Monday, 26 May 2014

52 Ancestors - Brief Glimpses of Glamour

Betsey Silvester 1835 - 1913

Betsey was one of those women who seem destined to only ever get a glimpse of, rather than live, a glamorous lifestyle.  She was born in the uber-fashionable spa town of Cheltenham, lived in Regent's Park in London, and her son became a wealthy and respected businessman.  Yet she was only a spectator to the good life, and in fact spent most of her life eeking out the pennies in tiny terrace houses in Leicester.

Betsey is the first one of my ancestors on my father's side to be featured on my blog - she is my third great grandmother.

She was born in Cheltenham in 1835 to Thomas and Martha Silvester.  I am not sure how she came to be born there, as there doesn't seem (as yet) to be any previous familial link with Cheltenham. The Spa town was in its heyday back then, yet she and her family upped sticks and went to live in Leicester.  Coincidentally, I was born and brought up in Leicester, and now live in Cheltenham.

In 1841, aged six, she was living in Peggs Yard, St Margaret, Leicester with her father Thomas, then aged 50 and a basket maker; mother Martha, 43; and her siblings Martha, 14; Jane, 11; and Ann, 4. 

By 1851 Betsey was living in Regent's Park, working as an undermaid for well-known Victorian painter William Powell Frith.  To Betsey, her employers must have seemed to have lived an impossibly glamorous lifestyle.  Indeed, in the year that this census was carried out William Powell Frith completed his seaside painting Ramsgate Sands (Life at the Seaside), inspired by a trip taken by he and his family.  Apparently he was unsure about it, but Queen Victoria clearly liked it, as she bought it for 1000 guineas.

Two years later Betsey returned to Leicester, and married Robert Hunt, a stocking maker, at St Margaret's Church in Leicester, and in 1861 the couple were living in Vauxhall Street, All Saints, Leicester, with their four-year-old son Thomas George.

The 1871 census shows the family as living in Birstall Street, St Margaret's, Leicester.  By now Thomas is aged 14, and working as a shoe finisher.  Little did they know at the time that Thomas would end up owning several shoe factories in Leicester - but that's a story for another day.  Robert and Betsey also had a daughter now, Martha, aged 7.  Also staying with them, no doubt to boost the household income, was lodger Richard Rowley, aged 16 and also a shoe finisher.

Ten years on, and Robert is still working as a framework knitter.  Betsey is now working as a seamstress, and Martha, aged 16, is a boot machinist. They have another son, Robert, aged 9, and are living in Shenton Street.   Thomas has left home and is married with his own children.

Life for Betsey seems to have carried on pretty much in the same vein for the next ten years - more changes of address - they are in Hart Road in 1891, daughter Martha has moved into the hosiery trade, and son Robert has now joined the shoe trade, working as a clicker, which means he made eyelet holes or uppers in boots using a machine that clicked.  Meanwhile son Thomas is starting to make his name as a boot and shoe manufacturer. 

By 1901, Betsey is 66 and Robert is 70, but still doing the strenuous job of framework knitting.  Thomas was doing very well for himself by now, and living in a rather grand home called The Elms. However I think he must have cut his ties with his parents (or vice versa), otherwise why wouldn't he have helped them out and saved his poor old Dad from having to work so hard at such an age?  But I suppose the work can't have done Robert too much harm, as in 1911, aged 80, he was still making stockings on his framework knitter.

Betsey died aged 78 on 13th February 1913.  Her husband Robert died just over a year later, aged 83, on 16th June 1914.

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