09 August 2009

Family History – the Oxfordshire Connection

I have to admit to very much enjoying the Oxfordshire section of my family, about whom I knew very little until recently. Not to take away anything from the long-loved Suffolk and Scottish folk, but it’s nice to have a bit of variety, after all, and this lot certainly provide it.

I’m particularly diverted by my great great great grandmother Elizabeth (née Burman) and her second husband. She was born in 1802, married William Meades and had four children, and was widowed in her early thirties. She then married John Harwood, a stone mason from Charlbury thirteen years her junior, so only about ten years older than her eldest son (William the mason, as I always think of him). She then had three more sons: George who was also a mason; Henry, who was a photographer; and Alfred, who among other things ran an eating house in Shoreditch.

John Harwood may even have been a Freemason as well as a mason, which would have helped, but he does seem to have had the three things I always feel you need to get on in life: ability, persistence and luck. He kept a shop in Chipping Norton as well, and the family, including his younger step-daughter Sarah, evidently helped to run it. It was probably something fairly general to begin with, but by 1871 it was a toy shop (!) and he then went into dealing in furniture. That business lasted for some years, and was evidently so profitable that he and Elizabeth eventually retired to Worcester and lived on their own income. She died there at 89, and at some point he moved back to Chipping Norton, married a sprightly young thing in her late sixties called Hannah, and died aged 81 in 1903.

Obviously the paper records aren’t going to tell you what the man was really like, or how happy he and Elizabeth were. It wasn’t all roses, as their youngest son and some of their grandchildren predeceased them, for example, but some of the later Meades family history is really rather grim, and it makes a pleasant change to read about two people who were apparently prosperous and healthy, and lived to a ripe old age.


Jilly said...

I think many people had the idea most people died young in the 19th century - which is quite obviously not true when you start delving into it. Sometimes it seems if you didn't die as a child the chances were you'd live to a ripe old age - barring accidents.

As your ancestors demonstrate people seem to have been very good at turning their hands to anything to make a living - frequently a very good living at that.

NAM said...

Yes indeed, though I have to say too many of mine died young for my liking - but then they are mostly the late Victorians and Edwardians, who were often less well housed and nourished than their grandparents had been at the beginning of the 19th century. And yes, the ability to diversify was clearly important even then.

Unfortunately John isn't actually an ancestor, as I'm descended from the eldest son of the first marriage, but I rather wish he had been, as I like the sound of him - I reckon it took guts to marry an older wife unless she was wealthy (which I'm pretty sure Elizabeth wasn't), especially as he was his parents' only son.

Jilly said...

People get enough flak these days from marrying an older woman so I dread to think what it was like then! Having said that they did have Disreali's example to follow so maybe it was acceptable then. I think there was over 20 years between him and his Mary Anne.

NAM said...

Yes, I'd forgotten the Disraelis: and it may well have been more acceptable at that point - I don't think people were quite so age conscious as we are know. I imagine the women in these cases came in for a deal of catty comment, too.