The continuing story of working class botanist, Richard Buxton
By the middle of the nineteenth century when Buxton was writing his book most of the area had slid into slums through overcrowding and neglect.
And into this warren of dark, dank and dismal streets Richard grew up lived and worked. During most of his life he inhabited just a few streets separated by less than a half a mile.
“About sixty years ago ........I came to live in Bond-street Ancoats; and I now live near the same place, in Gun-street. Being a single man, I have never had a house of my own, but lodged with an elder sister of mine, of the name of Robinson.”
The house in Gun Street brimmed over with people. Not only was there his sister Mary and her husband but along with Richard six other people shared the house.
No records exist of what type of shop Richard Robinson ran so it is impossible to ascertain how well off he was, but a look at the occupations of the others in the house show that they existed at the bottom of the economic ladder. We know that Richard Buxton was a poor man
“who has had the greatest difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life in a worn-out trade, like that of a child’s leather shoe maker, and in delivering a few newspapers on a Saturday” and so were the others in the house. Jobs like charwoman and weaving were low paid occupations.
Overcrowding was quite common at that time and many of the neighbouring houses on Gun Street had similar numbers living in them. Often each family in the house lived in just one room and where there were cellars even these were occupied.
Not far away in John Street could be found the 14 back to back houses of John Street, Back Ashley Lane, Parker Street and Back Irk Street. They were built between 1780 and 1820. Here in 1851 lived 118 people in just these 14 houses. About 40% of the inhabitants had been born in Ireland and this is consistent with other parts of the area. They were one up one downs, with equally awful levels of overcrowding. At number 3 John Street for example, there were 18 people living in the one house. Six lived in the cellar but the remaining twelve lived in the two rooms. There was the Riley family consisting of Martin, Hannah and their son, along with four lodgers, and the Williamson family. While back at Bradley Street In 1851 at number 4 three generations of one family were crammed into this small dwelling place.
The house in Gun Street has long gone and so it very difficult to work out it would have been like. None of the maps of the period are much help. Richard Robinson described himself as a shop keeper and so it is logical to suppose the ground floor might have consisted of a shop and an adjoining room with two more above and two cellars, but this is just speculation at present.
Picture; Gun Street looking from Blossom Street by A Bradman 1901, m11341,Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Buxton R A, Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns Moses and Algae found Indigenous within Sixteen Miles of Manchester second edition of 1849 page iii
1841 census Enu 15 Page 3 Ancoats Manchester, Richard Robinson was also listed as a shopkeeper at 72 Gun Street in Slaters’ Directory of Manchester & Salford for 1841Page 212
Buxton R A, page v
In 1851 Angel Street “was regarded as the spine of the Irish quarter even though only 56.5%were Irish in 1851” Not far away just beyond Angel Meadow was New Town. Here in streets like “School Street and the small courts and alleys off it were over 75% Irish.” Busteed Mervyn, Hindle Paul, Angel Meadow: the Irish and Cholera in Manchester 1998
1851 census Enu Page 28 Market Street Manchester Lancashire There were the parents in their late 60s, a son and his family, a grandchild and even a lodger.