Second thoughts

On re-reading the ‘Grantham Journal’ piece of 9 December 1893, I find I agree with the interpretation of Linda Curry (in the comments, below). Although she favoured the Catholic candidate, Eliza was persuaded that she should not vote against her own denominational interests, ‘her own’ meaning Anglican. She was a member of the Church of England.

I have no forebears whose names begin with X, but ‘X, his mark’ on a document seems close enough.

Making an X is not a reliable way of identifying yourself, of course, and from time to time illiterate people were tricked into giving false endorsements of their intentions. One of these was my husband’s great great grandmother Eliza Dawson née Skerritt (1838-1899) who lived in Corby, near Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Though she apparently could not read and write, Eliza Dawson was a property owner and therefore entitled to vote for the local Board of Guardians. The Boards were committees that administered the Poor Law in the United Kingdom from 1835 to 1930, elected by owners and bona fide occupiers of land liable to pay the poor rate. The property qualification was abolished in 1894, but in 1893, Eliza, widowed since 1872, was an owner or occupier of land liable to pay the poor rate and so eligible to vote for the local Board.

In the 1893 election Eliza was canvassed by a Mr Walsingham on behalf of Mr William Harrison, the local butcher, who was a member of Church of England. Eliza, however, wished to vote for the alternative candidate, a Roman Catholic, the Reverend Canon Baron. Walsingham seems to have told Eliza that her children could not complete her ballot paper on her behalf but that he could. However, perhaps contrary to her wishes, he completed the ballot in favour of William Harrison. She later asserted that ‘…she did not give him any direct permission to record her vote for Mr Harrison’.

Eliza protested, and in reviewing the election, the Local Government Board  was satisfied that her ballot paper had not been completed in accordance with her intentions and that Eliza’s vote should be disallowed. This tied the vote and a fresh election was ordered.

Witnesses in the case included her sons William and Albert Dawson, and William’s wife Annie.

Grantham Journal 1893 09 30 page 6

Local Government Board Enquiry at Corby reported in the Grantham Journal 30 September 1893 page 6 retrieved from the British Newspaper Archive through FindMyPast

Two years before this, at the time of the 1891 census, Eliza Dawson was living at Stonepit Terrace in Corby with her sons George age 20 and Albert age 18, both farm labourers, and her grandson Arthur, age 12, still at school. The house previously enumerated on the Census was in Brown Road, with the occupants listed as Eliza’s son William age 31, who was a chimney sweep, William’s wife Annie, and a stepson, Frederick Munks aged 2.

Eliza presumably owned at least one of these houses, possibly both, giving her the legal status of property owner. (I haven’t been able to locate these addresses on a present-day map.)

I still have much to learn about the Dawson and Skerritt families. Until reading this article I had no idea that Eliza was a Roman Catholic [but see above, at ‘Second Thoughts’] or that she owned enough real property to qualify as a Board of Guardians voter.

A fresh election was held in January 1894. Canon Baron won the popular vote but the successful candidate was the Reverend Charles Farebrother, Anglican priest of Corby Vicarage. Depending on the value of his property, an elector had up three votes. It appears that the wealthier voters chose to vote for the Anglican clergyman.

Grantham Journal 13 January 1894 page 3

Grantham Journal 13 January 1894 page 3


I am descended from a long line of Huguenots – French Calvinists – on one side and German Lutherans on the other, supplemented by Anglicans (mostly) and various other Protestants. My husband Greg’s family were nominally Anglican, or if not, Non-conformist or, occasionally, followers of unusual creeds, not all of them trinitarian.

So it has been easy to assume that our families were Protestant Christians of one kind or another, and it was a surprise to discover a direct forebear who appears to have been a Roman Catholic.

The evidence is slight, however. To say that Eliza Dawson née Skerritt was described by an 1893 Corby newspaper as belonging to the Roman Catholic church reminds me of the cautious scholar who, seeing a mob of black cows, one of them white, reported that he had observed at least one cow white on at least one side.

There are very few facts, and they are difficult to interpret. Eliza Skerritt married Isaac Dawson in an Anglican Church, possibly before she changed her religious allegiance – if that’s what happened. I have not found her will or probate record, and I do not know whether she was buried a Roman Catholic. I know nothing about her husband’s denominational affiliation, nor her chilren’s.

Greg, raised in a sect which believes the Bishop of Rome to was accurately described by John in Revelation 17, will not be hurrying off to Mass on Sunday. I am waiting for more evidence before I can say with confidence that not all our recent forebears were Protestants.

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