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The Pepper Sisters

Anne-Marie Ford    -    30 October 2018

The 1901 census for Silver Street, Buckden, Huntingdonshire records a local family, the Peppers, with whom a member of the Smith tribe, Humphrey, son of Bazaina Smith and John Reason, is lodging.  The three men with him, all listed as farm labourers, are brothers Joseph, George and John Pepper. It might seem that Humphrey is simply lodging with them as a casual labourer working on the same farm, but the family living next door offer a very different explanation for his presence.

The head of the household in the neighbouring house is Mary Ann Pepper, the widow of Thomas, who had died the previous year, ‘aged 67,’ and with her are daughters Clara Jane and Eleanor, and four grandchildren: Horace Edward, aged 6, Florence Grace, 5, Herbert George, 2, Harriet Elizabeth, also 2 years old.  In fact, whilst all the grandchildren are recorded with the surname Pepper and Clara Jane and Eleanor as unmarried, both sisters had formed unions with two brothers, Humphrey and Edward Smith, sons of Bazaina Smith and John Reason. The little brood at this home in Silver Street were the children of these Smith brothers, Horace Edward and Harriet Elizabeth were the son and daughter of Edward and Clara Jane, Florence Grace and Herbert George the children of Humphrey and Eleanor.

Thomas Pepper, son of John and Susan, had married Mary Anne Flanders, the daughter of John Flanders and Anne Barnett, in 1860.  They were to have a considerable family: Thomas, born in 1860; Mary Anne, born in 1862; Henry, born in 1864; Elizabeth, born in 1868; Joseph, born in 1871; Clara Jane, born in 1873; Eleanor born in 1875; George, born two years later; Johnny, born in 1880; Harriet, born two years later.  Ten children, five daughters and five sons.

In 1871 the family are at Dillington, Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire, Thomas and Mary Ann and children Thomas, Mary Ann, Henry and Elizabeth.  Ten years later, still at the same location, the couple have added Clara Jane, Eleanor/Ellen, George and Johnny to their brood. But Henry, Mary Ann and Elizabeth are absent - Henry is in lodgings at Orchard Lane, Huntingdon St. Mary, but the two eldest daughters have died, Elizabeth in 1871, aged 3, and Mary Ann in 1879, aged 17.

By 1891 much more has changed for the Peppers, except where they were living. Another child, Harriet, was born in 1881 and Henry has married a young widow, Emma Swales, and is living with his wife, her two children, Beatrice and Thomas Swales, and their little son, Frank Pepper, to be followed by another son, Ernest George, by the 1901 census.  Thomas, too, has married to an Eliza Ann Cowley, and without their work as labourers contributing to the family economy the Peppers probably needed more of an income. This might explain Clara Jane being found at East Street, Kimbolton, working as a general servant/domestic for the manager of a drapers shop, his wife and young family.

The 1901 census brings further change.  Thomas and Eliza Pepper have five children and are at Agden Green, St. Neots, with Emily, Arthur, Ernest, Bert and Frederick, and with them is the youngest Pepper sister, Harriet, ‘aged 18.’  Harriet, like her surviving sisters, was to marry into the extended family of Smiths. In Buckden in 1902 she married Thomas Livett, a son of Keziah Smith, daughter of Bazaina Smith and her first husband, Elijah, and therefore a nephew of Edward and Humphrey Smith. In the 1911 census the couple are also in Silver Street, Buckden, together with Thomas’s brother, Arthur, and two children, Thomas Arthur, born in 1902, and Maud Ellen, born three years later. By this time Thomas and Eliza Pepper have added two daughters, Flossie and Gladys, and a son, Ronald, to their family.

There were other changes too.  In the autumn of 1909 Edward Smith and Clara Jane Pepper had married legally and, in the early months of 1910, Humphrey and Eleanor followed suit. The 1911 census therefore records these two families under the name of Smith; Edward and Clara Jane are with their children Horace, born in 1894, Harriet, born in 1899, as well as two younger additions, Percy, born in 1903 and Elsie, born in 1907.  All the children had previously been registered as Peppers, and were living in Baker’s Lane, where Edward’s mother, Bazaina, had lived. Humphrey and Eleanor are at Silver Street, and are listed with Florence, born 1895, Herbert, born three years later, Elizabeth Mary, born in 1902, John, born in 1905, Edith, born in 1908, all recorded in birth records as Peppers, and a baby, Sydney, born as a Smith in 1911.  

Mary Ann Pepper was still alive, still in Silver Street, with sons Joseph, George and John and lived to see all these grandchildren, and more.  She died, aged about 77, in 1919, having been a widow for almost 20 years.

Both Edward and Humphrey and their wives are also recorded in the 1939 register, which affords us a little further detail concerning the family. Edward and Clara Jane are living in School Lane, Buckden, where Edward gives his exact birthdate as 6th January 1869 and Clara Jane as 7th March 1873.  Living with them is a son, Arthur, who had been born after the 1911 census, on 8th August 1913. Also in School Lane is the couple’s daughter, Harriet Elizabeth, who gives her birthdate as 17th November 1898; she is with her husband, James Haynes, whom she had married in 1921, and their son, Ronald, born on 31st March 1924.

Humphrey and Eleanor are close by, still, like Mary Ann Pepper, residing in Silver Street, Buckden. By 1939, however, Humphrey is recorded as an invalid, his exact date of birth is given as 13th May 1871, Eleanor’s as 3rd July 1874, and the three adult children living with them are Edith Ellen, born 13th February 1908, Elsie, born 11th February 1915 and Horace, born on 26th February 1917.  Another daughter, Florence Grace, is in Mill Road with her husband, Sidney Cook. She gives her birthdate as 28th February 1895 and that of her son, Herbert Cook, as 31st October 1927.

In fact, in spite of Humphrey Smith’s record of poor health, he was to outlive his wife, Eleanor Pepper, who died in 1940, ‘aged 67,’ and also his brother Edward, whose death,  in 1943, was recorded, like Eleanor’s, in the registration district of St. Neots. Humphrey lived until 1945, dying in the same location where he had lived all his life, ‘aged 74,’ and Clara Jane outlived all of them.  Her death in St. Neots is recorded in 1950, when she claimed to be 77 years of age.

Copyright © 2018 Anne-Marie Ford