Margaret Louisa Jenkins
Life after marriage
Before we consider what Margaret’s life would have been like, let me just say a couple of words about her husband, James John Dearman. He has his own story on the website, but a couple of things are relevant. He had been married before, and had two surviving children from that marriage in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. However, his wife died and James seems to have abandoned the children (maybe to their grandparents), turning up in Cardiff in 1886, maybe before. And yet on the marriage certificate he states that he was a bachelor. And this is not the only lie - he also lies about his age. He was actually 32 but says he was 28 - and he remains consistently inconsistent about his age until the end of his life. I have checked and double-checked in case there are two different James John Dearman, but I do not think so - there is too much evidence against this. Did Margaret know about his former wife? My guess is no, or surely the children would have been brought to live with them? What a secret to hide from your wife! I wonder if she ever found out? Obviously she knew he was quite a bit older than her, but did she know how much older? Did she love him? Did he love her? At least he did the right thing by her and married her. Many did not.
Cardiff, Bridgend 1886-1922
Soon after the marriage they must have moved to Bridgend, as this is where they are found in 1891. And Bridgend is where they stayed for the rest of their lives. They took up residence just around the corner from Margaret’s parents, in Coity on the north side of the river that divides Bridgend in two. Maybe the parents were ailing (they were both dead by 1891) and needed looking after, maybe Margaret just wanted to be near her mother. Their house would have looked something like this one - very small for so many people.
Margaret’s husband was a plasterer - a tradesman, who had enough work to employ his oldest son when he reached the age of fourteen. So they would not have been right at the bottom of the poverty ladder, but nevertheless they would not have been wealthy. Margaret had nine children between 1887 and 1907 - twenty years of childbearing - a new baby every two or three years. I suppose it could have been worse - one every year, and she was a mere 41 when her last child, Netta Louise was born - so close to the birth of her son Arthur’s first child, that I thought that Arthur had had twins. In fact there are a couple of longish (for those times) gaps between children, but I do not think that any other children were born and died in between, and it seems that only one of them died as a young child (not that I have found a death, but a later child has the same names - Sydney Alban, so we can only assume that the earlier child died). Of course there was no effective birth control in those days - really the only effective course of action was abstinence. So a lot depended on the general fertility of the couple.
As the children were more spread out than most Margaret would have been a little less hassled than some, but not much. Consider - by the time she was 30 she had had six children! In the 1901 census, Arthur, the oldest was still at home but already out at work at the age of 14. At this stage there were six children in the house, with two more to come - one the following year and one six years later - the mistake, or the love child at the end of the family?
There would not have been much help from grandparents either as Margaret’s parents seem to have died in the late 1880s, no doubt worn out by their own parenting efforts - they had 11 children. Indeed looking after sick people, parents and children would have been a major preoccupation for a Victorian housewife. No National Health, however maligned it is today, existed then, so mothers relied on their own nursing skills, folk medicine and patent medicines (if they could afford them) for assistance. And, of course, there were many more diseases with no known cure then. Measles for example would have been a serious thing in those times, as would scarlet fever and diptheria. Then, of course, there were the major killers of the time, TB, typhoid, influenza, polio, diptheria, not to mention heart disease, alcoholism and cancer. And mum would have had to deal with this. It was a time when great advances were made in medicine but they still had an awful long way to go.
There are several brief articles here about women at home and at work. Most of the emphasis is on the middle classes but some is relevant.
This is part of the Powys Day in the Life site and describes the whole washing process, illustrated with original ads and drawings
Daily life for a Victorian housewife would have been extremely arduous. The only labour saving machines available to the ordinary Victorian housewife would have been the sewing machines. Everything else was done by hand - the fire that heated the boiler for hot water would have had to be started at the crack of dawn, breakfast and lunches prepared for the husband and any children who were working. There was probably no plumbing, or electricity - lighting would have been gaslight or kerosene or candles, no vacuum cleaner, no washing machine, no dishwasher, no electric iron. There were clothes to mend and make, shoes to clean, shopping to do and maybe, if you were lucky enough to have the space, a bit of kitchen gardening too.
And what did they eat? I couldn’t resist looking in my Welsh cookbook and found references to pastie kind of things for the men to take to work, rice puddings, various kinds of biscuits and cakes, fish - people went fishing and shrimping and then of course there was always Welsh Rarebit. Here is a recipe for a fairly basic kind of supper dish called Swper Mam - Mother’s Supper.
“8 large bacon rashers or ham slices, 2 medium peeled and finely chopped onions, 1 cup grated hard cheese, pepper and a little salt.
Put half the bacon in the bottom of a shallow fireproof dish, then cover with the finely chopped onions, followed by the cheese, seasoning each layer with pepper. Put the remaining rashers on top and cook in a moderate to hot oven for 1/2 an hour or until the bacon is crisp. Traditionally this is served either with jacket-baked potatoes or with an omelette. “
And then there was the washing. At least two days were put aside for this enormous task. Monday was usually washing day - it still was in my youth - no washing machines then either. The washing was done in a wooden tub, like in the picture at the top of the page, scrubbed on a washboard, wrung through a mangle and hung out to dry - which could take ages in welsh winters - the washing might have been draped around the house. Then the ironing - with flat irons heated on the range. A colossal task for a woman with lots of children and a husband who had a basically dirty job. Of course, if you could afford it, you could pay a laundress to do it. I remember my mother telling me, when I got married, that the first thing to get was a washing machine. In Victorian days the advice might have been to save enough money to have somebody else do the washing. In fact the second wife of my mother'sl grandfather was a mangle woman. She probably worked like the two women above doing the washing for her neighbours.
The census records do not have any mention of Margaret doing any paid work. It may not have been necessary - her husband may have made enough money to sustain the family. But then again, where would you find the time to do paid work? At least away from home. I suppose one could take in washing, or sewing and I believe that some factory kind of tasks could be undertaken at home, but I suspect that the Dearmans were just prosperous enough for this not to be necessary, so in this respect Margaret would have been lucky.
In 1913 James John Dearman died after an operation for colon cancer. Margaret had probably nursed him at home for some time before his death, though he died in a Cardiff hospital. Her youngest child, Netta would have been just six years old, but then her oldest sons were grown men and out at work, so no doubt she would have had support, although only for a year or so, as three, maybe four of her sons went off to war, which must also have been heart wrenching for her. Her older daughters would also have helped out.
But in 1922 at the age of 55 and the same year as her daughter Blanche married, Margaret died. I have yet to obtain the death certificate so do not know why she died or where, other than that it was in Bridgend. A life of toil with, we hope a little love and a little fun. Much like the life of most Victorian women.