By 1891, The Space Formerly Known As Carribee Island had been destroyed, its “congregation of ruinous cottages” razed to the the ground, its filth dispersed. So too its population. In the Inquiry for the Scheme, Wolverhampton Council had claimed “2,000 hardworking artisans” in the so-called Unhealthy Area – these all had to go somewhere, and it was intended that they would be split between the new houses being built over the top of Carribee Island (Thornley and Whitmore Streets) and the new streets at Springfields which were taking somewhat longer to rebuild. Finding out exactly who went where would require some major statistical analysis – my quick survey suggests that Carribee Island’s infamous Irish were more likely to stay roughly in the area of their old homes, and not in the new bye-law-approved homes.
Whitmore Street was still being built – it only had three houses, occupied by solidly upper-working-class families of a policeman, omnibus driver and tobacconist. Thornley Street was more developed, and yet more heading towards middle class. Occupations were typically skilled manufacturing or clerical, including an Inspector of Police, railwaymen and shopkeepers. It had one Irish resident: John Lyons at no.46, a slater.
Westbury Street had formerly been Carribee Street, and a slightly better-made collection of houses than the courts of Carribee Island or Castle Place. Here were found pubs like the Limerick, the Erin-go-bragh, the Dan O’Connell, as well as St Patrick’s church and presbytery – and sixteen out of 42 homes were Irish. It had not been knocked down where the houses were OK, and the population demonstrated this. Many more Irish families were found in Littles Lane, which remained a centre of Irish occupation for years to come, but even in the areas around like Herbert and Falkland Street, the numbers were not high.
Perhaps we can trace a few of those from Cole’s Croft in 1881 and see where they ended up. Many are hard to find – their names remain poorly recorded and thus poorly searchable in census records, particularly. The first observation is that a great number of those living as heads of household in 1881 are old. They are not found in the 1891 records. It seems these houses of last resort were truly that for many residents. They were also still mostly Irish, and even those born in England appear, for the most part to have Irish heritage. So it is an Irish area, if not the reception area for Irish immigration, as it was.
We can trace a few families though. John Loftus, for example – he was born in Bilston and lived with his widowed mother Mary in Cole’s Croft in 1881. By 1891 he was all the way up in Hunslet, Leeds, and spent his life moving on: Hunslet still in 1901 but Daventry in 1911, and he died in Birmingham in 1943.
The McNish’s dispersed too: I’m not sure what happened to Thomas, born 1819 in Ireland, but his children are traceable in 1891 – James was a private in the Dorset Regiment, stationed at Millbay Barracks, Plymouth; his brothers John and Thomas moved down to Lower Stafford Street with their widowed mum. Ellen, the oldest child, had married one Harry Jeavons – a lamplighter – and was living a little further down Lower Stafford Street.
A few houses down was Patrick Belton and his family. In 1891 they’d moved across town to a house in court 4, Dudley Road. At 25, John Brewer seems to have died sometime in the 1890s but his widow Bridget moves on – by 1901 she’s living at Warwick Street with five children – not a major improvement in terms of physical environment. Her next-door-neighbour Patrick Callaghan, born and bred in Wolverhampton, found his way to Southport, where the iron forger was working as a galvanizer and staying with his brother in law Michael O’Shea.
Thomas Mitchell was less fortunate still. He had lived in this area since emigrating from Ireland in the early 1850s – unusually, his eldest daughter’s birthplace is marked as Stafford Street. From Castle Yard in 1871, to Coles Croft in 1881, he stayed local with his wife Catherine and several children, earning his keep as a furnace labourer. By 1881 he was out of work, and this didn’t change throughout the long depression of the late Victorian era – once his wife had died, Thomas went to the workhouse, perhaps right up to his death in 1908. A similar fate seemed to await Mary Wainwright, Dublin-born, widowed hawker, but happily by 1911, she was living with her daughter Catherine and her new family in Northbrook Street, Ladywood, Birmingham.
It would be foolish to draw many conclusions from this. My quick trawl of genealogy websites was not detailed or methodical, and many of them just weren’t there on a first search. Nevertheless, I came across none in the streets in Springfield that had been set aside for the “hard-working artisans” of Carribee Island, or the new streets built to take the place of this stigmatised neighbourhood. This suggests to me that a) Coles Croft remained the last resort of the desperately poor – widows, paupers, the unemployed, the elderly; and b) that this sort of person didn’t get to live in one of the smart new homes for the working-class that were slowly being built. Improvement Schemes such as this might have had noble intentions for the so-called “deserving poor,” but for those seen as “undeserving” – exactly this sort of resident – there was no intention to help, and no improvement in living conditions as a result of this improvement in the physical environment.