Mary Christina Snedden and Margaret Ann Morrison had many things in common. Mary’s father died when she was young, and her mother had remarried. Margaret’s mother had died when she was young. What they most had in common, however, was Charles Edward Wilcox. They each had seven children, and Charles was registered as the father of twelve of them. He may even have been the father of one other.
Other than birth, death, and marriages, Mary, Margaret and Charles’ lives can only be viewed in ten year slices. Thanks to the Scotland Census, however, much information can be gleaned from those slices.
Mary married Charles in Edinburgh in 1877, he was a Mechanical Engineer and his income would have made them a middle-class couple. It is difficult to imagine therefore, how after only ten years of marriage, Mary came to leave Charles, and live out her life in remote Galashiels on the Scottish Borders, but by the time of the 1891 Scotland Census, that is precisely where she was, working as a birler in a nearby woollen mill.
It could not have been easy for her to leave her husband, and work in a factory, she was not a working class woman. In Victorian Britain women and children and had no rights as individuals. Children belonged to their father and inevitably stayed with him. This was the case for Mary, six of her seven children were, by this time, living in Glasgow with their father.
At what point in time did Margaret enter the Wilcox household? She was not present Ii the 1881 census in Edinburgh. Charles is not recorded as present on that night either, but he and Mary were together for at least six more years, because their youngest child Jessie, was born in Edinburgh in 1888.
The work of keeping a household running without the kinds of household machinery and pre-packaged food that we take for granted, was back breaking, full time work. It was not possible for anyone to keep house and hold down a job. With or without children, Charles would have had to employ a full-time, live-in housekeeper to replace his wife. Margaret first appeared in documents at this time, 1891, listed as his cousin and housekeeper.
She now had three children who are listed as, Charles’ adopted daughter, and two sons. The oldest son, Alfred is only one year younger than Mary’s youngest, Jessie. Alfred’s birth is registered as Alfred Edward Morrison, with no father, but with the same middle name as Charles. He died in infancy and his death record lists his mother as the wife of Charles Wilcox, who lists himself as the step-father. One could be forgiven for wondering if Charles was in fact the father of this child, and perhaps the reason for the marital split.
Could Margaret have been first employed in the Wilcox household whilst it was still in Edinburgh? Margaret’s first child Alice was born in 1884, in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, probably because Margaret was an unmarried, first-time mother. As a middle-class family with many children, they could have employed one or more servants. In the 1881 census, they lived in a house with only two rooms with windows. This is not uncommon in Victorian times, most working class housing would have had only one such room. What it does show is that, although they were middle-class, they were not wealthy enough to have spare rooms to accommodate a maid and her child. It is Margaret’s child, therefore, that makes it less likely that she entered the house at this time,
For these reasons, I think it is fair to imagine that Mary left Charles before Margaret was employed. Charles fathered twelve children in his lifetime, indicating a consistent sexual appetite, perhaps he was a philanderer, who was publicly caught out. Or, perhaps Charles was extremely violent and Mary feared for her life. After all, she moved a considerable distance from Edinburgh. If she moved away because of the shame that was attached to “desertion” in Victorian Britain, she need only have moved a short distance. She could have lived in Perth which was a large metropolis like Edinburgh.
As an engineer, Charles would have been limited to the highly industrialised cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow in order to gain work. The fact that he moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow, gives reason to believe that he may have done something too shameful to stay in his social circle. Was it sexual promiscuity or violent behaviour? Short of uncovering a newspaper article or a criminal history, we can only guess.
Without good social standing, Charles would have had difficulty in hiring a housekeeper. With an illegitimate child to care for, Margaret would have had difficulty in obtaining employment. This could explain how Margaret came into the Wilcox household. She could have come into service in Edinburgh and then moved to Glasgow with the family.
It is tempting to think that blended families are a modern occurrence but a quick look at family history will soon give another view. Margaret continued to live with Charles and had five more children. By 1901, Margaret’s oldest child Alice, had an illegitimate child of her own.
By 1911, a number of Christina’s children had moved to Galashiels and are recorded living with her. It seems that, as in modern times, the children of the first partner, were not happy with their new arrangements.