Smith, Betsy

Collection date: Aug 1906

Area: Somerset - Taunton District


Elizabeth (Betsy) Smith at Creech St Michael (1835-?): age 70, 1 song ‘O Write me down’ (FT977) on 9 Aug 1906: Sharp only collected one other version of this song in Somerset (two weeks later from Richard Adams at East Harptree). The song was printed in many 19th century broadsides and is still sung today – it was in the repertoire of the Copper family of Sussex and is often known as ‘The Wedding Song’.

The song tells of a young girl who at first rejects the wooing of a young man but changes her mind, as he walks away! Betsy herself was unluckily widowed twice and the song’s happy ending may have appealed to her (click vwml link above).

Betsy was baptised Elizabeth Manfield in Hemyock, Devon on 8/11/1835, daughter of Samuel & Sarah Manfield. She married Samuel Finch at Creech St Michael on 30/3/1852 – she would have been under age but the register says age ‘21’ and all her census returns consistently confirm 1835 as her birth date. They had 13 children. Samuel was a shepherd in the 1871 census and Betsy a charwoman. So many mouths to feed! In 1881 census Betsey (sic) is listed as a widow but 8 out of 13 children had left home to fend for themselves.

In Dec 1882 Betsy, aged 48, married an older widower (age 75) named John Nowell Smith of Ruishton. He had been variously – a pork butcher in the village, an agricultural labourer and a shoemaker. He died in Jan 1885 and Betsy was on her own again. By 1891 two of her sons were still at home but working as basket-makers to support her. In 1901, still at Creech St Michael, Betsy was listed as a widow, 65, a monthly nurse (RG13/2274 f26 p12). She was still in the village in 1911 but it is not known when she actually died.

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