Elizabeth Bending

Born 28/8/1844 Ottery St Mary  Married 29/7/1865 Ottery St Mary  Died 26/12/1929 Camberwell London SE

Elizabeth Bending was one of eleven children born to George Bending, shoemaker, and Mary, nee Ireland in Yonder Street, Ottery St Mary, Devon. She recalled how her people tanned skins, and remembered large barns with pork, cheese and hams hanging from the rafters. Neighbours used to come and barter for food and utensils. Money rarely changed hands. She was a lacemaker.

On the 29th July 1865 at the age of twenty she married Henry (Harry) Porter, blacksmith, also resident at Ottery St Mary. They had six children, three boys and three girls. Their first child Emma, was born in 1867 in Ottery St Mary where her sister (Emma) was already living, soon to marry Christopher Orders, a cabinet maker. Elizabeth and Harry were witnesses at their wedding on 20th April 1874. The next two children George and Mary ? (always known as May) were born in Cambridge. Between 1876 and 1878 the family moved to Camberwell, London SE, where Harry, Gertrude and Percy were born.

The couple moved to London for a better opportunity in life. Harry was self employed as a blacksmith/wheelwright and did work for the local funeral directors, shoeing horses, repairing wheels or attending to wrought iron work. The family income was supplemented by Elizabeth who worked as a seamstress. As her daughters grew up she made them fine clothes with much lacework, and sent them out to stroll the streets of Camberwell as living advertisements and agents for orders. They rarely attended school When orders were acquired by the girls they were rewarded with a few pence to go to Jones and Higgins at Peckham to buy more materials. Elizabeth made many of her grandchildrens' clothes throughout her life, including May's special dress when she won her scholarship to study millinery at the Borough Polytechnic, and had her photograph taken by the school with two other girls to commemorate the event.


Elizabeth was a participant of all her daughter May's confinements since seeing one of the children delivered by a midwife who was reeling drunk on gin.

Business was very bad most of the time for the family, and they scraped a living together. In the latter part of their lives they lived in one room in Camberwell near Camberwell Gate (probably in East Street) yet they were very generous. If someone was in need they gave all they had one day and lived on bread and cheese the next. Their granddaughter May used to visit Elizabeth when she was about twelve years old and remembered the small black kitchen range on which her g/mother cooked breast of lamb. When May arrived she used to greet her with the words, 'Got a lovely meal for you today, May .... just as you like it, lovely crispy lamb.'

At the end of their lives Harry and Elizabeth lived on 5/- a week parish relief hand out. Harry was never successful as a blacksmith because of lack of capital and the arrival of the motor car. In 1919 at the age of 78 Harry Porter died. The funeral Directors for whom he had worked gave him a free funeral with plumed horses and an elaborate carriage. He was buried at Nunhead cemetery. Elizabeth died ten years later in a Camberwell hospital on Boxing Day 1929, almost at the same time as her great grandson was born to May. She was 86 years old. Her daughters May and Emmie and son George attended the funeral at Nunhead.

May Gingell, Elizabeth's granddaughter recalled that she was 'an impulsive and generous woman .... a Bohemian type. Once, confined to bed with a new baby, another lay at the bottom of the bed suffering from measles. If she needed a blanket for another bed, yet only had one, she used to cut it in half, only to sew it together again when the need for it had ended'. (Source. May (Collier) Gingell (granddaughter) verbal/transcribed reports.)

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