Thursday, 2 August 2012

Mary Ann Matilda Ball 1848-1931

This is an account of another ordinary life, albeit one full of births, deaths and marriages. Mary Ann Matilda Ball is my paternal Great Great Grandmother. She lived to a good age, and although she seemed to have suffered more than her fair share of personal tragedy, I get an impression of a strong, persevering woman who, when necessary, stepped up to the plate and took on the responsibilities necessary to survive.

The Ripened Wheat by Jules Bastien-Lepage,
Mary Ann was born in 1848, the year that revolution swept across Europe. However, the uprisings and social upheaval were a world away from Girtford, the small agricultural hamlet in Bedfordshire where Mary Ann was born. The hamlet lay on the Great North Road about two miles south of Tempsford where she was to spend all of her adult life. Her father, Edward, was an agricultural labourer. Her mother, Matilda, was to provide Mary Ann with her middle name.

By the time Mary Ann was recorded on her first census in 1851, the Ball family was complete. Mary Ann was the youngest child and, together with her two elder sisters, Fanny and Ellen, the family lived together in Girtford village. Their peaceful existence was not to last however as, in 1853, when Mary Ann was just two, Edward died at the young age of 28. His widow, Matilda, made a living from lace-making, a traditional livelihood in Bedfordshire, and supported her three young daughters single handed for the next ten years until she married for a second time in 1863. I believe that Mary Ann learned a lot from her mother about how to cope in times of adversity. She would have witnessed her mother's strength and I suspect this had a profound effect on Mary Ann's character and her own ability to strive through traumatic events.

Inside a Bakery by Gustaf Olaf Cederstrom, courtesy
At the age of 19 Mary Ann married a young baker from Tempsford, Samuel Hardwick. Together they lived in Langford End in Tempsford and raised four children, my great grandmother Ann, Fanny, Ellen and finally young Sam. Tragedy struck again however. When Sam was just a few months old, in June 1880, Samuel died of an epileptic fit. He was 33 years old. And this is when Mary Ann must have looked back and remembered her mother's resilience and incredible spirit, for she took over the family business and ran the bakery in the village. She was assisted by a journeyman baker, Henry Thompson, and her eldest daughter, my great-grandmother, Ann, who was only a child at the time. It was discovering that Mary Ann took on the bakery that made me develop a great admiration for her. She had a young family, including a tiny baby, and even though she probably had little choice but to take on the business, I still applaud her 'keep calm and carry on' attitude.

In 1885, Mary Ann married again. John Randall was a local man who worked as a general labourer. He had been born and bred in Tempsford, and the couple settled down to married life in the village that had been her home for the last 18 years. Mary Ann's propensity to give birth to girls continued with the birth of Alice, Florence and Winifred Mary.

Samuel Hardwick, died 1917
However, life was to deliver some harsh blows to Mary Ann, particularly in relation to her children. In 1882, two years after the death of her first husband and whilst still a young widow, her second born child Fanny died at the age of eleven. If that wasn't bad enough, eight years later, Mary Ann and John Randall's eldest, Alice, died of tubercular meningitis. She was 13 years old. And then came the war. Mary Ann's only son, Sam, was serving with the Royal West Surrey Regiment in France in 1917 when he was mortally wounded and later died of his wounds. Mary Ann outlived three of her children, a not un-common feature of life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But it must have been devastating to lose two daughters to illness and then her only son in such a violent manner.

Mary Ann and John lived together in Tempsford until his death in 1928. She outlived him by three years and died at the ripe old age of 82.

Mary Ann, for me, is one of those ancestors that I just took to straight away. I admire how she stepped into her husband's flour-covered apron and made a living for herself and her family. Her's wasn't an easy life, it was marred by too much tragedy, but she survived, picked up the pieces and carried on. And because of that, she'll always be one of my heroes.

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