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In my last post I looked at the Raftery family who fled to Stafford from Kiltullagh, Co. Roscommon, during the Famine, and particularly at the sad life of William Raftery. This week we look at a second but unrelated Raftery family. They came from Co. Galway and they finally settled in Stafford in the 1870s, a point which emphasizes how Irish immigration was a long drawn out process.

These new arrivals were three Raftery brothers, Michael (b. 1836), James (b. 1842) and John (b. 1848). In the 1881 census John Raftery stated precisely where he was born – Glenamaddy in Co. Galway.[1] Glenamaddy was a very small town in the north-east of the county and in the 1850s Thomas Raftery held just one acre of land on its northern outskirts – plot 17 on the Griffiths Valuation map. Another relative, Timothy, held plot 1 on the map in partnership with two other men. Their land amounted to nearly five acres.[2]  The three brothers who settled in Stafford may have been sons of one these men.[3] They had clung on after the Famine but were existing in desperate poverty on these minute holdings. They lived in the heart of the area which exported many of Stafford’s Irish settlers and the Raftery brothers had many connections in the town before they finally settled there.

Raftery Snows Yard_0001 rev

Raftery land holdings in Glenamaddy, 1856, from the Griffiths Valuation survey.

They came to the Stafford district as early as 1862. At the beginning of September that year James and John Raftery were with a group of harvest workers who got involved in a fracas at the Greyhound Inn, Yarlet, to the north of Stafford.  James was accused of assaulting a policeman, and the chairman of the bench ‘warned the prisoner and his fellow countrymen that they must not import that form of brutality into this country or they would be severely punished.’[4] He was fined 40s plus costs or one month in jail.

The three Raftery brothers presumably continued to come to Stafford for harvest work during the 1860s and they seem to have finally given up in Ireland and settled in the town around 1874. In doing so they left the land and worked as bricklayer’s labourers. Michael Raftery had married a woman called Margaret in Ireland, and they came with two surviving children, Matthew (b. 1861) and Michael (b. 1867).  James and John arrived as single men, but they both married within a year and their marriage relationships were somewhat unusual. John Raftery married Margaret Hart (b. 1853) at St Austin’s on 29 September 1874.[5] Her father, Anthony Hart, was a Famine immigrant from Co. Galway. He worked as a farm labourer and almost certainly came from the same district as the Rafterys. More intriguing is the fact that Anthony Hart’s wife, Margaret’s mother, was Bridget Raftery! We know this from her sister Mary’s baptism record.[6] It seems that in Margaret Hart John Raftery was marrying a close relative, though how close it is impossible to say. John and Margaret Raftery set up house at 10 Snow’s (or Red Cow) Yard, the notorious slum court we have visited previously in this blog.

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Snow’s or Red Cow Yard in 1880 from OS 1:500 plan 37/11/7, Stafford Borough. Note the Red Cow pub at the entrance with its malthouse and brewery behind the houses.

The following year (1875) James Raftery married Margaret Hart’s sister Mary. It was not Mary’s first marriage. Her first in 1869 was to a cowman, John McCormick, who in 1861 was working at Highfields farm outside Stafford. He must have decamped or died in the early 1870s and Mary tried again with James Raftery in 1875.[7] It seems the couple then lived for a time in Manchester since their first child, Bridget, was born there in 1875. They settled back in Stafford shortly afterwards and moved into no. 11 Snow’s Yard next door to John and Margaret. On numerous occasions down the years they were all involved in fights, drunkenness and ‘Irish Rows’ in the yard and around the Red Cow pub at the entrance.[8] These immigrants had replaced the poverty of rural life in Ireland with an impoverished urban existence in England from which the only relief was drink. Their houses, thrown up in backland near the River Sow in the late 18th century, were overcrowded and squalid, and in these conditions trivial incidents rapidly escalated into violence. They were living the same brutalized lives as thousands of other poor Irish – and British – families in Victorian Britain. Most of the conflicts were purely within the Snow’s Yard community but in 1902 Margaret was convicted of assaulting George Collins, a bailiff, in the Maid’s Head Vaults. She struck him twice in the face and ‘accused him of robbing poor people’. With good reason – he had taken goods from her four years previously under a distress warrant, presumably for non-payment of rent. The landlords of Snow’s Yard were notorious for charging high rents for lousy properties and tipping people out on the street with no compunction.

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The Red Cow pub photographed around 1900 when it had been renamed the Falcon. The building dated back to the 17th century and was inherited by Justinian Snow in 1765. He built Snow’s Yard was down the entry to the left. (Picture courtesy of the late Roy Mitchell. Details from J. Connor, The Inns & Alehouses of Stafford, Part 2 (2014).

John and Margaret Raftery’s later life continued to be unstable, one symptom of which was frequent house moves. They got out of Snow’s Yard in the 1880s and lived in other slum houses in Stafford’s north end. They may have spent some time in Derbyshire since their son John was born there around 1887 but that was clearly a temporary move. In 1901 they were living at 75 Greyfriars, still close to Snow’s Yard. In September that year John Raftery was given a month in the gaol with hard labour for ‘a cowardly wife assault’.  He made a savage attack on his wife who ‘had not taken proceedings against him before and did not wish to press the case now as he had promised to behave better in future’. That exposed the violence taking place within the family as well as outside it. John failed to turn up in court and the magistrates were clearly unimpressed by his wife’s cowed explanation.[9]

In the midst of such family stress John and Margaret brought eleven children into the torrid world of Snow’s Yard but six failed to survive infancy in such conditions. Margaret (b. 1880), Agnes May (b. 1884) and John (b. 1887) went on to marry but the subsequent whereabouts of Bridget (b. 1893) and Annie (b. 1895) are unknown. John married Jane Burton in 1913 and most of the people in Stafford today who retain the Raftery name are probably their descendants.

Margaret Raftery was aged around 66 when she died in 1918, a reasonable life span given the ravages of pregnancy, drink and stress.[10]  John Raftery was still alive at that time; it is not known when or where he died. John and James’s brother Michael Raftery had died in 1880 – he didn’t survive long in Stafford.[11]  His widow Margaret seems to have remained there with her two children for some time but nothing more is known about them except that Matthew (b. 1861) died in Stafford Workhouse in 1916.[12]

James and Mary Raftery went on to have at least nine children, of whom only four survived to adulthood.  By 1901 three of them, Harriet (b. 1877),[13] Mary Ellen (b. 1881) and Agnes (b. 1883) had moved to Manchester and were living together in the Openshaw district. This suggests the family continued to have relatives or contacts in the city dating from the 1870s when James and Mary had been there. The move to Manchester got these young women out of their miserable Snow’s Yard environment. Agnes and Mary Ellen worked in a pickle factory, and Mary Ellen married George Adams, a railway worker, in 1907.[14] They went on to have a number of children and in 1911 were living in Wolverhampton. The subsequent history of James and Mary Raftery  is unknown  – they did not live in Stafford – but Mary finally died in the town in 1924.[15]

The Galway and Roscommon Raftery families lived separate but parallel lives in Stafford. By no means all Stafford’s Irish immigrants conformed to the stereotypical picture of Irish refugees, but the Rafterys in many ways did. Forced to leave Ireland, they struggled to make a living in the harsh world of Victorian England. They relied on casual manual work to keep body and soul together. They could afford nothing but the worst housing, and they often had to move from place to place; there was little stability in their lives. Life was a struggle and it brought its share of petty conflicts and violence, both stimulated and ameliorated by drink. Nevertheless, as time went on and new generations grew up the Raftery descendants who remained in Stafford took their place in working class society and progressively intermingled with it. There ultimately was no relict Irish community in Stafford. The Rafterys were people of Irish descent who added their distinctive character to the evolving social mix that characterised even this small town in Midland England.

[1] The name of the town can be spelt in many different ways, both historically and even today. The common form is Glenamaddy but the Irish Ordnance Survey uses two ‘n’s.

[2] National Library of Ireland, Griffiths Valuation of Ireland, Parish of Boyounagh, Township of Glennamaddy (sic), printed 1856. There were other Raftery families in Ballyhard and Stonetown townships some distance from Glenamaddy.

[3] Although the baptism register for Boyounagh RC parish (covering the Glenamaddy area) reveals many Raftery baptisms in the 1840s the three brothers do not appear. A church baptism cost 2s 6d and it may be that these Rafterys could not or would not pay the fee. Catholic Parish Registers, Boyounagh Parish, Co. Galway, 1838-65, Ancestry database, accessed 22 March 2016.

[4] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 6 September 1862

[5] Birmingham Archdiocesen Archive, St Austin’s registers, Stafford, P255/1/2.

[6] Birmingham Archdiocesen Archive, St Austin’s registers, Stafford, P255/1/2. Mary Hart had been born around 1851 in Ireland, but the Harts must have moved to Stafford when she was a baby since she was christened at St Austin’s on 15 May 1851.

[7] Information from Maureen Jubb, September 2006. There is no record of McCormick’s death in Stafford but numerous men of that name died elsewhere in England during this period. The fact that James and Mary, as Catholics, married in the Register Office suggests they had something to hide. Stafford RD, marriages July-September 1875, 6b/26.

[8] For example, see SA, 13 February 1875, 4 September 1875, 11 September 1875, 19 May 1877, 4 June 1881, 5 May 1883, 14 September 1901, 25 September 1909

[9] SA, 14 September 1901

[10] Stafford Borough Council Burial Records, Vol. 11, no. 8742, 26 April 1918.

[11] Stafford Borough Council Burial Records, Vol. 4, no. 6920, 6 January 1880.

[12] Stafford Borough Council Burial Records, Vol. 11, no. 8008, 8 May 1916

[13] In the 1881 and 1891 censuses her name is recorded as Margaret, but by 1901 she seems to have called herself Harriet.

[14] Ashton under Lyne RD, marriages, July-September 1907, 8d/1154. The marriage took place on 8 July.

[15] Stafford RD, deaths, April-June 1924, Mary Raftery, 6b/10.