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Ann Birchenough - single mother extraordinaire



Ann Birchenough Ė single mother extraordinaire

If you can't get rid of the family skeletons,
you may as well make them dance!
-George Bernard Shaw

Ann Birchenough must have been a truly remarkable woman, the original single mother. She brought up a whole brood without the apparent support of a man. She was born in Sandbach on 4 Nov 1809, the only child of Nathan Birchenough and Sarah Jones who had married in 1807. Unfortunately Nathan died in about 1814 and, at the age of only 27, Sarah married again - to John Allen in St Mary's Church, Sandbach (15 May 1815). John Allen and Sarah had many children including Simon and Stephen Allen.

Ann lived in a house in Red Hill (now The Hill) Sandbach, next door to her mother Sarah and stepfather John Allen. She made her living as a boot binder, part of the shoe trade which flourished in Sandbach at that time. At the time of the first census in 1841 she was age 30 unmarried with four children: Samuel (9), Louisa (7), Sarah (5) and John (2).

Louisa and John had both died by the time of the 1851 Census; but Ann, still unmarried, had two new mouths to feed: Henry and Hannah. The family group is now:

         Samuel, age 18, shoemaker

         Sarah, age 14, silk throwster

         Henry, age 9 silk throwster (half time)

         Hannah, age 4, scholar

By the 1861 census she was age 50 and still has Samuel and Hannah living with her at the house in Union Street, Sandbach. She also has her half brother staying with her Ė Stephen Allen, a shoemaker, aged 37. By this time her two other children had left home: Sarah had married Charles Poole in 1859 and was living at Back Street; Henryís whereabouts are unknown.

On the 1871 census she is listed as a washerwoman, unmarried, age 60.  Henry is back with his mother in Union Street with a 2-year-old daughter Sarah Ellen Barrow (see below). Annís relationship with her step-brother Stephen Allen is intriguing. He never married and was still with her at the time of the 1871 census - two decades indicating a possible relationship. Three years later in 1874 he died, age 50*.

By the 1881 census only one of her children, Samuel, is still at home. But now Ann has her 23-year-old grandson: John Birchenough, the son born out of wedlock, the year before Sarahís marriage to Charles Poole. Ann died in 1889, at the ripe old age of 78.

Ann Birchenoughís children

Samuel Birchenough was a motherís boy. He stayed by Annís side in Union Street from his birth in 1833 to his death in 1887. In his teens and twenties he was a shoemaker but for the rest of his life he remained a bricklayerís labourer.

Sarah Birchenough left school and became a silk throwster at the factory at the bottom of Union Street. She was to bear a son, John Birchenough, in 1858, the year before her marriage to Charles Poole. Sarah and John were the ancestors of the Birchenough/Birchall line (see below).

Henry Birchenough was the third of Annís four children, born in 1841. Children grew up fast in those days - by the 1851 census he was listed as silk throwster half time, age 9! He was nowhere in sight at the 1861 census but was back for the 1871 census, working as a bricklayerís labourer and living with his mother at 21 Union Street. The surprise is that he has acquired a daughter: Sarah Ellen Barrow This is quite possibly Henryís illegitimate daughter by Catherine Barrow, a fellow silk worker who would have been 17 in 1861 and who died in 1874 age 30.

Henry married Ann Usher in 1876 and Sarah Ellen Barrow is listed as their step-daughter on the 1881 census, just a few doors up from Henryís mother in Union Street. Henry and his wife spent the rest of their lives in Union Street. When Sara Ellen left home they took in their young nephew Enoch Usher following the death of his mother in childbirth in 1882. Enoch was the son of Annís brother Ralph. He was still living with them, age 21, at the 1901 census.

Hannah Birchenough was the last of Annís four children. She was born in Back Street in 1846 and in 1861 was a silk worker age 15. She married Thomas Eaton in 1869; they had no children. In 1871 they were living in Union Street; by 1881 they were living with Thomas Eatonís widower father in High Street, Sandbach. At the 1891 and 1901 censuses they were still living in Sandbach.

A note on the Allen family

The Allens have an indirect relationship to our blood line. Ann was about six when her father Nathan Birchenough died. Her mother Sarah was aged 27 when she married John Allen in St Mary's Church on 15 May 1815. They had many children, including Simon and Stephen Allen. We have already mentioned Stephen, Annís half brother who lived with her for two decades in Union Street. But what of Simon Allen?

Simon Allen was born on 11 Oct 1829 in Sandbach. At the time of the 1851 census he was living at 90 Elworth Street, Ettiley Heath. This was the home of his sister Elizabeth and her husband Joseph Johnson. He lists in the 1851 census as a cordwainer. This is the ancient word for a shoemaker, a maker of leather shoes, as opposed to a clog maker or cobbler (see http://www.thehcc.org/backgrnd.htm. In the 1861 census he reverts to the name shoemaker. In 1859 he pops up as a witness to the marriage of Charles Poole to Sarah Birchenough at Providence Chapel, Sandbach in 1859. By the 1861 census he was age 31 unmarried, still living with his sister Elizabeth and her husband Joseph Johnson, at Green Street, Sandbach. After 1861 he disappears from the scene.

Sarah Birchenough

Sarah Birchenough left school and became a silk throwster at the factory at the bottom of Union Street. She bore a son, John Birchenough (see below) in 1858, the year before her marriage to Charles Poole. They married at the Providence Chapel in Sandbach in 1859. The marriage was also registered as a civil marriage (Baptist's were non-conformists so their records had also to be registered as a civil event at the record office).

She was still working as a silk winder at the time of the 1861 census, having set up home in Back Street, Sandbach. By the 1871 Census Sarah and Charles had moved to Wheelock Heath and son John is listed as John Birchenough stepson. Six little Pooles were to follow in the years between 1864 and 1881. There were many mouths to feed. In the 1901 census Sarahís husband Charles Poole was still listed as general labourer at the ripe old age of 68. Two of their children were still at home.

The Birchenough name - a slender thread

What's in a name? The Birchenoughs could so easily have been Birchalls, Pooles or even Allens. Sarah was christened a Birchenough by her mother because that was Ann's name - the father was unknown. John was christened Birchenough by Sarah for the same reason. Interestingly John is listed as Birchenough by his stepfather John Poole in the 1871 census; but in the 1881 census he is listed by his grandmother Ann Birchenough as Poole! He remained a Birchenough rather than a Poole, even after his motherís wedding. Thus the Birchenough line hangs on an exceedingly slender thread.

The Birchall connection is even stranger: when John married Alice Higgins in 1881 he is listed as John Birchell. Was this just a slip of the pen by the registrar? When their first born son Charles Henry arrives in 1883 he is registered as Charles Henry Birchall, yet he is baptized at St Mary's Church, Sandbach on 4 Feb 1883 as Charles Henry Birchenough. In the 1891 Census and 1901 Census he is still Charles Henry Birchenough. Yet when Charles Henry weds in 1905 he is Charles Henry Birchall and the father of the groom is listed as John Birchall. The witnesses are Charles' brother and sister, James Birchenough and Sarah Alice Birchenough!


Linked toAnn Birchenough; Hannah Birchenough; Henry Birchenough; John Birchenough; Louisa Birchenough; Samuel Birchenough; Sarah Birchenough

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