Monday, 13 August 2018

Looking for the lost parents ............. and the work of a children's charity

Now as an idea the project to search out the parents of children admitted to a children’s charity in 1870 seemed a good one.

Poverty caused by the Cotton famine, 1862
After all if you want to get a better understanding why young people went into care looking at their parents seemed to have merit.

These parents would have been born in the 1840’s and 50’s when Manchester was still a city being transformed into what one historian has called the “shock city of the Industrial Revolution.”

So it followed that just possibly by tracking the lives of the parents we might get an insight into how those changes affected them and what if any was the impact on how they brought up their children.

The impact of the Cotton famine, in 1862
It was of course always a project on the edge and on reflection I should have been prepared for the fact that there would be many dead ends.

But the first few case studies proved encouraging.

In one case I was able to track one set of parents back to Ireland in the 1820s, follow them to Liverpool and then onto Manchester.

In another case the search led to number 8 Back Richard Street which was a closed court and entered through a narrow passage from Richard Street which was off Cupid's Alley.

Back Richard Street just east of Richard Street, 1849
Here in 1861 the family of four shared the house with the Lindsay family which consisted of Mr and Mrs Lindsay and their four children and another four boarders, making in total fourteen people in the one house.

Next door was almost as equally crowded with ten people, while the surrounding properties ranged from four down to one occupant.

I can’t yet ascertain the size of number 8 which may have been larger than its neighbours but this was still overcrowding.

And the area was densely packed with over 100 properties and 11 courts in a small area bounded by Cupid’s Alley to the north and part of Little Quay Street to the south.

Added to which on the opposite side of Cupid’s Alley stood a Soda Works, Hat factory and Silk Finishing Works.

Not I think an environment which offered much hope for its inhabitants, and in the case of our family at number 8 things were only going to get worse.

In 1870 when our boy was admitted to the charity his mother had deserted the family leaving her disabled husband to look after the two children.

McConnel and Co Mill, 1820
By which time they were living in Wrighton Street which it would appear was so mean that it didn’t warrant an inclusion on the street directory.

But the trail which I hoped would take me back in time to learn more about the mother and father went nowhere.

And not for the first time I had that feeling that the poor do not willingly share their secrets.

Of course the reality is that it is seldom a deliberate decision and more that history has stubbornly ignored not only their secrets put pretty much everything else about them.

Some never made it on to the census records and for those living as sub tenants or boarders they would never be included in the rate books.  Some never married and others may not even have been registered at birth, making the search very difficult.

At home during the Cotton Famine, 1862
A search for the parents of the first twenty to be admitted to the charity in 1870 was pretty much a failure, and where there was an evidence trail it petered out in most cases somewhere between 1861 and the 1850s.

That said there were a few which proved fruitful and at least two boys who we can track into the early years of the twentieth century.

And with patience and by widening the number of boys I look at I think we will get somewhere, and that will help the book which is the story of that charity which began in 1870, was known as the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuge and is now the together Trust.

The book covers the full 150 years of its existence and is being written in collaboration with Liz Sykes who is the charity’s archivist.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; suffering amongst cotton workers in 1862, from the Illustrated London News, m10038, McConnel-And-Co's-Mill, 1820, Ancoats, m52533, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,
  and Back Richard Street, Richard Street, 1849, from the Manchester & Salford Os, 1849, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*A new book on the Together Trust,

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