7 July 2015

#52 Ancestors - Week 27 - Independent

Week 27 (July 2-8) – Independent: This is the week for Independence Day! Which one fought for (or against) America’s independence? Or which of your ancestors was independent?

I don't think my family has any link to the US War of Independence, nor does July 4 have a special significance to us, so this week my focus is on the Billinghurst sisters - or in keeping with this week's theme "those independent Billinghurst sisters"

The Billinghurst family are part of my Farley line, so related via my Mother's Father.

Fanny, Harriet and Mary Billinghurst are my 1st cousins 4 times removed - nieces of my great-great-great grandfather Jack Farley (known as John Farley).

Fanny, Harriet and Mary are daughters of James Billinghurst and Harriet Farley. Born in or near to Littlehampton Sussex in 1846, 1852 and 1858 respectively. There was also another sister - Elizabeth who died as an infant.

We meet the girls over the UK Census spanning 70 years from 1851 to 1911 - none of them married and in later censuses, they lived on their own.

1851 - Fanny, aged 4 living on Surrey Street in Littlehampton Sussex

1861 - Fanny, aged 14 visiting her mother's sister Mary Corney (nee Farley) in Duke Street Littlehampton Sussex
 - Harriet, aged 9 and Mary, aged 2 at home with their mother Harriet on Ham Common New Shoreham Sussex. Their father, James, Master Mariner, was on his vessel

1866 - Fanny, aged 20, was a witness to her Uncle Jack/John's marriage to Sarah Weller

1871 - The first census we see all 3 Billinghurst girls together on the Census. They are now living on East Street New Shoreham, Sussex where they remain for more than 40 years.
Fanny, aged 24 and Harriet, aged 18 starting their careers as Dressmakers and
Mary, aged 12 still at school



Dressmaking was one of the most common occupations for women (mostly unmarried women) to take on, with over 300,000 dressmakers or milliners listed in the 1871 census.

1881 - The family is still together, this time in East Street New Shoreham Sussex. They are joined in this census by Harriet's sister Elizabeth Farley.

Fanny, aged 34 and Harriet, aged 29 are, once again dressmakers. Mary, aged 22 has no occupation listed against her name


1891 - All 3 Billinghurst girls, aged 44, 39 and 32, are still at home with their parents and all 3 are now dressmakers


James and Harriet pass away in 1899 leaving the girls on their own for the first time. They remain in their trade as dressmakers on the 1901 census. In this census their niece Annie Pannell is living with them. Annie is the daughter of their 1st cousin Elizabeth  Pannell nee Corney. Elizabeth is the daughter of Mary Corney nee Farley mentioned in 1861 above


1911 lists the first home move in over 40 years. With the girls now living in Bayford Road Littlehampton.

Fanny, aged 64 and Harriet, aged 59 have retired as dressmakers.
Mary, aged 52 has had a late in life career change and is now letting apartments - though likely this this in their home as we see Elizabeth Pellant and her daughter are "visiting" with them 


I'll be interested to see what the girls are up to when the 1921 census is eventually releases as they all live long lives. Mary, in 1933 was the last of the three to pass away.



Why have I called my "girls" independent? These girls all rejected the cultural norm of getting married and having children. They remained single and supported themselves financially. None of the censuses records them as being "Deaf, Dumb or Blind", so it can be assumed that they were capable of marrying had they chosen to do so.

It is likely there was a great deal of stigma attached to being an "old maid", yet they continued on in their "spinsterhood" - a great example to those of their relatives who are following, whether by choice or not, in their footsteps.






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