Ann Cromartie, later Yearsley, was born in Clifton in 1753, and came to prominence in the 1780s as ‘The Bristol Milkwoman’, a poetical phenomenon ‘discovered’ by Hannah More in the autumn of 1784. Little is known about Yearsley’s early years, but what is known has been carefully recorded by Mary Waldron in her 1996 biography, Lactilla, Milkwoman of Clifton.1 Taught to read by her mother and to write by her brother, Ann Cromartie was married at 21 to John Yearsley, a yeoman. Although their marriage seems to have begun well enough, with five children born between 1775 and 1782, by the winter of 1783–4 the Yearsley family were in extreme difficulties (Waldron, 18). Starving in a barn, Yearsley, her husband, her mother, and the five children were rescued at the last by a local man, Mr. Vaughan, though too late to save the life of Mrs. Cromartie, who died shortly afterwards. The family’s fortunes recovered, and by autumn 1784 Yearsley was selling milk and collecting hogswash door to door. Her extraordinary story came to the attention of Hannah More, whose cook was one of those on whom Yearsley called for hogswash.
- Ann Yearsley
- Hannah More