Eliza Ann Day: A Remarkable Life

Batley was changing fast, growing from a small village where everybody knew everybody to a booming town enriched by the industrial revolution in the space of about forty years. However, the wealth didn’t trickle down to everyone, and society split into two distinct classes; the haves and the have nots. Eliza Ann Day was born into this changing society.

Born on 10 April 1847 in Batley Carr, her birth likely caused some controversy as her mother, Sarah Ann Day, was unmarried. Illegitimacy was typically looked down upon, and many infants faced cruel fates at the hands of baby farmers, but Eliza was lucky.

Eliza’s birth certificate

Lucky as her mother, Sarah wedded James Rayner, a widowed farmer from the nearby Osset, on 5 June 1848 at Dewsbury Parish Church. He was about thirteen or so years older and came from an interesting background. Firstly, his parents never married but had about nine children together. Secondly, as mentioned before, he was a widower, but I have struggled to find out what happened to his first wife. He was living with his mother in 1841, so I think it is likely she sadly passed away prematurely.

This was significant for Eliza because it represented some stability in her life. Her dad was a farmer and brought home a regular income. I refer to James as Eliza’s father for a few reasons but mainly that there is a strong case that she was his biological daughter. He came from an unorthodox background himself, and there is some flimsy but firm DNA evidence suggesting so. Regardless, from this point onwards, James Rayner became her father.

Growing up, Eliza lived in Gawthorpe, which wasn’t too far from where she was born and would live in later life. It was likely a tough and gruelling childhood, as was typical of the time. James brought stability but not comfort, simply providing an escape from near-death or extreme poverty. Sarah and James had some children, so Eliza didn’t grow up alone, but she was the eldest child and perhaps stuck out a bit. In the 1851 and 1861 Censuses, she is the only one in the household not to bear the name Rayner.

Batley Parish Church

Eliza married William Henry Hall at Batley Parish Church on 27 January 1866. He was a Batley lad who lost his father when he was only little and came from a similarly difficult childhood. It wasn’t long after this marriage that their son Jeremiah, named after William’s father, was born. However, this happy start to their marriage was tinged due to Jeremiah’s passing before he was even three months old. This was followed by the birth and death of a daughter who wasn’t even named. I have given her the name of Betty.

However, happiness did develop for the couple when Margent Ann Hall was born on 28 February 1869, and she was their first child to survive infancy.

The couple likely lived with William’s mother Harriet after their marriage, and by 1871 they remained living with her. William’s brother lived not so far away, so it was a close-knit family. Their second son Joseph Hall was born in March 1871, and a fair few more children would follow.

Harriet was a strong woman who suffered through a lot in her life. By 1877 she was an old woman, and she passed away aged 66. William Henry Hall registered her death and was present at it. I can’t speak for him, but as tradition follows, Hall men tend to be close to their mothers and considering his youth, I think he was. This might explain his turn to alcoholism, I can never be sure, but it seems to me that this is the most likely moment for his habit. Perhaps he already was an alcoholic by this point; we will never know for sure.

Harriet’s plot at Batley Cemetery

What we can be sure about is that he was notorious for his alcoholism. He was arrested and either imprisoned or fined countless times, and Eliza likely paid for it. We do not know what kind of drunk William was, he might have been alright, and there was never any talk of violence or abuse, but you can never be sure. I think he was a man who struggled, and that wouldn’t be atypical of the family. Still, his struggles deeply affected those around him as their stability, security and happiness were put at risk.

His second youngest son Lewis refused to drink, and his in-laws disapproved of the match due to his father’s reputation. The family always seemed to move about, living at Spring Gardens, Beaumont Street, Taylor Street, and Cobden Street. These addresses were all spotted around Batley and could indicate a chaotic family life.

The area of Batley where Eliza and William lived in later life

Eliza lost her father in about May 1884. I don’t know her feelings towards him, but I hope that he provided her with the stability she needed, and it didn’t matter to her if he was her biological father or not. Fortunately, this loss was followed by the birth of my Great Great Grandfather Ernest James Hall on 11 February 1885, who would be the last child she gave birth to.

Her family was complete but still victim to her husband’s drunkenness. It isn’t easy to imagine what Eliza felt; I’d like to think she did love William and that she didn’t get with him just because he was the only one that would take her. I want to believe she had a great sense of self-worth and became a victim of her husband’s addiction. It doesn’t matter what the answers are, though, because she was clearly a strong woman and one I take pride in descending from.

Hanging Heaton Church where Eliza’s mother was buried

1903 and 1904, two deaths of high importance occurred.

Firstly in 1903, Sarah, Eliza’s mother, passed away. It is ironic that we haven’t discussed her much, perhaps indicative that she was another “Jane” lost to time, but this was a significant loss to Eliza. I don’t know her exact feelings towards her, but their survival in the early days wasn’t certain, possibly forming a powerful bond between them.

In 1904, William fell ill, suffering from Thyroid Cancer. He died within three months on 10 September 1904 at the Batley Cottage Hospital. Eliza registered the death, and it is unclear if she was present the exact moment he passed away, but she was clearly in attendance. He was buried at Batley Cemetery a few days later, and even a short death notice was published in the local paper.

William Henry Hall’s death notice

She remarried in 1909 to a widower called George Bennett, and by 1911 they lived on Bradford Road, Dewsbury. Things had seemingly improved for Eliza, who was now in her mid-sixties. Sadly, however, things became more complicated.

The First World War broke out.

At least two of her sons (Lewis and Ernest) served in the war, and their brother Joseph’s son Walter also enlisted. He made the ultimate sacrifice and died in 1918. She had to wave goodbye to at least two children and likely many more grandchildren as she approached her seventies, an impressive age at the time. She couldn’t be sure she would ever see them again.

As fate would have it, she would never see peacetime again passing away of bronchitis at the age of 70. Her son Ernest was injured in the summer of that year, so she likely saw him then, but it is unclear whether she saw any other serving kids or grandkids before her passing.

She was buried in the same plot as William Henry Hall alongside some of their grandchildren who died as infants. The plot is unmarked, and I was lucky enough to mark it with a small plaque in the summer of 2021. Unfortunately, it was soon “minced” over by the council lawnmowers, but as the legal process would be a massive headache, I will likely never be able to mark their grave.

Irrespective of that, Eliza remains marked in my heart. She was a remarkable woman who survived through a lot and against all odds. Lamentably, she was lost to time, not for any particular reason, but she was, and I hope I can do her some justice by writing this biography.

We will never know her true feelings about the events of her life, but deep down, I hope she is proud of me and my family, who are carrying the Hall name onwards as much as I am proud of her.

Taken back in July 2021, the closest I will ever get to a photo with Eliza

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