She was the daughter of a merchant sailor called Samuel Preece and his wife Mary Ann (née Tope) and was the oldest of five children, three girls then two boys, all of whom survived into adulthood. In 1871 the family were living in Plymstock, in the Breakwater and Colliers’ Offices, so maybe the fresh sea air did them a lot of good!
By the age of 20, in the 1881 census, she was working as a general servant, still in Oreston, but when she married William Henry Thorn Dolton, a quarryman, in 1883 they married in nearby Plymouth where they settled down to have eight babies. Four of the children survived into adulthood: Samuel, Ernest, Florence Selina (my great-grandmother) and Mary Kathleen.
Sadly I don’t know too much about Bessie as an individual. Her life was intertwined with her husband and her children, with her role defined by her relationship with them. But I do know she would have seen the standard of life for Plymouth’s people gradually improving, with a proper drain and sewage system introduced, hospitals built and public parks created in the second half of the 19th century.
Dockyards had been expanded and there was even a political protest with a suffragette burning down one of them! She would have seen the inter-continental cruise liners calling in a Plymouth and leaving with emigrants for the new worlds.
Reforms continued apace into the 20th century, with the merging of the three towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport into the one city of Plymouth in 1914; a slum clearance project later reshaped the face of the city.
Bessie died late in 1935 in Devonport, aged about 70.
© Text copyright Lynne Black 22 May 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/bessie-ann-preece/