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“Serious Robbery”

“On Sunday night last [4 November 1849] the home of Mr Melsop [sic], Earl Street [Stafford], was robbed of £49-10s belonging to a hard-working man named John Powers [sic] who lodged in the house. The money was the result of several years’ savings and was intended to defray Powers’ expenses with those of his wife and family as emigrants. The robbery, it is said, was committed when the whole of the inmates (except the children) were attending divine service. It would seem the thief must have been acquainted with the place of deposit as a watch and other articles of some value were passed over before the robber got to Powers’ room, in which the money was kept.”[1]

£49-10s was a lot of money in 1849 and worth about £4,435 at today’s prices. The thief, whoever he was, got away with his haul and no-one seems to have been brought to justice for the crime.[2]

Two recent posts in this blog have followed Stafford Irish migrants on their onward paths to new lives in the USA.[3] They would have saved money for their passage and settlement overseas just like the unfortunate John Power, but for him and his family the robbery dashed any hopes of a new life abroad.[4] We will look at what happened to the Power family shortly, but first we need to see how the paths of John Power and William Mellsop came to cross in Stafford.

William Mellsop, schoolteacher

Like John Power, William Mellsop was Irish and had been born around 1809. His place of origin is not known, though he may have been related to a Mellsop family located around Birr, Co. Offaly (then King’s County). His father, John, was a distiller.[5] William moved to England in the 1830s and in 1841 he was a lodger in the Stafford household of his probable employer, Ann Trubshaw, a schoolmistress. For William was a schoolmaster. He was also a Protestant and, in contradistinction to his distilling father, was an abstainer from drink. In 1841 he chaired a tea party of the Stafford Total Abstinence Society at which 70 members were present.[6]

On 3 December 1842 William married a local woman, Maria Smith, who had been born in Penkridge around 1818.[7] The couple moved into the house in Earl Street, Stafford, and speedily had three children. Given the poor pay of teachers at that time, the arrival of the children probably put a strain on the Mellsop family’s finances, and they needed to take in lodgers. That is how John Power and his family arrived in the house.

John Power, tailor

John Power was born around 1817 in the City of Wexford in south-east Ireland, the son of Frederick Power.[8] He was also a Protestant and worked as a tailor. He is the only person I know of from Co. Wexford who ever ended up in Stafford. Most emigrants to England from the far south of Ireland left from ports like Waterford and Cork and settled in the south of England and especially in London. That leads me to suspect he had already left Wexford in his youth and moved to Dublin. Then, like many Irish Protestant skilled workers before the Famine, he decided he would have more of a future in Britain. He probably took the natural route from Ireland’s capital to Liverpool and arrived in the Stafford area around 1841/2. The first we know of him is his marriage at Holy Trinity church, Baswich near Stafford, to Jane Simson (sic) on 24 July 1843.[9] Like the Mellsops, the Power family soon got to work producing children and indeed they jumped the gun for their daughter Maria had already been born in Stafford in the late summer of 1842.[10] Matthew (b. 1844) and Jane (b. 1847) followed, so when they moved into Mellsop’s modest house sometime in the 1840s the ten occupants must have made it pretty crowded. John Power presumably met William Mellsop through the Protestant and perhaps Temperance network in Stafford, and the cheapish lodgings he offered enabled Power to put money aside for emigration.

That raises the question of what John and Jane Power’s emigration plans were. We are fortunate in knowing how much they had in savings in 1849 – £49-10s.- a fact that is missing from most emigrant stories. Where would that have taken them? A steerage passage to the USA in 1849 would have cost in the region of four to five pounds for each adult, with reduced fares of around half to three-quarters for each child.[11] If we assume an average of £4-10s each for John and Jane and £3 each for the three children, that adds up to a total fare of £18 for the whole family. To that sum would have to be added the cost of provisions for the voyage, train fare from Stafford to Liverpool and onward travel and settlement costs in the USA. Nevertheless, the family’s savings of £49-10s would have been ample and this raises the question of whether they were intending to go farther afield, to Australia or New Zealand for example. The cost of a steerage passage to Sydney around the year 1849 was £20 (including supplied provisions), so assuming half price for the children, the family’s emigration cost to Australia would have been around £70, although conceivably some assistance with the fare might have been available.[12] These colonies were desperate for white settlers, particularly families.

It is clear the Stafford robbery was a body blow to John and Jane Power’s emigration plan, and they then took a different course. They left the Mellsop household, not surprising in the circumstances, and in 1851 we find them living in a small cottage, 30 Mill Bank, close to the River Sow. Jane was now working as a shoe binder, a low status domestic female job in the footware trade ideal for a woman needing to look after young children. Another baby, Mary Ann, was born in the autumn of 1851.[13]

The Power family move to Goodge Street, London

Sometime after that the Power family decided they could do better elsewhere, and they moved to London. They were already there by 1858 when their final child, Eleanor Hortense (Nelly), was born, and in 1861 they were living in Goodge Street off the Tottenham Court Road on the edge of Fitzrovia. And there they stayed for over thirty years, living at no. 16 (later renumbered 32) Goodge Street. It was (and still partly is) a street of large terrace houses developed by Francis and William Goodge from around 1746. Although superficially impressive, by the second half of the nineteenth century most of the houses were in multi-occupation and home to people who were a microcosm of migrant London. The area was particularly a focus for German immigrants spreading north from their initial concentration in Soho to the south, but many other residents, like John Power, were incomers from other continental countries, from Ireland and from the provinces of Britain.[14] They were attracted here by the availability of work in often sweated trades like tailoring and dressmaking which served the wealthier clientele of the West End. It would be interesting to know whether John Power heard in Stafford that Goodge Street would be a good place to settle or whether the family initially lived elsewhere in London while they sized up the possibilities.

Where the Power family lived – the former no. 16 Goodge Street today. Many houses in the street were refaced in the 19th century and there was considerable bomb damage to the street in the Second World War. The basic facade of no. 16 still looks to be the original brickwork but the windows have been replaced very unsympathetically.

At no. 16 the dominant occupier (though probably not the owner) was Hermann Cohen, a tobacconist (later jeweller) who had been born in the Jewish community of Schneidemühl in Posen, Prussia, around 1811.[15] In 1871 John Power’s family represented the Irish immigrants to London and three of the other household heads had come from the English provinces – Sunderland, Norfolk and Staffordshire. Only one was a Londoner. All were in more or less skilled trades like Power. Goodge Street was, therefore, a diverse working class area but one above the ranks of the labouring poor. The accommodation may have been small and overcrowded but the houses were not slums and only artisanal workers could afford the rents there.

Although John and Jane Power had been thwarted of their aim to emigrate, it seems the family did well enough in London. They continued living at no. 16/32 Goodge Street and by 1891 John appears to have become the dominant occupier of the building. Hermann Cohen had died in 1879 and Annie, his widowed second wife, was in 1891 a ‘needlewoman’ in two rooms, although by 1901 she had three rooms, a servant and was ‘living on her own means’.[16] Jane Power died, however, early in 1891 and John only lasted two more years, dying at 76 years of age in 1893.[17] His effects at death were valued at £197 (worth about £17,700 at 2021 prices), so it seems the family had built up a secure base in London after their disastrous start in Stafford.[18]

William Mellsop’s later life

What of John Power’s landlord, William Mellsop and his family? They had a more difficult time. William never seems to have had a secure job in teaching despite mostly sticking to that profession. Perhaps he was a rotten teacher. He and Maria had three more children during the 1850s and they moved to the Potteries sometime between 1853 and 1857. Maria died young in 1861 and William was left alone to bring up his six offspring whilst trying to make a living.[19] He moved between jobs. In the 1861 census he was a schoolmaster and living in Shelton, Hanley, but at the time of his daughter Jemima’s marriage in 1869 he was a postman. By 1871 he was back to teaching but now in Longton, whilst a year later a local directory lists him as ‘school’ in Marchington, out in the countryside of north-east Staffordshire. He died in Stone, Staffordshire, in 1875 aged about 65.[20]


John Power and William Mellsop had been Irish immigrants to Britain in pre-Famine times who were superficially united by their Protestant backgrounds and their somewhat aspirant occupations. They typified a substantial class of Irish migrants who are often overlooked by historians. They arrived as single men and rapidly formed unions with local women to produce typically nuclear family units. Their residential and social relationship, such as it may have been, was undoubtedly sundered by the robbery at Mellsop’s house, and the subsequent lives of these two families diverged. Whilst neither family emigrated overseas, for both Stafford proved to be merely a stopping place before they moved on elsewhere.    

[1] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 10 November 1849

[2] There may have been more to this incident than is revealed by the simple reported facts. It seems odd that the case was not followed up and that the robbery took place with the six young children in the house. The suspicion must be that William Mellsop was somehow complicit in the robbery, but that would seem to conflict with his religious and public activities. It is futile to speculate further.

[3] Posts on 4 July 2022 and 16 July 2021.

[4] John Power was by error or uncertainty named Powers with an ‘s’ in some of the early records but later he became consistently ‘Power’ in the singular.

[5] Information from Rosalie-Ann Nicholson, New Zealand, 2003.

[6] SA, 14 August 1841.

[7] Penkridge RD, marriages, October-December 1842, William Mellsop and Maria Smith, 14/141.

[8] England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973, England and Wales Civil Registration Index, Marriages, 1837-1915, Stafford RD, 17/121, and Staffordshire Birth, Marriages and Deaths index, 1837-2017, Holy Trinity Church, Berkswich (now Baswich), 24 July 1843, John Powers and Jane Simson, Father, Frederick Power.

[9] Jane’s family name was probably Simpson and she was baptised as such at Gnosall, her birthplace, on 18 January 1818. She was the daughter of John Simpson, a shoemaker, and his wife Jane in that village. John Simpson is listed in the 1841 census in Gnosall but his daughter Jane seems to have escaped the enumerators and her whereabouts at that time are unknown.

[10] Stafford RD, births, July-September 1842, Maria Powers (sic), 17/128.

[11] John Killick, ‘Transatlantic steerage fares, British and Irish migration, and return migration, 1815-1860’, Economic History Review, vol. 67, no. 1, February 2014, pp. 170-191.

[12] Some details are given in, accessed on 10 August 2022.

[13] Stafford RD, births, October-December 1851, Mary Ann Power, 17/139 or 189 (the figure is indistinct).

[14] P. Panayi, ‘The settlement of Germans in Britain during the Nineteenth Century’, IMIS-BEITRÄGE, Heft 14/2000, (Universität Osnabrück), p. 32.

[15] The Polish name for the town was and is now again Pile. It became Prussian at the first Partition of Poland in 1772. Like Hermann Cohen, many Jews left Schneidemühl during the nineteenth century and the community was in decline. In the twentieth century the remaining Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis. See and P. S. Cullman, History of the Jewish Community of Schneidemühl: 1641 to the Holocaust, (Ayataynu, 2006)

[16] St Pancras RD, deaths, January-March 1879, Hermann Cohen, 1b/41.

[17] St Pancras RD, deaths, January-March 1891, Jane Power, 1b/18; January-March 1893, John Power, 1b/38.

[18] National Probate Calendar, 1858-1995, John Power, 32 Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Middx., died 26 March 1893, administration and will, London, 15 April 1893 to Mary Ann Power, spinster. Effects £197. Modern values are estimated using the Bank of England Inflation Calculator:

[19] Stoke-on-Trent RD, deaths, January-March 1861, Maria Mellsop, 6b/115.

[20] Stone RD, deaths, October-December 1875, William Mellsop, 6b/26a.

From Galway to San Francisco via Stafford: John and Mary Reddingtons’ migrant path – version 2


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In my post of 16 July 2021 I told the story of the Reddington family, their origins in Co. Galway and how Hugh Reddington came to Stafford in the 1850s and settled there permanently. Hugh came from the townland of Aghalateeve in Kilbegnet parish, Co. Galway and I described how the Reddingtons occupied land there close to the Neary family. That family has been extensively studied by a descendant in America, Pam Neary, and this year we made a joint presentation on the Reddingtons and Nearys to the virtual conference “Emigrants and Exiles, the East Galway Story of Black ‘47” organised by the Martin Curley of the East Galway Genealogy and DNA Facebook group.

There were – and are – many gaps in our knowledge of the Reddington and Neary families and their diasporic movements. We are left with fragments of data and events which are open to various interpretations, potentially erroneous. That is demonstrated by this post which is a second, revised, version of one put up on 21 June 2022 which had what proved to be a major error. Correcting that error led to additional clarification of the whole picture of the Reddington family. It is hoped the story will be seen by descendants who can fill out and correct the material presented here. The post looks particularly at John Reddington and his wife Mary Kennedy. Last year I described briefly how they had passed through Stafford during the Great Hunger, but their earlier history and particularly their subsequent whereabouts were then uncertain. New evidence about them has since been found and it is now possible to follow them to their new lives in America, particularly in San Francisco.

Reddingtons go to Stafford

Before 1845 conditions in the Irish west were so bad that many people became seasonal migrant workers and came to the Stafford area from Galway to earn money on the farms during harvest time. Others worked on the building sites. The district was therefore well known to them.[1] Members of the Reddington family were almost certainly part of this annual migration in search of work. When the Great Hunger came people could use this local knowledge to help plan their escape from Ireland to a hopefully better life elsewhere. Emigration was not necessarily a panic-stricken rush to the boats which is how it is often portrayed. It could be a planned and staged process. Members of the Reddington family seem to illustrate that well.  

There is still more work to be done to disentangle the precise relationships between people with the Reddington surname in Stafford, but it is surely more than pure coincidence that five Reddingtons turned up in the town during the Famine period and its immediate aftermath. In 1848 Bridget Reddington (b. c.1810) was there with her husband Martin Brady. Their son John (or James) was baptised at St Austin’s church on 7 July that year.[2] The Bradys only stopped in Stafford to earn enough money to buy a passage to New York for themselves and their seven children. On 1 May 1849 they arrived in the US on board the ship Devon.[3] They settled in New York and stayed there at least till 1860.[4] During the short time Bridget and Martin had been in Stafford they were, nevertheless, joined by Bridget’s younger brother John Reddington and his family. On 10 February 1849 John Reddington and Mary Kennedy’s daughter Mary was baptised at St Austin’s, so we know the couple were in the town at that date.[5] I shall come back to them shortly.

In 1851 Thomas Reddington was in the district working as a 22-year-old errand boy at Norton Canes near Cannock. 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.[6] The couple settled in Penkridge near Stafford and the family remained in the district into the twentieth century.[7] Six months later, on 10 May 1853, Ellen Reddington married Edmund Gilligan at St Austin’s Church.[8] One of their witnesses was Thomas Reddington and the obvious assumption is that Ellen and Thomas were brother and sister. Ellen was not in Stafford at the time of the 1851 Census, so perhaps she had only recently left Co. Galway. No definite trace of the couple has yet been found subsequently; they probably emigrated.[9] Finally, sometime during the 1850s, Hugh Reddington arrived in the town, married and settled permanently (see my post of 16 July 2021).

John and Mary Reddington pass through Stafford

So Stafford was a focal point for members of the Reddington family who left Ireland during the Famine. We now return to the story of John Reddington. He had been born in Co. Galway around the year 1821, possibly in Aghalateeve. John must have married Mary Kennedy in 1845/6 and they were immediately caught up in the misery of the Great Hunger.[10] Mary may have been the daughter or other relative of Jeremiah Kennedy, a holder of 11 acres of land in Funshin townland only two miles (3 km.) from Aghalateeve.[11] Their first child, Anne, was born in 1846 in the middle of the Famine. Around 1847/8 they followed (or even accompanied) Bridget Reddington and Martin Brady to Stafford. Temporary settlement in England was nevertheless stressful, typical of thousands of others caught up in the Famine tragedy. Although Mary managed to be with John in Stafford for a time around 1849, after the Bradys left for New York John’s family was forced apart to survive. In 1851 John was still in Stafford working as a labourer, but he was on his own, lodging with the Jordan family at No. 1 Earl’s Court.[12] At the same time Mary was in a cellar in Back Smith Street, Deansgate, in Manchester. [13]  She now had three children with her, Anne, Mary (Maria) (2) and a new baby, Jane (1 mo.).[14] They were four among thirteen people crammed into this squalid place, but it seems contacts from Co. Galway had taken them in during Mary’s pregnancy.[15] After the baby’s birth Mary managed to get back to Stafford to rejoin her husband but poor Jane never thrived and she died in Stafford early in 1852 when less than a year old.[16]

Arrival in America

Although John Reddington knew Stafford and had contacts there, the family never intended to settle in the town. He now had relatives in America and John’s later life suggests he had some entrepreneurial ability. He believed Stafford would offer little to an ambitious but impoverished victim of the Famine. John spent his three years in the town on labouring jobs to earn enough money to pay for the family’s emigration. Sometime in late September/early October 1851 he achieved that, got the train to Liverpool and booked a passage on the David Cannon to New York. He arrived there on 8 November 1851.[17] Mary and the two surviving children followed him exactly a month later.[18]

New York, Ward 17, Lower East Side where the Reddingtons and Bradys lived in the 1850s.

They then faced the challenge of surviving as immigrant Irish in the harsh environment of America, but they also had support from the Bradys to do so. We know this because six years later on 20 November 1857 John Reddington made his final petition for US Naturalisation at the New York Common Pleas Court. And his witness was Martin Brady. His address was given as 264 East 14th Street whilst John’s address was 266 East 14th Street, so the two families were either living together or pretty much next door.[19]  That street was the northern boundary of Ward 17, and the 1860 census shows both families were still living close to each other in Ward 17 of New York city, though not as next door neighbours.[20] Ward 17 was an area of tightly packed tenement property east of The Bowery on the lower East Side where over 60,000 people were living in 1855. The vast majority were recent immigrants like the Reddingtons and Bradys, evenly divided between Irish and Germans.[21] Most of the Germans worked in the garment trade whereas the Irish were predominantly labourers. That was John Reddington’s occupation. Their daughter Anne (Annie), now about 13 (though claimed as 15), was working as a servant whilst Mary (Maria) was at school. The children had been joined by a new arrival, Matthew, born in New York around 1858-9. The gap between Mary’s birth in 1849 and Matthew’s around ten years later suggests Mary senior might have had another child during the 1850s but, if so, no record of him/her has been found.[22]

The Reddingtons go west to San Francisco

Life in the slums of New York offered little more to the Reddingtons in the long term than Stafford had, but it gave the opportunity to earn more money to finance their next move. They wanted to head west, but rather than go to the farmlands of Indiana, Illinois or Iowa like many of their Galway compatriots, sometime between 1860 and 1863 John and Mary Reddington went all the way to San Francisco in California. That was before the opening of the transcontinental railroad (1869), so the family must have endured the rigours of the emigrant wagon trains across the prairies, Rockies and Sierra Nevada.

The building containing 1316 Sacramento Street today. This area survived the 1906 Fire and the house looks 19th century, but I cannot be sure this is the exact dwelling where the Reddington family lived.

We know the Reddingtons had arrived in San Francisco by 1863 because in that year John was recorded as a ‘laborer’ working for the San Francisco Gas Company.[23] He was still had that occupation in 1869, but the directory of that year identifies the family’s residential address – 1316 Sacramento Street.[24] That was a reasonable locality on the border of North Beach and Nob Hill and it suggests John Reddington was already more than a gas company labourer. That is borne out by the 1870 Census where he is described as a ‘retail grocer’ with a total real estate value of $5,000. The Census also shows developments in the family as a whole. John and Mary were living in Sacramento Street with their son Matthew, now aged twelve, and their two daughters, Anne and Maria. But both daughters were now married to two brothers, Martin McKenna (Maria) and John McKenna (Anne). Martin, who seems to have been known as Mart or Mark, was described as a painter and John as a tanner.[25] The McKennas have been elusive prior to the 1870 census record. They claimed then and normally later to have been born in England in the 1840s, but no census evidence of them has so far been found there. A John McKenna is recorded as arriving in New York in August 1865 from Liverpool, a date agreeing with John’s claimed immigration year in the 1900 US census.[26] No other census record of Mart McKenna after 1870 has been positively traced and that led to a false identification of the family elsewhere in America in the first version of this post. The McKennas were almost certainly Irish by descent and Anne and Maria must have married them shortly before 1870.

John and Matthew Reddingtons’ Directory entries, 1880.

John Reddington seems to have done reasonably well with his business. In 1875 it was described as ‘groceries and liquors’ and located at the corner of 25th and Columbia Streets. It is uncertain where the business operated from then until 1889 when it was on Bay Street near Larkin Street. The family remained living at 1316 Sacramento Street throughout this period, unusual residential stability in nineteenth century cities. In October 1889 John died, however, when he was no more than 68, perhaps younger – symptomatic of a hard and stressful life.[27] His widow Mary must have been left in rather straitened circumstances and in 1900 we find her living with her adult children Matthew and Maria at 12 Salmon Street, a humble side street in North Beach. She died in January 1901.[28]

John and Mary Reddington’s story is one example amongst thousands of how Irish people survived the Great Hunger through a geographically staged migration covering, in their case, Manchester, Stafford and New York to end up with relatively successful lives in San Francisco. It had been a hard road to travel and it suggests the couple were people of grit and determination in the face of difficult circumstances.

The Reddingtons’ children

John and Mary Reddington’s family in the USA.

It is worth tracing finally what happened to the Reddingtons’ children in America. Matthew’s story is simple in that he never married and died in 1911 at the early age of 54.[29] His life suggests lack of fulfilment. In the 1870s he was variously described as an apprentice and a clerk (perhaps in his father’s business) but by the 1890s and 1900s he varied between gardener, labourer (normally) and watchman, so his trajectory was downward and his early death suggests bigger problems which it would take further research to expose.

John and Mary’s daughter Maria also had a tragic life. She must have married Mart McKenna in San Francisco around 1868, though no record has been found. The couple avoided the Census enumerators thereafter until 1900 when Maria was listed in Salmon Street. She said she was a widow and had had five children but that none of them was living. Death records in San Francisco appear to bear out that pitiful story. Between 1869 and 1874 Mary seems to have given birth to five, maybe six, babies, all but one of whom died within a year – indeed, one was stillborn.[30] That was John who was born and died on 8 January 1872; his twin sister Mary Theresa only survived seven months, dying in August 1872. These tragedies all took place at 1316 Sacramento Street where Mart and Marie McKenna were living with their in-laws at least between 1868 and 1878.[31] Also there must have been the couple’s daughter Agnes, born in 1876 and the only offspring to survive childhood. But she died in 1895 aged only 19.

Agnes McKenna’s death notice, 1895.

It was the chance discovery of her death notice in a local newspaper that allowed me to identify correctly this family as opposed to the plausible but erroneous alternative presented in the previous post.[32] The couple moved out of Sacramento Street sometime before 1880 and lived in at least three other places in the same general district between then and 1897. All this time Mart was carrying on his trade as a house painter.[33] He died in 1898, rather strangely in New York, and Maria then moved in with her brother and mother.[34]  She died in San Francisco in 1910.[35]

That left just Anne Reddington to carry on the line of descent from John Reddington and Mary Kennedy. She married John McKenna around 1869. McKenna appears to have had no aspirations that were successful. In 1870 he had been a tanner but in 1880 was a ‘salesman’. The couple had moved in with John, Mary and Martin Reddington at 1316 Sacramento Street, and they already had five children, so the household contained ten people with their in-laws. By 1900 John had sunk back to being a day labourer and the family had moved out of San Francisco to Yount (Yountville) in the Napa Valley. In the 1900s they returned to San Francisco and in 1910 were living with their probable son Henry C. McKenna and his wife Rose. Henry was a yard master on the railroad, but John was now eking out his existence as a watchman at the docks. He died in 1918, whilst Anne predeceased him in 1915.[36] Anne must have died partly through the exhaustion of childbearing. In the 1900 census she stated she had had an astonishing fourteen children, of whom nine were then still living.

The emigrant story

Anne Reddington’s numerous children mean there must surely be many descendants from this branch of the Reddington/McKenna family around today, particularly in California, and I hope one or more of them see this post and are able to expand and correct the story. But the evidence so far shows the path of these emigrants who were forced to leave Ireland during the Famine was hard but decisively aided by family members on the way. John and Mary achieved a modest livelihood in San Francisco, but their lives were scarcely a tale of rags to riches success. Things were no better for their children and grandchildren in the short term. The path of John and Mary Reddington from east Galway through Manchester, Stafford and New York to San Francisco exemplifies the complexity of the individual migrant experiences and relationships which are often hidden behind overall generalisations.  

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

[2] Archdiocese of Birmingham Archives, P255/1/2 St Austin’s Church, Stafford, Register of Baptisms, 1831-58. It seems from later US immigration and Census records that it was James’s baptism that was recorded in Stafford in 1848 since he was born in England in 1848; the name John may have been used in error. John Brady was already eight years old and had been born in Ireland. James’s birth was not registered in England. It may, of course, have been that John was baptised in Stafford as a somewhat older child because he was thought to be in danger of unbaptised death.

[3] New York, Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, Ship: Devon, Dep. Liverpool. Arr. 1 May 1849, New York, Martin Brady, 40, labourer, ‘Mrs’ (Brady), 40, Thomas Brady, 13, Michael Brady, 11, William Brady, 9, John Brady, 7, Mary Anne Brady, 5, James Brady, 3, Jane Brady, infant.

[4] In the 1850 US Census the Brady family was living in Ward 11 on the Lower East Side and in 1860 they were close by in Ward 17. Their whereabouts after 1860 have not yet been traced.

[5] Archdiocese of Birmingham Archives, P255/1/2 St Austin’s Church, Stafford, Register of Baptisms, 1831-58.

[6] 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.

[7] Information from Carolyn Leebetter, 2012.

[8] St. Austin’s Church, Stafford, Register of Marriages, 10 May 1853, Edmond Gilligan

[9] Two Ellen Gilligans appear in the New York Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957 for this period. The first was on 14 October 1854, aged 30, aboard the Southampton from Liverpool, the second on 7 June 1856, aged 20, a servant aboard the West Point, also from Liverpool. Both were apparently lone travellers. Edmund’s whereabouts have not been traced.

[10] No record of their marriage has been traced but the chaotic conditions of the Famine period might well explain their disappearance.

[11] Griffith Valuation, Co. Galway, Kilbegnet parish, Funshin townland, Plot 14, Occupier Jeremiah Kennedy, Lessor Allan Pollock, house and land, 11 acres, 2 roods. Pollock had just acquired much land in this area and proceeded to brutally evict the vast majority of his tenants including, presumably, Jeremiah Kennedy.

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

[13] 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.

[14] Jane’s birth was registered twice, in Stafford, presumably by John Reddington, and in Manchester by Mary Reddington. Births, Stafford Registration District (RD), April-June 1851, Jane Redington, 17/160; Births, Manchester RD, July-Sept 1851, Jane Redington, XX/532

[15] The census return for the cellar. The name of Mary Reddington’s host 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 RD, April-June 1849, Maria Reddington, 17/163.

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

[17] Immigration New York, arriving passengers and crew lists, 1820-1957: 8 November 1851, ship David Cannon, arrived New York from Liverpool: John Reddington, age 26, male, labourer.

[18] Immigration New York, arriving passengers and crew lists, 1820-1957: 8 December, ship Middlesex, arrived New York from Liverpool: Maria (sic) Redington, born Ireland, age 30, Anne Redington born Ireland, age 5, Mary Redington, born Ireland (sic), age 2. Despite the differences in spelling, it is clear this is John Reddington’s family.

[19] Index of Petitions for Naturalization, New York City, 1792-1989, John Reddington, Common Pleas Court, New York County, Date of Naturalization: 20 November 1857, Bundle 199, Record 215. John Reddington’s naturalisation date and place were stated in the San Francisco 6th Ward Voter Registration Lists. I am indebted to Pam Neary for drawing my attention to this data which set me on the track to more about the family’s circumstances in New York.

[20] No street addresses are given in the 1860 Census but the Reddingtons were Family 1802 in District 10, Ward 17 and the Bradys were Family 2088 in the same area.

[21] F. Wertz, ‘A new look at the demographics of the nineteenth century Lower East Side neighborhood’, 21 August 2017. URL:, accessed 16 June 2022. The Reddington family were not enumerated in Ward 17 in the 1855 New York State census but maybe they were missed in the teeming tenements. There were four other adults with the name Redington or Ridington in the area who may have been related to John and Mary.

[22] No birth record has been found for Matthew Reddington, however.

[23] San Francisco Directory, compiled by Henry G. Langley, 1863, 1864

[24] San Francisco Business Directory, 1869, p. 704.

[25] Martin McKenna is listed in the 1870 Census clearly as ‘Martin McKenna’ but all other data, especially Directories, list him as Mark. That could in turn have been been a mishearing of ‘Mart’.

[26] Immigration, New York, arriving passengers and crew lists, 1820-1957: 11 August 1865, ship Virginia, arrived New York from Liverpool: John McKenna, 21, English, b. 1844, laborer.

[27] US Find a Grave Index, John H. Reddington, died 17 October 1889, buried Holy Cross RC Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo Country, Ca.

[28] Ibid., Mary Reddington, died 6 January 1901, buried Holy Cross RC Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo Country, Ca.

[29] California Death Indexes, 1905-39 and US Find a Grave Index, Matthew Reddington, death 5 October 1911 and burial 7 October 1911, Holy Cross RC Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo Country, Ca.

[30] California, San Francisco, County Births, Marriages and Deaths records, 1849-1980: John Thomas McKenna, b. 1870, d. 1 March 1871 aged 1; Mary McKenna, b. 1871, d. 5 May 1871 aged 0; John McKenna, b. & d. 8 January 1872 (stillborn); Mary Theresa McKenna, b. 1872, d. 18 August 1872, aged 7 months (probable twin of John McKenna), father M.F. McKenna, mother Mary Ann McKenna; Annie McKenna, b. 1873, d. 20 February 1874, aged 3 months, father Mark McKenna, mother Maria McKenna. Only the final two records give the parents’ names but the inference that the others were Mark and Maria’s children is compelling.

[31] ‘Mark’ McKenna is listed at this address in the 1868 and 1878 Directories.

[32] I am indebted to Pam Neary for finding this death notice and helping to put me on the right track for this elusive family.

[33] ‘Mark’ McKenna is listed as a painter or dwelling painter in San Francisco directories from 1868 to 1897.

[34] US Newspapers Obituary Index, 1800s+, Mark B. McKenna, male, New York, obituary San Francisco Chronicle, 8 March 1898, spouse Maria McKenna, siblings John McKenna, Mary J. Brady. The Index entry has been corrupted by digital character recognition but the details clearly refer to Mart McKenna and his family.

[35] US Find a Grave Index, 1600s-current, Marie J McKenna, died 19 January 1910, buried Holy Cross RC Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo Country, Ca.

[36] US Find a Grave Index, John McKenna, died February 1918; Anna McKenna, died 4 September 1915, both buried at Holy Cross RC Cemetery, Colma, San Mateo Country, Ca.

Richard Randle’s Crimea Medal


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A mystery medal

Early in November 2021 I was contacted through this blog by Chris Davidson. Amongst the medals awarded to his grandfather, Captain John Davidson, MC, who served with the Royal Engineers in World War One, was an interloper, a medal that had no obvious connection with the rest. It was the Crimean War medal with Sebastopol bar shown in the picture. On the edge the inscription states that it was awarded to ‘Serjt. R. Randle 68th’. Chris knows of no ancestral connection with a Randle family.

Sgt. Richard Randle’s Crimea medal, 1855

Between us we have, however, pieced together, mainly from Ancestry, some of the history of ‘Serjt. R. Randle’. There is a Stafford connection. This post outlines what we know of Richard and the Randle family. We particularly hope that somebody may read it and definitively prove a legitimate family connection with the recipient, Sergeant Randle. Chris Davidson is anxious to pass on the medal to such a descendant.

Richard Randle’s army career

‘R. Randle’ has proved to be Richard Randle. He was born in Foleshill, Coventry, and was baptised there on 25 June 1821, the son of William Randle, a weaver, and his wife Leah.[1] We know nothing at present about Richard’s childhood, but in 1836 he was fifteen years old. At that point he lied about his age by saying he was 18, and by adding those three years he was able enlist in the army. He was drafted into the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry with the service number 1241.[2] His enlistment and service records do not appear to have survived but shortly after his enlistment the regiment was sent to Jamaica and then, in 1841, to Canada. Having returned to Britain in 1844, the 68th was sent to Ireland in 1846 and stayed there during the Famine ‘keeping the peace’. It was dispersed in small detachments around central Ireland before concentrating in Limerick in April 1850.[3]

Richard Randle was certainly with the regiment in Ireland during this period because sometime around 1849-50 he met and married an Irish woman, Catherine. No record of their marriage or her maiden name has been found but in the 1881 British Census she claimed she was born in Westport, Co. Mayo around 1826. Their first child, Julia, was born in Limerick in 1851 but we don’t know whether Catherine had already moved to Limerick from the poverty-stricken west during the Famine or whether Richard had been posted to Westport. She was probably Protestant. Their second child, Roland, was born in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, in 1853, so a detachment of the 68th may still have been in Ireland in that year.[4] The Randles became, therefore, a mixed English-Irish family like many others who ultimately ended up in Stafford.

The regiment was subsequently sent back to England, but Richard and Catherine were parted when the 68th was sent overseas. They had no more children. At the start of the Crimean War the regiment was sent to the Bosphorus, and by September 1854 they were serving in the trenches during the siege of Sebastopol. They were still at that miserable location a year later and that entitled Richard to the Crimea medal and Sebastopol clasp.[5] We don’t know when he finally returned to Britain, but in 1856 he had done twenty years’ service and was entitled to his pension. He was actually discharged in 1858.[6]

As I have shown a number of times in this blog, discharged soldiers frequently stayed on in military life by enlisting for Militia duty.[7] That is what Richard Randle did. He got a posting to the 1st Warwickshire Militia Regiment at their Barracks in Warwick, within a few miles of his birthplace in Coventry. He worked there as a staff sergeant during the 1860s and initially all his family were with him. Sometime in the late 1860s Julia left home and in 1871 she was a school mistress in Ledbury, Herefordshire. She never married and must later have returned home because she died in Warwick in 1875. She therefore had no descendants who could now claim her father’s medal.[8]

The Randles move to Stafford

In 1871 Richard, Catherine and Roland were living in the Barrack Yard, Warwick. They were still in the town, at 29 Park Street, when Julia died in 1875. Roland had attached himself to the Militia staff as a drummer and it rather looked as though he might follow his father and go into the regular army. He didn’t do so, however, and the next thing we know is that by 1881 Roland had changed direction and got a job as an attendant on the insane at the County Lunatic Asylum in Stafford. It was the sort of post sought by, and offered to, ex-servicemen or those like Roland with service links. It says a lot about the ‘care’ offered to mental patients at that time. In 1879 Roland had married a Cheshire woman, Sarah Sutton which suggests he was already in Stafford by then.[9]

Not only was Roland in Stafford but so also were his parents Richard and Catherine.[10] In 1881 they were living at 10 Railway Terrace on the northern edge of town and Richard was describing himself as a Chelsea Pensioner, his days of active service over. Why had they moved to Stafford? Almost certainly because in his last years in the Militia Richard was transferred to the 2nd Staffordshire Militia based at the Stafford barracks in Park Street. Catherine naturally came with him and also Roland, who was then in his early twenties and still at home. Roland must have got the job at the Asylum and then left home to get married. Richard was only about 58 years old but his army career had already come 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.

Richard may already have been ailing by 1881, however, and he certainly didn’t enjoy much time in retirement. He died, rather oddly in the West Bromwich area, in 1882.[11] No trace of Catherine has been found subsequently and it seems that Roland and Sarah did not take her in to live with them. Roland continued working at the Lunatic Asylum into the 1900s but died in Sarah’s home district of Nantwich in 1908.[12] He was only 55 years old. We have found no subsequent trace of Sarah.

The history of the medal?

What happened to Richard Randle’s Crimea medal and how did it end up with Captain John Davidson? The obvious answer is that it was inherited by Roland and subsequently passed to one of Roland and Sarah’s children. They may have sold it after Richard and their father had died. None of them would have known their grandfather and they would have had little attachment to his memory. It is, of course, possible that Richard himself either lost it or perhaps sold it if he needed the money. How Captain John Davidson then acquired is still a mystery, however. If anyone reading this can help with these questions and possibly lay legitimate claim to the medal, please get in touch with us.  

[1] Warwickshire, C. of E, Baptisms, St Lawrence, Foleshill Parish, Coventry, 25 June 1821, Richard, son of William and Leah Randle, weaver, Carpenters Lane.

[2] UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea, Pensioners Admissions and Discharges, 1715-1925 and 1760-1920, Richard Randle, born 1818, Foleshill Coventry, enlistment year 1836, 68th Regt. Light Infantry.

[3] Wikipedia entry

[4] Roscrea was stated by Roland in the 1881 Census. He consistently said in Census returns that he was born in 1853.

[5] UK Military Campaign Medals and Award Rolls, 1793-1949, Crimean War, 68th Regiment, Richard Randle, Sergt., returns, Crimea, 8 September and 23 October 1855.

[6] UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea, Pensioners Admissions and Discharges, 1715-1925 and 1760-1920, Richard Randle, enlistment year 1836, 68th Regt. Light Infantry, admission 14 December 1858.

[7] See particularly my posts of 31 July 2020 and 19 June 2019 and Chap. 8 of my book Divergent Paths, Family Histories of Irish Emigrant Families in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015).

[8] Warwick Burial Board, Notices of Interment, Julia Randle, died 8 October 1875. Applicant: Roland Randle. Deaths, Warwick Reg. Dist., October-December 1875, Julia Randle, 6b/449.

[9] Marriages, Nantwich Reg. Dist., October-December 1879, Roland Randle and Sarah Sutton, 8a/476. Sarah was born in Wrenbury near Nantwich and the wedding presumably took place there. In 1871 she had been a servant in Crewe.

[10] This only became apparent when I found them on my database of Irish people in the Stafford Census returns which I constructed directly from the sources in the 1990s. They did not emerge from a search of Ancestry using any possible variation of their names, which shows the fallibility of Ancestry. I was able to confirm my data and their presence by searching the on-line returns for Marston parish directly.

[11] Deaths, West Bromwich Reg. Dist., October-December 1882, Richard Randle, 63 yrs., 6b/449. He kept the fiction of his date of birth going all his life.

[12] Deaths, Nantwich Reg. Dist., July-September 1908, Roland Randle, 2a/200.

The rise and fall of the Livingstons

Protestant emigrants and the shoe trade

I have said before on this blog that Protestant emigrants from the south of Ireland have tended to be neglected in Irish migration studies. These people were frequently middle class or in artisanal trades such as shoemaking, and their prospects in Ireland were limited even if their immediate sufferings were not as severe as those of the unskilled Catholic immigrants from the west. The Stafford shoe trade attracted migrants from all over Britain and also from Ireland. In the past I have looked in general at the Irish in the shoe trade (15 September 2017) and also at two specific Irish shoemaking families, the Brews (24 March 2015) and the Hamiltons (27 October 2017). The Brews were significant in worker struggles against new machinery in the 1860s whereas the Hamiltons suffered from the decline of craft shoemaking and led a difficult existence in the twilight of the impoverished working class. Both these families came from Ulster, as did another shoemaker, Hugh Woods Gibson, but his story was very different. He came from a secure Presbyterian family and through his religious contacts got off to a flying start in Stafford, ultimately jointly owning his own firm and becoming twice Mayor of the borough.[1]

Fortunes in the volatile shoe trade were often fickle and that is demonstrated by the history of another Protestant Irish family, the Livingstons, the subject of this post. Their history in many ways falls between that of the forlorn Hamilton and prosperous Gibson families. Their origins were modest but they aspired to emulate Hugh Gibson, and for some time apparently succeeded. It all came crashing down, however, and the family left Stafford to try to recover elsewhere.

Tracing the history of the Livingston family who came to Stafford has proved difficult, nevertheless, and a full picture would need much more research in other places. This post sketches an outline of the family’s lives in the mid-19th century. Who knows? A descendant may chance to read it and be able to fill in more details.

The Livingstons come to England

The Livingston (or Livingstone) family were from the Dublin area although their surname suggests a Scottish Plantation origin from the 17th century.[2] The first ancestor we know about is Thomas Livingston who subsequently claimed in the British Census returns to have been born in Dublin in 1769, though generational calculation suggests the real date must have been earlier in the 1760s. His marriage partner is unknown but one of their children was another Thomas Livingston. He must have been born in the 1780s. In 1808 he married Anne Bias in what was then rural Santry north of Dublin city.[3] Anne later claimed in Census returns to have been born in 1795 but she must actually have arrived in the world around 1790. The Bias connection was subsequently seen as important to the Livingstons since the Bias name was given to many of the later descendants. Thomas and Anne Livingston had five known children, all born in Dublin, Henry Bias Livingston (b. 1818), Thomas Bias (b. 1820), Mary (b. 1826), Elizabeth (b. 1827) and Alice in 1832.[4]

Thomas’s occupation was said to be a coal merchant by his son Thomas when he married in 1848, but the older Thomas was not present in the household in the 1841 Census, so he may have already died by then.[5] It seems that he and Anne, or perhaps the widowed Anne, decided in the 1830s to leave Dublin and go to England. Her two sons Henry and Thomas were working as shoemakers, but Dublin was then a depressed city with an overcrowded labour market. Irish shoemakers were already beginning to feel competition from specialist shoe towns in England like Stafford, and there was every incentive for the Livingston family to get out of Ireland.[6] They initially settled in the easiest English destination for them, Liverpool. We know they were already there by 1835 because on 9 November that year the first-born son Henry Bias Livingston married Mary Ann Robinson at St John’s Church in the centre of the city (now the site of St John’s Gardens).[7] His brother Thomas remained a bachelor for another thirteen years, but on 7 August 1848 – at the height of Irish immigration into Liverpool during the Famine – he married Amelia Allen at the same church. The lives of these two married couples were to be interwoven for some years.

The Livingstons arrive in Stafford and most depart for London

Liverpool was not a promising city for ambitious shoemakers to earn and living, and sometime between 1844 and 1848 Henry and Mary Ann moved along the railway line to Manchester. They were living there when their son Thomas was baptised at the Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1848.[8] Soon afterwards they moved again, this time to the rapidly growing shoe town of Stafford.[9] Henry’s brother Thomas probably moved there at much the same time, and in 1851 we find Henry’s family living at 2 Chapel Terrace and Thomas and his wife at 18 County Road fairly close by. Both were respectable addresses for artisans, and they suggest the Livingstons were already able to make a relatively secure living in the shoe trade. Both men were described in the Census as a clicker, a high-status skilled job cutting out the leather for footwear.

Also in the Chapel Terrace on Census night were Henry’s grandfather Thomas and his mother Anne as well as his sister Alice. They were described as ‘visitors’, but Thomas at least was already there in November 1849 and was the householder when a sweep, Samuel Gilbert, broke into the house.[10]  Thomas died in Stafford in 1855 (when he was at least 86), which suggests that Henry and Mary Ann had taken the old man in and that this multi-generational Irish family were well established in the town in the early 1850s.[11] By 1856 Henry was on the committee of the Presbyterian church and in 1860 he was also appointed a member of the Presbytery in Birmingham.[12] After that date all trace of Henry’s family in Stafford or anywhere else disappears until 1871. They were not recorded in Stafford in the 1861 Census but nor have they been found elsewhere in Britain which suggests they completely eluded the Census enumerators. They could conceivably have emigrated for a time but no trace of them has been found overseas either.

All we know is that most of Henry’s family had ended up in London by 1871. In that year Henry and Mary Ann, as well as his mother Ann, sister Alice and two of their children, were living in St John Street close to the Angel, Islington. Henry was still working as a clicker and bootmaker. There is, however, another more interesting fact about that Census return. Henry claimed he was born in Scotland, as supposedly were his mother and sister. One instance of that might be taken as an enumerator’s error, but for the rest of his life Henry claimed a Scottish, not Irish, origin. He was trying to obscure his Irish roots, presumably for political or self-defined social status reasons. Clearly, no pride in an Irish background existed in this family. It suggests that an additional reason for their original emigration in the 1830s might have been their Presbyterian hostility to the rising strength of Catholic nationalism in Ireland led by Daniel O’Connell. Their secure position as beneficiaries in the Protestant Ascendancy was under threat.

Livingston & Co. and civic affairs

Although Irish-born Henry Bias Livingston left Stafford sometime before 1871, that was far from the end of the family’s presence in, and connection with, the town. Henry’s brother Thomas stayed on and built up a significant shoemaking business. In 1861 he was described as a ‘shoe manufacturer’ operating from premises in Bath Street near the town centre and he and Amelia were living at 20 Mill Street close by.[13] By then, however, Thomas’s health may have been failing and he needed to bring someone else into the business. That proved to be his nephew (yet another) Henry Bias Livingstone, his brother Henry’s son, who by this time was in his early twenties. Thomas died in 1863 and young Henry was left to develop the firm.[14] By 1868 he was partnership with someone called Buchanan and running a substantial workshop business.[15] Buchanan seems to have been a sleeping partner with Henry being the operational director, and in the 1871 Census Henry stated he was a shoe manufacturer employing 93 workers. This put him in the bottom place amongst the top twelve footwear employers in Stafford; the average firm then employed 160 men, women and children.[16]  The firm may have expanded during the prosperous early-1870s but by 1881 it was back to 90 ‘hands’ and had failed to become a dominant player in the Stafford shoe trade.

Bath Street, Stafford. Thomas and Henry Livingston probably ran their business from behind the building in the centre of the photo.

That doesn’t mean Henry Livingston became inconsequential – far from it. In the period from 1875 to the mid-1880s he became a big name in local affairs. Like his father, he was active in the Presbyterian church. He was also a representative of the Shoe Manufacturers’ Association in the town.[17] He was also involved in various charitable activities. Then he went into local politics, was active in the Liberal party and was a town councillor in the second half of the 1870s.[18] Like many such local businessmen he became a Freemason, being initiated into the Staffordshire Knot Lodge (No. 726) in 1875. He also served on the School Board as the Presbyterian representative.[19] In all these activities he hobnobbed with the business and political elite of Stafford and particularly with Hugh Gibson, previously mentioned, then the dominant force in much of local politics.

Collapse and bankruptcy

Nevertheless, Henry may have overreached himself and by the early 1880s storm clouds were gathering for the Livingston family. The circumstances of their downfall involved a complicated set of relationships. We have seen how Henry Livingston senior had moved to London and continued working as a shoemaker. He was still there in 1875.[20] Between then and 1881 he, Mary Ann and their daughter Martha made the apparently surprising move to the village of Eyam in Derbyshire where Henry described himself as a ‘clicker and pattern cutter (for boots)’. Why Eyam? The answer appears to be that his son Henry, then at the height of his entrepreneurial success in Stafford, had formed an association with George Thomas Lowndes Dawson. This man was born in Fairfield near Buxton in Derbyshire in 1834 but he became apprenticed to a shoemaker’s workshop in Eyam when a teenager and remained based there for many years. Superficially he continued to portray himself as a shoemaker in the Census returns, but in practice he seems to have been operating an altogether more substantial business, based in both Eyam and Manchester. That is shown by his initiation into the Freemasons in Manchester in 1867 where he was described as a ‘leather merchant’ with an address in the city.[21]

From the 1860s shoemaking businesses needed increasing amounts of capital to acquire premises and machinery and also to sustain cash flow in the very volatile footwear market. Small firms were being squeezed out by competition from the bigger operators, in Stafford, for example, Bostocks (later Lotus Footwear). Entrepreneurs in the shoe trade had a web of social and business contacts, many doubtless lubricated by Masonic connections, and that is what probably brought the Livingstons and the Dawsons together. Although Henry Livingston junior’s business continued to use the family name, George Dawson almost certainly put some capital into it and the two enterprises based in Eyam and Stafford became interconnected. The association depended on Dawson also having secure and adequate capital but that proved not to be the case.

In January 1882 a petition for the liquidation of Messrs H.B. Livingston & Co. was filed at Stafford County Court. It was stated that the firm’s assets totalled £4,122 whereas the liabilities were £7,956.[22]  This was only part of the picture, however, because simultaneously a Petition for Liquidation by Arrangement was posted in the London Gazette covering a firm named Livingston and Count in Stafford. It was initiated by G T L Dawson, his son William Henry Dawson and Henry Bias Livingston. At the same time the Dawsons petitioned for the liquidation of their shoe manufacturing business in Eyam. The three men also petitioned for the liquidation of their separate individual estates.[23]

Livingston and the Dawsons were liquidating to protect themselves and salvage their remaining assets but that was not the end of the story for Henry Livingston. In the manner of many devious entrepreneurs today, he immediately reformed his business, shorn of its previous liabilities and many of its workers, and relocated to premises in Browning Street in the north end.[24]  He also carried on with his civic and religious activities. In 1886 the Boot and Shoe Trade Journal described his firm’s new ‘Alberta’ boot as ‘remarkably tasteful’ and in January 1887 he was the employers’ representative at negotiations during a strike at the bigger shoe firm of Elley and Co.[25]

It couldn’t last. Yet again, Livingston was trading at the margins and in August 1887 his firm collapsed ‘due to losses arising from the depression of trade and want of capital.’ The receivers were brought in and revealed that this now small business was in a hopeless position. Its liabilities were £1,382-16s-2d whilst its available assets were a paltry £176-17s-11d, a deficiency of £1,205-18s-4d. Livingston was rendered bankrupt.[26]

The aftermath and overview

Henry Livingston had to leave Stafford, his pride undermined and perhaps in some disgrace. His Presbyterian, business and Masonic friends did nothing obvious to support him, though they may have offered contacts to at least get him another job. He and his family moved to the much bigger shoe town of Leicester and in 1891 he was working as a manager in a shoe factory. Ten years later he described himself as an ‘engineer’s traveller’ but by 1911 he had set up on his own as a ‘boot and leather factor’. He died in 1924 leaving effects of £657. He and Harriet (d. 1929) had six surviving children and there are doubtless many descendants today.

What of old Henry Livingston, Henry’s father, one of the original Livingston family immigrants from Dublin? After the collapse of George Dawson’s business Henry lived on as a shoemaker in Eyam with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Martha. Even in 1891 Henry still said he had been born in Scotland, this time specifically Glasgow, so the denial of his Irish origins continued to the end. That came with his death in 1893. Mary Ann died a year later and Martha left the village, though her subsequent whereabouts have not been traced.[27]

The Livingston family’s emigration from Ireland and settlement in England was therefore a complex process, only one element of which took place in Stafford. It was, nevertheless, perhaps the most dramatic part of their story. It throws more light on such Protestant emigrants from southern Ireland and their complex circumstances. It also shows the identity issues that such people carried with them. This blog has shown before that the adaptation of Protestant emigrants from Ireland to their new lives in England was not necessarily as smooth as might be expected, and the Livingston family emphasises the point again.

[1] For the story of Hugh Gibson, see John Herson, Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester UP, 2015), pp. 268-273

[2] The names are interchangeably spelt in the records, though the version without the ‘e’ seems to increasingly predominate over time.

[3] Ireland, Select Marriages 1619-1898, Thomas Livingston and Anne Bias, Santry, 1808.

[4] The three youngest are listed with their parents living in the Dale Street area of Liverpool in the 1841 Census. The two oldest boys are known from later records.

[5] Lancashire, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936, 7 August 1848, St John’s Church, Liverpool, Thomas Livingston and Amelia Allen, shoemaker Ranelagh St., Father: Thomas Livingston, coal merchant.

[6] See my post on 15 September 2017 and Chap. 9 of my book Divergent Paths.

[7] Lancashire, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936, Henry Livingston, cordwainer, Liverpool and Mary Ann Robinson, spinster, Liverpool.

[8] Manchester, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1901, Manchester Cathedral, Thomas, son of Henry and Mary Livingstone (sic), shoemaker, Manchester, 24 December 1848. The Livingstons’ daughter Martha was born in 1844 in Liverpool.

[9] Their baby Samuel Bias was baptised in Stafford on 2 March 1851. and they were present there on Census day shortly afterwards. England and Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980, Stafford, 2 March 1851, Samuel Bias Livingston, son of Henry and Mary Ann Livingston.

[10] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 3 November 1849. Gilbert got three months in gaol for his crime.

[11] Deaths, Stafford RD, January-March 1855, Thomas Livingston, 6b/3.

[12] Staffordshire Record Office (SRO) D4800/1/2/2, Presbyterian Chapel, Stafford, Minute Book, 1856-62.

[13] Harrod’s Directory of Staffordshire: Thomas Livingston, shoe manufacturer, Bath St., Stafford.

[14] Burial, London Cemetery Co.’s North London or Kentish Town and Highgate Cemetery, Thomas Bias Livingston, 12(?) St John’s St., 30 July 1863, 43 yrs. Also Civil Registration, Deaths, June-September 1863, Clerkenwell, Thomas Bias Livingston, 1b/421.

[15] SA, 22 August 1868. ‘Edmund Beckett, an apprentice of Messrs Livingstone and Buchanan was summoned for absenting himself from work on Monday for the purpose of going to a fete on the Common and returning to work at 6pm in a state of intoxication’. He had to pay 5s compensation to Livingston and his partner. The firm was also listed as ‘Livingston and Buchanan, wholesale boot and shoe mfrs, Bath Street, Stafford’ in the 1868 and 1872 Kelly’s Directories. No record of Buchanan has been identified, certainly not in Stafford.

[16] M. Harrison, ‘The Development of Boot and Shoe Manufacturing in Stafford, 1850-1880’, J. of the Staffordshire Archaeological Society, No. 10, 1981, p. 36.

[17] SA, e.g. 5 January 1878, 27 June 1875, 10 February 1877, 4 April 1879, 29 January 1887.

[18] SA, e.g. 9 January 1875, 16 February 1878, 15 November 1879

[19] United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons’ Membership Register, 1751-1921, Henry B. Livingston, Initiation date 5 August 1875, Shoe Manufacturer, Bath Street. SA, 13 March 1880.

[20] Post Office Directory, London, Henry Bias Livingston, shoemaker, 285 Liverpool Road, N.

[21] United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons’ Membership Register, 1751-1921, Shakespeare Lodge (no. 1009), Manchester, George Thomas Lowndes Dawson, initiation date 31 January 1867, Leather merchant, 96 Cottenham Street, Manchester.

[22] SA, 28 January 1882 and 18 February 1882.

[23] Liverpool Mercury, 8 February 1882. Dawson seems to have gone back to shoemaking in Eyam, but around 1900 moved to Manchester where in 1901 he was a cloth merchant’s clerk living in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. He died in 1911 leaving paltry effects of £103, so he never really recovered from the failure of 1882.

[24] His firm’s address was given as Browning Street in the receiving order, 1887. See reference 26.

[25] SA, 7 March 1885, 27 June 1885, 4 December 1886, 29 January 1887.

[26] SA, 13, 20 and 27 August 1887; Huddersfield Chronicle, 20 August 1887, receiving order, Henry Bias Livingston, Earl St and Browning St, Stafford, shoe manufacturer; SA 1 October 1887, bankruptcy examination.

[27] Derbyshire, Church of England Burials, Eyam: 25 July 1893, Henry Bias Livingston, 75 yrs; 1 November 1894, Mary Annie Livingston, 85 yrs.

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.