This time last year I wrote a post for International Women’s Day about a woman who inspired me, and did it in a very self-centred and self-obsessed way – all about me. Well I was asked to do another one this year and decided to take a slightly different approach to it.
As a Christmas gift for my Dad this year I decided to begin working on the ‘Walton Family Tree’ (although I got too excited about it and ended up telling him everything, some surprise eh). I began work on it on Saturday 25th February and within 24 hours I felt like ‘d stumbled upon a part-read story; as it turns out a massive amount of research has already been done by other members of the family and I’m now in regular contact with my fourth cousin who lives in a beautiful looking part of Australia. While looking through all of the information I uncovered I came across a lady named Hannah Maria Walton.
She was my second great grandmother and was born in Durham in 1849, one of 10 children. She had her first child in 1869, an illegitimate son to an unknown father, then later married William Dixon and had two daughters with him (with we think, another illegitimate son in between the two girls). Hannah Maria must’ve parted ways with William Dixon as she’s found in the 1881 census as a resident at the Durham Union Workhouse with her eldest daughter Elizabeth in tow. It’s suspected that she might have died in the Workhouse but I need to visit the Durham Records Office to confirm that. Of course, you can only glean so much information from the records and there’s plenty more research to be done but I’ve developed somewhat of a fascination with my second great granny Hannah Maria.
Since I was a wee nipper I’ve always known that I had a safe and secure home to live in and that if, when leaving school I couldn’t find a job, I’d be supported by the government with jobseeker’s allowance or if I got the grades to go to university then I’d be provided a grant to pay for my fees and could take out a student loan to support me. As it turned out I left school, found a job, bought a house and THEN decided to go to uni (I’m unconventional if anything), but Hannah Maria didn’t have any of those options. She had her first child while unwed and working as a servant. There was no kind of support from the government, no social housing to provide her with a nice cosy place to stay and nothing to say that her family would be willing to support her in an age when illegitimate children were frowned upon (although surprisingly common).
'As far as I’m aware, I’m the first person on the Walton side of the family to get a degree but it’s not because I’m ‘clever’, it’s because the opportunities for my generation are just so much better'
There are people in Britain who grumble on about how hard their lives are and how little opportunities there are for them and how absurd it is that they’re going to have to PAY for their higher education (scandalous that the state only provides 16 years of free education, scandalous!) but in some ways for a lot of people we’ve never had it easier (I realise there are exceptions though and we still have a big problem with poverty and unemployment, I’m not suggesting otherwise before anyone chastises me).
I dread to think what life must have been like for Hannah Maria in the workhouse – separated from the one child she had to take with her and the three she had to leave behind, made to work endless hours in appalling conditions, sleeping on an uncomfortable iron bed and being given barely enough food to sustain her. My second great grandmother had a tremendously hard life of nothing but hard labour and heartache. Her first son had things slightly easier and as the generations have progressed each has been given more opportunities than the previous. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first person on the Walton side of the family to get a degree. I’m certainly the first to be doing anything higher than a degree but it’s not because I’m ‘clever’, it’s because the opportunities for my generation are just so much better than for hers.
If Hannah Maria could read and write she’d be ‘doing alright’ and her struggle inspires me. It inspires me because I’ll never have to deal with the same kind of life she had. I’ll probably never experience the poverty she had to endure but without it I wouldn’t be here.
I hope I can uncover more about Hannah Maria because I’d love to be able to fill in more of the gaps and understand more of the life she went through. I’d like to think that if she could see the result of her struggle in the generations she spawned she’d be proud of how her family has turned out and would be thankful for the lives she brought into the world. For me, Hannah Maria is an inspiration not because of what she achieved but because of what she endured. If you think life is tough these days, I bet it’s nothing compared to when she was alive.