Mary Cardus proved herself to be a good mother to several children, but was never able to persuade their father to ‘do the honourable thing’ of giving her the security of marriage.
Mary was born to Christopher Carradus or Cardus, a woodcutter from Kirkby Lonsdale, and his wife Ellen. Both parents had died by the time Mary was 25. So, to earn a living, Mary worked as a housemaid at Townhead in Settle. In 1861, she was a witness, giving her name as Mary Jane Carradice, in a court case to prove whether a Mrs Duckett had broken her leg at the Giggleswick railway station due to inadequate lighting.
It’s likely that Mary lost her job when she became pregnant, so by the next census she is recorded working at home as a dressmaker.
She had a boarder, local lad Thomas Ralph, a cabinet maker and the father of her children. Despite being unmarried, Mary and Thomas had six children — definitely ‘not the done thing’. The children had the surname Cardus but were registered with ‘Ralph’ as a middle name, indicating that Thomas was the father.
Why didn’t they marry? Mary certainly demonstrated her procreative ability, but Thomas was clearly not a family man. After the birth of their last child in 1881, Thomas fled to America. Mary died in 1888, aged just 48. Fortunately, Thomas came back to Settle to bring up the younger children. Thomas had a sudden death in 1902, aged 61, after an accident at Horton Lime Works.
It seems fitting that that Mary and Thomas Ralph were buried together in an unmarked grave, together with their daughter Margaret, who died soon after her marriage to John Turner.