A few weeks ago I told you about my Morris/Hodges relatives and how their constant moves across Herefordshire led me to uncover a seemingly unorthodox family tree. Now I am turning my attention to the relatives of my grandmother’s maternal grandmother, the Vickresses (if you have never heard of the surname, don’t worry, it’s extremely unusual!). One of my great-great-grandmother’s many aunts, called Mary Ann Vickress, married into the Caldwell family, and it is they who have lately captured my interest.
Mary Ann Vickress was the second child (and first daughter) born to William and Elizabeth Vickress. She was born in the village of Hope-under-Dinmore, in Herefordshire, in early 1813, and was baptised shortly afterwards, on Tuesday, 2 February. John Taylor, Perpetual Curate of Hope-under-Dinmore, performed the ceremony.
Mary Ann’s family was large and I imagine fairly respectable, but economically very modest. Her parents would go on to have a total of twelve children, who were fed thanks to her father’s wages as a humble carpenter/joiner. The family were in all likelihood religious, given that both Mary Ann’s maternal grandfather and her great-grandfather had been parish clerks of Hope-under-Dinmore for many years. One can surmise that the strict moral code typical of 19th-century England would have applied to Mary Ann as much as to any of her younger sisters.
In 1834, when Mary Ann was just a twenty-one-year-old servant girl, that strict moral code was shattered when it was revealed that she was pregnant. Being unmarried, one can imagine that her parents – if they were indeed as strict and moralistic as later Victorians would turn out to be – would have been displeased, or at least surprised, by such a revelation, but far from shunning Mary Ann or her baby, they must have accepted and acknowledged the fact that she was about to give birth to their first grandchild. And so, in early 1835, Mary Ann gave birth to a boy, whom she named Edward. The child was baptised in the church of Hope-under-Dinmore on 3 March, without the father’s name being recorded.
The identity of little Edward’s father may never be known for certain, but it seems likely that the culprit may have been a twenty-one-year-old cooper named Joseph Caldwell, who was the same age as Mary Ann and came from the village of Yazor. The two had probably begun an affair which, for whatever reason, they had been unable to materialise into marriage, but things seemed to have changed by 1837, when Mary Ann found herself unmarried and pregnant for the second time in her life!
On this occasion her family may have added the necessary pressure to make her marry the child’s father – or perhaps it was Joseph, by now a bit older and wiser, who decided to do “the right thing” and duly married Mary Ann. The wedding took place on 17 April 1837, and was witnessed by one James Brewer and Mary Ann’s mother, Elizabeth Vickress, whose shaky hand signed the marriage register. The groom was illiterate and thus signed with a cross – but I was pleasantly surprised to discover Mary Ann was able to write her name, implying she had at least received a minimum of education!
A mere five months later Mary Ann gave birth to her second son, whom she and Joseph named William (likely in honour of Mary Ann’s father). Edward, her eldest, would from then on use the surname Caldwell – suggesting he may have been informally adopted, or otherwise legitimised by his mother’s subsequent marriage to his unacknowledged father. Whatever the case, the Caldwells remained in Hope-under-Dinmore, within close distance of Mary Ann’s family, for a number of years. In 1839 Mary Ann gave birth to a daughter, whom she called Elizabeth, after which the family of five moved to the village of Saint Margaret’s, in the old hundred of Ewyas Lacy (which was abolished in 1888).
Through subsequent censuses, we learn that Mary Ann and her husband welcomed more children into the family. A son, James, was born in 1841 – although, like in Elizabeth’s case, no apparent birth record exists – followed by Thomas, who sadly died less than a year later. His birth was followed by that of a girl, Ann. She has proven rather difficult to investigate, as no girl under that name appears to be living with her parents in 1851. There is, however, a girl called Drusilla whose age fits perfectly with Ann’s – and given that Drusilla was an old family name among the Vickresses, I think Ann and Drusilla were one and the same person – strangely, no birth or death record appears for a Drusilla Caldwell, but we’ll come back to Ann/Drusilla shortly.
By the late 1840’s, the Caldwells had moved from Herefordshire to Sedgley, a part of Lower Gornall sandwiched between Wolverhampton and Dudley. The move was probably prompted by Joseph’s need of employment, and expanding industrial centres meant that the possibility of finding work as a master cooper and pike-helve maker was higher there than in the countryside. The family settled in an area called Springs Mere, which was pock-marked with coal, tin and ironstone mines. It was in Sedgley, in the historically eventful year of 1848, that the couple’s seventh child, a daughter named Selina, was born.
The 1850’s would prove to be a decade of huge personal losses for Mary Ann. In mid-1851, not long after the census was taken, Mary Ann gave birth to another son, whom she named Thomas in memory of the son she had previously lost. Sadly, the boy only lived a few short months. The following year news reached her that her father had passed away. 1853 was a bittersweet year for Joseph and Mary Ann, as in the first quarter they welcomed a new daughter, Jane (so named very probably in honour of one of Mary Ann’s unmarried sisters). Later that same year, however, their elder daughter, seven-year-old Ann (aka Drusilla) died in tragic circumstances when her clothes accidentally caught fire, and she died due to her injuries. An inquest was duly held.
The tragedy was somewhat compounded by the arrival of a new daughter, Emma Matilda, in 1855, but the unfortunate girl fatally fell ill with smallpox when she was just over a year old – her death certificate states she had not been inoculated. Only a year later, her elder sister Jane also died of convulsions without there being a medical attendant at hand.
Following this string of personal losses, it is little wonder that the family decided to move back to Herefordshire – perhaps the experience of living near a great city, surrounded by pollution and insalubrious working conditions, which posed a threat to their children’s health, had been too much to bear. Possibly the loss of five children – four of whom had died during their stay in Lower Gornall – made Joseph and Mary Ann yearn for their native Herefordshire.
As the Caldwells made their way back home, their elder children began to lead adult lives of their own. Edward, the child whose birth had preceded his parents’ marriage, seems to have gone off into the army – he turns up in the 1871 census listed as an invalid soldier. Tracing him on the 1861 census has so far proved impossible, suggesting he may not even have been on British soil at the time. Military records available online do not appear to be connected with him, so there is no way to know how or where he got his injuries. He returned to live under his parents’ roof and became an agricultural labourer, but he seems to have led a lonely existence after their deaths. Unmarried, and possibly suffering from his old war wounds, he ended up in the Hereford workhouse, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died there in 1916, at the age of 81.
Joseph and Mary Ann’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, seems to have mirrored her mother’s life in more than one way. She likely went into service by the time she was in her late teens and, like Mary Ann, became pregnant while still unmarried. The father, whoever he was, probably did not take any responsibility for Elizabeth or their son, who was given the name Thomas Edward Caldwell. In time, however, Elizabeth married a man called Robert Laidler, and settled in Sunderland, County Durham (it is unclear if they met up north after Elizabeth had given birth to her baby). The marriage remained childless but Mr Laidler raised Thomas Edward as his own – in time, Thomas Edward Caldwell would name his eldest son George Robert in honour of his stepfather. Elizabeth eventually died in Sunderland in 1917, followed by her husband a year later. Her son Thomas Edward passed away in Sunderland in 1938, leaving a wife and three children (an additional pair of twins had died young). Their descendants, who still live in the north-east of England, perpetuated Elizabeth’s line down into the 20th century.
Joseph and Mary Ann’s son James, who like his father became a helve maker, also married and left descendants. In time he settled in Wales, where he passed away at the relatively young age of 55. By the 1910s several of his many grandchildren had already been born, and I’ve been able to trace some of them on the 1939 Register.
As for Selina, James’s only surviving younger sister, she married a man with a fabulously unusual name called Walwyn Brian Thomas Trumper Wade, by whom she had three sons (one died young) and two daughters. It was Selina who took care of her parents Joseph and Mary Ann until their deaths (Joseph passed away in 1879, and Mary Ann in 1880 due to dropsy and problems related to the liver and the heart). Once her parents were no longer around, the Wades had no apparent reason to stay in Herefordshire, and moved to Newport, in Wales, where Selina lived until her death in 1921 – the last surviving of her parents’ children.
In little over two generations, Mary Ann Caldwell’s children and grandchildren had moved to very different areas of the country. Today, their descendants can be found in Monmouthshire and County Durham, although I am doubtful that they even know of each other’s existence. Who knows, perhaps this article will help them to reconnect one day!