Marriage vows are taken ‘for better for worse, in sickness or in health.’ If poor Mary had known how her marriage would unfold, would she have married Lawrence Mansergh?
Mary was born in Kirkby Stephen, the daughter of a ‘relieving officer’ who coordinated local support for the poor. Mary worked in service at Barnard Castle before moving to Settle. Here, in 1866, Mary became pregnant with a daughter, Margaret, and then married the father, Lawrence Mansergh, a butcher’s son from Kirkby Lonsdale. Lawrence’s father, Richard, had died when he was born. Perhaps this may explain, although cannot excuse, his appalling behaviour towards Mary.
Lawrence and Mary lived in Settle at the time of the birth, and death in infancy, of Margaret and their son Harry. They later moved to Keighley and had two more children, Mary and Frank.
In January 1887, Mary had a stroke and then developed epilepsy. Lawrence refused to look after Mary and also wouldn’t let the neighbours help. Graphic newspaper reports show that Lawrence was eventually found guilty of ‘Attempt to Murder by Starvation’. He had taken out insurance on Mary’s life and started a relationship with another woman. At the trial, witnesses confirmed he wanted to get rid of Mary so that he could remarry.
Lawrence was imprisoned for two years at Armley Gaol in Leeds, the judge being disappointed that this was ‘the maximum sanction for a man so devoid of humanity’. Did this make Lawrence reform his ways? No — in July 1889, Lawrence was again taken to court for deserting his poor wife.
Mary eventually died in January 1890 and, yes, Lawrence married again.