In writing this article, one wonders if the life of Mary Aldersey was typical of 19th century women who lived on the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge.
During her 81 years, Mary was widowed twice. Her first husband, John Griffies, was a tenant farmer in Duckington. He died in 1815, just three years after their marriage, leaving Mary to raise their two-year-old son, James.
Since Mary's husband had owned neither land nor property, we might presume that Mary felt compelled to marry again in order to support herself and her young child.
Two years later she married John Aldersey, aged 41, who owned a house which he had built on an acre of land in Barnhill, Broxton (now Barnhill Bank Cottages). They had two children; John born in 1819 and Sarah born in 1820.
By 1825 and in failing health, John made his Will and included a condition: 'If my wife does not remarry after my decease but behaves herself to my children as a parent ought to do' then she could inherit his house and land, but if she was to re-marry then 'my Executor shall pay her One Shilling (5p) and nothing more'. John's Last Will and Testament is shown to the right (click on image to enlarge).
In context, a married woman was not a separate legal entity from her husband, and any property or money she owned came under his governance.
John died in 1826, was buried in Malpas, and Mary remained a widow for the rest of her life.
Mary, however, proved that she could thrive as an independent woman on the Sandstone Ridge — the first thing she did was to build three small cottages (now demolished) on the land she had inherited, just below Barnhill Wood, renting them to agricultural labourers, each with a small garden for growing vegetables.
On the 1841 Census, Mary (aged 61) is listed as a 'Farmer' and her two sons James (by her first marriage) and John (by her second marriage) were both at home and with her on Census night. The family continued to farm at Duckington.
In old age Mary went to live with her married daughter Sarah Price at Brown Knowl where she died in 1861. The headstones of Mary Aldersey and her children by both marriages are to be found side by side in the churchyard of Brown Knowl Primitive Methodist Chapel; less than a couple of miles from where Mary spent her entire life and where she had farmed on the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge.
Our thanks to Wendy Bawn for providing much of the information relating for this article.
Sources: Bolesworth Castle Archive