By Elizabeth Mattner, daughter of Gertrude Kubank (nee Mead), granddaughter of Ellis James Roberts (Jim) Mead, great granddaughter of Martha Mead (nee Roberts).
In the Hertfordshire village of Long Marston, a baby girl was born to Thomas Roberts and his wife Elizabeth, nee Stevens on 27 October 1851. She was named Martha Ann. She was baptised in the chapel at Long Marston so one assumes that the family attended chapel rather than the Parish Church of All Saints. Martha’s mother was born in Long Marston too; however her father was born in Oxford. At the time of her birth, Thomas’s occupation was listed as silk spinner. On 12 October 1875 Martha married Newman Mead, who was a widower. (On their marriage certificate we read where Thomas Roberts’s occupation was now a pedlar.) The couple lived in Long Marston for the first two years of their marriage where their first son Ellis James Roberts, known as Jim, was born. All the following 9 children were born in London.
On 3 and 4 April 1881, when the ten yearly census was taken, the family were living at 3 Oxgate Cottage, Willesden, Middlesex and present in the household were Newman, Martha, William Thomas 3 (born 6 January 1878), Elizabeth Martha 1 (born 20 July 1879), Sarah Seabrook and a boarder, William Purcel, l who was an agricultural labourer from Weston Turville, Buckinghamshire. Weston Turville was a village approximately four miles south west of Long Marston. One wonders if he was known to Martha and Newman prior to their moving to London and that is why he was living with them. Both men were listed as agricultural labourers. Sarah Seabrook was a monthly nurse. These nurses served families for a month or so at the time of a birth and Martha and Newman’s fourth child, Gertrude Ann was born on 5 May 1881. Sarah must have been known to Newman and Martha as she was born in Long Marston too. A further search of that year’s census records reveal that Jim was staying with Grandma and Grandpa Roberts at Long Marston. Possibly the household in Willisden was overcrowded and very busy, and that was why Jim was staying there. Thomas Roberts’ occupation had changed again and on this census he was listed as an agricultural labourer, while his wife, Elizabeth, was a chair woman. This was a female chair bodger, a person who mended chairs.
Mary Jane, the fifth child was born on 20 July 1883. Mary shared her birthday with her eldest sister Elizabeth. However tragedy struck the family when Elizabeth died on 23 November, 1886, aged 7. Her given names were Elizabeth Martha. Martha after her mother, but Elizabeth was the name of Newman’s first wife and her mother and also Martha’s mother. Martha and Newman’s next child Ruth Mabel was born on 27 February, 1885. She was the last child to be born in Hendon/Middlesex area.
By the time Albert Josiah was born on 13 October 1887, the family had moved to 13 Dudlington Tce., Upper Clapton, Hackney. Newman was working as a cow man on the nearby Common and he remained in this occupation for the remainder of his working life. Another son, Newman John, known as Jack was born on 5 April 1891. It is interesting to note that Jack was born during the census days of 5 and 6 April and as he did not appear on the census, we assume he was born after the family filled out their census document. By this time Jim, aged 14, and (William Thomas)Tom, aged 13 were both working; Jim as a grocer’s assistant and Tom as a house boy. Gertrude, Mary and Ruth were at school and the children attended the Clapton Wesleyan Sunday School. Ruth was presented with a book from this Sunday School on 2 March 1891. She has written her address in this book as 6 Conduit Street, Upper Clapton, Hackney. However we know the family were still in the Dudlington Tce. home for the April Census of that year, so we do not actually know when the family moved. 6 Conduit Street was their home for the remainder of the time they lived in London.
On 23 October, 1892, Martha and Newman’s fifth and last son, Herbert Samuel, known as Sam, was born. 1895 was an important year in the family as this is when Jim sailed on the ship Lusitania to make a life in Australia and the last family member arrived. Susan Martha was born on 8 November. Sue did not see her oldest brother until he returned for the first of his two holidays to England in 1920 and Jack and Sam were too young to remember him either. And Jim never saw his mother again.
Sadly, tragedy struck the family when Martha took ill during the middle of 1903 and died five months later on 9 November at the London Hospital. She was only 52. Her records from this hospital and its post mortem book give us detailed information. The patient was quite well until 5 months ago. At this time she began getting abdominal pains, vomiting and “Stoppage of bowels” occurred. These became quite persistent. She lost weight and was admitted as a surgical patient on 24 October to the above hospital. She continued to deteriorate and by 3 November she was still vomiting, diarrhoea had begun and her temperature rose to 104 degrees. She died 3 days later on 6 November of fever and exhaustion. Gertrude, now married and living at Southwold Road, Upper Clapton, was present at the death. The autopsy further reveals that Martha was suffering from bowel cancer and a perforated appendix. I quote “the appendix is represented by an abscess cavity the size of a tangerine orange which has ruptured by a hole the size of a sixpence.”
What a terrible death she must have experienced. She was buried at Whitechapel. This must have been a difficult time for the family. Newman’s work as a cowman took him daily to the Common, but there were still young children at home who needed care and Ruth, aged 18, took over this role helping her father care for Jack 12, Sam 11 and Sue 8. Jim was far away in Australia, Thomas served in the Boer War and later died in WW1, but we don’t know his whereabouts at this time. Gertrude was married and living nearby, and we don’t know if Mary and Albert were still living at home.
Like many women, most of Martha’s life was spent caring for her husband and rearing her children. With the children at school, at work or married, she may have looked forward to a more relaxed life but her illness and subsequent death prevented that. Today it may have been very different.
Our family, like many others has left family research a little late, as there are no living relatives who have any memories of our great grandmother, Martha Ann Roberts. This history is based on documents the family have gathered and grandchildren’s memories from Martha’s children.
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