Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fanny Hardwick 1834-1898: An Ordinary Life

This is the story of one of my ancestors, Fanny Hardwick. I chose to write about her by using the scientifically proven method of closing my eyes and sticking a pin in a list of my forebears! Over the last few weeks I had been struggling to find an interesting subject to blog about. I had been concentrating on all the 'compelling' folk, the people who I knew lots of things about. But then it dawned on me that ignoring those people with, dare I say it, 'humdrum' lives, meant that their stories were at risk of being lost, of never being written about because they appeared to be run-of-the-mill, unexceptional, average. But who am I to say that they led pedestrian lives just because they weren't documented except in a census or church record? Just because they didn't fight in a war, or invent something, or die horribly, or end up in a newspaper article doesn't mean they shouldn't be remembered and recorded for posterity. So here is my first randomly selected ancestor, my Great Great Grand Aunt, Fanny Hardwick.

Tempsford in the early 1830s
Fanny was born in 1834 in the small village of Tempsford in Bedfordshire. She was born midway through the  reign of William IV, and just three years before William's niece Victoria ascended the throne. Tempsford was a small agricultural village nestled on flat, open land with the River Ouse forming a natural boundary to the west. The village was cut in two by the Great North Road, the main coaching route from London to York since Roman times. As a very small child, Fanny would have seen the stage coaches passing through the village carrying passengers and mail to far off cities and towns. This was before the coming of the railway put an end to the centuries-old coaching tradition.

The Widower by Jacques Joseph Tissot
Fanny lived with her parents, Ezekiel and Sarah, in Langford End which formed one half of the village. At the time of Fanny's birth there were roughly 570 residents in the village, and the majority of these would have worked on the land. Fanny's father was no different. For most of his life he was an 'ag lab' or 'grazier', though, for a time, he was also a road labourer. By the time of the 1841 census Fanny had been joined by a younger sister, Mary. A year later, in 1842, the girls' mother, Sarah, died at the young age of 31. Fanny was eight, and her little sister was just four. Ezekiel suddenly had two small daughters to care for as well as a living to make. It must have been a difficult and upsetting time for this young family.

Ten years later however, circumstances had changed and life was very different. In 1851, Fanny was 17, and she was still living in Langford End with her father. But by this time there were two new additions to the family. Within three years of his first wife's death Ezekiel had married again, to Ann Esther Ibbot Miles, a lady with a very long name! Together they had Samuel, my 2 x Great Grandfather. Fanny was working as a lace maker, in keeping with many women in the area who were able to work from home supplementing the family's income.

The Lacemaker by William Weatherhead
How long Fanny was a lace maker I don't know, but at some point after 1851 she found work as a live-in servant in the home of one Joseph Addington who also resided in Langford End. She was to live there until his death twenty years later. On the 1861 census she is listed as 'servant', but by 1871 her occupation had been inflated to 'housekeeper'. Fanny was the only servant who lived-in; Joseph may have had other day servants, but Fanny was the only one who lived there all year round. Joseph, who described himself as a 'gentleman' was much older than Fanny, and one of the village's 'gentry'. He was obviously considered to be one of the more well-born inhabitants of the village.

By the time of the 1871 census, Fanny was 37 years old and still unmarried, a fairly rare state of affairs for the times. So I was pleased to discover that on Christmas Day 1874 she wed a local market gardener, George Cope, and settled down to married life with him. She was 40 when her wedding took place, and it's possible that they tried for children but were unsuccessful. I'm intrigued as to why she waited so long to marry when the majority of her peers would have been marrying and having children when they were barely out of their teens. Fanny had lived with her gentleman employer as his 'housekeeper' since her early twenties. Had they enjoyed more than a master-servant relationship which society would stop them from making official? Or maybe she was too busy to marry; running Joseph's home may have taken all her energy leaving her with no time to even meet possible suitors. Joseph died not long after the census in 1871. His death clearly left her free to find a partner to share her life with. Enter George.

Fanny lived out the rest of her life in Tempsford with her husband. They lived alone in their cottage in Nags Head Lane, next door to the local inn.

In 1898, aged just 64, Fanny died. I was amazed to discover that she had made a will and left behind effects worth £364, 17s, 8d which according to the National Archives currency converter is around £20,000 in today's money: a small fortune! How did she amass such a large amount of money? Perhaps her old employer, Joseph Addington, had left her some money in his will (I'll have to investigate) or maybe Fanny and George were just careful with their money. I'll probably never know. George outlived her by four years; he died in 1902.

So that was Fanny's life. It's very ordinary and not at all unusual, but I'm so pleased that I've documented it. I've really enjoyed writing this blog post, as, even though all the evidence for her life comes care of census records and BMD records, it still reveals so much of the person and the times they lived in.

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