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

Life story retold by Jan Clark

Mary Ann was born in Reading and was baptised at St Giles Church on 25 March 1821. She married George Warner on 7 June 1841 also at St Giles Church. Her father’s name was Thomas Marsh and her mother was also Mary Ann.

By 1851 the couple were living in Broad Street where George kept an inn, The Duke’s Head. ( A photo of the inn appears in John Dearing’s book ‘Reading Pubs’.) According to the census he was also a carrier and employed one man. Living at the inn were Mary Ann now aged 30, their eldest son George, 8, Thomas, 5, Mary Jane, 2 and William 4 months. In addition there were two lodgers, Emmanuel and Edward Dale who were commercial travellers selling clocks, Mary Fisher who was a house servant and  Charlotte Ward, another servant and carrier’s assistant. It’s possible that Mary Ann ran the inn which was a ‘commercial inn’ for commercial travellers and others while George ran the carriers business. The inn also offered ‘good stabling’ for horses. There is a report in the local papers of an incident where a travelling hawker staying at the inn assaulted a young female servant who was working there and was told by Mary Ann to pack his bags and leave, in no uncertain terms.

They must have been quite comfortably off with the income from two businesses in the expanding town. But in 1854 disaster struck. George, who had been suffering from ‘a lingering illness’, died on 17 June,  aged only 35 years old. In what must have been a dreadful week, their eldest son, had been thrown from a mule he was riding by the wharf in Queens Road on 20 June. A dog had barked at the mule which was startled and threw young George then kicking him in the head and rendering him unconscious. He was taken to the RBH where he was reported as ‘recovering well’.

His father was buried in the cemetery on 25 June in Section 31(A4). The inscription on his memorial reads:

‘Sacred  to the memory of George Warner who died 17th June 1854 aged 35.

“I was with pain so sore oppress/which wore my strength away/that made me long for heavenly rest/ which never will decay/and as I am so must you be/Therefor prepare to follow me.”’

He and Mary Ann had been married for only 13 years. She was left with four young children, the youngest ones only 5 and 3 years old.

She would have had to leave the inn and her comfortable life there. By the time of the 1861 Census the family were living at 13 Waterloo Street in Katesgrove in St Giles Parish. George, who would have been 18 was not with them. It’s possible he may have gone to London where he was apprenticed as an iron worker living in Clerkenwell. Two years earlier in 1859 his brother Thomas aged 11 had been given an apprenticeship premium of £16 10 shillings from Archbishop Laud’s Charity, set up to help poor children. He may have trained as a bricklayer as his name appears in an 1874 directory as one. The charity is still in existence today.

Mary Ann was now working as a laundress. She probably  worked from home, taking in washing. The work was backbreaking and poorly paid. Clearly, her fortunes worsened as she went into the parish workhouse, St Mary’s which was in Pinckney’s Lane in Coley. St Mary’s was for the elderly, the infirm, mothers with children and children without parents. Her younger children now 16 and 18 did not go with her, so we might assume she was ill. She had been used to living quite comfortably, with servants to help her at the inn so the descent into poverty, burdened by grief, may have affected her health. She would  have been admitted to the workhouse infirmary where fellow paupers acted as nurses and there was often overcrowding; certainly conditions were unsanitary.

In March 1867 she died in the workhouse and was buried in the cemetery with her husband. She was 46 years old.

Clearly someone in the family had sufficient money to pay for her burial and to afford for her inscription to be added:

‘Also of Mary Ann, wife of the above who died March 3rd 1867 aged 46.’

So, although Mary Ann died in the workhouse she was spared the indignity of a pauper funeral. She was one of the fortunate ones who had a lasting memorial.

(The fate of the two youngest children is at present unknown.)

Buried in Section 31, Row A, Position 4