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In my last post I looked generally at the Stafford shoe trade and its relationship to Ireland and the Irish. Many Irish shoemakers came to Victorian Stafford, forced out of Ireland by the collapse of Irish shoemaking in the face of competition from aggressive firms in towns like Stafford.  This post traces the story of the Hamiltons, Protestant Irish from Ulster who were victims of this process.[1]

The Hamiltons came from Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim. Their surname suggests they were originally a Scottish planter family. The first we know about them in England was when, on 5 June 1860, Edward Hamilton, a nineteen-year-old boot and shoemaker, married Harriet Adelina Lockley, a shoe binder. The marriage did not take place in Stafford but at St Andrew’s Church, Ancoats, in Manchester.[2] Andrew Brew, the workers’ leader mentioned in the last post, had also lived there, and Edward Hamilton took the same route from Ulster to Stafford. One reason was that his wife was from the Stone area north of Stafford. The newly-weds presumably decided that Stafford offered more than the Ancoats slums and within a year they had moved to the town. In 1861 they were living in a mean house in Clark Street in the town centre. They were not alone, however. Edward’s sixty-year-old widowed father, also a shoemaker, was there and the census return identifies him as the head of the household, so we can conclude father and son had come to England together. They were clearly poor and had to take in lodgers – a middle-aged butcher, William Packer, and his wife Marian.

Three members of the Hamilton family had in fact came to Stafford because in 1861 a William Hamilton, ‘cordwainer’ (the traditional name for a shoemaker), was lodging with the Harris family at 37 Gaol Road in the north end. He was a year older than Edward Hamilton and they were probably brothers. William left Stafford in the 1860s and disappears from history.[3] The same applies to his father. Perhaps they moved off together and emigrated. In the end only Edward and Harriet Hamilton settled long-term in Stafford and even they took time to become committed to the town. Although their first child, Albert James was born there in 1861, they had moved to Newcastle-under-Lyme by the time their daughter Mary arrived in 1864. That was a brief sojourn because they were back in Stafford the next year for Arthur’s birth. The couple went on to have eight children, but three died as infants and there was a considerable gap in the surviving family between Edward born in 1868 and Ada, the final arrival, ten years later.

Poor lives in Stafford

The Hamiltons remained a poor shoemaking family. Their history shows that Protestant Irish immigrants did not necessarily merge seamlessly into English society. They had no natural supporters in the local community and they had no Protestant Irish connections to help them on their way.[4] If they were Orangemen, as many Church of Ireland people in Ulster were, Stafford was barren territory. Harriet’s Staffordshire origins were no help since her family were humble labourers from fifteen miles away. Even worse, the Hamiltons settled in Stafford just when the shoe trade was starting its shift to machine production in workshops and factories. In 1871 Edward described himself as a ‘journeyman’ which implies he had served his apprenticeship as a craft shoemaker. Times were moving against him, however, since the new production methods brought division of labour and de-skilling.


A Victorian domestic shoemaker – Edward Hamilton’s workplace doubtless looked rather like this, though probably gloomier.

By 1881 Edward had sunk to being a ‘shoemaker finisher’, a relatively low grade occupation at the end of the production process. It was still mostly outwork, though even this was being brought into the factories.[5] In the same year Harriet was a dressmaker, also a marginal and sweated occupation, and in 1891 she was selling second hand clothes, something she still did in 1911.The Hamiltons therefore subsisted on low-grade, ill-paid and uncertain work on the margins of the economy, and their lives reflected that. In 1878 Edward was fined for not sending his children to school. It suggests one or more of the children were working to supplement the family income.[6]  The family earned a modest living but little more.

Their housing was mean. They lived in at least nine different houses between 1861 and 1915 but showed no evidence of upward social mobility. They shifted from the dreary town centre locality of Clark Street to Mill Street, little better, in the second half of the 1860s but had an intervening period in Newcastle-under-Lyme. They then had a rather better address on Sandon Road in the north end around 1876.[7] From 1878 until the 1900s they lived in three different houses in dingy Browning Street and in their declining years they ended up round the corner in Grey Friars. These repeated house moves undermined the Hamiltons’ ability to create a stable and nurturing home environment, although their aspiration to a basic respectability is indicated by membership of the Stafford Humane Burial Society in the 1870s. They needed to claim the Society’s insurance payments because, between 1871 and 1875, Harriet had three successive babies who died within months of their birth.[8] Those years must have been particularly miserable and stressful for the family.

Despite glimmers of respectability, Edward Hamilton’s behaviour also undermined family life. He was a drinker and could be violent. In 1868 he was arrested for being drunk and, when in the cells, assaulted a policeman who had gone down to stop him kicking the door and making a racket. The fight allegedly went on for some minutes.[9] Nineteen year later he was out with his son Arthur at the Crown Inn, Hyde Lea, and joined in kicking a police inspector who had already been attacked by the violently drunk Arthur.[10] These incidents were probably only the tip of an iceberg of anger and violence that existed within the Hamilton household and of which Harriet and the children were probably the chief victims.

Sectarian and Loyalist?

Edward Hamilton came from Carrickfergus, a strongly Protestant town, and we must speculate to what extent he, his brother and his father carried their Ulster Protestant identity with them to Stafford. Edward was, of course, a young man when he arrived in Stafford and his marriage to a local woman immediately gave his family a mixed identity. Even so, in the 1868 election he voted Tory, probably swayed by hostility to the proposed disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and concessions to Catholics.[11] It seems that for many years Edward in fact wanted to obscure his Irish origin. Although in the 1871 census he specifically said he had been born in Carrickfergus, in the three succeeding census returns he changed his story and said he had been born in Scotland. If that had happened once it might have been an enumerator’s error, but three times suggests a conscious decision to deny his Irish origin.

There is also one known incident that suggests anti-Irishness, and perhaps anti-Catholicism, in the family. In April 1888 Edward Hamilton’s son Arthur was fined ten shillings for an assault at the Working Men’s Club in Stafford. The key witness was Thomas Maloney, an Irish Catholic who was an official at the club. In a dispute over membership rules Arthur Hamilton called Maloney ‘an Irish something’ (laughter in court), assaulted him and then ran away.[12] Trivial as the incident was, it clearly indicates that at least one of Edward Hamilton’s children had no inherited Irish identity and some apparent antipathy to the Irish. The attitude was probably general in the family and it suggests that although they were near the bottom of the social hierarchy they strove to differentiate themselves from those they regarded as inferiors, the Catholic Irish.

The Hamilton children depart

Harriet and Edward Hamilton’s children showed little commitment either to their family or to Stafford when they grew up. Born between 1861 and 1877, they entered the labour force when the shoe trade was often depressed and jobs were beginning to disappear. Their parents had barely managed to scrape a living from shoemaking, so it held little attraction for the children. Neither Edward nor Harriet was well enough connected to get their children secure jobs in footwear or anywhere else in the local economy. Stafford’s economic base was beginning to diversify into engineering and administration, but before 1900 the switch had not yet created enough new jobs and more people were leaving the town than coming to it. With their stressed home life and interrupted schooling, the Hamilton children emerged with poor skills and prospects. Their subsequent lives generally reflected this.

The three Hamilton boys all joined the army, a classic refuge for youths with poor prospects. Albert James (b. 1861), was with the 12th Lancers, a cavalry regiment, on active service until 1891 and another five years in the reserve, but his record was mediocre. He never rose above private and had a number of infractions resulting in imprisonment.[13] Arthur (b. 1865) started work as a butcher’s boy but in 1889 joined the Royal Artillery. He served for just over three years, including one spell in India but also one in prison. In 1892 he was discharged as medically unfit because he had received a compound fracture of his leg whilst on duty. The army just threw him on the scrap heap with a pension of twelve pence a week for one year.[14] He died in Cannock in 1897, aged only thirty-two.[15] Edward Hamilton (b. 1868) also died relatively young. He joined the Royal Artillery in 1886 but his record was notable only for two cases of gonorrhoea. In 1892 he was diagnosed with primary syphilis. His conduct was described as ‘indifferent’.[16]  He finally died of ‘hemiplegia’ in 1907, aged only thirty eight. This was almost certainly tertiary syphilis, so his army past had caught up with him.[17]

The Hamiltons’ daughter Mary (b. 1864) also had a problematic life. She was still living at home in 1881 working as a dressmaker but she subsequently had at least three illegitimate children, one of them supposedly born in Brighton. Mary’s elusive but clearly promiscuous behaviour suggests she may have made money from casual prostitution. It has proved impossible to trace her after 1891. She could have changed her name and identity and gone off to ply her trade elsewhere. The Hamilton’s final child, Ada (b. 1877), also left Stafford. She was the only one to work in the shoe trade. She became a paste fitter, a menial female job. In 1901 she married Charles Conlin, a railway fireman from Crewe but they have not been traced again in Britain. It can only be assumed they left amidst the tide of emigrants in the 1900s.[18]

The elusive Hamiltons

Harriet Hamilton died in 1915 and old Edward seems to left Stafford after he became a widower. His death has not been traced. They had been a poor family with internal stresses who had struggled to survive in an economic climate that was against them. The children’s strategy was to get out of Stafford but with limited success. This pattern must have stemmed, at least in part, from their family and social environment in Stafford.

The Hamiltons entered a society alien to the secure reference points of Ulster Protestant political and religious life. Edward Hamilton only became committed to England because of his marriage to Harriet. The picture that emerges of the couple’s relationship is mixed. On the one hand they fulfilled, in later life, their obligations by taking in their wayward daughter Mary for a time and bringing up her illegitimate children. On the other hand we see in incidents of Edward and Arthur’s drunkenness, violence and indifference to schooling evidence of a disordered household and weak family ties. They were a deprived family that continually moved house and found it difficult to provide a nurturing home.

Evidence is elusive of how the Hamilton family related to their neighbours and the wider working class community. They needed contact with other shoemakers and employers to get the outwork on which they depended, but their failure to get better houses suggests those contacts were fickle. Harriet’s switch to selling second hand clothes indicates a family relating to Stafford’s poorest rather than the artisans who could still make a respectable living in the shoe trade. Their frequent switches of address imply they never built close relations with their neighbours, whilst Arthur’s fracas at the Working Men’s Club suggests ineffectual, perhaps even abrasive, relations with working class peers. It seems clear that Edward wanted to negate his Irish background, but in claiming to be Scottish he was still admitting a different identity from native Staffordians, and we are left with the picture of a mixed-ethnicity family aloof from local society. All in all, this Protestant shoemaking family’s life in Stafford was difficult and their circumstances were as poor, or poorer, than those of many Catholic Irish families.

[1] A longer history of the Hamilton family can be found in my book Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, ppbk. ed. 2016), pp. 246-252.

[2] Parish Registers, St Andrew’s Church, Ancoats, Manchester, Ancestry Database, accessed 3 April 2013.

[3] No death or other place of residence in Britain has been traced.

[4] Church of England clergy officiated at the family’s four recorded burials in the cemetery. Stafford BC Burial Records: 2/3970; 3/5362 and 3/4460; 10/7651. The Hamilton boys gave their religion as ‘Church of England’ when they were attested into the army.

[5] A.M. Harrison, ‘The development of boot and shoe manufacturing in Stafford, 1850-1880’, Journal of the Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society, 10 (1981), p. 37.

[6] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 14 September 1878

[7] In 1871 they were at 4 Mill Street but by 1875 they had moved next door to no. 5. William Salt Library, Jones Collection, Accessions 0/00-9/0, sale catalogue, 1875, “valuable freehold house properties, … 2 houses, gardens & premises at 5/6 Mill Street in the occupation of Edward Hamilton & Nicholas Maddocks.” By 1877 they were living at Victoria Terrace, Sandon Road. SRO D4338/E/1/5 Stafford & District Humane Burial Society Register, 1876-1930s. In 1881 they were living at 31 Browning Street but by 1891 they had moved to 18 Browning Street, a small four-roomed cottage; in 1901 they were next door at no. 17.

[8] They lived at 7 Grey Friars in 1911 and Harriet died at no. 9 Grey Friars in 1915.

[9] SA, 2 May 1868.

[10] SA, 13 August 1887.

[11] SRO, D5008/2/7/11/1, Borough of Stafford Poll Book, Elections of 1868 and 1869.

[12] SA, 21 April 1888.

[13] NA, WO97, service record of No. 2296 Private Albert James Hamilton, FindMyPast database, accessed 27 February 2013.

[14] NA, WO97, service record of No. 72126 Private Arthur Hamilton, FindMyPast database, accessed 27 February 2013.

[15] Cannock RD, Deaths, January-March 1897, 6b/328, Arthur Hamilton.

[16] NA, WO97, service record of No. 52897 Private Edward Hamilton, FindMyPast database, accessed 27 February 2013.

[17] Nantwich RD, Death Certificate, 8a/210 No. 475, 16 May 1907, Edward Hamilton; opinion of Dr. Richard Nelson, Chester, 21 April 2013.  

[18] Stafford RD, Marriage Certificate, 6b/25 No. 149, 27 April 1901, Ada Hamilton and Charles Henry Conlin.