Sunday, April 12, 2015

Alice Hough - a hard life cut short

Salford Quays, (Manchester Dock no 9) in 1900
Alice Hough, my maternal great grandmother, was the fourth generation of her family to be born in Salford, Lancashire. Salford had changed drastically in those four generations. Alice, born in 1879, would have been in her teens when the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, leading to the development of the Salford docks. This major inland port would employ thousands of people, including her future husband, Walter.

Alice's father, Albert Hough, was a brickmaker, a trade that would have been much in demand as Salford and Manchester grew explosively. Despite that, brickmakers were not well paid nor much respected. Until the process was mechanised, brickmaking was seasonal work that often meant being itinerant.

Perhaps that's why Alice seems to have had such an unsettled childhood, from the little I can find out about her. Her parents Albert and Anna* were not living together when the census was taken in 1881. Whether for financial or other reasons, Anna and little Alice were boarding with her brother-in-law, John Hough and his family, while Albert seems to have been boarding with a family named Mcelory (sic).

Alice and her brother Albert (born 1882) were not baptised until December 1885 when she was 6 and he was 3 years old, again suggesting that the family might not have been very stable before then. Even in 1891 Anna, along with her children Alice, Albert, Harriet (born 1887) and James (1890) was boarding with a family named Lockett, while Albert senior's whereabouts are unknown.

However when Alice's brother John was born in 1892 he was baptised fairly promptly and the family's address was recorded as 24 Buckingham St, Pendleton. They had moved to 24 Hayfield St, Pendleton by the time the youngest child Elizabeth was baptised in 1895. Sadly Alice's sister Harriet had  died in the previous year, at the age of 6.

In February 1898, when she was 18 years old, Alice married Walter Horatio Bentley. Walter was a crane driver, who like Alice was born in Salford, though neither of his parents were local.

Their first son, Walter, was born in June of that year. Within 12 months Walter senior's mother Annie (aged 50) and Alice's mother Anna (40) both died. This left Alice's younger siblings without a mother.

It seems that the 19 year old Alice stepped in to fill the gap. In the 1901 census she and Walter had her father, Albert Hough, and her four siblings Albert (18), James (10) John (8) and Elizabeth (5) living with them. The siblings are described on the census as 'step brothers' and 'step sisters', but this is probably a mistake.

A second child, Alice Hannah, was born to Alice and Walter in July 1901, followed by Margaret Annie in April 1904, Harriet Ann in 1906 and Albert in December 1907. Alice's brothers and sister were still living with them, so the house must have been very overcrowded.

Like her mother Anna, the hard-working Alice did not live to see her children grow up. In November 1909, at the age of 30, she died. According to my cousin David, her death certificate gave the cause of death as "Acute dementia and exhaustion (after childbirth)".

The phrase "acute" dementia suggests that her illness may have been a complication of giving birth to another child in 1909, as Albert would already have been nearly 2 years old by then. However, I haven't been able to find any record of a such a child. Possibly Alice had a stillborn child who was never registered.

Another possibility is that the death certificate is describing what we would now call post-natal depression or psychosis  that began after Albert's birth. Many medical terms have changed their meaning over time and it's sometimes difficult to know what was meant.

Whatever the cause, Walter was left with five young children to care for. His father-in-law, Albert Hough, had died sometime earlier, (possibly in 1904 or 1905) but the 1911 census indicates that Alice's four siblings were still living with Walter in Penny St, Pendleton - a total of ten people in a three roomed house.

Alice's sister Elizabeth, known as Lily, seems to have taken over the care of the young ones. Walter never remarried.

Salford Quays 2006
(used under a CC license from wikimedia)

*Alice's mother, Anna Holt, married Albert Hough in Stowell Memorial church, Salford, in 1878. There is some uncertainty about what they should be called, since Albert's name was recorded as "Alfred Hough" on the church marriage register, while Anna also appears as 'Hannah' on the 1881 census and some of the children's baptism records. For consistency I will refer to them as Albert and Anna.

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