Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sarah Sutton, a life lived out on the Row

There are no pictures of Sarah Sutton, nor to my knowledge has she left a diary, or anything which might tell me about her life.

She was born in 1821 in Withington and lived with her husband in a wattle and daub cottage on the Row*. She died in the same cottage 70 years later. Her husband Samuel was a farm labourer which was about what most people did here in Chorlton in the first five decades of the 19th century.
Sutton's Cottage 1892

Unlike the wives of the well to do or even some of the farming families she had no servants to help her.

In the spring of 1851 she had two children under the age of eight, was married to a labourer and had the added responsibility of an infirm father in law.

So tracking her working day is a good start to understanding the daily routines of running a house.

Keeping a wattle and daub cottage clean was no easy task. Plaster walls tended to crumble, the roof of thatch could be home to vermin, and the stone or brick floors were damp and in need of constant sweeping.

The interior will have been similar to these pictures from a one up one down brck cottage which stood on Maitland avenue until the 1930s.

Her day would begin at six in the summer and not much later in the winter months. One of the first chores was the collection of water. This might come from a well or the pump in the Bailey farm yard opposite. She may also have used the fish pond on the Row, which was next to her cottage. In having a supply so close Sarah was lucky, for other people on the Row the regular daily journey back with a bucket of water would be a much longer journey. And this simple task would be mirrored across the township and beyond.

Downstairs room Maitland Cottage circa 1930
Water was needed for cooking drinking and washing and there would be a number of journeys to collect it. 

The next task of the day would have been laying and lighting the fire. This may have used wood or possibly coal. 

But traditional wattle and daub fire places were large and not suited for burning coal which needs a smaller fire place and an efficient flu to draw the flame. The compromise was to reduce the size of the fire place which would allow the use of coal now readily available from the Duke’s Canal.

The move from wood to coal may have been underway during the 1850s and while no one was selling the fuel in the township in 1851 there were a number of coal dealers recorded a decade later.

Once the fire had been made and breakfast served, there were beds to be aired, plates washed and the floor swept. Rugs and mats were taken out and banged against the wall, and even before the floor was swept and scrubbed in damp weather the stone flags had to be scrapped with a an old knife blade to loosen the trodden in mud.

But this simple task could only be done after Samuel had gone off to work and her son John who was seven to school. This left baby Ann who was just one and would have required frequent attention. It is likely that Sarah could have relied on one of her neighbours living in the same row. The midday meal needed preparing and if her husband was working too far away his meal would have either been prepared before he left or taken out to him which might have fallen to her son John.

Downstairs room Maitland Cottage showing boxed staircase circa 1930
Most rural families like the Suttons had a diet heavily based on vegetables. 

Some of these were available from the cottage garden, including the all important cabbages and potatoes as well as onions, carrots, parsnips and broad beans.

They were lucky enough to have an orchard behind their home and there may have been opportunities to collect some of the windfall.

 And like many cottage gardens there were also currant and gooseberry bushes, raspberry canes and rhubarb. Gooseberries were ready by June and were popular in the north where there were competitions and societies.

Sarah would also have grown some flowers and one that has survived and still grows on the site of her cottage is greater celandine. It has beautiful yellow flowers and like many that Sarah and others would have grown also had medical properties. Greater celandine is toxic but according to various sources in the right doses can be used for therapeutic uses. She may well have used it as a mild sedative to treat asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough along with other complaints including warts. But it is toxic nature and so not one to try at home.

It still grows on the site at the corner of Wilton and Beech Roads and may be one of the last survivors of our cottage gardens. My botanist fried David Bishop spotted it some time ago and wrote about on his blog.


In the back garden there may have been an area reserved for keeping chickens. Eggs could be expensive and keeping chickens not only avoided having to buy them but could be a small extra form of revenue. So in

1851 the price of a dozen eggs ranged from 4d [2p] in the summer to 8d [4p] later in the year. The family pig was another means of supplementing the family diet and might provide meat for up to seven months. It would be bought in the spring from a local farmer who might wait to the animal was killed and the meat sold before receiving payment in the autumn. This was the only way that some families could afford the cost of a pig which might be between 20s and 25s [£1-£2.25p].
Site of Sutton's Cottage, 2010


But it is unlikely that all their needs could be met from what they grew. Much research has shown that at best the garden supplemented the food they bought. But some might be gathered for free.

There were many wild fruits and plants across the township for the collecting. Wine might be made from a variety of flowers as well as fruit and for those who knew where to look there were rich sources of plants which could enhance cooked dishes.

Pictures; Sutton’s Cottage circa 1892, photograph from the Wesleyan Souvenir Handbook of 1895  and interior of the cottage on Maitland Avenue in the collection of Philip Lloyd, the site today of the cottage on the corner of Beech Road and Wilton Road, from the collection of Andrew Simpson


*The Row is now Beech Road


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