Sweet, Mrs

Also known as: Eliza Sweet


Collection date: Aug 1906

Area: Somerset - Langport surrounds

Mrs Eliza Sweet of Somerton (1847-?): age 61, 4 songs 2 Aug 1906 and 16 Aug 1907: Sharp began his summer Field Trip in 1906 by visiting Somerton and finding two excellent songs from Mrs Sweet - for some reason Sharp never used her Christian name. These songs were ‘Death of Queen Jane’ (FT959, Child ballad 170, Roud 77), which he found nowhere else in Somerset; and ‘Searching for Lambs’ (FT960), which Sharp selected for Folk Songs from Somerset vol 4. He had come across other versions of this last song but to different tunes and he wrote of Mrs Sweet’s version: ’In my opinion this, taken as a whole, is the most perfect song of its type that I have recovered in Somerset’ (FSS4 p84: click vwml link above). Sharp got another song from Mrs Sweet via Miss Snow but then revisited Mrs Sweet himself in August 1907.

Eliza was born Eliza Wills, third child of Amos Wills, sailcloth weaver and his wife Ann in Merriott, nr Crewkerne. She was born on 5/2/1847 and baptised at Merriott church on 4/4/1847. In 1861 census she was a domestic servant at Sockety Farm outside of Merriott. As a young girl Eliza may or may not have had contact with some of the (five) Merriott singers noted by Sharp in August 1905.

Eliza was literate and could sign her name when she married Adolphus Sweet at Merriott church on 21/4/1869. He was a shoemaker and had had an uncertain start in life. His mother Hannah had been widowed young with 4 children and he himself was subsequently born out of wedlock in 1846. Hannah herself worked in the fields (according to 1861 census) and Adolphus was no doubt pressed into taking up a trade as early as possible. He remained a shoemaker all his life and soon after his wedding in 1869, Adolphus and Eliza made a fresh start in life by moving to Somerton. Adolphus then called himself Alfred for the rest of his life*. They had 11 children and Eliza proudly declared to the 1911 enumerator that they had all survived. In 1901 census (RG13/2287 f30 p20) Alfred, Eliza and seven of their adult children were all living at Water Lane in Somerton – a close family.

*We know that Adolphus and Alfred Sweet were one and the same, because at the weddings of his daughters Hester (14/10/1895) and then Rose (16/4/1906), they both entered ‘Adolphus Sweet’ as their father, a shoemaker, even though all the previous censuses (1881-1901) had shown them present and correct under Head of Household Alfred Sweet.

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