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Luke’s Sad Tale

The circumstances which saw first, the death of a wife, followed by a tragic death of a mother two years later, would never have convinced Luke Sadler these two events were to lead him into a lifetime of immense sadness and tragedy.

Born in 1825 at West Chiltington in Sussex, Luke Sadler was the fifth of eight children borne by his mother, Sarah Sadler, nee Joyes. The son of James Sadler, a typical `Ag-Lab' of the time, Luke would have grown up in overcrowded accommodation and in meagre circumstances. His marriage in December 1855, when age 30, was to Sarah Bristow of Shipley. This would have brought some relief for him; he found himself and his new wife a separate dwelling place next to his mother's cottage and where they began their family.

In the 1861 Census for West Chiltington, the widow Sarah is found still living at East Lane with son William, age 41, Sarah, her daughter-in-law, age 26, as a lodger and two grandchildren, Jane, age 5 and James, just 9 months old. It would appear that Luke was unable to support a separate residence and moved back with his mother. The first child, Jane Sarah, had appeared in 1856 and she had to wait for brother, James, who was born in 1860 and then sister, Mary, born in 1864. Luke, according to the census, was found to be working as a farm labourer near Worth, near Crawley, in Sussex.

Earlier, in 1855, Luke's father had died, aged 69. With 8 children, Sarah would have had time and company to overcome her loss without too much dependence on Luke and her other children. Luke, at this time, was too occupied with a new family, Jane Sarah, James and Mary, born in early 1864. The first tragedy to hit Luke was the loss of Sarah his wife, in 1867, struck down by that notorious disease of mid Victorian times, Phtisis, which we now recognise as TB.... tuberculosis.

About this time, Luke had employed a housekeeper, one Fanny Moore, born in Cowfold in 1849. Fanny came to his house with a child of her own, William, who had also been born in Cowfold. We do not know who was the father of William but he was born in 1867 at Cowfold, the year that Sarah, Luke's wife died. The 1871 Census shows that the family were still in East Lane, West Chiltington with Jane, James and Mary, Luke's children by Sarah but now there was William Moore and Charles Moore, age 4 and 1 respectively.


This must have seemed an idyllic time for Luke despite his continuing poverty for, when we see the 1881 census, Fanny had become more than a housekeeper to Luke and the family had grown somewhat. George in 1872, Albert John in 1875, Ellen Eliza in 1877 and Lily Rose in 1880. Missing from the census line-up is William, Fanny's first born and no there had been no trace of him until later.

The story continues with the marriage in July 1882 at Pulborough of Luke and Fanny. Was she tired of just being his mistress and providing him with a family? Perhaps we will never know. But they celebrated their union with another child, Henry, very early in 1884. However the marriage was to be short-lived. Tragedy was to rear its ugly head once more and run on through a sequence of events that would have shaken Luke to the core.

We learn that Fanny died of this dreadful Phtisis and was buried in March 1884 after just 20 months of the marriage. Luke would have been heart-broken. Now aged 58 with a family of 9 children in total, although now, some were old enough to have left home. The need to continue working to support those at home remained and Luke saw little promise for the future. While Luke was still in mourning, young Henry also showed signs of Phtisis - but who was to care for a sick child? Luke had to work to continue supporting his large family and a home with no wife and mother to fall back on and it seems it was the remaining members of the family, young as they were, that took on this onerous task.

They buried little Henry in January of 1885. By this time, another member of the family was showing signs of this same disease. Albert John, just 11 years old, was weakening. One morning in March of that year, Luke had left home at 6am to go to work and Lily Rose, sensing that her sick brother was cold, attempted to light a fire to warm him. In doing so, she set fire to her dress and had to be carried out of the house by one of her brothers. The inquest story relates the sad events of that day. Neighbours, hearing the poor girl's screams, put out the flames but she was badly burned. A doctor was called but could do little to alleviate her pain or her burns. Poor Lily Rose survived for another 19 days but finally succumbed to her injuries. We learned that she was buried in early April, the date of which was found from the Pulborough burial records from which we also found that her brother, Albert John, was also buried on the same day, having fallen to the same family disease.

With such repetition, the disease is highlighted as being a major problem to those living in such poor conditions. What blame can be attached to the father? He was criticised by the coroner who commented on the dangers of young children being left at home unsupervised. Sadly, such comments did not bring a solution to the problem. In many cases today, the problem still exists.

What of the older children? William, in 1881, was eventually found to be in the army at Chichester barracks with the Royal Sussex Regiment but, of the others, nothing has been found until the next census. Luke, now a broken man in 1885 and aged 60, had little left to console him. The remaining daughter at home would have been Ellen Eliza, herself only 9 years old, to look after her father and possibly George, who, at his age, would have been working.

A search for Luke's survival ended when a burial was found for a Luke Sadler in Marylebone in London. At first, this was ignored as it seemed impossible that anyone so poor and without any connections to London, could find his way there. But a distinct lack of alternatives told us that this had to be `our' Luke Sadler. A death certificate soon confirmed our suspicions; Luke had died in London on 21st of June 1887 of cancer of the tongue. This was the final tragedy in Luke's humble but hard-working life.

The 1891 census found Charles still living at the cottage in Stall Lane as an `Ag-lab' and George with the Royal Sussex Regiment at Fullwood Barracks in Preston, Lancashire. Jane Sarah Sadler was married to Joseph Luff and was living at Loxwood. Mary Sadler had married James Brooker of Billingshurst and was living at Ditchling in East Sussex.

Ellen Eliza eventually moved to North London to work in service and married Frank Boyce in Barnet, Hertfordshire in 1898. The marriage produced eleven children. In the 1901 census she was living in New Southgate with Frank and their first child Charles. One of Ellen's children died in the influenza epidemic around the time of WW1 but we believe most of the others lived to a good age. Ellen Eliza's life continued to be hard and money was always tight. Frank fought in the First World War and although he survived the war, he suffered from the effects of Gas received in the trenches and died in The London Chest hospital in 1920 from a long list of chest ailments. Life had been cruel to Ellen once again. On a happier note although her life was very hard Ellen Eliza lived in North London until her death in 1957 aged 80.

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