Working children

Grandma Miller, (Bethel nee Jerry) and Great Aunt Jo (Beaton nee Jerry) both told me that Great Grandad Jerry, their father, was sent to work on the Ballard farm when he was 10 years old. His first day at work he was sent home and told not to return until he had clothes that covered him. His ragged clothes caused embarrassment the Mr. Ballard’s daughters. Desperate for the money, his mother and sisters sewed all night so he could be at work in the morning. It’s appalling that a young child would work full-time doing heavy manual labour, but the family needed money to purchase items the farm didn’t provide. Grandad Jerry went on to own a farm in Northwestern Ontario. He was known for his strength and ability to work hard.

The children of my Great Great grandparents, Charles and Sarah John, were sent out to work. Charles was an agricultural labourer – he wouldn’t have made much money. The boys could were apprenticed to a trade and the girls worked as domestic servants. The purpose of this training was to improve the child’s chance of a stable career as he aged aged.

James and William trained to be blacksmiths – probably with their blacksmith neighbour and Thomas as a shipbuilder in the Milford Haven dockyards. The girls, my great grandmother Searles (Lizzie) and Annie both trained to be general domestic servants. Jennie, instead, trained as a dressmaker. I read enough historical romance novels to know that there weren’t many other employment opportunities for females. Lizzie and Annie lived outside the home. It’s most likely their earnings helped their mom and dad.

So did the apprenticeships succeed? Did the children live more comfortable lives? William passed away young so I can’t comment on him. James, a blacksmith about the time that automobiles were coming into use, did well enough to support a wife and two daughters. He even managed to purchase a small cottage that he called Kelwon House. (It’s been converted into a vacation rental property. ) You can view it at the link below. https://www.coastalcottages.co.uk/cottages/kelwon-cottage/?ref=32408 When James died he left 400 pounds to his wife. That’s not too bad.

Thomas became a master shipbuilder and moved to Plymouth, Devon to work at the dockyards there. He provided for a wife and 4 children. They lived in what looks to me like a large townhouse. When Thomas died in 1965 his estate was worth 733 pounds. It looks like both of these men were middle class citizens.

The girls married, of course. Annie married Jack Rimmer, a soldier. Jen married Arthur A. Clarke who in 1939 is a fish packer. My great grandmother moved to Canada and married Bill Searles, a farmer. Although Grandad Searles owned his own farm, she did not escape the life of a farm labourer.

It’s appalling to us that a small child would be forced to work. In the past, poor working children were a fact of life. They worked on farms, in mines, and manufacturing, all kinds of places. It’s sad but was necessary for the families to survive.

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