Women of the Wharf – Beulah Thompson

Northampton Mercury 1842 30 April

Edward Thompson died on 5 February 1842 aged just 38, after a few days illness. Beulah was widowed with a toddler, daughter Alice, and needed an income. Just two months after her husband’s death, she officially took over Edward’s business.

Born in Stowe around 1803, Beulah was one of the Adams sisters. She married Edward on 1 March 1834 at St Martin in Birmingham, and their only child, Alice, was born at the Wharf in 1839.

There were several coal merchants at the Wharf around the same time, including Beulah’s brother-in-law John Thompson, although that didn’t stop Beulah diversifying into coal as well as bone manure. Bone manure is a type of fertiliser, made from animal bones that have been cleaned, heated and ground into a fine powder. Edward’s business adverts stated he was a bone grinder as well as a merchant, so presumably Beulah took that part over too. She ran what seems to have been a pretty successful business for the next 19 years, advertising in the newspapers regularly. The Wharf community and families stuck together, no time for misogyny and sexism when jobs had to be done. Beulah was only one of the successful independent women running their own business. By 1851 she was employing 3 men and had a servant, Elizabeth Kench, to help at home as well as looking after her 7 year old nephew James Wallington and now 12 year old daughter Alice.

In September 1860 Beulah ran foul of the local Weights and Measures inspectors and was charged with having unstamped and unjust weights. She was fined 10 shillings and had to pay costs of 13 shillings and sixpence. It should be stated that Beulah was far from being the only person with incorrect weights or measures – almost every merchant, shopkeeper, and publican at the Wharf appears in the petty sessions for the same reason, and some of them were repeat offenders.

At the time of the 1861 Census on 7 April, Beulah had a different servant, Ann Smith, and a waggoner, Henry Nightingale, living at her house. Henry had only recently become an employee after the previous waggoner Joseph Allen was sacked on 23 February. (the details of Mr Allen’s sacking will be in a separate post)

Whether the events of February 1861 and the ensuing court case in April took a toll on Beulah, or possibly the fact that she was now in her late fifties, she decided to retire from the business. Francis Montgomery bought the business from her and was advertising that fact from 27 April 1861.

Beulah moved to Wellingborough to live with her daughter and family. Alice had married Edward Townsend Banks, a farmer, and they were living at Wellingborough Grange. Although Alice sadly died at the age of 40 in 1879, Beulah stayed with her son-in-law and grandchildren, now living at Manor Farm in Hardmead, Buckinghamshire. By the time of the 1881 Census, Beulah is recorded as being blind. Perhaps her eyesight had been failing for some time, another possible reason for selling the business and moving to her daughter’s.

Beulah’s story ends on 2 June 1883:

June 2, at the Manor Farm, Hardmead, Bucks, Mrs Beulah Thompson, late of Long Buckby Wharf, Northamptonshire, in her 81st year.

Northampton Mercury 1883 9 June
  • Northampton Mercury 1842 12 February
  • Ibid. 1842 30 April
  • Ibid. 1860 22 September
  • Ibid. 1861 6 April
  • Ibid. 1861 27 April
  • Ibid. 1883 9 June

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