, , , , ,

Sometime between 1851 and 1857 Anthony Fisher, a German watch and clockmaker, arrived in Stafford and set up in business. In 1857 he married Catherine Clarke, a local woman, and by 1861 the couple were living at 34 Garden Street in Forebridge. They already had three children and were sharing the house with Catherine’s parents and their three other children. It must have been very crowded. Anthony Fisher seems to have done well enough in Stafford, occupying premises in Foregate Street for many years before retiring with his family to Birmingham in the 1890s.

Thousands of people were leaving the German states in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century – like Trump’s ancestors – and Anthony Fisher’s arrival in Stafford was just one incident in a tide of emigration that in sheer numbers equalled that from Ireland.  In general Stafford was not an attractive destination for such continental emigrants – London, Manchester and above all North America had much more to offer – but Anthony Fisher’s story makes the simple point that many people even in a small town like Stafford had originally come from elsewhere. This blog compares the Irish with the town’s other in-migrants. In doing this it is important to compare like with like and initially I shall look at men from elsewhere who were married or partnered and heads of households settled in Stafford. In a later blog I’ll look at apparently independent female and male migrants whose life stage situation was rather different.

For this blog I’m going to compare the details I already had for Irish-born men who were heads of households with those of a sample of men who were born outside Stafford but not in Ireland. I’ve chosen the year 1861 because the number of Irish-born reached its peak in Stafford around that time.  First of all, the general picture (Fig. 1).[1] The Census unfortunately doesn’t tell us how many people were short-distance migrants from elsewhere in Staffordshire, since they were lumped together with those born in Stafford itself. Three-quarters of the adult males had in fact been born within the county, were therefore local and are excluded from Fig. 1. Nevertheless a quarter were incomers even in this predominantly rural area, an indication of the amount of movement in Victorian Britain. The biggest proportion of in-migrants had come relatively short distances – from the adjoining counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire or Shropshire or from other Midland counties. Just over a fifth had travelled the much longer journey from Ireland and significant numbers were there from the South-East and Northern England. Why had they come to Stafford?

1861 blog_0001

Fig 1: Birthplaces of in-migrant male household heads, Stafford, 1861

In 1861 there were 121 Irish-born and apparently married male household heads living in Stafford and Fig. 2 shows the different sectors of the local economy in which they worked.[2]  The data on the non-Irish-born is taken from a sample of 229 adult male household heads from the Census returns who were born outside Stafford but not in Ireland. The sample roughly reflected the proportion of people born in different regions of the country in the published Registration District data.

1861 blog_0002

Fig. 2: Employment sectors of Irish and non-Irish migrant male household heads, Stafford, 1861

Fig. 2 shows obvious differences between the Irish and non-Irish migrants. Over half the Irish in 1861 were working on the farms and over a fifth were other sorts of labourers. The stereotypical picture of the Irish in Britain as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers is amply borne out by this evidence. Very few of the British movers did that sort of work. Very few were on the farms or labouring. Over half were engaged in some sort of manufacturing and most of the rest were either in retail jobs or public service.

The division between the Irish and the British migrants was reflected in their relative occupational status (Fig. 3). Seventy per cent of the Irish were either unskilled or semi-skilled, the latter being the ones doing various sorts of farmwork. Only just over a tenth of the British came into these categories. The vast majority were skilled manual or clerical, of whom over a third worked in the Stafford shoe trade.  Nearly a fifth were entrepreneurs or managers.

1861 blog_0003

Fig 3: Occupational status of Irish and non-Irish male household heads, Stafford, 1861

It is clear, then, that Stafford’s non-Irish migrants came to the town because it offered opportunities to get on in relatively higher status jobs. There was little point in moving there if you had no skill to offer. The Irish were already dominating those jobs along with the locally-born unskilled. Typical of the sort of outsiders who did settle in Stafford was William Beardsley. He’d been born around 1820 in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, and began work as a framework knitter, a local trade but a dying one. Sometime in the 1850s he gave that up, became a shoemaker and came the relatively short distance to Stafford. In 1861 we find him living in St Chad’s Passage with his new Stafford-born wife Jane and baby son, then aged just one.  William showed the adaptability typical of many migrants. Shoemaking in Stafford was a competitive and over-populated trade and during the 1860s William got out of it and took over the tenancy of the Queen’s Head pub in the Broad Eye, a fairly poor part of the town. He was still there in 1881 and by then he and Jane had had five children. William Beardsley did well enough through his move to Stafford. He died in the town in 1883 but Jane continued the business and was still running licensed premises, by then in Mill Street, in 1901.[3]

James Harrison from Newton-le-Willows had been born around 1823 and came of age in time to work for that expanding sector of the Victorian economy, the railways. He became an engine driver for the London and North Western Railway and, like most railwaymen, was moved about. In the late 1840s he was in Birmingham, by 1849 he had moved to Crewe and around 1856 he was at Rugby shed.[4]  Stafford became a more important shed on the LNWR main line in 1861 and that was the reason significant numbers of railwaymen came to Stafford.[5]  James was moved there in 1860-1. In that year were find him living in Tenterbanks, near the station, with his Birmingham-born wife Elizabeth and their five children. Stafford proved to be James’s last move and the family established themselves in respectable houses off the Wolverhampton Road, latterly at no. 28 Telegraph Street.

Sandford Albion Cooper was an example of the entrepreneurs who made it in Stafford. He had been born in Lambeth, London, around 1820. He seems to have lived around Canterbury in Kent in the 1840s and in 1846 married Martha Peters from Tunbridge Wells.[6] By 1851 they and their little daughter Emily had arrived in Stafford, although it is impossible to say why they moved there.  They were living in Rickerscote and Sandford was described as a ‘journeyman gas fitter’. During the 1850s he changed tack and opened a business, trading variously as an ironmonger, general dealer and/or furniture dealer at premises around Foregate Street, Gaolgate Street and Gaol Square. He remained in business until the 1890s, although Martha had died in 1878.[7] By 1901 he and Emily had retired to a house in nearby Gnosall and Sandford died there in 1907. He left an estate valued at £1650 (about £188,700 at 2017 prices), so he had clearly done well enough during his time in Stafford.[8]

The lives of these non-Irish migrants contrasted sharply with that of Martin McDermott. As we have seen, most (though not all) Irish immigrants ended up in farm or general labouring jobs (Figs. 2 and 3). Martin McDermott was pretty typical of these people. He arrived in Stafford, probably from Co. Galway or Roscommon, in the 1850s with his wife Elizabeth and son Michael. Martin was already a middle-aged man in his 40s by that time and he worked as a farm labourer in the fields surrounding the town. The family was clearly poor and they and their descendants remained rooted in the slum-filled Clarke’s Court and Back Walls area until beyond the Great War. In the early 1870s Martin had to give up farmwork. He was now becoming an old man and both the walk to the farms and the heavy manual work involved were too onerous. The farm jobs were disappearing anyway, so Martin had to find another occupation. His new job typified how immigrants, then as now, often end up with the dirty work  people in the host society don’t want to do. He was taken on at the Borough Surveyor’s depot at Coton Field. Stafford still had no effective sewerage and Coton Field was where the night soil carts emptied their noisome contents. Martin’s job was to clean out the stinking tubs before their next journey into town. It was miserable and heavy work and he did not survive long, dying in February 1877. His wife Elizabeth survived for another twelve years and his son Michael became a house painter, married and his descendants lived on in Stafford into the twentieth century.[9]

1861 blog_0004

Fig. 4: Employment sectors of Irish-born male household heads, Stafford, 1871

Martin McDermott’s shift of occupation in the 1870s reflected a wider trend amongst the settled Irish. Fig. 4 shows how jobs in farmwork collapsed during the 1860s and by 1871 were less than a third the proportion of ten years previously. The Irish were now widely scattered amongst a variety of job sectors, though many of the farm labourers had moved to labouring jobs in the town or left the district altogether. The range of occupations done by the Irish was beginning to shift more towards that of non-Irish migrants and that process became more marked as the second generation entered the job market. The Irish job profile in 1861 had been heavily skewed to the hardest and least skilled work but it was typical of the first phase of stressful immigration, not a portent of the permanent position of Irish and Irish-descended people in Stafford.


[1] Data was only published for the Stafford Registration District which covered both the town and the surrounding rural area. The statistics are therefore biased somewhat towards people born locally because the Stafford town attracted more immigrants than the countryside. 1861 Census, West Midland Counties, Table 22, Birthplaces of the Inhabitants in Superintendent Registrars’ Districts, District 367, Stafford.

[2] Data on the Irish taken from the writer’s database of Census returns, 1841-1901.

[3] Deaths, Stafford Registration District (RD), April-June 1883, William Beardsley, 6b/12.

[4] This can be ascertained by the birthplaces of his children.

[5] See my case-study of the Larkin family in my book Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920 (Manchester UP, 2015), pp 197-206.

[6] Marriages, Blean RD, April-June 1846, Sandford Albion Cooper and Martha Peters, 5/49.

[7] Deaths, Stafford RD, Oct-Dec 1878, Martha Cooper, 6b/5.

[8] National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Adminstration), 1858-1966, Sandford A Cooper, died 16 January 1907. Ancestry database, accessed 29 January 2018.

[9] For the full story of the McDermotts see my Divergent Paths, pp. 134-7.