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The Will of an 'Ordinary' Woman

From the Barwicker No 61.
March 2001

The Barwick parish burial records includes Sarah Sharp, described as 'a labourer' of Barnbow Carr, who died in January 1739/40. She made a will in late December 1739, a week before she died., which is included in Lumb's 'Wills, Registers and Monumental Inscriptions of Barwick-in-Elmet1 . She described herself as a widow and "very sick and weak in Body, but of perfect mind and memory".

She left to Sarah Cloudsley "now being Town prentice, a pot and a pan, three pewther doublers, a Great chest, a little Box, a Bed and Beding, now being in the parlour, and four pounds in money, to be 'livered' to her and paid her when she approached twenty one years of age . . . ". The remainder of her "goods, chattells, utensills and debts" she left to Ellinor Balmer, her sole executrix, who in April 1740 married John Wood, of Aberford, a pinner. Sarah appointed Thomas Braime of (Barnbow) Carrhead, a carpenter, to take care that her will was truly executed. Members of the Braime family had lived in Barnbow for at least a century and a half prior to this time.

We do not know what relation if any Sarah was to Ellinor Balmer or Sarah Cloudsley. A 'town prentice' (apprentice) was usually an orphan child who came into the care of the parish, which paid a small sum to a local person to house the child and employ him or her as a servant or farm labourer. In the next century, the local author. Edward Burlend, in his novel 'Amy Thornton or the Curate's Daughter' (see 'The Barwicker' Nos. 6 and 19), describes how Amy after a spell in the 'Elmwood' (i.e. Barwick) workhouse was apprenticed to a local farmer to teach his children, but was cruelly treated. Burlend states that this was a common feature of the life of a town apprentice. In 1740, after Sarah Sharp's death, we learn from the township account book that Sarah Cloudsley was apprenticed to Nicholas Warin of Barnbow.

Sarah Sharp's bequests though small by modem standards are not inconsiderable for the time and indicate a status above that of her stated occupation of 'labourer*. Most women did not leave wills and those who did were usually wealthy heiresses, so this is an unusual document. Such unlikely sources should be studied with care as we know very little about the lives of 'ordinary' women at this time.

Although we can build up a picture of the working lives of men - of agricultural workers and rural craftsmen - the domestic activities of women of the lower orders are not so well known. Sarah's bequests gives us some idea of her furniture and kitchen equipment, which she considered sufficiently important to detail in her will. With apparently no family, she has left these items to someone whose needs were likely to be great.


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