Tag Archives: Ritchie District

My Grandmother’s Wedding Shoes

19 Sep

A Victorian Woman

My Grandmother’s Wedding Shoes!

Sarah Jane Sleath was the only girl in a family of six boys including twins. She was born at Outwoods, Staffordshire in 1869. She lived with us when I was growing up in Edmonton. All I really remember was a tiny, old woman in a bed, and I was taken in to visit her once a day. By the time I was four, she had been moved to a long term care hospital. My Dad and I visited her at the hospital, but on one visit, after my dad let a nurse carry me off to a ward, thinking I was a new admission, I was never allowed to go again. Who knows what my dad was thinking that day? My mother was very angry with him.  I vividly remember a long room with beds along both sides filled with children. Then my dad and another nurse came rushing up to retrieve me!

Sarah Jane died in 1954 and I recall seeing her coffin in the boxcar on the train while we waited at the CPR station. We were going to Red Deer for her funeral and burial in the cemetery next to her husband John Thomas Perkins. Not sure why they were buried there. Her brother, Jack Sleath and his wife Clara Annie Shotton, were buried there as well, but they had lived there.

Over the years, I heard comments from different people. They all recalled that Sarah Jane had quite the temper and wondered how my grandfather dealt with it. She was a little bit of a thing, standing about 4 feet 10 inches, at least that’s what she looked like in pictures. Some say I look like her. Perhaps my temper is justly inherited.

Who was this woman I barely knew? While searching some of the trunks kept in our cellar, I came across a beautifully decorated box. In it were white shoes and a wedding veil. I had seen pictures of my grandparents wedding and knew they must belong to Sarah Jane. She married John Thomas Perkins May 5, 1901 at St. Peter’s Church, Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire, England. Prior to that she had worked as a Parlor Maid at Claybrooke Hall.  Her employer was Miss Simpson. I often wondered what life was like for domestic help in Victorian times.

The 1901 Census shows the following:

Louise Simpson 78       Born Foston, York

Charlotte Hillyar 71     Born Stoke Bramel, Devon        Companion

Bessie Tyers 47              Born Shenstone, Staffordshire   Nurse Attendant

Sarah Jane Sleath 30   Born Outwoods, Staffordshire   Parlor Maid

Sarah Heywood 24       Born Chilcote Lei                              House Maid

Ethel Crisp 17                 Born Claybrooke, Lei                     Kitchen Maid

Janet Taylor 32              Born Blackfordy, Lei                       Nurse

Hetty Williams 32          Born Greenwich, London              Cook

What would she have done as a parlourmaid? Quoting from “Women’s Lives” a book on social history from 1800 – 1930 by Jennifer Newby , “parlour and housemaids’ duties were often interchangeable. The main division was that parlourmaids answered the door, served tea and did the lighter cleaning. Housemaids undertook the heavier work, rising at dawn to light the kitchen fire, heating water, beating rugs and other heavy cleaning.”   Both types of  Maids would also make beds, clean rooms, do sewing and mending and keep the fires going  throughout the day. Days off were few and far between, but Sarah Jane managed to meet JohnThomas Perkins the village Blacksmith. Perhaps it was at church, as servants often accompanied their employers to services and in this instance, St. Peter’s Church was just across the road from The Hall.

In Sarah’s wedding photo, Bessie Tyers is pictured with the family, so I assume that Sarah and Bessie had developed a relationship while working long hours at The Hall. There is  one unidentified woman who could also be from The Hall, perhaps Janet Taylor, the nurse.

My grandmother’s life would  change when she married. In just a few short years, she, her husband John Thomas and son Tertius, would leave England to make a better life for themselves in Canada. The city she moved to was just getting its start in 1913 and was rough and rugged. Her house in the Ritchie District had a barn for her cows and chickens and a big garden to grow vegetables. She had brought all her furniture including a piano and a grandfather clock, fine china, pictures and a mangle. Container shipping isn’t a new thing!

Sarah Jane had seen dramatic changes in her lifetime. Wish I had been able to hear her story firsthand.

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