Mary Willington and family of Tettenhall

Mary was probably baptised on 16 Oct 1774 at St. Michael’s, Tettenhall and she was the daughter of William and Esther Nichols.

Mary Nichols Married Charles Willington at St Michaels, Tettenhall on 26 Dec 1803 when both signed X.

Charles Willington of Tettenhall Wood was buried on 23 Dec 1837 at St Michael & All Angels, Tettenhall Regis, aged 58.

Mary Willington of Tettenhall Wood was Buried 12 Jan 1852 at St Michael & All Angels, Tettenhall Regis, age 77

Charles and Mary had 3 children. (Tettenhall Regis, St Michael & All Angels Parish Records)

  1. Ann baptised 24 Oct 1804
  2. Joseph baptised 14 Feb 1808
  3. Mary baptised 13 May 1811

Tettenhall Poor Law Vouchers include a Receipt (ref D571/A/PO69/1) dated 30 Jan 1833, when Mary Willington was paid 5s 0d for “Attendance at Sarah Blakemore’s Labour”, it was paid by the Overseers and Mary signed X.

On first seeing the receipt it was assumed that Mary was a Midwife but as she lived until 1852 she was found in the 1851 Census[i] listed as a widow aged 75, occupation Pauper/ laundress

Adjoining folios showed more laundresses so the whole of the Tettenhall parish census folios were examined to find how many more laundresses were there, and to see if there was any indication of a commercial Laundry or one belonging to the Workhouse. Nothing indicated either. No laundries are listed in the trade directories either. (Data added to a separate post)

The 1841 Census does not list many women’s occupations therefore just the 1851 Census was used and the following figures were found.

There was a total of 80 Women who listed themselves as either laundresses or washer women. Of these 16 were widows, 16 unmarried and 47 married women. In addition there was one woman with no marital status.  Two laundry maids working in the very large households were ignored as they were obviously working for just one family.  According to the Victoria County History Vol. 1 the total population of Tettenhall parish in 1851 was 3394. (This includes men, women and children) Therefore laundresses formed 2.5% of the total population.

Not knowing how this compared to other places, Uttoxeter Parish which also has a large number of Paupers Vouchers remaining was used to compare the 1851 Census.  Uttoxeter had a total population of 4990 people which was 1596 larger than Tettenhall. (i.e. nearly half as big again) However Uttoxeter only recorded 25 women working as laundresses, washer women or mangle keepers which was 0.52% of the total population.  8 were widows, 5 unmarried and 12 married women.

Of the 80 women listed in the laundry trade in Tettenhall in 1851 several were related although not all have been investigated. Using the Census Data and Parish Records available on and together with the General Register Office Mary Willington ‘s descendants who were working as Laundresses are on the Chart below.


The information on Tettenhall Laundresses agrees with the findings in:- LAUNDRESSES AND THE LAUNDRY TRADE IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND by Patricia E. Malcolmson 1981. Copyright of Victorian Studies is the property of Indiana University Press Extracts below.

She quotes Prosperity and Parenthood, “J. A. Banks has shown that the smaller the family income the greater the proportion spent on food, and that when there was a rise in income it was immediately followed by a disproportionately large increase in expenditure on washing and mangling”.

She continues that “throughout the Victorian period laundry work was predominantly married women’s work. According to one historian, “it seems to have been taken for granted that laundry work was the prerogative of married women.”[ii]

Patricia Malcolmson found that the married women had husbands in rather seasonal work. “In certain areas, then, this juxtaposition of seasonal employments formed an established part of the local economy. Most working-class women could expect to work for wages at some time during their married lives, but on the whole they worked regularly only when pressured to by necessity; thus, areas where laundry workers predominated were marked by poverty”

Throughout the Victorian period washers in full-time work earned 2s. to 2s. 6d. per day whilst ironers, who were generally pieceworkers, earned from 3s. to 3s. 6d.

“Areas in which laundry work was prominent reinforce these conclusions: the West London communities in which laundresses were most heavily concentrated were characterized by close proximity to substantial upper-middle-class residential areas; these areas generated employment for women in laundry work, charing, and to some extent needlework and prostitution.”

“An old watercress seller told Henry Mayhew that when he was at home he assisted his laundress wife by turning the mangle for her (Mayhew, III, 307).”

“Other husbands helped out as dollymen, punching or pounding clothing with a wooden instrument known as a dolly, and along with other male relatives might help with the fetching and carrying of wash, water, or coals. A husband who had a pony and cart or hand truck was invaluable since such transport would allow a laundress to take on a greater quantity of washing.”

“By far the greatest asset a woman forced to support herself and her family by laundry work could have, however, was the labour of her children, especially daughters (or occasionally other female relatives), for those will be best off who have the most of them.[iii] With the help of their daughters, many widows and wives whose husbands were unable to provide support were able to support themselves entirely by laundry work, but usually only at the cost of extremely long hours. Many mother-and-daughter teams worked until midnight or even all through the night during the busy season. Older children laboured at the washtub, mangle, and ironing board while younger children sorted and packaged bundles, carried in dried clothes for ironing, and helped to carry the laundry to their mothers’ customers and to collect work for the following day. The report of the interdepartmental committee on the employment of school children observed that “some of the worst cases of overworking of little girls of which we have heard occurred in the small laundries, which are exempt from the Factory Act.” Being “mother’s helper” was frequently the focal point of the life of the laundress’s child.

[i] HO107/2017 folio 105

[ii] Leonard Davidof, “The Employment of Married Women in England, 1850-1950” (M.A. thesis, London School of Economics, 1956), p. 216.

[iii] ‘Evelyn March-Phillips, “Factory Legislation for Women,” Fortnightly Review, 63 (1895), 735-



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