An Ancestry Story with a Beautiful Ending

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As it is time for the 2021 UK census this weekend I will post some Family history stories and I hope you enjoy them and find inspiration to check out your family tree.

Ancestry and Genealogy are so popular today and this is an inspiring story stretching over 200 years from a military perspective.

When a bullet in the Great War actually turned out to be a life saving event and the family survived to tell this remarkable story.

It travels from England to Spain and Ireland. We start with Wellington on the Peninsular campaigns and on to South Africa and then the trenches of France. Finally the landing beaches at Salerno Italy.

Come and live through those times and experience it all set against a background of Victorian and early 20th Century England.

It is fair to say the laughs are few and far between in this story but the resilience of these people will impress you.

The ending is a surprise as coincidences and history come together with a beautiful heart warming ending.

This was a 12 year labour of love and I include a full chapter on Ancestry research with tips and mistakes to avoid. I know – I made many.

Impressions of France for my French Travel Books

Lovely watercolour artworks from an original idea by my book illustrator – so looking forward to being back in these seascapes and landscapes. I do love to mix up my illustrations in my French travel books with photography and some original artwork.

I think an artists impression allows your imagination to take you into the scene and if you travel there eventually it is interesting to see how your thoughts compare with the reality. France of course and especially Provence and Brittany are ideal for an artist to enjoy and interpret.

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Watercolor Brittany beach scene for my next French travel book
Olive trees and lavender in the Luberon Provence

Lavender fields at Cereste Provence
Paris & France – Travel now

Football Star in Victorian Lancashire, a tragedy and a mystery

Jonny Parker – Chorley 1893-98 with Peter Dunn on his right and Eddie Harley to his left

John Richard Parker or Johnny Parker to give him his footballing or soccer playing name was my great grandfather. I knew him as a rather dapper gentleman, never appearing without a tie or his walking cane. He had a presence, a man who filled the room even though he was in his late 80’s when I became aware that we were related. I only ever saw him at my grandparents’ house in Preston. He would always be there when we arrived to visit, and this was the pattern for the years up to his death in 1967. He would enjoy his lunch and then take his leave while the rest of us menfolk would head off to Deepdale to watch Preston North End. His son, my grandfather, seemed to me to be in awe of him. When we were there, he became his young son again, a visitor in his own home. Yes, he had a presence.

I do not in all honesty ever remember passing a word with him, but back then children were still seen and not heard.  Looking back over the years after doing so much family research I so regret that I never could have asked him about his life. Writing this I do have many details that have come to light, but I can never have the full story. I shall do my best to paint his portrait, especially his footballing times with Chorley FC.

Chorley football club today is a particularly important part of the local community. In recent times and particularly this season in 2021 they have become visible on a National scale by their FA Cup exploits and in lately reaching a higher tier of English football. In the late Victorian times of the 1890’s Chorley would attract considerable crowds to their home games on Dole Lane, Chorley.

Chorley FC at Dole Lane Ground 1897

Back in those days there was no Sky Sports showing virtually every topflight football game. If you wanted to watch the highest level of English football you had to go in to Preston and watch North End, paying your admission. Consequently, the clamour for space on the terraces exceeded supply and clubs like Chorley filled a gap for the mill workers to still be able to go and see a live game and enjoy a distraction from what were still extremely hard-working lives. Local men in Chorley would also appreciate having a good standard of football available close to home and so avoid any travelling costs to Preston. The difference in standard between a top First Division club such as Preston North End and Lancashire League or non-league Chorley was not that great. Footballers such as my grandfather may have had decent jobs and to give that up to play full time at Preston for possibly less money did not make sense to them. My great grandfather became a mill manager and the attraction of that wage and a little on the side from Chorley FC was certainly the way to go for him. His partner in the Chorley defensive line was Charles Ostick.

Chorley team 1896/7 – Love this photo of a supremely confident, smug almost, group of players. Charlie Ostick back left, then goalkeeper Archie Pinnell with Johnny Parker next to him.

Charles worked for the local council as an inspector. Most likely that employment was arranged in conjunction with the football club. Quite often a way of paying a higher wage to quality footballers in Victorian times was to ensure that they had a regular, secure employment and Chorley would have taken that approach.

A great photo of Chorley with Johnny Parker looking confident and sure of the result to come – atmospheric shot of the members in the reserved seats

Johnny Parker gave great service to Chorley and even sixty years later he was remembered as one of their stalwart players from the early days of the club. He appears on the team photo for the season 1893/4 when he would have been 19 years old. His final game sadly would only be some five years later in 1898.

The photo of him at the start of this article shows him aged about 86 alongside two of the current players of the team in 1960 shows him being held in high regard by the club.

The local newspaper published

the photo with a report of the game.

He also featured in this cartoon in the newspaper.

Despite so many years and two world wars passing he had left his mark in local football circles. There is a sense of pride in his face in this photo, it is the same feeling in him that I detected when I knew him. It is that sense of owning the space, this is my moment, my home. The two Chorley players, Peter Dunn on the left and Eddie Hartley on the right also stay slightly aloof, knowing the photo is of the star of the show – Johnny Parker, back in the limelight. And it would have been the limelight back in his playing days. Players like my great grandfather would have been well known, local celebrities really. The crowds as we said were large and they had come to see their local heroes. I imagine Johnny Parker’s wages were supplemented by fans with the odd pint or two at the local pub after the game, especially if the result had gone the right way.

Johnny Parker left a great impression in local football circles which is surprising because his career ended cruelly early at the age of 24. Let us go back to that fateful date on December 14th 1898.

That day Chorley were at home at their Dole Lane ground to a strong Burnley side in the Lancashire Senior Cup. It is a testament to the quality of the Chorley side that they more than held their own against a side that would go on to finish 3rd in the English First Division and contained full internationals in their line-up.

Chorley were the better side. The match report mentions that Johnny Parker was having one of his best ever games for the club.  Unfortunately, a deflected goal left Chorley one down at half time despite their dominance. It was early in the second half that tragedy struck. Burnley’s Irish international forward Tommy Morrison went into a tackle with Johnny Parker and the result of the horrific collision was a broken leg, just below the knee, for Johnny. The report describes the shocked crowd watching Dr Harris rush to attend to him and arrange for him to get to the local hospital. Sadly, in those days this was a profoundly serious injury and despite the best efforts of the hospital they could not fully repair the damage. Johnny Parker never played again, although his contact with the club endured and he became sufficiently mobile to serve as a linesman at games. He always walked with a limp for the rest of his life and a walking cane became essential. Parker and Ostick were a formidable back line of defence for Chorley. Ostick went on to play for Bolton Wanderers in 1900 and it is conceivable that Johnny Parker may also have eventually decided to take that step up into the Football League.

If we go back to the game, we can add some colour to the events that day. From all accounts it was an ill-tempered affair and Burnley were condemned as the instigators of that bad feeling. Other Chorley players also had injuries from Burnley challenges albeit not as serious as Parker. Even following his removal to hospital foul play continued from Burnley, despite knowing the consequences of Johnny Parker’s injury. The Scotsman Jimmy Ross was perhaps the most famous member of the Burnley side, although shortly he was to join Manchester City. He played in the legendary Preston North End team that won consecutive League championships at the start of the Football League and gained the distinction of being one of the ‘Invincibles’. In the game against Chorley he was involved in a deliberate piece of serious foul play and had to be warned by the referee as the situation between the players and spectators was becoming inflamed.

Match report of that fateful game for Johnny Parker – play became a little rough is probably a bit of an understatement

Jimmy Ross was nearing the end of his career which was in any case concluded by illness at the end of the 1900/1 season. He sadly died early in 1902. His funeral was an impressive well attended affair with wreaths and tributes to ‘An Old Invincible’.

What of Tommy Morrison. He was commonly known by his nickname ‘Ching’. He came from Belfast and was the first native Irish raised player, also as a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic Club, to play for Celtic in Glasgow. Tommy was brought up in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, a staunchly Loyalist area with its own code of conduct, not a place for the faint hearted. It is a part of Belfast made famous in song by Van Morrison (no relation as I know). Of Tommy it is said that he was told at Glasgow Celtic to curb his tongue and to subdue the habits that he had learned in his tough upbringing of East Belfast. The picture is of a man who is not to be messed with. Did that affect his challenge on Johnny Parker. There is no suggestion in the report that it was a foul challenge. Yet, the atmosphere of the game would have seeped into the play of a man of the disposition of Tommy Morrison. Maybe, he challenged just a bit to hard, was fired up with the way the game was being played. We will never know. Morrison went on to have a fine career with Manchester United before drifting into non-league football at Colne in 1904 before a short spell with Glentoran in the Irish League. He died in 1940 back in his native Belfast.

So, back to our original photograph, taken for the Chorley Guardian in 1960. The two players were, as was my great grandfather, well respected Chorley stalwarts. Both Peter Dunn and Ted Hartley were awarded benefits during that season, hence their appearance on the photo. Both joined the club in the mid 1950’s and were regular members of an impressive Chorley side until the early 1960’s. Peter Dunn was the first to leave at the end of the 1960/61 season. The benefit raised £150 each for them, nothing by today’s standards, but back then some 60 years ago they would have been happy with the esteem in which they were held at the club. Life moves on and teams change, this photo represents a full circle in the life of the club and now it is almost frightening to reflect that both these players in the photo would be older than Johnny Parker was when it was taken.

Peter Dunn and Eddie Hartley receive the recognition of their loyal service to Chorley

It is amazing how much interest just one photo can raise and where it can lead. It has been fascinating to add this detail to my family history, something I have researched for many years. Chorley Football Club has always played a part in my sporting life. Firstly of course because of my great grandfather but mainly as an opponent that needed to be beaten, but rarely was. In my youth I became a fanatical supporter of Darwen Football Club, not a million miles from Victory Park. Darwen had an illustrious history but latterly never had quite the infrastructure or access to the best players that Chorley enjoyed. We played at the same level for many years, Chorley moved on for a while and then we re-joined them in the Cheshire League. I can only personally recall Darwen ever beating Chorley on two occasions. Once in 1967 at the Anchor Ground, Darwen and once at Victory Park in 1980. I did enjoy those fleeting moments of triumph. Having said that Chorley was one of the results I always looked for and still do even today, a legacy of the attachment to the club of Johnny Parker.

The player on the left of the photo intrigued me for a time as I was always told that it was Peter Watson, Chorley’s record goal scorer. I always doubted that as I knew Peter Watson back in the 60’s as he lived close to us in Darwen and apparently still does today. Peter, like my great grandfather was most certainly a local celebrity in the day. Darwen valued its achievers in sport, even if like Peter Watson they plied their trade elsewhere. The town had a strong tradition of producing fine weightlifters and these strongmen were feted in the town. I imagine going into town for them must have been a long process as they were stopped everywhere for a chat – I imagine Peter had the same problem. I distinctly remember as a child that it was a case of ‘that yon mon’s Peter Watson, ees a gret gowel scourer tha noes’. Happy days.

Peter Watson from a team photo in 1962 – The players either side of him Paddy Sowden and Ken Garrity went on to play for Darwen in my first season of watching football. Eddie Hartley is front left.

My thanks to Keith McIntosh at Chorley Football Club for getting the research underway and to Ian Bagshaw for patiently providing an incredible wealth of information and photography from the Chorley archives

Chorley Football Team

in a montage set of studio portraits taken at Luke Berry photographic studio Chorley included in the album I inherited from my G/grandfather

1898


===============================================================

There is a final postscript to Johnny Parker’s story at Chorley Football Club, a mystery still unresolved. The montage photos of the Chorley team back in the 1890’s were taken at the photographic studio of Luke Berry in Chorley in 1897 and 1998. Berry’s operated only for a short period after this time. These photos I inherited after the death of my great grandfather and he had placed them all in an album alongside many other family studio portraits. Loose in the album was a tiny (75mm x 35mm), studio portrait of a fashionably attired young lady.

Loose in Johnny Parker’s album was this

tiny (75mm x 35mm),

studio portrait of a

fashionably attired

young lady.

It was also taken at Luke Berry Studio in Chorley

This photo had clearly

been well thumbed over

the years, perhaps

having been in a wallet.

I have tidied it up on the

above cropped photo

to some degree.

It is most certainly not his wife, my great grandmother – she is shown next to Johnny Parker in a studio portrait taken in Preston. This memento must have meant a lot to him to have kept it until his death, obviously admiring it many times. Who is she? Is she the first Chorley FC ‘wag’? No doubt the players had many admirers and Johnny Parker was a good-looking young lad. Johnny had no other connection to Chorley other than he travelled there to play football from his hometown of Preston. The photo of the young lady must have been taken at the same time as the football portraits and no other photos in his possession were taken at Berry’s – all others were in Preston. If anyone has this mystery woman in their archives, please get in touch – I would love to solve this one.

Elizabeth Nightingale Johnny’s wife & my G/grandmother
John (Johnny) Richard Parker

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Discovering my family in Victorian Preston Lancashire

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Margaret Eccles (Staniford, Etchells) in 1891

This photo always intrigued me. It was in a collection that once belonged to my great grandfather John Richard Parker who was from Preston. He was a notable footballer in the 1890’s and had a good career as a mill manager. He was an active participant in local life including the Preston guild. The photos were nearly all from professional studios in Preston alongside some football portraits from a Chorley studio. The only one from outside the area of the Preston family was this one.

The lady seemingly in mourning dress and holding a keepsake letter is my g/g/g grandmother Margaret Eccles born in Preston in 1826. It was remarkable to have a connection to that era. My g/grandfather John Richard I met and knew for a few years until his death in 1966. So, in sense I had a direct connection back to pre-Victorian times as John Richard certainly met this lady as she oversaw him courting her granddaughter Elizabeth Nightingale, a girl she looked after during the child’s teenage years. Sadly about two years after this photo was taken Margaret died just before the marriage of her young granddaughter.

Elizabeth Nightingale my Great grandmother and Margaret Eccles (Staniford, Etchells) granddaughter

My interest was further aroused by a posting online of a photo from the same Darwen studio of Lindsey. I had discovered during my family history research that Margaret’s son Bartholomew had settled in Darwen with his wife and family. He did well for himself and his sons and daughter made good progress in Darwen society. It was a far cry from the poverty surrounding the mills of Preston and a vast contrast to the life my other side of the family was leading at the time in the slums of central Darwen. It was presumably Bartholomew that arranged for the portrait of his mother to be taken.

Margaret had a long life but suffered much tragedy. She comes across as a strong person, one the family could rely on and she seems to have gone to great lengths to give the family a chance in life. In this she succeeded. Many members of her extended family must have relied on Margaret’s steady and determined efforts to look after their interests. As you pursue your family research you get a sense of and indeed make judgements on the character of your relatives from afar. Margaret comes across as someone I really wished I had met; she seems to exude a warm and loving character.

Margaret was married to Edward Staniford in Preston in 1845 and they had four children.

My next direct ancestor in line was their daughter Mary born in 1848. Edward worked in the cotton industry of course but unusually he became a policeman and the family lived in the police house in Cuerden Green near Bamber Bridge until his early death in 1858. Margaret, now without an income and head of the family moved them back to Deepdale Mill Street in Preston where she found employment as a heald knitter. Her two young daughters also go into the cotton mills of Preston. Her firstborn daughter Ellen marries George Isaac Willacy and their daughter who attended their wedding in the autumn of 1867 is born early in 1868. George is 17, about six years younger than Ellen. I sense they were taken to the alter at speed to maintain family honour. Young Hannah is looked after by her mother for the first part of her life before the ever-willing Margaret looks after her granddaughter as she also will for the children of her other daughter Mary. There is no indication in the 1871 or 1881 census that Ellen lives with George Willacy. They are found in separate houses, Ellen and Hannah are with her now married sister Mary’s family but George is elsewhere. He lists his employment as iron moulder but seems to have tried to pursue a career as a musician as did others involved with the Willacys. Ellen and George did though find time for each other. Ellen gives birth to six more children and they are baptized with George Willacy being named as the father. Tragically, all six die a short time after birth – imagine the pain of the mother. Hannah Willacy is the only survivor. Despite this dysfunctional, unsuccessful marriage the Stanifords are close to the Willacy family.

Margaret embarks on her second and clearly happy marriage in 1878 to a man who also seems to exude warmth down the years, Benjamin Etchells from Failsworth in Manchester. Benjamin has been of interest in my family story despite not being in my blood line. This interest was reawakened very much by a contact from a lady who also although not of his blood line had his daughter enter her own family story. This led to a much broader understanding of the life and times of not just Benjamin and Hannah but also my own extended ancestors. In fact I was also shown a photo from this extended family taken in the same studio with the very same plant pot which helped to date my photo.

She would have known Benjamin and Hannah for some years, they were neighbours in Gladstone Street, Preston. By 1881 they are living at Benjamin’s house with young Hannah Willacy at 6 Gladstone Street, Preston. At number 8 is Mary, my g/g/grandmother with her five girls including my g/grandmother Elizabeth. The youngest is two years old and Mary is eight months pregnant with another girl who would be named Hannah after Benjamin’s daughter and her aunt living next door but one.

It is now that tragedy strikes. Margaret’s daughter Mary gives birth to Hannah Nightingale but sadly dies in childbirth leaving five girls motherless. At this time her husband is not in the family home and he goes on to remarry a Blackburn woman with a chequered past, the estranged wife of the celebrated local poet William Billington, a quite extraordinary course to follow. How they met is a mystery but they end up marrying and living in Burnley. Margaret takes all the children into the home she shares with Benjamin although her son Robert and wife Annie in Darwen will care for the two-year-old Alice as they had no children. New born Hannah is christened at St.Lukes Preston with her father shown as having the unusual occupation of a Kasher, someone who renders meat to be Kosher by extracting as much blood as possible from the carcase. There seems to be Jewish heritage thread through the Etchells, Willacys and Nightingales but one that tantalisingly stays out of reach of provability. The names of children seem to indicate this but all their ceremonies of life are in the established church.

The crowded house at number 6 suffers a further devasting blow in the summer as Benjamin Etchells dies. Margaret is now on her own once again with a house full of children. One consolation for Margaret is that Benjamin leaves a substantial sum for the time and she is now as the census will state ‘living on her own means’. At least she can concentrate on doing her best for the children and it would seem that Benjamin has made arrangements for the extended family to take an active interest in the family. Also the young baby Hannah Nightingale dies before her first birthday. A double tragedy as her mother died to give her life.

Benjamin’s daughter Hannah Etchells moved with her widowed father to Preston and cared for him before his marriage to Margaret. She marries James William Walmsley in 1878 the same year that his father married Margaret. After Benjamin’s death they move with their four children next door to Margaret and no doubt the closeness of the families help Margaret bring up the girls. The Etchells must also have looked out for the interests of young Alice in Darwen as she is set up as a confectioner/baker in Failsworth, the home town of Benjamin.

Margaret Eccles and Hannah Willacy in 1891 Preston
Margaret Eccles in 1891 with grandchildren

The two Hannahs fair well in life, Benjamin’s daughter has a successful life with a good man in James Walmsley. The four children in the family are in fact stepchildren to her as James has been married and widowed twice before. His two previous wives had both died in childbirth, an unimaginable tragedy. Hannah is clearly loved by the children and the feelings must have been mutual. In her old age and after losing her husband in 1897 she is cared for by her stepson Thomas in Chorley. A nice touch is that they refer to her as mother in the census of 1911, not stepmother.

Young Hannah Willacy, the granddaughter of Margaret Etchells stays with Margaret until her death. She was a clever girl. At 13 she is a school monitor which in Victorian times was a pupil who was given extra lessons to take a class herself and improve the teaching in the school. She goes on to become a teacher and marries in her 30’s Thomas Bleasdale and they live in Great Harwood where Hannah teaches. She, like Hannah Etchells does not have children of her own but they leave a fine legacy of care for the children in their immediate family. My grandmother Elizabeth would have a great love and affection for these two women as she made her way into adulthood.

The families of Etchells/Staniford seem to stay close to the Walmsley family that Hannah Etchells marries into. This seems clear from looking at the family lives in Darwen where two of Margaret’s sons Bartholomew and Richard live and members of the Walmsley family also make their home. Margaret’s granddaughter Margaret Ann Staniford marries William Thomas Leach in Darwen. The Leach family are printers and in fact publish the local newspaper and did so right up to my generation. John Walmsley and his son also work in the printing trade and it is most likely that they would have been employed by the Leach operation in Darwen. Their paths seem to cross often in this story and one would hope that they all assisted in making life as comfortable as possible in industrial Darwen. It seems so, the influence of Benjamin Etchells I conclude was a beneficial one for these families and Margaret Eccles his widow and my great grandmother certainly played a vital role in caring for her extended family. It is so interesting to put flesh on the bones of a story, this one inspired by a single photo but the story behind gives so much more value to that studio portrait from so long ago.

More Family stories in my book on Amazon – Kindle & Kindle Unlimited

Paris & France – Travel now

An Ancestry Story with a Beautiful Ending

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Ancestry and Genealogy are so popular today and this is an inspiring story stretching over 200 years from a military perspective.

When a bullet in the Great War actually turned out to be a life saving event and the family survived to tell this remarkable story.

It travels from England to Spain and Ireland. We start with Wellington on the Peninsular campaigns and on to South Africa and then the trenches of France. Finally the landing beaches at Salerno Italy.

Come and live through those times and experience it all set against a background of Victorian and early 20th Century England.

It is fair to say the laughs are few and far between in this story but the resilience of these people will impress you.

The ending is a surprise as coincidences and history come together with a beautiful heart warming ending.

This was a 12 year labour of love and I include a full chapter on Ancestry research with tips and mistakes to avoid. I know – I made many.

Quayside at Granville Port Normandy France

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Please check out my travel books on Amazon – enjoy France from your armchair until we can fully travel again. Looking forward to travelling again soon. Thank you and hope everyone keeps safe. Normandy will be next on my list of writings and I will publish some extracts from my forthcoming new book over the next few weeks – Merci Neal

The busy quayside at Granville Normandy
The harbour at Granville port in Normandy France

The harbourside at Granville Normandy is a great place for photography but even better for a great fresh fish lunch. All along the quayside are some fine fish restaurants serving the freshest seafood. Follow that with a walk to the top of the town that offers stunning views over the sea towards Mont St Michel and the Channel Islands. An authentic working port that has no end of interest for a keen photographer.

Paris & France – Travel now

Discovering my family in Victorian Preston Lancashire

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Margaret Eccles (Staniford, Etchells) in 1891

This photo always intrigued me. It was in a collection that once belonged to my great grandfather John Richard Parker who was from Preston. He was a notable footballer in the 1890’s and had a good career as a mill manager. He was an active participant in local life including the Preston guild. The photos were nearly all from professional studios in Preston alongside some football portraits from a Chorley studio. The only one from outside the area of the Preston family was this one.

The lady seemingly in mourning dress and holding a keepsake letter is my g/g/g grandmother Margaret Eccles born in Preston in 1826. It was remarkable to have a connection to that era. My g/grandfather John Richard I met and knew for a few years until his death in 1966. So, in sense I had a direct connection back to pre-Victorian times as John Richard certainly met this lady as she oversaw him courting her granddaughter Elizabeth Nightingale, a girl she looked after during the child’s teenage years. Sadly about two years after this photo was taken Margaret died just before the marriage of her young granddaughter.

Elizabeth Nightingale my Great grandmother and Margaret Eccles (Staniford, Etchells) granddaughter

My interest was further aroused by a posting online of a photo from the same Darwen studio of Lindsey. I had discovered during my family history research that Margaret’s son Bartholomew had settled in Darwen with his wife and family. He did well for himself and his sons and daughter made good progress in Darwen society. It was a far cry from the poverty surrounding the mills of Preston and a vast contrast to the life my other side of the family was leading at the time in the slums of central Darwen. It was presumably Bartholomew that arranged for the portrait of his mother to be taken.

Margaret had a long life but suffered much tragedy. She comes across as a strong person, one the family could rely on and she seems to have gone to great lengths to give the family a chance in life. In this she succeeded. Many members of her extended family must have relied on Margaret’s steady and determined efforts to look after their interests. As you pursue your family research you get a sense of and indeed make judgements on the character of your relatives from afar. Margaret comes across as someone I really wished I had met; she seems to exude a warm and loving character.

Margaret was married to Edward Staniford in Preston in 1845 and they had four children.

My next direct ancestor in line was their daughter Mary born in 1848. Edward worked in the cotton industry of course but unusually he became a policeman and the family lived in the police house in Cuerden Green near Bamber Bridge until his early death in 1858. Margaret, now without an income and head of the family moved them back to Deepdale Mill Street in Preston where she found employment as a heald knitter. Her two young daughters also go into the cotton mills of Preston. Her firstborn daughter Ellen marries George Isaac Willacy and their daughter who attended their wedding in the autumn of 1867 is born early in 1868. George is 17, about six years younger than Ellen. I sense they were taken to the alter at speed to maintain family honour. Young Hannah is looked after by her mother for the first part of her life before the ever-willing Margaret looks after her granddaughter as she also will for the children of her other daughter Mary. There is no indication in the 1871 or 1881 census that Ellen lives with George Willacy. They are found in separate houses, Ellen and Hannah are with her now married sister Mary’s family but George is elsewhere. He lists his employment as iron moulder but seems to have tried to pursue a career as a musician as did others involved with the Willacys. Ellen and George did though find time for each other. Ellen gives birth to six more children and they are baptized with George Willacy being named as the father. Tragically, all six die a short time after birth – imagine the pain of the mother. Hannah Willacy is the only survivor. Despite this dysfunctional, unsuccessful marriage the Stanifords are close to the Willacy family.

Margaret embarks on her second and clearly happy marriage in 1878 to a man who also seems to exude warmth down the years, Benjamin Etchells from Failsworth in Manchester. Benjamin has been of interest in my family story despite not being in my blood line. This interest was reawakened very much by a contact from a lady who also although not of his blood line had his daughter enter her own family story. This led to a much broader understanding of the life and times of not just Benjamin and Hannah but also my own extended ancestors. In fact I was also shown a photo from this extended family taken in the same studio with the very same plant pot which helped to date my photo.

She would have known Benjamin and Hannah for some years, they were neighbours in Gladstone Street, Preston. By 1881 they are living at Benjamin’s house with young Hannah Willacy at 6 Gladstone Street, Preston. At number 8 is Mary, my g/g/grandmother with her five girls including my g/grandmother Elizabeth. The youngest is two years old and Mary is eight months pregnant with another girl who would be named Hannah after Benjamin’s daughter and her aunt living next door but one.

It is now that tragedy strikes. Margaret’s daughter Mary gives birth to Hannah Nightingale but sadly dies in childbirth leaving five girls motherless. At this time her husband is not in the family home and he goes on to remarry a Blackburn woman with a chequered past, the estranged wife of the celebrated local poet William Billington, a quite extraordinary course to follow. How they met is a mystery but they end up marrying and living in Burnley. Margaret takes all the children into the home she shares with Benjamin although her son Robert and wife Annie in Darwen will care for the two-year-old Alice as they had no children. New born Hannah is christened at St.Lukes Preston with her father shown as having the unusual occupation of a Kasher, someone who renders meat to be Kosher by extracting as much blood as possible from the carcase. There seems to be Jewish heritage thread through the Etchells, Willacys and Nightingales but one that tantalisingly stays out of reach of provability. The names of children seem to indicate this but all their ceremonies of life are in the established church.

The crowded house at number 6 suffers a further devasting blow in the summer as Benjamin Etchells dies. Margaret is now on her own once again with a house full of children. One consolation for Margaret is that Benjamin leaves a substantial sum for the time and she is now as the census will state ‘living on her own means’. At least she can concentrate on doing her best for the children and it would seem that Benjamin has made arrangements for the extended family to take an active interest in the family. Also the young baby Hannah Nightingale dies before her first birthday. A double tragedy as her mother died to give her life.

Benjamin’s daughter Hannah Etchells moved with her widowed father to Preston and cared for him before his marriage to Margaret. She marries James William Walmsley in 1878 the same year that his father married Margaret. After Benjamin’s death they move with their four children next door to Margaret and no doubt the closeness of the families help Margaret bring up the girls. The Etchells must also have looked out for the interests of young Alice in Darwen as she is set up as a confectioner/baker in Failsworth, the home town of Benjamin.

Margaret Eccles and Hannah Willacy in 1891 Preston
Margaret Eccles in 1891 with grandchildren

The two Hannahs fair well in life, Benjamin’s daughter has a successful life with a good man in James Walmsley. The four children in the family are in fact stepchildren to her as James has been married and widowed twice before. His two previous wives had both died in childbirth, an unimaginable tragedy. Hannah is clearly loved by the children and the feelings must have been mutual. In her old age and after losing her husband in 1897 she is cared for by her stepson Thomas in Chorley. A nice touch is that they refer to her as mother in the census of 1911, not stepmother.

Young Hannah Willacy, the granddaughter of Margaret Etchells stays with Margaret until her death. She was a clever girl. At 13 she is a school monitor which in Victorian times was a pupil who was given extra lessons to take a class herself and improve the teaching in the school. She goes on to become a teacher and marries in her 30’s Thomas Bleasdale and they live in Great Harwood where Hannah teaches. She, like Hannah Etchells does not have children of her own but they leave a fine legacy of care for the children in their immediate family. My grandmother Elizabeth would have a great love and affection for these two women as she made her way into adulthood.

The families of Etchells/Staniford seem to stay close to the Walmsley family that Hannah Etchells marries into. This seems clear from looking at the family lives in Darwen where two of Margaret’s sons Bartholomew and Richard live and members of the Walmsley family also make their home. Margaret’s granddaughter Margaret Ann Staniford marries William Thomas Leach in Darwen. The Leach family are printers and in fact publish the local newspaper and did so right up to my generation. John Walmsley and his son also work in the printing trade and it is most likely that they would have been employed by the Leach operation in Darwen. Their paths seem to cross often in this story and one would hope that they all assisted in making life as comfortable as possible in industrial Darwen. It seems so, the influence of Benjamin Etchells I conclude was a beneficial one for these families and Margaret Eccles his widow and my great grandmother certainly played a vital role in caring for her extended family. It is so interesting to put flesh on the bones of a story, this one inspired by a single photo but the story behind gives so much more value to that studio portrait from so long ago.

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Paris & France – Travel now

Artists Impression of the Paris Islands for my French Travel Books

A lovely watercolour artwork from an original idea by my book illustrator – so looking forward to being back on an island cafe. I do love to mix up my illustrations in my French travel books with photography and some original artwork.

I think an artists impression allows your imagination to take you into the scene and if you travel there eventually it is interesting to see how your thoughts compare with the reality. France of course and especially Paris are ideal for an artist to enjoy and interpret.

Watercolour of the Ille Saint Louis Paris France

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