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.