I would like to preface this post with these definitions:
Genealogy – a study of family ancestors with pertinent data such as birth, marriage and death dates.
Family History – an in-depth study of a family lineage with greater emphasis and clarification of each ancestor’s life story.
Hopefully my readers will agree that this blog leans more towards the family history definition than that of genealogy. Not that I intend to demean genealogy in any way. Genealogy research is the tool I use to get the facts needed to write about our family history. The dates and events are important – and sometimes the only information I have. But what I really want to do is to understand and describe our ancestors’ lives and the world they lived in.
Which leads me to the discussion of siblings. A strict genealogical approach would emphasize direct ancestors – parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. Siblings might be mentioned, but probably not explored in depth. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I think it restricts the ability to understand our ancestors’ lives. If you think about your own relatives – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – they all relate in some way to your concept of family and how you fit into that family. It must have been the same for our ancestors. For this reason, it’s important to me to look beyond my own direct ancestors and find out more about their extended families.
The late 18th century and early 19th century was an especially rich time when it comes to Casbon families in the Meldreth, Cambridgeshire area. My fifth great-grandfather Thomas Casbon (1843–1799) and his wife Jane (Wilson, 1741–1831) had seven children, four of whom survived into adulthood and had families of their own. These were: James (1772–1833), Isaac (1773–1825), Thomas (1775–1820), and John (1779–1813). Each of them had three or more children who lived beyond childhood, and each of them continued to live and work in the Meldreth area.
My point is this: by the early 1800s, Meldreth was teeming with Casbons. There were siblings and cousins galore. They must have had at least passing acquaintance with one another.
So, after this admittedly roundabout introduction, I’ll finally get to the real subject of today’s post. This is the first in a 3-part series about 3 siblings: Jane, William, and Edith Casbon, the children of John and Martha (Wagstaff) Casbon. John and Martha were each the subjects of earlier posts (“John Casbon of Meldreth & Royston (~1779-1813)” and “Martha = Patty”). Today I’m focusing on their first child, Jane.
Jane was born in Royston, Hertfordshire, probably in 1803, and was baptized November 27th of that year.
She was 10 years old and the oldest of the three children when her father died at Meldreth in 1813. Given the social and economic conditions of the time, it probably would have been necessary for her to help support the family in some manner, but there is no record of this. Things would have improved when her mother married Samuel Barnes in 1815. Jane and her siblings gained 4 half-brothers and one half-sister, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years old.
Jane never married. In the 1841 census, she was living with her mother, “Patty” Barns.
Two entries above that for Patty and Jane is one for William Casbel and his two children. This was not her brother William, but her first cousin, son of Isaac. Her brother William appears a few pages later, farther down the same street.
In the 1851 census, she was still living with her mother, and was now right next door to her brother.
This entry is interesting because it lists Janes mother as a “Pauper,” and Jane as a “Straw Platter.” What is a straw platter, you ask? The answer is that a straw plaiter was someone who braided straw to be used in the production of certain textiles, especially straw hats, which were fashionable at the time., The straw was braided into long strips and then sold by the score (20 yards) to either middlemen or manufacturers. The straw plaits were sewn together in factories to make the finished product. It was said that straw-plaiting women could earn more than their husbands.
“Happy Times: Straw-Plaiting near St. Albans” This engraving, based on a watercolor painting,
appeared in The Illustrated London News in May, 1853. (Click on image to enlarge)
Most straw plaiting in England was done in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. Meldreth, in Cambridgeshire, was only a few miles away from the county borders of both Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, so it was apparently close enough for Jane to get in on the business. It’s interesting that of the 776 entries in the 1851 Meldreth census, Jane’s is the only one given “straw platter” as the occupation.
The 1871 census makes a surprising revelation.
She was now living in Melbourn (just a mile from Meldreth). The word “Pauper” under Occupation has been crossed out. The surprise is in the column on the far right that says “Cripple from Birth.” I didn’t see that coming! I don’t know what kind of disability she had, but I would guess that it affected her ability to walk normally. She seemed to be able to use her hands, given her earlier work as a straw plaiter. How did this disability affect her life? I would like to think that she overcame the adversities in her life and ended up a stronger, more independent woman.
Jane’s death at the age of 69 was registered in Royston in the third quarter of 1872. There is no record of her burial in either the Meldreth or Melbourn parish registers.