Historians ponder Padiham link to secret ‘warrior woman’

A soldier in uniform from the 37th Regiment of Foot similar to that worn by Sarah Roberts
A soldier in uniform from the 37th Regiment of Foot similar to that worn by Sarah Roberts

A fearless female soldier who disguised herself as a man and fought in battles during the 1700s may have been from Padiham, historians believe.

Sarah Roberts was just 14 when she joined the 15th Light Dragoons masquerading as a man using the name of her father, William, who was a bricklayer.

She is believed to have fought in historic battles including the Flanders campaign of 1793-1794 and the cavalry charge at Villers-en-Couche in 1794.

The heroine, who suffered a sabre wound to the forehead and a musket shot to the leg serving as a soldier, was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

She managed to fool her commanders for 21 years before her secret was discovered and she was discharged after falling ill serving in the West Indies with the 37th Regiment of Foot.

Now, new research points to Sarah Roberts, later Taylor, being born and christened in Padiham in 1764 where she was the daughter of bricklayer William.

Historians hope telling her incredible story could lead to more pieces in the jigsaw about her life coming to light.

Sarah Coggrave, volunteer researcher at the Manchester Archive, stumbled on the story when researching women dressing as men in history and then traced her birth records back to Padiham.

She said: “It is incredible that someone would transcend the usual expectations of their gender and do this amazingly brave thing.

“You hear of teenage boys joining the ranks in the First World War but Sarah was just a 14-year-old. You cannot even imagine it.

“Her age and gender make this an astounding feat, as does the length of her subsequent service, which was 21 years.

“This woman had the scars to prove it as she was wounded in battle. It seems she was a pioneer.”

Her story was discovered in the archive from a story written in the Manchester Herald from 1814.

It spoke of how she grew up a “tomboy” helping her father before she joined the Army in disguise as a teenager.

When she was discharged Sarah Roberts married a soldier from her former regiment in 1801, became Mrs Taylor and had three children, but longed to return to her previous career.

Ms Coggrave said: “In the article it says that she wanted to return to life as a soldier. It seems a shame that they found out she was a woman and said she couldn’t be a soldier any more – it negated everything she had done as a soldier.

“It is easy to forget these kind of stories. Military history is very male dominated you go to war museum you dont see that much history of women as soldiers.

“Maybe someone in the area has a resources to add to the story or someone has an ancestor who passed the story down the generations.”