Most widows and widowers remarried shortly after their partners demise in Victorian days...it was only the upper classes who wore black or 'widows weeds' for a year and didn't socialise because they were officially in mourning for the dear departed...the lower classes had no such scruples and wasted little time in finding a new spouse. Which made perfect sense of course...the widows needed a roof over their head and some income. Widowers needed help with their children and a hot meal on the table...
The alternative for a woman was to lodge in another house and pay their way by doing the housework or the laundry and distribute their children among their relatives...sometimes they took in washing or mending or became dealers in whatever they could buy cheaply enough to re-sell from door to door.
One of Himself's relatives was a Higgler...the foremost meaning was of a person who sold the meat from small animals...hens and rabbits for instance...but it could also describe a general pedlar. A Haggler was someone who sold hen's eggs...
Selling rabbit and chicken meat would have been fairly profitable...the rabbit skins sold on to a tanner to be treated and then made into children's hats and gloves...and the feathers from the hens used to stuff pillows and mattresses.
As those women grew older and became less able they then had to give up whatever work had sustained them thus far and they became a pauper...even if they were living with a family member, because you were classed as a pauper if you had no income whatsoever. It wasn't until the late 1800's in England that local parishes began to help the older members of their communities out with a small sum of money each week...if you were lucky enough to qualify, then you could discard putting pauper down on the census form and instead say...Living on Parish Relief.
It must have given older people a small sense of independence even if all they could afford to buy was their own baccy each week.
I've followed this particular relation back to the days when she was young and living with her parents and siblings...to getting married...having her own numerous children...her husband dying...he was only thirty-six...leaving her to fend pretty much for herself with eight living children. She took in washing so that must mean she was allowed to stay on in the farm cottage and wasn't evicted...until the time I first came across her when she was seventy years old and described herself as a Higgler...by that time she'd changed addresses several times over and was finally living with her eldest daughter who was unmarried. The daughter made her living as a seamstress. They had two farm labourers as lodgers and must have thought themselves quite comfortable.
Anna died before the next census was taken...she was buried in the local graveyard and has a simple headstone paid for by her remaining children. The babies who died infancy...there were five...are remembered on the headstone. I would think they were buried in unmarked graves in the same graveyard somewhere.
Anna was lucky to have been allowed to stay on in the cottage which went with her husband's job...perhaps he was an especially understanding farmer who had employed her husband...that gave her some much needed security for a while...the alternative would have been the local Workhouse and had that been the case, I doubt she'd have lived as long as she did.
We can read her story now and struggle to imagine ourselves in the same situation...but the truth is that we can't, because we see Anna's story through our own eyes...and our experiences and expectations are worlds away from those of a simple country girl who lived 130 years or so ago...