Monday, 28 January 2013

A sad story

Name: Betsy Moore (died fr[om] taking an overdose of Colocynth, taken to produce a miscarriage!). [Colocynth (or Bitter Apple) is a particularly strong purgative which even ancient Egyptians believed was able to provoke miscarriage if taken early in pregnancy.]

Abode: Great Coates (servant at Mr Epworth’s) fr[om] Ludford. [Ludford is a village in the Lincolnshire Wolds thirteen miles from Great Coates.]

Date of burial: 3rd July. [1871.]

Age: 22.

Minister: No ceremony. “Felo-de-se”. By Coroner’s Order! [Felo-de-se is ‘felon on self’ – a now obsolete legal term for someone who takes his or her own life.]

I am writing a piece about the Humber-side nature of the parish and went to the Library to capture some entries from St Nicolas’ burial registers which show how the bodies of unknown sailors washed up on the bank of the estuary were buried in the churchyard. In addition, while I was there, I rediscovered and captured this entry.

Betsy isn’t a diminutive; it (or Betsey) is the form of her given name when it appears in other records.

She was born in the July-September quarter of 1849. She shows up at Ludford aged 2 and 12 in the 1851 and 1861 census returns. In 1851 she was the youngest of four children aged two to six living with her widowed mother. In 1861 she is staying with a charwoman in the village. She doesn’t look as if she had much going for her. ‘Going into service’ within a year or two would have been almost the only option open to her.

In the 1871 census, taken exactly three months before she died, she is indeed recorded as a servant of Mr Epworth at Great Coates. Francis Epworth was a farmer and lived with his wife Sophia, four children and three servants on Aylesby Road. Betsey is listed as a housemaid. (Francis and Sophia’s gravestones are in St Michael’s churchyard.)

The entry in the burial register is in the handwriting of the Revd T B Coopland, the resident Assistant Curate, and, more than anything else, the two exclamation marks say as much about the attitude of the church at the time as the fact the burial went ahead without prayers or a funeral service.

We've uncovered the accounts in both the Lincolnshire Chronicle for 7th July and the Grantham Journal for 8th July. 

She had worked at the Epworths for nearly two years and was spoken of as a good servant.  She had bought an ounce of Bitter Apple at Binbrook (not far from her Ludford home) on May Day at about the second month of her pregnancy.  She took it on 1st July when thought by the cook who gave evidence to be four months pregnant. 

Her bowels became inflamed, and she confessed what she had done to the doctor who tried to treat her.  She died early on the 3rd, the inquest was heard in the farmhouse later in the day, and she was buried that night.  She left no goods or chattels.

Twice recently I’ve come across a Grimsby story in the same year where a housemaid was prosecuted for stealing a single postage stamp, was imprisoned for a day, lost her place, and died from taking rat poison; the story is remembered because of the riot which then took place outside her employer’s house.

A couple of years ago I posted another story from near by Irby-on-Humber seventeen years later which might also have been the result of someone very like Betsy having to conceal a pregnancy.

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