Elizabeth Webster


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Elizabeth Webster was my 3x Great Grandmother, born in 1798 in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. She was an ordinary working class mother and grandmother who kept a remarkable memoir of her life. This unique document gives an insight into living conditions and the influences on everyday life. Through the diary we are able to learn much about her family, the local community and the way of life for agricultural workers in the 19th century.

Elizabeth was the oldest of eleven children born to James Webster and Sarah Adams. James was employed by squire Hurst [sic] (known to have been squire Hurt) at the Alderwasley Iron Works, and we learn from the diary that he was ‘of weak constitution and of a consumptive family’. Her father had been an agricultural labourer until his marriage, and Elizabeth believed his move to the iron works had contributed to the deterioration in his health. She also considered that the men who worked at the iron works spent too much time in the ‘Alehouse’ and paid insufficient attention to their homes and families.

The memoir recounts how Elizabeth’s father, on a Saturday after work, would go to public houses in Belper or Bullbridge. In her teens, Elizabeth was often sent to fetch her father who would be the worse for drink. She tells us of the occasion her father refused to use the ‘new road’ and insisted on returning via the canal tow path and how frightened she was that they would both finish in the canal.

To add quote here from memoir regarding walk along canal.Elizabeth Webster
Elizabeth was a devout christian and from a young age, distanced herself from such behaviour. As a young girl she was close to her uncle Samuel Adams. Samuel was only ten years older than Elizabeth and was a Calvinist, attending the old meeting house at Ridgeway, Heage. He introduced Elizabeth to the Sunday School at the meeting house, where she was taught by Mr Hutton, a teacher from Belper. Mr Hutton offered Elizabeth the opportunity to go to his school at Belper. (Her parents were required to pay 2d per week) They consented, but withdrew her from school in order to work once she had learned to read and write. Elizabeth regretted her lack of formal education throughout her life.
Aged 19, Elizabeth went to live as a servant with a Mr Harrison and his family. Some time later Mr Harrison died without leaving a Will, and the diary records the conflict this caused within the family and which eventually caused her to lose her employment. She returned home to her old work around 1820.

At around this time the Iron Works were owned by Mssrs John & Charles Moolds. They had problems in bad weather with flooding to the site, and work was undertaken to prevent this. One of the workers involved in this work was a certain Samuel Barnes from South Wingfield Park. Elizabeth met her future husband for the first time while he was working on this flood prevention project. The two were obviously attracted, but Elizabeth was reluctant to agree to meeting with Samuel. On Easter Monday 1820, Elizabeth’s sister, Mary who lived with her Grandmother, asked that Elizabeth accompany her to the Spankee [sic] Public House that evening. (This was probably the Spankers Public House which exists to this day) Elizabeth was obviously very reluctant but with pressure from other family members, finally agreed to go. Samuel Barnes also attended the dance that evening, and after what appears to have been much manipulation by Mary and her father, Samuel eventually accompanied Elizabeth home at the end of the evening.

It would seem the courtship was difficult and that Elizabeth worked very long hours with little remuneration from her parents, but the couple were married on 23 April 1823. The couple moved to Samuel’s childhood home, his parents having died previously, and began married life at South Wingfield Park.

Samuel attended the Calvinist church meetings at Ridgeway Meeting House, Heage, and his new wife joined him there. Around the year 1828, the Baptists began preaching in nearby Crich, and Samuel began attending their meetings. In 1829 he was Baptised into this church. This apparently provoked strong feelings in Elizabeth and there was a long period of turmoil in the lives of the young couple. Uncle Samuel Adams was a frequent visitor at this time, and helped Elizabeth resolve these conflicts around her religious convictions. Elizabeth began attending meetings of the Baptists, and in 1830 was Baptised into the church. The Baptism took place at Harrisons Mill Dam, Fritchley.

In 1835 Elizabeth and her growing family left South Wingfield to live on the Duke of Portland’s estates at East Moor, Old Brampton, where they became tenant farmers. Elizabeth found the move both exciting and difficult in that she had been used to living in a larger community and the moor was isolated. She notes that there were two chapels, Old Methodist and Primitive Methodist in Wadshelf close by.

The memoir recounts that around 1840, the rent for the house and farm were becoming due, and the family were £5 short of being able to pay. Elizabeth recalls sitting mending the children’s clothes one Saturday, while Samuel was at the Market. She imagined that her husband would find the £5, thus enabling them to pay the debt. She goes on to tell us that Samuel came back from market that day as usual, but that when he had eaten his tea, he went into the other room and called his wife. He was holding £5 in his hand which he had found in the gutter at one side of the road. The rent was paid. On another occasion in 1841, one of Elizabeth’s daughters was looking for a gown and shawl. The cost was 6s, which the family did not have. However, one Saturday during the market her daughter found two coins in the road, 5s and 1s. No doubt the young lady had her gown. On another occasion this same daughter wanted a new pair of ‘Pattens’ (shoes or over shoes) She was returning from market one night when she decided to get down from the cart. She immediately stumbled against a pair of new Pattens tied together.

The memoir and diary were clearly private and unknown to even Elizabeth’s closest family members, and she remarks frequently of her fear of discovery as she writes. She also regards this as a constraint, meaning that often she was unable to note things she would have liked to record for fear of her work being found. At one point she even tells us she took to noting her thoughts in the middle of the night, using chalk to write on the floor boards in the bedroom. She also made chalk notes in other places where they could not be discovered until she had time to transfer her thoughts to paper. She writes: “What a thief of time is procrastination”. At another point, Elizabeth finds herself sitting surrounded by her papers and writes how she fears her intimate thoughts being seen before her death. On another occasion she notes that her writing was blotched as a result of closing the book quickly to avoid being caught. All her notes and papers made between 1851 and 1858 were destroyed by herself in order to avoid discovery.

In November 1874 Samuel went to Wingfield Park with his cart, to load manure in the farm yard. An accident occured and he was either hit by the cart shaft or by the horse. Samuel was apparently knocked unconscious and was found by his Grandson John Hill. John had been working in a field below the yard, and it seems he found his grandfather on the ground some time after the accident. It seems that this event left Samuel with lasting effects. For the rest of his life he complained of head pains, and became increasingly ‘agitated’. His conditition deteriorated throughout 1875 and into 1876. Samuel became unable to continue work on his farm and wished to return ‘home’ to South Wingfield. His son John Barnes took him to visit, but the journey was almost too much for him. His condition continued to deteriorate. Elizabeth and Samuel were helped by John and their daughter Harriett Barnes but things were becoming too much.

On 12 July 1876 Samuel was visited by the Parish Priest and a doctor from Mickleover Asylum. These two returned the following day, and Samuel was taken by carriage, accompanied by his son in law James Salt to the asylum at Mickleover. Elizabeth was never to see her husband alive again.

Samuel died at the Asylum on 18 September 1876. On the 21 September, his body was taken to his old home at South Wingfield. Elizabeth was taken from their home at Eastmoor to join the coffin at their old home. All 11 of Samuel’s children accompanied him to his final resting place at Crich, but Elizabeth, overcome, was unable to attend the funeral. She placed the following words on his grave: “The Lord watch between me and thee while we are apart from each other.”


I was given my great great great grandma’s personal memoir to read when I was about 13 and taking an interest in our family history. It may not be typical reading for an adolescent but it certainly had a lasting effect on me.

The record she kept gives a unique insight into the life of a working class farmer’s wife from 19th century England. Through it I feel a real connection to a hard working, God fearing lady. It is undoubtedly the biggest single influence on my ongoing interest in social history and genealogy. Here, you can see a brief resume of Elizabeth’s life drawn from her own words.

I have a scanned copy of the memoir available for anyone interested.

Registration Documents…


Baptism Registration

The record in the Wirksworth St Mary Parish Baptism Register, for Elizabeth. It gives her birth date; 10 Aug 1798. Her baptism was on 14 Sept 1798.

Marriage Registration

Elizabeth married Samuel Walker Barnes on 24 April 1823. This is the entry in the Wirksworth St Mary marriage register.

Census Documents : 1841 to 1881


Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Elizabeth and her family are living on Eastmoor, Old Brampton.

Want to Know More About Elizabeth?


Elizabeth Webster 1798-1886

You can see Elizabeth and her family in the genealogy pages here.

Yes, I'd like to meet her...
The thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities.Jeremy Hardy

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