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.

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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 Wittis, born about 1894,  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, the first on August 14th, demanding that unless she paid her $50,000, ‘everything she had would be bombed’.

The final letter, sent on September 19th, ended with a reference to the explosion at the Hercules Powder Company, Kenvill, New Jersey and stated that ‘the same thing’  would happen to Miss Frick if she did not pay the money. On September 24th, Lillian was arrested by FBI agents at the Fulton Street entrance to the Hudson Terminal 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, the maximum penalty under the so-called Lindbergh act being 20 years’ imprisonment. 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 findagrave.com)

Grave of Stanley and Lillian Beggs. (Image courtesy of findagrave.com)

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.


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.

Drowned in the River

Septimus Eyes, 1859 - 1947, husband of the dead woman.

Septimus Eyes, 1859 – 1947, husband of the dead woman.

On September 17th, 1911, Septimus Eyes, proprieter of the Rai Falls Accomodation House in the Rai Valley, New Zealand, retired to bed as normal. Waking at approximately 4.20am, he struck a match to ascertain the time then went back to sleep, noting that his wife was also still awake. At 7.20am, he woke for a second time and realised that his wife, Emily Cecelia Eyes (nee Jones), was no longer there.

He woke up his family and started to search the house and the surrounding vicinity but there was no sign of her. They even searched further afield into the nearby bush areas to no avail; Emily was missing. Septimus immediately became concerned for his wife’s wellbeing as, in addition to her complaining of headaches and noticing a decline in her health over the past three months, the area had been inundated with flood waters from the Pelorus River and the water had become too deep for coaches to pass through.

Search parties were deployed led by Constable O’Grady and the local newspapers reported the details of the missing woman but, by September 21st, still no trace could be found. By now, it was assumed that she had fallen into the swollen river but, due to the increasing water levels, the authorties had been unable to conduct any dragging operations.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' films.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ films.

On October 5th, William Twidle, a farmer from the Pelorus, had just started to milk his cows when one of his boys noticed an object floating on the far side of the river. He got into a dinghy and went to investigate. On pulling the object into the dinghy, he found that it was the body of a woman, so travelled to Havelock to make contact with the local police.

The family was summoned and Septimus identified the body as his wife by a ring she was wearing. Their son, Harry Dean Eyes, viewed the body and also confirmed it was his mother. He told the following inquest that, on the night before her disappearance, he had spoken to his mother at about 10pm but had not noticed anything strange about her manner. The body was also identified by Herbert Spencer Jones, Emily’s brother, who corroborated statements regarding the declining health of the dead woman.

The jury at the inquest did not take any time to conclude that Emily had lately been troubled by her health, resulting in bouts of insomnia. The verdict was recorded as ‘death by misadventure.’ She was buried at Havelock Cemetery on October 6th, 1911.