Albert Dadswell Baldwin

The summer in East Sussex during August 1856 was particularly fine, although towards the end of the month the weather turned stormy. On the 24th a young widow of just 28 stood watching at the graveside, the burial of her husband of only short two years. Perhaps she was holding her one year old daughter, perhaps the small girl was with relatives awaiting her mothers return.

Albert Dadswell Baldwin was born in 1833 to James and Sophia. He was the eldest of 7 children that I have so far found – all but the youngest of them being boys.

James Baldwin was a hairdresser and the family had premises on the high street in Wadhurst a small but bustling village on the border of Kent and East Sussex. As the children grew he trained some of them up in the same trade, just as his father had done with him, and a couple of them eventually married and moved away from the village, becoming hairdressers themselves in other villages close by. Albert, however, stayed at home and took over his fathers shop along with his younger brothers.

I usually have a picture in my head of how the people in my research looked, and to begin with I was seeing an image of Albert with one of those long curly moustaches (or is that moustachi?!) standing in front of a mirror waving a pair of scissors around while chatting  about holidays, the sound of hairdryers and the phone ringing in the background.  Then I remembered it was 1856 not 1956.

It was about this time that the first post boxes started appearing in the UK, ‘Londonderry Air’ was published for the first time, and the clock tower which would eventually hold ‘Big Ben’ hadn’t even been completed yet. Yes it was a loooong time ago.

Of course I’ve had to do a little research into the art of Victorian Hairdressing….. and to my dismay I found that Albert probably wasn’t curling and plaiting hair into those beautiful 19th century hairstyles, he was more than likely to be found cutting the hair of Fred next door who had just finished a days work spreading manure on the potato fields. And didn’t have a shower at home. Or a bath. In fact he would have shared a toilet with at least one of his neighbours and his wife would have got the tin bath out of the shed on a Sunday for him. Albert certainly earnt his money!

A few doors away from the Baldwins lived James Burt, a tailor, and his daughter Emily. Emily was a dressmaker and also took care of her brothers and her widowed father, cooking, cleaning and generally keeping house.  Albert and Emily were the same age and might have attended the village school or a ‘Dame school’ together as they grew up a few doors apart. They were married in the spring of 1854 and the following year their daughter Elizabeth was born.

Albert became ill during 1856, and the doctor diagnosed Consumption, the lung disease we now know as Tuberculosis.

The prognosis for Albert wasn’t good. Tuberculosis was occasionally curable, depending on the strain  but most cases ended with the death of the patient. It was a familiar disease to families in Victorian England – it was easily spread through coughing and didn’t discriminate between victims, young and old were all at risk.  Albert would have had a terrible cough, and he would have gradually got weaker and weaker. By the time he was coughing up blood he would have been very unwell indeed.

Albert was dead within a month. He was just 32 years old. He passed away quietly at home while life outside the bedroom window carried on as usual. A friend and neighbour shoemaker Richard Pilbeam sat with him as he died and it was Richard who went to the local Registrar William Martin to officially report the death and receive a copy of the certificate.

Emily returned to the home of her father, taking her daughter with her. She probably returned to dressmaking to help pay for her keep – but, as is often the case for women, the census gives her occupation just as ‘Housekeeper’.  James Burt died in 1875 and 4 years later Elizabeth married Sidney Ansell, and Emily lived with her daughter and son in law until her death in 1911. She remained in the village, close to her husbands family for the rest of her life. She never married again and had died a widow of almost 55 years.



And I will seek a foreign home.

Thomas Woolley

I rather thoughtfully scrawled my name on the fly leaf of this book when I was  10 although luckily it wasn’t over the original owners name.  I have no idea where it came from, I thought I had pinched it from the school library but having researched it, now I think it may have belonged a distant relative at some point.

The book, ‘The clock on the stairs’ by Alice Webber, was given to Thomas Eli Woolley for his good conduct and careful work at school in 1904, funnily enough he was almost 10  when he got the book. He was the eldest of 7 children born to Amos, a labourer, and Mary Ann and the family lived in and around Plumstead, southeast London. After he left school he became a printer, an occupation he continued with for many years.

I can’t find hide nor hair of him serving in WW1 but, as a great many service records were destroyed during bombing in WW2, it is possible there are just no surviving records for Thomas. He was of an age to go to war so it is likely he did.

Now, as the war ended, Thomas decided to do something very exciting. Just as the Roaring Twenties were beginning, 25 year old Thomas packed his bags and left behind London, setting sail for New Zealand. He might have paid for his ticket or if he was an ex-serviceman he may have been able to take advantage of a free passage. This was being offered to various groups of people to assist them to start a new life in NZ.

He sailed from Southampton on the 20th of May 1920 on board the Osterley and arrived in Auckland (via Sydney) finishing his journey on the Riverina on the 20th of July.  The passenger list gives his occupation as still being a printer although he was unable to find work in the printing industry on arrival.    He settled in Moa Street, Otahuhu and found work at the Westfield Freezing Works, which I think froze meat before it was sent to the shops.

A few months after Thomas arrived, his younger sister Elizabeth set out to join him.  Leaving Southampton in November and sailing through a terrible storm lasting several days, she arrived in Auckland on the SS Arawa on December the 28th 1920 and presumably lived with her brother while she found work.  Elizabeth was 22 years old. I wonder how their family felt, thousands of miles back home knowing they were unlikely to see Thomas and Elizabeth again.

Life in Otahuhu would have been a fair bit different from London I would imagine. The weather, the people, the housing, simply the access to the cleaner fresher coastal air would have been like nothing the pair would have known. It would have taken time for them to settle down and get used to their new life. Sadly time wasn’t something Thomas had a lot left of.

On the 13th of April 1921 Thomas was at work. He was stirring boiling tar in barrels when his apron caught light and despite the best efforts of his work colleagues to quickly put the flames out, Thomas suffered terrible burns to his arms and legs.  He was taken to hospital where for a time he rallied but after two whole weeks of suffering he passed away from septic shock on the 30th of April.

His sister placed a small notice in the newspaper. She would have had to telegram her parents back in England, who would have been unable to travel to her. The voyage out had taken 2 months. Thomas’ father Amos wrote a small obituary for his beloved and eldest son giving details of his funeral on the 2nd of May at Otahuhu public cemetery.  Not quite ten months after arriving in Auckland.

Elizabeth stayed in New Zealand, even if she had wanted to return to her family it is unlikely she would have been able to afford to.  In 1923 she married a local man and died a widow aged 93.