Mary Bell, b. 1774

Illegitimate Girl Brought up by the Parish


Mary Bell's mother, Grace Gray, was unmarried and living in the parish of St Botolph Aldgate when, on 13 July 1774, she swore to a voluntary Bastardy Examination. She testified that she was pregnant by Thomas Bell, also of the parish of St Botolph Aldgate. Unfortunately, this is all the information given in the examination. There is no mention of the father's whereabouts, of either parent's occupation, or of previous associations with the parish.

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Mary Bell was born six weeks later on 1 September 1774, and admitted to the St Botolph Aldgate workhouse two weeks later. She was nursed by her mother for just nine days, and was then sent to the dry nurse, Christian Poulton at Chinkford Hatch. Nurse Poulton was paid 3d a week, and Mary remained in Nurse Poulton's care for eight years.

Childhood and Apprenticeship

Mary was eight years old when she returned to the workhouse in 1781. She had learned to read and say her prayers, and was employed in various tasks in the workhouse. Over four years, Mary's recorded tasks included winding silk, making "cawls" (sacks) and picking oakum.

At the age of 12, Mary was sent to service with M. Phipps. It is likely that Mary became a household servant. The fact she does not appear in any subsequent document in London Lives suggests that she was able to find suitable employment, or a secure position, without having to seek further support from the parish. In other words, she was a parochial relief success story.

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About this Biography

Created by

Jemima Thompson

Further contributions by

Bob Shoemaker