A Coming-of-Age Celebration

I wasn’t planning on writing about this family again so soon, but I was drawn to this article in the October 24, 1908 Bury (Lancashire, England) Times.[1]

Bury Times 24Oct1908 Nellie Casbon coming of age(Click on image to enlarge)

I was struck by both the importance of the occasion and the detailed reporting of the evening’s festivities. It paints such a vivid picture of a bygone era. I tried to find out more about the tradition of the coming-of-age celebration, but it does not seem to be well documented. In this case, Miss Casbon (Nellie) had just turned 21. This was the age of majority, when a young person gained full control over their lives by law.[2] In the U.K., the age of majority was finally reduced to 18 in 1975.[3]

Here in the U.S. 21 is the age when people can legally drink alcohol in many states. That occasion is frequently celebrated, often to excess, but not in such a dignified manner. The only other coming-of-age celebration I can think of in the U.S. is a “sweet sixteen” party, but that doesn’t have the level of formality and maturity described in the article above.

I wonder when the tradition started and when it ended? In England there was a long tradition of aristocratic debutantes being presented to the monarch as their formal introduction to society. I suspect that as the middle class became more prominent in 19th century Britain, it became economically and socially feasible to have similar celebrations for non-aristocratic young women.

It certainly sounds like a memorable and joyful occasion – musical performances, singing, “selections on a gramophone.” I love the detailed description of each of the presents along with the names of the gift-givers.

“Nellie” was Helen Marshall Casbon, daughter of Alfred Hitch Casbon junior and his wife Margaret Marshall. Alfred and his father, Alfred Hitch senior, were both subjects of my previous post. Nellie also had a younger sister, Laura Marshall Casbon. She was one year younger than Nellie, so I expect she would have had a similar celebration one year later. Unfortunately, the online archive of the Bury Times does not extend beyond 1909, and I haven’t located a similar article for Laura.

Nellie never married, and in 1939, she was still living in the house at 41 East Street in Bury.[4] Her occupation in 1911 was listed as Milliner, and in 1939 as “Cotton winder.”[5],[6]

1939 register detailDetail from the 1939 Register, Bury, Lancashire. The “41” on the far left is the house address on East Street. (Click on image to enlarge)

Google Street View image of 41 East Street, Bury, Lancashire, England. It is the one with the red door. This is where Alfred Hitch Casbon junior’s family lived from at least 1891 through 1939 or later. This block of houses looks largely unchanged since the 19th century (aside from the automobiles and satellite dishes!)

Nellie died 1976 in Bury (I bet she still had most of those gifts!).[7] Her sister Laura married a man named Cairns in 1936, and I haven’t been able to trace her whereabouts since then.[8]

[1] “Coming-of-Age Celebration.” The Bury (Lancashire, England) Times, 24 November 1908, p. 10, col. 2; pdf image, The British Newspaper Collection,” findmypast http://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0000315%2f19081024%2f261 : accessed 17 March 2017).
[2] “Age of majority,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_majority : accessed 17 March 2017), rev. 16 Mar 17, 11:44.
[3] “Timeline of young people’s rights in the United Kingdom,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_young_people’s_rights_in_the_United_Kingdom : accessed 17 March 2017), rev. 8 Mar 17, 21:48.
[4][4] “1939 Register,” image and transcription, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=tna%2fr39%2f4314%2f4314j%2f019%2f21 : accessed 8 March 2017), entry for Helen M Casbon (born 19 Oct 1887), East Street , Bury C.B., Lancashire ; citing [The National Archives], RG101/4314J/019/21.
[5] “1911 Census of England and Wales,”  image and transcription, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbc%2f1911%2frg14%2f23516%2f0111%2f1 : accessed 8 March 2017), Helen Marshall Casbon in entry for Alf H Casbon (age 57), East St, Bury, Lancashire, England; citing [The National Archives], census reference RG14PN23516 RG78PN1371 RD462 SD5 ED5 SN56.
[6] “1939 Register,” entry for Helen M Casbon.
[7] “England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007,” Bury, Lancashire, England, vol. 38:0387; database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fd%2f1976%2f3%2faz%2f000162%2f103 : accessed 18 March 2017), entry for Helen Marshall Casbon, 3d quarter, 1976.
[8] “England & Wales Marriages 1837-2008,” Wallasey, Cheshire, England, vol. 8A: 1329, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fm%2f1936%2f4%2faz%2f000195%2f050 : accessed 8 March 2017), Frederick Cairns & Laura M Casbon, 4th quarter, 1936.

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