Sarah Munson, previously Eaton, nee Lilley. b.1803

Eventually a resident of the Mary Ann Sanford almshouses

Researched and written by Frances Belsham

Sarah’s Early Life

Sarah was the youngest of 4 children born to Francis Lilley and Mary Lappage. The other children were Mary Ann b.1796, Francis Soloman b.1794 and William b.1792.

When Sarah was 16, her brother Francis Soloman sadly died at the age of 25.  He had been married for 3 years and had 2 children.

Sarah, Wife and Mother

Sarah was living in Wivenhoe when she met and married Robert Eaton on 7th June 1829 at the age of 23. Robert was aged 22.  Robert and Sarah had 4 children who were born between 1830 and 1836. Robert Francis b.1830, William Alfred b.1833 and Mary Lappage and Sarah Ann, twins b.1836.

In 1841 the family were living in Sun Yard, which was near the quay.  Roberts occupation was listed on the census as Sawyer, who is someone who cut timber, usually in a timber mill.

In February 1848, Robert died at the age of 48.

Life, Loss and Widowhood

As always in this situation, life for a woman who has lost her husband, the breadwinner in the family, would suddenly become extremely difficult. With young children and few opportunities for work or skills to earn an adequate wage, how would she feed herself and her children and keep a roof over their heads.

It was an accepted fact that families of that period went through stages of ‘want and plenty’. Want, when their children are young and there are many mouths to feed, plenty, when they were old enough to contribute to the family income and another period of want, when the children have left home and the parents are old and sometimes infirm.

The other option for a widow with young children, is to marry again. The necessity to have a husband to support her and her children, I can imagine, would be paramount and it wasn’t unusual to find a widow and widower, both with children who would marry within a short time after the death of a husband or wife.

And this is what happened in Sarah’s case, but not until six years after Robert’s death. How she managed during those six years can only be guessed at.

The 1851 census shows the family apparently no longer living as one unit. Sarah Ann, then aged 14, was working as a servant to a family living in the High Street.

Mary was living with her mother in East Street. Also there in 1851, was Elizabeth Ford, who would marry Sarah’s son Robert in 1852.

There was no record of William or Robert on the 1851 census. As they were both listed as mariners in a later census, it may well be they were both at sea when the 1851 census was completed. William would have been aged 19 and Robert 21.

1854 and Sarah marries again but is widowed 2 years later

It was in 1854 that Sarah married Everett Munson. Everett was a widower with 6 children. The youngest would have been 18, so the likelihood is that they were no longer living with their father when he married Sarah.  Sadly Everett died less than two years after the marriage, leaving Sarah a widow for the second time.

Sarah’s Children.

By 1861 three of Sarah’s children were married. Robert married Elizabeth Ford.  In 1861 they had a son then aged 7.

Mary married Henry Barr and was living in Brook St. Her mother Sarah was also on the census as living with her.

Sarah Ann was married to William Aldridge, and her brother William was listed on the census as living with them in Rowhedge.

Over the next 20 years each of the families had their share of births and deaths.

Sarah Ann

Sarah Ann and William had 8 children. Two of their children died at a very young age. Stella at age 3 and George age 6. 

The loss of a child at a young age was not unusual at that time. It is estimated 1 in 5 children would die before their 5th birthday.

In 1880 Sarah Ann died leaving 4 children under the age of 12. The youngest aged 2.

In the mid 1800’s 11% of children could expect to lose a parent before reaching the age of 10.

In 1881 the children are living with their grandmother, Isabella Aldridge, who is a widow aged 76. Isabella died in 1887 when the youngest of her grandchildren was aged 9.


Sarah’s son Robert had married Elizabeth Ford in 1852. They also had 8 children. Elizabeth died in 1880 at the age of 51. Her three youngest children were aged 5, 7 and 12. The eldest of the three, Maud was working as a domestic servant the following year. There is no evidence to show that Robert married again

Mary Lappage

Sarah’s second daughter, Mary Lappage, married to Henry Barr, provided her mother with a home following the death of Sarah’s second husband. Henry was a ships carpenter and a publican.

They had three children. Their second child Mary Edith died at the age of 2.

In 1871 they were living in Brook St, possibly in the Brewery Tavern. As well as the family, also living there was Henry’s mother in law Sarah and three lodgers.


There is no trace of William after 1861, when he was living in the home of Sarah Ann. It may well be that he moved to another area or as a mariner he was at sea during the time of any census.

Security and Comfort at last

Frontage of the six almshouses built by Mary Ann Sanford in 1873

Just two years later, the Mary Ann Sanford almshouses were built in 1873, and probably at some point soon after this, Sarah would have moved into one of the almshouses where she lived until she died in March 1880.

In April of the same year, her daughter in law Elizabeth died and, in October 1880, her daughter Sarah Ann died. Such heartbreak for a family I can only imagine. But the tragedies of their lives continued when in 1882, George, the son of Robert and Sarah Ann, died at the age of 6.

As for so many people at that time, life was often hard. The loss of a husband  in later years would have been difficult enough, but it could also mean the loss of  the breadwinner at a time when a woman was unlikely to be able to work and earn enough to keep a roof over her head. For many women who came to live in the almshouses it may have meant the difference between security plus an income and being destitute and having to look to the workhouse to provide for their needs.

Sarah did not live to know of the other losses to her family, in particular for Robert. Perhaps this was a blessing and I hope that the last few years of her life were made easier by having a home in the almshouse and enough money to meet her needs. In those early days, thanks to the generosity of Mary Ann Sanford, the trustees were able to give a weekly allowance to each of the people living in the almshouses of about six shillings a week. 

Frances Belsham
November 2017


This page was added on 17/11/2017.

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