A Message from Dear Mrs Pennyman
Below is the story of Mary Wright which has very kindly been written up for the project by Mary's great granddaughter, Carol Ellis. I am sure you will enjoy reading it as much as we did. Thank you Carol!
Mary Wright nee Crowther
By Carol Ellis
My maternal great grandmother was a Yorkshire woman who, as a teenager, took on the care of 3 children after their mother, Sarah Wright, died of consumption in 1875. John was 8, Christiana 6 and Mary Hannah 4. I have no idea if the young Mary was Sarah’s friend, a neighbour or a carer but she must have been a support to my great grandfather, James.
Three years later, in 1878, twenty-one-year-old Mary, gave birth to William, the first of her 11 children with James.
The 1881 census says James was a drayman. His fourteen-year-old son is a coalminer and the household has seven to feed since the arrival of Dick in 1880.
Baby Jim arrives in 1883 and Mary gets her man; she and James marry in October 1883!
Ernest, Lawrence, Sam and Fred all arrive before the 1891 census which says that James is a carter and their home has seven children, and five adults. As well as James and Mary, there’s James’ older widowered brother and a boarder and wife. Hopefully these adults will provide some extra income for Mary.
Three more children, Harry, Hiram and finally a girl, Amelia, are born before the 1901 census. Sam died in 1896. My grandfather, Edward Wright, is born to James and Mary in 1902
James is still in work as a carter but whether the work is regular is not clear. They live in the working class mill town of Bradford, West Yorkshire, cheek by jowl with others who also may have come from farming stock in rural North Yorkshire, as he did, drawn by the hope of work.
Mary is widowed in 1905 and is left to care for the six children still at home. Edward is 3, Amelia 6, Hiram 9, Harry 12, Fred 14, Lawrence 19. I’ve no idea how she coped financially but folklore suggests that the weekly pay packet was given to the woman of the house and the man was given his spends. So, Harry, Fred and Lawrence would be the providers. Maybe the older boys, now married and living away, would still pass their Mum a few coppers.
The 1911 census confirms 11 children born, 10 living. Mary, aged 53, is living in a three-roomed back-to-back house in the crowded mill streets of Bradford, 6 persons, 4 males and 2 females. The three older boys Fred, Harry and Hiram are working in textiles; Amelia is 12, a part-time scholar but also a worsted spinner and my 8 year-old grandfather is a scholar, no doubt playing football in the streets. ‘Dodger’ Eddie Wright grew up to be a talented footballer.
It’s hard to imagine the life of a 53 year old woman in 1911, washing, cleaning, shopping, baking and cooking in a smoky and dirty mill town but one interesting thing about her is that in 1883, when she married James, her marriage certificate signature is an illiterate ‘X’. By 1911 the census is handwritten by the householder, Mary was the householder. I like to think of her as having been a strong-minded lady who alongside her children learned the skill of writing, maybe she and Amelia practised together by the light of the coal fire.
In 1913 her son Hiram enlisted in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, travelling to Halifax to do it. He was 16, therefore under-aged, as the minimum age was 18. Ian Martin of the KOSB Regimental Museum informed me that it’s likely he gave a false date of birth and possibly chose to enlist in a Scottish regiment because of parental opposition. I guess Mary was not pleased.
So, six months in Berwick upon Tweed for basic training, then to Ireland and then to France, Nueve Eglise, late December 1914. To be eligible for front line service he would have to be 19 which would be approx. July 1915. Quoting Ian Martin again, ‘on the 4/5th July 1915 the battalion moved into the line at Carnoy, then a very quiet sector, where it was able to rebuild over the ensuing months.’ So, Hiram may have had a relatively gentle initiation for a few months.
But by the 1st March 1916 the battalion returned to the Somme and Hiram died on the 31st July 1916. His body was never found but Hiram is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. He would have been 20.
My Mary Wright story has to jump a few years now.
My grandfather Edward, the last child of James and Mary, married Clara Bradley in 1923 and they had two children, Kenneth and Wynne - my mother. Family stories begin to be shared and I start looking seriously at family history.
The rather stern photographs of Mary are embellished by information researched, a maiden name, Crowther, and some dates. My grandfather told the family story about ‘Our Iram’(sic), he said, ‘that he went to war, but didn’t come home, wasn’t dead and must have met and married someone over there, ‘cos mother never got a pension for him.’
As family historian when looking for information about Hiram I was surprised to find out about the KOSB and indebted to the Regimental Museum for sending so much information including a copy of the memorial scroll that the next of kin would receive (left).
Goodness knows how Mary coped but that’s what war mothers and widows did and my understanding of her life from 1911 to 1930 is very limited. My mother, Wynne, born in 1927 remembers her grandmother Mary living with her parents for periods of time as well as with Aunty Amelia, and Uncle Harry. She also remembers as a 3 year old being chased around a kitchen table by Mary because she would not go to bed!
Mary Wright died, aged 74, in 1932, at the home of her son Harry Wright.
Mary photographed with Amelia, Hazel and Clarice.