About Mary Ann Cole, nee Cheek, nee Turner, was born in 1804 to Robert Turner and Mary (nee Thompson). She became one of the first residents of the Mary Ann Sanford almshouses.
Mary Ann was the second of four children. However her father had previously been married in 1791 to Mary Arnel when he was aged 24 and she was aged 20. They had four children. When Mary died in 1802, aged 31, Robert was left to care for 4 children aged between 1 and 10.
A second marriage for Robert Turner
It is hardly surprising that within the year he married again, this time to Mary Thompson. Their first son, Thomas, was born in 1803. Next came Mary Ann in 1804, followed by two more children, James in 1807 and Henry in 1810. When Mary Ann was born, her eldest half sibling would have been aged 13 and the youngest aged 3. At that time the likelihood was that there were six children and two adults in the one home, which was probably no more than a two bedroomed house.
Mary Ann Turner gets married in 1824 but widowed a few years later
At the age of 20, on 19th Feb 1824 Mary Ann married John Cheek. Between 1827 and 1836 they had three children, John (1827), Henry (1832) and Thomas (1834). Somewhat strangely, John was baptised in St Mary the Virgin Church in Wivenhoe, but Henry and Thomas were baptised in the Wivenhoe Congregational Chapel.
Sometime between 1836 and 1840 Mary Ann’s husband died leaving her in her early twenties a widow with three young boys. In 1836 John would have been age 9, Henry age 4 and Thomas age 2.
I can only imagine that Mary Ann would have felt her situation to be fairly desperate with no husband to support them and few opportunities to earn an income had she even the skills to do so. Her only real option would have been to remarry, but with three small children to care for how easy would that be. The alternative could be the workhouse.
Mary Ann remarries in 1840
However in 1840 Mary Ann did remarry, to Whitley Cole. Whitley was a widower whose wife had died in 1833 at the age of 34 leaving him with five children. When he remarried in 1840 his children ranged in age from 10 to 20 years.
The 1841 census shows that only his three youngest children, Louisa (10), Benjamin (14) and Whitley (16) were still living with him and Mary Ann, along with her two sons John (14) and Henry (9).
Whitley and Mary Ann had one daughter together in 1842, Mary Ann Esther. In 1861 she was the only one of their children still living with her parents. However three of their grandchildren were also now living with them. They were from the marriage of Mary Ann’s stepson, Whitley to Martha Cornwall Ham. She had died in 1860 and Whitley was shown in the census as being an able seaman aboard the ship Witham docked in Northumberland.
A difficult situation
This appears to be a recurring situation for both men and women during this period where they are left to bring up children on their own, if they are not fortunate enough to remarry. Life appears to be precarious and hard, made harder by the loss of a partner. And even if they do remarry, in many cases it doubles the size of a family. If the children are quite young it must create huge hardship supporting a large family on what was probably relatively low wages. Little wonder that children at a fairly young age were expected to contribute to the family income.
Given a place to live in the Almshouses
By 1871 Mary Ann and Whitley were living alone. All of their children and grandchildren had left the family home. Only four years later, in 1875, Whitley had died and Mary Ann was living alone. By 1881 she was living in one of the Almshouses, but died in 1882.
Although it is not documented exactly when she moved to the almshouse, at least the last few years of her life would have been made easier with a secure tenure and a small income of six shillings.