Teresa Agnes Alsop was the Gt Grandmother of this author and Grandmother to Tom Walker.
It has taken over 30 years to piece together the journey of this remarkable woman who started off in the poor dock area of Bristol, was rescued by a Roman Catholic Priest in Scotland and ended up as wife of an agricultural labourer in Hertfordshire. Parts of her life are still shrouded in mystery.
Teresa Agnes Alsop was baptised in Clifton, Bristol on the 6th August 1868, daughter of William Francis Alsop, a mariner and native of Clifton, Bristol and Mary nee Towells, a woman in service and born in Taunton, Somerset.
The family lived at 161 Dock Gates Lane, off Hotwell Road in Clifton in one of the small cottages rented out by dock workers. It has since been demolished and replaced by luxury waterside apartments. It is close to Poole Wharf which is still in existence today.
The Hotwells area is about one mile west of Bristol city centre. It takes its name from the hot springs which bubble up through the rocks of the Avon Gorge underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge. In the eighteenth century the area was promoted as a spa, but the waters were found to be polluted in the nineteenth century.
The now famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed and build by Isambard Kingdom Brunel had only been completed in 1864 when Teresa was born.Her father would have sailed under it in his boat en route for the Mouth of the Avon or back to Bristol Docks. At that time Bristol's position on the rivers Frome and Avon, which flows into the Severn, made it an ideal situation for a port. It was second only to London for in the amount of trade which passed through it.
Teresa lived with her parents and siblings in Hotwells until she was about 12 years old.
Sometime during 1871-1881 Teresa’s father had died and her mother, Mary, was left a widow to bring up her family. She took in washing and cleaning as a charwoman and sent the twins, William F. ALSOP & James J. ALSOP born c.1864 out as errand boys whilst Teresa went to school. The family had moved further down the road to 110 Hotwell Road.
Older sister, Mary Josephine Alsop born c.1859 had moved away and was a housemaid at 1 Alina Terrace, Middlesex, London. She worked for an elderly lady called Louisa Mary Bridgman (born c.1810), who was a Landed Proprietor from Leytonstone, Essex. It is not known where the second eldest, Frances c. 1862 moved to.
Living with the Bridgman household was Father George Angus who was the Chaplain. George Angus was born 9th November 1842, Aberdeen, son of John Angus & Katherine Ann nee Forbes. At some point in his adulthood he was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest. When Mrs. Bridgman died, he returned to St Andrews to The Presbytery.
Sometime between 1881-1885 Teresa joined her sister Mary either before or after the death of Mrs. Bridgman and the girls went to work at The Presbytery in St Andrews, Perthshire, Scotland as servants to Father Angus. Their names appear in household accounts.
Father Angus appears to have had a huge influence on both girls as they both named their first born sons Angus George Forbes. He also officiated at Mary's wedding to Walter Alexander and baptised her children.
In the 1891 UK Census, Teresa was back in England working as a maid at 28 St Stephens Road in Paddington, London. It was possibly St Stephen’s Gardens as Talbot Road is the next address on the census and there is no St Stephen’s Road shown on the modern map (very little has changed in this area). The current (2007) asking price for property in St Stephen’s Gardens is £5 million.
The Head of the Household was a widow, Robena A Thompson born c. 1819 from Yorkshire. The household appears to have been a boarding school or home for girls from well to do families as there are governesses, tutors and scholars listed as well as companions and servants. The inhabitants’ birth places cover a wide area of the UK as well as France.
Booth’s Poverty Map of 1889 show that this address was in an area that was “middle class and well to do”.
Teresa is listed as Agnes Alsop aged 22 a domestic servant born in Clifton, Somerset and has a visitor; Frances Alsop aged 25 from Clifton.
Her mother by then had moved to 25 Ambrose Road, Clifton to keep house for her son William H. Alsop, a postman. William Towells, Mary’s father was also living there at that time.
We know nothing of Teresa’s whereabouts during 1897-1901. She does not appear anywhere in England or Scotland under her maiden name of Alsop. She is either out of the country as a servant elsewhere or has briefly married. Her name appears as godmother by proxy to her sister Mary's son,Angus George Alexander in 1897 suggesting she had moved out of the area.
Many years later she would tell her daughter-in-law, Annie Walker, in an unguarded moment that she had been briefly married and had a son but that they both died. She would never elaborate on the subject but once a month a letter would come from London that required her signature and an amount of money would be sent to her in Willian. Certainly there is no record found to date to substantiate her claim and her tale does not stand up when she later marries as you will see!
By 1901 she reappears as a 33 year old spinster working as a cook for Mr. John Chapman a solicitor, at 37 Ladbroke Road, Kensington.
Mitton’s guide book of 1903 describes this part of Kensington as,
“The district…, all dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century; it is well laid out, with broad streets and large houses, though north of Lansdowne Road the quarter is not so good. It is very difficult to find anything interesting to record of this part of Kensington…”
Teresa appears to have worked her way up to the top of her occupation with excellent references from her employers, judging by the houses she worked in. Victorian households built up their staff of domestic servants in accordance with a well-understood pattern: this was based on a natural and logical progression from general functions to more specialized ones, heavily reinforced by an outpouring of literature and advice on domestic economy and household management such as Isabella Beeton’s “Book of Household Management”.
Domestic help began with a daily girl or charwoman. The first living-in servant would be a 'general' maid-of-all-work, almost always a young girl often of only thirteen or fourteen: the next addition a house-maid or a nurse-maid, depending on the more urgent needs at the time. The third senant would be the cook, and these three -- either cook, parlour-maid and house-maid, or cook, house-maid and nurse-maid -- then formed a group which could minimally minister to all the requirements of gentility.
Teresa certainly did a lot of travelling in her time and her travelling chest is still in the family and used as a repository for the family history documents and photographs. It is a cumbersome wooden affair with her initials T.A.A. stencilled in red on the lid.
Her grandson, Thomas Walker, remembers her as a woman who liked her booze, he would always have to take a jug down to the Three Horseshoes at Willian to fill it up with beer on a Sunday after church. His reward was a sip out of the jug until his mother Annie found out. It was therefore a great surprise when many years after her death, Tom found a piece of paper in Teresa’s handwriting and deliberately pasted under a picture of Christ in her Roman Catholic prayer book.
“Signed The Pledge May 8 ’99 with Father Angus with my own blood…”
It is unclear why Teresa should have signed “the pledge” and it be witnessed by a Roman Catholic Father, as the idea was closely associated with the Methodist religion. However, research has revealed that Lady Henry Somerset, born Isabel Crooks, was elected leader of the British Women’s Temperance Society in 1890 and owned many houses in London at the time Teresa was known to have lived in Kensington.
Lady Somerset devoted much of her time and income to the welfare of the people of England. She began by studying the causes of poverty and crime, and found the liquor traffic at the bottom of it all. Being a woman of deeds as well as words, she took the total abstinence pledge, induced some of her tenants to do the same, and so started a temperance society. She visited the homes of her tenants, gave Bible readings in the kitchens, and gathered the mothers at her castle to discuss with them the training of their children. She would also hold temperance meetings in local halls.
Maybe Teresa, caught up in the fervor of a meeting, decided to “join the club”. Certainly it shows that Father Angus was still in contact with Teresa in 1899, just four years before she moved to Hertfordshire and married Arthur George.
It was sometime between 1901 and 1902 that Teresa came to Willian in Hertfordshire to work a cook at Punchardon Hall.
and whilst there that she met a local agricultural labourer,Arthur George Walker.
This diminutive female with a broad Scots accent must have seemed like an exotic creature to a man who had not travelled far out of the county. Soon they were courting. When they married on 4th January 1903, it was recorded on the marriage certificate that she was a widow aged 32 (but used her maiden name), making her real age nearer to 35 to George’s 26.
According to her great grand daughter, June (Olive’s daughter), Teresa claimed to have originated from Glasgow. It is possible that she was in service there for a brief while and maybe her mysterious “family” came from that area. However the fact remains that there has never been any record found with her previous marriage or the husband and child she was supposed to have had and lost. English marriage Registers only bring up Teresa’s marriage to Arthur George in 1901 and Scottish Marriage Registers reveal only her sister Mary’s wedding in 1888.
Teresa’s last home was at 2 Manor Cottages, Willian. It was where she brought up her family and spent the remainder of her life until her death on 1st December 1946.
It has been a long and continued battle trying to unravel the life of Teresa Agnes Alsop. New clues about her past keep appearing but she remains as elusive as ever.
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