Elizabeth Boothman

(1818 – 1888)

Many Victorians believed that ‘God’s purpose’ for women was to procreate. Child mortality was high, so having many children would, in theory, ensure the family line. Childbirth was dangerous but, in the absence of contraception, women might have no choice but to have multiple pregnancies. Elizabeth Boothman certainly did.

Elizabeth was a weaver’s daughter from Long Preston. She married William Moorby, also a weaver. Over the next 23 years, Elizabeth gave birth to nine sons and five daughters — yes, 14 children. Assuming they all were full term, Elizabeth spent 10.5 years pregnant and probably the same again breastfeeding. Just three children died in infancy — sons Cleopas and James Boothman Moorby were buried in the churchyard. Elizabeth’s eldest daughter Margaret died aged one, but there are no burial records for her. Burials were expensive, and William and Elizabeth were very poor at that stage. Sometimes churches allowed babies to be buried ‘unofficially’ with an adult ‘to look after them’ and save cash, rather than give them a proper burial of their own.

With all these mouths to feed, William needed money. He found a cleaning job at the Church and later became the church clerk and choirmaster, earning £7 per year. He was also the secretary of Settle Co-op in its early days. Perhaps as a result of his work at the Church, William became an infant schoolteacher. He was a good teacher, especially in music. Elizabeth continued to raise children and keep a very busy house.

Upon William’s death, it transpired he was the first man in the Craven district to pioneer the ‘do re mi’ method of teaching music. William wouldn’t have been able to do this without Elizabeth running the home for him.

Despite all that childbirth and childrearing, Elizabeth lived to the age of 70, and William to the age of 80.