From Aghalateeve to Stafford – and America


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Piecing together people’s past lives is difficult. The results often have to be speculative and much remains unknown. This post is the fragmented story of ordinary Irish people who have left us only limited evidence. They nevertheless represent in many ways the stresses and opportunities of most 19th century Irish people. The post traces the history of the Reddington family and some of their neighbours from north-east Co. Galway, most of whom were forced out of the area by the Famine and its aftermath. It looks at the environment of the locality where they originated and traces the lives of some after they had settled in Stafford in England and America. In carrying out this task I have been greatly helped by Pam Neary, a researcher in America, and in many ways this post has been a joint effort.[i]

Aghalateeve, Co. Galway

In 1911 Hugh Reddington, a retired bricklayer’s labourer, was living in England with his son’s family in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.[ii] In the Census of that year he said he was 76 years old and was very specific about where he had been born – in the townland of ‘Achalatie’, Co. Galway. His spelling may not have been accurate but he clearly meant Aghalateeve in Kilbegnet parish. In Irish it is Achadh Leataoibh, the field of the half side, meaning land half-way up the hill.[iii]

The location of Aghalateeve in north-east Co. Galway

Aghalateeve townland is in the north-eastern corner of Co. Galway. Today it is a quiet locality where fields, woodland and patches of bog slope gently down the hill in the townland’s name to a small stream that ultimately finds its way into the River Suck. In 2011 only 31 people lived there in a mere 11 houses. That contrasts with the situation in 1841, just before the Famine, when the population was over eight times as great. 253 people then lived there in 49 houses.

Aghalateeve townland today from the south-west. The gentle hillside in the name can be seen in the distance sloping down to the stream valley.

Historically Aghalateeve had been within the land owned by the Burke family of Glinsk Castle but around 1730 the townland was in an area sold to Peter Daly of Quansbury whose daughter married into the Bermingham family. By devious descent through that family the land ultimately passed to Elizabeth Sewell who in 1814 married the Rev. Solomon Richards.[iv] The Richardses were a Protestant family from Solsborough near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. That meant that, from 1814, Aghalateeve’s owner was a typically absentee landlord. Richards also owned land in four other townlands in Kilbegnet parish as well as in Kilcroan and Tuam.[v] He does not seem to have been a very active or ‘improving’ landlord and the holdings in Aghalateeve remained relatively unrationalised into the 1850s.

In the period after 1815 the people of Aghalateeve experienced most of the dire problems afflicting western Ireland and particularly eastern Galway and adjacent parts of Roscommon and Mayo. An army of mostly unemployed male labourers survived partly by occasional casual work or by working their own minute patches of conacre land, but, increasingly, by earning money by going to places like Stafford in England for seasonal work on the farms and building sites there. The 1831 census showed that half the labourers living in Ballymoe Barony, in which Aghalateeve was situated, were out of work. They and their families lived in appalling conditions. In 1841 half the population in Co. Galway – and probably in Aghalateeve – lived in one room windowless mud cabins.[vi] And there were more and more mouths to feed. The population in the area rose by over 40 per cent between 1821 and 1841.[vii] That growth continued at least until the onset of the Famine in 1846 and we can assume that Aghalateeve’s population had reached around 280 by that year.

Land holdings in Aghalateeve

Even in Aghalateeve there was, however, a social hierarchy. At the bottom were the effectively landless but at the other extreme a number of the Rev. Richards’s tenants managed to amass more substantial holdings. The evidence is limited but the Tithe Applotment survey of 1824 shows that seven named individuals in Aghalateeve then controlled, as lone tenants or in partnership, over half the land – 227.5 acres out of 434.[viii] Two members of the Neary family, Darby and William, held 57.5 acres. M. Nolan held 64.8 acres whilst L. Cunniffe and Partners held 43.7 acres. M. Fleming, held 16.2 acres.

Two other plots involved the Reddington family. M. – probably Michael – Reddington was listed with over 25 acres and another Reddington – possibly D. – was the leader of a partnership holding twenty acres. Even so, as there were then around 50 families in the townland, the 43 occupiers not appearing in the Applotment, who probably included other members of the Reddington family, held an average of 4.8 acres each; they were either landless or occupied smallholdings and patches of conacre land for which they bid yearly.

At some point in the 1830s or 1840s M. Reddington’s tenancy may have passed to John and Bridget Reddington. John could have been his son or perhaps some other relative. John Reddington probably had to supplement the family income by seasonal work in England, and it may have been he who began the family connection between Aghalateeve and Stafford. The couple presumably had a number of children but the one we definitely know about is Hugh who was born around 1834.[ix] His parents were middling land occupiers so Hugh may not have experienced the worst of the endemic poverty surrounding the family in Aghalateeve. He was, however, around 12 years old when the Famine struck and it may have been then that his father John died and Bridget was left as the residual tenant of the land. By the early 1850s Hugh, as a teenager, would have been expected to work on his mother’s holding.   

The Famine and after: the Nearys and Reddingtons

The impact of the Famine on Aghalateeve was drastic. By 1851 over half the population had disappeared and the mud cabins they had lived in were derelict, demolished or had crumbled away.[x] Those who suffered most were, as in all famines, the already poorest people. It is impossible to say exactly how many died as a direct result of the Famine through starvation, destitution and disease and how many were evicted and forced to emigrate. At this point I do not know whether Solomon Richards forcibly evicted his poorest and most indebted tenants, though the drastic loss of population suggests eviction may have played a role.  I have estimated elsewhere that the ratio between death and emigration in this east Galway and Roscommon district may have been around 57:43.[xi] If we assume there were 280 people living in Aghalateeve in 1846 and we know there were only 129 in 1851, it suggests that maybe around 85 had died prematurely in the Famine and 65 had emigrated.

Who was left in Aghalateeve townland? The Griffith Valuation of 1854 shows 35 occupiers still had leases from the Rev. Richards on 27 pieces of land. The map below shows how this land was distributed. Eleven occupiers were members of the Neary family and they now leased over half the land – 56 per cent – either as sole holders, Neary family partnerships or as the dominant holders with others in three rundale partnerships which were partly bog.

Land holdings in Aghalateeve recorded by the 1854 Griffith Valuation. Brown – land held by the Neary family either as lone tenants or family partnerships. Green – land held by Bridget Reddington. Yellow – land held by the Neary family in partnership with others. White – other occupiers.

Before we examine the Reddington family it is worth saying a bit more about the Neary family. By 1854 they had amassed interests in thirteen plots that were almost all in the eastern half of Aghalateeve (see map). This was possibly the best land that was kept within the family. True rundale communal farming involving others in the community was limited to pieces of more marginal land. By the 1840s and 1850s the Nearys were therefore the dominant players in the local economy and society. Thomas Neary’s family, in particular, became very prominent and wealthy, and Pam Neary believes it must have taken some active undermining of his neighbours in the surrounding townlands to get to the wealth he acquired.[xii] In the adjacent Garraunmore townland Thomas rented all the farmable land (235 acres) from the Rev. Richards but he then sub-let nearly 26 acres as a middle man to four other people. He also rented 58 per cent of the land – 248 acres – close by in Curraghrevagh townland. By no means all the Nearys had wealth, however. Others remained poor and some died in the Famine. And many children in the Neary families still had to emigrate to make a living. Some of them went to England. James and Anne Neary escaped to the Potteries around 1847-8 and in 1851 were living in Wolstanton.  Living with them was James’s nephew James and also Andrew Neary, another relative described as a ‘lodger’. Although these Nearys seems to have moved back and forth between Galway and Staffordshire for a number of years, in the end they settled in Staffordshire and members of the family remained there for the rest of the century. Most of the Neary emigrants, however, went to America. They mainly settled in the Mid-West, though one branch of the family ended up in New York State. There are very many descendants in the USA today.[xiii] All this emigration reduced the presence of the Nearys in Aghalateeve somewhat in the second half of the nineteenth century but in 1901 there were still ten Neary households living in the townland.[xiv]

The Reddington family, as we have seen, held much less land than the Nearys. Their holding remained stable between the 1820s and the 1850s. In 1854 Michael Reddington was an occupier on plot 11 which he farmed on the communal rundale system with four members of the Neary family. He was probably Bridget’s son and Hugh’s brother. Indeed, it is possible that Bridget Reddington was herself from the Neary family, hence Michael’s occupation of a house and land alongside members of that family. Details of Bridget’s marriage to John Reddington have not been found to substantiate this, however. In the house valuation carried out as part of the general Griffith Valuation two Bridget Reddingtons were recorded, as shown on the map. It is presumed that Bridget (John) who occupied the smaller house was the daughter of John and Bridget Reddington, since such agnomens normally referred to a person’s father to distinguish them from another with the same name. The Bridget in the larger ‘house and office’ is therefore presumed to be John’s widow, but other interpretations are possible.[xv] Bridget (John) does not appear in the published valuation table for Aghalateeve, so she must have either moved in with Bridget in the larger house or died in the intervening period.

The Reddington family land holdings and houses in Aghalateeve, 1854, as recorded by the Griffith Valuation. Bridget was the sole holder of plots 20A and B and occupied the ‘house and office’ indicated which was initially valued at £1 but revised to 10 shillings for the published valuation. Bridget (John) occupied the smaller house valued at 4 shillings. Michael Reddington was a tenant of plot 17 jointly with four members of the Neary family and occupied one of the houses indicated which was valued at 5 shillings. (Information contained in the Valuation House Book for Aghalateeve collected by Pam Neary.)

Bridget Reddington herself was a rather more substantial occupier. She was the lone tenant of over eighteen acres in two plots (20A and B) of land adjacent to plot 11 and she lived there in a reasonable house valued at ten shillings. She also had a house and the majority holding on over twelve acres of land shared with John Wallace in Ballynahowna townland about three miles south-east of Aghalateeve. The Reddingtons were linked to the Wallaces by marriage.[xvi] So her total interest in land was about thirty acres. Although Bridget Reddington could not compete with the dominance of the Neary family in Aghalateeve, she still qualified as a middling farmer.

It has not proved possible to produce a genealogy of the Reddington family in Aghalateeve from the available data but what we do know cautions against simplistic interpretations of Tithe Applotment and Griffith Valuation data. The Reddingtons were a more extensive family than the description so far has implied. We know from parish register data that from the 1840s to the 1860s there were at least six distinct families in Aghalateeve headed by a male Reddington and six where a Reddington woman was the wife.[xvii] A number of these, perhaps the majority, were probably John and Bridget Reddington’s children but others may have been cousins from ancestors further up the Reddington line. What is clear is that even after the Famine the Reddingtons had a substantial presence in the townland. Nevertheless, their land holdings were not of sufficient size to support or pass on to all their children and in the harsh environment of Post-Famine times that meant most of them had to emigrate.

The results were stark. By 1901 the only person living in Aghalateeve who retained the Reddington name was Bridget Reddington, a 75-year-old spinster described as a ‘cattier’ (presumably cottier). She was probably John and Bridget Reddington’s surviving daughter. She died in 1902.[xviii] The widowed Margaret McDermott née Reddington also remained in that year living with her son James and his family. Apart from them, the Reddington family in Aghalateeve had for practical purposes disappeared, a graphic indication of the long-term destructive impact of the Famine and its aftermath on Irish rural society.

The history of Aghalateeve townland in the fifty years after the Famine was not, however, the typical one of endless population loss. From its low point of 129 in 1851 it had jumped back to 170 in 1861 and remained around that figure until 1881 before falling back to 146 in 1901. What explains the partial recovery during the 1850s? Almost certainly it was the land purchases and consequent misery going on elsewhere through the 1849 Encumbered Estates Act. In 1853 Allan Pollok, a Scottish trader and landowner, and his wife Margaret bought the former Burke estate of over 13,000 acres estate in the surroundings of Aghalateeve. They were aggressive ‘improving landlords’ and they proceeded to evict at least 530 families, 2650 people, from their land. Although most of these people were forced to emigrate immediately, some were able to find shelter nearby.[xix] People in Aghalateeve, probably including relatives, must have taken in around forty people, and five houses had been brought back into use by 1861. Some of these families may well have been granted new tenancies by the Rev. Richards. That may explain why a significant number of families present in 1901 were different from those living in Aghalateeve in the 1850s, though more research would be needed to prove this.

Some of the new arrivals may well have taken over properties formerly rented by the Reddingtons. As we have seen, they had largely disappeared by 1901. The vast majority of these people had almost certainly gone to America but some emigrated to England and we now need to trace Hugh and other Reddingtons who spent time in the Stafford area.

The Reddingtons arrive in Stafford

Some of the Reddington family were forced out of Aghalateeve during the Famine itself. In 1851 a John Reddington (see summary genealogy) was working as a labourer in Stafford and lodging with the Jordan family at No. 1 Earl’s Court.[xx] He may have been John and Bridget’s son or cousin. In the census return he appears to be a lone migrant but he claimed to be married and that was indeed the case. He had married his wife Mary around 1846 in Galway and their first child, Ann, was born there in 1847.[xxi] They must have left Aghalateeve that year, however. In 1851 Mary and her three children Ann, Maria (2) and Jane (1 mo.) were living, not in Stafford, but in a cellar in Back Smith Street, Deansgate, in Manchester. They were four amongst thirteen people crammed into this appalling place. Fellow migrants from Co. Galway had taken them in, though why they were in Manchester at all is unclear because Mary had already lived with her husband in Stafford back in 1849 when Maria was born.[xxii] Their baby Jane was, however, born in Manchester in March 1851. We know the family was reunited in Stafford by the spring of 1852 because poor Jane died there.[xxiii] It is clear that John and Mary Reddington’s arrival and settlement in England was disordered and stressful, typical of the experiences of thousands of others during the Famine. There is no trace of the family in England after 1852 so we must assume they decided they could do better elsewhere and emigrated.

Summary genealogy of the Reddington family in the Stafford area. It must be emphasised that the ‘Related Reddingtons’ precise relationships with each other and to Hugh and Bridget Reddington are still uncertain.

John and Mary were not the only Reddingtons in this part of the Midlands in the early 1850s. In 1851 Thomas Reddington was a 22-year-old errand boy working for Phineas Fowke Hussey, a ‘landed proprietor’ at Wyrley Grove in Norton Canes near Cannock. It is impossible to say how he may have been related to John Reddington but they could have been brothers or cousins. Thomas said he had been born in ‘Lashkannon’, Co. Galway. That may have been a homestead rather than a locality, and no place or anything approximating to that spelling has been located, though it could conceivably be a reference to Corlackan, a townland bordering Aghalateeve.  We do know that on 13 December 1852 Thomas arrived at St Austin’s Church in Stafford and married Catherine Higgins, also from Co. Galway and reputedly from Kilkerrin parish to the south-west of Kilbegnet.[xxiv] Thomas had already left Hussey’s employment and moved to Penkridge near Stafford where he was working as a farm labourer. The couple settled in Penkridge and had five children, though two died. Thomas himself died in 1867 but the descendants remained in the Stafford and Mid-Staffs district into the twentieth century.[xxv]

The curious thing is that six months later, on 10 May 1853, an Ellen Reddington married Edmund Gillighan, also at St Austin’s Church. One of their witnesses was Thomas Reddington and the obvious assumption is that Ellen and Thomas were brother and sister. It seems too much of a coincidence that two Reddingtons were married in the same church within six months of each other unless they were related. Ellen was not present in the 1851 Census, so perhaps she had only recently left Co. Galway.[xxvi] No trace of the couple has been found subsequently, so they too probably emigrated.

There is considerable uncertainty about these early Reddingtons in Stafford, but we can be sure about Hugh Reddington. Sometime in the 1850s he left the holding in Aghalateeve and arrived in the town. He had, perhaps, already worked there as a seasonal building worker and knew the place already. The first actual evidence of Hugh’s arrival is in fact his marriage to Bridget Mary Gavagan which took place at St Austin’s on 3 October 1859. She was only nineteen and claimed subsequently she had been born in Ballymoe, though the family have not been traced in the area.[xxvii] One of the witnesses at Hugh and Bridget’s marriage was from the Neary family – Patrick Neary. I have not found him recorded elsewhere in England at that time which suggests Patrick was still living in Galway and that Hugh had only recently emigrated. His connections with Aghalateeve and his possible relatives the Nearys clearly remained close.

Hugh and Mary Reddington’s history in Stafford

The early years of Hugh and Bridget’s married life in Stafford took place in humble circumstances. Hugh worked as a (bricklayer’s) labourer and Bridget as a shoe binder, a low status female occupation in the shoe trade. They both remained in the same jobs for the whole of their working lives. In 1861 they were living at 7 Roger Square, a slum court in the Broad Eye part of Stafford. Nevertheless, all the evidence suggests the Reddingtons were a hard-working couple with a generally steady income who aspired to respectability. They managed to get out of Roger Square and in the 1870s and 1880s lived in somewhat better houses in Cherry Street and the Broad Eye. When they were at No. 30 Cherry Street in 1871 Bridget’s mother Mary Gavagan, then aged 77, was living with them. Also present was Bridget’s 40-year old brother Michael. He was a ‘pensioner discharged from the army’ who had fought in the Crimean War and was one of the thousands of Irishmen who joined up in the 19th century.[xxviii] He would have been inculcated with British army and imperial values which could also have corresponded with Hugh and Bridget’s developing outlook. The Gavagans’ stay with the Reddingtons was temporary and they have not been traced in Britain subsequently. They probably returned to Ireland.[xxix] During the 1880s the Reddingtons themselves moved to Stafford Street, a much better address in the town centre and then in the 1890s to Queen Street, an equally respectable area where they were living in 1901.

Living quiet and respectable lives, the Reddingtons have left only limited traces of events in their existence in Stafford. Hugh was politically aware and in the two parliamentary elections in 1868 and 1869 he voted Liberal each time.[xxx] The key issue in the 1868 election was the disestablishment of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland, proposed by the Liberal Party, so Hugh’s vote was probably conditioned by his Galway Catholic origin. His support for the Liberals was long-standing, however. In 1888 he was one of five Irish and nine Staffordian members who took part in a concert at the (Liberal) Reform Club where they sang Irish songs.[xxxi] To that extent he showed pride in his Irish origins, but it was at the level of sentimental patriotism. There is no evidence that he sympathised with any more potent expressions of Irish identity. There is some indication of a desire to integrate into English society. In 1895 he was working for the builder William Herbert, probably as a long-standing employee. In January of that year his workmen met for a celebratory meal at the Prince Albert Inn and Hugh Reddington was vice-chairman of the proceedings. The activities included loyal toasts to the Queen and to Mr Herbert and his family. Despite his still basic manual job, he was clearly a respected colleague amongst his workmates and the firm’s owners.[xxxii]

In 1881 Hugh nevertheless fell foul of the law for the only known time in his life when he was fined for not sending his children to school, a rather surprising event given the family’s general respectability.[xxxiii] That was an aberration in their lives, perhaps brought on by the need to send one of their children out to work to supplement the family income in a time of stress.

Hugh and Bridget had nine children, though three died as infants. Four of the survivors to adulthood, Hugh (b. 1866), Mary (b. 1871), Sarah (b. 1872) and Margaret (b. 1875), have proved totally elusive and their fates are not known although they probably emigrated. Peter Reddington (b. 1864) worked on the London and North-Western Railway as a locomotive fitter and storekeeper, a steady and reasonably paid job. He moved to Northampton, married and died there in 1925.  The couple had two daughters and there may be descendants. The Reddingtons’ final child, Thomas (b. 1881), was a postman and married Laura Sheldon in 1903. They had at least three children and in 1911 were living in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Thomas died in 1942. There are descendants. Bridget Reddington/Gavagan died in 1910 at the age of 70.[xxxiv] Hugh had obviously retired by then – he was about 75 – and they were poorer. That was why they were now living at 21 Pilgrim Street, a mean and gloomy street close to the River Sow and occasionally subject to flooding. Hugh must have been left bereft by Bridget’s death and it seems his final son Thomas took the old man in, which explains why he was living in Uttoxeter in 1911. Hugh was made of strong stuff, though. He lived on for another ten years and was over 85 when he died in 1921.[xxxv] By that time he was one of the few surviving Irish inhabitants of Stafford who had experienced the Famine at first hand. His mention of Achalateeve in the 1911 census suggests a lingering attachment to the place where he grew up before its community was sundered by death, eviction and emigration. Hugh and Bridget Reddington made the best of their lives in Stafford but in the long term the town was only a staging post in the family’s redistribution to elsewh

[i] Pam Neary from Minnesota and I were successive speakers at the virtual conference Emigrants and Exiles: the East Galway Story which took place on 15 May 2021 and organised by Martin Curley and the East Galway Genealogy and DNA group. Pam is descended from the Neary family of Aghalateeve and has studied it in depth whilst the Reddington family from Aghalateeve emerged in my study of Irish families in Victorian Stafford. It was pure coincidence that our paths crossed at the conference.

[ii] The family name was spelt with two ‘ds’ in the Tithe Applotment, one ‘d’ in the Griffith Valuation and frequently elsewhere but the Stafford Reddingtons seem to have stabilised it with two ‘ds’.

[iii] Even today the Anglicised spelling is not consistent. It is frequently spelt Aghalative but the spelling used here is that adopted by the Irish Ordnance Survey.

[iv] NUI Galway, Landed Estates Database, accessed 16 June 2021 at:

[v] Richards died in 1866 and his estate passed to his representatives. In the 1876 Return of Owners of Land in Ireland Richards’s representatives owned just over 2544 acres in Co. Galway.

[vi] ‘Class 4’ houses in the Census definition.

[vii] The population of Ballymoe half barony, Co. Galway, was 3453 and 1821 and 4873 in 1841.

[viii] National Archives of Ireland (NAI), Tithe Applotment Books, ‘Aughnateen’ (sic), Kilbegnet Parish, 1833, 11/20 film 38. In the Tithe Applotment Books the acreages shown were Irish Planation acres equivalent to the 1.6198 ‘English’ acres used in the Griffith Valuation. The figures shown have been converted to English acres for comparative purposes.

[ix] We know Hugh’s parents were John and Bridget Reddington from the details given in the register when Hugh was married in 1859 (see later). Bridget Reddington was identified as the occupier of the land in the 1854 Griffith Valuation. During his life in Stafford Hugh Reddington gave dates of birth to the census enumerators ranging from 1831 to 1838. The average year was 1834.

[x] The 1851 Census report pointed out that all the houses that disappeared in Ireland between 1841 and 1851 were Class 4 windowless one room cabins, those occupied by the poorest people. All other classes of houses increased in number, although in class 3, the second worst, the increase was small. The Census of Ireland, 1851: Part VI, General Report, p. xxiii.

[xi] John Herson, Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester UP, 2015), p. 39 and endnote 31.

[xii] Pam Neary in correspondence with the author.

[xiii] Information from Pam Neary.

[xiv] In 1901 four of the Neary households were headed by widowed women. Eight out of the ten described themselves as ‘farmers’ including three of the widows. The other widow, 79-year-old Bridget Neary, was entered in the Census return as a ‘cattier’, presumably cottier. 52-year-old Hugh Neary was a boot and shoemaker.

[xv] Bridget (John), in the smaller house, may have been the mother-in law of Bridget – or the other way around. It is possible that the Bridget (John) who disappeared between the House Books and the first book of Griffith’s valuation was older and died between the two records. Then her land would have passed on to the family of her son.

[xvi] Patrick Reddington, probably another of Bridget and John Reddington’s sons, was married to Bridget Wallace. We know this from the Kilbegnet baptism register when their son Hugh was baptised on 25 March 1842. The godparents were Hugh and Ellenora Reddington.

[xvii] From Kilbegnet marriage and baptismal data assembled by Pam Neary.

[xviii] Death, Glenamaddy, Williamstown Registration District, 4 May 1902 Bridget Reddington, spinster, 85, landholder.

[xix] P. Scott, ‘Evictions on the Glinsk Creggs estate of Allan and Margaret Pollok in the 1850s’, PhD Thesis, NUI Galway, 2014, p. CCXIX-CCXXVII.

[xx] For a study of the Jordan family’s history, see my book Divergent Paths, pp. 122-126.

[xxi] The marriage record in Galway, if any, has not been found but the Census Return for the cellar dwelling suggests this chronology. The return has been appallingly damaged and is hard to decipher. It nevertheless appears accurate and is a tribute to the enumerator who collected the information in these appalling conditions and to the residents who supplied it.

[xxii] The Census return for the cellar. The name of Mary Reddington’s landlord is particularly unclear. It looks like ‘Pundigot’ and the family was definitely from Galway but there is no such name elsewhere in the records. Births, Stafford Registration District (RD), April-June 1849, Maria Reddington, 17/163.

[xxiii] Deaths, Stafford RD, January-March 1852, Jane Reddington, 6b/10.

[xxiv] St. Austin’s Church, Stafford, Register of Marriages, 13 December 1852, Thomas Reddington and Catherine Higgins. The register unfortunately does not specify the couple’s parents.

[xxv] Information from Carolyn Leebetter, 2012.

[xxvi] The only Ellen Readington (sic) present in the 1851 Census was an 18-year-old unmarried washerwoman living in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Her brother, the head of household, was also named Thomas but he was clearly not the Thomas who married in Stafford in 1852. The Macclesfield Ellen was noted as ‘dumb’ and she does not seem a likely candidate for the Stafford wedding in 1853.

[xxvii] In the 1871 Census she was noted as having been born in ‘Galway Ballymore’ which was presumably a phonetic transcription of what the enumerator heard in a Galway accent. Gavagan is a surname much more common in Co. Mayo and to a lesser extent Co. Roscommon. None appear in either the Tithe Applotments or Griffith Valuation in the Ballymoe area of Galway but they could well have been a landless labouring family in the area.

[xxviii] Michael Gavagan could be identified as one of two soldiers. One was: UK Military Campaign Medals and Award Rolls, 1793-1949, Pte. Michael Gavgan (sic), 2nd Batt. Rifle Brigade, No. 4352. He had been awarded a campaign medal with clasps for his presence at the battles of Alma and Inkerman. The second was: Pte. Michael Gavagan, discharged as a pensioner from the 11th Regt. of Hussars, No. 407, in 1869. That date would fit Michael’s description in the 1871 Census. The Hussars were a cavalry regiment which also served in the Crimea and took part in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. Michael is unlikely to have been a cavalryman but could have been one of the ordinary stabling support soldiers.

[xxix] A Mary Gavigan (sic) died in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, in 1874 whose age roughly fits Bridget Gavagan’s mother but there were other Gavagan families in the county. Ireland Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958, 8/273.

[xxx] Staffordshire Record Office, D5008/2/7/11/1, Borough of Stafford Poll Book, Elections of 1868 and 1869.

[xxxi] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 1 December 1888.

[xxxii] SA, 19 January 1895.

[xxxiii] SA, 17 December 1881.

[xxxiv] Stafford Borough Council registers of burials, 9/5779, 29 January 1910, Bridget M Reddington and SA 29 January 1910.

[xxxv] Hugh Reddington was buried in Stafford on 16 February 1921 (SBC Burial Record 11/9743) but it is uncertain where he died. The address given is ‘Moor House, Broad Lane’ but there is no such address in either Stafford or Uttoxeter. His death was registered in the Warrington RD (8c/192) but his death certificate would need to obtained to identify the circumstances more exactly.

The changing roles of a Stafford slum: Plant’s Square, 1830s-1920s


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My last post on this blog (23 November 2020) outlined the history of Startin’s Entry in Stafford, a group of three slum houses hidden behind New Street in the north end of the town. This post continues the theme of slum housing, particularly in relation to the Irish immigrants who settled in the town in the nineteenth century. It deals with Plant’s Square, a group of houses off Cross Street, just round the corner from Startin’s Entry.

Plant's Square in 1881 from the OS 1:500 plan.
Plant’s Square in 1881
from the Ordnance Survey 1:500 Plan
Satchwell Street, Leamington Spa – a similar yard to Plant’s Square, though the houses here were probably taller and better. Taken from Leamington History Group, 19th Century Slums in Leamington Spa,

Like Startin’s Entry, Plant’s Square was a piece of adventitious urban infill but in this case the court led directly off Cross Street and consisted of nine houses in two short rows facing each other. The extract from the 1:500 Ordnance Survey plan of 1881 shows the layout. I have found no photographs of Plant’s Square – Stafford’s slums largely escaped the interest of both local and council photographers – but the picture of Satchwell Street in Leamington Spa gives some impression of the type of houses to be found in Plant’s Square, though I suspect Plant’s Square houses were lower. They were miserable two-storey two-room dwellings. The room downstairs was both kitchen and living room. There was no running water – the only supply came from a communal pump in the yard. The slops were probably thrown back into the yard. The only sanitation was a row of communal privies at the entrance to the yard placed right next to one of the end houses. Upstairs the single bedroom was just 12 feet long by 9 feet wide and a mere 6’6” high.[1] The backs of the houses butted up against buildings on the two adjacent sites, so there were neither back doors nor back windows on the ground floor and probably not on the first floor either. They were, in other words, ‘blind back’ houses with no through circulation of air. The accommodation offered in Plant’s Square was, therefore, cramped, mean and a likely hotbed of infectious disease.

The development of Plant’s Square

Who had built these houses and when? Like Startin’s Entry, Plant’s Square was almost certainly named after its developer and/or owner, and in this case the name also cropped up elsewhere in Stafford. Plant’s Court was another rotten group of about 14 cottages lying behind the Lichfield Road frontage at the south end of town, a few doors down from the White Lion Inn. So we need to find a Plant family who might have been into property development or ownership, and the most likely was that of John and William Plant. Both men lived in Forebridge in the 1830s.[2] John Plant may have been William’s father or brother, but nothing more is known of him except that he died in 1838.[3]  We know a bit more about William Plant. In 1841 he was listed in the Census as a farmer at Queensville on the south-eastern edge of Stafford and with him were his wife Catherine (née Blakeman) and their five children.[4] In the 1851 Census William claimed to have been born in Silver Hill, Sussex in 1804 which tallies with the records, but he must have been in Stafford by the age of twenty, though why he came to the area is unknown.[5] By 1851 William was not just a farmer but was also an innkeeper,  licensee of the Crown Inn at Queensville. It still exists today but was renamed the Spittal Brook Inn in 1998. His first wife Catherine had died in 1842 but he married Ann Wright in 1844.[6] William in turn died in 1856, but Ann remarried and she and her new husband Joseph Wright kept the Crown until 1876.[7]

William Plant was clearly in business in a modest way and he may well have been attracted by property development or ownership. He, with or without John Plant, either developed or bought both Plant’s Court and Plant’s Square and became a slum landlord, at his death passing the property on to Anne and Joseph Wright. There are no other obvious local candidates. Plant’s Court at the south end of town was a typical bit of early nineteenth century infill built on the back gardens of older frontage properties. Plant’s Square was rather different. That part of the north end was being developed in the 1830s. The western end of Cross Street had been laid out as far as New Street by 1835 but no building had yet taken place.[8] Nevertheless, six years later in the 1841 Census 43 occupants of fourteen houses on Cross Street were recorded. Although Plant’s Square was not listed by name, some of the new houses must have been located there and it shows the Square was built in the second half of the 1830s.

Plant’s Square was cheaply and meanly built. It was a slum from the start and it was always likely to attract tenants who couldn’t afford anything better. It was described as a ‘rookery’ in 1881 and in 1892 one of the houses was summed up as ‘a tumbledown affair’ (which) ‘no matter what labour was bestowed on it always had a dirty appearance’.[9]  There is every reason to believe such descriptions applied equally to the Square’s early days in the 1840s and 1850s and we now need to look at its occupants during that period.

The table summarises the basic demographics of Plant’s Square between 1841 and 1911. Because it was not specifically identified in the 1841 Census we cannot be certain who was living in the Square in that year, but two of Cross Street’s inhabitants were John Lucas and Joseph Haines, Irish hawkers who shared a house with an apparently single mother, twenty year old Catherine Wright and her two young children. We can assume that, based on later trends, the two Irishmen were living in Plant’s Square. The neighbouring houses were occupied by six shoe trade workers, two labourers and a female servant – in other words, a cross section of Stafford’s poorer working class. Haines left Stafford in the 1840s but by 1851 Lucas was running the substantial lodging house at 62 Foregate Street that was illustrated in my post of 25 July 2016. That was an indicator of the forces which were to drastically affect Plant’s Square.

Plant’s Square: demographic history, 1841-1911. *1841 figures estimated (see text).

A refugee camp

From the 1820s onwards many Irish, particularly from Cos. Roscommon, Mayo and east Galway, had come to the Stafford area as seasonal workers on local farms. They came to know the area well and some settled more permanently in the town.[10]  That was important when the Potato Famine struck in the years after 1845. Hundreds of people who were starving, destitute and evicted from their land in Ireland came to Stafford, a place they either knew or where they had contacts.[11] To survive they had to find somewhere to live and for many that meant lodging houses run by people like John Lucas. Some were big establishments, but most were to be found in small slum houses that could be rented cheaply by Irish tenants who recouped their costs by taking lodgers. That is what happened to the tiny houses in Plant’s Square. In 1851 there were no less than 86 people living in its nine houses, an average of nearly ten per house. One was still occupied by an English family but the other eight were all lodging houses packed to the rafters with Irish refugees. These places were performing an essential function for desperate people, but the borough council’s only response was harassment. In late January 1851 four Irishmen in Plant’s Square were prosecuted for ‘keeping their lodging houses in a filthy and unwholesome state’.[12] The bare facts were doubtless true, but the council did nothing else to improve things; the men merely received reprimands (but were still charged court costs).

During the 1850s Plant’s Square was, then, a refuge for many desperate Irish emigrants. That might suggest it was a place filled with shifting, rootless people with little sense of community. The evidence suggests that was not the whole case. Many of the people settling there, if only for a time, came from Co. Roscommon and shared community links. The case of the Bowen family illustrates the possible benefits of this. They were remarkable for continuing to live in Plant’s Square for over thirty years.

When the Famine struck John Bowen fled Tibohine, Co. Roscommon and in September 1847 he staggered into Stafford ill and destitute. He was dumped in the temporary huts erected at the workhouse for the vagrant Irish and was there for eleven days, but by 4 October he had recovered enough to leave and find somewhere to live in town.[13] His Roscommon connections directed him to No. 9 Plant’s Square where Margaret Paton, a sixty-year-old widow, was running a lodging house. Margaret lived there with at least three of her children, one of whom was Ellen (b. 1831). In the cramped surroundings of No. 9 John Bowen and Ellen were inevitably thrust together and the couple married at St Austin’s Church on 7 May 1849.

John and Ellen Bowen quickly left her mother’s house and moved into No. 5, another lodging house run by the Hazle family but by 1861 John and Ellen had moved to No. 7. There they were able to set up home on their own, but life was tough. John Bowen worked as a farm labourer but when jobs in agriculture started to decline in the mid-1860s he became redundant and ended up a hawker selling goods on the street. Ellen could do little to supplement the household income because she had a growing family to look after in terrible conditions. Her first child, Sarah, died within a year but between 1854 and 1873 she had another nine children, all but one of whom survived to adulthood.[14]

A Roscommon community?

Despite these difficulties, the Bowen family emerged with some long-term success. Apart from purely personal factors, one reason was the nature of the Plant’s Square community. Despite the mean and squalid nature of the housing, a community of mostly Roscommon people, frequently related, dominated the Square from Famine times until the 1880s. A culture of mutual support appears to have existed to help struggling families like the Bowens. That cohesiveness meant that, in contrast to Snow’s Yard, another strongly Irish enclave which has frequently featured in this blog, Plant’s Square had no reported incidents of drunkenness or violence. The environment was altogether quieter.

Despite the Roscommon linkages, Plant’s Square was no static community. During the 1850s 37 of the Irish who lived there in 1851 left Stafford altogether and another 36 moved out and found accommodation elsewhere in the town. By 1861, of the original settlers, only the Bowen family remained. Plant’s Square’s role also changed. In Famine times the Square was, in effect, a small refugee camp for desperate immigrants not dissimilar to the circumstances we witness in Europe today. By 1861 that crisis had largely passed. The Square still performed, and indeed strengthened, its role as an Irish enclave. Irish families now occupied all the houses (bar one which was vacant) but none was a lodging house. Rather, each was now occupied by a nuclear family and they amounted to 32 people, only 37% of the number in 1851. Living conditions in the tiny houses were much less overcrowded. The Corcorans are an example. They came from Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, and arrived in Stafford around 1856. Catherine Corcoran had been widowed elsewhere in the Stafford area that year and her Roscommon connections, especially the Bowen family, found her and her three children a place at No. 5 Plant’s Square. For them, as with others, the Square was a staging post to better things and in the Corcorans’ case they moved into Greyfriars during the 1860s when Catherine’s son Bartholomew successfully developed his plumbing and glazing business.[15] Of the 32 people in the Square in 1861, no less than 30 proved to be from Irish families who settled long-term in Stafford, including, of course, the Bowens, still there at No. 7.

Housing Stafford’s poor

Fewer Irish people were settling in Stafford during the 1860s as the Famine crisis eased and preferable destinations opened up, particularly in America. Plant’s Square role as a refuge for desperate immigrants was largely over. It was now offering cheap housing for the poor and insecure, whatever their ethnic origins. By 1871 only five houses were occupied by Irish families and they made up exactly half the 36 people living in the Square. Those Irish (with a stated occupation) were a bricklayer’s labourer, two aged farm servants, two hawkers and a wheelwright (one of the Bowen children). Amongst the English residents there were five shoe trade workers, an agricultural labourer and a ‘pearl button carder’. Almost all these people were, in other words, subsisting on spasmodic, insecure and (in the case of farmwork) declining jobs. That pattern was repeated in 1881 when just four of the houses had Irish tenants. A new trend had also emerged – empty houses. In that year two of the nine properties were unoccupied. No one would live in Plant’s Square’s lousy houses if they could get something better at an affordable price. Stafford’s economy was starting to falter with the beginnings of decline in the shoe industry and a lack of new industries to diversify the economy.[16] The demand for rented housing slackened and the worst stock like Plant’s Square, became harder to let.

In the 1880s that trend increased and in 1891 no less than four of the nine houses were unlet. The Irish had all moved out, even the Bowen family. Only one family, the Willetts, now had any Irish connection in that Thomas Willett’s wife Mary Ann (née Tuckett) had been born in Ireland in 1848, the daughter of a soldier serving there. She was, however, ethnically English. Willett worked as a shoe finisher and Mary Ann a dressmaker, both insecure jobs. Plant’s Square was now confirmed as a refuge for struggling English families working either in the shoe trade or, in one case, as a labourer.

Some indication of this was given in the case of William Harvey, a shoe finisher living in the Square in 1892. He was charged with cruelty to his children, though his only obvious ‘crimes’ were poverty and probably stress.  It was said that the only food in the house was ‘a few pieces of bread and bacon not fit to eat…. The bed was an apology – a tick stuffed with bits of chaff and flocks and sawdust.’ The house was ‘a tumbledown affair …(which) always had a dirty appearance.’ His wages averaged just 13s. a week.[17] The year before Harvey had been living in Browning Street in Stafford’s north end. Arrival in Plant’s Square was an indicator of his family’s downward spiral. William had married Louisa Carnell in 1872 and by 1890 the couple had six surviving children living with them. But Louisa died in that year and William had to find work and look after his family on a miserable and insecure income.[18] He’d been forced to move out of Browning Street and rent a slum in Plant’s Square. He was patently unable to cope and may have been chronically sick, perhaps with that scourge of shoemakers, TB. The family ultimately broke up in poverty. William himself died in 1897, aged only 46, and by 1901, of his three youngest children, Reuben (b. 1884) had escaped into the army, that refuge of poor working class youths, Charles (b. 1885) was existing as a tramp in Comar’s lodging house on Back Walls South and Fanny (b. 1887) was left an orphan in Stafford Workhouse.[19]

Stafford’s housing crisis and Plant’s Square

In the later nineteenth century Stafford’s economy began to diversify beyond shoemaking.[20] That created new jobs, brought in new workers and their families, and increased the demand for housing. Even slum landlords like those in Plant’s Square could now let their properties more easily. In turn, poor tenants could make money from taking in lodgers. In 1898, for example, Thomas Talbot, a labourer living in Plant’s Square, was taken to court for creating nuisance by overcrowding his house. The paltry and low-ceilinged bedroom was occupied by two married couples and three children who were sleeping in a bedstead and two other beds on the floor. The case was ultimately dropped, and Talbot quit the premises, but it was a symptom of an approaching housing crisis in Stafford.[21] In 1901 all the houses in Plant’s Square were let, with no voids, entirely to ethnically English tenants. These people were still from the poor working class, with three shoe trade workers, three bricklayer’s labourers, a farm labourer, a washerwoman and an old widower living on his own means, but the pressure on housing meant the population of the Square had risen from 21 in 1891 to 32 in 1901.

Stafford’s now had a number of growing industries, the biggest of which was the Siemens electrical engineering plant, which brought many workers from its previous base in Woolwich after 1900. This growth led to a severe housing shortage in Stafford in the 1900s. Not only was housing short but significant amounts, like Plant’s Square, was of very poor quality – slums, in fact. The council did nothing beyond fruitlessly harassing tenants like Thomas Talbot for overcrowding. It was alleged, rightly, that this was because of the strength of landlords on the council who opposed the provision of council housing. Councillor Martin Mitchell, the son of Irish immigrants from the north end, spearheaded a campaign publicising Stafford’s slum conditions. In 1912 he said ‘there were places in Stafford where people would not keep animals, and yet men, women and children had been living there in insanitary dwellings and in a state of overcrowding.’[22] That clearly applied to Plant’s Square where, in 1911, 34 people were living in just seven houses, nearly five per house. He wanted at least 250 council houses built. The Local Government Board reported that the Council had failed to carry out its statutory duties under the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act.  In the end the council was forced to begin a building programme, though one much smaller than Mitchell had wanted or, indeed, was needed.

The end for Plant’s Square

The new council houses would make only the slightest dent in Stafford’s housing crisis and, indeed, it was to get worse because the Council was beginning to take action on the worst existing housing, thus reducing the stock even more. In 1911 two houses in the Square were unoccupied and that was almost certainly because they were under threat. In April 1914 the Council finally issued closing orders on 28 houses in the town because they were unfit for human habitation. The nine houses in Plant’s Square were rightly among them. The outbreak of the Great War may have reprieved them for some years, and it is not known when the Square was finally depopulated and demolished. The 1:2500 Ordnance Survey plan of the area surveyed in 1922 shows that most of the Square had been demolished by then, but two houses and the row of privies were still there suggesting a lingering occupation. We can, however, say with confidence that after 80 years Plant’s Square was condemned in 1914 and finally disappeared in the 1920s.

We have seen that Plant’s Square from the start was a slum catering for those in direst housing need. Its original inhabitants were mostly poor Staffordian working class people, but during Famine times it changed its role and became a vital refuge for Irish people desperate for any accommodation, however overcrowded and squalid. They in turn were replaced by a more settled Irish community which from the 1860s gradually dissolved as its members found better houses elsewhere. By the end of the century the Irish had been replaced by Stafford’s indigenous poor who themselves experienced stress due to the sheer lack of housing in the borough. Plant’s Square therefore shows many of the processes of social change that operated in nineteenth century Britain but also the continuity of incomes gained by landlords who provided desperate people with minimal housing under conditions of chronic market shortage.

[1] These dimensions were given in the Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 12 March 1898.

[2] White’s Stafford Directory, 1834, Plant, Mr John and Plant, Mr William, both of Forebridge.

[3] Stafford Registration District (RD), deaths, January-March 1838, John Plant, 17/109.

[4] Marriage, William Plant and Catherine Blakeman, Castle Church, 16 April 1824. England, Select Marriages, Ancestry database.

[5] Birth, William Plant, 29 July 1804, Salehurst, Sussex. England, Select Births and Baptisms, Ancestry database.

[6] Death, Catherine Plant, 10 January 1842, Stafford, (Staffs Birth, Marriages and Deaths indexes); Marriage, William Plant and Ann Wright, 1 January 1844, St Mary’s, Stafford, (England, Select Marriages).

[7] John Connor, The Inns and Alehouses of Stafford: through the North Gate, (Kibworth Beauchamp, Matador, 2014), p. 117. Deaths, Stafford RD, October-December 1856, William Plant, 6b/11.

[8] John Wood, Plan of Stafford from Actual Survey, 1835.

[9] SA, 25 June 1881, 23 April 1892.

[10] John Herson, Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015), chaps. 2 and 4.

[11] Herson, Divergent Paths, chap. 5.

[12] SA, 1 February 1851.

[13] Staffordshire Record Office (SRO), D659/1/4/8, Stafford Poor Law Union, Workhouse Admissions and Discharges, 24 September 1847-30 March 1850.

[14] For more details of the Bowen family and the sources, see Herson, Divergent Paths, pp. 252-260.

[15] See my post of 28 July 2015 and Herson, Divergent Paths, pp. 174-190 for more on the Corcoran family.

[16] See Herson, Divergent Paths, pp. 46-47.

[17] SA, 23 April 1892.

[18] Marriage, Stafford St Mary’s Church, 20 May 1872, William Harvey and Louisa Carnell. England and Wales marriages, Ancestry database. Deaths, Stafford RD, October-December 1890, Louisa Harvey, aged 38, 6b/7. Both Harvey and Carnell had been born in Stone and lived there until the mid-1880s.

[19] Stafford RD, deaths, January-March 1897, William Harvey, 6b/22; Census Returns, 1901, Stafford (Charles and Fanny) and Whittington Barracks, Lichfield (Reuben). For more on Comar’s lodging house, see my post on 25 July 2016.

[20] In particular, engineering and allied firms such as W.G. Bagnall, Rooper and Harris, Dormans and, from 1900, Siemens Brothers opened factories in the town, attracted especially by its good communications.

[21] SA, 12 March 1898.

[22] SA, 9 March 1912. See my post on Martin Mitchell on 16 March 2015.

Startin’s Entry: a tale of three houses


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During the 1851 Census, when the enumerator had finished listing the people at no. 47 New Street, Stafford, he had to dive up an entry to deal with three small houses lurking in the court behind the street frontage.[1] This was Startin’s Entry.[2] Living there were three families. In No. 1 was Thomas Simister, a 44-year old shoemaker and his ‘housekeeper’ Mary Atkins aged 35. Next door was Joseph Horobin, a 30-year old farm labourer, with his 38-year old wife Elizabeth. They already had five children, so the little cottage must have been very crowded. Robert Newbold, another shoemaker, lived in the third house with his wife Mary, a shoebinder, and their three-year old daughter Ann.

Startin’s Court or Entry behind New Street, Stafford, a piece of backland infill probably built in the 1830s.

Having done the three houses in Startin’s Entry, the enumerator went back to the next (unnumbered) house in New Street and there he found John Startin and his family. He was listed as a ‘builder’. It seems certain that John Startin had developed both the court bearing his name and an unknown number of houses along the New Street frontage. This blogpost seeks to throw light on the contrasting histories of the families associated with this little court, histories which spanned England, Ireland and the United States. It is a small case study of housing provision for the poor in Victorian England, of the people who did it and of those who lived in what was provided.

New Street, at the heart of the shoemaking quarter in Stafford’s north end, began to be sporadically developed after the enclosure of the Foregate Field in 1807.[3] By 1835, as shown on John Wood’s map of that year, the terrace that included the access to Startin’s Entry had already been built but the houses in the court were not yet there, although Wood may just have missed them. We can say, nevertheless, that this little group of houses probably dated from around the 1830s. It was a bit of backland infill typical of urban growth in the first half of the nineteenth century which was designed to maximise the profit from developing land and housing at a time of rapid population growth.

The builder – John Startin and his family

So what was the origin of John Startin whose name was enshrined in this little bit of Stafford’s history? Startin himself claimed in the Census of 1851 that he was 46 years old (i.e. b. 1805) and had been born in Stafford. The age was correct but there is no record of his birth in Stafford. The only likely candidate is John Startin, son of Henry and Mary Startin, who was baptised in Longdon, a village between Rugeley and Lichfield, on 5 April 1805.[4] Henry Startin had married Mary Derry in Longdon on 24 June 1801.[5] It has not so far proved possible to definitively go further back into the family’s genealogy. There is a problem because we know from later evidence that the Startins, at least in the nineteenth century, were Methodists, and it may be that they refused the legal requirement to register their life cycle events with the Established Church. We are on firmer ground with John Startin’s marriage, however. On Christmas Day 1827 he married Sarah Powell in Penkridge south of Stafford.[6] She was the daughter of Henry Powell and Mary Walford who had been married in 1785 in Lapley, the next parish west of Penkridge.[7]

It seems clear that the Startin family was of relatively humble stock. John Startin had probably moved already to Stafford by the time of his marriage to Sarah and he maybe met her in the town where she might have been working as a servant. They were, in other words, rural people who moved to the nearest town like thousands of others during the Industrial Revolution. All we definitely know is that by 1841 the couple were living in Greyfriars in the north end of Stafford and John was working as a bricklayer.[8] He and Sarah already had six surviving children. John’s designation as a ‘bricklayer’ was probably an understatement. He must have been doing the work in houses that he himself was developing around New Street, property that he then rented out. He continued to do this successfully during the 1840s and by 1851 he was calling himself a ‘builder’. His two sons Allen and David were working for him as bricklayers.

John Startin’s hard work and commercial acumen was to a definite end – emigration to better himself and his family elsewhere. On 8 April 1850 the ‘George Washington’ docked in New York from Liverpool and aboard were John Startin (junior, b. 1831) and his brother Frederick.[9] They had gone to the States as pathfinders. In April 1851 the rest of the family must already have been packing when the Census enumerator called at their New Street house because within a month (2 May 1851), and a year after the two sons, the other Startins all arrived in New York on board the ‘Constitution’.[10]

John and Sarah Startin. A photograph taken in Wisconsin some years after their emigration from Stafford.

The family didn’t just depart rapidly for America but they equally rapidly arrived at their chosen destination which was Wisconsin. Wisconsin had just been made a state (1848) and was developing fast with plenty of land available. It also seems to have had many Methodist settlers which may also have made it attractive to the Startins. By 29 May 1851 they were in the town of Portage, Columbia County, and they then settled in the growing settlement of Dekorra just on the other side of the Wisconsin River. What is equally remarkable is that John Startin reputedly arrived with $1,200 in gold, $500 of which he used immediately to purchase land in the neighbourhood of Dekorra. John and his family went on to farm their holding and also to work as builders and developers in the area. John Startin became an active member of the Methodist Church in the county and contributed liberally to its development.[11] The family did very well and there are many descendants in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the States today.  John died in 1892, Sarah having predeceased him in 1880.

It is clear, then, that John Startin arrived in America with a substantial fortune – well over £100,000 in today’s money. It is possible that he – or his two preceding sons – made some money through shrewd trading after their arrival in America, but the main body of their wealth must have been made in Stafford. There is no obvious evidence that it was inherited and much presumably came from selling off the houses John had built before they left. Their wealth is a sign of the fabled dedication of Non-Conformists to hard work and prudence but it also emphasises how building, owning and investing in residential property, even of the meanest sort, was a profitable business in nineteenth century Britain, just as it is today.

Startin’s Entry in the 1840s – poor but largely respectable

The success of John Startin and his family contrasts substantially with the profile of the people who over the years lived in the property bearing his name. We cannot identify the Entry’s occupiers before 1851 but the three households living in Startin’s Entry when the Startins left for America in that year had all moved elsewhere by 1861 – with one exception.[12] That was the ‘housekeeper’ Mary Atkins. Thomas Simister, the lone shoemaker with whom she lived, had moved to mean lodgings in Clark Street in the town centre and clearly remained poor; his relationship, such as it may have been, with his housekeeper had come to nothing. Mary had baggage, however. Twelve years before she had had an illegitimate child, James, who in 1851 was living with his grandparents in Brook Street, Stafford. In 1853 Mary moved out of Simister’s house and married a new resident of Startin’s Entry, John Tipper, a labourer.[13] She had to – her daughter Sarah was born shortly after the marriage.[14] In 1861 the family was living at No. 3 and Mary’s son James had joined them. After that their trail goes cold. They may have emigrated in the 1860s but, unlike the Startins, there is no surviving evidence.

Farm labourer Joseph Horobin, his bootbinder wife Elizabeth and their children moved out of Startin’s Entry during the 1850s but only as far as New Street itself. There they lived for at least twenty years before ending up in Rugeley, closer to Joseph’s origins in Hixon, in 1881.

The third family in the Entry in 1851 was that of the 23-year old shoemaker Robert Newbold. He and his wife Mary, a shoebinder, worked in Stafford’s staple industry throughout their lives and seem to have made a steady living at it. They certainly managed to get out of their miserable house and by 1861 were living on the Lammascote Road at the eastern edge of the town centre. They stayed there for at least thirty years and they show every sign of seeking and achieving respectability.

The emergence of an urban slum

The fortunes of the inhabitants of Startin’s Entry in 1851 subsequently spanned paths from the fairly poverty-stricken to more solid working class security. The court’s houses had functioned as a minimal resource for those unable to afford anything better or as ‘starter homes’ for those aspiring to do better. It was a mean and unattractive place, however, and from the 1850s its social character increasingly reflected that. By 1861 Nos. 1 and 2 Startin’s Entry had new occupiers.  At No. 1 was the Caffey (or McCaffrey) family – Patrick, his wife Mary, his sister Margaret and their two children. Patrick was an agricultural labourer, one of the many such Irish men (and some women) who settled in Stafford during and after the Famine, working on local farms.[15] Patrick had married Mary Caulfield, also Irish, in Stafford in 1854, so we know the couple were in the town during the first half of the 1850s.[16]  Casual jobs on the farms were disappearing, however, and in the 1860s the McCaffreys left both Startin’s Entry and Stafford. Their subsequent whereabouts have not been traced but it is very likely they took the same path as the Startin family and emigrated.

The other new family in the Entry in 1861, living at No. 2, were the Hawkinses. They stayed in their house until the 1880s and proved to be notorious occupiers whose full story I covered in my post of 12 October 2016. John Hawkins was nominally a farm labourer and his wife Sarah née Astbury a shoebinder. The couple had married in 1856 but back in 1851 Sarah had already had an illegitimate girl, Mary, who lived with them.[17]  The Hawkinses made much of their money, however, through ‘baby farming’. For a weekly fee they took in babies and small children whose parent(s) wanted to offload them for whatever reason, no questions asked. They were left unwashed and more or less imprisoned in appallingly filthy and verminous conditions. At least two children died as a direct result of their treatment there. John and Sarah both served a spell in prison in the early 1870s as a result, but on their release they came back to Startin’s Entry. Their dirty and disordered household, the central one in the row of three, must have made them dreadful neighbours and emphasised the rapid social decline of the court. By 1871 John Tipper and Mary née Atkins at No. 3 (already discussed) had escaped but their whereabouts have not been traced. Perhaps they too had emigrated.

In 1871 the Hawkins family had John and Ann Blundon as their neighbours at No. 1. I dealt with the Blundons’ story in my blogpost of 10 July 2015 but, in summary, they were another problematic family. Both were from Co. Galway and had arrived in Stafford after the Famine. They met in the town and got married. John nominally worked as a street hawker and they lived in a succession of miserable dwellings, one of which was Startin’s Entry. It was a wretched household. John was a violent drunkard and his wife bore the burden; things worsened when Ann’s son by a previous marriage, John Ryan, came to live with them in the 1870s after his discharge from the Army. Ryan was also unstable and violent and may well have had what we would recognise as PTSD. The family carried on their torrid existence through the 1870s and were still living at No. 1 in 1878 but by 1881 they had moved out to Ball’s Buildings on Common Road at the northern edge of the town.[18]

In 1871 George Griffin, a shoemaker, and his wife Mary Ann lived at No. 3 on the other side of the Hawkins household. Griffin had originated in Dudley in the Black Country and the couple moved to Stafford from Sheffield in the 1860s. Nothing more is known about them but they could not have stopped long at No. 3. In 1880-81 we find George languishing in Stafford Gaol; Mary Ann has not been traced.[19] More research would be needed to know why he was in prison but it probably says little for his character. It is another indicator of Entry’s increasingly low social status.

New Street, Stafford, looking northwards. The photograph was taken in 1953 when the street was decorated for the coronation and about six years before it was demolished. Startin’s Entry was on the left side of the street behind the terrace which lies beyond the distinctive higher buildings.

The Entry continued to be the refuge of the socially marginal into the 1880s. In 1881 the Hawkins household was still there at No. 2 but the aged John Hawkins – he was now about 70 – had sunk to being a scavenger. Next door at No. 3 they had been joined by John and Mary Cavanagh (or Cavener). That was not surprising because Mary Cavener was in fact Mary Astbury/Hawkins, the daughter of Sarah Astbury/Hawkins. The couple must have replaced George Griffin around 1871 because they had married at Christchurch on 13 June 1870. At the time of the marriage Mary was already pregnant but her baby was ultimately registered (in 1871) as Emma Hawkins which suggests she was not John Cavener’s.[20] Emma’s suspect status was underlined in the 1881 Census when she was recorded living with her grandparents at No. 2, although now with the surname Cavanagh. By then John and Mary had had four more children. John Cavener had been born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, the son of Thomas Kavanagh (sic), a farm labourer from Co. Galway. By 1881 he was doing the same job – scavenger – as his father-in-law, so the family was poor and of very low status. They were probably friends of the Blundons and in 1891 were living next door to them on Common Road.

The social decline of Startin’s Entry was emphasised by 1881 by the occupants of No. 1. The Blundons had gone and been replaced by another Irish family, that of widow Margaret Rafferty and her son Matthew, a bricklayer’s labourer. Margaret and Matthew were clearly running an unlicenced lodging house because four other unmarried Irishmen, all named Michael, were listed as lodging on the premises. It must have been crowded and the men all doubtless slept in relays in whatever bedding was provided.

Startin’s Entry and Stafford’s housing

I do not know who owned the houses in Startin’s Entry after John Startin had sold the property around 1851. Whoever it was, by 1881 they must have had a very poor bag of assets. These court houses had been cheaply built. Their flimsy structures had had a continual turnover of poor tenants, had often been overcrowded and/or had been occupied by people like the Hawkinses whose neglect and filth would themselves have degraded the fabric. As long as the rent money came in the landlord(s) would have been content and, like most such owners, they would have tried to get away with doing as little maintenance or repair as possible. But such a policy could not continue indefinitely and the end for Startin’s Entry seems to have come in the 1880s.

I have not found a definite date for the court’s abandonment and demolition but no people were recorded as living there in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses despite the address being noted in the enumeration district description for those years. The houses do not appear on the 1901 1:2500 Ordnance Survey plan of the area so they must have been demolished by then. Although removal of such appalling properties looked like a social benefit, in those days before the provision of (now late-lamented) council housing, their occupants just had to find some other lousy overcrowded slum in which to move. In Stafford that was difficult. The town had a chronic shortage of housing at affordable rents. That problem ultimately provoked controversy in the 1900s when the landlord-dominated council still refused to use its powers to begin a proper council housing programme.[21] When it was forced at last to take some action it was, of course, too late for the people who had finished up in Startin’s Entry.

Most of Stafford’s worst slums – places Like Plant’s Court, Wilson’s Court, Snow’s Yard and Roger Square – survived into the 1950s before they were cleared. The houses in New Street, always regarded as a poor area, were finally demolished in 1959.[22]  To be abandoned and demolished as early as the 1880s, Startin’s Entry must have been a particularly squalid group of houses, but their history was a microcosm of entrepreneurship and urban life in the nineteenth century.


  1. That was the street numbering in 1851 when it was fairly disorganised. It was subsequently rationalised and no. 47 became no. 62.
  2. From the 1860s onward Startin’s Entry was more often called Startin’s Court but the names seem to have been used interchangeably.
  3. M.W. Greenslade et al., A History of Stafford, (Reprint of part of Vol. VI of the Victoria History of the County of Stafford), (Staffordshire County Library, Stafford, 1982), p 191.
  4. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Ancestry Database, accessed 10 November 2020.
  5. England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973, Ancestry Database, accessed 10 November 2020.
  6. England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973, Ancestry Database, accessed 10 November 2020.
  7. England and Wales Marriages, 1538-1988, Ancestry Database, accessed 17 November 2020.
  8. He was listed in the Census as ‘John Sterling’ but we clearly have the correct family. Down the years many officials got the name wrong, perhaps because John himself may then have been illiterate and could not correct them.
  9. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, Ancestry Database, accessed 10 November 2020.
  10. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, Ancestry Database, accessed 10 November 2020. They arrived on 2 May 1851. John was listed as ‘John Martin’, a ‘labourer’, but again we are clearly dealing with the correct family.
  11. J.E. Jones (ed.), A History of Columbia County, Wisconsin: a Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests, (Chicago, Lewis Publishing Co., 1914), Vol. 2, pp. 453-455. I am indebted for this reference, additional information and the photograph of John and Sarah Startin to a correspondent in America who is a descendant of the Startin family and who found the reference to Startin’s Entry on this blog.
  12. In the 1841 Census the occupants of New Street were enumerated but the house numbers were not recorded and those in Startin’s Entry, if it existed then, were not specifically identified.
  13. Stafford Registration District (RD), Marriages, April-June 1853, John Tipper and Mary Atkins, 6b/18.
  14. Stafford RD, Births, July-September 1853, Sarah Tipper, 6b/1.
  15. John Herson, Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015), Chaps 5 and 6.
  16. Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives (BAA), P255/2/1, Stafford, St Austin’s, Register of Confirmations, Marriages and Burials, Vol. 7, 1828-1857, 2 August 1854, Patrick McCaffry and Mary Caulfield.
  17. Stafford RD, Marriages, January-March 1856, John Hawkins and Sarah Astbury, 6b/20; Births, April-June 1851, Mary Astbury, Mother: ‘Astbury’, 17/159.
  18. Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 17 August 1878. Report of a drunken violent incident in the Blundon/Ryan household.
  19. Staffordshire Record Office, Index to Stafford Gaol Photographs, 1877-1916: 10 July 1880, D6957/1/1, George Griffin, Prisoner No. 3611. Census Enumeration Return, 1881, HMP, Stafford.
  20. Stafford RD, Marriages, April-June 1870, John Cavener (sic) and Mary Asbury (sic), 6b/24. The exact date and place are given in England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973. Stafford RD, Births, April-June 1871, Emma Hawkins, 6b/2. In the 1871 Census Emma was listed as six months old but she must have been older than that. Emma’s birth registration was very delayed.
  21. See Herson, Divergent Paths, pp. 155-6. Much of the political campaigning for council action was done by Martin Mitchell, the son of Irish immigrants who was brought up in Stafford’s north end.
  22. Stafford Borough Council, Housing Act 1936: Register of Houses in Clearance Areas. Miscellaneous documents including a list, July 1956, of 26 named courts which had received demolition orders in the mid-1930s but, because of the war, were only cleared in the early 1950s.

Death of a child from malnutrition


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The Duggan family

At the end of August 1890 an inquest was held in Stafford into the death of John Duggan. He was a baby just five months old and it was reported that ‘the child was a mere skeleton, only weighing six and a half pounds.’[1] It was a shocking case but it emphasises the burdens faced by young women in Victorian Britain when there was no welfare support and illegitimacy could be stigmatised, the children victimised.

The tragic John had been the illegitimate child of Ann Duggan, the 23-year old daughter of John and Ann Duggan. John Duggan was Irish. He had been born around 1821 in the small town of Killenaule, Co. Tipperary, and worked as a tailor. He was probably forced out of Ireland in the 1840s by lack of work during the Famine and by 1851 he had arrived in Castleton near Rochdale where he was lodging with John Thompson, a tailor. There were two other tailors in the household who also presumably worked for John Thompson. John Duggan moved on, however, and sometime during the 1850s he arrived in the Stafford area. The first we know of him there was when in 1860 he married Ann Riley in Penkridge, six miles south of Stafford.[2] Ann was younger than John, only 22 to his 39, and she had been born in Penkridge, the daughter of a farm labourer. She was also a tailor and we can assume she had already moved into Stafford and that the couple had met in the town. It was a shotgun wedding. Their first child, Ellen, was born only about three months after their marriage.[3]

John and Ann Duggan went on to have nine children, of whom their daughter Ann was the fifth. She was born in 1867. In general the family seems to have been secure and decent, although their son Michael (b. 1864), ‘a respectable looking lad’, had some petty scrapes with the law in childhood and particularly as an adult (he died in 1907).[4] Nevertheless, by the mid-1880s John Duggan was in his 60s and ailing. In 1890 his wife said he had been out of work for five years and he died in 1891.[5] Ann Duggan was therefore stressed around 1890, having to do paid work to provide an income and also dealing with a dying husband. It was in these circumstance that her daughter Ann ran into trouble.

John Duggan’s short life and death

Back in 1881 Ann, then 14 years old, had been listed in the Census as a ‘domestic servant’, although we don’t know whether this was working for her parents at home or as a paid servant outside. We unfortunately know nothing about her activities during the 1880s, but it seems she ultimately left home and in 1889, if not before, she had moved to Leicester. As another shoemaking town, Leicester was a common destination for Staffordians and it may have been that Ann Duggan had entered the shoe trade and gone there in search of work. Alternatively, she might have ‘trailed’ there behind a Stafford man who had made the move. All we know is that in 1889 some man in Leicester made her pregnant and the sad events began to unfold.

Ann had her baby John in Leicester in the spring of 1890.[6] When he was only a fortnight old he was put out to a nurse in the city but the baby’s father paid nothing for his support and Ann had to keep working. We don’t know what job she did but it provided her with just 12-13 shillings a week, a miserable amount. It is, nevertheless, noteworthy that she did not go into the workhouse like many women in her position would have done. She had another option – her mother. The latter promised to pay for baby John’s keep, so the baby was sent to Stafford around the beginning of May 1890. John’s grandmother Ann then immediately farmed him out to Rosannah Key who charged 5 shillings a week to look after him.

Rosannah Key was a woman from Tipton in the Black Country who had married Joseph Key from Eccleshall in 1885.[7] The couple lived at 21 Mill Bank in Stafford from 1885 until the late 1890s and Joseph, a wood sawyer, probably worked at Venables’ timber yard relatively close by on the Doxey Road. The couple already had one child, Matthew Charles, born in 1887, but Rosannah must have needed to supplement the family income by taking in other children.[8] She was summoned John Duggan’s inquest and her evidence was stark. She said that ‘when she received the deceased [John] it was in a filthy condition and had a cough. She paid great attention to the child and said she would rather keep the child than it should be knocked about.’ She had obviously feared for the baby’s welfare but she was given little time to deal with it because Ann Duggan (senior) took him away after a month – in other words, sometime in June 1890. Duggan said he was ‘taken away because the money was too much’. The baby lived with her until it died.[9]

The inquest evidence was imprecise about John’s condition when he left Rosannah Key but she was not overtly blamed and, indeed, the Coroner concluded he had been ‘treated well at Mrs Key’s’. The inquest clearly saw the Duggan women blameworthy and there was disbelief that ‘she (Ann Duggan senior) did not notice five weeks before what a tiny wretched child it was.’ Dr Blumer, Stafford’s MoH who had examined the child, said he should have been twice the weight. A juror asked Duggan whether she ‘thought all that was required from you was to pay the 5 shillings?’ to which she replied that ‘I have not much time as I have to work very hard to keep my husband who has been out of work for five years.’ It transpired the baby had been fed on condensed milk and Blumer thought he ‘had died from insufficient or improper food, as its digestive powers were gone.’ He did say that there were no external marks of violence on the child’s body.[10]

We have to have some sympathy with Ann Duggan and her mother. Ann was living in a strange city and had been made pregnant by someone who clearly cared nothing for the consequences. Her circumstances must have been miserable, something also suggested a few months later when, in the 1891 census, she was lodging with two other young women in the house of a ‘vermin destroyer’, Mary Beadle.[11] Ann must have been desperate to get her mother to take over baby John but Ann (senior) was clearly not up to the task. Her work and her ailing husband obviously imposed burdens which meant a third responsibility was beyond her. It would seem, however, that the rest of the family washed their hands of the situation. Ann’s daughter Ellen, then a 29-year old tailor, was still living with her parents at 29 Red Lion Street but she clearly did nothing. Their son John, also a tailor and then 24, lived just along the street with his wife Agnes who was expecting her first child, but they did nothing too. The hard fact is that baby John was the unwanted child of a wayward daughter and no-one cared enough to save him. The inquest jury was nevertheless reluctant to apportion blame that might lead to one or both Anns being prosecuted, despite a steer from the Coroner in that direction. Their verdict was merely ‘death from malnutrition’ which suggests they sympathised with the predicament mother and daughter had faced.

What of the aftermath?

It might be expected that Ann Duggan would have sunk into poverty, shunned by her siblings and those in Leicester who knew what had happened to her and her baby. Perhaps surprisingly that proved not to be the case. In the autumn of 1891, in Leicester, she got married.[12] Her new husband was Frederick Joseph Stevens who had been born in Bristol in 1866.[13] He seems to have eluded the 1891 Census but that was probably because he was away working on the railway. Having grown up in Bristol, he almost certainly went to work on the Midland Railway there. At some point he became a goods guard, a job he did for the rest of his career, and he subsequently moved north up the line to Leicester where he must have met Ann Duggan. It is, of course, conceivable he was poor John Duggan’s father but that seems unlikely because the couple went on to have an apparently settled marriage and five children, all of whom lived. Baby John’s fate must have lurked as a dark shadow over Ann Stevens/Duggan’s life and we have no reason to believe she didn’t prove to be a good and proud mother to her new family. They continued to live in Leicester until around 1900, at which point Frederick was moved to Coalville.[14] Around 1905 they moved again along the railway to Nuneaton where Ann and Frederick finally settled down. They had long lives there and died within weeks of each other in 1949.[15]

There is a final poignant note to the story. Old John Duggan died, as we have seen, in 1891, within nine months of baby John’s demise. His wife Ann lived on, however, for another twenty years and for all that time she shared accommodation with her daughter Ellen, who never married. In 1911 they were living at 9 Friar’s Road in Stafford but on 20 March that year Ann finally died, aged 73. Her funeral took place on 23 March and among the mourners was her daughter Ann who had come over from Nuneaton to attend. That explains why, on census day just over a week later, Ann and her son Frederick (aged 9) were recorded staying in the Friar’s Road house with sister Ellen.[16] Whatever the stresses of John Duggan’s sad death and the publicity it received, family bonds ultimately seem to have survived the trauma of 1890.

[1] Dr. F.M. Blumer, Stafford MoH, reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 30 August 1890.

[2] Stafford Registration District (RD), Marriages, April-June 1860, John Duggan and Ann Riley, 6b/516. I have not checked as to whether Ann Riley was already a local Catholic or whether she ‘turned’ when she married the Catholic John Duggan, but the family were Catholics from then on.

[3] Penkridge RD, Births, June-September 1860, Ellen Duggan, 6b/355. Ann presumably went home to Penkridge for the birth.

[4] E.g. SA 6 June 1874, 21 December 1878, 11 April 1891 and in the 1900s.

[5] SA, 30 August 1890; Stafford Borough Council Burial record, 06/10924, John Duggan, 71, tailor, Red Lion Street, buried 11 March 1891.

[6] Leicester RD, Births, 1890, April-June, John Duggan, 7a/296.

[7] Stafford RD, Marriages, 1885, July-September, Joseph Key and Rosannah Hutton, 6b/31.

[8] Stafford RD, Births, 1887, January-March, Matthew Charles Key, 6b/19.

[9] Stafford Borough Burial Record, 06/10737, 30 August 1890, John Duggin (sic), illegitimate child of Ann Duggin (sic), 26 Red Lion Street. He received a Catholic funeral.

[10] The evidence in the three preceding paragraphs mostly comes from the report of the Inquest in the Staffordshire Advertiser, 30 August 1890. Evidence for Rosannah and Joseph Key comes from the standard demographic sources.

[11] Ann Duggan was listed in the 1891 census return for 3 Peel Street, Leicester, as ‘Annie Dunn’ but she had been born in Stafford, was the right age and is clearly our Ann. Her occupation is unfortunately completely indistinct and illegible.

[12] Leicester RD, Marriages, 1891, October-December, Ann Duggan and Frederick Stevens, 7a/596.

[13] Bristol RD, Births, 1866, October-December, Frederick J Stevens, 6a/14.

[14] Railway Employment Records, 1833-1956, Midland Railway, F.J. Stevens, goods guard, Coalville, 1901-4 (‘transfer applied for’). The records are incomplete.

[15] Nuneaton RD, Deaths, 1949, April-June, Frederick J Stevens, 82 yrs, 9c/763, and Ann Stevens, 82 years, 9c/760.

[16] SA, 25 March 1911, death of Ann Duggan, widow of John Duggan, 9 Friar’s Road, 20 March. Stafford Borough Burial Record 10/6176, 23 March 1911, Ann Duggan, widow. She had a Catholic funeral. 1911 Census return for 9 Friar’s Road, Stafford.

The Stafford Militia Barracks and the Irish


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Stafford and the Militia

Numerous times in this blog I have referred to Irish people with connections to the British armed forces.[1] Many of these men and their families were involved in the Militia and passed through the Stafford Barracks. Some later settled in Stafford town. In this post I want to focus in on the Militia and the range of Irish connections linked to Militia service.

Stafford was never the site of a major army base but from 1852 to 1881 the town played host to the Second (King’s Own) Staffordshire Militia. Trained bands of local men chosen by ballot had been embodied as Militia in England at various times from 1662 onwards, particularly during the War of American Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Recruits were chosen initially by ballot but, if they could afford to, chosen men could pay for substitutes and get out of serving. That meant that the main body of the Militia was typically a disgruntled rabble of the roughest and poorest working class recruits.   At the close of the Napoleonic Wars such local Militias, including that in Staffordshire, were put into abeyance.[2]

The Militia was revived by the 1852 Militia Act during the international tension leading to the Crimean War. Units were raised on a county basis and filled by voluntary enlistment. Recruits would undergo initial training for 56 days and report for 21–28 days training each year. They received full army pay during training and a financial retainer thereafter which meant that the Militia particularly attracted agricultural labourers and other unskilled and casual workers. At the very least, the annual Militia training camp was the equivalent of a paid holiday, but service in the Militia was often instrumental in getting recruits to sign up for the regular army.

Militia Barracks crop

The Militia Barracks, Park Street, Stafford, built in 1852. They had accommodation for twelve families as well as offices and stores.

Stafford’s Militia Barracks were built in Forebridge in 1852 and served as the HQ, administration centre and store for the 2nd Staffordshires. They also had living quarters for twelve full-time soldiers, all sergeants, who carried out most of these tasks, together with their families. These men were almost all long-serving soldiers already pensioned off from regular service but happy to take on the intermittent and less demanding duties of Militia training. Service in Stafford barracks was, therefore, a plum posting for men at the end of their army career. Another half dozen or so serving Militia sergeants and their families lived in and around Stafford town, and these men seem to have been those staying for a longer period. In some cases they became permanent settlers in Stafford.  All this came to an end in 1881 when, under the Childers reforms, the 2nd Staffordshire Militia was incorporated as a volunteer battalion in the North Staffordshire Regiment and the Stafford location was abandoned in favour of newly-built barracks at Whittington near Lichfield.

The Militia and the Irish

In 1868, when the population of Ireland had dropped to about 17 per cent of the whole UK, the proportion of Irish recruits in the British army was 30.8 per cent.[3] This overrepresentation of the Irish came about because of the lack of jobs in Ireland and the fact that army pay was so low it was only equivalent to the lowest farm worker’s wage in Britain whereas it was still competitive with the miserable wages in Ireland. Irish recruits were therefore essential to the strength of both Irish and British regiments. During their service some managed to get promoted to the various ranks of sergeant, and that meant a significant proportion of men passing through the Stafford Militia barracks were Irish or had Irish links. We only know the identity of some of these men and their families but the 1861 and 1871 censuses offer a representative sample of this special class of military in-migrants to Stafford.

The Irish connections of these Militia sergeants took a number of forms. First, and most obvious, there were Irish-born soldiers themselves. The random sample thrown up by the census in the two years shows that of the total of 34 enumerated servicemen, sixteen (47%) were Irish-born, a considerably greater proportion than generally in the British army. This suggests that a higher proportion of the Irish decided (or were forced) to stay in Britain at the end of their service because of poor prospects back home. The British were more likely to return to their areas of origin and were underrepresented in Stafford.

Secondly, there were the Irish-born wives of the soldiers. In four cases these women were married to Irish-born men and may have had pre-existing social connections with them, but six others had married British men who they presumably met whilst the latter were serving in Ireland. The significance of the British army presence in Ireland is brought out by the third Irish connection, the number of children in these service families who had been born there. Fourteen of the families (42%) had one or more Irish-born children indicating significant periods of service in Ireland. Other children had been born whilst in garrison towns in Britain such as Chatham, Colchester and Devonport and others showed Empire service in Gibraltar, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Militia families

It is worthwhile to look at some of these army families. An example of the first group is Michael Downing who was in the barracks in 1871. He had been born in Creigh near Listowel in Co. Kerry around 1825. A tall fresh-faced man, he started work as a labourer but soon joined the army at Clonakilty, Co. Cork, in May 1842. He was in the 33rd Foot (Duke of Wellington’s West Riding) Regiment and initially served in Ireland. During the 1840s he married an Irish woman, Honora (surname unknown). The birthplaces of their six known children indicate service in Tyneside (1850), Glasgow (1852), Ireland again (1855), at Colchester barracks (1858) and finally Ireland again in the early 1860s. Downing completed 21 years of service, being discharged at Fermoy in Co. Cork in 1865 as a Chelsea Pensioner with a ‘very good’ service record but no medals which suggests he never served in a campaign.[4] He immediately joined the Militia staff in Stafford and initially lived in the Barracks as a Colour Sergeant with his family. After that they decided to settle in the town and Michael made some money as a ‘writing clerk’ to supplement his pension. Descendants continued there into the 20th century. Michael himself died in 1884 and Honora in 1898.[5]

A posting to Stafford could be a reward for Crimean war service and an example is Roger Connor. He had been born in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, in 1816 and enlisted with the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot in 1831. I have not found his earlier service history but by 1851 he was a sergeant major at the Anglesey Barracks in Portsea, Hampshire. Shortly after that he married Jane, possibly Potter, an Irishwoman ten years younger than him.[6] That was a prelude to him being sent to the Crimean War where he fought in the Battles of Alma (20 September 1854) and Inkerman (5 November 1854) and was present during the siege of Sebastopol (October 1854-September 1855). For these actions he received the Crimea Medal and three clasps.[7] The Crimea prolonged his military service to 24 years but he was finally admitted to the Chelsea Pensioner rolls on 13 March 1855. He presumably enlisted for service in the 2nd Staffordshire Militia shortly afterwards and was living in the barracks with Jane in 1861. The couple had no children. By 1871 they had moved out of the barracks and were living at Church Aston outside Newport in Shropshire. He was acting as a ‘drill instructor to volunteers’ and was probably still on the books of the Staffordshire Militia – Newport was close enough to Stafford. The couple stayed in Shropshire and in 1881 were living at Edgmond, also close to Newport. Thereafter the trail goes cold and no record of his or Jane’s death has been found.


Sgt Roger Connor was awarded the Crimea Medal and clasps for Sebastopol, Inkerman and Alma. This is a surviving example.

In the Stafford census sample four of the English soldiers had married Irish wives. One example is Wiliam Vann. He had been born in Thornby, Northants, in 1830 and enlisted in the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot around 1848. I have not found his detailed service record, but the 32nd Regiment was in India from 1846 to 1859 and it seems likely that Vann spent at least some time there, although there is no record of him receiving any award. The Regiment had a long history of intermittent posting to Ireland and it would seem they were there in the mid- to late-1860s because William married Ellen Walsh in Mallow, Co. Cork, in 1866.[8] He by this time was 36 years old but Ellen was considerably younger, about 21. Around 1869 they returned to the garrison town of Colchester and their son John James Vann was born there that year.[9]  Vann was pensioned off at the same time and must have joined the permanent staff of the 2nd Staffs Militia soon afterwards.[10] The family was living in Stafford Barracks in 1871 but things did not work out well for them. Ellen died in 1874 aged only 30 and as the son of serving soldier the loss of his mother must have been a severe blow to John James. It is possible that William was sent to the Militia Barracks in Newcastle under Lyme around this time because he wasted little time marrying again. His second wife was Margaret Salt who lived in Stoke on Trent, not Stafford.[11] Margaret had herself been widowed and left with two young children so the match with William was good for both parties. He accepted Margaret’s children and she presumably did the same for a time with William’s son, but by 1881 we find John James a scholar boarding at the Royal Military Asylum in Chelsea. Two years later he followed his father into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, the successor regiment to the 32nd Foot.[12] Vann and his family had meanwhile moved to Norton barracks near Pershore, Worcestershire, where he carried out the same duties he had performed in Stafford.

Francis Sibbald’s family showed the importance Ireland could have in service lives. He had been born in 1819 in Nottingham and when he was fourteen in 1833 he enlisted at Plymouth with the 89th Regiment of Foot. Whilst based there he may somehow got to know Sophia Miller, a little girl born in 1829.[13] Sibbald subsequently went with his regiment to Canada and achieved promotion to Paymaster Sergeant, a job he continued to do for the rest of his army career. He was based at Chambly near Montreal, Québec, and on 26 April 1843 he and Sophia Miller arrived at St Stephen’s Church in Chambly to get married. Sophia was only about fourteen years old and must have lied about her age. Francis wasted little time getting her pregnant and their son John Joseph was born in August 1845.[14]  The family left Québec with the Regiment in 1847 and by 1850 Francis was serving in Ireland where his son William Francis was born. The birthplaces of their next two children in the 1861 Census indicate continuing service there during the 1850s.

Francis Sibbald was pensioned off after 21 years’ service with the 89th Regiment and got a job on the permanent staff of the 2nd Staffs Militia in the mid-1850s.[15] As paymaster sergeant, he worked under Paymaster Captain Lambert Disney, a troubled man who committed suicide in 1867 (see my posts on 14 and 19 June 2019). By then the family had left Stafford but we know Francis had worked in the Militia Barracks for nine years, a long period of service there. The family went back to Ireland in the mid-1860s.[16] Francis probably got a similar job with the army in Dublin and the family remained in the city until his death in 1877. He was buried in the Arbour Hill Cemetery which served the Royal (now Collins) Barracks.[17] After his death Sophia returned to England and in 1881 was living in London with her final child Sophia. She died on the Isle of Wight in 1885.[18]

Francis and Sophia Sibbalds’ sojourn in Stafford proved to be lengthy but ultimately uncommitted. Although ethnically English by origin, Francis’s service clearly developed a stronger link with the British army’s role in Ireland and, to that limited degree, an identification with the country. Most of their children spent formative years there and may even had a degree of Irish identity. The history of this family contrasts with a number of Irish families who came to Stafford for Militia service but settled there afterwards. Apart from the Downing family described here, earlier posts discussed other examples in the Mullins (24 November 2016) and Cronin (1 September 2015) families and there were others.

Work in the Stafford Militia Barracks

Between 1852 and 1881 many pensioned soldiers lived for a time in the Stafford Militia barracks, of whom approaching half seem to have been Irish. I have said that service in the Barracks was a plum posting for sergeants looking to continue army life after discharge. But what did these men actually do in Stafford? The answer is that they had five areas of work. They firstly had to keep up the records of men who had volunteered for Militia service and act as quartermasters for their clothing, arms and equipment. This was humdrum and quiet work for a lot of the time but it was interspersed with a second duty, that of initial training of new recruits. Then, every year in April/May, everything really came to life with the third duty, annual training of the whole Militia. The Stafford sergeants and others from surrounding garrisons were essential links in the chain of command from officers to privates. The training camp lasted 21-28 days and involved a force of battalion strength. In May 1871, for example, the assembled body numbered 22 officers, 39 sergeants and 907 other ranks as well as 24 bandsmen.[19] At the end of training the volunteers were paid off and went back to their homes with some money in their pockets and the sergeants went back to their normal duties.

In the earlier years of the 2nd Staffordshires they might, however, find themselves on a fourth task, garrison duty elsewhere. In 1856 it is noted that the Militia had covered the Portsmouth garrison whilst between 1857 and 1860 they did a tour of duty taking in Devonport, Cork, The Curragh and Dublin.[20] That force numbered 819 rank and file when they returned home in July 1860 and they were greeted by ‘several thousand people’ on the road from the station. They were not all committed men, however. In September that year one of the recruits, Peter Callaghan, an Irish labourer from Roger Square in Stafford, pleaded guilty to desertion the Militia and was fined £2 or 2 months in prison.[21] Finally, the permanent staff of the Militia played some role in the social life of Stafford town, most notably with the militia band which was available to play at local functions.[22]

Military service and the Irish

From 1852 to 1881 Stafford’s Militia Barracks played, therefore, a notable role in strengthening the Irish presence in the town. The significance of service in the army, both in the part-time and regular forces, has been little studied by historians of Irish migration. Despite the high proportion of Irish recruits in the army and their roles in consolidating state power in Britain, Ireland and the British Empire, most of these people are lost to history. Their service inevitably meant they had complex identities shaped by their Irish ethnic and religious origins but also by the ideology and discipline imposed on them by serving the British state. Others, as we have seen, were ethnically British but were influenced by service in Ireland and had technically ‘Irish’ children born there. Stafford Militia Barracks was just a small element in this system but one illustrating some of the processes at work.

[1] E.g. 19 June 2019, 24 November 2016, 17 February 2016, 1 September 2015, 10 July 2015, 16 September 2015 and others.

[2] D. Cooper, The Staffordshire Regiments: Imperial, Regular and Volunteer, 1705-1919, (Leek, Churnet Valley Books, 2003, pp. 7-13.

[3] E.M. Speirs, ‘Army organisation and society in the nineteenth century’ in T. Bartlett and K. Jeffery, A Military History of Ireland, (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1996), Table 15.1 and pp. 335-337.

[4] National Archives, Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records, Discharge Document, Box 1497, Box Record no. 200.; 33rd Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regt., Wikipedia, accessed 24 July 2020.

[5] Stafford Borough Burial Records, 05/8712, Michael Downing, ‘writing clerk’, 28 November 1884; 07/1608, Honora Downing, 22 November 1898. Both were Catholics.

[6] The only likely marriage thrown up in searches was at Glenavy, Co. Antrim, on 18 November 1852: Roger Connor and Jane Potter. Ireland Select Marriages 1619-1898.

[7] UK Military Campaign Medals and Award Rolls, 1783-1949, 95th Regt. of Foot, Sgt Major Roger Connor.

[8] Ireland, Select Marriages, 1819-1898, Mallow, 5 June 1866, William Vann and Ellen Walsh.

[9] Colchester Registration District (RD), births, Jan-March 1869, John James Vann, 4a/300.

[10] Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC), Regimental Register of Pensioners, William Vann, 32nd Foot, admitted 2 March 1869.

[11] Wolstanton RD, Marriages, Jan-March 1876, William Vann and Margaret Salt, 6b/151. They were married on 17 January 1876.

[12] RHC, John James Vann, enlisted 1883, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, no./Cornwall/950

[13] Sophia Miller’s birth has not been traced. In the Census in 1861 she said she was born in Devonport whilst in 1881 she said she was born ‘at sea’ which obviously might have had a maritime and military connection with Devonport. The two Census records we have for Sophia (1861 and 1881) both put her being born in 1828-9, so it remains the case that she was very young when she married Francis.

[14] Québec, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968. Marriage at St Stephen Anglican Church, Chambly, 26 April 1843, Francis Sibbald, Paymaster of the 89th Regt. and Sophia Miller. Baptism at the Anglican Garrison, 8 September 1845 of John Joseph Sibbald, born 18 August 1848, son of Francis Tibbald, Paymaster of the 89th Regt and Sophia his wife.

[15] RHC. Francis Sibbald was admitted as a pensioner on 9 February 1858 but he must have arrived in Stafford before then. See note 15 below.

[16] It is impossible to be precise about the dates when Sibbald arrived in Stafford and left again for Ireland. His sojourn of nine years in Stafford was reported at a prize-giving for his son Frank Wellington at the Royal Hibernian Military School in 1867 which implies the family had returned to Dublin sometime in the previous few years. Working back, that puts his arrival in Stafford in the mid-1850s. Freemen’s Journal, 20 December 1867.

[17] Ireland Burial Index, 1600-1927, (Sgt) Francis Sibbald of 22 Peven Market, aged 59. Buried 27 August 1877 at Arbour Hill Barracks.

[18] 1881 Census: 64 Pulford Street, St Georges, Hanover Square, London, Sophia Sibbald, widow, 53, Needlewoman, ‘born at sea’ and Sophia Sibbald, daughter, 10, scholar. Sophia’s birthplace was reported as Middx St Georges, London, but in subsequent censuses she said she was born in Dublin which is corroborated by the record: Ireland, Civil Births Index, Dublin South, 1871, (female) Sibbald, Mother: Sophia Miller, Father: Francis Sibbald. 2/761. Of Sophia and Francis Sibbald’s children, four sons went into the army, Sophia married a soldier and Rebecca stayed in Ireland. Only two boys went into civilian occupations.

[19] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 13 May 1871.

[20] SA, 21 June 1856, 28 July 1860 and 4 August 1860.

[21] SA, 15 September 1860.

[22] For example, SA, 1 February 1862 and 2 January 1864.

Martin Concar’s Burma War Pt. 2


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We saw in my last post that Martin Concar had fought in terrible tropical conditions in the Third Burma War of 1885-6. He had undergone experiences and conditions a world away from his early life in Stafford. Now, early in 1887, he was back home. What became of him?

The brief answer is that within just three years he was dead. The obvious question is whether his service in Burma contributed to that sad event. Before I consider the issue it is worth sketching out his life after his return to Stafford.

On 2 October 1887, within a few months of his return, Martin arrived at St Austin’s Catholic Church in Stafford to get married. His bride was twenty year-old Julia Simpson, the daughter of a Stafford shoemaker who was (at least nominally) Protestant. It was yet another case of a ‘mixed marriage’ and potential ‘leakage’ from the Church that so worried the Catholic hierarchy in the late nineteenth century.[1] It had clearly been a rapid courtship and Julia may already have been pregnant when they were married. Almost exactly nine months later, on 6 July 1888, their son Thomas Patrick Concar was born.[2] Martin now had family responsibilities to cope with.

Concar Martin PN-5951 JH crop

Martin Concar, September 1879, shortly before he joined the army.

Martin and Julia seem to have begun their married life living near the Concar family’s old haunt in New Street. Marriage did not reform Martin, however. He was working as a labourer, the sort of unskilled job many ex-soldiers were forced to take. And he was still drinking. In November 1888 he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Eastgate Street in the town centre. The newspaper headlined the case ‘an ex-soldier in trouble’, something clearly worth reporting. There was a further twist to the incident because Martin was also charged with assaulting Mark William Bromley. It was alleged that he had ‘asked’ Bromley to leave the work he was doing and go to another job. Bromley refused and Martin hit him. It was said that he had already been in court for stealing a watch but also that he had been in the Army for some years.  It seems the magistrates showed leniency but he was still fined five shillings plus costs.[3]

That didn’t have any effect. A few weeks later he was back in court accused of being drunk and disorderly in Cross Street. That was close to his home because the paper noted his address as 43 New Street. This time the magistrates fined him ten shillings plus costs.[4]

Martin’s death

Clearly Martin Concar’s time in the Army had done nothing to curb his drinking and proneness to violence – indeed it seems to have worsened them. He was an ex-soldier, like many since, whose time in the Army ill-fitted him for life in Civvy Street and it may, indeed, have left him with traumas impossible to resolve. We just don’t know. What we do know is that thirteen months after his drinking spree in Cross Street Martin Concar was dead. He died on 20 February 1890 and the death took place, not in New Street, but in the house occupied by Julia’s parents in Sash Street.[5] We can speculate that Martin and Julia were forced to go there once he was unable to work and they were evicted from 43 New Street. A Dr. Greaves was summoned and he gave the cause of death as ‘Haemoptysis’. There was no inquest.[6]

Concar Martin death cert phshp

Martin Concar’s death certificate showing the ’cause of death’ as ‘Haemoptysis’.

Haemoptysis means the coughing up of blood or blood-stained mucus and Dr. Greaves’s statement was merely a description of symptoms, not a diagnosis of the underlying cause of death. As there was no suspicion of foul play or unnatural cause of death to worry the coroner, in those days Greaves could get away with such a limited description.[7] It does, however, leave us to speculate on what actually killed Martin Concar. There are many possible causes of haemoptysis. It could have been a sign of tuberculosis, a very likely illness for anybody living in nineteenth century Britain. As we know from its role in Victorian novels, however, death from T.B. usually took place after a significant period of ill-health. Martin Concar was clearly active and fit enough to work for a time after his return to Stafford and to get involved in drunken incidents, and although we cannot discount T.B. it seems less likely in his case. Furthermore, even a doctor as cursory as Greaves would probably have been able to diagnose T.B. because he would have seen so much of it. Other causes of haemoptysis can be bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer. It is possible that Martin was been laid low by some severe respiratory infection of the first two types about which no evidence survives, though, again, Greaves should have been able to identify the basic ailment in that case. Lung cancer would have taken longer to kill and was less likely for a relatively young man like Martin.

We are left to speculate as to whether Martin Concar’s death was ultimately due to something he picked up during his time in the Burma War. In my last post I noted the appalling rate of sickness among British troops during the campaign, with malaria, cholera, dysentery and ‘heat apoplexy’ being noted in the later report on the war.[8] Those were not maladies applicable in Martin’s case back in Stafford, however. One possible candidate might have been tropical eosinophilia, an infection caused by the parasitic worm wuchereria bancrofti. The disease is most prevalent in tropical parts of the world and particularly in India and South East Asia including Burma. Martin Concar would certainly have been exposed to it and a doctor like Greaves would have had no experience of seeing its symptoms which can, in any case, be confused with those of T.B. and bronchial asthma. I have to conclude, however, that the available evidence is not sufficient to firmly conclude the Burma War caused Martin’s early demise, though the suspicion remains that it may have done.

It is perhaps significant that Martin’s death certificate said his occupation was that of ‘general labourer’ but also added that he was ‘”An Army Reserve Man”’ (with the quotation marks). It suggests someone, presumably Julia, insisted that was added to the certificate, perhaps to emphasise his army service and its possible connection with his death. Having served just a single seven-year term, Martin would indeed still have been on the army’s books in the reserve, to be called up again if necessary. It does, of course, suggest that at the time of his discharge he had no obvious infirmity caused by his service in Burma. As we have seen many times since then right up to the present day, the Army had little interest in what happened to Martin Concar after he left the active lists. He was left to sink or swim, and in his case the outcome was not a happy one.

The aftermath

Martin’s death left Julia Concar née Simpson a widow with a young child to support. As mentioned previously the family had sought refuge with her parents in Sash Street before Martin died but she needed to work. Her occupation in the 1891 Census was that of ‘furrier’, a rather strange job but probably related to the Stafford leather and shoemaking trades. She didn’t need to stick at it for long, however. On 22 October 1892 she married Charles Bates.[9] In the 1891 Census he was a 29 year-old groom living with his brother, a cattle dealer, in North Street on the northern edge of town. Charles himself may have had a problematic life because it seems his parents both died young and he and other siblings grew up living in various relatives’ households. The Bates family generally were in the shoe trade and Charles had become a shoemaker by the time of the 1901 Census when he and Julia were living in Friar Street, the heart of the shoemaking district. By then they had had three children. Martin and Julia’s son Thomas Concar was still with them. Although he attended St Patrick’s school, his mother and stepfather were not Catholics and he lost, or repudiated, his Catholic background.[10] In 1910 he married Gertrude Dale at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Stafford.[11] The couple went on to have eight children and there are descendants in the Stafford area and elsewhere today, so in the end Martin Concar had a significant progeny despite his early death.

In the end things did not work out so well for Julia. She and Charles Bates had five children between 1895 and 1905 but sometime after 1905 Julia must have had some sort of mental breakdown because in 1911 we find her incarcerated in the County Asylum. Charles Bates was left at home in Friar Street with the five children, the oldest of whom, Florrie, had taken over maternal duties – ‘assisting at home’. Julia seems to have died in 1915.[12]

As the child of poor and bereaved Irish immigrant parents, Martin Concar grew up in difficult circumstances and had a short but problematic life. Others of his siblings weathered their background more successfully and some of Martin’s problems must have been a product of his particular personality and the ways he reacted to the environments in which he found himself. His time in the army was clearly pivotal. He was one of the many Irish and Irish-descended men in Britain who ended up in the forces expanding, more or less willingly, the British Empire overseas.[13] He was clearly a man of some spirit and courage who may well have retained a degree of Irish identity, provoked no doubt in part by stigmatisation of his family’s origins by some native Staffordians. His life was a microcosm of the stresses that can affect migrant families.


[1] Discussed in John Herson, Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015), pp. 288-289.

[2] England and Wales Registration Birth indexes, Stafford RD, Thomas Patrick Concar July-September 1888, 6b/10; Staffordshire Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes, 1837-2017, Thomas Patrick Concar, birth 6 July 1888.

[3] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 24 November 1888.

[4] SA, 12 January 1889. The incident was on 30 December 1888.

[5] She and baby Thomas were living with them at 6 Sash Street at the time of the 1891 Census.

[6] Death Certificate, Stafford RD, 20 February 1890, Martin Concar, 6b/8.

[7] For this and this and the following comments I am indebted to discussion of Martin’s medical case with Dr. Richard Nelson of Chester.

[8] Intelligence Branch of the Division of the Chief of Staff, Army HQ, India, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, (Simla, Govt. Monotype Press, 1907), p. 228.

[9] England and Wales Civil Registration Index, Stafford RD, Julia Concar and Charles Bates, 6b/29; England: Select Marriages 1538-1973, marriage 22 October 1892.

[10] St Patrick’s School Registers, 1884-1944. I am indebted to the late Roy Mitchell for his data on the school registers.

[11] England and Wales Civil Registration Index, Stafford RD, Thomas Concar and Gertrude Dale, October-December 1910, 6b/32; Staffs BMD Indexes, marriage at St, Mary’s Church.

[12] England and Wales Civil Registration Index, Stafford RD, Deaths, January-March 1915, Julia Bates, b. c1869, 6b/28.

[13] Herson, Divergent Paths, pp. 215-220.

Martin Concar’s Burma War


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Martin Concar’s youth

Back in 2015 I outlined the troubled history of the Concar family in nineteenth century Stafford.[1] One person to whom that adjective certainly applied was Martin Concar who was born in Stafford in 1859, the third son of Patrick and Bridget Concar née Kenney. Despite contact with some of Martin’s descendants during this research, no photographs of Martin or indeed any of the nineteenth century Concars had come to light – until now. This photograph of Martin Concar has now been found through the index of the Stafford Gaol Photograph collection in the Staffordshire Record Office.[2]  It was taken on 27 September 1879 around the time of his release from a nine-month sentence in Stafford Gaol.

Concar Martin 031FED97C0C743B0B4F4B9A923438699

Martin Concar, aged 20. Photograph taken at Stafford Gaol, 27 September 1879 at the time of his release.

Martin Concar was a troubled teenager. His father, Patrick, had been a seasonal farm worker in the area before the Famine and he had been arrested in Ireland in 1845 for helping others to carry guns back to Co. Galway from Staffordshire.[3] He finally settled in Stafford during the Famine and in 1854 married Bridget Kenney. They proceeded to have nine children but life was a struggle. They were poor and always lived in a miserable house at 61 New Street in the north end of Stafford. Patrick ultimately gave up farm work and got a job on the railway but tragedy struck when he was run down and killed by a train in May 1874.[4] Bridget was left with a growing family to support and life at the New Street house became difficult. Within a year of his father’s death Martin was in court for assaulting ‘a little girl’ named Elizabeth Reddish. He was then nearly sixteen and described in the newspaper as ‘a disreputable-looking youth from New Street’, a classic form of press stigmatisation. No other details were given although Martin got a 5s. fine or 14 days in prison for the offence.[5]

Martin seems to have subsequently left home for a time and he continued to get into trouble. In late 1877 he was lodging at the Bull’s Head pub in Gaolgate Street. One of the other lodgers was a Martin Connelly and he misguidedly left his money – thirty shillings – in his waistcoat under his pillow. The next morning it was gone, stolen by Martin Concar who had done a bunk. He was quickly arrested and admitted the theft at the magistrates’ court. They gave him three months in prison with hard labour.[6] Six months later he was back in court, charged with being drunk and disorderly. The fine was five shillings plus costs.[7] Six months later again he was charged with the theft of a pair of boots from the slaughterhouse in Gaol Square where it seems he was then working. It was a pathetic crime, indicative of his poverty. The boots were found in his house – he seems to have been back in New Street – and he again admitted his guilt. He was, nevertheless, sent to the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions and because of his previous conviction he was given nine months imprisonment with hard labour.[8] Before he was released the prison authorities took the picture of him that has come down to us.

Martin Concar was clearly a difficult teenager who appears to have committed silly crimes with no thought of the consequences. It was probably inevitable that he would get involved in one of Stafford’s violent elections. In the 1880 general election campaign unruly mobs marauded round the town – there were reportedly 600-700 people in the Broad Eye alone. This election violence was irresistible to Stafford’s youths and Martin Concar was among them. He was one of twelve men subsequently charged with throwing stones on election day (2 April 1880) but, intriguingly, he also appeared in court as a police witness against the others. Martin was, of course, of Irish descent; all the other miscreants were clearly native Staffordians. Because of his past record, and perhaps his perceived ethnicity, the police probably leaned on him to accuse the others. It was reported, however, that ‘his evidence was unreliable’ and the cases were withdrawn against both him and six of the other accused. Even so, Martin must have made himself unpopular with others in his peer group and he decided it was time to get out of the town.

Martin joins the Army

Martin’s elder brother John Concar had already joined the army in 1876 and that was the inspiration Martine needed to escape from a hopeless life in Stafford.[9] It was common for young working class men with few prospects to join the forces. Their role in seizing and policing the expanding British empire (and holding Ireland) meant the army was always short of recruits and would take on pretty well anybody, no questions asked. Martin’s service record was unfortunately destroyed in the 1940 Blitz but we know from the Census in April 1881 that by then he had joined the 23rd Foot Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was listed as a private in the 2nd Battalion stationed at Millbay Barracks in Devonport. Interestingly, he – or the soldier making the return to the enumerator – said he was born in Ireland. That could be because Martin wanted to cover his tracks from Stafford or was expressing pride in his Irish family origin. The memory of his father’s gun-running might still have lingered in the family.[10] We shall never know. We do know, however, that he carried on some of his old habits in the army because on 9 December 1881 he was up before a court-martial at the barracks. I do not have details of either the offence or the sentence (if any) because they are currently concealed by a paywall but it wasn’t an auspicious start to his army career.[11]

The 2nd Battalion remained in Plymouth until it was posted to Templemore, Co. Tipperary, in 1883. It may have been at that point that Martin was drafted into the 1st Battalion of the Regiment which was then serving in India.[12] Perhaps, as a identified Irishman, his loyalties were considered too suspect for a posting in Ireland. All we definitely know is that in late 1885 he and his battalion became part of the first wave of troops involved in the Third Burma War.[13] Martin Concar was therefore directly involved in the short but fairly squalid conflict that finally destroyed Burmese independence and brought that country under imperial rule.

The British had annexed what became Lower Burma in the wars of 1824 and 1852 but in 1885 the largest land area of the country was still in the hands of the independent Burmese monarchy. It was, however, subject to outside pressures from China and particularly France as well as from Britain. In the early 1880s the current monarch, Thibaw, actively favoured the French and sought to undermine, or even confiscate, the assets of the British-owned Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation which was exploiting teak wood resources in the kingdom. That was just the excuse the British needed to bring Burma to heal. On 22 November 1885 they issued an ultimatum demanding that the king suspend action against the trading company, accept more British representation in Mandalay and allow Britain to control the country’s foreign relations. The king ignored the ultimatum and the British invaded.

Blog - Martin Concar Burma map contrast

Burma from an atlas map dating from 1893, the immediate aftermath of the Third Burma War

Martin’s Burma War

Although it is now impossible to follow Martin Concar’s precise actions day-by-day in the Burma War, we can follow the Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ involvement in the Britain’s takeover of Burma and hence his likely involvement there. His battalion had been based at Dum Dum near Calcutta since 1881 and around 21 October 1885 he was among 3000 British and 6000 Indian troops who embarked at Calcutta (and Madras) for the sea voyage to Rangoon. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers formed part of the 3rd Infantry Brigade along with two units of Bengal Infantry. On 8 November 1885 his battalion boarded the steamer Aloung Pya and the two barges (‘flats’) it was to tow. They were part of an invasion flotilla of 57 craft which set off up the River Irrawaddy. Their objective was ‘a coup to paralyse national resistance in Upper Burma by the capture of Mandalay and the deportation of King Thibaw, rather than a regular invasion.’[14] It was a week before the cooped up and sweating troops on the vessels actually crossed the frontier into Upper Burma. The only significant resistance occurred at Minhla and the British rapidly subdued it. 150 Burmese troops were killed and 276 taken prisoner, with unknown others being drowned in the river trying to escape. Many of the survivors headed off into the jungle with their weapons and they were to cause the British many subsequent problems. The town of Minhla was burnt to the ground, the blaze supposedly started by a stray shell.

Concar mindhla_after_capture1885

Dead Burmese troops with British forces looking on after the attack on the Minhla battery, November 1885. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

The capital of Upper Burma, Mandalay, was reached on 28 November 1885. Martin’s brigade marched up from the river and secured the northern and western gates of the city and then the gates of the Royal Palace. There was no resistance. Next day the formal surrender took place and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers closed the rear of the procession which then escorted King Thibaw and his queen down to the river and into exile. The independent Burmese kingdom was annexed by Britain as from 1 January 1886.[15]

Concar British_forces_arrival_mandalay1885

The British arrival at Mandalay, 28 November 1885. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Martin’s battalion remained in Mandalay for the initial phase of British rule and Martin would have seen, and perhaps participated in, a wave of officially organised theft that must have made his own petty crimes seem insignificant. The British carried out organised looting of both the royal palace and the city of Mandalay and set up a ‘Prize Committee Mandalay’ to dispose of government possessions either by auction or by straight confiscation back to Britain. Many valuable metal items were destroyed.[16]

Britain’s swift military victory did not end resistance to the imperial takeover, however, and Martin was among the troops sent to deal with the aftermath of insurgency (or ‘dacoitry’). In Mandalay itself disorder and looting broke out once the Burmese population realised the old royal government had ceased to exist. Then the Chinese threatened to seize the town of Bhamo on Burma’s north-eastern border and half of Martin’s battalion was sent to occupy that town. It meant a further boat journey of over 200 miles up the higher reaches of the Irrawaddy River. The rest of the battalion was then sent to occupy the town of Shwebo near Bhamo and in January 1886 they put down an uprising in that district. The battalion then spent the rest of the year in this hill-forested area which stretched north to Myitkyina and the jungles of the Kachin territory. It was later to become a strategic area in the Burma campaign of the Second World War as the gateway to north-east India and China. Small garrisons of Fusiliers were quickly left to defend occupied settlements but by April 1886 insurgency was breaking out all over Upper Burma. Martin’s battalion was involved in at least nine engagements between then and July.[17]  The British continued to pour reinforcements into the country and by July 1886 there were 32,720 troops and police on the ground, although the field force only averaged about 13,000. [18]  The jungle fighting was arduous against elusive foes and, as a result, the British resorted to collective punishments of Burmese inhabitants’ villages, something not recorded in the official history.[19]

For a young recruit like Martin Concar, conditions in Burma must have been a shocking contrast with those at home but may well have encouraged his tendency to drinking, violence and petty crime. He had to cope with the heat, the humidity, the strange and sporadic food and the mysterious and often hostile people. Early on it was reported that ‘boots became perished in mud and water and fell to pieces after a few weeks’ wear.’[20]   They often had to make do and mend because supplies didn’t get through. The biggest danger Martin faced was not, however, leaky boots or dacoits but disease. It was reported that in July 1886, out of 13,000 field troops, 3053 were ‘ravaged by disease’, mainly malaria, cholera, dysentery and ‘heat apoplexy’.[21] The longer Martin and his comrades stayed, the more likely they were to die. In the end his battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was withdrawn back to Lucknow in India around December 1886. They had been in Burma just over a year.

Concar Martin medal front

A Burma 1885-7 medal, the one that Martin Concar received after his army service.

For their sacrifices the troops who fought in the Third Burma War were awarded a campaign medal and clasp. The detailed list of recipients survives and it shows that there were 1023 decorated troops in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and among them was Martin Concar.[22]  His entry also shows that by September 1887 he had served out his contracted seven year term in the army and already been discharged. His address was noted as 61 New Street, Stafford. He had gone back home.

What happened to Martin Concar after his return to Stafford will be described in my next post.


[1] Blog posts of 29 September and 13 October 2015.

[2] Index to the Stafford Gaol Photograph Albums, 1877-1916, part of the online Staffordshire Name Indexes project. I am indebted to Robert Walker, a Concar descendant, for drawing my attention to Martin’s photo. The image is reproduced with permission of Staffordshire Record Office and the Staffordshire Name Indexes website can be found at and main website at:

[3] See my blog on 3 March 2015.

[4] Stafford Borough Burial Record 03/4839, Patrick Concar, killed Madeley Station, LNWR.

[5] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 13 February 1875.

[6] SA, 5 and 12 January 1878.

[7] SA, 29 June 1878.

[8] SA, 21 December 1878 and 4 January 1879 and Calendar of Prisoners tried at the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, Stafford, 30 December 1878, HO140, Piece no. 48, Ancestry.

[9] John Concar, service record, FindMyPast, accessed 29 February 2015. John was in the 64th (North Staffordshire) Regiment for twelve years and after being pensioned off he returned to Stafford, worked at the Asylum and was active in the sporting life of the town.

[10] It could also reflect the prejudiced attribution of Irish ethnicity by an outsider, but overall the entries for the Battalion seem conscientious and accurate and so the birthplace information is probably that which Martin gave.

[11] UK Naval and Military Courts Martial Registers 1806-1930, Martin Concar, Trial Date: 9 December 1881, Place: Devonport, Regt.: 23rd Foot, Ref.: WO86/29, Ancestry.

[12] British Armed Forces and National Service website (, Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ deployments, accessed 9 April 2020.

[13] Families in British India website (FIBIS)( Upper Burma Field Force, accessed 9 April 2020.

[14] Intelligence Branch of the Division of the Chief of Staff, Army HQ, India, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, (Simla, Govt. Monotype Press, 1907), (‘Intelligence’), p146.

[15] Intelligence, pp. 147-162.

[16] Wikipedia, Third Anglo-Burmese War, (, accessed 5 April 2020). This source is incompletely referenced but nevertheless comprehensive and apparently knowledgeable. It is critical of the British role.

[17] Intelligence, pp. 202-215.

[18] Intelligence, p. 230.

[19] Wikipedia, Third Anglo-Burmese War.

[20] Intelligence, p. 149.

[21] Intelligence, p. 228.

[22] National Archives, WO100/70, First Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Medal Roll, Operations in Burma, 1885-7, certified at Lucknow on 14 September 1887 and 27 March 1888, Ancestry, UK Military Campaign Medals and Award Rolls, 1793-1949, accessed 20 April 2020. Of the 1023 troops, 33 were officers and the rest NCOs and privates. Martin Concar remained a private at the end of his term in the army.

A battered wife: Dr William Clendinnen, Part 2


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In my last post I looked at William Ellis Clendinnen’s earlier career in Ireland and in the West Midlands of England. It had culminated in the rape of Margaret Turnbull in the small Shropshire village of Cheswardine. That court case ended with Clendinnen’s acquittal. Both the legal system and the local establishment had worked to give the Irish doctor the benefit of the doubt and he was able to move on to become Stafford’s first medical Officer of Health (MoH). Events were to prove, however, that behind the professional front Clendinnen was, and remained, a violent man.

Clendinnen’s miserable salary as MoH – initially £50 p.a., later increased to £100 – meant he had to get more money wherever he could. He established his own medical practice in the town but found it difficult to break into the market for lucrative clients. Work among the poor was mainly his lot, a recorded example being when he was summoned to a filthy house in Appleyard Court to find twin babies dead, one stillborn and one from neglect. The mother was said to be ‘a drunken woman.’[1] He was elected as a Church of England candidate to the School Board and in 1883 was thanked for making no charge for certificates of ill-health needed by parents too poor to pay.[2] He also earned some money as surgeon to the 25th Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers and as medical officer to the new fire brigade.[3] The suspicion must be, however, that the family survived primarily on Sarah Pritchard’s private means, and this was inherently problematic.

Clendinnen proved to be a vigorous MoH. Stafford’s sanitary state in the 1870s was appalling. The town’s inhabitants had to put up with polluted water supplies, sewage running in the streets, an erratic rubbish collection system and a lot of slum housing in the inner parts of the town. The committee Clendinnen served were often reluctant to carry out his recommendations if they needed money, penalised landlords or demanded the closure of their properties.[4] Within a month of his appointment he had done a house-to-house survey of sanitary conditions and found a ‘truly deplorable state of things.’ His first annual report chronicled a ‘wretched state’ with ‘ashpits full to overflowing …. impurity of water’ and water having to be carried half a mile to houses in Eastgate Street. There was dreadful pollution by sewage.[5]He immediately and successfully set about replacing ‘the foul middens and reeking cess-pools’ by the Rochdale pail-privy system in which excreta was removed in sealed tubs to a sanitary depot outside the Eastgate.[6] Clendinnen felt this system was preferable to water closets and advocated it to his professional colleagues in the Midlands.[7] A mains drainage system was begun though it was not completed until well after Clendinnen’s time.

A battered wife

Though his salary was poor, Clendinnen’s work put him in the public eye and he established his position in Stafford’s social elite. He was an associate of another Protestant Irishman, Hugh Gibson, in the affairs of the Liberal Party.[8] All of this hid, however, a family life that had been broken and violent for years.

It all came to a head on 30May 1884. William Clendinnen

‘came home at about three o’clock in the p.m. He struck [his wife Sarah] several times and kicked her on the back and attempted to strike her with the handle of a broom, but the servant threw herself in the way and succeeded in getting possession of it. In consequence of his harsh treatment on that occasion, and during the last eighteen years, she was afraid of the defendant and prayed for a judicial separation and that she might have custody of the children.’[9]

That statement in the magistrate’s court laid bare William Clendinnen’s behaviour towards his wife throughout the eighteen years since their marriage in 1866. It was so bad that ‘she was afraid’ of him. The doctor made no attempt to contest her allegations and agreed to the judicial separation and also to her custody of the children.

Temperance and DV_0 crop

William Clendinnen’s attack on Sarah Clendinnen on 30 May 1884 must have looked much like this, with his children caught up in the attack and the servant rushing in to pull him off the battered Sarah.

Coupled with the rape of Margaret Turnbull in 1869, we see evidence here of a violent and oppressive man, the ultimate in Victorian male domination. It seems clear he married Sarah for her money and that he despised, battered and degraded her. He primarily used women as sexual objects. The children had been battered as well – a charge of assault against his daughter Evelyn was withdrawn at the same hearing.

But why did Sarah dramatically expose matters in 1884 and demand separation? There are two likely reasons. One was that three of her children were now in their teens and were able to give Sarah backing to finally make the break. They were also potentially able to fight back.  Friends at Church may also have given her support. The other reason was the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882. Until 1883 the law had given William Clendinnen, as husband, absolute ownership and control of his wife’s assets, even those acquired before marriage.[10] Sarah’s independent means were vital to the couple’s domestic economy and if she had tried to get out of the marriage earlier she would have been left penniless. Under the 1882 Act she regained ownership and control of her assets and could realistically set up an independent home for her children. The events of 30 May 1884 must have been traumatic for Sarah, her children and the servant, but they proved the trigger for action. Sarah showed, nevertheless, considerable courage in pursuing the case through the Magistrate’s Court. We know only too well today that many women are too afraid and intimidated to give evidence against their partners in domestic violence cases.

Origins and gender relations

The revelations of 1884 ended Clendinnen’s career in Stafford. The change was not immediate – he continued to carry out public functions for some months and in November 1884 even proposed a toast at the Mayoral banquet.[11] That shows he must have had a thick skin, but also that there was a residue of respect for him amongst the social elite. He finally resigned from his post as MoH in the same month, however. It was said that he had discharged his duties ‘most efficiently’, although one councillor said his final salary of one hundred pounds was ‘exceedingly high’[12] He left Stafford early in 1885 and went to Australia where he did insurance medicals in Perth. That lasted no more than a year. In May 1886 he went on a kangaroo hunt and fell from his horse, sustaining fatal injuries. He died a poor man – his personal estate was just five pounds.[13]

We cannot know the origins of William Clendinnen’s character and behaviour. They may have been inherently pathological. He seems to have related effectively to outsiders in his public and professional life. As MoH he successfully convinced the councillors to implement many of his policies. Even so, his origins amongst the Anglo-Irish of Co. Carlow were probably significant. Clendinnen was brought up in a family that appeared securely part of the lower reaches of the Ascendancy, but his youth coincided with the Ascendancy’s increasing loss of self-confidence following Catholic Emancipation.[14] He came of age in the troubled aftermath of the Famine. His life choices were conditioned both by the general uncertainty latent in his social class and by the specific difficulties faced by newly trained doctors in Ireland. His choice was to leave but it was probably a reluctant, perhaps embittered, departure. He faced major problems becoming established in England and his marriage to Sarah Pritchard was one of convenience to secure his income. He was probably resentful and embittered that his achievements after emigration were merely poorly paid jobs in obscure parts of the Midlands.

Clendinnen’s marriage exposes how male domination, control and even violence had been reinforced by the law in Victorian England. Reform of the situation to help people like Sarah Clendinnen was no foregone conclusion. Many MPs supported the changes brought by 1882 Act only because they saw marital violence and abuse of property as an affliction of the poor caused mostly by drink.[15] The Clendinnen case demonstrates the essential truth that such behaviour also occurred amongst the middle and upper classes. Although Sarah was initially a secure, probably confident, middle class English woman, she was trapped in her marriage and the victim of William’s personal, social and professional frustrations. He would have resented depending on his wife’s income because he saw it degrading his masculinity. Perhaps Sarah harped on about it. The superficial trappings of middle class respectability hid a household so dominated by enmity and violence that it must have been endlessly traumatic for the wife and the children.

A scattered family                                                  

Sarah Clendinnen’s misfortune might have led her to desert Stafford, but she had in fact put down roots and remained in the town for some years after William’s departure and death. Her children were reaching adulthood in the late 1880s and early 1890s and their careers diverged markedly. None entered the medical profession, a clear rejection of their father’s path. Evelyn, the first born, emigrated to Southern Rhodesia and married the editor of the Bulawayo Chronicle.[16] Bertram William (b. 1870) also left Britain and had an adventurous career in Canada and the USA. He died in San Diego, California, in 1942.[17] It is clear, then, that two of Clendinnen’s children wanted to escape from Stafford. It was otherwise with Alfred Clendinnen (b. 1875). He remained at home to support his mother and trained as a pharmaceutical chemist. In the 1890s he found work on Merseyside and mother and son moved to Seacombe on the Wirral. They lived in that area for the rest of their lives, Sarah dying in 1930 and Alfred, who ultimately married, in 1943.[18]

The connection between Stafford and all but one of the Clendinnen family lasted for about twenty years before they moved elsewhere. That pattern would have rendered the family ‘long-term transients’ if it were not for Sarah’s third-born child, Ernest (b. 1872). He remained at home during the 1890s and became a post office clerk and telegraphist. When Alfred and Sarah moved to Merseyside, Ernest stayed on in Stafford. In the 1890s and 1900s he was a keen sportsman and was involved in running various sports clubs. He integrated into Stafford social life.[19] More interestingly, he also seemed to reject key aspects of his father’s identity. On 18 January 1896 he attended the County Conservative Ball in the Borough Hall. It was attended by many of the town’s Catholic elite. A week later he was at the Catholic ‘Cinderella Dance’ at the same venue, hobnobbing again with many of the elite from St Austin’s Church. Although these events were attended by non-Catholics, it does show Ernest Clendinnen was happy to associate with both Tories and Catholics, a radical and conscious break with his father’s Liberal and Anglican position. In 1904 he married the daughter of a farmer from Dawley in Shropshire and the family’s connection with Stafford was ultimately broken in the Inter-war period.

The mixed ethnic character of William and Sarah’s family unit held little significance for the identity of their children. They can have had little pride or even interest in their father’s heritage – indeed, their identity was probably formed partly in opposition to what and where he represented. The history of the Clendinnen family demonstrates how the trajectories of even apparently favoured Irish immigrants were unpredictable and the results complex. A favoured Protestant background in Ireland was no guarantee of smooth integration into English society.

  1. Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 9 June 1877.
  2. SA, 13 March 1880 and 6 January 1883.
  3. SA, 10 October 1874, 13 July 1878, 1 February 1879.
  4. SRO, D1323/B/4, Stafford BC Sub-Sanitary Committee minutes, 10 September 1874; D1323/C/4/1 Stafford B.C. Public Health Committee minutes, 17/28 November 1876, 31 December 1876, 9 January 1877.
  5. SA, 6 February 1875.
  6. M. W. Greenslade et al., Victoria History of the County of Staffordshire, Vol. VI, A History of Stafford, (London, Institute of Historical Research, 1979; 1982 reprint), p. 232; G. Timmins, ‘Work in progress: back passages and excreta tubs; improvements to the conservancy system of sanitation in Victorian Lancashire’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 161 (2013), pp. 60-1.
  7. Birmingham Daily Post, 7 July 1876: Birmingham and Midland Association of Medical Officers meeting.
  8. SA, 23 October 1880 and 22 November 1881.
  9. SA, 19 July 1884.
  10. A. Hudson, Equity and Trusts, (London, Routledge-Cavendish, Sixth Edition, 2010), p. 711.
  11. SA, 8 November 1884.
  12. SA, 15 November 1884.
  13. West Australian, 27 May 1886, ‘A sad end’; reference and information kindly supplied by Pat Bird, August 2019. England and Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administration, 1858-1966), Personal Estate of William Ellis Clendinnen: administration granted to Sarah Clendinnen, 29 February 1888, Ancestry Database accessed 17 March 2013.
  14. R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972, (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1989), pp. 306-7.
  15. B. Griffin, ‘Class, gender and Liberalism in Parliament, 1868-1882: the case of the Married Women’s Property Acts’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 46, No. 1 (March 2003), pp. 59-87.
  16. SA, 25 May 1895.
  17. US Army Register of Enlistments: 16 November 1895: discharged 15 November 1898, Ancestry Database, accessed 28 May 2013. Canada: Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-18: attestation 23 September 1914. SA, 27 March 1915, Ancestry Database accessed 28 May 2013. California Death Index 1940-97: Bertram William Clendinnen, San Diego, 12 October 1942, Ancestry Database accessed 28 May 2013.
  18. England and Wales Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administration): deaths of Sarah Clendinnen, 28 May 1930 and Alfred Ellis Clendinnen, 20 February 1943, Ancestry Database accessed 9 May 2013. The Clendinnens had a fifth child, Minnie Laurette, born in 1877, but she died in 1878.
  19. SA passim., e.g. 24 March 1894, 1 October 1898 and 15 March 1902.

Rape: Dr William Clendinnen, Part 1


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The emigration of professional Irish people, predominantly Protestants, in the nineteenth century has been little studied by historians but would generally be seen as unproblematic both in terms of migration’s impact on them and their impact on receiving societies. My study of the Irish in Stafford has already shown that this was not necessarily the case for Protestants and this blog post emphasises the point. Its subject proved to have a problematic life in Britain, the explanation for which must be sought in a combination of his Irish origins and his individual character.

The Clendinnen family arrived in Stafford in 1874 because William Ellis Clendinnen had been appointed the borough’s first Medical Officer of Health (MoH).[1] He was from Co. Carlow but his family originated in Co. Down and, before that, from south-west Scotland. The Clendinnens settled in St Mary’s Grove in the town centre and on the surface seemed to be a respectable professional family. There was a darker side, however, and the family’s history encapsulates Victorian male domination, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and women’s rights in marriage. Clendinnen was ultimately forced to resign his post in 1884 after just ten years in Stafford and he emigrated to Australia. A descendant of his residual family nevertheless stayed on in Stafford and remained in the town for over fifty years.

Too many Irish doctors

In the nineteenth century an Irish doctor was more likely to emigrate than an Irish labourer. More than half the doctors who trained in Ireland between 1860 and 1905 subsequently left the country. Of those who emigrated just over half ended up practicing in Britain and another quarter were in the British military.[2]

William Ellis Clendinnen was, therefore, part of a massive outflow of members of the medical profession from Ireland. It was caused by complementary forces. The first was a substantial increase in the output of Irish medical schools because of the establishment in 1845 of the Queen’s University with colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway. They offered medical education to a wider spectrum of applicants, particularly Catholics, than Trinity and the Royal Colleges.[3] The second factor was, however, the chronic lack of openings for doctors in Ireland. The poverty of the country meant that incomes from private practice were low. Jobs in the Poor Law and dispensaries were limited and the pay very poor. There were, in other words, strong ‘push’ factors encouraging Irish doctors to leave. On the ‘pull’ side of the equation, opportunities were increasing abroad because of population growth, the development of public health initiatives, charitable hospitals and limited contract medical services in industrial areas. The expansion of the British empire and the role of the British military in policing it also offered opportunities.[4]

Despite apparent openings in Britain, it was not easy for Irish doctors to establish themselves there. The profession was snobbish and nakedly competitive. Outsiders from Ireland were seen as a threat and encountered prejudice, particularly in England. Immigrant doctors often lacked both the money and the contacts to obtain lucrative private practices, whilst jobs were limited in the small public sector and in contract work. The salaries were mediocre. Catholic doctors trained at the unfashionable Irish colleges found it particularly difficult to get work in England.[5]

William Ellis Clendinnen’s career illustrates many of these general points. A forbear, William Clendinnen (or Glendinning), had moved from Dumfriesshire to Co. Down in the mid-eighteenth century. His son or grandson John Clendinnen (b. 1770) became a Wesleyan minister and was sent to Co. Cork and subsequently to Co. Carlow.[6] He married Mary Charlotte Ellis who had been born in 1772 in Wexford and was to be the source of William Ellis Clendinnen’s middle name. Their son William (b. 1804) became a doctor and practiced at Hackettsown, Co. Carlow.[7] He married Lydia Deaker, also a Wexford woman and the couple had at least twelve children, though only about half survived to adulthood. One was William Ellis Clendinnen who was born in 1838. Although the Clendinnens’ background was Ulster-Scots, by the 1830s the family was more characteristic of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy with their apparently secure medical practice, country dwelling at Clonmore Lodge and a religious switch to the Church of Ireland.[8] William Ellis’s sense of self was gained in these surroundings and they seem to have produced a self-confident domineering man. He trained mostly under his father and in 1865 received the Licentiate of Apothecaries’ Hall in Dublin. In the same year he won the more prestigious Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.[9] At that point he, like many other doctors, took the decision to leave Ireland.


Clendinnen came to England around 1865. The first we know of his arrival is when he got married in Birmingham on 20 September 1866 to Sarah Pritchard, a twenty-eight year-old woman of independent means. We do not know why Clendinnen went to Midlands. His father may have had contacts in the area or perhaps it was a convenient and less competitive destination where he could get his foot in the door by doing locum work. It is also unclear how Clendinnen met Sarah, but events were to show that he was probably more attracted by her money than by her looks or by love. All we do know is that by 1867 the couple had arrived in Cheswardine, a village about three miles from Market Drayton and deep in the Shropshire countryside.[10] William had managed to buy a small country practice there, but their income was probably no more than £300 a year.[11]

Superficially it seemed as though Dr and Mrs Clendinnen were establishing themselves well. They lived in the centre of the village Their first child Evelyn Lydia arrived in 1868 and Sarah became pregnant with Bertram in 1869. William’s aberrant behaviour then became apparent. His sex drive was probably frustrated by her pregnancy and it seems he saw women as bodies to be exploited.

Along the High Street in Cheswardine village was the Fox and Hounds Hotel. It still exists today as a very nice Joules Brewery pub. Between the 1850s and the 1880s it was kept by John and Harriet Turnbull. John Turnbull had been born in Co. Durham around 1803, but he became a builder and sometime in the 1830s he arrived in Shropshire. There he married Harriet Lockley, a woman from Hinstock about three miles from Cheswardine.[12] They moved to Cheswardine around 1847 and took over the Fox and Hounds in the 1850s.[13] By 1869 they were well ensconced as members of the local community. They had four children, one of whom was Margaret Turnbull.

fox_and_hounds_daffs2 02

The Fox and Hounds, Cheswardine, today. The Turnbull family were licencees from the 1850s to the 1880s.

In 1869 Margaret was a young woman of twenty-one and, as her mother subsequently admitted, ‘of rather weak intellect’.  On 28 September 1869 she was sent to Clendinnen’s house for some medicine for a Mr Wright and

‘was shown into the surgery; …. whilst there [Clendinnen] put his arm round her waist, and asked her an improper question respecting a farmer named Lee, of Soudley; …. he then took hold of her, carried her into an inner surgery, and committed the offence. ….. She told him she must tell them at home; and he said “For God’s sake don’t. If there is anything the matter I will make it alright with you afterwards”’. [14]

Clendinnen had raped Margaret Turnbull. His final comment was a clear reference to performing an abortion if necessary. Margaret did go home and tell her mother, a brave (or perhaps naïve) thing to have done given what we know today about the feelings of guilt and shame often felt by rape victims. Harriet and John Turnbull went straight to the police and Clendinnen was arrested. He appeared at the Magistrates’ Court in Market Drayton on 13 October 1869 and was sent to Shropshire Assizes six months later charged with the rape of Margaret Turnbull.

The case pitted the humble and mentally sub-normal Margaret Turnbull against the articulate upper class Clendinnen amidst the intimidating paraphernalia of the English court system. The Liverpool Mercury, in a brief but hostile report of the Magistrates’ Court proceedings, sneered that Margaret ‘may almost be called half-witted’.[15] There was no doubt, however, that sexual intercourse had taken place. At the Assizes this was confirmed by Dr. William Saxton from Market Drayton who had examined Margaret on 30 September 1869.[16] The question inevitably became: ‘was the sex consensual?’ It was alleged that Margaret could have screamed and would have been heard by Sarah Clendinnen and her servant. The servant said she had not done so. Dr. Saxton, who was a fellow Licentiate of Edinburgh University, went on with special pleading to say that he thought Clendinnen ‘had a nice practice, and he had never heard anything against his character before. There were no external marks of violence on the girl.’ The defence was, therefore, that the sexual intercourse had been consensual.

The outcome was inevitable. The Judge made a gesture towards Margaret by saying that ‘her alleged mental condition gave rise to peculiar circumstances, and they [the Jury] must not expect so much from her as they would from another person.’ He would, otherwise, have directed the Jury to find Clendinnen not guilty. The steer was, nevertheless, obvious and the Jury duly found Clendinnen not guilty, ‘at which there was considerable applause in a crowded Court’.[17]

The verdict was a clear miscarriage of justice. Margaret was presumably inarticulate in her own testimony, Harriet Turnbull was regarded as a mere publican’s wife, Clendinnen’s servant would have been intimidated and it seems Sarah Clendinnen gave no evidence at all. The testimony by Saxton could not ignore the basic fact of intercourse but the professional colleague still sought to portray Clendinnen in the most favourable light. The whole incident demonstrated how the English class system concealed the domineering, manipulative and potentially violent side of Clendinnen’s character.

What of Margaret Turnbull? The Turnbull family continued to run the Fox and Hounds in Cheswardine into the 1880s, although John Turnbull died in 1880.[18] Poor Margaret disappeared from the historical record, however. There is no evidence that she got married, died or moved elsewhere (perhaps to an institution), but the fact is that she had disappeared from the family home by 1881. Her sad life, damaged by William Clendinnen, remains a mystery

 Medical Officer of Health in Stafford

After his acquittal, William Clendinnen and his family stayed on in Cheswardine for a number of years. He was later to demonstrate again a remarkably thick skin, but his reputation in Cheswardine must have been tainted by the case. The situation would have been even more demeaning for Sarah. He therefore needed to find another job and he was helped by the passing of the 1872 Public Health Act. This set up sanitary districts and stipulated that they appoint a Medical Officer of Health (MoH). Stafford certainly needed one – sanitary conditions were appalling – but the Borough Council was dilatory and only made an appointment in August 1874. One of the councillors still ‘questioned whether the appointment would be of practical use in the town’, but William Ellis Clendinnen got the job. His salary was just fifty pounds a year, a miserable sum that emphasises the unattractive nature of such appointments and why Irish doctors desperate for jobs would take them.[19] His brother Joseph George Clendinnen took the same route and became MoH for the Sedgley Local Board in the Black Country.[20] His family became well established in the Midlands.

William Ellis Clendinnen had revealed himself in Cheswardine as a fundamentally unpleasant character. In the next post I shall carry the story further to look at his time in Stafford.


[1] This post is a revised and extended version of the discussion of William Ellis Clendinnen’s family in my book Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015), pp. 273-277.

[2] G. Jones, ‘”Strike out boldly for the prizes that are available to you”: medical emigration from Ireland, 1860-1905’, Medical History, 2010, Vol. 54, pp. 57-60 and Tables 1 and 2. 53 per cent emigrated and 52.3 per cent of those emigrating went to Britain with 25.8 per cent into the military.

[3] L.M. Geary, ‘Australia felix: Irish doctors in nineteenth-century Victoria’, in P. O’Sullivan (ed.), The Irish World Wide, Vol. 2: the Irish in the New Communities, (Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1992), pp. 166-7.

[4] L. Miskell, ‘”The heroic Irish doctor”? Irish immigrants in the medical profession in nineteenth-century Wales’, in O. Walsh (ed.), Ireland Abroad: Politics and Professions in the Nineteenth Century, (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2003), pp. 82-94.

[5] Miskell, ‘Heroic Irish doctor’, p. 85.

[6] This material on the earlier history of the Clendinnen family differs from that in Divergent Paths which was partly based on inaccurate information published by others online. I am indebted to Pat Bird for correcting the earlier account. Pat has carried out extensive research on the Clendinnen family of which his wife is a descendant and although there are still some uncertainties, what is stated here is the most accurate picture now available.

[7] General Medical Council, UK Medical Registers, 1867/1871/1879/1883/1887, Ancestry Database accessed 10 March 2013. In 1867 and 1871 both William and his father gave their address as Clonmore Lodge, Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, but Baltinglass was presumably the post town because Clonmore is closer to Hackettstown. The 1883 entry merely reads Hackettstown, Co. Carlow.  

[8] The marriages of William’s daughter Charlotte took place on 22 October 1856 at the Church of Ireland church in Clonmore.

[9] General Medical Council, UK Medical Register, 1883.

[10] The Times, 19 August 1867. Clendinnen of Cheswardine, Salop, reported as having passed the examination of Apothecaries’ Hall in London and received a certificate to practice.

[11] A. Digby, Making a Medical Living: Doctors and Patients in the English market for Medicine, 1720-1911, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), Table 5.2, p. 144.

[12] England, Select Marriages, 1538-1873: 15 November 1836, Hinstock, John Turnbull and Harriet Lockley.

[13] In the 1851 Census John Turnbull was listed just as a ‘builder’ but by 1861 he had become both ‘builder and innkeeper’, implying he took over the pub in the 1850s.

[14] Birmingham Daily Post, 24 March 1870.

[15] Liverpool Mercury, 14 October 1869.

[16] William Waring Saxton, licensed 1 January 1859. A Licentiate of London and the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. General Medical Council, UK Medical Registers, 1863, Ancestry Database accessed 16 January 2020.

[17] Birmingham Daily Post, 24 March 1870.

[18] Deaths, Market Drayton RD, April-June 1880, John Turnbull, 6a/187. Harriet Turnbull was still at the pub in 1881 but gave it up during the 1880s and retired to a cottage in the main street. She seems to have died there in 1899. Deaths, Market Drayton RD, January-March 1899, Harriet Turnbull, 6a/551.

[19] SA, 8 August 1874.

[20] See Birmingham Daily Post, 7 December 1882 and Reynold’s Newspaper, 6 January 1884.

The Walsh family: frustrated nationalists?


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Family connections: the Walshes and the Mannions

The Walsh family is unique amongst the Stafford Irish in leaving explicit evidence that it continued to identify with Ireland and Irish nationalist issues. Stafford’s social environment was unattractive to such people, and the Walshes ultimately left. Even so, they stayed in Stafford for over twenty years.

John Walsh, a Galway man, married Mary Mannion in Ireland in the late 1850s. The newly-established Walsh-Mannion partnership became a link in the chain migration of the extensive Mannion family from Co. Galway to Stafford. Most of the Mannions put down roots in the town, and many descendants of the family are still there today. The Walshes did not conform to the family pattern, however, and we need to examine why they broke the mould and emigrated.

Patrick Mannion was the family’s pathfinder. The Walshes and Mannions may have been victims of the Gerrard evictions in Co. Galway in 1846 (see my post on 17 June 2015).  Patrick Mannion was a labourer aged about forty whose wife had died during the Famine. In 1851 he was living in Raftery’s lodging house in Allen’s Court. That family came from Kiltullagh, Co. Roscommon, just over the border from north-east Galway. Patrick was still a seasonal migrant worker and during the 1850s his sons Patrick (b. 1836), Martin (b. 1839) and Michael (b. 1841) also came over for seasonal work.[1] In April 1861 Patrick father and son were in Edward Kelly’s lodging house in Snow’s Yard.

Mannion tree

The stem of the Mannion-Walsh family in Stafford

The economy of Stafford was buoyant at this time as farming prospered and the shoe trade expanded. That was the incentive for the Mannions to settle permanently in Stafford. Martin’s wife Ann and their young children Michael and Mary arrived some time in 1861.[2] Then Patrick Mannion’s daughter Mary came with her husband, John Walsh. They already had a son, Michael, who had been born in Ireland in 1860, but the couple went on to have seven more children in Stafford. In 1859 Patrick Mannion junior had married Kitty (Catherine) Kelly, a member of the Kelly family discussed in my post of 24 March 2015. Kitty seems to have returned to Ireland after the wedding, but she had settled in Stafford by the end of 1862 because her one-year old child died in the town. We see, therefore, that the Mannion and Walsh families’ process of settlement was drawn out, but from around 1863 there were three branches of the family living in Stafford, all of them initially in Snow’s Yard.

The Mannion family remained for many years an integral part of the deprived and sometimes violent Snow’s Yard community. We now need to see how and why the Walshes broke free from this problematic family embrace, left Snow’s Yard and ultimately emigrated. Answering these questions is not easy but a key element must have been the personal characters of John Walsh and Mary Mannion and how they responded to the challenges and opportunities facing them. All we know from the surviving evidence is that John and his family were feisty people who asserted themselves in pursuit of their interests and beliefs. As immigrants to Britain in the early 1860s, they had survived the worst of the Famine and its aftermath but had seen at first hand the burdens of landlord power, poverty and eviction. They had also been open to the nationalism of Daniel O’Connell, the Young Irelanders, the Tenants’ Rights movement and the early Irish Parliamentary Party. The Fenians were also starting their underground organization at this time. These forces for Irish identity seem to have influenced the Walshes much more than most of Stafford’s poor Catholic immigrants.

The Walshes’ independence 

Initially there was little to suggest the Walsh family’s trajectory would differ from that of their rough Mannion kin in Snow’s Yard. Soon after his arrival John Walsh was fined for assaulting John Kelly, a farm labourer from Galway. Although Walsh was a building labourer, he and Mary immediately began to making money by taking in lodgers. They ignored the legal regulations and in July 1862 John was fined for keeping an unregistered lodging house. Five years later he was in court again for not whitewashing or cleansing his premises in Snow’s Yard.

But John Walsh had another life on the building sites. There he stuck up for workers’ rights. In 1871 the trade unions’ ‘nine-hour day’ campaign swept the country like a bush fire, and John Walsh was involved in an incident in Stafford. [3] In August 1871 he and another Irish man, Thomas Carney, were charged with ‘molesting’ Isaac Rushton, a building foreman. The men were working for Francis Ratcliffe, a builder who employed many Irish workers and was also slum landlord. Rushton had ‘asked’ the workers on site to work overtime, but Walsh and Carney tried to get the men to stick to the nine-hour day. When they were present the men went along with them but they later capitulated under pressure from the foreman. Walsh and Carney responded with ‘a volley of abuses and threats’ against the workers and the foreman. They were charged under the new Criminal Law Amendment Act but avoided prison by agreeing to pay the expenses of the hearing.[4] The case would have confirmed John Walsh’s hostility to the power of the British ruling class both in Ireland and against workers in Britain.

John and Mary Walsh clearly wanted to leave the squalor of Snow’s Yard. The final incentive to get out came in 1877 when the family suffered a triple tragedy. Three of their young children, John (b. 1871), Stephen (b. 1872) and Margaret (b. 1875) died within two days of each other. They succumbed to fatal infections that spread easily in that overcrowded and rat-infested slum.[5] The event must have traumatized the family since there is every indication that John and Mary Walsh were conscientious and loving parents. By 1881 three of the surviving children had got jobs in the shoe trade and they showed every sign of upward occupational and social mobility. Their earnings contributed to the family income and bolstered its economic security. John himself must have managed a relatively secure income even in the precarious building trade.  All this meant that some time between 1877 and 1881 the family gave up the lodging house and shifted well away from Snow’s Yard. They moved into No. 34 Cooperative Street, a house located on the northern edge of town. Although it was next to the Workhouse, this was an area of new and solid bye-law housing mostly occupied by shoemakers and other artisanal workers. Almost all were English.

It was a massive step up for the family. To help with the costs they still needed to take a lodger and in 1881 they hosted a young Irish bricklayer’s labourer who probably worked with John Walsh. Even so, living in Cooperative Street meant they were able to create a civilized home in the house. Their move was not just geographical, however. It suggests they also wanted to distance themselves socially from their less respectable relatives in Snow’s Yard. Members of the Mannion family had numerous brushes with the law during the 1870s and 1880s, but the Walshes were never involved. The kinship bonds were breaking and there is no evidence that the Walshes felt any obligation to help their more deprived relations. The impression is of an independent and increasingly confident family anxious to move on to other things. For most such Irish families in Stafford this meant seeking respectability and acceptance by downplaying their Irish origins. The Walshes did the opposite – they publicly affirmed their Irish identity.

Frustrated nationalists?

In January 1881 Gladstone’s government introduced the Coercion Bill that would suspend habeas corpus in Ireland and threatened the mass internment of ‘suspects’. It was the government’s response to the campaign of the Irish Land League and the ‘agrarian outrages’ taking place during the Land War. In February there were fierce debates in Parliament, and Charles Stewart Parnell galvanised the Irish Parliamentary Party into unified and effective opposition. The Speaker’s response was to impose the first ever guillotine on debate, something described at the time as a coup d’état.[6] For Irish nationalists it was yet further evidence that the British would always bend the rules to repress Irish nationalism.

These events brought a small flurry of activity amongst the Irish even in Stafford, and John Walsh was at the centre of it. On 12 February ‘a numerously attended meeting’ was held at the Slipper Inn in the town centre. Walsh presided and proposed two resolutions:

‘That we, the Irish electors of Stafford, record our indignant protest against the Coercion Bill introduced by the so-called Liberal Government in order to place a weapon in the hands of the landlord-magistracy of Ireland to crush the just aspirations of a cruelly persecuted people.’

‘That we, the Irish electors of Stafford, tender our grateful thanks to the senior representative of this Borough (Alexander McDonald Esq.) for his noble advocacy and defence of the just claims of the Irish people, and we acknowledge the debt of gratitude due from us to that gentleman who, though suffering from recent illness, generously stood by our countrymen in combating the tyrannical Coercion Bill introduced by the so-called Liberal Government.’

The meeting passed the resolutions and agreed to form a branch of the Irish National Land League in Stafford.[7]

This was tepid stuff by the standards of militant Irish nationalism but it was, nevertheless, one of only two documented instances of clearly Irish nationalist political activity in nineteenth century Stafford. The other had occurred in 1876, also at the Slipper Inn, when there was a fight between different factions during an Irish Home Rule Association meeting. The ringleader was James Garra, ‘a tall stout-built young Irishman who for a number of years has been employed in and around Stafford’. [8] A farm labourer, he later settled in the Cannock area.[9] His presence reminds us that initially transient and short-term settled Irish people were always present in Stafford, although in diminishing numbers.

Walsh was clearly the instigator of the 1881 Land League meeting. It reveals his continuing identification with Ireland’s sufferings and that he was able to motivate others to show at least minimal support for action. The results would have disappointed him. There is no evidence that a functioning branch of the Land League was actually established in Stafford or that Walsh or anyone else publicly espoused the Irish cause again in the town. Although it was possible to get Irish Catholic workers, mostly the young and migrant, to attend political gatherings in pubs, the Stafford Irish and their descendants were too few and too thin on the ground to nurture committed and effective nationalist activity. The social environment was fundamentally unsupportive. Long-term settlement in Stafford meant rejecting overt involvement in the Irish national cause. There was no future in it. People had to move elsewhere if they wanted to retain and transmit such an Irish identity.

That is what John Walsh and his family did. Despite their obvious ability to succeed in Stafford, the family left the town and emigrated to America in 1886.[10] We must beware of imputing purely political reasons for this. They would have read the economic signs. The shoe trade was past its heyday and suffering from foreign competition.[11] West Midland industry generally was depressed in the 1880s, and many people from Staffordshire were emigrating.[12] The local newspapers had frequent advertisements for passages to the Americas and Australasia.[13] Even so, Stafford’s social scene was uncongenial to John and Mary Walsh. They had left the Irish environment of Snow’s Yard but they also rejected the move to English identity and social conformity shown by other aspirant and respectable Catholics. The Walshes reckoned they could do better elsewhere.

  1. Michael was subsequently a migrant farmworker in Staffordshire and Shropshire and never lived with the rest of the family in Stafford.
  2. The family was not present in the 1861 census but Ann’s baby Bridget was baptised at St Austin’s on 28 December 1861.
  3. H. Hunt, British Labour History, 1815-1914, (London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1981), pp. 263-7.
  4. Staffordshire Advertiser, 12 August 1871.
  5. Stafford Borough Council Burial Records, 3/6010, 3/6011, 3/6015, 16/18 October 1877.
  6. Bew, Ireland: the Politics of Enmity, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007), pp.323-4.
  7. Staffordshire Advertiser, 19 February 1881.
  8. Staffordshire Advertiser, 23 December 1876.
  9. In the 1881 Census he was at Teddesley Farm, Teddesley Hay and in 1901 in Cheslyn Hay. He was not, however, present in 1891.
  10. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Microfiche M237, Roll 498, Line 19, List no. 1111, arrival 13 September 1886, Mary Walsh (40), Bridget Walsh (8), James Walsh (4) and Bernard Walsh (3), from Liverpool aboard SS John Walsh presumably arrived ahead of his wife and children but has not been traced. Ancestry Database accessed 16 January 2014.
  11. Harrison, ‘The Development of Boot & Shoe Manufacturing in Stafford, 1850-80’, Journal of the Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society, 10, 1981; Alan Fox, A History of the National Union of Boot & Shoe Operatives, 1874-1958, (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1958), Chaps 9-13; Staffordshire Advertiser, passim, 1880s.
  12. Lawton, ‘Population Migration to & from Warwickshire and Staffordshire, 1841-91’, Unpub. MA thesis, no date (copy of Staffs section in William Salt Library, Stafford, William Salt Library TH48), Chap XII.
  13. g. Staffordshire Advertiser, 30 June 1883, when there were three advertisements for ships to Australia/New Zealand and five for the USA/Canada together with an advertisement by the New South Wales government for assisted passages.