Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A Teenage Widow

Elizabeth Austin Bell may have been a widow with an infant child by the time she was 19 years old.

According to various census records, Elizabeth Austin Bell was born about 1800 in Westminster, with the 1881 census giving a more precise location of Blackfriars.  I haven’t found a baptism record that I am confident is hers (even checking back up to 10 years).  Based on subsequent events in her life, she may have been a non-conformist or not particularly religious and so may not have been baptised as an infant in the Church of England.

Elizabeth Austin Bell married John Hart on 4 July 1816 at St Mary’s Newington, Southwark.  She was about 16 years old.  Elizabeth signed her name and her signature looked neat and well-practised, suggesting she was an educated girl.  John also signed his name.  One of the witnesses was Mary Elliston, the name of her daughter’s mother-in-law.  I wonder if it was the same person or just a co-incidence.

Elizabeth and John had a son, William James Hart, born in March 1819 (possibly the 17th but the scan of the record is not open enough to read the full date of birth) and baptised 16 May 1819 at St George the Martyr, Southwark; about a mile up the road from St Mary’s Newington.  According to the baptism record, John Hart was a tanner.  The London tanning industry was primarily based south of the river (Thames), where many smelly and unsavoury industries were relegated away from the City.  The family’s address is given as Newcastle Street Kent Street.  Kent Street (part of the Old Kent Road, the A2) is now Tabard St and I assume that Newcastle Street branched off it somewhere – names have changed and the area has been redeveloped.

I think John Hart died in June 1819, just a month after their son was baptised.  There are some other possible burials in London but this is the only one I have found in Southwark.  He was just 24 years old and Elizabeth 19.  John was buried at the Ebenezer (Independent) Chapel in Bermondsey (also south of the Thames, for those not familiar with London).  I haven’t yet been able to find out what happened to son William James Hart and whether he survived infancy.

Elizabeth Austin Hart (nee Bell) married Ethelbert John Buss on 3 July 1822 at Christ Church, Southwark.  Elizabeth and Ethelbert had at least seven children, six daughters: Letitia, Elizabeth Austin, Sarah Ann (or Ann Sarah), Elfrida Mary (my ancestor), Charlotte Mathilda and Clara Julia, and one son, Ethelbert John; all born between 1825 & 1836.  The uncommon names come from the Buss family.  It appears that most of the children were not baptised as infants and the family moved around, so there may have been other children that I don’t know about.  Those I do know about were either living with the family at the time of a census or I have found them via their father’s name on a marriage certificate – the only Ethelbert John Busses that I have ever come across are family.  All of the listed children married (at least once) and had children of their own.

In 1841, Elizabeth, Ethelbert and five of their daughters were living in Halfmoon Street, St Botolph’s Bishopsgate, with Ethelbert working as a journeyman bookbinder.  This meant his work may not have been reliable.  In 1851, the couple and some daughters were still in Bishopsgate, but had moved to Skinner Street.  Son, Ethelbert John, was living in a different apartment in the same building, living with his soon to be brother-in-law, George Elliston.

In July 1857, Ethelbert John Buss was ill with Dropsy (Edema) and was unable to work.  Ethelbert, Elizabeth and Clara (who was still living with her parents) became chargeable to the parish, that is, they needed social support.  To receive financial support, they had to prove that that they belonged to that parish via a Settlement order.  A parish didn’t want to pay money out to everyone who claimed social support and so could remove anyone who wasn’t officially settled there back to the parish where they officially belonged.  Ethelbert died a few days after the settlement investigation, leaving Elizabeth as a widow for the second time.

After being widowed again at a still relatively young 57, Elizabeth appears to have lived at different times with her various children.  In 1861, she was living with son Ethelbert John Buss and his young family in St Brides, London.  Elizabeth was working as a straw bonnet maker.  At the time of the following census in 1871, Elizabeth had moved to West Ham, Essex to live with her daughter Elifrida Mary Elliston and her family.  I think she must have then moved to live with daughter Elizabeth Austin West and family, who lived in Kensington.  By 1881, Elizabeth Austin Buss was resident in Kensington Workhouse Infirmary, perhaps too old to look after herself.  

A lady in a bonnet (public domain).

Elizabeth died early in 1882 and was buried in Hanwell cemetery to the west of London on 6 February that year.  By that time, there were no more burials in London churchyards; instead the dead were buried in large cemeteries on the outskirts of the city.

Elizabeth Austin Buss nee Bell seems to have moved around a lot during the course of her life.  I have found similar stories with other London ancestors from the time period.  Life seems to be have been uncertain and unsettled for Elizabeth.  It can’t have been easy to have been a teen aged widow.

Notes on Lineage:  Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > George Elliston > Elfrida Mary Buss > Elizabeth Austin Bell