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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

Martha Dunn, washerwoman

Martha Dunn is one of Ari’s more unusual Derbyshire ancestors, in that she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I don’t know how she came to meet and marry a linen weaver from Duffield!

Martha was one of Ari’s 6x great-grandmothers, and she was born in about 1788. In 1805, she married Francis Dawson at the church of All Hallows (now called All Saints) in Newcastle.

By Bolckow from Middlesbrough, England - All Saints Church, All Hallows Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne designed by David Stephenson 1786 -1796, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Martha was quite young when she married, and their first child, Henry, was not born until five years later. The records kept by Protestant Dissenting Minister E. O. Jones in Duffield helpfully confirm that he was the first child:

England & Wales Non-Conformist Births And Baptisms, Findmypast

A daughter, Hannah, was born in 1819.

The 1841 census shows Francis (65), Martha (40) and their grandson William (4), living in Castle Orchard, Duffield.

By 1851 they had moved to live with Henry in Upper Green, Duffield, and Martha was widowed a few months later. She contributed to the family income by working as a washerwoman, and was still doing this when she was seventy, in 1861.

Sheet from a drawing book, a woman washing clothes outside a cottage, a child sitting at her feet. 1800 Soft-ground etching © The Trustees of the British Museum

Martha continued to live with her daughter-in-law, Charlotte, after Henry’s death in 1864. She died in 1874 and was buried at Duffield on 7 November, aged eighty-six.

So who were Martha’s parents? Searching for baptism records reveals a record from 1788 in Whickham: twins Mary and Martha, daughters of Thomas and Isabella, were baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 25 May. Whickham is five miles from Newcastle. Francis Whellan’s History, Topography and Directory of Durham (1894) says that:

“Near the village is a stratum of burnt earth, consisting chiefly of clay and stone, which, tradition says, was caused by the English army setting fire to their camp, previous to their hasty retreat, when the Scottish forces crossed the Tyne from Newburn in 1640. The burning camp communicated with a seam of coal, which is said to have burnt for several years with great fury.”

Thomas and Isabella had a son, John, in 1794, and his baptism record says that the family lived in Lowhand, which is also called Lowside and is now Dunston. So this is a possibility, but I have not found any evidence yet that allows us to be sure. In all of her census records Martha gives her place of birth as Newcastle, apart from 1871 which says Northumberland.

Perhaps the story of Francis Dawson will reveal what he was doing in Newcastle!

Ari, this is how you are related to Martha:

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