This is a true story firmly rooted in fact. It is short, tragic and tantalisingly without an ending, or at least an ending that we will know for certain, perhaps its fascination lies in allowing yourself to wonder about the mystery.
It’s not often that a name accidentally stumbled across in an old book lodges itself into your thoughts, but I stumbled across this person some years ago in a dusty parish church in Norfolk. She has stayed with me, through the power of her name that hints at a long forgotten drama and insinuates a tragic story. I find it amazing that a single name can hold such an implied narrative.
The young girls name was: Her Unhappyluck Mattwood
All that is known factually about Her, is written on one line of a census return for the 2nd of April 1871 for the Parish of Woodrising in Norfolk. At the time she was 16 years old and was the live-in housemaid at 6. Shipdham (sic) Road in Woodrising to a farmer. Mr J.W. Parfitt and his wife Harriet and son Thomas. She was born in Griston, 6 miles away.
Woodrising was not a large parish in 1871, it consisted of 21 inhabited houses and one uninhabited. There were 94 souls accounted for on the night of the census, 55 male and 39 female. The role of a rural housemaid was tough especially in such a rural location, she would have been sent there because she could not be supported at home.
Although the 'unhappyluck' that her mother suffered in 1855 when Her was born implies cruelty on the part of the father, it may equally have been a promise made by a man who never returned from the Crimean War, which was raging then.
The facts may make exciting reading for an avid genealogist, especially one with the surname Mattwood, but this young girl's name holds much more of a mysterious story about Her and her mother.
At a time when illegitimacy was a truly shameful occurrence, was this child given a lifelong reminder of her mothers ‘moment of folly’? Was it her mother who hoped to gain some kind of absolution from giving Her such an open admission of guilt as a name, or was it the small community that she lived with that punished them both? Imagine the christening ceremony when the curate asked for the mother to give the name and the mother replied “her”, and then added “unhappyluck”. Did her mother ever grow to like her daughter and regret her choice of name ?
As the child grew, did everyone call Her by name as though she was not there and could not answer for herself? Even her childhood friends would have had to have shouted “Her" when they played.
Did she wish she had been given a real name like everyone else, or did she develop the confidence to live with it? I hope Hers friends nicknamed her ‘Lucky’.
Source 1871 Census for England and Wales