Thursday, May 2, 2019

Colchester, Essex

In this series of posts on places where my ancestors once lived, we now travel across many counties, from Lancashire in the north-west of England to Colchester, in the south-east.

Colchester is one of the oldest towns in Britain. It has had a military presence since the Twentieth Victorious Valeria Legion established a garrison there in 43 AD, during the Roman conquest of Britain under Emperor Claudius. For a while it was the capital of Roman-occupied England, despite the best efforts of Queen Boudica to see them off. Over the centuries other armies followed in making Colchester their base. One end of the main street is still dominated by the great Norman keep, and the later castle, built on the mound of a Roman temple.

By the end of the 18th century, several barracks had been built in Colchester to house troops and cavalry regiments coming and going from wars on the continent. Wounded men were also brought to the military hospital in Colchester to recover. The townspeople were used to seeing the population of infantry and officers in the barracks swell in times of war, followed by an emptying out in peace time.

But they had probably never experienced anything like the influx of soldiers that occurred with the outbreak of World War 1. Volunteers flooded in. Two hundred men arrived in Colchester each day, to be trained as part of "Kitchener's Army" before being sent to the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. At times there were as many soldiers in the town as local residents. The barracks couldn't house them all, so they were put in huts and tents, or even billeted with families.

Thomas Henry Ward goes to Colchester

Thomas Henry Ward
(Photo courtesy of M. Lucas)
As the war dragged on, the number of volunteers dwindled and in 1916 conscription was introduced. It's not clear whether my grandfather, Thomas Henry Ward, joined up as a volunteer in 1914 or found himself conscripted later on. But whatever the case, he would have been in his early thirties when he travelled by train to Colchester, to join the Army Ordnance Corp.

He would no doubt have found the flat Essex countryside, with its broad fields of wheat and other crops, quite unfamiliar after living in the hilly moorlands of eastern Lancashire all his life, among the mills and factories. Colchester itself was a pleasant, prosperous-looking town, with hardly a mill or a smoke stack in sight.

Before the war, engineering works such as Paxman's, which made steam engines and boilers, were among the main employers in Colchester. They turned to making armaments during the war. The presence of the army also helped keep a brewery and bottling works in business. But Thomas, by all accounts, was not a great drinker. A rather quiet, perhaps even shy man, he was also older than many of the recruits around him.

The Beales family in Colchester

One Sunday afternoon (according to my father) Thomas was invited to have tea with a local family. The Beales were members of the Salvation Army, which had a strong presence in Colchester from the late 1880s, although it was not always well received. The family made it their ministry to look out for lonely-looking soldiers who were far from home

William and Eliza Beales had lived in Colchester all their adult lives. Except for Eliza's mother, Susan, who was from Australia, all their forebears came from villages around Colchester. Eliza's parents, David and Susan Whybrew, came to live near the Beales in Colchester after David retired from active service in the army.

Rosina Beales
The Beales' daughter Rosina, still in her late teens, may well have been dressed in her Salvation Army uniform when Thomas Henry, in his army uniform, met her for the first time over Sunday afternoon tea. Or perhaps not - family lore says nothing about what they were wearing. They would have had little time to get to know each other before Thomas went off with his battalion to serve overseas, but they evidently managed to keep their friendship going during the war.

In 1921, after Thomas was discharged from the army, they married at St Botolph's Anglican church in Colchester. It was then Rosina's turn to find herself in a strange environment when she and Thomas went back to his home village of Milnrow in Lancashire. She was leaving behind her Salvation Army roots as well as her childhood home in Essex.

Thomas Henry died several years before I was born, but my grandmother Rosina still lived in Milnrow when I was growing up. As a child I knew that she was born "down south" somewhere, and used to belong to the Salvation Army, but she seemed a natural part of what I called "home". It wasn't until I began researching my family's history that it occurred to me that Grandma Rosina must have undergone quite a cultural change when she married. How long did it take her to adjust? How did it affect her? Unfortunately I never had chance to ask her such questions.

Rosina's parents, William and Eliza Beales, continued living in Colchester for the rest of their lives, surrounded by children, grandchildren, and members of their wider family. Their role as officers in the Salvation Army and members of the Salvation Army band shaped their daily lives as much as their location.

In the next few posts I'll look at some of the Essex villages where the Beales and Whybrew families came from.

This series of 13 slides by Xav Marseilles shows what Colchester looked like 100 years ago, overlaid with more recent images. It appeared in the Daily Mail, 2 January 2017. (Click on the photo or the link above to see all the slides).

You can find out more about Susan and David Whybrew and their family, in my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool, available on Amazon and other online books stores

Sunday, March 31, 2019


John Ward and his family left Rastrick in Yorkshire, sometime before 1901, and returned to Lancashire. They settled in Milnrow, not far from Littleborough, where they'd been living before they went to Yorkshire.

Handloom weaver working in a cottage
Cottage handloom weaver at work.
(Image from
Milnrow, located in a valley on the River Beal, was similar to Littleborough in many ways. It had once been a quiet sheep-farming village, nestled in the foothills of the Pennines. Until the 19th century, local people produced woollen cloth in their own homes and sold it to the traders in Yorkshire. (Have a look at this video to see what was involved.)

Over time, fellmongering (processing sheep skins and hides) became an important industry and Milnrow was home to what was, reputedly, the largest fellmongering yard in England, owned by William Clegg Company. Tens of thousands of hides were brought in each week for processing.

Cotton milling, along with factory-based woollen milling, came to Milnrow in the early 19th century. The damp climate and ready access to coal to run the engines that powered the mills made this region ideal for cotton milling. Multi-storied brick edifices with tall chimneys dotted the landscape. Long rows of new houses went up, many of them built by the mill owners, to accommodate the workers. The railway line arrived in Milnrow in 1863. Originally part of the Butterworth township in the Rochdale parish, Milnrow gained its own Urban District Council in 1894. By 1901 the population had grown to about 10,000 people.

Tram car, Dale St, Milnrow, old photo (c 1910?)
Tram car in Dale Street, maybe c1910,
with one of the mills in the background*
John and Mary Ann Ward must have arrived during the 1890s, since they were there for the 1901 census. Were they simply born-and-bred Lancashire people yearning to be back in their own home county? Or did they have some other reason for moving to Milnrow? As is so often the case, I don't know the answer to that.

Their son Matthew, who had married in Rastrick in 1890, was already living in Milnrow when his wife Elizabeth gave birth to their second child, Annie, in June 1892. So it's possible that Matthew and Elizabeth moved to Milnrow first, and John, Mary Ann and the rest of the family followed.

The 1901 census suggests there were just as many cloggers and shoe makers in Milnrow as there had been in Littleborough, when John lived there in the 1880s. Despite this, he and his son Thomas (my grandfather) set up shop as cloggers in the main street, at 2 Dale Street. John's name appears at that address in the 1905 Kelly's Trade Directory. They apparently found enough work to keep the family settled in Milnrow. Various members of the family lived in the same house at 17 Clifton Street for at least four decades.
Corner of Dale Street, Milnrow, old photo
Dale St, Milnrow. This photo is from a later date,
but the Ward's shop must have been on this corner*.

St James parish church, Milnrow, old photo
St James parish church,
When John died in 1905, Mary Ann and Thomas continued running the business, although they turned to repairing shoes and boots, as clog-wearing became less common. Despite some family disagreements, all of John and Mary Ann's children remained in Milnrow or its vicinity as adults. Many of their graves can be found in the graveyard around St James Church, including that of John, and Mary Ann, who died in 1916.

During World War 1, many men from Milnrow enlisted. The local war memorial shows that 144 of them never returned. John and Mary Ann's two older sons, John Willie and Matthew, were too old to join up. The youngest, Thomas, already in his thirties, probably thought he too would be overlooked. But he was enlisted, and sent to Mesopotamia as a member of the Royal Army Ordnance Corp. He did his training in Colchester, in Essex, which is where he met his future wife. That is where we will go to next in this series.

And since we are now leaving the clog-making Ward family of Lancashire, I thought I'd share this poem (in dialect) about clogs.
Wen a fella cum walkin’ deawn eawr road,
‘Is clogs went "er—clatt, er—clatt."
An’ it struck mi, as Ah’d never knowed
A pair o’clogs t’seawnd like that.
Soo Ah waited wile ‘ee getten close,
Fer t’see wot wer th’matter,
Clogs doant "er—clatt, er—clatt" tha knows
Thi should guh "clatt—er, clatt—er!"
Ah thowt, "Just wen ‘as passes mi
Ah’ll ‘ev a looka’t’greawnd,
Cause Ah wer fair reet wonderin’
O’er th’reason feryon seawnd.
Sos wen ‘ee sad, "Nah then theer,"
Wen ‘ee passed mii’ th’ street,
Ah looked, an’ does ta know
Booath ‘is clogs wero’t’wrong feet.

*My thanks to Steve, owner of the wonderful Old Milnrow Pinterest board, for allowing me to use these photos.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Littleborough in Lancashire

The so-called Roman Road on Blackstone Edge near Littleborough.
Photo by Humphrey Bolton

Let's follow John and Mary Ward, as they leave Walton le Dale in the 1870s and move to Littleborough, close to the Lancashire border with West Yorkshire. How different they must have found this village in the hilly, sheep-grazing moorlands of the Pennines, to the flat farmland and market gardens around Walton le Dale, where they had both spent most of their lives.

Like Walton le Dale, Littleborough had been a quiet village until the 19th century. It was on a trade route that crossed the Pennines into Yorkshire, with the remains of an ancient road (once thought to be from Roman times) still visible in places on the moorland of Blackstone Edge. The main industry in the 18th century was woollen milling and weaving. Wool "pieces", woven on handlooms in people's homes in Littleborough and the nearby hamlets of Calderbrook, Smithybridge, and Summit, would be carried over the hills to the Piece Hall in Halifax, in Yorkshire, for sale.

Map of Littleborough and surrounds
from Vision of Britain 
Littleborough remained an important link in several trade routes as the industrial revolution got underway. In the early 1800s,  the Rochdale Canal, linking Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire with Manchester in Lancashire, was completed. Littleborough became the site of one of the locks along the canal. A large reservoir, Hollingworth Lake, was constructed nearby to feed water into the canal, and this became something of a tourist attraction over time.

Hollingworth Lake
Own photo

In 1839 the first section of the new Manchester to Leeds railway was built as far as Littleborough. It was extended to Leeds by 1841. Soon the home-based woollen weavers were replaced by steam-powered mills and factories. By the late 1870s, when my great grandparents John and Mary Ann Ward moved to Littleborough, there were numerous cotton and woollen mills in the area, along with associated industries such as bleaching and dyeing, and the population was growing. By 1879 there were nine schools, many of them denominational, with over 1000 students between them.

I still have no clear idea why John and Mary Ann decided to move their family from Walton le Dale sometime between the birth of their fifth child, Edward, in 1874 and their sixth, Mary Ann, in 1877. Was it something to do with the depression in the cotton industry around Preston in the mid 1870's, the result of disputes between the employers and the operatives? Perhaps Littleborough was faring better economically.

Or could they have been trying to remove their family from the smallpox epidemic which struck Preston and surrounding areas in 1876? When she was three years old, Mary Ann had lost two older brothers in the same week, during what was probably an epidemic. She may have been keen to move her young family to a healthier place. Sadly, if that was their reason for moving, it was in vain. Their infant daughter Mary Ann and their seven-year-old son Richard died within days of each other in April 1879, probably from some type of infectious illness. They were buried in the graveyard near the church of St James, Calderbrook, just north of Littleborough.

This was close to where John and Mary Ann and their family were living. In the 1879 MacDonald's Directory, John was listed as a clogger, living in Caldermoor.  The 1881 census records their address as Crabtree Street (no longer in existence). John was just one of at least fifteen cloggers and bootmakers listed in the MacDonalds Directory who were living in the Littleborough area at the time.

Moving on again

John and Mary Ann had three further children born to them in Littleborough, after the deaths of Richard and baby Mary Ann - Fanny (1879), Thomas Henry (my grandfather, in 1882) and Henrietta in 1886. But Littleborough wouldn't remain their home for decades, as Walton le Dale had been for previous generations of the Wards. Sometime after Henrietta's birth they moved to Rastrick in Yorkshire, where they stayed only a short time, then settled in Milnrow, on the other side of Hollingworth Lake.

Again, there's nothing to indicate why they moved. John's widowed brother, Richard, married Elizabeth Clarkson, one of John and Mary's neighbours from Crabtree Street, in 1886. John was one of the witnesses at the wedding, so it seems unlikely this caused any sort of family conflict. Perhaps there simply wasn't enough work in Littleborough for so many cloggers. John and Mary's eldest son, John Willy, had most likely become a clogger and bootmaker by this time, since that was his profession in 1891.
Old mill by the Rochdale Canal, Littleborough
Photo by Tim Green from Bradford

By a series of co-incidences, my husband and I lived just outside Littleborough for a while in the 1980s, By then, the mills were no longer operating and many stood derelict, but it was still a thriving small town. We had no idea then that my father's family had ever lived there, although I was aware of their association with Milnrow.

As I've described before, one of our daughters was baptised in the same church as her great grandfather, Thomas Henry, even though we didn't realise it at the time. Hollingworth Lake was one of our favourite spots for Sunday afternoon walks, and the tow-path along the canal was the easiest and most pleasant way to push a pram to the shops.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Walton le Dale

The sun was shining, but the air had a bitterly cold bite to it, when we left the station in Preston, Lancashire, and made our way south in December last year. We were planning to walk to Walton le Dale via the London Road (the A6), over the stone arched bridge which is famous as the site where Oliver Cromwell fought a battle with the Royalists in 1648.

Instead we came to a footbridge, which took us across the broad Ribble river and along a footpath to Walton Green. This pretty lane is the site of one of the oldest houses in Walton le Dale, The Cottage, built in 1675.

We had come to see the village where at least four generations of my father's family, the Wards, lived between 1785 and 1875. The name Walton is said to come from wahl tun, meaning a settlement or farmstead of the Britons. There's another Walton (Walton-on-the Hill) near Liverpool.

Map from Google Maps

The first thing that surprised me was how flat the farmland was along the river. I grew up in Lancashire, but in the hilly country closer to the Pennines. The whole plain looked as though it could easily flood. And in fact there have been many times when the area has flooded, most notably in 1866.

Walton le Dale village itself is built on a rise between the Ribble (which makes almost a right angle bend near the bridge) and the Darwen river which flows into it. Its position, on what is effectively a peninsula, makes it an easy spot to defend. The Romans once built a fort here.

The Ward family arrive

Although at least two Ward families were already resident in Walton le Dale in the early 1700s, the first of my own line seems to have been Cuthbert Ward and his wife Ellen (nee Catterall) who arrived in the mid 1780s, with their children Thomas, Ellen and Sarah. They came from Kirkham, a small town in the Fylde district to the east of Preston. After settling in Walton le Dale, Cuthbert and Ellen had another five children (Betty, Nancy, Robert, Margaret and Cuthbert).

It's not clear what prompted Cuthbert, a carpenter, to uproot his family, although it probably had something to do with finding work. As far as I can discover, there were no major building projects going on in Walton le Dale itself at this time. The industrial revolution was already underway by the 1780s, and a calico printing factory operated in Walton le Dale, run by Livesy and Hargreaves. It went bankrupt in 1788. But the first cotton mill in Walton le Dale, Moons' Mill, didn't  begin operations until 1793. Perhaps Cuthbert found work building houses for the people migrating to Preston from the surrounding villages.

By the 1790s, there would have been plenty of work for a carpenter.  New cotton milling machinery was being installed at Moons Mill and the old water-powered corn mill at Higher Walton. By the early 1800s a cotton mill was being built on Calvert's Flats near the Ribble river. In the early years, cotton was spun in the mills, but often was still passed on to handloom weavers who produced woven cloth in their homes.

Work also began in 1795 to replace the nave, or main body, of the Parish Church of St Leonard. The church, in a prominent position on the tree-covered hillside, was established in the 12th century. Parts of the building date back to the 16th century, including, I understand, the tower. The circular font is also said to be many centuries old. I haven't found out whether the church was still used for Sunday services, weddings and baptisms while it was being rebuilt.

The font, mentioned in
British History Online's
account of Walton le Dale
Until the 19th century both Protestants and Catholics were interred in the graveyard which tumbles down the hillside around the church. Records show that many of the Ward family were buried there, though unfortunately, when we visited, we had no way of knowing where. In any case, the family may not have been able to afford to mark the graves with gravestones.

Cuthbert Ward died in 1799. His son Thomas, who was also a carpenter, married Frances Dickinson from nearby Chorley in 1802. By 1813, when Thomas died at the early age of thirty four, there were four mills and an iron foundry, and the population of Walton le Dale was beginning to boom. It had increased to 5,740 by 1821, with nearly 2000 new inhabitants added between 1809 and 1829.* By the 1840's a large proportion of the population in Walton le Dale was employed in the cotton industry.

The 1840s and 1850s

Thomas Ward's widow Frances, and three of their four children eventually left Walton Le Dale. The eldest son John, another carpenter, moved to Liverpool, while the rest moved to Manchester. Only the youngest son, Richard, remained in Walton le Dale.

The 1841 census shows that he was one of at least ten shoemakers, bootmakers, cloggers and 'cordwainers'  living in the village itself, and there were others in the surrounding area. People working in factories needed hard-wearing shoes, and they needed someone to repair them when the soles wore out. Their leather work-clogs, boots and shoes were all locally made.

Walton le Dale was not often in the news, but in 1847 two tragic murders occurred within weeks of each other, both of which were reported in the national and colonial newspapers.

In February, the married daughter of a local businessman and retired cotton mill owner, James Livesey, poisoned her five children, before drowning herself in the river Ribble. Fortunately, with medical treatment, four of the children survived but the fifth, Fanny, died.

Late in May, the body of a young baby was found in a stream near Walton le Dale by two boys. People remembered seeing an Irish woman with a baby pass through the village a few days earlier, and then the same woman travelling the other way, without the child. This was during the time of the Great Famine in Ireland, which resulted in a rapid influx of destitute Irish people into Lancashire.

But even the local people had their struggles. While conditions for the working class were usually not as dire in places like Walton le Dale as they were in larger centres such as Manchester, they were by no means easy during the 1840s. An economic depression in the early 1840s, which resulted in workers' wages being cut, bolstered demands by the working class for better conditions and the right to vote.

In August 1842, workers in Preston, just across the river from Walton le Dale, went on strike, in what is known as the Plug Plot riots. Three men were killed and several others injured when troops opened fire on a crowd who were moving from factory to factory, urging workers to strike. No doubt both the workers and the mill owners in Walton le Dale were keenly interested in these events.

It would be a long time before the workers finally did get to vote. In 1859 Walton le Dale was listed as one of many places in Lancashire with a population of over 5,000 that had no representation in Parliament.

In the 1850's, it seems, Richard Ward was no longer able to support his family as a shoemaker. At the time of the 1851 census he was working instead as a gardener. His wife Mary died in 1852, leaving him with six children. The two older boys were both employed as apprentices, while Ann, the eldest daughter, was working in one of the cotton mills.

The 1860s

As in the previous generation, most of the Ward family children moved away from Walton le Dale as adults. In early 1861, only Ann (who was married) and the youngest son, John, were still living there. Richard Ward, the father, had returned to shoemaking, and John was working as a clogger's apprentice. They were living in Mansleys Row, an address that no longer exists, but presumably was one of several "rows" of houses built to house the influx of people during the previous decades.

Lancashire suffered another great economic depression in the early 1860s, as a result of the so-called cotton famine. Overproduction of cotton fabrics, coupled with stockpiles of raw materials in the late 1850s, led to a drastic fall in prices. This was followed by a shortage of raw cotton when British shipping was blockaded during the American civil war. Many mills ceased production and there was mass unemployment. People from as far away as South Australia contributed to a relief fund, from which Walton le Dale received £100 (pounds) in December 1862.

Industry picked up again after 1865. In 1869, Walton le Dale was mentioned during a Parliamentary commission into river pollution. The river Ribble was said to be badly polluted as it flowed past the village, resulting in a dreadful stink, and dead fish. Despite this, Dr Ashton, who said he had lived and practised in Walton le Dale for twenty years, thought it was a healthy place. The death rate was 22 per 1000.  (The death rate in the UK in 2017 was 9.4 per 1000.)

He was asked about an outbreak of fever among workers at Calvert's Mill the previous year. He denied that it was due to typhoid, saying that, in his opinion, it was caused by overheating and sunstroke. He also denied that water from many of the privies (toilets) in the village drained into the wells from which people drew drinking water, or that polluted river water could reach the wells. He did disclose that many houses shared a privy. (My impression reading this account is that Dr Ashton was keen to protect the reputation of the owners of Calvert's Mill.)

But life in the village was not always dull or dangerous. Many of the mill owners organised annual outings to the seaside by train for their workers^. Events such as the Floral and Horticultural Show, and the St Leonard's Church School field day provided innocent but enjoyable entertainment.

The White Bull, Walton-le-Dale.
Photo by Alexander P Kapp 

For those whose tastes ran to something less refined, there were numerous drinking places - the Unicorn, the Queen's Arms, the Black Horse, Sir Robert Peel, the Black Bull, Grey Horse, Gardener's Arms, Yew Tree, Bridge Inn, White Bull, Ring O'Bells, the Beef tub (or Beefsteak) and the Red Lion. (Many of these no longer exist.) Perhaps it was no co-incidence that Walton le Dale also produced one of the stalwart campaigners of the Temperance movement, Joseph Livesey, and even a Temperance poet, Henry Anderton.

In 1864 Richard Ward's son John (my great grandfather) married the girl next door, Mary Ann Cragg. Their first five children were born in Walton le Dale and baptised at St Leonards. At the 1871 census, John was a clogger and Mary Ann worked in one of the cotton mills. And then, about 1875, they moved to Whitelees, between Littleborough and Calderbrook, near the Lancashire-Yorkshire border.

Why they moved is still a mystery. John's father, Richard, had remarried in 1861, and he and his second wife, Betsy, had a son, Robert, in 1866. Richard continued to live in Walton le Dale until his death in 1881. Was there not enough work for John in Walton le Dale? Did some family dispute lead to the move? Perhaps we'll never know.

I said when I began my series on "Places" that I wanted to see how the places where people lived influenced their lives, and vice versa. Visiting Walton le Dale, and reading more about it, made me realise how much the river played a part in the life of the villagers, both as a source of life and death, and as a barrier between Walton le Dale and the much larger Preston. Even now, I'm told, it is not a good idea to suggest to a local that Walton le Dale is a suburb of Preston!

Despite the industrialisation that happened in the 19th century, the place has maintained the feel of being a village. As such, it apparently didn't offer enough opportunities for everyone in the Ward family to stay, but it provided stability for the four generations of the Ward family who did remain there.

The Wards left no obvious mark on Walton le Dale or its history, as is to be expected of a working-class family. But as carpenters and cloggers, mill workers and parents, they no doubt contributed to the smooth running of village life.

*According to Pigot and Co.'s National Commercial Directory for 1828-9, p 436. This seems to have included the population in nearby Bamber Bridge.
^"LOCAL INTELLIGENCE." Preston Guardian etc [Preston, England] 4 Sept. 1861: n.p. British Library Newspapers.

All images are taken by me, (and are copyright), unless otherwise labelled.