Researching Clara Allen

Several years ago I learned, thanks to the English census, that my great-great-grandfather John Allen had a younger sister called Clara. For some inexplicable reason, I have always felt a keen interest in Clara’s story – perhaps because for many years she was the only female living in a very masculine household, or perhaps because she was outlived by most of her immediate family members, having herself lost some of her nearest and dearest during her relatively short lifetime.


The church of Saint James, Colwall, where Clara was baptised in 1849.

Clara was born in Colwall, Herefordshire in early 1849, and was baptised in the local parish church of Saint James the Great on Sunday, 8th April 1849. Her father, Edward Allen, was described as a farmer, which is consistent with the various census entries on which he is listed, and her mother was his wife Ann, née Rodway. Clara was their fourth (and last) child as well as their second daughter, having been preceded in the cradle by sister Ann and brothers John and William Henry. Sadly, Clara’s sister Ann passed away in 1843, before reaching her fourth birthday, and thus died several years before Clara was even born. Clara must therefore have been a very welcome addition, being the only living daughter in a household with two sons.

The first occasion on which Clara made he entry in the census was of course in 1851, when as a two-year-old she was recorded with her parents and two elder brothers living at the Wyche, in Upper Colwall, near relatives of her mother’s, the Rodways. Her father was described as an agricultural labourer, while her brothers are both listed as “scholars”.

Ten years on, and we find Clara still living at home – although brother William Henry was by then earning a living elsewhere. The family were listed as living in Portugal Cottage, which I suspect may well have been Victoria Cottage or, quite possibly, Ash Villa, where my own grandmother was born a century ago. Be that as it may, Edward Allen’s profession is still listed in 1861 as an agricultural labourer, while his wife was categorised as an upholsterer. You can understand how proud I was to find out that my own great-great-great-grandmother had some sort of trade as far back as 1861!

Sadly, the tight-knit family to which Clara belonged lost one of its core members when in 1867 her 58 year-old mother Ann died of “apoplexy” (probably a stroke), leaving her husband Edward to fend for himself and their children; Clara would have been 18 at the time, and with her eyes set on forming a family of her own. However, until the time came, she remained at home (as proven by the 1871 census, which by the way wrongly gives her age as 32, when she was in fact 22!). But far from being a hanger-on while her brothers left and started families of their own, Clara began working as a “seamstress (machine)”, which I take to mean she made and mended clothes with the help of a sowing machine. Not only were the women in my family entrepreneurial, but they also seemed to welcome technological advances too!

By the end of the year Clara had herself become a married woman. On 24 September 1871, in the parish church of Saint Martin, Worcester she married one Edward Devereux Tyler, who was a few months her junior and worked as a domestic coachman. Why they decided to marry in Worcester, and not in Colwall or Malvern (where the bride and groom were from, respectively) remains a mystery. At any rate, the family seems to have remained in the Malvern area for some time, as their first daughter, Florence Eleanor Tyler, was born in Colwall in late 1872. However, the family does not seem to have remained in Colwall for long, for in 1881 we find the Tylers living at 4, Victoria Street in Clifton (now a part of Bristol, on the fringes between Gloucestershire and Somerset). The census also reveals the names of two additional daughters, born to Clara and Edward over the preceding nine years: Dorcas Emily, born in 1875, and Ethel Clara, born in 1879. The profession of their closest neighbours, which include a photographer, a shipwright, two dressmakers and a porter, seems to indicate it was mainly a lower middle-class part of town.


Number 9, Dowry Square in Clifton, Bristol, was where Clara Tyler (née Allen) lived with her family in the 1890’s.

By 1891 the Tyler family seems to have moved to a new location, not far from Victoria Street. They are listed in the census living at Nr 10, Dowry Square, which at least on Google Street View looks to me like a very nice location – although they would have only occupied a flat on one of the floors, as there are a number of families living at the same address. By then the Tylers had had a fourth daughter, Gertrude Annie, who was born in 1887 in Portishead, Somerset, while their eldest, Florence Eleanor, had gone into service by this time, being in the employment of a Mr and Mrs George King, of Clifton. Less than a year later she too would become engaged, and married a Frank Mark Christopher, who was a carpenter and joiner, by whom she had a large family.

Things came to a halt in 1897 when Clara’s husband of twenty-six years died aged about 47. As there is no record of Clara having a profession during her married years, one can only assume she gave up any thought of earning any money when she became Edward’s wife – a common occurrence in those days. Once widowed, and having lost her main source of income, she was once again forced to look for a way of sustaining herself and her as yet unmarried daughters who lived by her side.

The next census confirms that Clara had once again become professionally active, this time taking on work as a monthly nurse. As such, she would have lived as a boarder households other than her own and helped nurse back a sick person back to health, as well as women who had recently given birth and were still “convalescing”. In 1901, for instance, Clara is mentioned as a monthly nurse in the house of a Mr William Hunt, a schoolmaster whose one-month old baby daughter Annie was reported sick.


Clara Tyler’s entry in the 1901 census, showing her as the monthly nurse of Mr and Mrs Hunt’s sick baby.

Unfortunately, sickness had likely played a key role in Clara’s family not long before, with tragic consequences. In 1900 her youngest daughter, Gertrude Annie, died at the age of 12. This, coupled with the loss of her husband only three years earlier, must have plunged Clara into unimaginable grief. Fortunately for her, she had two other daughters by her side (not counting the eldest, who as we have seen had begun a family of her own). By 1900 both Dorcas and Ethel were still single, a fact confirmed eleven years later according to the 1911 census. The census shows Clara, still very much professionally active as a monthly nurse, living in a two-room house on 11 Dowry Parade (quite possibly a door or two down from her previous home during the 1890’s). The census does reveal one interesting fact, in that Clara had actually had five children, of whom only three are living. It is thus fairly evident that Gertrude Annie was not the first child she lost. Further research has revealed that in 1886 Clara had given birth to an additional daughter, Mary May, who sadly passed away less than three years later.

M0011224 "The Monthly Nurse".

“The Monthly Nurse”, by David Wilkie.

Living with Clara when the 1911 census was taken are daughters Dorcas, who worked in a chocolate factory as a box packer, and Ethel, who was a box maker. It is quite likely that they worked for a local company founded in 1881, “H.J. Packer”, which later became Elizabeth Shaw. I cannot imagine their wages were very high at all, despite being in their thirties and having a fairly entrepreneurial mother. By the end of the year, however, Ethel managed to escape her previous existence by marrying one William T. Sims, by whom she appears to have had two children: Ethel D. Sims (b. 1912) and William D. Sims (b.1919).

In February 1915 Clara Tyler died at the of 65 due to acute bronchitis and heart failure. Her daughter Dorcas registered the death at the local registry office.

As for her three surviving daughters, who probably mourned her until their own demises, we know that Florence Christopher (née Tyler) died in Bristol in 1940, during another, even more killing war; she had at least nine children, including a set of twins, but five of them predeceased her. Her sister Dorcas never married, and died relatively young in 1919, due to the Spanish Flu epidemic which also claimed the life of her cousin (my great-grandfather’s sister) the same year. Her sister Ethel, the youngest of CLara’s surviving daughters, passed away in 1933, aged 54.

Sadly I have never seen a photograph of Clara or any of her descendants, but wouldn’t it be great if one of them came across this article, and was able to get in touch and fill in the gaps? I live to hope…

This entry was posted in 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, 1881 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, 1911 Census, Birth, Colwall, Death, England, Genealogy, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Illness, War, Women, Work, World War I, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Researching Clara Allen


    Is it possible that the daughter who died in 1919 was a victim of the Great Influenza Pandeic of 1918 – 1919??

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