Sarah BunnView full burial details
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SARAH BUNN: 1790 – 1874
Sarah was born in Northchurch on 7th November 1790 and baptised at St Mary’s church. She was the daughter of Joseph and Joanna Putnam. She married John Bunn on the 14th March 1814.
John and Sarah had eight children, the oldest being James who was born in 1815. In 1817 Sarah next gave birth to two boys, William and Joseph. We don’t have William’s exact date of birth, but we do know from his memorial that Joseph was born on 13th June 1817 and it appears that the two boys must have been twins. William was baptised on 20th July 1817, a week before Joseph who was baptised on 27th July. William died shortly after and was buried on 3rd August 1817 in St Peter’s churchyard.
Following William’s death, Sarah gave birth to another son in 1819, who was also named William. Thomas followed in late 1826 and was baptised on 31st December that year. Like William he too died soon after he was born and was buried at St Peter’s on 20th January 1827. Elizabeth, the couple’s first daughter, was born in 1828, Eliza in 1830, Emma in 1832 and finally the youngest, Edith, was born in 1836.
We know from the 1841 census that the Bunn family was living in Berkhamsted’s High Street. Sarah was then 50 years of age and her occupation was straw plaiter. Straw-plaiting was a profitable cottage industry for women and girls in Victorian times, supplying plaited straw to the hat makers of Luton and Dunstable. The craft was passed on from generation to generation and children were sent to dame schools to learn the craft. Children started straw plaiting at the age of 5. The work was well paid, “...it was a profitable occupation and in the first half of the 19th century many women and children earned more than men who laboured in the fields. A good hand at Berkhamsted could earn about 15s a week – then a handsome wage-… Farmers complained that straw plaiting “did mischief, making the poor saucy, rendering the women adverse to husbandry and causing a dearth of indoor servants and field labourers”
John died of pneumonia in 1847 and was buried in Rectory Lane cemetery where he was joined by their son Joseph when he died three years later in 1850.
In 1851 the widowed Sarah was still living in Berkhamsted’s High Street. Sarah was no longer plaiting straw but at the age of 61 had taken up work as a launderess.
Like so many Victorian occupations, the work was long and arduous. Graham Barker, describes the work of a Victorian launderess in “Trading stories; Working Lives.” : “As Judith Flanders sets out in ‘The Victorian House’, laundry was an expensive business for the middle classes; a laundress was hired to come in by the day or the washing was sent out, though ‘sending out’ brought with it concerns over the ‘promiscuous’ mixing of clothes. The aspirations of the growing middle class – who believed “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” – helped to keep laundry workers busy. In advance of the wash, clothes needed to be sorted and soaked overnight: “Sheets, towels, men’s collars, linen, underwear, men’s shirts, nightclothes, aprons, petticoats and nappies were separated; then fine muslins; coloured cottons and linens; woollens; delicate items like women’s collars and cuffs, decorative handkerchiefs, and babies’ best dresses; and finally very dirty items such as kitchen cloths, household dusters, and cloths used to clean our chamber pots.” Come the morning of wash day, a large copper holding about 20 gallons of water was heated over the scullery fire; warm water was ladled out as needed into wooden washtubs – or later into basic washing machines – and a dolly or possing stick was used to agitate the dirt out. Victorian laundresses didn’t have detergents, but laundry soap was shaved and dissolved in boiling water to form a jelly that could be rubbed through the wash. Amongst the more enterprising manufacturers was Harper Twelvetrees who promoted his penny packets of soap powder in the 1860s with characters Mrs Scrubwell and Mrs Thrifty. Soaps had a tendency to turn whites yellow, so ‘laundry blue’ was used to counteract this. Dyed fabrics had to be treated separately, with different additives to protect them: “mauves and violets needed soda; dark green was maintained with alum or vinegar; blue by salt; brown and grey by ox-gall, bought from the butcher,” explains Flanders. After rinsing, clothes had to be wrung (to remove water), mangled (smoothed dry) and hung outside to dry. If the weather – or odours from local factories, sewers, or pigs – precluded outdoor drying then clothes were drip dried inside from ceiling-mounted rails and lines. A glutinous starch mix was applied to stiffen men’s shirts, collars, and frilled caps and petticoats, before ironing. Flat irons were used in pairs – one sat on the range, whilst the other was in use. Alternatively, box irons had two metal slugs that could be heated and slotted inside…In the 1860s, a laundress earned between 1s 6d and 2s a day, rising to 2s 6d a day during the 1870s, with a beer allowance being an expected perk. It was a paltry income for the effort involved…”
Sarah’s children had by then all left home and Sarah had taken in lodgers, no doubt to supplement her income. Two of her lodgers were sisters, Eliza and Elizabeth Bassill, also launderesses. Elizabeth was to marry Josiah East, a timber merchant and she is buried in Rectory Lane cemetery with her husband (plot 406) and her sister Eliza married Josiah’s brother Cornelius.
Perhaps not surprisingly given her age, Sarah had given up laundry work by the time of the next census in 1861. She had also left Berkhamsted. We find her living at 14 New Street, St Mary Newington, London, in the home of her daughter Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s husband, John Welster, a carpenter, and their five children.
The 1871 census reveals that Sarah was then living alone at 4 Howard Terrace in Camberwell. There was another family also living at the same address, but they are separately numbered on the census return suggesting that they were two separate households. Sarah is noted as being an annuitant. That is somewhat curious. The fact she was the widow of a timber carrier and herself had worked as a straw plaiter and launderess suggests that she probably had little money of her own. If that is correct, how did she come by the capital to provide her with an annuity?
Sarah died in June 1874 at the age of 84. Her memorial records her date of death as being 8th June, whilst her death certificate has the date 9th June. She had been suffering from dropsy for two months prior to her death. Whilst Sarah was living in London in 1871, she returned to Berkhamsted towards the end of her life, the death certificate recording that she died at Gossoms End, Berkhamsted. She was buried in the same plot as her husband John and her son Joseph.