The death of a child

William Martin died aged 10 in 1890 when he was entrusted with a horse and cart. The Factory Act (1891) could have protected him and many others from a working childhood.

Long before health and safety was invented, before ‘risk assessments’ unified a workforce with a sigh, and compulsory education was implemented, children were commonplace in factories, mines and other workplaces.

William was the fourth of the twelve children of my Great Great Grandparents, James Martin and his wife Sarah Elizabeth (née Giddings), and one of two of their children to die that year.

An inquest was held at Pyemoor, on the body of William Martin, a boy of ten years of age. He was entrusted, the previous day, with a horse and manure cart. He was lifted on the horse and afterwards found face downwards on the ground with an internal injury and died before the doctor arrived. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”, expressing their disapproval of children so young being entrusted with a horse and cart, the boy’s master being one of the jury – 31st July 1890.

Like most of those families living in fenland during the 19th century, children working in agriculture meant that the family could afford to keep food on their table and avoid the workhouse.

Whether William, at 10yrs of age, was employed or whether he was just there, is unclear (‘master’ may have been employer or his father), but his accidental death would never have been an easy situation to deal with.

The Factory Act (1878-1901)

The Factory Act (1878) meant that children under the age of 10 could not be employed in any trade, and that compulsory education ran up until the age of 10.

Group of child workers from the 19th century.
A group of unknown Victorian child workers.

This act was key at keeping the youngest of children away from dangerous environments such as mills, mines, glassworks, and other industries with heavy machinery – or at least it meant that those who continued to employ children under 10 could be prosecuted (and this was quite common).

The act also meant that 10-14yr old children were allowed to work half-days.

The act was revised again in 1891, upping the age to 11 years, and again with the introduction of The Factory and Workshop Act in 1901 to 12 years.

The slow pace of laws to protect children in the UK, and the harsh reality of bringing up a family on a railway labourer’s wage, may have contributed to William going to work at aged 10 on that fateful day.

Surname Saturday: GIDDINGS

Surname Saturday – it’s the turn of the Giddings family from Fleet, Lincolnshire and later from March, Cambridgeshire.

My Giddings ancestry from Lincolnshire and later from Cambridgeshire provides me with one of my favourite photographs in my collection.

Elizabeth Giddings (1831-19??)

At some point between October 1791 and December 1793 my 5x Great Grandparents Thomas Giddings and his wife Rebecca (née Watson) left the village of Fleet on the border of Lincolnshire and brought their family of at most 3 children to March, Cambridgeshire.

By 1798 the couple had grown the family to 5 children with the youngest, Daniel Watson Giddings (my Gt x4 grandfather) having been born that year.

The Giddings family appear to have been Baptists, attending The Providence Baptist Church in March – this is certainly the place of many of their appearances in parish records.

Illegitimacy

In 1852, my Gt x3 Grandmother Elizabeth Giddings (pictured) gave birth to my Gt x2 Grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Giddings. This must have been a real test for both Elizabeth and Sarah as illegitimacy was heavily frowned upon during this period and both mother and child would have bore the weight of the ‘disgust’ of the community they lived in. Elizabeth would have been encouraged to marry. Despite this, Elizabeth remained unmarried for another 10 years, finally marrying a Charles Lincoln from Potton, Bedfordshire in 1862. Together they had a daughter, Jane.

Tragedy

Sarah Elizabeth married my Gt x2 Grandfather James Martin from Little Downham, Cambridgeshire and the couple settled down to rear a family of 13 children. Sarah must have been as tough as her mother, as she saw six of her children plus a son-in-law and daughter-in-law all go to the grave in her lifetime. One son died as an infant, another was killed when he fell from a horse as a working child. She then lost a daughter and son-in law, and two sons as a result of the First World War. I’m unsure of the cause of death for one of her daughters and her daughter-in-law. All in all, Sarah and her family suffered terrible losses.

Sarah died just five years after her mother in 1925, aged 72 years at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.