Henrietta Oliver, aka Mrs Henrietta Pratt of Thatcham – “the barest bones of Deaf History”
By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 21 June 2019
This is an example of the barest bones of Deaf History, and as such is typical, not just of a Deaf person in the last centuries, but of any ordinary person who led a relatively quiet life.
Henrietta Jane Oliver was born on the 8th of August, 1860, in Baughurst, Hampshire. She seems to have been deaf from an early age – some census returns say ‘from birth’ some ‘from childhood’. Her parents, David Oliver and Hannah Smith, were agricultural workers, though her father was a carrier for a while. It seems probable that she did not get an education at a deaf school but as she would have attended one some time in the 1870s it may be that a search would find her. In 1881 and 901 censuses she was living with her mother, as respectively a wool sorter and then a laundress. Her younger sister
Her younger sister, Emily Kate Oliver (b. 1872) married Warwickshire born William Pratt in about 1900. William’s uncle, Thomas, does not seem to have married, but presumably meeting Henrietta through her sister, they got together, and she married Thomas Pratt, in 1905 when she was 44 and he was 57.
Thomas Pratt, who was born in Culworth, near Banbury, Northamptonshire, in 1849, was not deaf according to the 1911 census, but as you will see from Selwyn Oxley’s inimitable scrawl, it is possible that he was deaf when Oxley met him in the 1920s – he wrote “Mr & Mrs Pratt (D & D)”- that could be read either way. Thomas had been a groom in 1901, living in Thatcham with his brother and his family. In 1911 he was a ‘retail hawker of firewood’ – perhaps that is why he later had a donkey?
I wonder if she attended the Reading Mission at all? I am not sure how Oxley came across her, but there are photographs of a well-off Thatcham farmer and his family, George Wallis, so perhaps they were somehow acquainted and introduced Oxley to Mrs Pratt.
Henrietta died in 1953 aged 92.
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 6390; Schedule Number: 247
1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 1143; Folio: 74; Page: 2
1891 Census – I could not find her
1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 1266; Folio: 141; Page: 8; GSU roll: 1341309
1871 Census – Class: RG10; Piece: 1246; Folio: 147; Page: 10; GSU roll: 827837
1861 Census – Class: RG 9; Piece: 718; Folio: 133; Page: 18; GSU roll: 542690