Lifestory retold by Jan Clark
This is the story of Jane and Ernest Deacon. Jane was born in Reading in 1860.According to the 1861 census she was born at 41 Hosier Street. Her father David, a shoemaker, was 49 at the time of her birth and her mother Elizabeth Alloway was his housekeeper. She was 34 and was born in Aldermaston. She had recently given birth to Jane’s sister, Charlotte who was 6 weeks old. Her father came originally from East Ilsley and it’s possible that he had moved to Reading to find work. He and Elizabeth were married at St Mary’s Church on 11 November 1861. They had two further children: Aaron born in 1864 and Rebecca born in 1866.
David died in 1867 and was buried on 11 March in Reading Cemetery. So Elizabeth was alone with four young children, the youngest only about a year old.
By the time of the 1871 census Elizabeth was in the workhouse. Her occupation was listed as nurse and domestic servant. Jane and her sisters and brother were pupils at the Reading and District School in Wargrave. They were 11, 9, 8 and 5 years old.This school was for the children of parents living in the workhouse. It was established in the old workhouse buildings of the Wokingham Union. The pupils who boarded there were taught not only in reading, writing and arithmetic but also the skills necessary to earn a living: laundering, housework, cooking and dairying for girls, the boys learned farming skills and animal husbandry on the 10 acres owned by the school as well as shoemaking and tailoring.
In the 1881 census Elizabeth was still in the workhouse but had been joined by Jane who was now 21 and her infant son, Ernest, who was five months old. Jane’s occupation was listed as servant.
It’s very possible that Ernest was born in the workhouse which was the only place many unmarried women had recourse to when they became pregnant.
Baby Ernest died three months later. His death was certified by Mr Walford, the Workhouse Medical Officer. The cause of death is difficult to decipher but may well have been osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease complicated by a form of pneumonia. Brittle bone disease is a genetic condition and one in which there can be deformities of the chest and spine. In addition, many babies born in the workhouse had low expectations of surviving beyond their first year due to infections which spread easily in often overcrowded and sometimes insanitary nurseries.
Ernest was given a pauper burial in Reading cemetery on 26 July 1881. However, there are no further records of his mother either in censuses or other records. She may have left the workhouse as she isn’t listed there in the 1891 census. She may have married and moved elsewhere. His grandmother, Elizabeth, eventually must have left the workhouse and in 1901 was recorded as lodging at 8 Whitley Street as a retired laundress. She died in 1902 and was buried in Reading cemetery but possibly not as a pauper. There are twelve recorded memorials for people named Deacon in the cemetery including a war grave and possibly someone may have been related to Jane or her family, who knows?
Buried in Section 25, mound