to the Matron-in-Chief, Miss Riddell, in 1919. She seems to have been keen to get back to work as soon as she was passed fit for service again on 9 October, 1919. She wrote to Miss Riddell on that same day to say that she would await her orders, wishing to remain in the Force as long as her service was required. She had missed the original date for the second Medical Board owing to a railway strike. I rather suspect she was frustrated by this as she was champing at the bit to get back to work after six weeks’ sick leave convalescing in Badingham.

Bessie was demobilised from the TFNS on 14 October, 1919, days after the Medical Board report about surgery on her legs, although the reason given was a reduction in staffing. She had unbroken service of more than five years. There was no vacancy at any territorial unit as there was a significant reduction in staffing taking place.

Miss Riddell had already given Bessie a glowing reference to copy to prospective employers in June that year, ready for her to send wherever she wished to apply after the war. The evidence suggests that Bessie was already looking at civil posts in Spring 1919, knowing her period of war service was coming to an end. In her letter requesting a recommendation, Bessie noted that she had been advised to ‘write to the College of Nursing and also to my old training school re a future appointment as [I] shall have to continue nursing’. 

Bessie wasn’t, as we have seen, a ‘society’ nurse. For her, nursing was not something to pick up and put down again after wartime, being able to fall back on an independent income. Instead, it was a vocation and a career, a salary and profession. Perhaps she might even have said nursing was her life’s purpose. 

When writing to Miss Riddell, she noted that she had answered an advertisement to a post as Assistant Matron at Isleworth Infirmary. She said in a letter that she would ‘very much like this post but feel my application is too quaint – with no testimonials, photograph or anything’. She had apparently been assured that she could be released early from service rather than waiting for demobilisation if she ‘succeeded in getting anything nice’. She asked for advice ‘if you are not too frantically busy’ and wondered whether Dame Sidney Browne (Matron-in-Chief of the TFNS and later the first President of the College of Nursing) liked a personal letter ‘stating we have given her name for a reference?’ 

The gist of Miss Riddell’s reference is similar to statements already quoted, stressing Bessie’s good judgement, hard work and energy. 

‘She is of the greatest assistance as Assistant Matron, and has been recommended for promotion to a higher rank. She is a reliable and loyal co-worker and maintains discipline. Miss Carley was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class, in February 1917, for work in her Home Unit, and the Royal Red Cross, 1st Class, in June 1919, for excellent work and valuable service in France. She is a valuable Member of this Service.’

Sadly, not so very long after peace was declared, on 26 April 1920, Bessie died at the age of just 38, a similar age to her sister Annie, who had died in 1917. Knowing that she worked at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Streatham Nursing Home after the war, it might have been possible that her untimely death was caused by the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic, just as Charlie Payne’s probably was, but the records show otherwise. 

A letter in her file, written on 22 May within the TFNS, says that she died from a cerebral haemorrhage; ‘a record has been made of the cheerful and willing service this member rendered to her Country’.

But it is the letter written shortly after Bessie’s death from her elder sister, Janet, that tugs at the heartstrings the most. I include it here in full, taken from the pages of Bessie’s service record.  

‘Dear Miss Riddell,

Thank you for your very kind letter of sympathy. I think my dear sister’s life was one of intense usefulness – then she was so unselfish, so bright and so inspiring! Her loss leaves – for me – a blank of very great loneliness. Sometimes I feel it would perhaps have been among her wishes – to pass straight on from work here, to the wider work beyond.

With renewed thanks, very sincerely yours,

Janet Carley’

Janet had also written to the authorities a week earlier, bearing the news of his sister’s sudden death at Guy’s Hospital. She said that she died from a cerebral haemorrhage caused by a cerebral tumour that was found to be forming. At the time of her letter, Bessie had received the RRC (2nd Class), but the 1st Class was still due to her, and Janet enquired about other medals that may not yet have been issued, viz; the Victory, Allies and Territorial medals. 

The Framlingham Weekly News ran an article following Bessie’s death entitled ‘Badingham Family’s Sorrow. Death of Miss Bessie Carley at the Zenith of her career’.[xl] 

The piece tells us a little more about her ‘splendid war nursing career’ and recounts that she had recently been appointed Matron at the Streatham Hill Nursing Home. It was there that she had suddenly been taken ill on a Sunday evening, after which she had been taken to Guy’s Hospital where she was seen by ‘a Harley Street Specialist’. 

‘While on duty in France Miss Carley was frequently in the danger zone and was in one of the hospitals at the time of their bombardment by the enemy. She escaped uninjured while the victims of the enemy’s wrath lay around her, but she suffered for a considerable time from shock. After being demobilised in Autumn last she joined the staff of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and just prior to commencing her new duties at Streatham early in April she spent a few days’ holiday at home’.[xli]

The article goes on to detail the attendees at her funeral, among whom was Miss Annie Macdonald, her wartime Matron, who by then was Matron of the Suffolk Convalescent Home. There are no details about the bombardment and how it affected Bessie’s mental and physical health in her service record, but perhaps somebody reading can tell us more about what happened at No. 55 General Hospital. 

Bessie now lies under a CWGC headstone in Badingham churchyard. Just over 100 years have passed since her funeral, and I am glad to have brought some more of her story to light for future researchers; I know I am by no means the only one to have become interested in her story (and indeed those of her colleagues).  

Having nursed thousands of patients and instructed many a trainee, Bessie must have left her mark on a very many lives. I wonder whether, when she was writing her letters to soldiers’ widows, she ever thought that she might one day be considered to be among the ‘Great War Heroes’ of which she wrote? I suspect not. My humble opinion is that she believed she was doing her duty by being useful, and her role was to be so ‘unselfish, bright and inspiring’. 

History and readers can judge, but having delved into her records, I would say that Bessie was no less a hero than anybody else working bravely in those hospitals, and a hero of whom Badingham can be proud to lay claim.

[i] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 1 May 1920. p2.

[ii] War Office. WO 399/10280: Carley, Bessie. 1914-1920. WO 399 – War Office: Directorate of Army Medical Services and Territorial Force: Nursing Service Records, First World War. National Archives, Kew. I regularly refer back to this key record set when I refer to her ‘service record’ or ‘file’.

[iii] Most frequently, these variations occur in local newspapers. GRO and census records tend to be under ‘Jane Adeline’.

[iv] 1881 Census, England and Wales. Badingham, Suffolk. RG 11, ED 2, Piece 1858, Page 1.

[v] By GRO entries: John Carley (1875-1876) and Samuel Green Carley (1876-1880), both names were reused for later sons. Please contact me for further references.

[vi] Happy to share these details but I have not referenced all births and deaths of family members here.

[vii] 1891 Census, England and Wales. Badingham, Suffolk. RG 12, ED 2, Piece 1461, Page 1.

[viii] 1891 Census, England and Wales. Framlingham, Suffolk. RG 12, ED Framlingham College, Piece 1479, Page 7.

[ix] 1891 Census, England and Wales. Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. RG 12, ED 3, Piece 1124, Page 1.

[x] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 6 February 1892. p4.

[xi] East Anglian Daily Times. Monday, 8 February 1892. p5.

[xii] ibid

[xiii] Opinions differ on the number of waves. John’s death certificate has not yet been ordered to confirm this cause of death so we are relying on the newspaper here. Ideally, his death certificate should be ordered for clarity.

[xiv] See 11.

[xv] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 7 January 1899. p4.

[xvi] 1901 Census, England and Wales. Badingham, Suffolk. RG 13, ED 2, Piece 1767, Page 11.

[xvii] 1901 Census, England and Wales. Finchley, Middlesex. RG 13, ED 6, Piece 1234, Page 10.

[xviii] 1901 Census, England and Wales. Melton, Suffolk. RG 13, ED 7, Piece 1785, Page 1.

[xix] 1901 Census, England and Wales. Beccles, Suffolk. RG 13, ED The College, Piece 1799, Page 2.

[xx] Australia, WWI Service Records. Carley, Samuel Green. 1914-1920. SN 6481. Available online:

[xxi] 1901 Census, England and Wales. Leamington Priors, Warwickshire. RG13, ED The Warneford Hospital, Piece 2933, Page 1.

[xxii] See Hospital Records Database, available online:

[xxiii] See Victorian Photography Studios:

[xxiv] 1911 Census, England and Wales. Ipswich, Suffolk. RG 14, ED 15, Piece 10813, Page 1. [Note, this record is not indexed on Ancestry. You can browse to it or search for Bessie on TheGenealogist instead.]

[xxv] See Hospital Records Database, available online:

[xxvi] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 1 May 1920. p2.

[xxvii] War Office. WO 399/10280: Carley, Bessie. 1914-1920. WO 399 – War Office: Directorate of Army Medical Services and Territorial Force: Nursing Service Records, First World War. National Archives, Kew.

[xxviii] Australia, WWI Service Records. Carley, Samuel Green. 1914-1920. SN 6481. Available online:

[xxix] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 10 March 1917. p4.

[xxx] It should be noted that what the Framlingham Weekly News published cannot always be backed up. Although the gist of the reporting is correct, the paper is liable to change the spelling of names or alter minor details, either introducing a variant/error, or perhaps reporting one that was passed to them or something that in the end might not have happened. An example is refering to Bessie as being attached to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service rather than the TNFS. As always with newspapers, read with a pinch of salt!

[xxxi] War Office. WO 399/10280: Carley, Bessie. 1914-1920. WO 399 – War Office: Directorate of Army Medical Services and Territorial Force: Nursing Service Records, First World War. National Archives, Kew.

[xxxii] University of Cambridge. From the Front to the Backs: Story of the First Eastern Hospital. 01 July 2014.

[xxxiii] Army Medical Services Museum, Keogh Barracks, digitised by Wellcome Library; 12 photographs of 55 General Hospital, British Expeditionary Force, at Wimereux, France, 1915. RAMC/801/22/11/13. Available online:

[xxxiv] Again, a death certificate should be ordered here. There is no clue as to the cause of Annie’s death in the local newspaper or note about whether it was sudden or otherwise. We know that she worked as a VAD at Easton only until 1916, but not why she left.

[xxxv] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 8 September 1917. p4.

[xxxvi] Australian Dictionary of Biography. McCarthy, Dame Emma Maud (1859-1949) by Perditta M. McCarthy. Originally published 1986.

[xxxvii] Bessie herself uses a ‘g’ in ‘Sergeant’ rather than a ‘j’. I have followed her example.

[xxxviii] Letters belonging to Chris Payne, written by Bessie Carley in February 1919. Chris’ website can be found here:

[xxxix] ‘quilts’ remains the most likely transcription of this word to date, but Bessie’s handwriting is not always easy to decipher!

[xl] Framlingham Weekly News. Saturday, 1 May 1920. p2.

[xli] ibid