Caroline york (1849-1932)

The story of Caroline York and her family shows just how easy it could be to lose everything in the late 19th century, and how hard families had to work to stay together.

In the 1870s John and Caroline York and their young family moved into one of the houses which made up Blists Hill Row, a terrace of houses which stood at Blists Hill until their demolition in the 1970s. John began working as a labourer at the Blists Hill brick and tile works but he died in 1883, aged just 47, leaving Caroline to care for their children alone. The oldest child, Ada, was still living at home and working at the brick and tile works, but her small wage could not support the entire family. 

Caroline applied to the Poor Law Guardians for financial help but they informed her that she would only receive money if she sent some of her children away to the Industrial School at Quatt. Caroline refused and began taking in washing from the Anstice ladies living at Madeley Wood Hall. Meanwhile, two of her daughters, Emma and Martha, dropped out of school and started working with their sister at the brick and tile works. With all of their meagre earnings combined, Caroline managed to keep her family out of the workhouse.

Caroline lived the rest of her life at Blists Hill, first with her children, and later with her grandchildren. She died in 1932 at the age of 83.