EARLY LIFE ALICE MAUD RICHARDS
Dressing the children - a 1907 painting by Dame Laura Knight
Alice Maud Richards was born on November 3rd, 1880 at 13 Anerley Terrace, Fratton a part of Portsmouth which is now famous for housing the Premier League’s soccer club stadium. It is sort of central Portsmouth and as such was largely flattened in World War Two. Because of the bomb damage, there has been major redevelopment of the centre of the city, and, along with several other streets, Anerley Terrace has disappeared.
Alice was the first child of William John Richards and his wife of two years, Annie Tier. The couple eventually went on to have nine children, seven of whom were still alive at the 1911 census (the last one we can currently access). In fact Alice was followed two years later by twin girls, then two more girls before three boys. There must have been another one somewhere but I am not sure where. The biggest gap is after the twins, so maybe there was another baby in there. Anyway Alice grew up in a typically large family for the time, and no doubt, as the oldest child, she probably became mother’s little helper.
They would not have been well off, but they wouldn’t have been dirt poor either, as her father had a job as a shipwright at the Portsmouth dockyard. The rather lovely paintings of mothers and children at the top and right, probably illustrate pretty well the circumstances in which they lived - pretty spartan but not a slum.
And she certainly went to school - my grandmother was certainly literate, understood the power of education and was keenly interested in the world around her. Besides the 1881 census describes her as a scholar. Her father was also comparatively highly educated, being a shipwright, so, I am sure, would have wanted his children to be similarly schooled. She is unlikely to have had much more than a basic education though, not just because of the times, but also because of being a girl. I have yet to master how one finds school records, so at the moment can only guess that she went to a small local school - maybe like the one in the painting, although I have to confess that this one looks more like a country school than a town one. For leisure they may have visited the beach - it was obviously well-frequented by the locals as the postcard below attests.
We only have a few photographs of my grandmother but one of my favourites is the one I have used as Alice’s ‘signature’ picture, which I am inserting again here. I do not know how old she would have been - my guess is a young teenager (not that teenagers existed in the same way then). Really she could be anything up to her early twenties though - it’s rather an ageless photo. She has a very serene and clear-eyed gaze it seems to me. Not what you would call pretty but lovely nonetheless. Serviceable, plain clothes, though with a touch of lace inside the bonnet?
Alice’s father William was a member of the Salvation Army and apparently the children were also encouraged to join, although my aunt (who, together with my uncle, has provided a lot of the information), said that his wife, Annie, did not go to any church. Anyway Alice and her sister Flora did join. I do not know whether any of the other children did. According to my aunt, as children they would go to the meetings held just outside the Dockyard entrance, at the Gospel Tree. I have tried to find out about this tree, but so far no luck. Suffice to say that they would have been like the children in this rather lovely painting (not Portsmouth - but it could be, at least it’s by the sea). After the meeting they would follow the band back to the Portsmouth Citadel - as the Salvationists, called their headquarters. Looking at the few notes I have of things my aunt said about her mother, I found this: “The places I remember mum talking about were Dudley, Llandudno and Roker (Sunderland).” I know it was said in connection to her father’s Salvation Army connections, but what does it mean? Did my grandmother go to these places with her father - or did her father go on his own, coming back to tell his children about it? They are places that are pretty far-flung. Maybe he was involved in missions to these places. Perhaps they all took a turn spreading the message, and/or setting up new Salvation Army branches. Maybe they went together. She certainly would most likely have taken a turn at visiting the poor, spreading the word and charity at the same time, like the women in the photo.
The photographs at the top of the page show my grandmother in her Salvation Army uniform. I believe she rose to officer status - Lieutenant actually, but had to give this up when she married. I do not know who the lady standing next to her in this portrait is. I cannot even judge her age - I guess it could be her sister Flora, the other Salvationist of the family, a friend, a colleague or maybe even her mother. However, if Alice’s mother was not attending any church at all later in life, then it is unlikely to be her in this photograph. Perhaps the most likely suspect is her sister. I do think there is a slight family resemblance, but one starts to imagine all of these things.
Similarly with the photo below right. We do not actually know who this is. When my sister was attempting to find out about family involvement in the Salvation Army in Portsmouth she was sent this photo. The sender thought it looked rather like the photo at the top. On the back it says “To dear Florrie with love from Alice”. The ‘Florrie’ in question is the sender’s grandmother, Florence Wilson. So is it my grandmother or somebody else altogether? If someone out there knows who it is do let us know. (Click here)
But I digress from the story. Her marriage certificate gives no occupation - they often didn’t, but the 1901 census has her occupation as ‘fine clothing stitcher - shirt’, so like many women of her generation and for many generations before she sewed for a living. Her sisters were involved in making corsets, but she does ‘fine stitching’. Does this show a greater level of skill I wonder? The initially surprising thing to me was to discover that Portsmouth, it seems, was a big centre of the clothing industry, apparently because there was a lot of cheap labour. The industry
employed, ”approaching half of the labour force, almost entirely female. The link here was less with naval tailoring than with the superabundance of low-wage labour, a result of the army and navy presence, which was available to fill orders from London manufacturers”. (Cambridge Urban History of Britain 1840-1950) In the chapter on Portsmouth in the Google Book, Population and Society in Western European Port Cities we learn that, “Seamstresses ... were more than five times and staymakers over fifteen times more numerous in Portsmouth than in the country as a whole. Clearly some form of industrial concentration had taken place. Most of the seamstresses appear to have been involved in shirtmaking, and advertisements were placed in local papers by Landport agents for women to work at home... This provides clear evidence for the expansion of the ‘putting-out’ or domestic system in mid-nineteenth century Portsmouth and the rapid growth of the clothing industries. However, greater proportional expansion occurred in staymaking, with a rise of 168 per cent in its labour force in the 1840s making Portsmouth England’s most important centre for the corset industry.” Amazing what you learn when you start looking isn’t it? Anyway my grandmother was a shirt maker and her sisters were staymakers. I believe her sisters worked in a factory but I do not know about my grandmother. Maybe she was one of the home workers. She certainly had one of those wonderful old treadle Singer sewing machines shown in the picture above.
So it would seem that the Richards family was quintessentially Portsmouth - with the father working in the dockyard and the girls in the clothing industry. I have no doubt that she was a ‘good girl’, doing good works for the Sally Army, helping her mother, sewing away diligently to earn money for the family. She was twenty nine when she married, old for those days?
By the Fireside by Carlton Alfred Smith - a 1909 painting of a mother and child
Clarence Beach, Southsea a postcard of a late nineteenth century Southsea beach scene
The Salvation Army by Stanhope Alexander Forbes - an 1899 painting
Slum sisters - from the Workhouse site