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Every refugee has a specific experience in reacting to the pressures forcing them to leave their homeland. This blog documents the experiences and subsequent history of people and families forced to leave Ireland in the nineteenth century and who ended up in one particular English town. Politicians today would do well to remember that  today’s ‘refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘economic migrants’ are human beings who are following in the historic paths trodden by millions before them. Grim as the Irish experience in Britain and the New World often was in the nineteenth century, the treatment of many migrants today is arguably worse. For Engels’s ‘Little Ireland’ in 1840s Manchester, read ‘the Jungle’ in Calais today.

This post looks at some very ordinary Irish people who, from modest beginnings, formed a nuclear family whose descendants fanned out into the host society. They were not forced out of Ireland during the Famine itself but were amongst the waves of people who saw no future in the country in the succeeding decades. The Caulfield family initially lived elsewhere in England before finally settling in Stafford. They became a family that aspired to respectability despite apparently humble origins and were the sort of people who began to appear at the soirées I described in my last post.

The surname Caulfield can either be an Anglicisation of the Irish MacCathmhaoil or be derived from a 17th century English planter family. It is relatively common in Cos Mayo, Galway and Roscommon, the classic area of Stafford’s Irish immigrants, and Francis William Caulfield was indeed from Co. Galway and had been born there around 1846 at the height of the Famine. He seems to have come to England as a young man in the 1860s and worked as a gardener in Chester, a city which at that time had many market gardens in the surrounding area. We know he was there in 1868 because in that year he married Ann Sanders who had been born in Co. Mayo in the late 1830s.[1] In 1871/2 they were living in Hoole, an outer suburb of Chester, with their three young children, although their baby Mary Ann died early in 1871 when she was only about three months old.[2]

Between 1872 and 1874 the Caulfields left Chester and moved down the main railway line to the Tamworth area in Staffordshire where their daughter Annie was born in the latter year.[3] We know they finally settled in Stafford town in the next four years because poor Annie died in the town in the autumn of 1878.[4] The surviving Caulfield family therefore consisted just of Francis and Ann and their two sons Simon (b. 1869) and Francis Patrick (b. 1872). The family was Catholic.

Francis Caulfield probably moved to Stafford to get a better job because in 1881 he was described as a nursery foreman and the family was living in the respectable locality of New Garden Street. By 1891 they had moved to the equally respectable Telegraph Street in Forebridge. As befitted their status, Ann Caulfield was recorded at St Patrick’s soirée in 1896.[5] By 1901 Francis’s fortunes had declined, however. He had reverted to being a ‘gardener’ and as aging 60-year olds the couple were living in more straitened circumstances in the far-from–salubrious Cherry Street. Their two sons had left home in the 1890s. Francis and Ann ultimately ended up in a miserable cottage in Tenterbanks, and in 1911 Francis was making a bit of money as a ‘jobbing gardener’. They lived to a good age, however, because Ann died in 1918 aged around 81 and Francis in 1922 when he was 76.[6]

Francis and Ann Caulfield were, therefore, rather late in-migrants to Stafford. Although their circumstances were modest, they were clearly a hard-working and aspirant family. Their son Simon achieved a sound education and began work as a clerk in White and Westhead’s accountancy firm. In 1896 he married Emily Julia Deavall, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Deavall, a local Stafford Catholic family.[7] He must have been a diligent worker and in 1899 he was appointed chief clerk and cashier to the Stafford Borough Gas and Electricity Department. [8] He worked there for the rest of his career.  He was a respected local government officer and took a fairly prominent role in social and professional activities related to his work, as well as being active in the social life of St Patrick’s Church.[9] The couple lived at a respectable address in the north end, 86 Victoria Terrace, and they stayed there for the rest of their lives. They had eight children, five boys and three girls, and they have many descendants today living in the Midlands and elsewhere in Britain.

Stafford Gas Works EPW017027

Stafford gas and electricity works in 1926 where Simon Caulfield worked as clerk and cashier. The works were a polluting eyesore in Stafford town centre for well over 100 years.


Ann and Francis Caulfield’s son Francis Patrick went into Stafford’s traditional trade and became a shoemaker. Like many shoemakers he moved around in search of work, and in 1893 he must have been in the shoe town of Leicester because he married Minnie May Williams there.[10] She had been born in Chester in 1871 but the Williams family had moved to Stafford around 1872, the same time as Francis and Ann Caulfield. The two couples must have known each other in Chester. By 1901 Francis and Minnie had set up house at 43 North Castle Street and they went on to have at least nine children. Although most were born in Stafford, Gertrude was born in Manchester (1900) and Walter Francis in Leicester (1907), so this branch of the Caulfield family continued to move about in search of work. Walter Francis himself emigrated to Australia in the 1920s, and there are extensive descendants of this branch of the family in Australia today.[11]

The Caulfields were a respectable and aspirant Irish Catholic family who did reasonably well in Stafford. Although the original in-migrants Francis and Ann lived in modest circumstances and seem to have been poorer in later life, they attracted no trouble and took some part in Catholic social activities. Their son Simon did well and reached a respected middle-ranking position in the local authority. Francis was less prominent and perhaps made the wrong choice in going into the shoe trade when it was already past its peak. Overall, however, the Caulfields are an example of an Irish Catholic family and their descendants who integrated fairly seamlessly into life in Britain.

[1] Marriage, Great Boughton Registration District (RD), January-March 1868, 8a/477, Francis Caulfield and Ann Sanders.

[2] Birth, Chester RD, October-December 1870, 8a/349, Mary Ann Caulfield; death January-March 1871, 8a/266.

[3] Birth, Tamworth RD, October-December 1874, 6b/435, Annie Caulfield.

[4] Death, Stafford RD, October-December 1878, 6b/14, Annie Caulfield, aged 4 years

[5] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA)¸28 November 1896.

[6] Deaths, Stafford RD, September 1918, 6b/21, Ann Caulfield and March 1922, 6b/34, Francis William Caulfield.

[7] Marriages, Stafford RD, April-June 1896 6b/42, Simon Caulfield and Emily Julia Deavall.

[8] SA, 1 April 1899

[9] SA, 13 February 1904; 10 December 1910; 11 January 1913; 5 May 1917, 2 August 1919, 17 December 1921.

[10] Marriages, Leicester RD, July-September 1893, 7a/464, Francis Patrick Caulfield and Minnie Mary Williams.

[11] Information from Francis W. Caulfield, Hawks Nest, NSW, Australia, November 2005.