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: BURNELL

The Burnell family moved from Somerset to London, on to Bedfordshire and then on to Cambridgeshire.

Travelling around 300 miles, the Burnell family went from Devon to Somerset to Middlesex to Bedfordshire and on to Cambridgeshire.

When looking back at the families in my ancestry, few are more travelled (so far) as the Burnell family. The family have covered 5 counties in just over 200 years. That doesn’t sound like such an achievement by modern day standards, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a journey. It was a journey for work – a journey for survival.

Back in the 1790s, the family was living in Combe Florey, Somerset. Robert Burnell and his wife Martha (née Evans – a Welsh connection?) were married in the parish in January 1816. It appears that Robert had come from Morebath, Devon, whilst Martha was a resident of the parish.

The couple had at least four children, with Samuel as the oldest – born just 2 months after his parents’ wedding. I have no record of what became of Samuel’s three sisters: Caroline, Mary and Maria – although each are born years apart, suggesting that perhaps there were more siblings.

Samuel Burnell married Mary (neé Babbidge) at Combe Florey on Christmas Day in 1839 (both illiterate) and together they bore a total of 12 children, including my Gt Gt Grandfather George Burnell in 1850. By 1861, Samuel is noted as a ‘road contractor’ and the family (by then almost complete) are living in poor houses.

The road to Middlesex

Their son and my ancestor, George, went off to work in what was then Middlesex, but is now absorbed by Greater London. In 1880 he married Miss Mary Ann Barker of Barkway, Hertfordshire. They married in All Saint’s Church, St John’s Wood on 9th May 1880, both naming residence as ’46 Abbey Road’ – a road that would find fame around 80 years later.  In 1885, my Great Grandmother Daisy Burnell was born in the Stables in Abercorn Place, London – an area that Charles Booth categorised in the two highest categories (‘Middle class well-to-do’ and ‘Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy’) of his Poverty Classification system.

However, whilst this sounds like the family may have hit wealth in this part of London, they were undoubtedly servants to the wealthiest people of London.

A new start in Bedfordshire

By 1889, the couple and their four children left for Dunstable, where George became the landlord for ‘The Royal Oak’ in Church Street, Dunstable in Bedfordshire. Sadly, George died soon after in June 1891, leaving his pregnant widow with a young family and £75 13s 4d (worth today at about £4,500).

Seeking Hope in Cambridgeshire

Seeking to make ends meet, a pregnant Mary took her young mourning family off to Littleport, Cambridgeshire. Here they made a new start in the company of The Hope Brothers – a clothing manufacturing business.

Mary later re-married to James Smith, and appears to have died in 1929.