Martha Stickley and the workhouse

Pauper_Memorial_West Bromwich

Paupers memorial, West Bromwich. ‘This memorial stands in recognition of the people who passed through the workhouse system and to the memory of all those buried unmarked in paupers graves.’

Martha Stickley was one of many cousins of my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Stickley (who married Henry Shayler in 1858). Both Martha and Elizabeth were born in North Moreton, Berkshire, and grew up in the village where most of their relations worked as agricultural labourers.

Martha was baptised on 22 July 1855 at All Saints in North Moreton, and was the oldest child of Charles and Ann Stickley (nee Wing). She appears in the census of 1861 (aged 6) and again in 1871 (aged 15) with her parents and by 1871 she had four younger siblings. Martha’s father was a carter on one of the local farms so he would not have earned very much and they would not have had many material comforts.   

In the summer of 1872 when Martha was 15 going on 16, she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptised at All Saints church. The parish register gives no indication as to who Elizabeth’s father was. Five years later Martha’s son  Joseph was born. He was also baptised at the village church in November 1877 and once again no father is named in the register of baptisms. However on 12th January 1878, a small item was reported in the Berkshire Chronicle: 

‘Joseph Warwick of North Moreton was ordered to pay 1s 6d per week for sixteen years towards the support of the illegitimate child of Martha Stickley, of the same place’. 

So it seems that Joseph Warwick was baby Joseph’s father and Martha must have been able to provide sufficient evidence of paternity for the magistrates to make this order. These affiliation orders were the only way most women could make the father take responsibility for illegitimate children. It wasn’t easy for women in Martha’s situation to provide enough evidence to convince the magistrates and even if an order was made it was often difficult to get the money. We just have to hope that Joseph Warwick paid at least some money towards his son’s support. Joseph’s other option was to marry Martha but he clearly didn’t want to do that and a few years later he married someone else.  

Things did not go well for Martha after Joseph’s birth and by 1881 she and her two children were living in the Wallingford Union Workhouse, about 3 miles from North Moreton. At this time, Martha was 25 years old, her daughter Elizabeth was 10 and Joseph was 3 years old. It seems likely that Martha’s parents decided they couldn’t support her and her children in the family home and she had no choice but to go to the nearest workhouse. 

Wfd workhouse foundation stone

An inscribed stone from Wallingford Union Workhouse, now in Wallingford Museum. ‘Erected at the expence of the united parishes of St Mary the More, St Peter and St Leonard in the borough of Wallingford An: Dom: 1807’

For those who know Wallingford, the workhouse was situated to the west of the town on the Wantage Road. It later became St Mary’s hospital which was eventually knocked down and replaced with houses on streets now called Atwell Close and McMullan Close. You can read more about the history of Wallingford workhouse at  

Life in the workhouse was not designed to be fun and it was a place of last resort for those who could not support themselves and their families. You wore a uniform and had few if any of your own possessions. You were given work to do, and men, women and children were kept in separate buildings, so children were often separated from their parents at a very young age. Workhouses were run on very regimented lines, but you did at least have a roof over your head and regular meals. I’m sure Martha would not have gone there if she’d had any choice. 

In 1886 Martha was still living in the workhouse when she gave birth to her third child, who was christened Martha Amelia Stickley at St Mary’s church in Wallingford on 16th May. And three years later, on 1st January 1889, Martha’s fourth child Thomas was born. Interestingly, Thomas was registered as Thomas Stickley on his birth certificate but he was baptised (at Cholsey church) as Thomas Lane, son of Martha and William. 

Later in the same year, when she was 33 years old, Martha married William Lane, a widower 20 years her senior who was already the father of five children before they met. Next time, I’ll write about Martha and William’s life together from 1889 onwards.   


More about workhouses at

Wallingford museum has lots of interesting exhibits covering a broad range of historical periods –


Photo of pauper memorial – Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK [CC BY 2.0 (] 


6 thoughts on “Martha Stickley and the workhouse

  1. Impressive and well researched. I am wondering if you or someone on your family have researched the origins of the Stickley name? I just watched one of those ‘Reel History’ documentaries on line and they concluded that the Stirling Man may have been one John de Stickley, am English Knight who died of an arrow wound at Stirling in 1341. They concluded that his family had died out, but they don’t seem to have done much of a rummage for them. They didn’t do a place name search, or a College of Arms search. Could he be a long long lost relative of yours?


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