Sarah Pilch fl. 1793-1818

Respectable Widow who fell on Hard Times

Sarah Pilch married well, but when her family fell on hard times they found themselves in and out of the parish workhouse for a period lasting more than two decades. As the children grew up, a particularly close bond remained between Sarah, the mother, and one of her daughters, Amelia.

Marriage, Family, and Descent into Poverty

The early stages of the life of Sarah Pilch are absent from documented sources and we are given no specific birthplace or date of birth. However, it is likely that she was born Sarah Evans around the year 1761.1 Sarah married Edward Pilch, a tailor and respected member of the community at the parish church of St Martin's in the Fields on 27 December 1778. The marriage proved to be fruitful as Sarah gave birth to their first child, Sarah, on the 10th October 1780, and a second daughter, Amelia, seven years later on the 31st October, 1787. Two sons followed, with Frederick being born on the 18th December, 1789 and George on the 22nd July, 1792 2

The Pilches are likely to have lived a respectable lifestyle as they were residents of St Martin's in the Fields, a parish that included some of London's richest inhabitants. Sarah's husband, Edward Pilch, is included in voting registers and was also described as a 'good and lawful [man]...of said Liberty'. He was also part of the coroner’s jury during inquests in 1786 and 1787. They rented a property at the 'Yearly Rent of Sixteen Pounds which gives some indication of their economic status.

However, for unknown reasons, but possibly because of Edward's ill-health, the Pilches fell upon hard times and, on the 4th January 1793, Sarah and her children were admitted into the parish workhouse. They were subsequently discharged the next day to Edward, and it is likely that they received casual relief instead. Edward Pilch, aged 41, was admitted into the workhouse just a few months later, along with two of his children, Amelia, aged 6 and Frederick, aged 4, on the 10th August 1793. It appears that Sarah Pilch, the mother, did not go into the workhouse on this occasion. Edward Pilch was discharged from the workhouse a few days later, on the 14th August 1793. However, both Amelia and Frederick stayed in the workhouse until they were 'sent to Nurse Gildon att Hampton' on the 9th September 1793. In seemingly declining health, Edward Pilch was once again readmitted into the workhouse for a third and final time on the 18th February 1794. The workhouse would be his death bed as he died just a few weeks later on the 9th March. Following the death of her husband, both Sarah and her daughter Amelia would both spend significant time in and out of the workhouse.

The Parish Workhouse: The Revolving Door of Relief

Spanning a twenty-five year period, Sarah Pilch was admitted into the parish workhouse on no fewer than eight occasions. No documents cover her life between the years 1794-1797, and she reappears when she was admitted into the workhouse for a second time on the 2nd August 1798, absenting herself a few months later on the 13th January 1799. However, she returned to the workhouse a day later, and was discharged on the 4th March 1799. On the 4th December of that same year, she was admitted into the workhouse for a fourth time, but was subsequently discharged on the 14th August 1800.

From the Workhouse to the House of Correction

After her discharge from the parish workhouse on the 14th August, 1800, Sarah found employment as a servant, working for a person ‘at the army work’, although at what point and for how long is unclear. She next appears in the records four years later, when she appears in the Old Bailey Proceedings rather than the workhouse admissions and discharge registers. Accused of stealing ‘five pewter quart pots, value 5 s.’ from Francis Matthison on the 1st March 1804, she was found guilty and sentenced to six months in the house of correction. In her defence, she claimed that she took the pots because she ‘met a woman [who lived at the property]... and she told me to take those pots’.

Mother and Daughter: An Unbreakable Bond

Although the lives of two of Sarah's children, Sarah (aged 12) and George (aged 5 months), are not documented apart from their original admission into the workhouse on the 4th January 1793 and subsequent discharge a day later, the lives of her two other children, Frederick and Amelia, provide us with an understanding of their own personal fortunes following their parents' slide into poverty. Frederick, having been sent to a nurse (aged 3) in 1793, was readmitted back into the workhouse on the 22nd May, 1798. He was subsequently discharged four years later when he was 'Bound Apprentice to Samuel Ashton of the Parish of Middleton in the County of Lancaster Cotton Manufacturer', aged 12. After this, there is no further mention of Frederick Pilch in any of the documented records.

Amelia seems to have shared a similar fate to her mother. Sent to a nurse (aged 6) at the same time as her brother Frederick, Amelia was once again admitted into the parish workhouse on the 3rd August 1796. However, she was 'discharged to her mother' five years later on the 6th May 1801, aged 13. This suggests that Sarah had the means of supporting her daughter, as it fits in with her own absence from the parish workhouse between 1800 and 1804. Amelia's fourth admittance into the workhouse was on the 21st November 1804, which coincided with her mother's stay in the house of correction, suggesting she was, to some extent, still dependent on her mother. She was subsequently 'discharged to her mother' and continued to be reliant on the parish until at least 1819. She died at the age of 66 in 1853.3

Till Death do us Part: A Non-Porous Social Safety Net

The years 1805-1810 represent another absence of Sarah Pilch from documented sources; however, she once again reappears in the workhouse admissions and discharge registers for a fifth time (aged 49) on the 22nd October 1810. She absented a few months later on the 3rd March, 1811, but was readmitted two days later. On the 15th April, she absented again, staying out of the workhouse for another two days. On the 14th June, she was discharged abut re-entered the workhouse for an eighth and last time (aged 53) on the 28th November, 1815. The last official record we have of Sarah Pilch is of her being discharged from the parish workhouse on the 17th August, 1818.

Thereafter, Sarah Pilch disappears from the records on London Lives. It may be that, given her age (55), Sarah Pilch died shortly afterwards. However as the St Martin workhouse registers do not survive past 1819, any further relationship with the parish workhouse may not be recorded. Considering her dynamic relationship with the parish workhouse it is possible that this was not her last and final stay.

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External Sources


1, consulted 15.03.2012

2 These dates are confirmed by consulted 15.03.2012

3, consulted 15.03.2012

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About this Biography

Created by

Zain Sabat

Further contributions by

Eleanor Veryard