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 (] 


Shaylers in the papers

It is amazing what you can find out about your ancestors by searching old newspaper archives. I had a look for Shaylers in the Wallingford / North Moreton area and came up with a few gems, such as this small advert from the Berks and Oxon Advertiser in 1937 for my Grandad’s taxi / car hire company. 

Advert B&O advertiser 19 Feb 1937
The family lived at 10 Station Road for years. The house is still there, opposite what was then Wallingford Grammar School and next to the Fire Station. I don’t know where Harris’ Garage was though.

A couple of years later in January 1939 my grandparents are mentioned again in the paper, as mourners at the funeral of Thomas Henry Shayler, my grandad’s uncle.

Capture funeral 1939According to the Reading Mercury, Thomas had worked for the Great Western Railway for 51 years and had retired 12 years earlier. Other mourners included Thomas’s two sisters Elizabeth and Mary (known as Bessie and Polly – read more about Bessie here), and various other nephews, nieces, cousins, ex-colleagues and acquaintances from Northbourne (where he lived) and North Moreton (where he was born). It is quite a long piece which suggests to me that Thomas was well respected in the community. He had done well to reach the age of 79 and survived all three of his younger brothers. He also outlived two wives but didn’t have any children.  

Much earlier than this, in 1880, Charles Shayler (a cousin of my 2 x great grandfather Henry Shayler) moved his family from North Moreton to the USA and this advert from the Oxford Journal shows what he wanted to sell before they left. 

Capture 1880 C Shayler sale of goods

They sailed from Liverpool a few weeks later, arriving in New York on 12th July 1880. After a short time in New York, the Shayler family settled in Columbus, Ohio, where Charles became a policeman. His son Ernest Shayler became Bishop of Nebraska in 1919 and in 1943 he wrote about his early life in England.  Ernest also attended Wallingford Grammar School but had to walk there and back from North Moreton most days, about 3 and a half miles in each direction. I expect he’d have preferred to live across the road at no 10 Station Road!

The old Wallingford Grammar School, now converted into housing

Photo of Wallingford Grammar School by Bill Nicholls, CC BY-SA 2.0,


God’s Wonderful Railway


The Railway Station by William Powell Frith (Paddington station)

This week’s 52 ancestors theme is ‘transport’ so I’m focusing on two families who worked for the Great Western Railway – or God’s Wonderful Railway as it was known to some. This theme also ties in nicely with an online course I’ve recently completed called Working lives on Britain’s railways – highly recommended!   Continue reading “God’s Wonderful Railway”

Bertha Welby’s African experience

Continuing my Welby family theme, this is the story of Bertha Welby, who was the sister of Ellen and Rose Welby, niece of Hannah Welby, Daniel Welby and Alfred Welby, cousin of Kate Welby and granddaughter of William and Hannah Welby

Bertha was born in Canterbury in December 1860, the 6th child of William and Ann Welby. Her early years were spent at home with her family, but by 1891 when she was 29 years old, Bertha had trained as a nurse and had travelled to Africa. Continue reading “Bertha Welby’s African experience”

Accidentally drowned – Alfred Welby 1829-66

St Peter's Church adjusted

St Peter’s Church, Canterbury

Last week I wrote about Daniel Lepine Welby who died at the age of 17 in a shooting accident. This time, I’m focusing on his brother Alfred Welby who also died before his time – the younger members of the Welby family do seem to have been very unlucky. Continue reading “Accidentally drowned – Alfred Welby 1829-66”

It’s my first blogiversary!

800px-Birthday_cake,_Downpatrick,_April_2010_(01)This week marks the first anniversary of my family history blog so I thought a quick review was in order. 

I was very nervous before starting the blog as I’d never written anything like this before. But I’d been researching my family history for about 10 years and wanted a way of sharing my findings with family members so a blog seemed like the obvious solution. I got some positive feedback after the first few posts so I have become a bit more relaxed about it now and enjoy both the research and the writing.    Continue reading “It’s my first blogiversary!”

Accidental Death – Daniel Lepine Welby 1832-49

Daniel was the youngest of fourteen children born to my 3 x great-grandparents William and Hannah Welby. The family lived in Canterbury, Kent where William Welby was a baker. The 1841 census shows Daniel living with his parents, four of his brothers and one sister in St Peter’s Street where the family home and bakery was situated. 

Daniel would have received some schooling as a boy and was then apprenticed to a Mr Pierce who was a tinman and ironmonger in the St George’s area of Canterbury. As was usual in these circumstances Daniel lived with the Pierce family and it was there that a terrible accident occurred on Sunday 29 April 1849 when Daniel was just 17 years old.  Continue reading “Accidental Death – Daniel Lepine Welby 1832-49”