The Importance of Newspapers

One of the most informative and interesting Victorian sources for family historians is the newspaper. Many believe, wrongly,  that as they are descended from ‘ordinary’ families, they are a pointless resource as nothing newsworthy could have occurred. In reality, it is quite the opposite as they contain a great weath of information regarding birth announcements and obituaries, legal notices and, on occasion, stories giving an insight into the working life and personality of ancestors. With sites such as and offering searchable databases to numerous British newspapers, there has never been a better time to try to find stories from the past.

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

My great-great grandmother’s sister, Mary Thomas, the daughter of William Thomas (a farmer from Morton, Shropshire) and Elizabeth Jones, married Samuel Lawrence on April 25th, 1862 in Llanyblodwel, Shropshire. After their marriage, Samuel appeared to be doing well for himself as, by 1871, he was a farmer of 136 acres, employing two men and one boy. Like so many at that time, however, alcohol seemed to have played a negative part in his life.

On October 7th, 1879, at about 9pm, David Jones, a farm labourer, was having supper in the Lawrence family kitchen. Witnessed by a gamekeeper, Samuel Lawrence entered the room and assaulted Jones.

The following morning, Jones arrived back at the farm, his sole intention being to settle the dispute with Lawrence but, finding that his master was not at home, he stayed for two and a half hours, churning. He also drank two mugs of beer. Later, Lawrence did return and, the worse for beer, said, “I want you. How much do I owe you?” Jones replied that he did not know the exact amount but soon found that Lawrence had gripped his beard with one hand and was striking him beneath his ear with his other. Lawrence then kicked him on the ground.

Jones managed to push Lawrence away, saying, “I can’t stand this,” but the farmer was determined to hold on to his victim, kicking him in the ribs. The assault only ceased when Lawrence’s wife, Mary, and one of his sons (presumably William as their other son, Edward would have been aged about 5 years) restrained him. Jones left the farm, staying at a neighbour’s until his wife came to meet him. With great difficulty, he managed to travel the two miles home. He stayed in bed for ten weeks, being tended to by a doctor.

Samuel Lawrence’s version of events differs slightly. He claims that, when he arrived home, he asked Jones what he was doing in his house. Jones replied that he wanted his money. After a row, Lawrence hit Jones and a scuffle ensued. On hitting him again, Jones fell to the ground, coming into contact with a stone and there was no truth in Jones’ statement that he kicked him in the ribs. Lawrence claimed that Jones was quite tipsy by this point, stating that he’d consumed three mugs of beer.

When the case was brought up at the County Court in January 1880, the judge, Arundel Rogers, concluded that there was no doubt that Jones’ injuries had been caused due to an assault from Lawrence although there was no evidence to prove that he had been kicked. Lawrence was fined £20 which also included the cost of  medical attendance.

War and the Dangers of Football!

During the course of researching my family history, I have discovered numerous men who fought, and often died, during the First World War. Reading their war service records can, on occasion, be quite harrowing but, every now and then, something slightly out of the ordinary crops up. This was the case with my grandfather’s cousin, John Greenwood.

St. Michael's Church, Liverpool

St. Michael’s Church, Liverpool

John, the eldest son of Samuel and Martha Greenwood (nee Ainsworth) was born in Liverpool, probably at 23 Cornwallis Street, on 21st July 1893. Baptised less than two months later, at St. Michael’s, the same church where his parents married, he would spend his early life at Cornwallis Street and later at nearby Bailey Street. Like so many of his family before him, he made a career in the shipping industry, becoming a shipping office clerk.

This would all change, however, with the outbreak of war. In September 1914, John reveived a notice to enlist in the armed forces. He initially signed up for three years although, if the war was to last longer, he would continue to serve until its cessation. On September 9th 1914, John was declared fit to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, joining the 45th Field Ambulance. The Field Ambulance, a mobile medical unit, was responsible for the care of the casualties of the division they were attached to and were often overstretched due to the sheer number of wounded soldiers.

Despite the atrocities that were witnessed, life for the 45th Field Ambulance seemed acceptable. War diaries for the unit in the early years of the war rarely discuss casualties but instead discuss everyday life. On December 20th 1915, whilst stationed at Allouagne, northern France, the following is recorded:

Infantry do not take as much advantage of bathing facilities as might be expected. Wrote to brigade major on this subject.

There was also some concern over the Christmas /new year period as it was discovered that some of the Allouagne householders were selling rum and other drinks to the troops. On January 1st 1916, however, the diary records:

Not a single case of drunkenness in the unit from new year’s eve celebrations.

John Greenwood was successful at his job and had a perfect disciplinary record, being described as very steady, capable and reliable. This led to him quickly rising up the ranks, becoming a corporal on November 20th 1914 and a sergeant on February 20th 1915, It was during his time as sergeant that an event happened that would change his participation in the war.

On 16th November 1916, whilst on rest from the trenches in Baizieux, John Greenwood was playing football with some of his fellow soldiers. During the game, he was struck, accidentally, in the stomach by another player’s elbow causing immediate pain and vomiting which continued for four days. As there had been no improvement, he was taken to hospital in Rouen where he was diagnosed with “contusion abdomen”.

HMHS Goorkha. (Photo courtesy of

HMHS Goorkha. (Photo courtesy of

He remained in Rouen until being transported back to England on 1st December 1916 onboard HMHS Goorkha, a hospital ship containing 408 beds. The following day. John was admitted to No. 2 Southern General Hospital in Bristol  where he  was diagnosed with a perinephretic abscess, something which could have resulted in death if it hadn’t been discovered. The abscess was opened and drained and, after showing much improvement, he was declared fit for duty in one month.

John must have made some significant improvement as, on 28th June 1917, he was, once again, promoted – this time to the position of staff sergeant. This was a senior position in charge of man and resource management of around 120 soldiers. The war diaries show that events had now taken a dramatic turn and the 45th Field Ambulance were now extremely busy dealing with casualties. Stationed in Poperinge, about seven miles west of Ypres, the diary reports on June 30th 1917 that they were tending to 530 wounded men and were also taking in the sick of another nearby division.

By March 1918, however, John Greenwood had found himself back in hospital, this time at the Western General Hospital, Fazakerley, Liverpool, suffering from pyonephrosis, an infection of the renal collecting system. He remained here until March 14th when he was transferred to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and diagnosed with a lobulated kidney. It was discovered that his kidney was tubercular and, as a result, on 5th April 1918, whilst in the Infirmary, his kidney and a portion of his 12th rib was removed.

Recovery was not swift and on 2nd May 1918, he was transferred to Woolton Auxiliary Hospital to convalesce, undergoing some minor operations whilst there. He finally left hospital on 15th January 1919, after the end of the First World War, and was discharged from the army as an invalid. His hospital days were not over, however, as he was expected to attend the Royal Infirmary as an outpatient.

During his time in the army, John was awarded with the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star.

Two years after being declared unfit for the army, John married Marjorie Ryder, a woman seven years his junior. They remained married until he died in the Northern Hospital, Liverpool on 3rd November 1950. He was cremated at Landican Crematorium.



Lowlands and The Beatles Connection

Thomas Haigh and family, at residence at Lowlands at the time of the 1851 Census.

Thomas Haigh and family, at residence at Lowlands at the time of the 1851 Census.

Lowlands, a Grade II listed Victorian mansion in Haymans Green, West Derby, was built in 1846 by Thomas Haigh, an architect and builder from Liverpool. Some of his work can still be seen at Edge Hill Station and at Marks & Spencer in Church Street. By 1861, he had relocated to Gambier Terrace, Toxteth Park and another family had moved to the newly-built house.

Richard Withers, father of Thomas Randles Withers

Richard Withers, father of Thomas Randles Withers

By 1891, the Withers family had taken up residence at Lowlands and they would remain here for many years after building a substantial extension. The head of the household was Thomas Randles Withers, the son of Richard Withers, a broker, who lived at nearby ‘The Uplands.’ Thomas, also a stockbroker, entered his father’s firm (R. Withers and Son) in about 1877 and soon became a prominent figure in broking circles. He was elected a member of the Stock Exchange in 1881 and was deputy chairman from 1887 to 1890, and chairman from November 1890 to April 1894.

Withers was involved in several charitable organisations and was a supporter of the Children’s Infirmary and the Blue Coat School. He was also president of the West Derby Cricket Club and became a county magistrate in 1891. On his death, in 1899, the flag at the Islington Courthouse hung at half-mast.

Staircase at Lowlands

Staircase at Lowlands

Lowlands remained in the family until after the death of his wife, Margaret, in 1930. Many of the nearby houses were in the process of being demolished but a neighbour, Alderman Ernest Cookson, recognised the importance of Lowlands and purchased the house, saving it from demolition.

After bomb damage to India Buildings during World War Two, Lowlands was used by the Inland Revenue, before being sold to the West Derby Community Association in 1957.

Lowlands, West Derby

Lowlands, West Derby

It then became home to the Pillar Club where young people would go to drink coffee and listen to music. Many bands of the time played there including The Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers and Billy J. Kramer. The most illustrious of acts to perform at the Pillar Club, however, was undoubtedly The Quarrymen – the group that would eventually become The Beatles. George Harrison, as a teenager, frequented the club, practising his guitar skills with the Les Stewart Quartet. Indeed, Harrison was sitting in the coffee bar of the club  when he made the decision to get back with The Quarrymen.

The club closed down in 1966 due to ‘rowdiness’ but has recently found a new lease of life thanks to a £1.2 million renovation project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fun, other charities and individuals.

For further information:

An Eighteen Year Search!

A lot of people think that researching your family history is a case of searching a few websites and downloading relevant information. If only it was that easy! Sometimes it can take years to find an elusive document and, frequently, a ‘brick wall’ refuses to be broken down. Recently, a lot of hard work finally paid off as I discovered another interesting branch of my family – here are the steps I had to take to prove my connection!

Holy Trinity burial register

Holy Trinity burial register

My four times great grandmother, Mary Green, married Edward Eyes on April 20th 1811 at St. Peter’s Church, Church Street, Liverpool. They had three children: Mary Ann, who died aged only eight months; Edward, my three times great grandfather, and Sarah, who would go on to marry the head of the Liverpool Stock Exchange. For many years, the only other information I could find out about Mary was gleaned from her gravestone – she died in May 1818 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Wavertree. Records show that she was aged 35, making her born in about 1783.

Fast forward about eighteen years when I managed to locate a copy of the ‘license bond and allegation’ for their 1811 marriage. Although, at this time, unlike modern marriage certificates, there was no requirement to name the father of the married couple, a name other than those getting married was given – Thomas Green, watch maker. Was this Mary’s father?

Baprism of Mary Green, 12th June 1781, St. Anne, Liverpool

Baprism of Mary Green, 12th June 1781, St. Anne, Liverpool

A look through parish records turned up the baptism of a Mary Green, daughter of Thomas Green, watchmaker. This had to be her. The only problem was the date of birth – two years out from the information gained from the burial register. Although this was not a huge difference, I was still not prepared to accept this Mary as ‘mine’ just yet!

A further look through parish records revealed several more children of Thomas Green, all born in Liverpool: Thomas, born 1780; William, born 1782; Catherine, born 1787 and Charles born 1793. Thomas Green’s marriage was also located: he married Ann Hardy at St. Anne’s Church on 27th April 1778. Records revealed that Thomas was born in about 1748 and that Ann, his wife, was born in Snaith, Yorkshire in about 1753. All useful information but it still didn’t get me any nearer to determining whether this was my family.

Credited to 'Wyke and Green, Liverpool'

Credited to ‘Wyke and Green, Liverpool’

It was at this point that I decided to look a little bit into the life of Thomas Green – if he was a watchmaker, he would surely appear in local trade directories so a trip to the Liverpool Record Office was needed. The first time he appeared was in 1781 when a ‘Thomas Green, watchmaker, 7 Temple Street’ was listed. This tied in with the details on Mary’s baptism record – I was on the right track. In the next directory, 1787, his career had changed slightly as, this time, he was recorded as a ‘Watch and Clock Tool Manufacturer’ of Wyke’s Court, Dale Street. He would continue to be listed in trade directories until 1811, giving me an estimate of when he died.

Thomas Green, it would seem, was quite well known in the world of horology due to his partnership with John Wyke, a well-known Liverpool clock maker. A google search of John Wyke provides numerous hits showing the extent of his work. This research method also revealed some of Thomas Green’s work and also brought to light a book – Catalogue of Tools for Watch and Clock Makers. This catalogue, issued by John Wyke and Thomas Green of Dale Street, Liverpool, is the earliest known English printed source illustrating the extensive range of tools then available for watch and clock makers. It is, therefore, of great importance to anyone researching 18th century horology.

It stood to reason that Thomas Green would have left a will but I searched to no avail. No burial record could be found either – a dead end. I did, however, manage to find an obituary for him in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1811:

At the Talbot Inn, Bristol, after three days’ illness, Thomas Green, esq. of Wyke’s Court, Liverpool; an honourable tradesman and an accomplished gentleman.

This, at least, proved that he had died in 1811, sometime after the marriage of my four times great grandparents. I then returned to the trade directories to see if his wife was listed at the same address after his death. At the same address, 1 Wyke’s Court, Dale Street, in 1813,was an ‘Elizabeth Green, watch and clock tool maker.’ This was not the wife of Thomas so who was it? I continued to trace her through directories and found that the last time she appeared was in 1825 when she was listed as living at 17 Cases Street.  I located a burial for this Elizabeth, on 14th September 1824, at St. Anne’s, where her age given on the register as 46. This put her birth at about 1778, so could be a possible daughter of Thomas. The newspaper marriage announcement for Mary Green and Edward Eyes said that Mary was the ‘second daughter of Mr Green’ so this would also support my theory.

Catherine Green and Thomas Hughes marriage

Catherine Green and Thomas Hughes marriage

A will search, this time, proved fruitful and I applied to the Lancashire Record Office for a copy. This gave me the breakthrough that I needed. One of the beneficiaries of the will was Elizabeth’s sister, ‘Catherine Hughes, wife of Thomas Hughes.’ If I could find a marriage of a Catherine Green to a Thomas Hughes, it may give me a clue. On 2nd April 1815, at St Nicholas Church, there it was: Catherine Green married Thomas Hughes, three of the witnesses being William Green, Elizabeth Green and …Mary Eyes! I had found my connection!

This goes to prove how researching your family history isn’t the quick hobby some people think it is. Now there’s just the small task of a lottery win so I can purchase one of Thomas Green’s watches or clocks…



War and Extortion

While researching the army career of an ancestor of mine as part of the Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War project, I soon became aware of a bigger, more unsavoury story that had taken place. Everyone has a few black sheep in their family’s past but I have discovered something that even I was taken aback by!

St. James Church, Toxteth Park.

St. James Church, Toxteth Park.

Stanley Major Beggs, the youngest child of George Charles and Mary Ann Beggs, was born in Liverpool on 16th July 1896. He was baptised on 30th September at St. James Church, Toxteth Park, near to the family home of 36 North Hill Street. Stanley would remain at this address throughout his early life until he became a ship’s steward for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

Stanley Major Beggs

Stanley Major Beggs

His life was to change, however, on March 8th, 1917, when Stanley enlisted with the 10th (Scottish) King’s Liverpool Regiment. Described as having ‘flat feetand an ‘overlapping left little toe’, he soon found himself fighting in France. In November 1917, after suffering heavy losses at Ypres a few months earlier, the regiment moved south to Epehy where they took part in the Battle of Cambrai. Here, they suffered heavily during the German counter attacks and, on November 30th, Stanley was captured by the enemy and taken as a  prisoner of war. It is not known where he was taken immediately after his capture or where he spent the next year but,  on 29th November 1918,  he arrived at one of the camps at Münster, remaining there for three days before being sent to Calais in order to be repatriated.

The Orduna - the ship on which Stanley Major Beggs travelled to the USA.

The Orduna – the ship on which Stanley Major Beggs travelled to the USA.

On his return to Liverpool, Stanley returned to work at the Pacific Steam Navigation Company before making a life-changing decision. On May 14th, 1923, he arrived at Ellis Island, New York onboard the Orduna having made the decision to emigrate to the United States. He made his home in New Jersey and, on the 1930 US Census, he can be found working as an oiler for the Public Service Electric & Gas Company and boarding with a family in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Lillian, wife of Stanley Major Beggs

Lillian, wife of Stanley Major Beggs

Some time during the next eight years, Stanley got married to a Canadian woman named Lillian who had arrived in the USA in 1910. The 1938 New Jersey City Directory records them as living at 126 Rutherford Place and his wife is recorded as being a nurse. By the time of the 1940 Census, they were living at Jay Avenue in Lyndhurst, Bergen, New Jersey. Despite them both having jobs, all was not well financially with the couple as testified by a story that was about to break in the American press.

Helen Clay Frick, the third child of Pittsburgh steel magnate, Henry Clay Frick, became the richest woman in the US when, on the death of her father in 1919, she inherited $38m. In 1940, Lillian Beggs, who had ‘become tired of poverty’, sent Miss Frick three letters, demanding that unless she paid her $50,000, ‘everything she had would be bombed’. On September 24th, Lillian was arrested by FBI agents as she collected a package she believed contained the $50,000, the arrest being announced by J. Edgar Hoover.

Helen Frick and her father, portrait by Edmund Charles Tarbell, c. 1910

Helen Clay Frick and her father, portrait by Edmund Charles Tarbell, c. 1910

On November 22nd, Lillian appeared in front of Federal Judge Vincent L. Leibell and pleaded guilty of attempting to extort money from Miss Frick, saying that she wanted to buy a home and a 40-foot boat for herself and her husband! Sentencing took place four days later and, fortunately for Mrs Beggs, she received a suspended sentence and was placed on two years’ probation.

The couple spent a lot of their remaining years travelling to and from Liverpool until 1960 when, shortly after one of their voyages back to England, Stanley Major Beggs died. Lillian died thirteen years later, on December 1st, 1973. Both were buried at St. Catharine’s Cemetery, Sea Girt, Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Grave of Stanley and Lillian Beggs. (Image courtesy of

Grave of Stanley and Lillian Beggs. (Image courtesy of

A Heroic Action

Robert Ainsworth, my great-great grandfather, was born in 1838 in Liverpool. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he was a shipwright, plying his trade on the banks of the River Mersey.

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

On 19th January 1878, Robert was carrying out his work when a man suddenly fell overboard after apparently suffering from a seizure. Without thinking of his own safety, Robert jumped into the water of the Clarence Dock and managed to rescue the man. He was commended for his bravery and received a £1 reward.

A Case of Animal Cruelty

There has been a lot of justified outrage in the past week concerning the trainee solicitor who left her dog locked up in a kitchen only for it to die a long, cruel death. Sadly, animal cruelty is something that often rears it ugly head and, upon reading this story, I was reminded of a tale from my own family’s past.

The Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth, where Henry Mills was a beer house keeper.

The Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth, where Henry Mills was a beerhouse keeper.

On March 23rd, 1862, my great-great-great grandfather, Henry Mills, beerhouse keeper in Mill Street, Toxteth Park, heard loud coughing and neighing sounds coming from the stable he rented to John Thornton, a car driver and proprietor. Upon looking through a gap in the shutters, he saw two horses lying on the floor. He did not enter the stable but, the following day, he opened up one of the shutters on the stable window and sent someone in to see the condition of the horses. Subsequently, Henry entered the stable himself and was shocked by what he saw. The horses were lying on the floor, the fore foot of one of them being over the halter by which it was tied. The horse’s eye was injured as a result of it striking itself against the manger. The animals were both in a horrendous state of exhaustion and emaciation. In an attempt to improve the health of the horses, Henry prepared and gave them some bran mash.

The following Tuesday morning, Henry once again looked into the stable and, to his shock, found one of the horses had died. He removed the animal and placed the other horse in the stall.  For the following four or five days, he tried to raise the surviving horse but it was all proving too difficult due to its severe ill health.

Henry sent for John Thornton, who arrived in a state intoxication and did not attempt to provide any relief for the horse. Henry decided it was time to call in the authorities. On examining the animal, veterinary surgeon, Mr Briscoe, stated that it was in need of proper nourishment. It had large abscesses on the left side of its body, legs, face, cheek and knee and was reduced to a complete skeleton. It was also suffering from diseases of the lungs and liver. Mr Briscoe stated that this was the worst case of neglect he had witnessed in his career.

Thornton was charged under the 13th section of the act of Parliament for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with having wilfully neglected and abused two horses. He was fined £5 and costs and, in default of payment, would be imprisoned for two months.