John (1814-1887) & Sarah LOVEGROVE (1818-1899)

The mound-unmarked and common graves.
Photo by Leslee Barron-digital artist

Life story retold by Jan Clark

John Lovegrove was born at Woodley in 1814. On 4 August 1839 he married Sarah Long from Penn in Buckinghamshire at Sonning parish church. She was 21 and he was 25.

John worked as a shoemaker. He was probably a journeyman shoemaker and consequently may have had periods of low or no work. According to the 1851 census the couple, who now had three children, were living in Woodley with John’s mother, Mary, who was 79 and still working as a shoe binder. The work involved stitching the parts of a shoe together before the sole was nailed on. The work was mainly done by women, children and old men, working from home and paid by the dozen. It was sweated labour, workers providing their own machines ( often hired) and thread, working very long hours for little money.

John and Sarah’s three children were Hannah age 6, George age 2 and Thomas nine months. Sarah was a lacemaker. Buckinghamshire, where Sarah was born was a centre for lacemaking from the end of the sixteenth century. The lace produced was very fine and very expensive but the women whose great skill produced it were paid very little.

By 1861 the family had moved into central Reading and were living at 11 Box Court, one of the courts off Coley Passage. These were the developments of cramped back to back houses which became notorious as the ‘slums’ of Coley.

(There are descriptions of living conditions there in Margaret Ounsley’s book ‘Coley Talking – Realities of life in old Reading’ published by Two Rivers Press.)

Their daughter Hannah was now working as a servant and there were three more children, David age 9, John age 4 and Sarah, named after her mother, who was a year old.

Sarah was not able to make lace – she was working as a shoe binder like her mother in law – a job she would have somehow done at home as well as caring for the youngest children in a one up one down house with an additional attic room.

The family continued to live at Box Court and by 1871 George, Thomas, Daniel and John were all working as labourers. Sarah was at school. Nothing is known of Hannah.

By 1881 John, now aged 66, was an inmate in the workhouse. Henry Mayhew’s investigations into labour and the poor carried out by his team of investigative journalists and published in the Morning Chronicle in the mid – nineteenth century found that a significant number of workhouse inmates were shoemakers, nationally 1 in 222, lower only than labourers.

His younger daughter Sarah was also an inmate together with her two children David age 2 and Albert, eight and a half months old. Albert was born in the workhouse. Sarah was unmarried.

Her mother, now 63, was boarding at 8 Holly Court in Coley with the family of Robert Day, a labourer at the biscuit factory. Next door, at 6 Holly Court was David, her son, also a labourer at the biscuit factory with his wife Ann and their daughter Florence who was 3 years old.

George was living at 79 Weldale Street with his wife Ellen and daughter Jessie Katie along with seven other adults. Thomas was living at 38 Southampton Street with his wife Margaret and their four children aged from four years old to one month. So with no room to accommodate either of their parents or their younger sister the family was irretrievably separated by poverty.

John died in the workhouse in 1887. He was given a pauper’s burial on 14 December. His wife Sarah was recorded as an inmate there in the 1891 census. It cannot be determined whether husband and wife were inmates during the same period, although if they were, any time spent together would have been limited. Sarah was once again described as a lacemaker, more precisely as a ‘cotton lace maker’.So, although she was now destitute and elderly, it was on record that she had once learned and practised a skill which produced something beautiful. She was buried in the cemetery as a pauper on 21 November 1899.

Buried in Section 25, mound