The history of the mixed ethnicity Cronin family is relatively simple in comparison with that of other Irish families in Stafford. Although they were partly an army family their origins in Stafford were, nevertheless, somewhat more complex. In the period before 1920 the Cronins integrated into local society but ultimately they died out completely and today there are no descendants from this family left in Stafford.
John Cronin was posted to Stafford Militia Barracks as a Staff Sergeant around the beginning of 1862. His story was very different from that of the sad John Ryan that I described in my post on 10 July 2015. Cronin made a success of life in Stafford and members of his family were present in the town for over 130 years. The family retained, and indeed promoted, a strong identification with Catholicism but their ethnic Irish identity was rapidly transmuted into an English Catholic one. That process began with John Cronin’s career in the army, was enhanced by his marriage and confirmed by the family’s evolution in Stafford.
A railwayman’s family
The story of the Cronin family in Stafford does not begin with John Cronin but back in the 1830s with a railwayman, Robert Moyers. Moyers was a porter at Stafford station, having started there when the Grand Junction railway line was opened in 1837 or shortly thereafter. He had been born in Ireland between 1804 and 1811, but we do not know where he came from. The most likely places are either the Cashel area of Co. Tipperary, Rathfarnham near Dublin or Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, all home to extensive families with that rather uncommon name. Moyers was a Catholic and he had not been long in Stafford before, in 1841, he married a local Catholic woman, Susannah Follows. She was a servant from a humble family which had moved into Stafford from Bednall, four miles south of the town. The marriage was one of social equals.
Even so, with his job on the railway, Robert and Susannah could aspire to modest security. They had four children in the 1840s, and in 1851 were living in a small house in Mill Bank, five minutes’ walk from the station. Two of Susannah’s young relatives, Charles and Susan Follows were also living with them, the former listed as a solicitor’s writing clerk though he was only thirteen. It suggests an aspirant household determined to do well. Unfortunately, Robert died in 1854, aged only forty-eight, and the family struggled before the children started earning. Even so, their commitment to Catholicism and St Austin’s Church provided them with both spiritual and material sustenance from the clergy and more prosperous members of the mission. Their eldest child, Susannah, rose from her humble origins, went into the Church and became a nun. The Moyers’s second child was Elizabeth (b. 1844), and it was she who, in 1867, married John Cronin. We now turn to look at his life beforehand.
John Cronin’s career and family
John Cronin was born in 1824 in the parish of Ballymodan, Co. Cork. That parish included the town of Bandon and he probably lived in the town because his occupation was described as a tailor when he enlisted in the army on 29 August 1840. The evidence suggests he came from a modest but aspirant artisanal family and had had a reasonable education. Joining up in the city of Cork, he was attached to the 68th Regiment of Foot and served in Ireland, Malta, Guinea, the Ionian Islands and the Burmese Wars and also in the Crimean War. He had worked his way up from Private to Sergeant by 1847 and was promoted to Colour Sergeant, the highest non-commissioned rank, in 1857. Finally discharged at the garrison town of Fermoy, Co. Cork, on 26 November 1861, Cronin had served over twenty-one years in the army. He therefore qualified for a full pension.
John Cronin was a model soldier. His record was described as ‘extremely good,’ he never faced a court martial and he received a gratuity and a number of good conduct medals during his service. To achieve such a record he had to embrace publicly the identity and ethos of the British Army in its imperial roles. His subsequent history suggests he internalised those values as well. He made no attempt to return to his home town after discharge but immediately enlisted for militia duty and was sent as Staff Sergeant to Stafford. He arrived in the town as an eligible man in his late thirties. We know nothing specific of his first few years in Stafford but that silence suggests he carried out his duties as orderly room clerk quietly and diligently. It was vital clerical experience that would bring him benefits. The Barracks backed on to St Austin’s Church and John Cronin could be at Mass within two minutes. He was a regular communicant and got to know others in the congregation. Amongst the people walking past the Barracks on their way to St Austin’s were Susannah Moyers and her children. At that time they were living just down the road in Middle Friars and they would have been pointed out as a devout and respectable family. At some point Cronin was introduced to Elizabeth Moyers who was then around twenty years of age. She was helping the family income by working as a dressmaker, a job with few prospects. Despite their age difference, the smart and eligible John Cronin was a good catch and they married at St Austin’s on 30 November 1867.
The Cronins set up home initially at No. 15 Queen Street in the town centre. Elizabeth’s widowed mother Susannah was living with them in 1871 but she died in 1874. Around this time the family moved back near the Barracks in Forebridge and in 1881 they lived at No. 4 Friar’s Terrace, a house they were to occupy for more than thirty years. It was a solid terraced property with a garden and a pleasant view across open ground to the playing field of King Edward’s School. It was, furthermore, just a minute away from the Barracks. Cronin’s time in the Militia was coming to an end, but his subsequent activities demonstrate how service personnel with contacts, a good record and a respectful demeanour could find new opportunities in civilian life. In 1874 the Stafford Urban Sanitary Authority was being established as a result of the Public Health Act of 1872. A collector of rates was needed and John Cronin applied. He was one of two short-listed applicants and his proposed appointment was seconded by Alderman Hugh Gibson, an Ulster Presbyterian who had already served one term as Stafford’s Mayor. Gibson’s backing of the Catholic applicant demonstrates the esteem with which Cronin was already held but also the apparent lack of sectarianism amongst Stafford’s elite. Cronin received ‘flattering testimonials’ from his Militia sponsors but the Authority members voted for a local man by eight votes to the seven cast for Cronin. The following year he tried again and succeeded, being appointed collector of the Watch Rate. He subsequently also became collector of the district general rate when the 1875 Public Health Act was implemented. He held these posts until shortly before his death, at which time it was said, rather ungrammatically, that his ‘urbanity of manner and kindliness rendered a difficult post as little unpleasant as possible’. He collected around £100,000 in his time in the job.
From their modest origins the Cronins were now moving into respectable Stafford society, but the focus of their social life remained St Austin’s Church and School. Elizabeth Cronin was involved in the School’s amateur dramatics, and as the children grew up they could attend social gatherings such as soirées more frequently. John Cronin was involved in the St Vincent de Paul Society. The ultimate problem for Elizabeth Cronin was, of course, that her husband was twenty years older than her and always likely to die first. John passed away in April 1889 at the age of sixty-five, and his funeral demonstrated the respect in which the family was then held. His coffin was followed to the grave by old Militia comrades and there were representatives from the Borough Council, the SVP and, doubtless, many from St Austin’s congregation.
The Cronins’ children and the end of the family line
The home created at Friar’s Terrace by Elizabeth and John Cronin was a classic of respectable Victoriana. The couple had five surviving children, and their history indicates a quasi-Irish family that integrated smoothly into British life. It also demonstrates, however, how a family may ultimately die out completely. The Cronin’s first child, Francis, was born in 1868. He did well enough at school and began work as a clerk. He decided, however, to follow in his father’s footsteps and on 2 September 1884, when he was sixteen, he enlisted with the Durham Light Infantry. His army career was as exemplary as his father’s and by 1896 he had reached the rank of sergeant. At that point he re-engaged as a clerk with the Medical Staff Corps and was ultimately discharged with the rank of sergeant-major in February 1906. He had completed his twenty-one years of pensionable service and had served in Britain, India, Hong Kong and South Africa. He was, however, not to repeat his father’s experience following discharge. Within nine months he was dead, killed by consumption of the throat. The illness must have struck rapidly and he died at the family home in Friar’s Terrace on 12 November 1906.
The Cronins’ second child, Charles John (b. 1871) followed the family tradition pioneered by his Aunt Susannah and went into the Church. He attended St Austin’s School and did so well that in 1881 he was sent to the prestigious St Wilfred’s College, Cotton, in the north Staffordshire moorlands. This Catholic boarding school was famed for educating boys towards the priesthood, and that is the path followed by Charles Cronin. The priest at St Austin’s at that time was Canon John Hawksford who had previously been prefect of studies at Cotton College. He was instrumental in getting Charles Cronin a place there and the money to support him. In 1885 Hawksford went back to Cotton as President whilst Charles was a still a pupil, so the Stafford connection was strengthened.
Charles proved to be a high-flyer. He was ‘at the top of the school ….brilliant at studies, conscientious in performing all the duties assigned to him’. In 1888 he was sent to train for the priesthood at the English College in Rome and was ordained in 1894. He came back to the Birmingham Diocese for four years but in 1898 returned to Rome to become Vice-Rector of the English College. His work was there was highly regarded and he was elevated to Monsignor and Private Chamberlain to Pope Pius X in 1907. At the outbreak of the Great War Charles finally left Rome and was made Chancellor of the Diocese of Birmingham; he also returned to parish work and did teaching at the Catholic College at Oscott in Birmingham where, in 1924, he became Rector and was appointed Vicar-General. He retired from that post in 1929 and died in 1942. His obituary described him as
‘an outstanding figure in the Birmingham Diocese’, having spent ‘a conspicuous life in the service of the Church as parish priest, teacher, administrator and as a mentor to prospective priests. ….[he] was a conspicuous theologian, perhaps more effective in the lecture room than in the pulpit and more facile with the pen than in speech. To the outer world his appearance of austerity masked a kindly personality. …. He was a shy man and, like shy men, very sensitive. He was full of kindness and thoughtfulness, particularly for anyone in any sort of trouble.’
Charles Cronin’s career benefited from his family’s strong adherence to the Church which ensured the goodwill of teachers and clerics such as Canon Hawksford. The Cronins’ Catholicism was sustained by John Cronin and Robert Moyers’s Irish tradition but also by the Stafford Catholic tradition of the Follows family. Cronin’s whole career was demonstrably that of an English cleric moulded by experience in the international environment of Rome. Even though he reached high office in the Church, Charles Cronin did not sever his ties with either his family or his local Stafford Church. He came home when circumstances allowed and was in the town, for example, at the opening of St Patrick’s Church in 1895, the annual charity Mass for the SVP in 1908 and the golden jubilee of St Austin’s Church in 1912.
The careers of Elizabeth and John Cronin’s daughters Catherine (b. 1873), Winifred (b. 1875) and Margaret (b. 1878) were more prosaic. The social life of all three women centred on the Church, and all are recorded organising and attending soirées and other Church functions. Winifred picked up amateur dramatics from her mother and, in 1915, took part in a ‘humorous play’ at a concert in aid of Belgian refugees. Catherine and Winifred stayed on at No. 4 Friars Terrace after their mother died in 1904. In 1901 Catherine worked as a dressmaker like her mother before her, but in 1911 had no stated occupation. She died in 1924 and her health may have been poor before that. In the 1900s Winifred was an assistant in a ‘fancy shop’, but her subsequent career is not known except that she never married, never left Stafford and died there in 1961. Margaret became a school mistress and taught for many years at St Patrick’s School. She also never married and died in Stafford in 1972.
John and Elizabeth Cronin had five children but not one of them married. The reasons why the two sons remained single are obvious and for the daughters marriage and domestic drudgery may have been profoundly unattractive options. The Cronin sisters lived respectable, socially fulfilled and generally respected lives in Stafford, though it has to be said that one interviewee remembered the teacher Margaret from their schooldays and said she was ‘an evil old so-and-so’. What is remarkable is that when Margaret died in 1972 this family that had originated in the 1840s with Robert Moyers, and been consolidated in the 1860s with John Cronin died out completely. It had lasted over 130 years but had just three generations in that time. The Cronin family demonstrates how there is nothing inevitable about the process of family reproduction down the generations.
 Griffiths Valuation, Co. Tipperary, Co. Dublin and Co. Roscommon.
- Stafford RD, Death Certificate, 6b/7 No. 138, Francis Cronin .
- W. Greenslade, ‘Cotton College, formerly Sedgley Park School, in M.W. Greenslade, D.A. Johnson and C.R.J. Currie (eds.), The Victoria History of the County of Staffordshire (VCH), Vol. 6, (Oxford, Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 1979), pp. 156-8; F. Roberts and N. Henshaw, A History of Sedgley Park and Cotton College, (Preston, T. Snape and Co., 1985).
- W. Greenslade, St Austin’s, Stafford, 1791-1991, (Birmingham, Archdiocese of Birmingham Historical Commission, 1991), p. 28; http://www.freewebs.com/cottoncollege/ accessed 4 March 2013.
- The Catholic Herald, 9 January 1942, obituary of Charles Cronin.
- E. Williams, Oscott College in the Twentieth Century, (Leominster, Gracewing, 2001), pp. 48-9.
- The Catholic Herald, 9 January 1942.
- SA, 27 July 1895, 17 October 1908, 27 July 1912.
- SA, 6 March 1915.
- Stafford RD, Deaths, October-December 1924, 6b/ 22, Catherine M. Cronin
- Stafford RD, Deaths, July-September 1961, 9b/342, Winifred M. Cronin
- Stafford RD, Deaths, April-June 1972, 9b/1070, Margaret M. Cronin.