Wednesday, 18 July 2012

East Anglia meets Eastenders?

For years I've wondered what happened to my great-great-great-great aunt, Sarah Kisby (b. 1815). After convincing myself she died in south London with her illegitimate daughter, I've now solved the mystery. She died in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, only 3 miles from where she was born.

Chatteris Workhouse
Sarah's life reads like a story line in a soap opera. In 1834 she had an illegitimate daughter, Mary Ann, with a local man, Thomas Corby. In 1837 she gave birth to another baby, a son Charles, in Chatteris Workshouse - maybe she had gone to Chatteris to avoid the scandal?

In 1838 she married local farm labourer, Jonathan Catling. Charles and Mary Ann appear as Catling's in the 1841 census. Sarah and Jonathan had several children together. Then Sarah has probably the worst year of her life, when in 1848 her baby daughter Alice died, followed at Christmas by her husband Jonathan.

At this point the trail ran dry. I imagined Sarah may have left the Whittlesey area to make a new life. I found a Sarah Catling of the correct age (born March, Cambridgeshire) living in London with an anonymously named Miss M. A. Watts. I convinced myself this was the embarassed bastard daughter, Mary Ann, who had assumed a pseudonym!

But the real story was closer to home. Very close. Next door, in fact. In the 1851 Census Sarah Catling, a widow, was living next door to a Robert Haylock, his wife and young children. Robert is a full ten years younger than Sarah. Robert's wife Mary dies before she is 30 and, in 1857, he marries Sarah Catling. Mind you, they marry several weeks after the baptism of their new son John, thereby keeping up the disregard for timeous birth control and moral values! In fact Robert had accepted an illegitimate daughter, Mary Jane, into his first marriage. And to top this all, Sarah has a mystery daughter (another Alice) who is born several years after her first husband dies and a couple of years before her next door neighbour in widowed. I hope you're keeping up!

Well, for good or ill, Sarah's second marriage lasted for over 30 years. She ended her days as Sarah Haylock living in the middle of Whittlesey and finally expiring in 1898, at almost 83 years old. What a very long and productive life!!

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