Life story shared by Stephen Copperthwaite (great grandson)
Caroline Bishop was born on a cold February morning in 1836 in Earley, Berkshire and baptized on February 7th of the same year. She was the sixth of ten children to James and Mary White (nee Small). Her father was Agriculture Laborer, and most likely worked on a farm in the surrounding area.
By the age of 15, Caroline had finished school and went to work like many of her siblings did at that time.
The Whites have a fairly lengthy history in Sonning and this where Caroline met William East. In July of 1854, at the age of 18, Caroline (then three months pregnant) married William East, a Laborer, also 18. The couple resided in the District of Wargrave.
On January 17th, 1855, the couple welcomed their first born, Mary East.
Esther East (my 2nd Great Grandmother) was born on April 13th, 1858, the second child of William and Caroline and a little sister to Mary. Also born in Lower Earley, England. Earley, a small town and civil parish in the English county of Berkshire and lies 5 kilometers southeast of Reading England.
William, an agricultural laborer, did not have steady work, so in 1860 the family moved to Reading where William was employed as a ‘Mason Laborer’ while Caroline was a Laundress at home.
This is the first time we hear about the family being in the laundry business, a trade that would be passed down through generations. Being a laundress, was one of the few occupations open to married women and widows. It could mean the difference between surviving and destitution for those without a husband’s income or for women whose husbands had seasonal jobs such as William (a Mason Laborer). Being a laundress allowed Caroline to keep her children with her, though she was probably occupied with washing and ironing from early in the morning to late at night. Doing laundry back then would have been a hard laborious task (lifting and carrying) as well as menial and somewhat degrading form of work. A woman being the sole bread winner may have had a significant impact on the family / marital life. The men were usually the sole bread winner and were more apt to be nicely dressed and well-fed compared to the rest of the family. Having this trend reversed, probably led to some marital strife along the way. Laundresses appear to have an entrepreneur spirit and were probably in most cases very strong, dynamic and resilient in their nature. This is how I imagined Caroline to be.
The young family welcomed their first boy, John East in February 1860 and baptized on February 12th. Unfortunately, John passed away in April at just three months of age. He was buried in a Common Grave within Reading Old Cemetery on April 11th, 1860 (Division 10, plot 2677).
Ann East was born the following February in 1861 and baptized on April 14th. Unfortunately, she died at 7 months of age and was also buried in a Common Grave in Reading Old Cemetery on October 3rd, 1861 (Division 15, Plot 2953).
The 1861 Census was taken on April 7th showing the young family living at “No#2 Little Crown Yard”.
Death of William East
Suddenly in March 1863, Caroline’s husband William East, the patriarch of the family, passed away (cause unknown). He was only 37. This was a huge blow to the family as another baby was on the way. William is also buried in Reading Old Cemetery (Division 50, Plot 3216).
On July 6th, 2023, my 3rd cousin Bev Flanagan obtained the following information on the aforementioned burial from the Berkshire Record Office. The burial transcripts show:
|Ellen Wilkins: 17th March, 1863||John Hudson: 20th March, 1863|
|William East: 22nd March, 1863||Thomas White: 22nd March, 1863|
|Ellen Harris: 23rd March, 1863||Catherine Abbley: 1st April. 1863|
“Therefore, they were buried at slightly different times, but very close together. I am afraid that we are not sure whether they were covered up after being buried or if this was only done at the end. The Order Book, catalogue reference R/UC1/1/5, shows that John Hudson, Ellen Harris and Catherine Abbley were paupers, which may explain why they were buried together in open ground. Whilst it does not say that the other three people were paupers, it seems that their families did not pay for them to be buried in a reserved grave (families often purchased plots and were then buried together), so I would speculate that they were not well off.
I am afraid that I am not sure whether it would have been an especially large grave. I checked the plan of the cemetery containing division 50, catalogue reference R/UC1/11/2, to see if it might provide any clues, but I could not find grave number 3216 marked on there. However, I have processed another Reading cemetery enquiry where four members of a family were buried together, so I do not think it was unusual for this number of people to be buried together. Sadly, Thomas White was only
13 months old, so he would have been very small”. Archives Assistant
In June 1863, the family welcomed a baby boy, William East, rightly named after his late father. The birth of William, a brother to Mary and Esther, brought both great joy and worry to the young family having lost its main bread winner.
Caroline, now 27, was working night and day as a Laundress to support her three young children. Quite a burden for a young widowed woman, but had a lot of support from her own immediate family the “Whites”.
Thomas Bishop (1836-1893)
Caroline got reacquainted with an old family friend, Thomas Bishop, four years her junior and a laborer from Caroline’s hometown of Earley. Thomas, never married, would accept his new love and her three children and married in a small ceremony in Reading, July 1865. Three more children would follow: Caroline (1866), Charles (1868) and Lucy (1876).
The 1871 Census shows the family living in the town of Earley, the district of Wokingham in Berkshire
(Parish of Sonning). Included are: Thomas Bishop (30), a Laborer and his widowed wife Caroline (34). Caroline’s children Mary East (16), Esther East (13) and William East (8) who are listed as “Boarders” and the couple’s own children Caroline (5) and Charles Bishop (3), Lucy followed in 1876.
Children were expected to help their mother with the laundry. They were often used as unpaid labor to help with tasks such as carrying water, turning the mangle and hanging clothes. Thomas began working at the local Biscuit Factory.
By the middle 1870s, Caroline’s eldest daughter Mary got married (Arthur Webster) and started a family of her own.
Esther was next. She took a job as a Laundress at the Royal Berk’s Hospital in Reading. While at the hospital, Esther met an injured soldier, (Charles Potts) four years her senior. After having two children out of wedlock, Esther and Charles were married in 1883.
With the two oldest girls gone, residing at 9 Earley Cots Cres Rd, were Caroline (46), Thomas (42), her son William (18) and their children Charles (12) and Lucy (5). Their eldest daughter Caroline (15) was staying with her maternal grandfather James White (83) in Sonning as he recently had become a widower.
Sometime during the next 10 years, Charles Bishop, Caroline and Thomas’s eldest child passed away. Cause and details are unknown.
At the time of the census, Caroline and Thomas are residing at 5 St. Peter’s Rd in Reading. Now into their mid-50s, the couple remained gainfully employed as a Bricklayer Laborer and Laundress, respectively. Tough occupations for two people at this stage in their life, but steady employment for Caroline, who has probably built a good business. Staying with them was Caroline’s son William East (28), also a Bricklayer and their daughter Caroline (26) and her husband of 7 years, William Curtis Thomas (29), a Laborer. Caroline was also involved in her mother’s laundry business along with her little sister Lucy (15).
A Tragic Death of Thomas Bishop
On Sunday December 17th, 1893 Thomas Bishop was found dead from an apparent suicide. On December
23rd, 1893 the Reading Mercury released the following Article headlined:
“Melancholy Suicide Through Drink”
“On Monday Mr. W. Weedon held an inquest at the Mission Room, Wykeham, Earley Rise, near Reading on the body of a laborer at the Biscuit Factory, named Thomas Bishop, who was about 59 years of age and whose body was discovered by his wife on the previous evening suspended from a beam in the wash-house.
Caroline Bishop, widow of the deceased, identified the body and said that her husband’s health was fairly good, but that he complained frequently of his head and had a perpetual cold. On Saturday he was the worse for drink and threatened to kill witness. He dragged witness to the wash-house door, knocked her down, and nearly strangled her.
Generally, they lived on good terms, and the deceased had constant work. He had nothing to trouble him. He went to bed on Saturday evening at about 11.15 and remained in bed all day Sunday, during which time he had no food. At about 6.50 in the evening witness went to her daughter’s house, two doors away and returned at 7.40. About 10 minutes afterwards witness went to the wash-house and there found the deceased hanging from a beam. She ran at once for her daughter and another neighbor, and after went for P.s. Foster. The beam from which the deceased was suspended was a piece of wood that was brought home a few weeks before; it was lodged on two shelves, nearly up to the ceiling. Deceased feet were not touching the ground. There was a chair near the body. The body was taken down about a half hour after the witness first found it.
Thomas Silver, a laborer, living near, deposed to being called by the
deceased’s daughter. He went to the Bishop house, and felt the body, which was quite cold. When P.s. Foster arrived, witness helped to take the body down. He saw no signs of scuffling in the wash-house.
Ellen Parsons, the wife of Geo Parsons, living opposite Bishop’s house, stated that the deceased was very much addicted to drink. Her husband told her he saw the deceased go home the worse for drink on Saturday night.
The daughter of the deceased stated that she saw him on Saturday night, when he was in a violent temper. He was going into the house, and had a chopper in his hand, which, however, he left afterwards outside. He was using threats at his wife at the time.
The jury found that the deceased committed suicide by hanging himself during temporary insanity.
1896 – Death of Daughter(s)
On April 1st, 1896, Caroline’s eldest daughter Mary Webster (nee East) died from complications from pneumonia while battling influenza, the wife of Arthur Webster, a Baker. Mary lived two doors down from her sister Esther; 15 Wykeham and 19 Wykeham. She died at age 41, leaving behind a husband and six children with the youngest, Bertie, only 8 years old.
Sometime over the next five years, Caroline’s oldest daughter (with Thomas Bishop), also named Caroline died, she was only in her mid-30s and was married to William Thomas. Cause of death is unknown.
By the turn of the century, Caroline had survived so much tragedy in life; four of her six children she had with William East were now dead along with her first husband William. Her second husband, Thomas Bishop, was a violent drunk who committed suicide in her “wash house” and two of the three children she had with Thomas have since passed away.
Here she is, approaching 65 and still working as a Laundress and now living with her youngest daughter Lucy and her family. Lucy married Frederick Maynard (a Garden Laborer) in 1895 and by the end of 1901, they had three children: Ivy Lucy, Hilda May and Violet Elsie born in May 1901. The family resided at 14 Arthur Rd in Reading. Also living with the Maynards is William Thomas, widower of Lucy’s sister, Caroline.
Death of the Matriarch
On the 11th of May, 1909, Caroline died from “Carcinoma of the Rectum and Exhaustion”. She was 73. Her address at the time on her death is listed as 7 Woodstock Street. Her youngest daughter Lucy was with her when she passed away.
The Family Plot
Caroline was buried within Reading Old Cemetery, Unconsecrated Section 07, Grave 15206 on May 15th, 1909. According to archived records, the grave appears to have been a family grave purchased by Caroline’s son-in-law Frederick Maynard. The following are also buried with her in the same grave:
Lucy Maynard (nee Bishop)
Lucy (1875-1960) was the last child born of Caroline and Thomas Bishop. She married Frederick Maynard (1872-1931) in December 1895 and had the following children:
- Ivy Lucy Maynard (1896-1927) *
- Hilda May Maynard (1898-1921) *
- Violet Elsie Maynard (1901-1978)
- Frederick Maynard (1913-1991)
Ivy married Harry Pontin (1894-1969)
Violet married Percy Lewis Small (1897-1978)
(*) indicates buried in family plot
Lucy, like her mother Caroline, experienced tragedy early in life with the loss of her first two children; Hilda at age 23 and Ivy at 31.
Reading Old Cemetery
On June 13th, 2023, the writer (Stephen Copperthwaite) visited Reading Old Cemetery with his 3rd Cousin Bev Flanagan.
The goal was to find the Bishop/Maynard family grave above. It was the only grave, out of approximately 20 buried relatives where a monument had been erected. We could not find the grave on the visit (little did we know that the grave is buried deep within the bushes). The grave contains:
- Caroline Bishop / East (nee White) 1836-1909
- Daughter: Lucy Maynard (nee Bishop) 1875-1960 and husband Frederick Maynard
- Granddaughter: Violet Small (nee Bishop) 1901-1978 and husband Percy Lewis Small
- Granddaughter: Ivy Pontin (nee Bishop) 1896-1927
In early July 2023, I received a message from my 3rd cousin (Bev Flanagan) that her and her husband along with Yota Dimitriadi (“Reading Old Cemetery: History, Heritage and Education”) had cleared out the grave and its surroundings for the aforementioned Plot.
I was both amazed and shocked to see such a display of compassion, and through their hard work, the grave and its people are brought back to life. Many thanks to Bev, Dave and Yota for such an outlandish display of compassion and kindness.
Stephen Copperthwaite (July 2023)
I am the 3rd Great Grandson of Caroline Bishop / East (nee White). What an amazing tough life Caroline had, but despite all her hardship, she eked out a career to support and sustain her family. Her occupation as a Laundress would be passed on from mother to daughter(s) to granddaughter(s). What is really unique, is that I married a daughter of a Laundress in 1989, some 130 years after Caroline was found to have been a Laundress.
Mother: Mary Small (1802-1878)
Father: James White (1798-1886) / Ten Children
William East (1826-1863) / Five Children
Thomas Bishop (1836-1893) / Three Children
Mary East: (1855-1896)
- M. 1876 Arthur Webster (1843-1917) / Six Children
- Laundress / Baker
Esther East: (1858-1928)
- M. 1883 Charles Potts (1854-1915) / Six Children
- Laundress / Veteran and Coachman
John East: (1860-1860)
Ann East: (1861-1861)
William East: (1863-19xx)
- M. 1903 Elizabeth Ann Moore (1863-19xx) / Her three Children
- Labourer / Widowed Laundress
Caroline Bishop: (1866-1900)
- M. 1884 William Curtis Thomas (1862-1xxx) / No Children
- Laundress / Factory Labourer
Charles Bishop: (1868-1892)
Lucy Bishop: (1875-1960)
- M. 1895 Frederick James Maynard (1872-1931) / Four Children
- Laundress / Garden Labourer
Section 7, Row P, Plot 13