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On 5 June 1886 the Staffordshire Advertiser carried the following story:-

“Family Affection”

“Mary Raftery, wife of James Raftery, 45 Broadeye [Stafford] was charged with assaulting Annie Raftery on 29 May and breaking four panes of glass in the house of Thomas Mann. The defendant pleaded guilty to the second charge. Annie Raftery’s husband was a soldier in the late Egyptian war. She is the defendant’s sister-in-law and lodges next door. Mary Raftery entered the house of Mrs Margaret Mann, called Annie Raftery bad names, knocked her under the table and beat her. Next morning Mary Raftery continued knocking at the door and then threw a jug through the bedroom window, breaking four panes. Mary Raftery said Annie Raftery was the aggressor but Mary Raftery was convicted and fined 5s plus costs or 14 days in prison and 2s 6d plus costs or 14 days for the second offence.”

Annie Raftery’s soldier husband – and Mary’s brother-in-law – was William Raftery. His life and that of his family shows the harder side of Irish immigrant life in nineteenth century Britain, even for those second generation Irish who were born in Britain. It also shows the problems of disentangling the evidence that has come down to us today. For a start, there is the name – Raftery. It could be spelt in a multiplicity of ways because its owners were largely illiterate and could not insist on a preferred version. Many of the people recording the name spelt it phonetically and they often confused it with the more common Irish surname of Rafferty. Modern on-line data sources have added to the confusion with inaccurate transcriptions of the name from the original documents. So identifying the correct Rafterys from a multiplicity of sources is a difficult detective job and it can’t be guaranteed that everything in this post has got it right. Even so, we can sketch the outline of William Raftery’s history.

Raftery Rosc summary 2

William Raftery’s close family relatives

William’s parents were Thomas Raftery and Mary Tulis. They had been married on 20 May 1848 at St Austin’s RC Church in Stafford, and that marriage is the first evidence we have that the Raftery family had arrived in Stafford during the Famine. Both Thomas and Mary had been born in Co. Roscommon around 1821 and they probably knew each other back in Ireland. Like many of his compatriots, Thomas was a labourer but the couple supplemented their income by running a lodging house in Allen’s Court, a slum in the centre of town.[1] A year later, on 6 July 1849, a second Raftery marriage took place at St Austin’s when James Raftery married Bridget Cunningham.  James was Thomas’s brother and in 1851 he was living at 17 Back Gaol Road with his in-laws from the Cunningham family and other lodgers. Seventeen Irish people were packed into this miserable cottage and another fourteen were at no. 18 next door. Among them were William, John and Ann Raftery, brothers and sister of James and Thomas. Also in the house was their widowed mother Catherine Raftery who had been born in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, around 1795. William, Ann and John Raftery said they had been born in ‘Glintivly’, Co. Roscommon. There was no townland with precisely that name in the county but there was a locality called Glantives (nowadays Glenties) in Kiltullagh parish. This was at the north western tip of Roscommon where it meets Co. Mayo, and Ballyhaunis where Catherine was born was only about four miles away.

Before the Famine we know there was a Raftery family living in Glantives townland, Kiltullagh. The Tithe Applotment Books tell us that in 1833 Pat and James Raftery leased 31 and 32 acres of land there, and there were extensive Raftery holdings elsewhere in the parish. A Thomas Raftery & Co. held 23 acres of arable and pasture in partnership in Ballinlaugh townland about two miles from Glantives.[2] Thomas, James and the others were just the type of small tenants who were forced out of Roscommon in the dark days of the Famine. They probably ended up in Stafford because one or more of them had come to the district before the Famine to do seasonal harvest work.

These Roscommon  Rafterys went on to produce a complex family in Stafford and elsewhere. Reconstructing their story is, however, further complicated because another Raftery family settled in the town in the 1870s. They came from Glenamaddy in Co. Galway and, despite the common surname, they were not related to Roscommon Rafterys and had no obvious dealings with them despite living similar poverty-stricken lives in Stafford’s slums. Disentangling these two families has been a knotty problem but their full story must await a later post. Today we return to William Raftery.

William’s childhood was spent in the miserable surroundings of Allen’s Court and Back Walls North. His lodging house home had a shifting cast of destitute Irish living on their wits to survive.[3] Violence stalked the surroundings. In 1861 William’s father was involved in a fracas in Back Walls and was fined for resisting the arrest of one of the other combatants.[4] With such a start in life and no schooling, William was destined to follow his father and brother James into the building trade. By the 1870s he was a plasterer but his work must always have been insecure and the lure of the pub was always there. He was fined at least twice for drunkenness and wilful damage and he must also have got into fights despite being a small man of slight build. [5] He bore the scars on both cheeks.[6] For a young man with no prospects the army was a way out, and sometime in the early 1870s he joined the part-time 2nd Staffordshire Militia. He was a classic militia soldier – a man in low-paid casual work for whom the money was useful and a periodic dose of army life a change from squalor, drudgery and insecurity.

With his Militia experience to call on William became a useful recruit to the full-time army and in 1876 he signed on for twelve years service.[7] He went into the Grenadier Guards and at the time of the 1881 census was stationed at Wellington Barracks in London, within a stone’s throw of Buckingham Palace. His army record form is incomplete but the military history sheet shows apparently continuous service in Britain. That is not the whole picture, however. By June 1882 he had completed six years full-time service and was transferred to the Army Reserve but on 4 August, just five weeks later, he was suddenly called back to the colours. This fits with him being sent to Egypt as Annie said in 1886. He must have been part of Sir Garnet Wolseley’s force of 16,000 that destroyed the nationalist uprising at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir (13 September 1882).[8]


Foot Guards at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, September 1882. William Raftery may – or may not – have been there. (Painted by Caton Woodville and in the Royal Collection)

His pensionable service record shows that after six months he was transferred back to the Reserves and sent to the Lichfield district. He was, in other words, back in Staffordshire. William was finally discharged from the army at the end of June 1888, having lasted for precisely the twelve years needed to earn him a military pension. He had gained little else from his period in the army. He never rose above a humble private and his conduct was described as ‘bad in consequence of acts of absence, drunkenness and insubordination.’[9] The army life had merely reinforced the habits of his youth.

We therefore know that William came back to Staffordshire and in 1886 had a ‘wife’ with him. But who was Annie? Despite diligent searches it is still impossible to say who she was and where she came from. There’s no record of William marrying anyone during his army service and the couple probably lived together in a fairly brief common law relationship. William’s brother James presumably got them a room in the Manns’ house next door but his wife Mary clearly disliked Annie enough to harass, abuse and beat her in 1886. After that Annie disappears from the record, not surprising given the squalid and fractious conditions William had found for her. William doubtless suffered all the problems of readjusting to civilian life that have become familiar amongst today’s ex-service personnel. He certainly didn’t stay on in the Mann’s house because in 1891 he was on his own and lodging in the Star Inn in Mill Street. There were nine other boarders packed in with him in this back street pub. He claimed to be working as a plasterer, his old occupation. From then on he went downhill and by 1901 he had sunk to the bottom. In that year he was a pauper incarcerated in the Cannock Union Workhouse ten miles from Stafford. He was less than fifty years old but described as ‘formerly plasterer’. The end came soon. He seems to have died in nearby Walsall in 1905.[10]

William Raftery’s life from being a child in the back streets of Stafford to his miserable end in the 1900s showed many signs of the dislocation that afflict the poor in any unequal society. He grew up in a family of Irish immigrants who had suffered the stresses of pre-Famine and Famine times and the upheaval of emigration. This multiplied his problems. His attempt to leave his background and find a new life in the army clearly failed to bring either ultimate security or fulfilling relationships. William Raftery was classically one of the chronic victims of the harsh environment of Victorian Britain.

[1] In January 1851 Thomas Raftery was summonsed for running an unregistered lodging house. Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 1 February 1851

[2] Tithe Applotment Book, Co. Roscommon, 25/17 Kiltullagh Parish, National Library of Ireland, Dublin.

[3] E.g. SA, 24 April 1858, theft of clothing and articles by Maria Hughes, a lodger.

[4] SA, 31 August 1861.

[5] SA, 3 July 1875 and 4 September 1875.

[6] WO Chelsea Pensioners, British Army Service Records, 1760-1913, Attestation record of William Henry Raftary (sic), FindMyPast database accessed 15 February 2016. His height was five feet and his chest measurement was 34½ inches.

[7] Ibid.

[8] He may, of course, have been serving in home barracks to replace others soldiers from the regiment who were sent to Egypt. This account prefers to believe Annie, however.

[9] WO Chelsea Pensioners, British Army Service Records, 1760-1913, Attestation record of William Henry Raftary (sic), FindMyPast database accessed 15 February 2016.

[10] Deaths, Walsall Registration District, October-December 1905, 6b/403, William Rafferty (sic), aged 54. William Raftery is the only obvious candidate for this record, despite the variation in surname.