Monday, February 6, 2017

Ben Bentley, Gentleman, part 2

Leeds Corn Exchange,
which Ben no doubt visited. Designed by
Cuthbert Brodrick and built in 1863.
Now home to a food emporium and boutique shops.
In my previous post about Ben Bentley I left the unfortunate gentleman languishing in Portland prison in Dorset, after he was arrested for embezzlement. So what became of him and his family?

Ben was released in December 1860, having shown "exemplary" behaviour while in prison. It seems that his time in penal servitude did not damage his reputation or his relationships irreparably. By the time of the census in April 1861 he was back with his family in Dewsbury in Yorkshire and was employed once more as a flour and corn agent (though perhaps not with the same employer). As time went on Ben became a corn dealer, and apparently did quite well for himself.

After the death of his wife Harriet in 1876, Ben married again, to a younger woman named Ann Dove (b 1835). He was still living in Dewsbury and working as a corn dealer in his seventies, but he seems to have retired after that. When he died in 1897 he left an estate of ₤474.11s.1d  (An adult male clerk could earn roughly ₤50 - ₤130 per annum according to newspaper advertisements at the time.) He was buried in the Friends burial ground in Wooldale, near Holmfirth in Yorkshire.

Ben and Harriet's children

Ben might have been pleased that all his sons went into white collar work or skilled trades. But his children had mixed fortunes when it came to money and marriage.

Typesetting using a traditional composing stick.
William, the eldest son (b 1840) became a letter press printer and worked on a weekly newspaper. He married Sarah Ellen Oates in the summer of 1864. By November 1865, according to an item in the Leeds Mercury, he was bankrupt. In 1874 he filed for divorce from Sarah on the grounds of adultery, after she had an affair with a neighbour. He remarried in 1877 to a Mrs Eliza Ann Leonard, but she died only two years later.

Ben and Harriet's eldest daughter Martha Ann (b 1844) died at the age of 16  in June 1861, less than six months after Ben's release from prison.

Ben's second son John Henry (b 1847) followed his brother William to the Friends (Quaker) school at Low Green in Rawdon. As I mentioned previously, the school was unusual for the time in being co-educational. He  became a solicitor's clerk in Huddersfield and married one of his classmates, Hannah Waddington, in 1868.

By the mid 1880's he had risen from being a solicitors' managing clerk to being a solicitor and he and his family were living in Cliffe House in Wooldale (which is possibly why Ben, his father, was buried there). In 1890 John was badly shaken and his left eye was damaged when the mail train in which he was travelling towards London collided with a goods train at Retford. He successfully sued the Great Northern Railway company the following year and was awarded  ₤1800 in damages. Despite this success, his life seemed to go from bad to worse from that point.

In 1898 he was declared bankrupt. In June 1900, in a case that was publicised all over the country,  he was struck off the roll as a solicitor for misappropriating clients' funds. Part of his defence was that he had been suffering from "mental derangement". By 1901 he was back to being a managing clerk in a solicitor's office.

I've already told the story of Ben and Harriet's third son,  Alfred Pearson Bentley (b 1849) in an earlier post. In the light of his childhood experiences and his family background, perhaps his later behaviour seems a little less incomprehensible. At another level it's difficult to understand how he could have abandoned his wife and children as he did, having experienced his own father's disappearance during his early childhood.

Ben and Harriet's younger daughter Harriet (b 1851) was no more fortunate in marriage than her brothers. Her first husband was a foundry worker named Barrett Butler. They married in 1871. Barrett died in 1884, leaving Harriet with four children.

In 1888 Harriet married John Inman, a widowed mechanic and labourer. They were together in Holbeck, near Leeds, in the 1891 census, but by the time the 1901 census was taken, Harriet had separated from Inman and was calling herself Harriet Butler again. She also claimed to be a widow, though Inman was still alive and living in the Holbeck Union workhouse.

The youngest son in Ben and Harriet's family, Walter Smith Bentley, seems to have been the most stable and unremarkable of the four sons (or at least he managed to keep his name out of the newspapers).  Walter was born in 1863, after Ben's release from prison. Like John Henry, he became a solicitor's clerk, but remained in that role for the rest of his life.

In 1887 he married Martha Gosnay at the Friends Meeting House in Dewsbury. They moved south, settling eventually in Stone in Staffordshire. After Martha's death in 1899 he married Ann Childs and they moved to Norfolk.  When he died in 1939 he was living near Shaftesbury in Dorset, not very far from Portland where his father had been in prison. It would be fascinating to know whether he was aware of his father's past connection with Dorset.

Image credits:
1. Leeds Corn Exchange © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under
this Creative Commons Licence
2. Typesetting Image by Wilhei (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], 
via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Harriet Smith

26 January 2017
Name:Harriet SMITH110
Father:James SMITH (    -    )
Mother:Martha NAYLOR (1793-    )
Individual Facts
Birth18 Jul 1817Armley, Yorkshire, England14,610
Baptism14 Sep 1817 (age 0)Bethel Independent OR Congregational, Leeds, York, England810
Residence1841 (about age 24)Bramley, Yorkshire, England6
Residence1851 (about age 34)Relation to Head of House: Wife  Occupation: shop keeper; Leeds, Yorkshire, England1
Residence1861 (about age 44)Relation to Head of House: Wife; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England2
Residence1871 (about age 54)Relation to Head of House: Wife; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England3
Death19 Dec 1876 (age 59)Earls Heaton, Dewsbury, Yorkshire West Riding4,7
Burial22 Dec 1876 (age 59)Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England4
Residence Leeds, West Yorkshire, England10
Residence Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England4
1. Ben BENTLEY (1819-1897)
Marriage21 Oct 1839 (age 22)Tong, Yorkshire, England5
Census (fam)1871 (about age 54)3
 William BENTLEY (1841-    )
 Martha Ann BENTLEY (1845-1861)
 John Harry BENTLEY (1847-    )
 Alfred Pearson BENTLEY (1849-1922)
Harriet BENTLEY (1851-    )
 Walter Smith BENTLEY (1864-1939)


1., 1851 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 2321; Folio: 787; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87549-87552.
        2., 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 3409; Folio: 114; Page: 42; GSU roll: 543127.
        3., 1871 England Census, Class: RG10; Piece: 4603; Folio: 8; Page: 10; GSU roll: 848395.
        4., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/B/2.
        5., West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: 50D90/1/3/6.
        6., 1841 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1342; Book: 11; Civil Parish: Bramley; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 15; Folio: 52; Page: 13; Line: 5; GSU roll: 464285.
        7. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915.
        8., England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970.
        9., England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.
        10., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985.


More about Harriet Smith: 

Ben Bentley

26 January 2017
Name:Ben BENTLEY117
Father:William BENTLEY (1785-1831)
Mother:Ann Wildrick (1785-1849)
Individual Facts
Birth1819Gildersome, Yorkshire, England14,6,9,1214
Baptism22 Aug 1819 Gildersome, St Peter, Yorkshire, England7,10
Census1841 (age 22)Bramley, Yorkshire, England13
Census1851 (age 32)116 West St, Leeds, Yorkshire

Relation to Head of House: Head  Occupation: flour dealer; Leeds, Yorkshire, England1
MiscMar 1853–Apr 1853 (age 34)Letters to editor of Leeds Times; Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Residence17 Apr 1854 (age 35)"Residence: Dewsbury. Assistant in a corn mill"; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England16
Miscellaneous6 Dec 1856 (age 37)Imprisoned for 4 years for embezzelement from his employer; York Assizes, Yorkshire - North Riding, England15
Census1861 (age 42)Flour and corn agent, Bond St, Dewsbury

Relation to Head of House: Head  Flour and corn dealer; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England2
Census1881 (age 62)Market St, Dewsbury

Relation to Head of House: Head Marital Status: Married; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England6
Census1891  (age 72)2 Market St, Dewsbury, Yorkshire

Relation to Head of House: Head  Married to Ann  Occupation corn dealer; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England4
Death21 Sep 1897 (age 78)Westview, Cartworth, Holmfirth, Yorkshire11,14
Burial24 Sep 1897 age 78)Friends (Quaker) burial ground  Wooldale, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England12,14
Probate7 Oct 1897 (age 78)Wakefield, Yorkshire11

1. Harriet SMITH (1817-1876)
Marriage21 Oct 1839 (age 20)Tong, Yorkshire, England5
Census (fam)1871 (age 52) Elm Wood, Dewsbury, Yorkshire3,22
ChildrenAlfred Pearson BENTLEY (1849-1922)
 William BENTLEY (1841-    )
 Martha Ann BENTLEY (1845-1861)
 John Harry BENTLEY (1847-    )
 Harriet BENTLEY (1851-    )
 Walter Smith BENTLEY (1864-1939)
2. Ann DOVE (1835-1900)
MarriageDec Q 1877 (age 58)Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England
1., 1851 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 2321; Folio: 787; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87549-87552.
        2., 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 3409; Folio: 114; Page: 42; GSU roll: 543127.
        3., 1871 England Census, Class: RG10; Piece: 4603; Folio: 8; Page: 10; GSU roll: 848395.
        4., 1891 England Census, Class: RG12; Piece: 3732; Folio: 13; Page: 19; GSU Roll: 6098842.
        5., West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: 50D90/1/3/6.
        6. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 4560; Folio: 13; Page: 20; GSU roll: 1342099.
        7., West Yorkshire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: D26/1/1; New Reference Number: WDP26/1/1.
        8. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837-1915.
        9. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915.
        10., England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.
        11., England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
        12., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/B/2.
        13., 1841 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1342; Book: 11; Civil Parish: Bramley; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 15; Folio: 52; Page: 13; Line: 4; GSU roll: 464285.
        14., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985.
        15., England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, Class: HO 27; Piece: 115; Page: 436.
        16., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/A/2.
        17. Source #1.

More about Ben Bentley:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ben Bentley, Gentleman (part 1)

I mentioned in my last post that when Ben Bentley died in 1897 he was described in the probate calendar as "Ben Bentley, gentleman". Originally a man could only be described as a gentleman if he inherited, or was granted, a coat of arms. By the 19th century the term had started to be applied to anyone who was wealthy enough to live on their own means, without needing to work. Eventually it ceased to describe a person's status altogether, and acquired its current meaning of someone with courteous manners and good behaviour. But which of these meanings applied to Ben?

"Birdseye view of Gildersome"
photo by Simpson Morley (cropped slightly)
courtesy of History of Gildersome
Ben Bentley (1819-1897) seems to have been a man with ambition and a self confidence not always backed by wisdom. He began life in Gildersome, a small village 7 km outside Leeds in West Yorkshire. He was the youngest son of William Bentley, a tailor, and his wife Ann (nee Wildrick), whose families had both lived in the area for several generations.  For reasons known only to his parents, he was baptised plain "Ben" rather than "Benjamin", and continued to be known as Ben throughout his life, even on most official documents. (This fact proved helpful during my research in distinguishing him from the half dozen or so Benjamin Bentleys of similar age living in West Yorkshire in this period.)

Initially he seemed set to follow his father's family into the clothing trade. His first occupation was as a clothier, selling cloth or ready made clothing. But in his twenties he became involved in the grain milling trade. A few years after his marriage in 1839 to Harriet Smith he and his family moved to the inner city area of Leeds. By 1851 he was working as a flour dealer.

Not the Chancellor of the Exchequer

Ben probably had a fairly basic education, but apparently didn't let that stop him from promoting himself. On 12 March 1853 the Leeds Times carried a brief anecdote, titled "Not up in his arithmetic" about a wager made by gentleman farmer with a local agriculturalist. The wager involved the agriculturalist bringing one grain of barley to the farmer at the public house the next Friday, in return for a bottle of wine and a good dinner. The following week he would bring two grains for the same reward, then four, doubling the number of grains each week, for the whole year. The writer finished by saying "We will not insult the intelligence of our readers by working out the sum in detail, as the compositor would find it difficult to find the figures in his news case, but we apprehend the farmer will soon find it to his interest to get off the bet."

Ben Bentley didn't take the hint. The following week, in a letter to the editor signed "Ben Bentley, Kings Mill", he confidently offered his calculation of the amount of barley that the agriculturalist would have to provide. He even calculated how many times the carts required to carry it would stretch around the globe, and how many thousand years it would take to hoist it all into warehouses. He concluded:
"All this may appear to some to be an exaggeration but they who dispute it I should wish them to reckon for themselves, and I have no doubt they will find me correct in my statement.".
It was inevitable that someone would take up his challenge, and on the 26 March the paper published a letter from a correspondent signing himself "Dizzy" which began:
Sir.—Your Friend "Ben"-- not the Chancellor of the exchequer-- tells the public, through your paper, that he has "undertaken the task of reckoning" the amount of barley to be given by the Wakefield agriculturist for his 52 dinners [ ...]
...I should not have noticed this matter had not "Ben" requested that those who disputed his infallibility in figures to reckon for themselves. I have done as desired, and think he is wrong.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time was Benjamin Disraeli, thus the jibe at Ben's name.  "Dizzy" went on to provide his own calculations. The editor added a footnote to this letter politely suggesting that if Dizzy looked at his figures again he would see that they were not quite correct. But neither Dizzy nor Ben were ready to give up this argument.

The following week the correspondence column carried three letters. The first, from Ben Bentley, suggested that there were so many errors in Dizzy's letter that he was not a fit person to rely on for calculations. The second, from Dizzy, admitted that he had made a slight error in copying his calculations into his letter. He went into a long and detailed explanation of how he made his calculations, implying that Ben showed himself to be an amateur in such matters.

The third letter came from James Greaves, "A teacher of the Elementary Improvement Class of the Leeds Mechanics Institution". Ben's calculations were "erroneous", he said, but Dizzy's were equally so. He offered his own elegant solution to the problem. At this point the newspaper editor evidently tired of the matter, and having listed the names of others who had submitted letters on the subject, he let it drop.

Caught out

By the mid 1850's Ben and Harriet had five (surviving) children, including 6 year old Alfred Pearson Bentley. Harriet's family seems to have had connections with various non-conformist congregations in West Yorkshire, and their eldest son William (b 1841) was a border at Low Green school in Rawdon, a co-educational school run by the Quakers (also known as the Friends). Ben was working as a traveller for James Upton Wooller, a wealthy corn miller. Things seemed to be going well for them.

But perhaps Ben placed too much trust in his ability to impress others with figures, and the temptation to improve his income by fiddling the books a little proved too much for him. He began under-reporting how much money he received from his employer's debtors while over-reporting costs. In 1856 he was arrested for embezzlement. The case was reported by both the Leeds Times and the Huddersfield Chronicle when it came to court in August.
Extract from Ben Bentley's prison record
Source: Registers Of Prisoners In The County Prisons Of Wakefield 
HO 23 piece 16. Accessed at

Stealing from a master was a serious offence. The magistrate in Dewsbury committed him for trial in York, without bail. Four months later, on 6 December, he pleaded guilty to having embezzled ₤25 2s and was sentenced to four years penal servitude. He served the first year of his sentence in the prison at York Castle. Then on 23 November 1857 he was moved to Portland prison in Dorset on the south coast, far away from Yorkshire and his family. It was no seaside holiday camp. Convicts from the prison were used to quarry stone and build the breakwaters of Portland harbour.

This conviction must have been a terrible blow for both Ben and Harriet. For a family aspiring to join the new middle class, having a father in prison was a cause of great shame. Dorset was too far away for any sort of regular visits. What would the children be told about their father's long absence? How would they survive for four years without Ben's income? And how would Ben fare doing hard labour in gaol?

More in part 2.

*Corn is the term used in England for wheat and other grains, rather than for sweet corn or maize.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Year's resolutions

Happy New Year! It's a while since I've written any posts. The living members of my family obviously take precedence over those long since departed when it comes to how I spend my time, and the past couple of months have been filled with family events, visits, traumas and travels. But Christmas is over, the visitors have all gone home, the walking wounded are showing signs of getting better, and at last I have an afternoon free.

A couple of years ago I decided that I would alternate each year between writing about my father's side of the family and my mother's. Last year I focused on the Ward and Beales side, which fitted in well with the work I was doing on a book about Susan Mason. The book isn't finished, but it has reached the stage where it's mainly the format rather than the content that needs attention. Writing up the endnotes and references has been a much bigger undertaking than I anticipated, due partly to problems with the software I was using. But now even the references are at the editing stage and I can turn my mind to other research.

So, with the start of a new year it's time to get back to the Ortons and Bentleys. Perhaps I'll start with Ben Bentley, corn dealer, of Yorkshire, who when he died in 1897 was described in the probate records as "gentleman". We don't have many of those in our family history! More about him as soon as I've refreshed my memory for that side of the family.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Jeremiah Whybrew

Oro-Medonte in Ontario, Canada
A distant relative and fellow family historian recently forwarded me a link to an old discussion post about David Whybrew's older brother, Jeremiah. I knew that Jeremiah had migrated to Canada as a young adult, and married there, but that was about it. So it was interesting to learn more about what happened to him. Since then I've done a bit more research and filled in a few gaps.

Jeremiah was David's full brother, sharing not only the same father, James Whybrew, but the same mother, Sarah Baldwin. He was born in Bures St Mary, Suffolk, in about 1830 and was baptised on 6 June 1830. On one genealogy site his name on the baptism record has been transcribed as "Jeremiah Whybread", causing confusion.

More confusion arises around his date of birth because his father James' first wife, Mary Webber, had a child named Jeremiah in 1823. This child almost certainly died in infancy. Though there is no record of his death, I suspect that a burial record for "Jemima Whybrew" aged 3 in Bures St Mary in 1826 is probably his.

The second Jeremiah appears in the 1841 UK census as an 11 year old with the rest of the family in Wormingford. In 1850, after the death of both his parents, he migrated to North America, leaving from Liverpool and arriving in New York on 21 May aboard the Forest Queen. He is described on the passenger list as a labourer. From New York he apparently moved to southern Ontario in Canada and settled in Oro, a small rural community in Simcoe County.

Also aboard the Forest Queen were two families from Essex named Leatherdale, possibly a father and his son with their respective wives and children. Whether Jeremiah knew the Leatherdales before he migrated,  or whether he met them during the journey isn't clear. His name appears directly after theirs on the passenger list, and they also settled in Oro, so perhaps he travelled with them. Whatever the case, he married one of their daughters, Hannah, in 1853.

Jeremiah found work as a carpenter in Oro. He and Hannah had several children born to them there. Their first child, Jeremiah, died in infancy. The others (James, John Thomas, Charles D, George, Mary Ann and Emily) all seem to have reached adulthood.

Some online family trees include a son named William, but the only Canadian-born William that I can find in  the records is the son of a Solomon Whybra and his wife Agnes.  In the 1891 census a William Whybrow, born in 1873, lived in Simcoe County, but he was born in England. (While researching this I discovered that the Canadian Library and Archives site has census records dating back to 1825, which are free to search and view online.)

Hannah is said to have died in 1867, the year  Emily was born. The information sent to me says that the family then broke up and was "bound out". Later records show that several of the children moved  to Michigan, which despite being in the USA, is actually just west of Oro in Canada, due to the way the border weaves through the Great Lakes.

Sadly it seems that Jeremiah may have struggled after the death of Hannah. His death on 6 January 1878 in Simcoe was said by the doctor who wrote the death certificate to be due to "prostration following drink and exposure". It would be interesting to know if Jeremiah had kept contact with any of his family in England and whether or not David or any of his sisters heard of his death.

Image source: By P199 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 16, 2016

The life of a laundress

Several years ago we visited a 'living museum', a house set up and furnished just as it would have been in the early 1900's. The couple who owned and occupied the house tried, as far as possible, to live as the occupants would have lived in that era. The one concession they had made to modern life was the washing machine sitting in a corner of the laundry. They admitted that washing their clothes and bedding the old fashioned way was just too much work, and they couldn't bear to wear their clothes over and over again, as people once did.

Their comments came to mind when I began looking at what the life of a laundress in the 19th century involved. My great great grandmother, Susan Whybrew (nee Mason) described herself as a laundress in the 1891 census, and several newspaper items about her make reference indirectly to this role.

It's likely, for instance, that the bundle Susan was carrying along the street when she slipped and sprained her ankle in 1899 was laundry being returned to a customer (The Essex County Standard West Suffolk Gazette, and Eastern Counties Advertiser (Colchester, England), Saturday, June 03, 1899; pg. 7).

When we see how much work was involved in being a laundress we can also perhaps understand why Susan thought her 20 year old daughter Harriet should have paid her for washing her collar and cuffs (Essex Standard, 20 October 1888, p 8) . Delicate lace collars and cuffs were usually made removable so that they could be washed, dried and starched separately, but this all added to the work load.

'Twas on a Monday morning...

Until the invention of the electric-powered washing machine in the early 1900's, washing clothes was a long, laborious task. Before the turn of the century many homes had no running water on tap, particularly in working class areas, so the water had first to be carried from a pump or well. This was likely to be at the bottom of a hill or down the street. A full wash required many gallons of water.

The water then had to  be heated in a copper, a large metal boiler set in a brick firebox in the corner of the kitchen or scullery, until it was hot enough to dissolve the soap and the grease on the clothes. The fire would be lit very early in the morning to have the water ready for the laundry after breakfast.

The clothes (which must often have been quite smelly) had to be sorted, soaked if necessary, treated for stains, then washed in a wooden tub or stone trough, using a bar of lye soap and a wooden 'dolly' to agitate and pound them. White clothes and sheets, as well as tougher, dirtier work clothes, were often boiled (separately) in the copper itself. After being put through a wringer, rinsed twice and starched, the wet clothes were wrung out and flattened using a mangle, and then hung to dry - outside in rural areas, but inside on racks in industrial areas where soot and other particles polluted the atmosphere.

Once the clothes were dry they were ironed using a heavy flat iron heated on the stove. Often several irons would be used, so that one could be in use while the others were re-heating. The whole process of soaking, washing, drying and ironing took several days, so the laundry was usually started on a Monday in order to have it done by Saturday afternoon.

Families saved up their laundry for as long as possible so that it could all be done at once, typically every few weeks if they had enough clothes to last that long. Nothing was put in the wash that could be spot-cleaned, and even underwear was worn several times before being washed. If they could afford to pay someone else to do their laundry, they did.

An unladylike occupation

Being a laundress, working independently or in a commercial laundry in one of the bigger cities, was one of the few occupations open to married women and widows. It could mean the difference between making ends meet and destitution for those without a husband's income or for women whose husbands had seasonal jobs, or who were poorly paid, as was the case for common soldiers such as David Whybrew.

Being a laundress allowed mothers to work at home and keep their children with them, though they were occupied with washing and ironing from early in the morning to late at night. The children were often used as unpaid labour to help with tasks such as carrying water, turning the mangle and hanging clothes. They also had to live with the steamy atmosphere, lines of wet washing, and the smell of damp clothes and laundry soap.

Because laundresses were often poorly educated, physically strong, independent women, who effectively ran their own businesses, they were considered 'unladylike' and lacking in social respectability. As a soldier's wife, Susan Whybrew was already pretty close to the bottom of the social heap. Being a laundress simply added another layer to her outsider status. Nevertheless, her labours helped to keep her family afloat.