Monday, 3 October 2016

Peeling back the story of the Molynneux Brothers and thier connection to Manchester & Woolwich

This is one of those stories which bring together Manchester and Woolwich along with a soldier from the Great War and a new resource for anyone interested in our photographers from the 19th and early 20th century.

Sent by George in October 1915 from Woolwich
And not for the first time it confirms my belief that history is messy and can take you in all sorts of directions.

Now I have been writing about George Davison who served with the Royal Artillery from 1915 till his death on the Western Front in the June of 1918.*

Much of what I know of him comes from the Davison collection which contains letters and postcards he sent to his wife Nellie during the Great War, his school records and references to his first job, and his political affiliations.

It comes from a much bigger set of material which has been collected by David Harrop and contains memorabilia from both world wars and much more on the history of the postal service in this country.

George and Nellie Davison with their son, 1915
So back to George Davison who was born in Harpurhey and in the October of 1915 was stationed in Woolwich where sent a series of postcards back to his Nellie in Bedford Street Hulme.

And as you do I idly clocked the name “Molyneux Brothers” who issued the postcards.

They were turning out scenes of Woolwich during the early 20th century and I had come across some of the pictures of the Arsenal about a year ago.

At the time I was curious did a bit of digging but came up with nothing and left it.

But Mr Davison’s post cards renewed my interest which led me to Photographers of Great Britain & Ireland 1840-1940.***

They had a reference to the brothers which in turn led me to explore the census returns and electoral registers for Woolwich which turned up the two brothers with one of them at William Street and another at Thomas Street and  business addresses at both William Street and Welllington Street.

From Slater's Directory, 1911
But that wasn’t all for today Ron who runs the site was back with more and like all good messy history it brought the brothers here to Manchester.

In 1874 there is a reference  to a James Molyneux on Great Ducie Street in Strangeways with another listing a few doors up for 1890 as well as at Norfolk Street in Hulme in 1876.

Unknown Victorian woman date unknown
Nor is this all for in the first decade of the 20th century T & A Molyneux were trading as printers on Great Jackson Street in Hulme.

Of course they may not be related but I think there is a connection.

“I believe James Molyneux was born in 1845 in Liverpool. He was at 65 Great Ducie Street in October 1874 as he registered the death of Samuel Melville, of the same address. Samuel was a fish and poultry dealer but I wonder whether Samuel's wife Ellen Emma might have helped around the house for James as part of their lodging. 

In 1881 James was living at 65 Great Ducie Street with Mary Ann Harrison, servant, Mary White servant and Fred Harrison (presumably some relative of Mary Ann) aged 13 an apprentice. 

I have looked at 55 Great Ducie Street in the 1891 census but it is recorded as uninhabited so I don't why that was.”***

Reverse of  Manchester woman image
The father of our two Woolwich brothers was a John Molineux also from Liverpool who by 1891 was living in Woolwich with his wife Ellen and five children the eldest of whom was called Mary Ann.

Now Mary Ann was born in 1871 in London and so while she cannot be Mary Ann Harrison it was the common practice then as now for children to carry the name of a family relative or close friend.

In the same way the elder of out Woolwich brothers was a John which I know was a common enough name but might link us to the Mr Molyneux of Great Ducie Street.

All of which just leaves the occasional miss spelling of Molineux for Molyneux which appears in one  Manchester directory for the early 20th century but then even printer’s can make mistakes.

So I shall continue to go looking for the Molyneux Brothers both here and in Woolwich.

The buildings they lived in and traded from will have long gone, but there is much information out there including official documents and maybe the odd trade card along with a picture from the digital archive.

We shall see.

And as I finished the story Ron kindly sent me some pictures from the Molyneux Studios
that were taken at 65 Great Ducie Street.

They include both the images of sturdy Victorian worthies and the reversse of the pictures which acted as a trade card, and I am fascinated by the connection with the United States.

All of which just adds another trail to follow up and which is a long way from Woolwich, but then That is how I like my history, messy, diverting and always full of questions.

* Woolwich in 1915, a Manchester soldier and a love letter from Chorlton,

**David Harrop,

*** Photographers of Great Britain & Ireland 1840-1940,

Pictures; courtesy of David Harrop of Woolwich on Green Hill and the Davison family from the collection of David Harrop and unknown Victorian woman and card  from the Ducie Street studio courtesy of Ron Cosens, Photographers of Great Britain & Ireland 1840-1940

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