Sunday, 8 February 2009

Dressmaker ?

I read an interesting article recently that talked about the 1881 & 1891 census & that prostitutes, particularly in London, often gave their occupation as “dressmaker”. I had a chuckle at this as we have a “dressmaker” in our family tree.

Maternal great-great-grandmother Janet (Jesse) Cochran Smith was born about 1837 in Ayrshire Scotland and married William Cunningham Bontine Hamilton in 1855 in Greenoch where they raised all 11 children. On various censuses through the decades Janet lists her occupation as “dressmaker”. I suspect Jesse had no formal training but rather, like many women, did sewing from home to help supplement the family income – particularly important when there were 11 small mouths to feed!

Jesse’s husband William died of consumption in June 1885 and the following February her daughter Annie (our great-grandmother) married John Mackenzie; a merchant seaman from Dingwall. Sadly Annie died in 1895 leaving her husband with 3 young children – our grandmother Jessie only 5 years old. It is possible that her daughters’ ill-health/death prompted Jesse to move all the way from just outside Glasgow to London as on the 1901 census this is where we find her – not living with her widowed son-in-law who had remarried by this time but with her youngest son William and his wife Agnes.

At the ripe age of 64, Jesse is still working as a…….."dressmaker”.

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