Sarah Mather – a well traveled girl

Imagine being a teenager in Russia during the 1860’s. Not exactly the normal life for a middle-class girl of the period. But Sarah Mather’s life had not been normal from the start.

When Sarah was born on 13th June 1852 her parents were not married. 1In fact, her father’s name was not included on her birth certificate. However, when she was baptized on 29th August 1852 both her parents, Fanny Cross and James Mather were recorded (this leads me to believe that James Mather is her father even though he was omitted from her birth certificate). 2

Birth Certificate for Sarah Cross born 13 June 1852 at Hollins, Pilkington, Lancashire – Source: General Register Office
Birth Certificate for Sarah Cross born 13 June 1852 at Hollins, Pilkington, Lancashire
Baptism for Sarah Mather 1852 August 29 at St George’s Church, Unsworth, Lancashire
Baptism for Sarah Mather 1852 August 29 at St George’s Church, Unsworth, Lancashire

Fanny and James were finally married on 31st January 1855 in the parish church of St Mary in Bury, Lancashire. 3 This is the same church that Fanny had been baptized in. Both Fanny and James were in their thirties and I can only guess about the nature of their pre-marriage relationship.

James was a cotton printer or more precisely, a calico machine printer. In the early days of the industry, calico was printed by hand with engraved wooden blocks or copper plates. Each colour was applied one by one and took a whole day to produce just six pieces of cloth printed with a plain pattern.

The days of block printing were numbered when roller or cylinder-printing was patented by Thomas Bell in 1783. Although block printing was slow, it carried on for many years after Bell’s invention. By 1845 there were ninety three calico printing firms in Lancashire, and between them they had 435 printing machines and more than 8,000 blocking tables for hand printing. But by 1870, cylinder printing was the norm, and blocking tables were a rarity.

According to the 1851 census, James was working in Elton near Bury in Lancashire. 4 By the time of his wedding in 1855 he was living in Glossop, Derbyshire where his father and family had moved to start a grocery store in Dinting Vale. By 1857 he had moved again with his new wife and daughter. This time the family was in Alexandria near Glasgow in Scotland where their son, Peter, was born prematurely on 17th January 1857. 5 Little Peter died just 8 days later and was buried at the Alexandria Cemetery. 6

Alexandria is on the River Levin in an area called the Vale of Levin. This area was heavily industralised by the textile dying and printing industries, details of which can be seen here:

In 1861, James, Fanny and Sarah were still in Alexandria and had been joined by James’ half-bother Squire (who was also a calico machine printer) and his new wife, Hannah. 7 Sarah is listed as a scholar on the census and probably attended the Main Street school that was opened in the 1850s. 8 Squire and Hannah’s son, Joe William was born in Alexandria on 17th March 1862.9

In 1864 James was on the move again. This time, according to two of the surviving letters he wrote to Fanny, James was in Moscow, Russia. The first letter seems to indicate that Fanny and Sarah were back in England where Fanny had been unwell. James was missing both his “girls” but in the second letter he is keen to have Fanny and Sarah join him in Russia. He urges Fanny to make a quick decision about the possible move: “Please write to me in the course of two or three days and let me know how you feel yourself inclined to act in this case, and I shall decide about the length of my stopping by your joining me or not joining me; but I beg that you will decide to come if you feel at all strong enough to do so because I think we should be able to save in 6 years at least a thousand pounds.”

Fanny and Sarah did join James in Russia after all. I do not know exactly when they arrived in Russia but I have a copy of a school report card for Sarah dated December, 1866 from a private school in St Petersburg. The report card is printed in German, though some of the comments are in English.

Top half of school report for Sarah Mather, 22 December 1866
Top half of school report for Sarah Mather, 22 December 1866

Unfortunately Fanny’s health did not hold up in the cold Russian climate and she died at Schlusselburg on 16th October 1867. 10 Schlusselburg is located at the head of the Neva River 35 kilometers (22 mi) east of St. Petersburg. There were numerous cotton printing factories in the area.

In 1871, James and Sarah are back in England living with James step-mother, Sally in Dinting Vale, near Glossop, Derbyshire. 11 Sarah is now 18 years old but finally at “home”. That is, until it is her turn to “venture abroad” with her own young family.

  1. Births (CR) England. Pilkington, Bury, Lancashire. 13 June 1852. CROSS, Sarah. Entry No. 37
  2. Baptisms (PR) England. St George, Unsworth, Lancashire. 29 August 1852. MATHER CROSS, Sarah. Ref No: GB127.L100/1/3/1 P. 58 No. 680. Collection: Manchester, England, Church of England Biths and Baptisms, 1813-1915 : accessed 6 March 2014.
  3. Marriages (CR) England. The Parish Church, Bury, Lancashire. 31 January 1855. MATHER, James and CROSS, Fanny. Entry No. 25
  4. Census. 1851. England. Bury, Lancashire. HO 107/2215/543/60. : accessed 29 December 2014
  5. Births (CR) Scotland. Bonhill, Dunbartonshire. 17 January 1857. MATHER. 493/00 0021. : accessed 7 March 2013
  6. Deaths (CR) Scotland. Bonhill, Dunbartonshire. 25 January 1857. MATHER. 493/00 0007. : accessed 7 March 2013
  7. Census 1861 Scotland. Alexandria, Bonhill, Dunbartonshire. 493/00 002/00 023. : accessed 29 December 2014
  9. Births (CR) Scotland. Bonhill, Dunbartonshire. 17 March 1862. MATHER, Joe William. 493/00 0081. : accessed 15 May 2016
  10. Monumental Inscriptions. England. Glossop Cemetery, Derbyshire. 16 October 1867. MATHER, Fanny. Transcribed by Megan Franklin. 22 May 2013
  11. Census. 1871. England. Whitfield, Derbyshire. RG10/3644/82/22. : accessed 12 December 2014