Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Revealing more of the lives of the poor in Manchester

The project is simple enough and involves a study of the parents whose children were admitted to a children’s charity in the 1870’s and 80’s.

Angel Street, 1900
The charity was the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which was established in 1870, and is the subject of a book I am writing with their archivist to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the organisation in 2020*.

The admission books show that in that first year the reasons for accepting young people were mixed.  In some cases both parents were dead and in other’s the surviving parent was finding it hard to manage while in a few cases there was evidence of neglect, cruelty and abuse.

Now each admission and the reasons behind it are unique, and to merely lump all the reasons under the general heading of poverty is unhelpful.

Of course long hours of work, seasonal unemployment, coupled with low wages poor housing conditions and an absence of a welfare state were always going to be the main reasons why many families fell apart.

But that is too state the obvious, what I wanted to do was to examine some of those families in more detail and in the process try to bring their lives out of the shadows and better understand the achievements of the charity.

I am well aware the evidence will be fragmentary and in many cases prove a dead end, but like all such projects you never quite know what will turn up.

44 Angel Street, 1897
From the outset even from a distance of almost 150 years there is a need to respect confidentiality which for the time being means that surnames have been omitted.

The starting point was the simple observation that the parents of children admitted to the Refuge in the 1870s and 80’s would have been born in the 1840’s and 50’s when Manchester was still going through the transformation from a pleasant enough small town to what the historian, Asa Briggs described as “the shock city of the Industrial Revolution.”*

Many of these parents may well have grown against a backdrop of poverty, where long term illness, unemployment or the death of a father or mother might plunge them into the Workhouse.

The study is still in its infancy but the research is proving very interesting.  Boy A had been admitted in the March of 1870 and the notes speak of a father who was a drunkard who “ill uses the boy.”

His mother was dead and while I now know her name I have yet to find out when she died.  The father had been born in Ireland and during the 1850s the family had lived in Liverpool, where all three children were born.

Boy A left the Refuge two years later.

Boy B had been born in Spalding, Linconlshire and both his parents were dead.  He too was admitted in 1870 and left the same year.

Angel Street, 1898
Nine years earlier he had been living with his older sister who he seems to have returned to when he left the Refuge.

The records report that he was “making a living from the streets” possibly selling newspapers or matchsticks.

We can track him into the early 20th century living very close to his old home and working as a glass maker and labourer.

In both cases the boy’s parents had migrated to Manchester and one was working as a shoe maker.

I don’t pretend that two cases on their own amount to a picture but they are a start, and the search for parents does seem to be proving successful.

So as they say watch this space.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Angel Street, 1900, m85543, 44 Angel Street, 1897, m08360,and  44 Angel Street 1898, m00195, S.L.Coulthurst, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

*A new book on the Together Trust, https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20new%20book%20on%20the%20Together%20Trust

**Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities, 1963

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