My great aunt Elizabeth Keenan was born on 22 March 1866 at 15 Furnace Row, Newmains, Lanarkshire. She was the 6th child of Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey and the elder sister of my mother’s maternal grandmother, Ellen Keenan. I have previously posted about her sisters Margaret and Mary.
The records show that Elizabeth married John Armit in 4 February 1887 and together they had 13 children. It wasn’t until I was researching Margaret at the Lanarkshire Heritage Centre that I discovered another chapter of Elizabeth’s story. Margaret was recorded as a pauper on her death record prompting me to check the Poor Relief Application Register. On looking through the index I was surprised to find Elizabeth as well as Margaret.
On 20 September 1886 Elizabeth, who at that time was living with her parents at 14 Furnace Row, made an application for poor relief. A home visit was made by the inspector on 22 September. Elizabeth is recorded as single, Roman Catholic and her occupation is given as “bleachfield worker”.
I had assumed that Elizabeth spent her whole life in Newmains however this information from the application shows otherwise.
“She states that she went to Foxbar Bleachfields when 13 years of age and came home to Newmains for 3 weeks, a month, sometimes 2 months every year.”
It is hard to imagine a 13 year old child being sent away from home to work in the horrible conditions of the bleachfields. Bleachfields were originally an open area of land used for spreading cloth and fabrics on the ground to be bleached by the sun and water. Bleachfields became redundant shortly after the discovery of chlorine in the late 18th century however, many of the factories bleaching with chlorine continued to be called bleachfields. Paisley had a thriving textile industry and Foxbar bleachfields employed many young females from across the country.
On a visit home to Newmains, Elizabeth fell pregnant. The reason given for her application was “confinement “. Having just given birth Elizabeth was forced to seek financial support for herself and her baby. Under a section for other info on the register the following is recorded:
“putative father John Armit, furnace filler residing in Main Street, Newmains”
Elizabeth was offered admittance to the Poorhouse but there is no corresponding admittance number so I assume she refused and stayed at home. It was not uncommon for the authorities to offer admittance to the house instead of financial assistance as a way of discouraging applications.
Happily she went on to marry John Armit and the two were together until his death in 1944. Elizabeth died aged 84 in 1950.
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