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Elizabeth Dredge Called

In 1851, William Dredge, one time secretary to Berkshire Hospital and later house agent and accountant, was living in Reading, with his wife Sarah and their children Sarah, Elizabeth, William and Helen. The following ten years proved difficult ones for the family. Sarah, his wife, died in 1854 aged only 37, leaving all four children, the oldest only just into double figures, as well as a further son, James, who was only a baby. Tragically, the oldest child, Sarah, died two years later, of consumption. She was only 13. The effect that this had on the family can only be imagined. Was this why they moved out of Reading? Or was it for William’s health? For William himself died aged 46 in 1860. At the time the family were living in the village of Hartley Wintney, a few miles from Reading; still there in 1861, his widow Ann (whom he had married in 1855) is a grocer; living with her are her stepchildren Elizabeth, Helen and James and also Ann’s son John William, aged 3. Where the oldest son, also William, is at this stage, I do not know. I can only imagine the effect on the children of losing not only their mother and oldest sister, but also their father within six years. The latter may have had an economic impact as well as an emotional one.

The family had moved back to Reading by 1871, where Ann, Elizabeth and Helen are earning their living as dressmakers. James, aged 18, works as a solicitor’s clerk, an occupation he continued to pursue. Ann, his stepmother, and probably the only mother he could remember, lived with him, and his family, for the rest of her life (or as much of it as I can glean from the census). James’ older brother William also married, although I don’t have the details; but by 1891, he was a widower with a young son (aged only 2). Helen seems to have moved to join William, possibly on his wife’s death. William is working as a grocer and draper, but he too died young, aged only 47 in 1895. In 1901, his son is living with his half-uncle, John William, and his family. Helen moved back to Reading, living in lodgings and working as a dressmaker, until she retired. In 1921, she is found living in alms houses in Reading; she died in 1933, and is buried in the same cemetery as her parents, stepmother and older sister.

The family all seem to have stayed in roughly the same area of England, with the single exception of Elizabeth. She disappears from the Reading area at some point in the 1880s, to be found later in Norfolk. It seems she moved because of our Community, although she never became a Sister. Her calling was a different one. In 1891, she is in the census as a parish nurse, at All Hallows House, Palace Plain. This was our Norwich Mission House, established after we started work at St James, Pockthorpe, then a very poor area of Norwich. What formal training Elizabeth may have had, I do not know; neither do I know exactly what she did as a parish nurse, or how she came to move to Norwich. I can only speculate that the deaths, and possible illnesses, of her parents and sister may have given her some insight into the importance and practicalities of nursing. She may have answered some sort of advert for a nurse, but it is possible that the Community had some link with Reading; in 1891, M. Adele, writing to Sr Lenora, asks if her mother can recommend a matron for the Rescue Hospital. Was Elizabeth employed in the same way? Had she an inkling for nursing, and found this the best way to pursue it? We may never know.

Nevertheless, it seems that Elizabeth had found her vocation. She lived with us, and worked alongside us, in Norwich for many years: in 1901, Elizabeth A Dredge, district nurse, is still in the Norwich Mission House, now on Colegate; she is also found there in 1911, this time as parish nurse; and in 1921, now in the Mission House on Ber Street, Elizabeth Ann Dredge, aged 76 is a nurse, working at the ‘institution’; implying, possibly, that she now worked from the house, rather than out visiting. From what records we do have, it is clear that illness was an issue among the people we worked with, and it is likely that work for Elizabeth was plentiful.

Whatever work she actually did, she seems to have enjoyed it, and been effective at it. It is possible that she had little choice, being forced to stay where she was employed, but, from what I can glean from the census, it seems likely that her family back in Reading would have helped her if she had needed to move back, and I think it unlikely that the Sisters would have employed for so long someone who was not able in her work. She was with us for at least 30 years, probably longer; living alongside the Community would not have been easy for someone who was not called to it. I’m not sure what happened to Elizabeth after 1921; she died in Norwich in 1933 but I have no idea whereabouts in Norwich she died, nor where she is buried. So far, I am only aware of her presence alongside us through census data. Her vocation was not as a Sister; whether or not she became an Associate of the Community, or whether she simply laboured alongside us, I do not know. But what she was called to, nursing and serving the poor of Norwich, she followed for many years, in circumstances that were not easy, and may have been distressing; deaths that may have reminded her of her own early losses. In writing this, I want to honour her memory, the memory of someone who contributed so much to our work, through following her own vocation alongside us; and to celebrate all those who work steadfastly at the work they are called to, and whose lives will be honoured by God, if not remembered on earth.

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