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In my posts on 3rd March 3 and 11/26th August 2015 we saw how Patrick Concar from Co. Roscommon was among a group of seasonal harvesters who, in 1845, were caught bringing guns back to Ireland from Staffordshire. He somehow escaped imprisonment and when the Famine struck he was forced to settle back in Stafford, the area he already knew. He was not alone. At least three Concar family members came to the town but today’s surviving line is descended from the partnership Patrick established after his arrival. The second generation of Concars were all born in and grew up in Stafford. Their lives were often problematic, but by the end of the nineteenth century the family had become part of the Stafford working class.

In 1851 Patrick was a labourer working at Tillington Farm on the northern outskirts of the town, whilst his brother William had arrived and was nearby at Creswell Farm. In the 1850s their brother Martin also came to the Stafford area with his son Edward. William and Martin did not ultimately settle, but Edward stayed on, doing farmwork and labouring until his death in 1891. He never married.

On 2nd October 1854 Patrick Concar married Bridget Kenny at St Austins Church. She is not recorded in Stafford before her marriage to Patrick. He perhaps already knew her from home, but equally he may have met her in the lodging houses of Stafford.[1] Their union was one of a wave of marriages that occurred amongst young exiles from the Famine struggling to rebuild their lives. The newly-married couple settled in New Street in Stafford’s north end and the family continued to live there until Bridget’s death in 1898. They began at No. 47A. They were forced to take lodgers to pay the rent but they were not running a lodging house. In 1861 another Irish family, the Burkes, was sharing the dwelling with them. Later in the 1860s they moved to No. 61 New Street and they lived in that house for over thirty years. It was one of the smallest and most miserable dwellings in the street, and across the back yard lay Startin’s Court, an unsavoury group of three even smaller cottages. The row of houses from 61 to 69 was wholly occupied by Irish families and their descendants. Even so, it was by no means a ghetto. English neighbours lived at no. 59 next door to the Concars, whilst all the houses opposite – less than twenty feet away – were occupied by English families.

New Street where the Concars lived. The photo was taken during the Coronation celebrations, 1953 (courtesy of the late Roy Mitchell). The Concars lived in one of the houses on the left in the middle distance.

New Street where the Concars lived. The photo was taken during the Coronation celebrations, 1953 (courtesy of the late Roy Mitchell). The Concars lived in one of the houses on the left in the middle distance.

It seems that Patrick and Bridget did their best to make No. 61 New Street a stable and decent home. Although they were living in modest circumstances, they began a process of direct involvement with Stafford life – they did not remain ‘outcasts’ from it. Children started to arrive and in the early years work, home and domestic life must have been the focus of their existence. There is no record of their doings before 1868. This negative evidence suggests they steered clear of trouble and, in particular, largely avoided the drunken disorder common in nearby Snow’s Yard. Patrick got the vote under the franchise reform of 1867 and in 1868/9 he voted Liberal both times. The two elections of 1868/9 saw Stafford’s usual outbreak of bribery, intimidation and violence and Patrick was amongst many from the mob who found themselves in the magistrates’ court – no great crime in the run of Stafford’s elections![2] His activities show he engaged with politics, though the fact that the dominant election issue was the disestablishment of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland also suggests Patrick’s continuing attachment to his homeland and to Irish causes.

By 1872 the Concars had nine children. They were growing up in the heart of Stafford’s working-class north end, and once they reached their teenage years they started to get into the sort of scrapes common at that age. In September 1872 Thomas, the first-born (1857), was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace in Foregate Street. It was said that he was supplied with drink by some Irish labourers from Red Cow Yard at a house in New Street.[3] The newspaper reported that Thomas was ‘a decent-looking Irish boy’. During this period the Staffordshire Advertiser often referred to ‘Irish Rows’ and identified specific individuals as Irish. Although the paper did not go beyond this to explicit anti-Irish hostility, the steady drip of ethnic labeling must have contributed to the stigmatization of working-class families of Irish origin. In Thomas Concar’s case this Stafford-born lad was branded as ‘Irish’ by his parents’ origin, by where he lived and the company he kept. We can see why aspirant Irish families sought respectability by avoiding areas and associations that would lead to such stigmatization.

The Concar family’s life changed radically in 1874. With the decline in farmwork in the late 1860s, Patrick was forced to shift jobs. He became a general labourer and got a job on the railway. In May 1874 he was working on the main line tracks to Crewe at Madeley station north of Stafford and was run down and killed by a train. Bridget Concar suddenly had to support her extensive family on her own. With no father at home, the teenage children got into further trouble and life at No. 61 became stressed and difficult. Less than a year after Patrick’s death his son Martin (b. 1859), described as ‘a disreputable-looking youth from New Street’, was in court for assaulting ‘a little girl’ named Elizabeth Reddish.[4] No details were given but it was probably some sort of sexual assault. Even so, Martin got away with just a 5s. fine or 14 days in prison for the offence. It was, nevertheless, a portent of further trouble. In the next three years Martin was imprisoned twice for theft and also had a conviction for drunkenness.

In the 1880s Martin went the way of many a poor youth and joined the army, but by 1887 he was back in Stafford. In that year he married Julia Simpson, the daughter of a Staffordian shoemaker and a Protestant. Marriage did not tame Martin Concar. In 1888 he was in court again for drunkenness, assault and theft.[5] The end was near, however. The couple managed to have one child, Thomas (b. 1888), but Martin died in 1890 after less than three years of marriage. Julia and Thomas were forced to go back to her parents in Sash Street, and in 1892 she married Charles Bates, a local shoemaker. Thomas was brought up in the new household as his stepson but he kept the name Concar and went on to found an extensive line of the Concar family that is still represented in the area today.[6] This demonstrates how a family’s thread of life can be stretched very thin but still survive and prosper.

In the next post we shall see what happened to the Concar family in the long term.

[1] A Kenny family settled in Stafford in the 1860s and it does seem to have originated in the Galway/Mayo/Roscommon area. It is impossible to say whether Bridget Kenney came from the same family, but it seems likely, and it might explain why the later Kenny household came to Stafford from East Anglia.

[2] Staffordshire Advertiser, (SA), 9 January 1869 et seq.  The newspaper refers to a ‘Michael’ Concar, but there was never a person in Stafford recorded by that name. The evidence points to Patrick and the two names are a common combination.

[3] SA, 7 September 1872. The report said he was supplied with drink from the Red Cow Inn, but a week later the paper corrected this to ‘Red Cow Lane’.

[4] SA, 13 February 1875.

[5] SA, 24 November 1888.

[6] Information given by Ken and Steven Hewitt, interviewed June 2003.