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.

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.