Eliza Wells (1863 – 1898)
Eliza Wells was born in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, England on 04 May 1863 to parents James Wells and Selina Gray1. She was the first girl in the family, with older brothers Walter, Alfred and James2. She was to remain the only girl as she had younger brothers Joseph, Edward and Richard2.
At the time she was born, her father was a coprolite labourer. Cambridgeshire’s oddest industry was coprolite-digging, the extraction of phosphatised clay nodules for fertiliser. Coprolites occurred in a belt from Soham to Barrington and were exhausted in a rush between 1850 and 1890. It was an industry unique in England. Nodules were excavated in trenches, yielding 300 tons an acre7.
In 1871, Eliza was living at home with her parents and brothers at 140 High Town in Burwell, Cambridgeshire. Both of her parents were working as agricultural labourers as were her three older brothers. Eliza and her younger brothers were in school2.
By 1881, the two oldest boys had moved on. Walter was working as a butler in St. Mary Cray, Bromley, London, and Fred was working as an agricultural labourer in in the same county in Fordham, Newmarket. James was also working as a butler, though at the time of the census was unemployed and living at home. Joseph and Edward were working as labourers and Richard, at 13, was still in school3. Farm labourers had a hard life. Their wages were very small and hours were long. While many children worked on the farm at a young age, as labourers were paid by age when they were young and farm owners could save money by hiring two boys rather than one man7,8, it is good to see that Eliza’s family was still able to keep the children in school until they were older. At that time they were living at 33 Neunham Road in Burwell3.
Although the census shows all occupations of her brothers, it does not list an occupation for Eliza. She was old enough to be out of school and working, but we are unsure what she was doing at that time. What we do know is that by 1884 she was working as a domestic servant in Mildenhall, Lakenheath, Suffolk9. She had her first child Agnes Glover while living at Mill Street. The father’s name is not listed, though his last name Glover can be assumed by the name given the baby.
Two years later, Eliza was living in Fordham, which is between Mildenhall and Burwell, when she married Charles Parr. Charles is listed as an agricultural labourer, yet again Eliza has no occupation listed5.
Charles and Eliza were blessed with several children (years are approximate based on census data). Fanny Ellen in 1887, Alice Maud in 1889, and a son Harvey Charles William in 1890. In 1891 they continued to live in Fordham at 218 Peachy Street4.
Later that year, Charles and Eliza added Elizabeth to the family followed in two years later by Fred and Ruth in the following year10.
Four years later, on 16 July 1898, at the age of 35, Eliza died of tuberculosis6. This was the single most common cause of death among rural women at that time. Some argue that this was caused by the fact that in poor agricultural areas, the women’s diet tended to be worse than men and therefore women were more susceptible to infectious diseases11.
1Births (CR) England. RD: Newmarket, Burwell, Newmarket, Cambridgeshire. 04 May 1863. WELLS, Eliza.
2Census. 1871. England and Wales. Burwell, Newmarket, Cambridgeshire. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VFFD-PNF : accessed 11 December 2017.
3Census. 1881. England and Wales Census. Burwell, Newmarket, St. Mary’s, Cambridgeshire.https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q27C-L4R4: 11 December 2017.
4Census. 1891. England and Wales. Fordham, Newmarket, East Cambridge, Cambridge. https://www.ancestry.ca: accessed 2018.
5Marriages (CR) England. Fordham, Cambridge. 29 June 1886. PARR, Charles and WELLS, Eliza. 403.
6Deaths (CR) England. RD: Newmarket, Fordham, Soham, Cambridgeshire. 16 July 1898. PARR, Eliza.
9Births (CR) England. RD: Mildenhall, Mill Street, Mildenhall RS W, Lakenheath, Suffolk. 22 April 1884. GLOVER, Agnes.
10Census. 1901. England. Sonnett, St. Nicholas, Kennett, Cambridgeshire. https://www.ancestry.ca: accessed 2018.