A number of years ago I wrote an article for Practical Family History about child farm workers. Children as young as six were employed on farms predominantly in East Anglia. The Children’s Employment Commission published reports in the 1860s which led amongst other things to the Gangs Act 1868. One of the main provisions was that no child under eight was to be employed in an agricultural gang. The Education Act of 1870 decreed that education became compulsory between the ages of 5 and 10.

Living in a rural area here in Hook Norton there were many children recorded in the 1861 census who were working as either ploughboys or farmer’s boys. My intention was to write a “factional” account of the life of one of these boys. I chose Richard Phillips as my “subject”. However, having looked into his life using my subscriptions to Ancestry and Find my Past and other sources his real life story, I felt, was more interesting than my original plan.

Richard was born in the village and baptised in the parish church of St Peter on 12 November 1848. His parents Thomas and Mary, nee Rogers had been married in Hook Norton the previous December. Thomas, a labourer was born in the village, while Mary, a servant, was a native of Bloxham. Thomas made his mark on the marriage certificate while Mary was able to sign it.

Young Richard grew up in the village, however, his education may have been limited. When the 1861 census was taken rather than being recorded as a scholar along with many of his contemporaries, his occupation was that of a ploughboy. The family were living in Albert Cottages, Down End. Richard was the eldest of Thomas and Mary’s six children recorded in the census. The ages ranged from two month old Joseph to Richard at 12. Thomas, at the time was employed as a groom.

While the Phillips family were living in Down End in 1861 Hannah Bartlett and her husband, Thomas, were living in Little Compton. Hannah nee Tidmarsh and Thomas, a stone mason, were both 22 years old, not long married, and had a one year old daughter, Elizabeth. Hannah was the daughter of James Tidmarsh and Eliza, nee Plumb and had been baptised in August 1838.

In Victorian times many new houses were built throughout the country. Stone masons would have been in great demand and it would not be unusual for them to relocate in order to find work or to improve their lifestyle. Therefore, it is not surprising to find the Bartlett family living in Neate Street, Camberwell, London when the next census was taken in 1871. By then Thomas and Hannah had three children. Elizabeth, now 11 and her younger sister, Harriet, 9, were born in Little Compton. However, their one year old son, James, was born in Camberwell.

Richard, too, had moved away from Hook Norton. Strangely enough by 1871 he had moved to Little Compton where he was to be found lodging with the Hickley family. His occupation was that of a carpenter. The lure of work in London drew many workers and it would come as no surprise to find that Richard would make the move there. After all carpenters, like stonemasons, would be very much in demand in a growing population in the city.

UK census’ were taken every ten years and in 1881 we find Richard, now aged 31 living at 78 Henry Street, Woolwich with his wife and family of five children. It would seem natural that in the intervening period between census’ Richard would have married and started a family. The census asked for birthplace and we find that his wife was born in Little Compton. Her name? Hannah, and her age? 42. There was another son listed in the census. James, aged 11, who was born in Camberwell while the other five children were born in Woolwich.

Was Richard’s wife Hannah Bartlett? If so what had happened to Thomas? Successive census’ reveal the family continuing to live in Woolwich, each member of the family ten years older, of course! Richard was still a carpenter, an employee rather than trading on his own account.

James, aged 21, was still living at home in 1891. However, his surname was given as Bartlett and his relationship to the head of the family was a boarder. He was employed as a general labourer. The other children were Henry, 18, Emily 15, William 13, Mary Ann 12 and Herbert, 10. The youngest two were still at school. Emily married John William Motton in September 1899 in Woolwich. Gradually her older siblings left the family home allowing Richard and Hannah to take in two boarders by 1901. 

The final census currently in the public domain is that of 1911. All the children had left the family home, still 78 Henry Street, when this census was taken. Richard, aged 62, was still working as a carpenter, while Hannah was 73. This census was the first to ask how long a couple had been married and the number of children born alive and still living. Richard and Hannah had five children, all of whom were still alive. They said that they had been married for 37 years.

37 years of marriage implies that they were married in 1874. However, a search of marriage records around that time didn’t reveal anything. However, I did find a marriage for them in 1901. They were married on 28 September in St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Southwark. Richard was a 53 year old bachelor while Hannah Bartlett was a 57 year old widow. Their residence at the time of the wedding was Massinger Street in the parish. I presume that they were “temporarily” resident there in order to get married in Southwark rather than Woolwich where they were living with their children. As readers will notice Hannah gave an incorrect age on the marriage certificate. She was actually 62, nine years older than Richard.

The marriage certificate would possibly answer the question about Thomas Bartlett’s death I posed earlier. However, had Hannah only become a widow shortly before their wedding or had she been a widow for a  number of years? As I mentioned the 1911 census implied that they had been married since 1874. There were deaths of a Thomas Bartlett in London, whose ages would match, around both dates of 1874 and 1901. Several members of Ancestry have online family trees showing Thomas Bartlett, however, none have a date of death for him.

Whilst I have not seen their death certificates it would appear that both Richard and Hannah lived to enjoy old age. There is a record of a Richard Phillips dying aged 84 in 1933 and a Hannah Phillips dying aged 87 in 1924, both deaths in Woolwich. The ages given match up with the birth years so I am presuming that they are the principal characters in this story.

However, this article is to leave the reader guessing as to when Thomas actually died and how Richard and Hannah got together. “Living in sin” is not a modern characteristic of life. It has been around for a long time judging by this couple who had been “married” for 50 years when Hannah died in 1924.