Friday, 9 June 2017

An Eltham life that ended in a modest way..........the story of Ruth Pike, nee Patterson, 1782-1857

Mrs Pike grave, 1976
This is the grave of Ruth Pike in our parish churchyard.

It is located on the east side hard up against Well Hall Road and as graves go does not appear that remarkable.

Nor would we expect it to be so for this was one of the common plots and so resting here with Ruth were those with no family connections all of which suggests a life that ended in a modest way.

She was buried by the wall just one hundred and fifty-six years ago  and I doubt that there will be any one who now visit or tend the plot, and with the passage of time her story and her place in Eltham’s history has pretty much been forgotten.

But not quite because fellow historian Jean Gammons has brought Ruth Pike back out of the shadows and it is one of those stories well worth telling.

Her maiden name was Patterson and she married James Pike in 1809.  He was a widower and was also the postmaster for Eltham when the postal service was just beginning to take on its modern shape.

Eltham in the 1830s
His is a story Jean has already told* and so I rather think I shall stick with Mrs Pike, nee Paterson.

“Ruth was James Pike’s second wife and hers was a hard life.  

Her husband died in 1837  and towards the end of his life she practically ran Eltham post office, assisted only her friend Ann Lawrence who was the widow of an Eltham baker.

Her son had been apprenticed to the Pike’s who also ran a clock making business and when James Pike died he took over the firm along with the post office.

And sometime after this Ruth became a school teacher at the local school.”

Little enough I grant you for a life that was lived out over 75 years and its lack of detail stands yet again as testimony to how the lives of the modest and humble have gone unrecorded.

And even this would not have seen the light of day but for Jean’s work.

But history moves on and with each year new lines of enquiry open up as fresh documents are made available and so it is with Ruth.

A tax record for a Ruth patterson, 1805
Only today I found a series of tax records naming a Ruth Patterson of Eltham as paying tax for the years 1804 and 1805, which follow on from a series of other records for a Richard Patterson in the 1790s and yet more for another Richard Patterson in the mid 19th century.

Now I don’t know how common a name Patterson was in Eltham during the last decades of the 18th and into the next.  That will be a laborious task matching census returns, directories and parish records but is doable.

In the meantime it raises some intriguing questions about Ruth.  The sums she pays are not much but it is the fact that she is paying them which is important and marks out one more little detail.  She rented from a Nicholas Guilliard who also appears in the tax records from the 1790s through into the next century appears on the electoral roll in 1802 and is buried in the parish church seven years later.

The burial record of Mrs Pike, 1857
But as yet it is impossible to track where he held his Eltham land which in turn would tell us a bit more about Ruth. Still I know that he paid duties on the money he obtained for an indenture for the young apprentice Henry Roffey who he took on in 1787 and I am confident that more will emerge.

As will the details of Ruth’s life and that I think is a good point to close.

Pictures, the grave of Mrs Pike, 1978, the Eltham the Pikes would have known circa 1830, courtesy of Jean Gammons, Mrs Pike’s  death entry from St John’s parish records, courtesy of, and the City of London Corporation Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery Department, and the tax record of Ruth Patterson, courtesy of ancestry. co. uk, and London Land Tax Records. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives.

Original research By Jean Gammons

*It appeared in a series of short articles in the Eltham Society’s Journal.

1 comment:

  1. My mother was a Patterson and I am a Lawrence strange.. :-)