A Disorderly House

St. Peter's Church, Church Street, Liverpool

St. Peter’s Church, Church Street, Liverpool

Charles Archibald Irwin, the son of Archibald Irwin and Margaret Doyle, was born on 10th June 1849 in Liverpool and baptised twelve days later at St. Peter’s Church. In 1851, he is recorded as living with his family at 2 Smith Street but, for some unknown reason, cannot be found on the 1861 and 1871 censuses.

The only confirmed information about Charles during that time is taken from his marriage certificate. On 29th August 1870, he married Rosena Lilly, the daughter of Frederick Henry Lilly, at St. John’s Church, Liverpool, his occupation being given as a blockmaker.

Charles and Rosena went on to have six children, one, Harriet Lilly Irwin, being born in Birkenhead, before the family relocated to Nottingham. Whilst in Nottingham, three more children were born: Ellen Sophia in 1881, Archibald in 1883 and Margaret in 1885. It was while they were in Nottingham that Charles made the local press…

On Christmas Eve, 1886, Charles Archibald Irwin appeared at the Summons Court at the Town Hall in Nottingham accused of keeping or assisting to keep a disorderly house at 32 Rigley’s Yard. Mr. S. G. Johnson, the Town Clerk, stated that Charles was a tenant of the house, as he resided there and practically kept and managed the place. On the nights of the 11th and 18th of December, the house was watched by Sergeant Stannard and P.C. Oaks who reported that the people entering the premises were, “well-known bad characters.”

During examination, one of the police officers stated that he had worked for the Nottingham Police Force for nine years, but during that time, he had not been aware that the house was being kept as a coffee-house, but he believed that Charles had a coffee-house licence. When questioned Charles denied the charge, saying that his step-father had kept the house for many years before he had anything to do with it.

Testimonial in response to George Baker's, 'Belt of Life.'

Testimonial in response to George Baker’s, ‘Belt of Life.’

Research has shown that this ‘step-father’ was, in fact, Arthur Cresswell, the step-father of his wife, who is recorded on the 1881 Census in Rigley’s Yard as being a boarding house keeper. A testimonial appearing in numerous editions of the Nottingham Evening Post from 1880 to 1882 for George Baker’s, ‘Belt of Life,’ also backs this up – Sophia Cresswell was the mother of Rosena Lilly, the wife of Charles Archibald Irwin.

Unfortunately for Charles, the magistrates did not believe him and he was fined £10. Soon after, the Irwin family left Nottingham and moved to Cardiff where, by now, he was a Venetian blind maker. Charles and Rosena had a further child whilst in Cardiff, George, born in 1892. Charles Archibald Irwin died in Bridgend in 1903.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

My grandfather, the grandson of Mary Ann Seager.

My grandfather, the grandson of Mary Ann Seager.

My grandad always had a sarcastic sense of humour. When joining the Royal Navy as a young man, he was asked a series of questions regarding the medical history of his family. “What did your grandmother die of?” he was asked. His response? “She died on the Wall of Death in New Brighton!”

When I started researching my family history, I recalled this tale and began to wonder who this woman was and why my grandad had been so sarcastic with his answer. I soon discovered that the grandmother in question was Mary Ann Irwin (nee Seager) and that she had died in Wallasey in 1916 at the age of 74. Presumably, as she had survived into her 70s (an achievement for a working class woman in the Victorian era), my grandad saw this as a stupid question so responded with an equally stupid answer.

I had never been able to find out much about her upbringing until recently when I chanced upon a newspaper article referring to her parents. Since reading this, I have been able to piece together details of a traumatic life which, thankfully, for her, ended in more pleasant surroundings.

Marriage of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis.

Marriage of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis.

Mary Ann Seager was born on August 16th 1841, at Thomas Place, Bayhorse Lane, Liverpool, the eldest child of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis. William and Elizabeth were unmarried when their first child was born, not marrying until October 10th 1842 at St. Nicholas Church, Liverpool. William’s profession was that of a patten maker, under-shoes made from wood and metal which were strapped underneath shoes to protect them from mud and other dirt on the streets. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the advent of paved streets and improved sewerage meant that pattens were becoming obsolete; William had to look for a new job.

Seager family, 1851 Census.

Seager family, 1851 Census.

By 1851, William had become a cotton porter, a less skilled job which probably paid less. The family now consisted of three children as, in addition to Mary, they now had Elizabeth, born in 1846, and Emma, born in 1849. They were soon followed by the family’s first son, William, on March 21st 1852.

Money was in short supply and the birth of another child, Alfred, on June 29th 1858, only exacerbated the problem. By this time, Elizabeth had started drinking heavily and, to raise enough funds to feed her habit, had begun to pawn her belongings. This was to lead to a tragedy that would tear the family apart.

On Thursday November 26th, at about 6.45am, Elizabeth Seager left the family home at 81 Gordon Street, Everton after an argument with her husband. He had accused her of pawning a sheet in order to fund her drinking habit and had ordered her out of the house, telling her that she would not steal from him any more. Taking her young son, Alfred, with her, she wandered the streets for a while, drinking,  before going to the house of a friend, Ellen Brown, at 3 Back Mansfield Street. An hour later, Elizabeth was asleep, still clutching her baby.

Alfred Seager's death certificate.

Alfred Seager’s death certificate.

At about 5am the next morning, Elizabeth awoke and looked at her child. To her alarm, Alfred was not breathing. Later that morning, she returned home with the dead child still in her arms to inform her husband about what had happened. The jury at the following inquest found that Alfred had been accidentally suffocated in bed by his mother whilst in a state of intoxication. They expressed their disapprobation of the conduct of Elizabeth and attributed the death to her negligence. Alfred was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Walton.

St. Mary's Church, Walton, the burial place of Alfred and William Seager.

St. Mary’s Church, Walton, the burial place of Alfred and William Seager.

The Seager family seemingly never got over the tragedy and it sparked a series of unfortunate events. A year later, on 16th November 1859, William Seager (senior) died at the family home in Gordon Street with his daughter, Mary Ann, in attendance. Cause of death was given as ‘apoplexy, 11 hours.’ Like his son, he was also buried at St. Mary’s, Walton.

The death of their father meant that the daughters needed to find a source of income to prevent them from being sent to the workhouse. The only option available to them was to enter domestic service so this is what they did. Mary Ann, the eldest, found work  with the Wood family at 37 Clare Street; Elizabeth became a house servant for the Okill family at 29 Brunel Street and Emma, still only a child herself, went into service with the Briscoes at  6 Crown Place.

But what of Elizabeth, the mother? Things went from bad to worse for her as her drinking began to take its toll. On 11th February 1861, she was admitted to Liverpool Workhouse for the first time, spending two and a half months in the surgical ward. Her son, William, then aged 8, entered the workhouse with her but was discharged a month later and sent to Kirkdale Industrial School. He remained there until his mother left the workhouse when he was sent back to live with her.

Kirkdale Industrial School

Kirkdale Industrial School

This happened several times as Elizabeth’s illness obviously took hold. Eventually, on 10th March 1865, according to the records of Liverpool Workhouse, William was deserted by his mother and, at the age of twelve, he too entered into service, working for Richard Reid, a surgeon from Merton Road, Bootle.

Elizabeth continued to be admitted to and discharged from Liverpool Workhouse and, between 1861 and 1867, she was resident there on twenty separate occasions, often for months at a time. By 1874, it seemed as though she had managed to turn her life around as on 1st June, she married for a second time, to Henry Stott, a widower, at the same church she had married her first husband. This was not the happy ending she envisaged, however, as three years later, on 22nd February 1877, she died of pneumonia at 18 Sheridan Street, Liverpool.

For two of William and Elizabeth’s daughters, life became greatly improved after they married. Mary Ann Seager, my great-great grandmother, married George Washington Irwin, a pilot on the River Mersey, in 1867 and Elizabeth Seager married Samuel Nuttall, a plasterer, in 1871. For Emma, though, things did not improve.

Emma Seager never married and continued to work as a domestic servant in the Everton area of Liverpool. Times were apparently hard, however, and she fell foul of the law on several occasions. In 1892, she was found guilty by Liscard Petty Sessions of drunkenness and was sentenced to seven days imprisonment. The following year, she was found guilty of being riotous and was sentenced to seven days hard labour by the Liverpool Petty Sessions.

Ann Sweetman's prison record, showing a career in theft.

Ann Sweetman’s prison record, showing a career in theft.

Things got worse, however, in 1894 when Emma and another woman, Ann Sweetman, were charged jointly with breaking and entering at the home of Margaret Jane Purcell, her employer. On 19th April of that year, Emma was accused of taking  two toilet covers, two towels, one sheet and two aprons. Four days later she was accused of stealing one chemise and one toilet cover and the following day of taking one sheet and one pillow. They were tried on 8th June but the outcomes were to be very different for the two women. Ann Sweetman, Emma’s co-defendent,  pleaded not guilty and was acquitted. Emma, on the other hand, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two months hard labour at H.M. Prison, Liverpool. Emma could be forgiven for feeling hard-done-to as she had no previous record for theft whereas Ann Sweetman had seemingly made a career out of larceny.

Things obviously never improved for Emma Seager as, when she died in 1917, she was living at the Salvation Army House in Everton. She is buried at West Derby Cemetery in a public grave.

Thankfully for Mary Ann Seager, my great great grandmother, she ended her life in much more pleasant surroundings, at the home of her son, Harry Irwin, in Seacombe. She was buried alongside her husband at Anfield Cemetery.

There are still so many aspects of this family’s history that remains unknown, especially with regards to what became of William Seager the younger after he left the employment of the Bootle surgeon. Hopefully, as more records become available, I will be able to lay the Seager family to rest.

The Hexthorpe Rail Accident

On Friday 16th September, 1887, Doncaster and the surrounding area was teeming with crowds, all hoping to witness the winner of the Doncaster Cup, a race that had been established as far back as 1766.  At 11am, the Midland train left Sheffield and by 12.15, it had arrived at the special ticket platform at Hexthorpe.

While the tickets were being collected, another train was fast approaching, travelling at what was estimated as 35-40 m.p.h. On seeing the train in front of him, the driver of the Liverpool, Manchester and Hull express, applied the brake and put his train into reverse. It was too late, however, and soon ploughed into the rear of the stationary train.

The Hexthorpe Rail Disaster, 16th Se.ptember 1887

The Hexthorpe Rail Disaster, 16th September 1887

The rear carriage was completely smashed and another carriage was shattered by the engine of the express. The sound of steam escaping from the engine was mixed with the screams of the injured and dying. Chaos ensued as people tried to escape the carriages and, within an hour, fifty people had been removed from the train and were being treated on the platform by doctors and surgeons from the neighbouring towns. It was decided that most of the injured should be sent to Doncaster Infirmary and carriages were soon being used to transport the more seriously injured.

Within four hours, twenty three bodies had been recovered from the wreckage – an arduous task as, due to the nature of the accident, the bodies were packed tightly together and needed to be removed with saws and hatchets. Traumatised survivors witnessed body parts rolling onto the bank as the carriages were taken apart.

One of the injured was John Goldsmith, the second husband of Lydia Atkin (nee Hollingsworth). John, the landlord of the Royal Oak in Cemetery Road, Sheffield, had a compound fracture of one leg and a simple fracture of the other and was taken to Doncaster Infirmary with the rest of the injured. He remained in hospital until December 15th when he was moved back home, accompanied by a police inspector and two constables.

All Saints, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

All Saints, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

Goldsmith appeared to be recovering well and was attended to by Doctors Barber, Jackson and Dyson. He took a turn for the worse, however, and at 9.45pm on Tuesday 6th March 1888, he died at home as a direct result of his injuries, making the number of fatalities from the accident rise to 26. He was buried six days later at All Saints Church, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

Death at Silvertown

On 19th January 1917, a huge explosion rocked the East End of London. It was so large that shock waves could be felt in Essex and the blast was apparently heard as far away as Norwich and Southampton.

The Brunner, Mond Factory in 1895.

The Brunner, Mond Factory in 1895.

The explosion occurred at the Brunner, Mond & Co factory at Crescent Wharf, Silvertown, where, prior to the Great War, it had been involved in the production of caustic soda. On government orders, however, it was decided that, as the army was suffering from a shell shortage, the plant was to be used to purify TNT, a process more dangerous than the actual manufacture of the product. The management of the former plant expressed their concerns due to the location of the factory – in a busy, urban area – but they were soon making nine tons of TNT a day.

Working nearby on that fateful day was Henry George Lidbury, my 3x great uncle. Henry was born on 6th December 1856 in Stratford, Essex and grew up on Stratford High Street. He became a mariner and married Harriet Maxwell Irwin, the daughter of Archibald Irwin and Margaret Doyle on 28th October 1878 at St. Mary’s Church, Walton, Liverpool.

Henry and Harriet had two children, Edmund John and Harriet Irwin, before tragedy struck and his wife died at the age of 27 in 1882. With a young son to care for (Harriet Irwin Lidbury had died before reaching the age of one), Henry relocated back to Essex where he married his second wife, Catherine Sarah John, in 1883.

By 1891, Henry had also changed his profession and now had the role of Pay Master. In 1901 he was working as a cashier for the Elevated Tram Company and by 1911 he was a pay clerk for the Port London Authority. On 19th January 1917, Henry went to work at the P.L.A. as normal, for what would be the last time.

North Greenwich Road after the Silvertown Explosion.

North Greenwich Road after the Silvertown Explosion.

At 6.40pm, a fire broke out in the melt-pot room at Brunner, Mond & Co. Henry Lidbury soon became aware of what was happening and feared that there would be an explosion. Telling a co-worker, John Peel, that he had a sum of money in his office, he turned towards the door but did not make it as a huge explosion suddenly ripped through the factory. Approximately 50 long tons of TNT had ignited, completely decimating the plant and destroying other buildings in the area including the Silvertown Fire Station. A nearby gasometer gasholder was also damaged, creating a fireball from 200,000 cubic metres of gas.

The fire service soon began the task of attempting to put out the flames but not before 73 people died and more than 400 people were injured. Arthur Sway, a labourer, was blown 18 feet by the explosion but, luckily received no injuries. He, afterwards, searched the debris and found the body of Henry George Lidbury near the office of the P.L.A.

The factory grounds are still empty having never being built on after the explosion. A memorial to those who lost their lives can be seen on the site.

The Silvertown Memorial

The Silvertown Memorial

Suicide in a Fit of Despondency

William McLean Irwin, the second son of Archibald Irwin and Margaret Doyle was born on 9th January 1839 in Kensington, West Derby (Now part of Liverpool). Spending the early part of his life in Everton, he enlisted in the 4th Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment whilst still a teenager.

The King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) cap badge.

The King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) cap badge.

Whilst serving with the army, he was stationed for a time at Prince Edward Island, Canada and it is, presumably, here where he met his wife, Patience Smith, a woman six years his junior. William continued to serve with the army and, by the time of the 1871 Census (where he was recorded in Farnborough, Hampshire), he had risen to the rank of Colour Sergeant.

William and Patience had nine children, the final three being born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where the family had decided to settle after William retired from the army in 1879. He had several changes of occupation whilst in Canada, becoming a farmer, dry goods clerk and, finally, a book keeper.

The building that was formerly the Apothecaries Hall in Charlottetown.

The building that was formerly the Apothecaries Hall in Charlottetown.

On April 30th, 1903, at 5.45 pm, after a period of illness, William entered the Apothecaries Hall in Charlottetown where he purchased an ounce bottle of carbolic acid. On reaching the street, outside W. A. Hutcherson’s store, he took the cork from the bottle and drank the contents. After discarding the empty bottle, he walked a few steps, caught himself on a post outside the aforementioned store and promptly fell.

A crowd quickly gathered to see what had happened. It soon became apparent what had caused the fall and an antidote was quickly administered before the partially conscious man was taken to his home in King Street. Unfortunately, only a few minutes after reaching his home, despite a doctor being summoned, William passed away.

After hearing the facts, Coroner Dr. R. McNeill decided that an inquest would be unnecessary and determined that William had committed suicide in a fit of despondency after suffering from illness.

William McLean Irwin’s funeral took place a few days later at St. Peter’s Cemetery, Charlottetown.