Black Country Irish: Wednesbury

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Forge workers in the axle turning shop at Isaiah Oldbury’s Reliance Works, Wednesbury [source]

The town of Wednesbury was home to probably the most significant Irish population in the Black Country, after Wolverhampton. The nationalist journalist Hugh Heinrick reckoned that in 1872 there was at least 3,000 in the Irish community (based on his own definition of Irishness, in which one Irish voter probably equates to about 7 Irish men, women or children, in the area). He disapproved of their manners, the “jargon of the mines” and the “indulgences in strong potations,” but blamed these on the English workers around them – an interesting twist on the usual discourse the other way round, as promulgated by Engels, Carlyle and others.

Push

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St Mary’s, Wednesbury’s Catholic church [source]

Today’s main story, though, is a more global one than I’ve so far come across among the Black Country Irish. Our heroes (or possibly not) are several, but we’ll start with Father George Montgomery. Born in 1818 and raised a Protestant in Dublin, Montgomery converted to Catholicism during the Tractarian period and was ordained in 1849. He served a while lecturing in and around Bilston before taking up the priesthood of Wednesbury in 1850. He was a highly enthusiastic man and set about righting the wrongs of the treatment of his largely Irish flock, who had arrived along with many of their countrymen during the previous decade, and would continue to pour into this rapidly expanding town. He stopped the frequent fighting amongst the Irish, built a new church and even published his own newsletter, The Rev. G. Montgomery’s Register (surely a forerunner of a blog). His ministry to the poor led him to believe that the British state was dead against the integration of his countrymen into society, and that they would be far better served by moving on to another part of the world. Of course, there was little point them going back to their hungry and stricken homeland; but many must have dreamed of going on to America.

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The port of Itajai, Brazil [source]

Pull

Enter William Scully. Another Irishman, Scully was a newspaper editor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His newspaper, the Anglo-Brazilian Times encouraged migration to the resource-rich Brazilian interior at a time when Emperor Dom Pedro II was also attempting to assert his power and grow his country’s economy. Many European settlers travelled to South America, including 55 German immigrants who settled in the forested mountains on the right bank of the Itajaí-Mirim river in the southern Santa Catarina state, at what became Colônia Itajahy (now Brusque). They were joined in the 1860s by a wave of Confederate emigreés from the Southern USA, and other countrymen of theirs from the North, including Irishmen from New York, who soon developed a tough reputation.

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German settlers in 1874, probably in Blumenau, a town in the same state but on the Northern branch of the river, the Itajai-açu [Wikimedia Commons]

Scully wrote in 1867:

The Irishman, perhaps justly accused of unthriftiness and insubordination at home, for he is hopeless there and has the tradition of a bitter oppression to make him feel discontented, becomes active, industrious, and energetic when abroad; intelligent he always is. He soon rids himself of his peculiarities and prejudices, and assimilates himself so rapidly with the progressive people around him that his children no longer can be distinguished from the American of centuries of descent.
Anglo-Brazilian Times, 23 January 1867)

One individual who read these words and saw in them a hope that the Black Country’s Irish could be cured of their wicked ways and find new prosperity and spiritual fulfilment in the Americas was – you guessed it – George Montgomery. As the iron trade slumped around him, as poverty deepened, as preachers like William Murphy swept through the town causing uproar and persecution, the fertile fields and fruit trees of Brazil seemed a fine home for those Irish in his care, and he duly wrote to Scully, and to Joseph Lazenby, a Jesuit priest who described the new settlement of Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro – on the left bank of the Itajaí-Mirim, opposite Itajaí itself. Montgomery was sold, and on 12th February 1868, 339 Wednesbury migrants set sail to the new world.

Arrival

They arrived on 22nd April. It didn’t start well. Despite an official greeting from the Emperor himself, William Scully tried to advise them to find somewhere else to settle. All was not well in the settler town – the behaviour of certain Irish immigrants had caused a general displeasure towards the Irish that wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to these poor immigrants from back in the Black Country, and the American, German, English (the only English settlers in the state), French, Italian and other settlers in the Colonia were less than receptive. But they ploughed on, and arrived in the new town.

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Modern day Brusque, Santa Catarina State

Making their way

Life was tough. Not only were the new Irish settlers unpopular, but they found themselves amid wrangling for power between other immigrant groups. Infrastructure was poor, making the town feel even more distant from the major markets than it was. Allocation of plots of land was bungled, leaving the Irish in flood-prone areas, and when the floods came, all they had was washed away. The hardiest lasted just over a year, but soon had to return to Rio de Janeiro in tatters to seek help there. The Irish were the hardest hit, but eventually all English-speaking settlers were persuaded or forced out, their places taken by new Polish migrants to become the city it is today. Our Wednesbury Irish were forced onto charity, and subscriptions raised eventually sufficed to send them back to Britain or Ireland, or in some cases, steelworking towns in Pennsylvania – another kind of Black Country…

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European migrants picking coffee in Brazil in the early 20th century [Wikimedia Commons]

For the Wednesbury Irish, life had been a series of upheavals in search of a better life, and they faced disappointment at every step. From desperate poverty in Ireland to poverty and hard labour in the ironworks of South Staffordshire; from persecution in Wednesbury to persecution in Santa Catarina; from rags and starvation in Rio back to hard grind in the steel mills.

Global citizens

Theresa May recently told us that if you think you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. This is backwards-looking , nationalist conservative rhetoric at its worst. It takes aim at some sort of imagined metropolitan elite who think (shock horror) that the nation-state might not be that glorious an idea. As with other conservative politics though, it’s those upon whom global citizenship is forced, without choice, that suffer from being citizens of nowhere. Children seeing their makeshift homes in Calais demolished might have travelled across the world but it was hardly what they wanted. Likewise those fleeing despotic regimes in Eritrea, everyday war in Libya, or grinding poverty in Pakistan, have become citizens of the world, but thanks to economic and political forces over which they have no say, are now citizens of nowhere.

The Irish of Wednesbury had become global citizens, fleeing poverty and starvation in Ireland to a new home amongst the mines and furnaces and backbreaking labour of the Black Country. They were encouraged to try again, by a well-meaning kinsman pushing them to go, and another encouraging them to come across the ocean. But global forces and parochial nationalisms prevailed again, leaving them homeless and in tatters, hoping against hope for a living.

Reading

  • Kester Aspden, Fortress Church: The English Roman Catholic Bishops and Politics, 1903-63, Gracewing, 2002
  • Oliver Marshall, Petition to Pope Pius the Ninth, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 4:3, 2006
  • Edmundo Murray, Brazil and Ireland, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 4:3, 2006
  • Miguel Alexandre de Araujo Neto, Great Britain, the Paraguayan War and Free Immigration in Brazil, 1862-1875, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 4:3, 2006
Posted in Black Country, Irish, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Legitimate concerns?

There’s been a lot said in the last few days about migrants – how they should be listed and categorised, how people’s “legitimate concerns” over influxes of labour should be heard, how funding should be changed so we don’t have to invite so many, say, doctors to work here.

I am not a migrant in these terms. I grew up in a small village in rural Hampshire. I moved to the big city, London, aged 19, and to the Black Country aged 29. I have stayed within this country my whole working life. Yet I am a migrant, and it would be foolish to imagine otherwise. I moved to London to grow my opportunities for work, culture and life in general, settling into a huge metropolis with all its attendant urban characteristics. I moved away from London as an economic migrant, unable to afford to live there any longer and moving to somewhere where I hoped I could make a better living. I got a job at the University of Birmingham, presumably meaning that someone else, someone local, didn’t.

This puts me within a mobile population which dates back before the imagined golden era of the 1950s, before the Industrial Revolution. My subjects in Wolverhampton came there from across the world. The map below shows their countries of birth in the 1851 census – the large majority in England, of course, but also from France, Italy and Germany (and this was before some of the major waves of immigration from those places); America and Canada; the growing British Empire (India, Australia, Jamaica); exotic places like Madagascar, Turkey, Liberia, Indonesia.

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Birthplaces in the 1851 Wolverhampton census

But we can drill down too. 3,763 of the 49,798 were born in Ireland (and it should be remembered that Ireland was part of the same country at the time). 44,229 were born in England – but where? Of those that ICEM can trace, we can produce a map here too.

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Birthplaces within England in the 1851 Wolverhampton census

The most are from Staffordshire, unsurprisingly – this includes 22,189 born in Wolverhampton itself (although go back just a generation or two and a very different picture will emerge). But apart from that, hardly a county is unrepresented. Rural Shropshire sent 4,691, and Warwickshire and Worcestershire both sent over 1,500. Mining areas like Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales are there. Even migrants from the big city (represented by Middlesex) – just like me.

I think encouraging people to dig into their own family history could be a really crucial thing in combating the idea that just because someone is born somewhere else, they shouldn’t have the same right to work, live, study or whatever. We are all migrants, if we look closely.

Posted in History, Irish, Migration, Wolverhampton | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Black Country Irish: Red-headed Kilcoign

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New Street, Stourbridge, in the 1970s (Stourbridge.com)

Irish Rows

If there’s one thing you learn researching the Irish in the Victorian city, it’s that 19th century newspaper editors love an Irish Row. Roger Swift wrote whole papers about the policing of Irish rows in Wolverhampton, but it’s an expression that comes up time and again, wherever you find the poor Irish crammed into a town.

It was my starting point for Stoubridge, to see whether Irish Rows were common in this otherwise comparatively genteel Black Country town. Stourbridge was always the country market town of the Black Country – it’s outside the coalfield and served as a market centre rather than a manufacturing one (this is despite the famous glass trade of the town, so-named from the central meeting place of producers at the Talbot Hotel, rather than the manufacturing centre of Amblecote and Wordsley). But it had its urban ills like anywhere, and the Irish influx was certainly considered to be one of those. Like Wolverhampton and most of the other towns round about, Stourbridge’s Irish population was tucked into small, central living spaces, predominantly around Coventry Street and Angel Street. Eric Hopkins (whose work is essential on Stourbridge history) quoted the 1851 census enumerator:

“From 88 to the end [of Hughes Yard, off Coventry Street] consist of chiefly Irish who live in dilapidated houses consisting of only a room down and a room up and are crowded to excess, and are known as Irish lodging houses.”

Stourbridge was thus a town like so many others in the aftermath of the great Irish famine, and home to many hundreds of Irish men, women and children. In fact, prior to the famine there are several – we find a 15-year-old Mary Kilcoin living up at Stambermill in 1841, lodging with Bartholomew Daly and his family.

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Remastered version of the 1781 street plan, plotted against a later map by K James [source]

The Kilcoins of Stourbridge

I’ve picked out Mary Kilcoin for a reason. By 1851, the town is heaving with Kilcoins (of various spellings). Bartholomew Kilcoin is in Griffiths Yard with his family and Anthony Kilcoin in Crown Lane, a lodger of another group of the family. John Kilcoin, a “flashily-dress Irishman” was convicted for assaulting one Mary Clarke at an Irish lodging-house in Stourbridge, in 1848 – the Worcestershire Chronicle considered that it highlighted the “gross immorality” of some of the lodginghouses of the town. The costs John was ordered to pay included surgeon’s fees for Mary’s evident suffering.

The town at large would have become increasingly familiar with the Kilcoins over the next decade or so, though. In 1855, Anthony Kilcoigne [sic] was fined 10s for what we’d think of as aggravated assault against one John Murphy, at whom Anthony (and possibly his cousin Patrick) had thrown a jug at Murphy and struck him with a bludgeon. Anthony, in particular, was gaining a reputation as the leader of the Kilcoins – a tall, red-haired Irishman with an unpredictable violent streak, and prone to holding grudges. “Red-headed Kilcoigne” appears frequently in the local press and criminal records.

“Jemmy, brother, I am done for!”

It was later that year that Anthony was profiled to the public at large. Leaving Burke’s public house in New Street around 10pm on Sunday 15th July, Anthony was well on his way to drunk. (Stourbridge wasn’t short of pubs – an 1851 gazetteer estimates around 90 pubs and a futher 60 beerhouses). According to the initial police court hearing, two men came out of an adjoining pub and just “set upon him”. The trial of Alick and James Welch (or Welsh) in December 1855 suggests Anthony made the first move – in fact, the matter of who started it is essentially what the trial boils down to, and was never successfully resolved. It reminds me of a stand-off between two terriers in the park: they’ll sniff and face each other for a bit, then suddenly both erupt at once. I would be surprised if Anthony was an entirely innocent victim here. One of the defence witness claimed that the Welches were just making their way home.

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Central Stourbridge on John Wood’s plan of 1837. As is typical of this period, you can see the gardens being swallowed up by housing development, courts and passages. New Street, leading out of the bottom left of the map, is now mostly underneath Tesco – there’s just a short stub next to the old Market Hall [source]

A cousin of Anthony’s, James Kilcoigne, was standing by and watching, hands stuffed in  pockets. I’m guessing from this that he was used to seeing Anthony fight, and not too worried. It was when he was literally dragged into the fray that things got really serious. James Welch, clearly unimpressed with being watched, strode up and laid into James and with help from another Welch, Edward, dragged the younger Kilcoigne across the street and into a beating. By this time a crowd had gathered from the surround pubs, including yet more Kilcoignes. Patrick Kilcoigne now flings himself into the melée to protect James – his younger brother – just as Alick Welch is standing over him having raised what looks like a hatchet. Heroic as that was, it proved fatal for him. Alick struck Patrick Kilcoign with the hatchet. Mr Freer, the surgeon, later examined Patrick and found a healing wound, except for an area of bare bone with a wound pushing a piece of skull half an inch into the brain.

“Oh Jemmy, brother, I am done for!” he cried out. “Get up if you can!” James managed to get away as the Welches piled in on Patrick. Edward Welch took a poker to the stricken Irishman, another took a brick. Newspaper court reports are often oddly specific recording this sort of event. It’s wonderful detail to know that Edward Welch had a poker, and that “the blood flowed profusely from the deceased’s head”, but I’d love to know where Anthony was at this time, or who the crowd were cheering for. Were the Kilcoins the victims of a premeditated, gangland style execution? Were they or the Welches the dominant force in the Irish underworld in Stourbridge? Who was the goodie, and who the baddie here? We know that bricks and stones were flying around, but who threw them?

Patrick was “conveyed away”, back to his lodgings. After three weeks of agony, he died of his wounds. By this time, PC Turner had raided Michael Luddin’s lodging house on Queen Street, where the Welches stayed, and had found a part of a spade used for chopping meat that might have been the murder weapon. He also found, and arrested, Alick and James Welch, but never managed to capture Edward Welch (who seems, out of all of them, to have a psychopathic streak reminiscent of Joe Pesci in Casino). At the inquest, held at the Talbot Inn in December, both sides wheeled out witnesses to try and ascertain who started the fight. Catherine Kilcoigne swore that the Welches had “thrown up their jackets” and sworn that they wouldn’t leave a Kilcoigne alive. The family feud was clear: she had never, and would never have a Welch for a sweetheart. Mr Kettle, for the defence, took the discreditation route, alleging that it “was just a regular Irish row” – he brought out Sybil Gibbons, who was in Burkes, who claimed that Catherine and Alick Welch were once sweethearts; he brought out Bridget Burke, presumably of the pub itself, who claims to have heard Catherine swear that if this went to court, she would “hang the Welches”; he brought out one Bridget Bannan, who had seen the Welches that night and swore that it was Anthony Kilcoigne who started the fight.

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New Street, 1884 [(c) Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd 2016, all rights reserved (1884)

A family affair

This was clearly a thoroughly Irish affair. The Kilcoignes and the Welches came from the same part of County Mayo, and James Kilcoigne joked in court that they had been quarrelling “since before they were born.” Welch is the less common form of Walsh, a Saxon word for someone of Celtic origin, but Kilcoin, however it’s spelt, is thoroughly Irish. It stems from O’Cadhan, or “wild goose”, with the prefix Kil meaning “follower of”. Wild geese have a special place in Irish history. The term was used to describe those Irish soldiers who fought under the Jacobite banner that were forced to flee to France under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. It came to refer to generations of Irish soldiers that served Spanish, French, Italian and other armies over the next century. The surname comes from the West coast of Ireland – Galway and Mayo, where Anthony’s family came from. Victorian censuses rarely recorded a hometown (or townland) for the Irish, so we have to take James’s word that the Welches and Kilcoins hailed from the same spot.

The charges against the Welches are recorded in the Criminal Registers for 1855, handily stored on Ancestry.com. James Welch was discharged, but Alick was sentenced to 12 months incarceration. In my feeble understanding of the law, this means that Alick met two criteria (as the law stood in 1855): firstly he was provoked into an act that was sudden and unmeditated (although the provocation could be over a long period); secondly, that the provocation was such that a “reasonable man” would act in the same way. That sounds utterly subjective to me, but apparently falls under strict guidelines – we even have a type of unreasonableness named after a Black Country town. So Alick went off to jail, probably in Worcester.

Red-headed Kilcoigne

Anthony, “red-headed Kilcoigne,” got off lightly here – my guess is he was the provocation. It certainly wasn’t his last appearance in front of a jury. On trial at the Police Court for inflicting grievous bodily harm on one George Kinchin in 1860, the Worcestershire Chronicle describes both him and his accomplice, Edward Gibbons, as “men [who] have frequently been convicted for assaults, and each of them has narrowly escaped being convicted for the crime of taking away human life.” On that occasion, and in an opportunistic attack on Benjamin Hill near the Stambermill turnpike gate in 1861, he shows a propensity for sudden, extreme violence – as well as a fearsome reputation. Pinning him down in censuses proves tricky – there are more than one Anthony Kilcoigne in town, and both live in the densely-populated Irish streets around Coventry Street and Angel Street (now Angel Passage, near the bus station, and bisected by ring road). There are a swathe of other Kilcoin families, as well as Welches and other names that crop up.

The police were kept busy by the vicious likes of Edward Welch, Edward Gibbons and Red-headed Kilcoigne, but the problem wasn’t limited to the Irish population. Violence was a way of life for many in the Black Country, and their birthplace was less relevant than other things – some of which, if Catherine Kilcoigne’s testimony was as flawed as claimed, were much more personal than ethnic. What is evident is that, although Wolverhampton and Wednesbury have the reputation as Irish towns in the 19th century, even a small town like Stourbridge had its share of the good and the bad in both Irish and English society. As a historian, I try and walk a balance between some sort of representative reportage of the ‘facts’ as they happened, and acknowledging my own prejudices and biases. Given the instinctive resentment of the Irish at the time (sadly similar to that towards migrants now) I naturally want to take their side, to represent them in a more positive light than they were at the time, when prejudices and biases were flung about left, right and centre. But it’s worth the occasional reminder that however hard done by were the Black Country men and women of years gone by, some of them were just vile.

[Reports taken from the British Newspaper Archives, particularly from the Worcestershire Chronicle and Wolverhampton Chronicle]

Posted in Black Country, Irish, Stourbridge, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Black Country Irish: Walsall in the 1850s

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Rushall Street 1902-3, by Henry Somerfield (New Art Gallery)

Sometimes, otherwise wonderful digital sources are a great frustration. John Denvir, in his survey of the Irish in Britain, points to a mysterious attack upon the Irish in Walsall, in 1851. Excellent, I thought: a story to hook a post on – there are three Walsall newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive. Of course, none of them go back as far as 1851 so I’ll have to take a different approach – until I get to Walsall Local History Centre to explore this further, I’d be interested to hear if anyone knows anything about that.

The Walsall Irish

So what of the Irish in Walsall? Unlike in Wolverhampton, Birmingham or many other industrial cities, little has been written about any influx of Irish migrants to Walsall in the 19th century. This isn’t because there wasn’t an influx though: in 1851 there were 1,732 individuals born in Ireland and living in Walsall – although this is a long way short of Wolverhampton’s 3,762, the Irish-born make up 8.9% of the whole population of Walsall and Walsall Foreign (for comparison, in the much larger district of Wolverhampton, the overall proportion is 7.55% – although it’s significantly higher in the poorer Eastern half of the borough).

Trying to piece together a historical sketch from the data downloadable at I-CeM and the digitised census pages at somewhere like Ancestry is not always straightforward, but, it is possible to get an idea of the areas where the Irish-born are found in high numbers by spotting where there are a high number of Irish-born residents on a census enumerator’s sheet. I learnt Pivot Tables in Excel for this, I hope you’re grateful. There are a maximum of 20 names that can appear on any one sheet – by looking out for those in the high end of that, or where there’s a run of high results, we can find clusters.

Town End

There are eight such clusters in the 1851 census for Walsall. Winning some sort of award for ironic/racist placenaming, the first we find is “Potatoe Square”, near the corner of Park Street and Marsh Lane. As in Wolverhampton, the first OS town plan of Walsall is after an early slum clearance scheme (on which more). A truncated Marsh Lane still exists, by the canal terminus, but Aulton’s map of 1875 shows us that Marsh Lane originally followed a crooked-er version of modern-day Marsh Street. My guess is that Potatoe Square was probably done away with as part of the Town End Bank demolitions that re-routed the street. It was a collection of 9 very overcrowded homes, of which 7 had an Irish-born head of household. A report in the Walsall Free Press also notes that 8 of these were lodging houses, often with up to 20 lodgers at a time. The property owner was one John Smith, complained of in 1858 for allowing the privy to be in “a foul and offensive state”. Their situations were very typical of the Irish in Britain at the time: many were lodgers, sometimes widows or widowers; jobs included hawkers, mining, farming or construction labourers, or stone breakers for the men, dressmakers and musicians amongst the women. Further Irish families were found adjacent in the census on Marsh Lane itself.

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Excerpt from Aulton’s 1875 map of Walsall (source). The area around Park Street and Marsh Lane was a distinctly Irish area.

On the opposite side of Park Street was St Paul’s Row, also known as Court 3, and here (and in the houses surrounding on Park Street itself) was another cluster of Irish residents. Here you’d find John Sweeney, a collier living with his wife, two daughters, mother, and seven lodgers; or Thaddeus Shelley, a 30-year-old labourer with his young family and another cluster of lodgers. This court wasn’t quite so monocultural – also in St Paul’s Row were Walsall-born Jane Brooks, on parish relief; and Charles Hopkins, pursuing the once prosperous trade of bucklemaking.

This area around Town End certainly had the reputation of being the Irish area, as Carribee Island did in Wolverhampton. It even prompted one local poet, George Evans, to pen a poem:

Here English, Irish, Scotch and Frenchmen too,
At fall of day crowd thick upon the view;
Here Cadgers, Tinkers, Pedlars may be seen,
In tattered garbs of most forbidding mien;
Italians, too, with ‘Images’ so white,
Give to the coterie a chequered sight.
Blind Fiddlers, led by dogs, for lodgings seek,
Not for a night perchance, but for a week,
Till they in Walsall every house have ‘tried’,
And have at every door been thrice denied.
Here ragged children flock about in swarms,
And groups of women stand about with folded arms;
And beardless youths among them oft appear,
Whose filthy language wounds a modest ear.
Here ‘Irish rows’ break out like thunder storms,
And each blood-thirsty veteran flies to arms;
As by electric shocks, the skirmish spreads,
Which ends in crippled limbs and broken heads.

The “Irish row” was a regular newspaper trope in the local press: the Irish were considered prone to violence and drunkenness and many different reports of disorderly conduct could be subsumed under the banner of “Irish row“, as though it was just a part of their natural state. It’s an evocative poem (and thanks to John Barnes (not that one, probably) for posting it on Facebook), but it could have been written about any industrial city of the time. Interesting to see the other nationalities mentioned: there were only 234 Scots, 29 French and 28 Italians in the 1851, suggesting that sometimes, even artists see what they want to see.

Rushall Street

I think we can skip over a cluster in Lower Rushall Street in which two large Irish families just happen to live next door to one another, but our next cluster is on the same street, this time in several courts: Tailor’s Court, Anchor Yard, Bulls Head Yard and another prizewinning name, “Limerick”. This is an old part of town. Where Marsh Lane really was at the “Town End,” Rushall Street was an ancient thoroughfare – in fact the main way into town. It’s residences were therefore much older. John Snape’s map of 1782 gives us an idea where these courts were – handily, the redoubtable Bev Parker has got a tidied up version of it.

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Walsall, 1782, based on John Snape (c) Bev Parker

We can see Anchor Yard and Bull’s Head Yard here – I think the former correlates with Court 13/14 on the first OS map, and the latter features. Limerick, a Taylor’s Yard and an Archer’s Yard also appear on a rare transcription of the family names taken in the 1801 census. You’re hard pressed to find an Irish name here this early, mind: a William Slaney is a tailor in Taylor’s Yard, and that might be it.

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Anchor Yard in 1885 (c) Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd (2016). All rights reserved (1885)

Anchor Yard was home to a cluster of Irish families: the McKinnons, the Murthys, the McAnns, the Connollys, the Comleys, the Cunninghams, the Broadways, the Brehenys, the Kains, the Taylors, the Murphys, the Carneys, the Giblins and the Finnings, with all their myriad lodgers, extended families, and a scattering of English-born residents. Court 15, aka Limerick, showed a similar pattern. Bulls Head Court appears frequently in the pages of the Walsall Free Press, described in somewhat sarcastic tones as an “elegant locality” in 1858. Despite its heavy Irish distribution, I find little obvious over-emphasis on “Irish rows” in the same way as we find in Wolverhampton. There are certain insinuations though: Ellen Carr, aka “Irish Nell” was “one of the most revolting and disgusting revelations of Bull’s Head-yard life” in 1859 – she had stolen 5 shillings from a customer at a brothel in the yard.

Urban development

The courts off Rushall Street are classic early urban development. The street was lined with houses, much as in Somerfield’s sketch at the top, and behind those, gardens were parcelled off and rows of cottages built – these were clearly in evidence by the time Snape made his map in 1782. As the town expanded, previously unusable areas were built on to accommodate the swelling masses of people – of which the Irish were just a handful – that converged upon the industrial cities of the Midlands and the North. Marsh Lane suggests to me low-lying, flood-prone land. A few years after Snape’s map, the Walsall Canal was cut through, terminating at the crook of Marsh Lane, and the area around was built up with industry – even more so when the railway arrived there too. In the cracks, housing emerged and it was this dilapidated, unsanitary housing stock that inspired Walsall to a slum clearance scheme (more details here), similar to Wolverhampton’s Carribee Island plans, and the much bigger Corporation Street area in Birmingham. In the end, the Town End area was knocked down and rebuilt, although Marsh Street retained dimly-lit, seedy reputation, and was the go-to resort for prostitution in Walsall for many years after.

In the end, both Town End and the courts and yards of Rushall Street were cleared: Town End in the 1870s/1880s, and large areas off Rushall Street in the 1930s. Anchor Yard and Limerick are now buried beneath the imposing multistorey accommodation of Warewell Close. Bulls Head Yard suffered a happier fate, being incorporated into the grounds of St Matthews – you can trace its route by walking the footpath from the Lyndon House Hotel to the back of Lidl. St Paul’s Row survived as an arcade but now lies under a multistorey car park. Potatoe Square, I would guess, is now under the New Art Gallery.

Playing with data

Town End is the better-known Irish part of Victorian Walsall, and the census returns corroborate Evans’ poem. But drilling into the anonymised ICEM data can throw up some useful data points that reveal new areas of analysis. A heat map would be a good way to visualise this – if only I had the time, but perhaps it’s something worth doing in Wolverhampton for my formal research. I wouldn’t have known about Anchor Yard, Limerick or Bulls Head Yard without this, or that the Irish were by no means confined to back courts with no presence on the main thoroughfares. If I’m trying to write history from below, new visualisations and ways of revealing data might just be an excellent way to start.

Posted in Black Country, Irish, Staffordshire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Black Country Irish: N. Hingley Ltd., Netherton

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The Washington Street entrance to Noah Hingley’s Netherton Works, in the the 1950s [Bugle]

Identities can be a complicated thing. Each of us have several – I don’t mean like Norman Bates, I mean that each of us are different things in different ways, at different times. When I’m talking about the Irish in the Black Country, for instance, I’m talking about a nebulous group really: some had been there many years, some were fresh off the boat; some were from Dublin city, some from the wilds of Mayo; some spoke Irish, some did not; some were Catholic, some were Protestant. It’s true of anyone – identity might, at times, be based on nationality, religion, language (or accent). I might identify with the town I come from or the region. Identities are perhaps at their strongest when we identify with a wider social grouping such as a football club. It’s most certainly true that identities are expressed most strongly when they are against something: I might be English, not European; I live in the Black Country, not Birmingham (the very thought). They can be unpleasant too: do I identify as white? What would that mean?

I have the feeling that the Black Country identity is a fairly modern one. Certainly the array of local authorities made their stand as individual towns rather than a Black Country still to be defined on a map – if anything, they promoted themselves “despite” their location. Today, areas are keen to claim Black Country identity through the flag, the Day, and so on; 150 years ago, towns like Walsall were keen not to be seen as Black Country.

One form of identity that keeps cropping up, especially in the 20th century, is identifying with a firm. In the 1950s you could be proud to work for GKN, for Rubery Owen, for the Birmid, for Dudley Dowell. Why? Because that was a job for life. A somewhat paternalistic employer looked after you, provided for your leisure, social and healthcare needs as well as your financial ones. Stretch back to the 19th century though, and that’s a rarity. While many of these firms existed then, on the whole there was less of an interest for employers to provide so well when there was a mass of cheap casual labour itching for every job. I want to look at one example of a well-known firm whose workers did identify with them because their very reason for being in the Black Country was entirely bound up with that firm.

Noah Hingley

I have Peter “Pedro” Cutler to thank for this post – I know that he’s a great help to many local historians, and is full of useful hints. He flagged up Noah Hingley’s obituary in the County Express (3rd Nov 1877) for me – and you can hardly find a better known company than this in the 19th century.

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Noah Hingley c.1870, as Mayor of Dudley [Dudley Archives]

Noah Hingley was born in the late 18th century in Cradley Heath – then still an untamed heath to the North of the metalworking hamlets of Cradley proper. He attended Reddal Hill Endowed School and soon turned to making nails. His entrepreneurial spirit shone through and he swiftly became a nailmaster rather than just a sweated nailer, moving into chains and trading. Around 1820 he opened a warehouse in the maritime capital of the world, Liverpool, selling Black Country chains and nails. His success met with hostility and he moved his works back to Cradley, making the chains, anchors and cables that his firm would become famous for. By 1861 he had acquired several collieries and ironworks, and moved his base to Washington Street, Netherton, where he set up possibly the largest chain, cable and anchor works in the world on the banks of the Dudley No.2 Canal. In 1912 the firm became famous for one particular anchor, as the pictures below show.

The Black Country of the mid-nineteenth century was yet to become the centre of expertise that firms such as the aforementioned were able to build up. The chain, nail and related trades were very much ‘sweated’, with desperately poor families all given over to long hours of toil in chain factories and backyard hearths all along the Stour valley. Their conditions were so bad that they were subject to an infamous exposé in Robert Sherard‘s The White Slaves Of England in 1898. The women chainmakers were part of an even more famous, and successful, strike in 1911, a major event in national trade union history. But when it came to expertise in, for example, anchor-making – skills needed to be imported. The centre of the trade up to this point was, much more logically than land-locked Staffordshire, Liverpool – that’s why Hingley’s business initially faced so much competition. Noah’s response was to combine the availability of raw material and fuel, so abundant in the Black Country, with expertise imported directly from Liverpool.

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The Titanic anchor outside Lloyd’s Proving House, Cradley Road, Netherton [source]

It’s difficult to find too many references to Liverpool’s anchormaking trade, but John Bartholomew noted its importance in 1887 – Liverpool had an established metalworking trade as well as ready access to the West Lancs coalfield for fuel. Anchors seem a logical trade for such a port, and there was an anchor smithy set up by Thomas Steers not long after the town’s first dock was constructed. Steers’ wide-ranging civil engineering exploits might have something to do with the connection of Irish workers to the trade. He engineered the Newry Canal in Tyrone, as well as the Mersey & Irwell Navigation, and I’m sure that this will have brought him into contact with Irish navigators and labourers. Liverpool, being the chief port of the North-West of England, also saw the lion’s share of immigration from Ireland as poverty struck and occasional famines hit.

Liverpool’s Irish

By the mid-19th century, Liverpool had by far the largest Irish population of any town in England. It was the first stop for emigrants from the most famine-struck parts of Ireland in the 1840s, and not being able to afford the onward passage to America, many stopped there. The County Express believe that Noah Hingley saw kindred spirits in the “impulsive temperament” of the Irish – an uncommonly polite way for a contemporary newspaper to describe the immigrants. Either way, he considered the Irish anchormakers of Liverpool to be an important workforce, skilled and hardworking, and managed to convince a gang of Irishmen to follow him to the Black Country to man his anchor forge.

Netherton’s Irish

If we scan the 1861 census (the first after Hingley’s move to Netherton), we do notice some evidence of this in Netherton. The large majority of the village’s residents are very local – those that weren’t born in Netherton itself were born in Dudley, Rowley, Cradley or other nearby Black Country villages.

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The Southern part of Netherton in 1904. Hingley’s works are shaded in red, and the roads highlighted are Cradley Rad (red), Halesowen Road (purple), Washington Street (blue) and Chapel Street (green). © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2017). All rights reserved. (1904)

However, on Northfield Road we find Andrew Maguire – born in Ireland, he is a forge labourer, with two children born in Liverpool (aged 17 and 15) and the rest born in Dudley. This suggests to me a move from Ireland by 1844 (thus before the Great Famine) and to Dudley after 1846. At 79 Cradley Road lived Malachi Norton with his wife and six children, a labourer. His younger children had been born in Birmingham and Netherton, suggesting emigration c.1852. Possibly this was an Irish family encouraged to Netherton by Hingley, but there’s no evident Liverpool to corroborate that.

James Hawkins is more promising – living at 101 Cradley Road, Hawkins is an anchorsmith who’s moved around a fair bit. His children were born in Flintshire and Scotland. Even better are John Gilmore, a young man with wife and kids at 134 Cradley Road, an anchorsmith with children born at Liverpool then Netherton; Michael Johnson at 150; and James Healey at 155, with very similar stories.

Elsewhere, the Irish-born in Netherton are scattered, mostly boarders, and with a mixture of occupations: three coal miners, a chainmaker, a labourer, a marine store dealer, and 85-female year-old “former Nailer” at Darby Hand; and that’s all. I think there’s good reason to associate the Maguire, Hawkins, Gilmore, Johnson and Healey families with Hingley. For a start, all but the Maguires live on Cradley Road – although older OS maps aren’t so good for house numbers (and by the 1950s maps that do number the houses, massive environmental changes render them less than helpful), I’d place them in the vicinity of the canal bridge over the Dudley No.2 Canal. That’s about what you’d expect; Hingley’s Netherton Works are just yards away, adjacent to that very canal.

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Prince William Street, Toxteth, Liverpool – 1849. © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2017). All rights reserved. (1885)

If we dig a little deeper, we find some corroboration. John Gilmore is found in the 1851 census at 77 Prince William Street, Toxteth – Liverpool. He’s a tailor by trade, common for Irishmen familiar with working cottons and linens. This is a street of infamous Liverpool courts and cellar dwellings, exactly where you’d expect to find the swelled immigrant Irish population in 1851.

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72-74 Prince William Street in 1960, prior to slum clearance [source]

There is a James Healey in Liverpool in 1851 as well. He’s a resident in James Emms’ licensed lodging house at 62 Porter Street, in the Vauxhall area. Like Toxteth, it’s close to the docks and consists of rows of tiny houses arranged in courts. In this one (which was knocked through from two former houses), 29 people live. James is there, albeit with no wife or children, listed as an “Emigrant” rather than as an occupation, suggesting a very recent arrival. Jane, his wife, could be the General Servant at a house in Toxteth – not sure though.

Michael Johnson, on the other hand, is already in the Black Country in 1851. He is a blacksmith living at Brick Kiln Street, Quarry Bank, with his wife Rose, and Irish-born sons Stephen and John (they will be joined by a Netherton-born daughter Rose c.1856). Brick Kiln Street is still there, although the terraces won’t be the same ones – the current ones are early Edwardian. So perhaps this rules the Johnsons out of Hingley’s work placement scheme. Dubliner Andrew Maguire was in a similar position, lodging with his family in Bilston Road, Tipton in 1851. Perhaps he and Johnson were early arrivals, still waiting to get on the housing ladder, such as it was.

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Porter Street, Liverpool in 1850. © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2017). All rights reserved. (1885)

The life of an Irish emigrant was a highly transient one, especially in these early years after the horror of the Famine. Families came over bit by bit, and had to make their living and their living space any way they could. Lodging Houses were a frequent first port of call; those who were better established managed to rent their own accommodation – although with an insecure weekly tenancy – in foul little houses where they could get by.

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Court dwellings in Liverpool [source]

As in the courts of Wolverhampton or Birmingham, diseases like cholera and typhus were rife, human waste flowed down central gulleys, and poor families lived in tremendously overcrowded close quarters. These were casual labourers though – dockers, costermongers, bricklayers’ mates, and so on. If you were lucky you would learn a semi-skilled trade such as anchormaking, which paid just enough more to enable you to move out of the worst squalor.

Hingley’s Irish

Noah Hingley’s offer was not a philanthropic venture, rescuing Liverpool’s destitute Irish. Those who wished to work at Netherton were not the poorest and still had to be financially induced, and persuaded away from Liverpool. They were not coddled either – his obituary mentions that “at first they walked all the way from Liverpool, arriving ragged and footsore.” This was a commercial decision based on financial knowledge and trade expertise. But it worked: further Irish workers arrived and they kept on coming. Hingley was no ogre either – he’s reported to have added to the remittances sent back to Ireland by postal order.

The prevailing historiography of mid-19th-century Irish immigration is, with local variations, a sad one of extreme poverty. There are always exceptions of course (the Orangemen of Glasgow, for example). The Hingley anchorsmiths appear to be an example of Irish emigrées developing into a skilled labouring community, so much that they were the subject of competitive hiring approaches. Whether they found the hilly, sooty, land-locked Netherton preferable to the cramped courts of Liverpool is impossible to say, but it’s likely that descendents of these skilled anchorsmiths went on to produce maybe the most famous single item ever produced in the Black Country – the vast anchor for an unsinkable new liner that was to set off on its maiden voyage in 1912. Michael Johnson’s eldest certainly followed his father’s trade – Stephen has married a Dudley wench, Elizabeth, by 1871 and is an anchorsmith living in Chapel Street, Netherton (the street runs off Cradley Road, parallel to Washington Street where the Hingley works were). I’d place a bet that Stephen works for Hingley, like his pa.

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Making chains for the Titanic’s anchor at N. Hingley [source]

It’s an interesting twist on the identity question. The Irish were often scorned both for their lazy and feckless nature, and for their willingness to do the hard graft and thereby undercut English workers. Engels hated on them for just this reason, as did political commentators from across the spectrum. It’s little wonder that when the Irish emigrées did organise, they did so around the nationalist cause and their Catholic faith, reminders of their homeland and their difference from their hosts. But here we have an example of labourers who seem to have chosen to identify with a firm and a trade. It’s an early example of mutual respect between employer and employee in a way that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

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20 Clydesdale horses pulling the Titanic anchor from Netherton to Dudley station [source]

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Black Country Irish: Wolverhampton, 1851

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North Street, Wolverhampton in the 1930s [Lost Wolverhampton]

I’m starting my series on the Irish in the 19th century Black Country by looking at Wolverhampton. This is familiar ground for me, or at least should be – so I’m broadening my normal hyper-local view of Carribee Island out to look at some quantitative data on Wolverhampton as a whole. My hope is that this will give me opportunity to place the Irish in my apparent “Irish quarter” in some sort of context; but also to have a look at how far one can get using solely quantitative sources.

Sources of data

Digital sources are an unquestionably fantastic thing. They enable me to gather vast amounts of data from my office chair, but they aren’t without their difficulties. I love the Online Historical Population Reports (HistPop) website for example – it publishes most of the census enumerators statistical tables for the whole of the 19th century and beyond, but it dates from c.2003, and the web technology shows it. More up to date is the awesome I-CeM project, which draws its data from individual census returns provided by FindMyPast and enables users to drill down into anonymised returns as actual, computable data. Its drawback? It’s subscription only.

The whole population

The first thing I noticed is basic counting differences. On HistPop, the original enumerators’ tables show an 1851 total population of Wolverhampton of 49,985, with an Irish-born population of 3,491 – that’s 6.98%. On I-CeM, calculated from individual census returns rather than these tables, the total population is 49,798, the Irish-born population 3,783, and the proportion 7.56%. This is point one, perhaps: no matter what your historical source is there is always human intervention somewhere along the line – there is no such thing as unbiased data.

The Irish population

I’ll continue with I-CeM’s data because of its flexibility, but bearing that in mind. Either way, the Irish-born population is by far the biggest minority in the town. Of that 3,763, most are young – the 26-30 bracket is 824 – and married (3,318 compared to 286 widowed and 86 single). Occupational categories are notoriously unhelpful, but we’ll have a look. The most common category is “farm labourers, general farming” with 533. In Wolverhampton? My theory here is something of an uncertainty on the part of the respondents; perhaps it’s comforting to define yourself by what you have come from in Ireland – what you hope to return to – and not by the way you are struggling by on one evening in March. Indeed, the Irish-born are way over-represented in this occupation – just 283 English, 16 Welsh, 2 Scottish and 16 others are in farming (and 10 English and 2 Welsh are “farmers’ sons”).

Job titles
Following this, 303 are “miners and quarrymen”, 265 unspecified workers, 254 “bricklayers, stonemasons and tile setters”, 144 in domestic service, 74 street vendors etc., and many other different categories. These make more sense of course – Wolverhampton is on the edge of not only a coalfield, but a geologically-rich site where many other iron, clay and lime was frequently extracted then worked. Those identifying as metal-workers actually come way down the list (although this nebulous subject was still causing problems in the mid-20th century – the post-war Conurbation plan was still grappling with imprecise categories in 1948). This can be compared to the population as a whole, in which 4.1% were lock or key makers; 2.49% metal product manufacturing workers and 2.35% in metal rolling (there are many other categories).
So?
So far, pretty dull right? The only reason I’ve put in so many headers is to try and keep your attention. You’re bound to have spotted the massive lack of nuance in these figures. We can try and explain away some of them, but they don’t bring us much closer to the Irish experience in Wolverhampton. Fortunately, we can drill down further. In Wolverhampton’s Western division, there are 456 born in Ireland (2.58% of that division) – in the East, 3,307 (10.25%). We can start to bring in some general urban theory here: The East End of almost any industrial town is the poor end – think Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham… The prevailing wind in this country is from the South-West – it blows fumes, smells and smoke from West to East. There’s more population in the East, and more Irish amongst those – the Irish are likely to be poor. If we map the Irish-born population, this is what we get:
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Irish-born population of Wolverhampton in 1851, mapped into four equal intervals.

This map appears to confirm the basic thesis [all maps can be opened out to larger versions by the way – just click on them]. The concentrations of Irish are on the NE side of the town centre. Producing this map threw up a few basic issues. This is a choropleth map – i.e. showing statistics by area – showing the 1851 census enumeration districts (imperfectly, I might add – it’s surprisingly difficult to judge the districts from their written descriptions alone). You can see the massive ones on the outside and the smaller near the centre – that’s to be expected really, but although the enumerators tended to try and divide up population areas reasonably equally, there are massive differences – some districts are 21 pages, others are 50. So this is a bit inflexible. They’re also tricky to map accurately without a digitised version of an 1851 map – which there currently isn’t. The other thing to notice is the lack of nuance in these categorisations – it’s interesting to note that every census district in town had at least one Irish-born individual, but we can’t distinguish here between 1 and 185. Perhaps if we had more categories?

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Irish-born population of Wolverhampton in 1851, mapped into 10 equal intervals.

This map shows ten categories and… it’s not all that different. We still can’t distinguish between 1 and 74 in the large Southern and Western districts of Penn, Finchfield, Merridale and Goldthorn Hill, for instance. We can get a bit of a better breakdown in the NE section – the densest districts are still those around Carribee Island and Stafford Street (which comes as something of a relief, seeing as I’ve predicated my thesis on the idea that there was a densest Irish area in the town). We can see that the Irish population extends up Stafford Street and across the town centre a bit as well – these are all areas which are densely populated and constructed with court housing to a large extent, which confirms my suspicions in terms of the homes of the Irish. We can draw some basic conclusions from here, but I still think it’s missing something, don’t you?

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Irish-born population of Wolverhampton in 1851, mapped with Jenks natural breaks optimization

The next map is categorised into non-equal areas. Happily, ArcGIS has a number of different breakdowns to switch between – this one is the cartographer George Jenks’ method of finding the natural breaks in a dataset and exploiting that for the best visualisation. You can find the full methodology here. We now see the density map in a lot more detail, showing with a lot more clarity clusters of other Irish populations in Wolverhampton – along Walsall Street and St James’ Square, for instance, and along Salop Street. This shows better what I’ve been expecting based on, for example, the Watch Committee minutes, which regularly mentions these areas as Irish hotspots. It throws up some unexpected results too – there’s a cluster on Merridale Street in the SW of town, and a high proportion in the as-yet-not-hugely-developed Springfield area, to the far NE. I would have expected this in 1881 or 1891 more so than here – the area was developed as part of the slum clearance programme that knocked down Carribee Island. There’s an interesting gap to note as well – despite being surrounded by heavily Irish areas, Faulkland Street (just to the North of the darkest green area) is very light. Certainly this includes St Mary’s church and Terrace, but what was it about this street that stood it out? It’s still a street of mid-century court housing.

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Irish-born population of Wolverhampton in 1851, mapped by 1 Standard Deviation

The next option is Standard Deviation, which is no longer a measure of population numbers but a statistical measure showing deviance from the mean. So we can’t calculate people numbers – just difference. It’s a useful visual device though, particularly to show unusual results. The average number of Irish-born residents in a Wolverhampton census district in in 1851 is 50.75. In some areas of Wolverhampton this would be ludicrously high: the semi-rural area to the South of Chapel Ash has just one return, for instance. That compares to the aforementioned Merridale Street, not too distant, with 45 – enough to put it in a higher bracket in the Jenks distribution, but still below average. Standard Deviation ignores that sort of thing, but is really useful for showing us the outliers. From this, for instance, we can note immediately that the area to the West of North Street (where the town and civic halls will later appear) is unusual – and looking more closely, there are 117 Irish-born residents, right at the upper limit of the Jenks bracket. So – there’s a result I wouldn’t have necessarily clocked. Carribee Island, we see again, is more than 2.5 SDs outside the mean – in fact there are 743 Irish-born residents here.

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Irish-born population of Wolverhampton in 1851, mapped by 0.25 Standard Deviations

A perhaps more useful SD visualisation is achieved using 0.25 SDs. Standard Deviation (he says, plumbing the distant depths of A-Level Statistics and failing to remember a single thing) is the square root of the average deviation from the mean. Got that? Basically, we now have a range of 16 categories instead of 4. We can see from this that while that district we just mentioned (W of North Street)is an outlier in some respects, it fits into a broader distribution of Irish around NE Wolverhampton, appearing to radiate out from the darkest blue – Carribee Island.

You can see that each of these maps tells a different story. All of the them are true in a basic respect – they are all based on the same raw data. But different statistical tools and measurements show quite different sides of the argument. There will be times when showing the basic, equally-categorised data will be enough. At other times, a statistical tool reveals a lot more.

It ought to be borne in mind that there are all sorts of other issues with using census data – try Higgs’ key Making Sense Of The Census for this. There are even more issues with just taking one snapshot day as representative data – especially because, like a modern geographer or social scientist, I didn’t design the research tool myself. For a historian, contextualising such data is the point of what we do. The biggest contextual point is that 1851 saw the first unblighted potato crop in Ireland since 1844. For the previous six years, the great famine had sent something like a million people fleeing their homeland; and a million dead of starvation. Many went to America, but many came to the UK and a fair few of those found themselves in Wolverhampton on census night 1851. Many will have been in transit – who knows how many? I’d recommend reading John Herson here – his description of Stafford as a transitory town for Irish immigrants is really useful. Immigration only increased after this point too. Many settled in the town too – but what is settled? Comfortable? Economically stable? Residentially secure? Not likely.

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Irish-born residents of Wolverhampton in 1851 plus roads, canals and public buildings, mapped by Jenks distribution

A bit of geographical context would be handy too. Roads, canals, public functions – all play their part in the choice (or lack of) of where to settle. What I’ve not mapped is industry, residential districts, commercial districts… all play their part in a much bigger picture.

Choosing how to present data visually is going to be one of the biggest methodological challenges I’ll face in my PhD, I think. There’s a lot of pros and cons, limitations and extrapolations, and so on. Hopefully, this post shows a little of my workings – what I don’t think it does is to show fully the situation of the Irish in Wolverhampton by itself. Much more context and argument is needed. You can get a basic idea of the residential distribution of the Irish in the Victorian city from these maps – the biggest Irish populations lived where the houses were less pleasant, nearer to industry, between the shopping centre and the suburbs, typically to the NE. You can see, too, that the Carribee Island area – and the districts surrounding it – really was the hotspot of Irish population in Wolverhampton at this time. I could add topographical data, longitudinal data, more detailed general population data, other data sources, and so on – but you’ll just have to wait til my thesis is completed.

Posted in Black Country, Irish, PhD, Quantitative data, Space, Wolverhampton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coming over here, taking our jobs…

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The famine memorial in Dublin (Wikimedia commons)

Crowds of miserable Irish darken all our towns. The wild Milesian features, looking false ingenuity, restlessness, unreason, misery and mockery, salute you on all highways and byways… He is the sorest evil this  country has to strive with.

So wrote the great crusading reformer Thomas Carlyle in 1839. Heroes of the Left like Friedrich Engels were little better:

True, the Irish character, which under some circumstances, is comfortable only in the dirt…

These sorts of quotes sound almost shocking to our ears. Historians are used to our Tory and Whig politicians and newspapers of the day being unrepentantly racist, but it’s a surprise to see those we might consider forward-thinking and progressive come out with such prejudice. Karl Marx, in a letter of 1870, perhaps came closer to understanding the deep antipathy with which the English working classes were judged to consider their Irish counterparts:

Every industrial and commercial centre in England possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life… This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes.

This latter quote was used with great resonance by Gary Younge in his recent article on Brexit – as he notes, change a couple of words and it would ring true with regards to much of the discourse around immigration and immigrants today. This has come to be perhaps the defining political debate of our times. Yet in many ways it’s always been so, from Irish immigrants in the 19th century to antisemitic propaganda in the 1930s to “No Coloureds, No Dogs, No Irish” post-WW2 to the race riots of the 1980s to present-day handwringing over (particularly) Muslim immigrants.

The general disarray following the referendum shows that the ruling classes Marx mentions continue to use antagonism as a weapon. Immigration was, of course, such a major theme that many, many voters were prompted to vote solely on that subject. And it’s easy to see why. In the areas that voted to leave there are often major shortages of jobs – particularly well-paid ones, the sort you can be proud of and stick at for life. It’s “common sense” to attribute a shortage of jobs to an over-supply of people willing to do them (rather than a more systemic failure of the labour market). Reports showing that migrants contribute more to the economy than they take out mean little in these circumstances.

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Captain Swing (image featured in History Workshop Journal)

I think you can trace it further. The early industrial era saw major working-class uprisings targeting churches (the Gordon riots in London targeted Catholics so inevitably featured a racial element), machinery (the Luddites targeted stocking frames etc., the Swing rioters threshing machines) and toll-gates (the Rebecca rioters in South Wales). These were tangible evidence of work being taken away from them, or barriers put in place by someone, or something out of control. The riots, just as the racism and prejudice directed towards the Irish in the Victorian city, was an outbreak of frustration and powerlessness. I’m rolling the idea around my head that such riots, racism and even brexit represent a crisis of representation as much as anything. More than just a voting system, I mean: people feel alienated from a system that has left them behind, from politicians that lie and fabricate, from technology that replaces their labour (still), from work and a class that used to be an identity worth maintaining, but just isn’t/wasn’t anymore. Sometimes, change hurts.

I’m hoping to write some posts in the next few weeks about the Irish immigrant populations of various parts of the Black Country, in the 19th century particularly. It’s not something that has received a great deal of academic attention. I hope to rectify that a little with my research into Wolverhampton, but the wider Black Country is a strange and confusing place. But Irish people there were, in each town.

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Like most migrant communities in the UK, the Irish have been coming and going for many centuries. The rich and the poor, the noble and ignoble, for reasons as diverse as the migrants themselves. During the 18th century, seasonal migrants were common, with a few ending up stopping here. The West coast of Scotland in particular, with its Gaelic links, saw a large Irish population accumulate, as did Liverpool, the main port. Famines were fairly frequent, driving more people to this country, but it was the Great Famine of the 1840s that really changed the whole picture. The centrality of this event is a pillar of Irish historiography that I’ll grapple with, but there’s little doubt that quantitatively at least, its impact was vast and lasted for decades. Hundreds of thousands arrived in London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol. Many managed to secure a passage to America; many couldn’t afford it and traversed Britain looking for work and a home.

There’s been loads of modern research into Irish immigration to Britain, starting with John Jackson’s The Irish In Britain in 1964. Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley’s edited volumes (1/2/3) (including Roger’s excellent articles on Wolverhampton) and Don MacRaild‘s books are the key texts, and there have been wonderful local studies: Birmingham (Carl Chinn); London (Lynn Hollen Lees); Bath (Graham Davis); Manchester (Melvyn Busteed). Mary Hickman’s sociological and Mary Poovey’s cultural/representational takes are also of great interest, and there are tons more that I could name. One you should definitely check out is John Herson’s great blog accompanying his book on the Irish in Stafford – he deals in great detail with many of the historiographical, methodological and just plain interesting parts of the debate.

If I have time, I’d love to dig a bit in other non-Black Country towns that have some meaning for me. In 1851, for example, 5.93% of the population of Winchester were Irish-born. Winchester! When I grew up there it was pretty much the whitest, most English place you could imagine. Certainly not an industrial powerhouse either – the densest Irish populations tended to be where there was substantial unskilled industrial labour. Settlement is unalterably spatial. John Lanchester puts this more eloquently when he says “geography is destiny” – it’s well worth reading his whole article on the fall-out of Brexit.

It’s easy to quantify people by birthplace, particularly when that’s the main source of information you might have about them (the census). It’s a bit of an abstraction though, and it’s easy to lose personal stories, family histories, culture and local networks which make such history so fascinating. That happens today – migrants or refugees often aren’t depicted as individuals, or families, but as “hordes” or statistics. They’re human beings with stories just like yours and mine, often with tragedy in there. Hopefully we’ll uncover a bit of that and perhaps undermine the prejudices of Engels and Carlyle, and the alienation of a restless nation.

Posted in History, Irish, Politics, Representation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Touring ’bout my generations: a photo-essay

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Panoramic pic of our campsite in Great Langdale. The table reveals evidence of our typical level of preparedness – we failed to check the level in our gas bottle but at least we had a back-up, pound shop burner for a cuppa. 

One of the best bits about a holiday is the journey home. We had a few very happy days in the Lake District last week, camping amidst glorious mountainous scenery, allowing our Patterdale terrier Maude to get overexcited by sheep, and reading lots of books. The journey up was grim – a vehicle fire in the roadworks at Knutsford, plus a complete closure of the M6 at Lancaster. But the journey home is always great, there’s no time pressures, we go off the beaten track to find stuff (as my better half calls it, “the see-wheres”), and there’s a comfy bed at the end of it.

This time we took a detour to find some of the sights I had found out about in the recent series about Lawrence Britcliffe. Lawrence, an eighteenth-century ancestor of mine, is probably the most infamous of the Briercliffe line – in 1739 he committed a murder in a drunken rage at the Holme Wakes, ran away to sea to escape but eventually returned home and died on the gallows at Lancaster Moor. We actually got distracted on the way, however, by another site from Briercliffe history – Abel Street, in the Daneshouse area of Burnley.

111 Abel Street was occupied by William and Susan Briercliffe and their eight children. Regrettably (for me at least), it seems that house has been recently demolished, at least since 2009 when Google Street View’s capture dates from. It’s now empty green space with new homes opposite. This is modern day “slum” clearance I suppose – the houses are certainly boarded up and grim looking on Google, but actually the surrounding streets were bustling and full. This is one of the most deprived, as well as most densely Asian-populated wards in the entire country (90.85% Asian or British Asian in 2001), and there seems plenty of life. Quite to what extent these small but solid homes had been abandoned, and to what extent their abandonment was thrust upon them, is disputable and complex. Either way, I never got to see William’s house.

William moved into Burnley to work at the mills – probably those that lined the Leeds and Liverpool Canal just yards to the west of the house. They’re all gone now, leaving the endless acres of gridded housing so typical of cotton towns like Burnley. The one that does remain is the preserved Queen Street Mill in the former mill village of Briercliffe. This seemed temporarily closed when we arrived but beware – it’s a potential for permanent closure. A glance at the changing street layouts shows the village’s absorption into the bigger town. The terraced streets around Queen Street Mill remain, sometimes cut through or bounded by ancient landownership and rights of way. The 20th century advance of Burnley can be seen in the curving roads of detached homes off both sides of Briercliffe Road. These are typical mid-to-late century developments: not the geometric planning of inter-war but an artificially organic-feeling mixture of crescents and cul-de-sacs.

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The millpond at Queen Street Mill, with Burnley in the background.

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Queen Street’s glorious chimney. This is one of the last standing in a town once covered with them.

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Briercliffe from the air (possibly an Aerofilms pic? This is from the Briercliffe Society website, along with a key)

The actual homelands of the Briercliffes requires pushing further East out of the town and onto the Pennine moors overlooking the Trawden valley. The 17th-century Burwains House was home to many generations of the family before and after its completion in 1642 – today it’s hidden away and unsignposted – I think this might be a picture of it from the road.

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Burwains House, possibly?

I lacked the courage to knock on the door and attempt to reclaim my rightful heritage. Perhaps next time. What I can tell is that the Briercliffes are a moorland people. This area was beautiful on a sunny July day but I imagine it’s thoroughly bleak in the winter. At the end of the road is a designated “Scenic Spot” (Denis Wood would have a field day with this – read his chapter on the North Carolina state road map), but the description is apt – overlooking the valley of the Thursden Brook this is a peaceful and beautiful place. No wonder the pre-Roman inhabitants built up here, and no wonder my ancestors were happy to claim this land as their own. An excavation in 1950 in ‘Burwains Camp’ dug up a flint axehead produced from a so-called axe factory in Great Langdale, its journey following our day trip, just 2500 years earlier.

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Looking West from the “scenic spot”.

As we trundled through country lanes to Worsthorne, we are high up (although still only really in the Pennine foothills). Almost from every spot we can see the defining geographical feature of the area, Pendle Hill. The A682 between Gisburn and Nelson gives some particularly good views, but it dominates the area. It’s Eastern face is sheer and dark, in shadow even at midday. It’s no wonder to me that it has inspired folklore and visions and casts a shadow over the region’s history as well as its geography.

Worsthorne is another attractive village built from Pennine limestone (you can keep your Cotswolds); after this we enter Meresclough. The house on the corner was possibly the site of Lawrence’s home. We join the A646 running from Burnley to Todmorden through Holme Chapel and our next stop: lunch. You may recall that Lawrence’s murder took place at the Holme Wakes. Before the church of St John the Divine was built by Thomas Dunham Whitaker, vicar and general patron of Holme (which became Holme Chapel after the church was built). Before his time (1759-1821) Holme was a typical Lancashire moor village with its Wakes week in the summer at a spot close to the Ram Inn. So you can guess where we ended up for lunch – the Ram is still open and served us a very nice lunch indeed overlooking the nascent River Calder and Dodbottom Wood, where Lawrence hid after his crime. The valley is very dramatic – great outcrops of rock loom all along the road to Todmorden and again, is likely very bleak at times. Much of the greenery in Holme now was the gift of Whitaker too – in Lawrence’s day it would have been still bleaker.

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The Ram, Holme Chapel – still good after 300 years.

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Lunch at the Ram.

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Dodbottom Wood from the Ram’s car park. I think this is likely where the Wakes were held and the woods behind where Lawrence fled to. The train line runs along the back now, but in 1739 he would have been free to cross the Calder, hide in the woods or in the nearby caves in the rocky valley, then flee over the hills to wherever he went next.

Our onward journey took us from one Calder to another: that through Holme Chapel rises just South-East of the town and flows to the Irish Sea via the Ribble; cross the railway line and you’re crossing the Pennine watershed as another Calder rises close by and flows to the North Sea via the Aire and Ouse. By the time we reach Todmorden we’re in West Yorkshire. The route was probably familiar to Lawrence – his mentor David Crosley was born here and there was likely significant local cross-border connections even before the railway line.

Back over the county divide to Bacup – site of Crosley’s Ebenezer Chapel at which Lawrence certainly did spend time. It was also the site of the famous funeral address to thousands of locals, preached by Crosley. Then to Rochdale, a much more sizable town (also home to a branch of Briercliffes) and from thence home. Apologies to Katrina Navickas but we didn’t stop at Rochdale and to be honest, we weren’t tempted. None of the charm of the smaller Pennine mill towns here, with their warm yellow stones, viaducts over markets, and washing strung across streets. Most likely the view from the A58 didn’t do it justice…

I didn’t know whether to expect to feel anything visiting these places. And thinking about it, I don’t know if I did. I’m glad to have been, if for no other reason than to find that it’s a very beautiful part of the world – surprising to most (me included) who didn’t expect much from Burnley. I love the moors, the feeling of height way above what would once have been a pall of smoke from the mill chimneys, where nothing but sheep and the odd horse rider wander. Even though I’m no hiker or fell-runner I always long to be up in the hills somewhere. I’m certainly looking forward to exploring these ones again. I didn’t feel a mystical connection with the ancestral world beyond my historian’s curiosity, but I think I probably am glad that theirs was a beautiful world.

Posted in History, lancashire, Landscape, Picture, Talking bout my generations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Birmingham’s furthest outpost: Michel de Certeau and the tactics of Elan Village’s navvies

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Construction workers at the Elan Valley project, just prior to the official opening in 1904 (Birmingham Mail)

The Welsh countryside

It’s often presumed that times moves slowly in the countryside. Seasons come and go, and the work changes little. The 1901 census for the rural Welsh parish of Llansantffraid Cwmdeuddwr reveals a mixed picture of rural labour. Farmers, agricultural labourers and their families, born and raised in this parish or the neighbouring Rhayader are in each of the widespread cottages. At Pen-coed (now Nant yr Haidd Farm), 68-year-old John Hamer lives with his wife Annie, he from this parish, she from Rhayader. At Glan-rhyd-wen, on the road out of Rhayader, the spinster Ann Thomas lets out a bed to Owen Roberts, a miner from Anglesey. He might well have been a lead miner – there are wonderful ruins of a lead-mining community further along the mountain road towards Cymystwyth. But not everyone is involved in such stereotypically Welsh activities. At Troed-y-rhiw-felen, high up on the moors, Edward Lloyd’s 19 year old son Thomas is a labourer at the Public Works; at Llanfadog, it’s more obvious still – John Miller and half his eight lodgers are excavators. Navvies.

Navigator, rise up and be strong

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Work in progress at Elan Valley (A Walk Around Britain)

The huge workforce of the Elan Valley project mostly lived in the specially constructed Elan Village, but it’s evident from the extent of lodgers in the surrounding area that many spread out from there too. Life was healthy and strong, but strictly controlled in the village, and perhaps these extra boarders found the restrictions too much. In the Village canteen you could only have up to six pints of Alsopp’s Single X or bottled Bass. The traditional navvy would have consumed much more than that during an average work day, let alone evening session, and its no wonder that workarounds were found.

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Elan Valley Hote [Percy Benzie Abery, National Library of Wales]

Dick Sullivan‘s memoirs of his father’s and grandfather’s navvying, Navvyman, is a useful source for anecdotal and therefore debatable evidence, but much of his book is well-backed-up. In 1897, he and the Montgomery & Radnor Echo record a gang of navvies making their way into Rhayader for Jubilee Day. They ate and drank the entire town’s provision for the festivities… Others stayed closer to home and visited the Elan Valley Hotel – still there, and opened to cater for the navvies’ needs. The hotel even opened its own footbridge over the Afon Elan to counteract the village’s strict bridge rules, and consumption was certainly not limited. In 1895, the Rhayader police charge book records George and Thomas Ward, “charged with being drunk and refusing to quit the Elan Valley Hotel”. Here are tactics, as Michel de Certeau thinks of them. Compared to the careful monitoring and moralistic, paternalistic supervision of the Corporation, the navvies themselves were resourceful and able to evade the rules. They – and the hotel, acting individualistically and contrary to the aims of the Corporation – created their own space out of an apparently formalised space.

I think the municipal pub that so excited various commentators was of limited success. The South Wales Daily News quoted an anonymous official with “considerable experience of the navvy and his method of living” who acknowledged that drinking and drunkenness had not been reduced by the amount expected. The navvy “method of living” will overrule, if you ask those in charge. At other grand civil engineering schemes, a less reformatory and more exploitative approach was taken. The Talla reservoir, built to supply water for Edinburgh, similarly required a railway and a large workforce. John Best of Leith, the contractor who took over the works in 1899, saw fit to build a special platform from the works railway directly to the Crook Inn. After, that was, taking a financial interest in the pub which went on to directly serve a large number of the navigators… (thanks to Pedro Cutler for the prompt on Talla).

The dosshouse

The dosshouse was where new navvies went to be vetted, and we can get an idea of the points of origin for these new arrivals in the 1901 census. The lodgers themselves come from all over England, Wales and Ireland (I’m not familiar enough with Scottish history at the time to know why no Scottish workers were here). There are navvies here from  six counties of Wales and 15 counties of England – the best-represented is Staffordshire, with 6 out of 7 dossers being Black Country born-and-bred. The relationship between workers and expertise in the Black Country and Wales is something that’s begging out for more research. There are also workers born in every part of Ireland, and even one born in Bengal.

The village

evd20a1207In the village itself, wooden homes lined the main road that had been laid out, and these were occupied by a responsible husband and wife, and 8-10 boarding navvies. There are several examples in the 1901 census. At Cwm Elan Mine, 50-year-old John Lewis is the “Navvy Ganger”, responsible for the household alongside his wife Mary, both from Llanyfilin in Montgomeryshire. They had 9 boarders, ranging in age from the 22-year-old crane driver Richard Lewis, to the 60-year-old William Walford, plate layer. 7 of them were Welsh, with the exception of Walford (from Bridgnorth) and  Morris Davies, a general labourer from Chester – border countries.

The Welsh dominance at Cwm Elan is in contrast to the more cosmopolitan mix at No.11 Pengang, where John Starling and his family presided over a mix from across England and Wales. Much as I’d like to make a point about some households being “Welsh only” and how that was an interesting response to liberal policies etc., the life of a navvy is so diverse and wide-ranging in itself, I think that might be a stretch. Take Starling’s own family – he and his wife Jane were born in Worcestershire, but his daughter Polly was born in Nottinghamshire c.1888, George in Chesterfield c.1891, Sarah back in Worcestershire in 1895, then Eliza (c.1896), Clara (c.1898) and Albert (c.1899) in Rhayader. This was a tramping family, but they had found a long-term contract here in Wales and were one of the earlier settler families.

In all, the Elan navvy was probably pretty content with his lot. Despite the outbreaks of boisterous behaviour, John Ward – president of the Navvies’ Union in 1895 – could give a “happy description” of the whole place (South Wales Daily News – Tuesday 12 November 1895). That’s something of a gloss though: perhaps Ward neglected to mention the strike by navvies in March 1894, early on in the scheme, when navvies were being paid 4d per hour, compared to Corporation workers’ 4 1/2d (Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser – Saturday 03 March 1894). I haven’t found any more on this from the newspapers available online at the BNA but I’d love to know how the strike played out – a solitary point of access into and out of the village could play a crucial tactical role here.

“Particularly friendly”

At the more individual end of the spectrum, the limited quarters didn’t always have the moralising affect that was intended. In the South Wales Daily News of 23rd May 1895, for instance, a hutkeeper rather than a lodger was charged with assaulting the local bobby, PC Probert, at the waterworks canteen. The initial idea was that a married couple, acting as gangers, would have a sobering, positive influence on the workers in their care. It wasn’t always successful. In 1898, Thomas and Emma Cumberlidge lived at hut 106 with their lodger, Alfred Ford, who had moved in in October 1897. They had been married over 20 years and had three children, but that wasn’t to stop the “particularly friendly” arrangement becoming a bit too friendly between Emma and Alfred (Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser – Saturday 03 December 1898). Alfred disappeared on the night of 23rd September 1898, and two days later so did Emma, along with £25 and several boxes of possessions. This was supposed to be the fifth or sixth such elopement, a source of scandal and fascination to locals.

The pair were eventually found living as husband and wife at Llandysilio, near the town of Llanymynech, when Emma attempted to transfer some sort of policy. They were arrested and brought to Rhayader by the Works village policeman, Evans, and tried at Builth Wells on Monday 5th December 1898 (Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser – Saturday 10 December 1898). It turned out that Alfred’s real name was Joseph Alfred Meredith, and I suspect him to be the same that turns up on various censuses: born at Welshpool in 1862, his mother was widowed and likely remarried to a Ford; he is labouring at nearby Guilsfield in 1881, then in the coal-mining district of Dawley (now underneath Telford) in 1891, by which time he was married to Maria Hughes, born in Guilsfield.

Alfred/Joseph was acquitted, and Emma fined £2 for theft. Interestingly, the 1901 census records a 39-year-old Joseph A Meredith and wife Emma, a 43-year-old dressmaker born in Gnossal, Staffs, living at Penyvoel, Carreghofa – just outside Llanymynech, and the very same address from which PC Evans arrested them. They clearly went back to their ways and were listed as man and wife – that ain’t necessarily so, of course. There’s even a Joseph A Meredith of roughly the same age registered dying in my very own Stourbridge in 1938, but I’m not fully confident of a link, sadly.

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More modern navvies – reconstruction work on the Montgomeryshire Canal at Carreghofa in 1977 [Tony Clayton]

Across the border

As I discovered researching Lawrence Britcliffe, the working population of Great Britain have been far more mobile than you’d give them credit for. Joseph, Emma, Thomas and their colleagues at Elan Valley came from far and wide not so much for a booming economy, a common driver of immigration, but a substantial, one-off contract, part of a life of roving across and around borders. The Welsh border here plays a particularly interesting role – Elan is as far as these characters penetrate into Wales. They otherwise hop between towns like Dawley and Guilsfield, not far from the border, or live in towns almost on it. The navvy’s role had changed, in large part due to social pressures applied by strategists on high – in this case the Birmingham Corporation – but the restless movement of their lives persisted. These reforming attitudes were part of far larger socio-cultural changes (I can see the link to Joyce’s “rule of freedom” here) but enacted at micro-managerial levels, in personal and professional time. Reform, good thing or bad, is always resisted. It’s true here – the roving navvy seems reluctant to pass into the modern world and pushes against it. I’m ambivalent about whether modernisation is always good or always bad, but there’s a big part of me which says good luck to him.

Posted in Everyday Life, Powys, Space, Theory, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Black Country Brexit

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Pic from THES

I was going to post another bit about the navvies of Elan Valley today, but it seems a bit strange to be discussing late-Victorian municipal water schemes when we’re living through Actual History as we speak. The fall-out from the EU referendum on Thursday continues apace. There has been much talk about historical parallels since, most commonly to Germany on the eve of Hitler, or Britain in the days of Suez, so I won’t add to these. Historical parallels are always slight awkward. For every quote of Marx’s “history repeats itself, first time as tragedy, second time as farce” there’s the Annalist Marc Bloch’s view that “it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical.”

I’m with Bloch on this, I think; I don’t think any historian, no matter how well-prepared can predict how this is going to turn out. With Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Gibraltar suffering agonies over their borders, I imagine there will be tears. For my own part, I’m very sad about it. I’ve known and worked with friends from all across the EU and it was great; I feel sad that some sort of barrier has been put in between me and the French, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Polish, Greek or Swedish friends, colleagues or students that I’ve known.

The Black Country voted decisively out, to the tune of almost two-thirds. This strikes me as odd for a region that has received a tremendous amount of EU funding, for new roads, museums, education, business and so on. But it’s always been a politically complex place, especially when the most divisive question of the referendum is raised – immigration. Not for the Black Country the mass voting blocs of Merseyside or Glasgow; this is a region which elevated Enoch Powell and Oswald Moseley, where a BNP councillor was elected, where bus drivers struck because of an Indian conductor being permitted a job (see below).

Racism wasn’t the biggest driver of leave voters, I don’t think, but I do think the leave vote vindicates those who are racist. The wave of post-referendum unpleasantness (highlighted on Twitter) is evidence of this. The years of vile bigotry spouted by national newspapers; central cuts leaving public services squeezed to the limit; the alienation from politics (and society in general) caused by years of neglect by politics; the inability to express individual political will under a dodgy voting system; the failure of politicians to present a decent, positive counterpoint; even the alienation caused across society by the abdication of power from government to the unseen “invisible hands” of international markets; all these played their parts. What to do next therefore becomes a huge, huge problem that can seem insurmountable – especially by our politicians, busy proving to the public that they have elected a group of six-year-olds. Perhaps in the short term, the first thing is to love thy neighbour. Regardless of your vote, your politics or your outlook on life, this world is horrible enough without people hating people based on the colour of their skin or the language they speak.

Posted in Black Country, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments