Alice Grace was born on 2nd July 1853 and was the daughter of William Grace and Anne Bunting. They lived in Holbrook and Alice's father earned a living as a stockinger making stockings for George Brettles of Belper.
Alice had an elder brother Joseph and after the family moved to Morley two more boys Samuel and Charles were born in 1856 and 1859.
In 1864 the first tragedy of many in Alice's life occurred when her elder brother Joseph died aged only 14. Two years later her younger brother Charles died aged 7.
The family moved on to Little Eaton leaving the two boys in paupers' graves in Morley churchyard. Their new home was in Blacksmith's Row by the Gang Road.
In 1877 she met a young man. She was 24 and a beautiful young woman and thought that she had met the love of her life. Alice became pregnant and was deserted by her lover and this event was thought by many to be the catalyst that sent her “off the rails”.
Further tragedy followed. Alice's baby daughter died in April 1878. The following years heaped further misery on Alice and by 1891 she had lost her surviving brother and both her parents.
Now alone Alice decided to withhold her rent to force her landlord to improve the conditions in the cottage she lived in. The inevitable happened and she was evicted.
So began Alice's descent into poverty and homelessness. She lived for a while in a stable and an old shed but was turned out of both.
After this she was given an old bacon box normally used for packing sides of ham and having acquired another for her belongings made this her home.
She set up home on the canal wharf near the Clock House. Realising her plight local people allowed her to bathe occasionally and provided her with food. Several
attempts were made to remove Alice to the workhouse but she always managed to have a sixpence hidden away thus proving that she wasn't destitute. She continued to work sorting rags at the paper mill.
She lost her job and survived by begging and after being moved on from the wharf moved to the Pinfold on Windy Lane.
After again being moved on she set up her boxes on Whitaker Lane. By now she had become something of a celebrity and people came from far and wide to see the strange lady at Little Eaton.
Her fame/notoriety became even greater when she became the subject in a photographic competition run by a national newspaper.
By 1911 she had been living rough for almost 20 years constantly moving between the Pinfold and different parts of Whitaker Lane. It has also been said that during the winter months she slept in a cave.
Her lifestyle had taken its toll and her health and appearance began to deteriorate. She was eventually taken to the workhouse at Shardlow. She had to be dragged away kicking and screaming. Although she had been very reluctant to go to Shardlow she became happy as she settled to a job in the workhouse until her death in 1927.
After a life full of tragedy she at last found some contentment. Her body was returned to Little Eaton and she was buried in the churchyard in an unmarked pauper's grave.
Chellaston History Group