Caroline HIGGS

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

Life retold by Jan Clark

Caroline Higgs was probably born in Tilehurst and was baptised there in 1824. Her mother Ursula took her to the church; there is no record of her father. Thereafter, no trace of her mother can be found.

Caroline herself cannot definitively be traced until 1851 when she is recorded on the census as an inmate of St Mary’s workhouse, aged 30 and a former servant. She was to spend the rest of her life in the workhouse. By 1861, a national survey of long term residents of workhouses ( those who had been inmates continually for more than five years) was published. Both Caroline and Susan are recorded in the entry for Reading as suffering from scrofula. Caroline’s date of admission is given as 1841, when she was only 19 years old. She does not appear on the census for that year so must have been admitted after it was carried out.

It’s possible that during her time as an inmate Caroline acquired some skills in sewing as the following two censuses of 1871 and 1881 describe her as a dressmaker and needlewoman. It’s also possible that Caroline Higgs and Susan Ballard befriended each other. We can’t know.

By 1881 Caroline had spent 40 years in the workhouse. She died there in May 1881 and was buried as a pauper on 9 May. She was 58 years old.

She suffered from a disfiguring illness which made it impossible to obtain work outside the institution and to lead normal lives. The treatment was not yet available which would have enabled her to do so. It’s just one example of how the advancement of medical science has improved lives and life expectancy since the time in which she lived. However, it should not be forgotten that in the twenty-first century the effects of austerity and particularly the growth in child poverty have led to the reappearance of some historical diseases: rickets and scurvy – the effects of poor diet and malnutrition.

Buried in Section 25, mound