Hannah Waters & Richard Martin
and 19th century England and probably for decades before, the life
of an agricultural labourer was the destiny of a considerable number
of English people. An "ag. lab." as they were listed in
various English censuses, was a farm labourer who was given
accommodation, often a cottage to live in, by the farmer in return
for work. ....He and his family would have done a lot of digging
ditches, helping plough fields, and other semi-skilled, but probably
back-breaking work. And this is how it would have been for decades
in the farms around the mid-Sussex town of East Grinstead where
generations of the Martin family lived.
The area known as the High Weald, on the edge of which East Grinstead is located, has been described as:
The High Weald is a small scale landscape hewn by hand from woodland and wood pasture. Its medieval character remains remarkably intact; not yet overwritten by large-scale modern development or industrial farming and forestry. Glimpsed views reveal a matrix of small, irregularly shaped fields surrounding dispersed historic farmsteads..(1)
East Grinstead itself has a long history. In the 21st century, it's been described as a "well-heeled commuter town", being only 45kilometres from London, but back in the last century or two, it would have been a much more modest, but still an important market town. Its High Street is claimed to have one of the longest continuous runs of 14th-century timber-framed buildings in England.
Richard Martin and Hannah Waters were both born in the dying years of
the 18th century around 1795, according to the family entry in
the in the 1841 census.
In what was probably a close-knit rural community
around the outskirts of East Grinstead, it's not surprising that
Richard and Hannah, by then in their early twenties would have met
and married. The ceremony was carried out in East Grinstead
itself, almost certainly at the church of St Swithuns
(left), in 1819 - where their couple's first child, a
daughter Ann, was baptised six months later.
Ann was the first of 10 children, with
her brother William the next to arrive. (Nearly a century later
William's own daughter Isabella
'Jenny' sailed away from East Grinstead to marry one of our
Australian Davidsons of
New England). For Richard and Hannah, eight more children,
four boys and four girls, came in quick succession, none more than
two years apart.
By the time the first general census of
England was taken in 1841, the couple's eldest children had left
home. Richard and Hannah were living and working at Brook
Farm, on today's Turners Hill Road just outside East Grinstead, with
five of their children, the youngest, Alfred, only four years old.
Richard and Hannah were said to be as 45 years of age at the time,
although this particular census was noted for rounding adult ages to
the nearest 5 years. On the census form, both 15 year
old Jesse and 13 year old Jane have ditto marks beneath their
father;s "ag. lab" description, suggesting that both teenagers were
also farm workers.
By the time that census was taken, Richard was
probably in poor health. In less than two years, he was
dead, succumbing to tuberculous aged only 49. His death
certificate noted he had suffered from consumption, the 19th
century term for TB.
By the time the next census was taken, in
1851, Hannah had moved on. She was living as a pauper in a
place simply described as "leading to Thornhill", with her 14 year
old son Alfred who was working as a 'carter boy', plus unmarried
daughters Elizabeth and Jane, and Jane's one year old
In August 1857, Hannah herself died from
tuberculosis, falling to the disease which had taken her husband
14 years earlier.