Friday, 11 January 2019

How the Irish built the West Midlands - Listen

Carl Chinn's Birmingham

A difficult life - The coming of the Irish

From the 1820s the Irish men and women came to the region in search of work. This flow of migrants has ebbed and flowed but throughout they played a significant part in the development of the West Midlands.

In the beginning the life of Irish migrants in Wolverhampton and Birmingham was hard. The slums in which they lived were among the poorest in Britain and it was their work in the fields, factories and foundries on which the industrial might of the Black Country was built.

Then, after the Second World War Irish voices were prominent on the major construction sites of the region as they rebuilt the housing, roads and hospitals of the rejuvenated City of Birmingham.

Social historian and broadcaster, Professor Carl Chinn tells the often poignant story of the Irish who came to the West Midlands.

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Origins of my Whelan ancestors from Bolton Street, Dublin

The Origins of John Whelan

The evidence from the 1911 census confirms that our great grandfather John Whelan was born in Kilkenny, a county to the south of Queens county (Laoise). Some of my mom’s cousins in Ireland recall that John used to go back for visits to his home farm at Piltown in the south of  Kilkenny.

There is a record of a John Whelan living in Dublin in the 1901 census. I believe that this is definitely our great grandfather because he is the right age, he was born in Kilkenny and he is working in a grocer’s shop just a few doors way from where Anne McDonnell (whom he married three years later) was living with her family, the McDonnells at 78 Chancery Street. We will learn later that Anne's father, John McDonnell, was a blind entrepreneur who ran a basket making factory at 78 Chancery Street.

The 1901 census record featuring John Whelan is as follows:
Residents of a house 80.1 in Chancery Street (Inns Quay, Dublin)

Dramgoole, Jane, aged 56, Female Head of Family, Roman Catholic, born in Co Louth,  a Family Grocer, can Read and write - Not Married -

Gannon James 24 Male Servant Roman Catholic Co Mayo Grocers Shopman Read and  write Irish and English Not Married - 

Whelan John 28 Male Servant Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Grocers Shopman Read and  write - Not Married - 

Coady Kate 38 Female Servant Roman Catholic Co Galway General Servant Read and  write Irish and English Married -

McHugh Margaret 53 Female Sister Roman Catholic Co Louth Housekeeper Read and  write - Married -

Ambrose Eliza 22 Female Visitor Roman Catholic Co Limerick Bar Maid Read and write -  Not Married -

John Whelan

Gaye Mulholland believes that John Whelan’s original surname was Phelan and that he changed it to Whelan when he moved to Dublin.

We have previously learnt in Part One of this record that it was very common for the spelling of surnames to change in 19th century and early 20th century Ireland. Gaye also recalls that there may have been a  family connection with the counties of Tipperary and Waterford.

Gaye told me: 

"I can shed some light on the backgrounds of your great grandparents John Whelan (snr.)  and Anne McDonnell. John Whelan’s family name was originally Phelan and he came from either Waterford or Tipperary. On the 1911 Dublin census it states that he was a farm labourer but as you state his father was a farmer and I do remember my mother having  relatives in Kilkenny but I also feel there may be connections in both Waterford or Tipperary, in any case his family seem to have been farmers. As John Whelan (snr.) moved  up to Dublin, I would imagine that meant that he had  older siblings to whom the farm must  have passed on. I was unaware of him working as a grocer at any stage but I do know he   became a publican possibly owning the pub but this I am unsure of. He was quite a bit older  than his wife Anne".

If John had arrived in Dublin from Kilkenny around the turn of the century and retained close ties with his family back home, one would expect to find evidence of them in the same 1901 census for Piltown. Initially a fairly extensive search of the census revealed no Whelans in Piltown and of the very few in adjacent areas none fitting the profile we might expect.

Bearing in mind Gaye’s advice to try a search for Phelan as well as Whelan, I had slightly more luck though still could not find a definite record for John’s family.

We can remind ourselves here of a couple of additional pieces of information to aid the search. Firstly, according to John's marriage certificate his father's name was Richard and secondly, we know from an old mass card that John had a deceased male relative of his own generation named Lawrence - not a common Christian name in Ireland.

Using these factors, the search revealed an interesting family living at Fiddown, Kilkenny. Fiddown is very close to Piltown on the Kilkenny map. The household includes a father named Richard and a youngest son named Laurence. Unfortunately though, I do not think this is John's immediate family as both the father Richard and the son Laurence are too young to be who we might like them to have been. The Lawrence on the mass card died in 1924 aged 50 (John himself would also have been aged around 50/51 in 1924) and the father Richard should have been a good decade older than this one at Fiddown.

However, the occurrence of the Christian name Laurence in a family named Phelan living so close to Piltown still raises the question as to whether this family is related on the basis of an unusual name like Laurence / Lawrence being repeated in a family, especially perhaps if it has been passed down through generations as is a common practise.

John and Anne Whelan and family visiting the home farm in Kilkenny circa 1910

1901 Census

Residents of a house 14 in Fiddown (Fiddown, Kilkenny)

Phelan, Richard, 40, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny,  Farmer,  can Read and write - Married - 

Phelan, Ellen, 42, Female, Wife, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write -  Married - 

Phelan, Mary, 19, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and  write - Not Married - 

Phelan, Alice, 17, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write  - Not Married -

Phelan, James, 12, Male, Son, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and  write - Not Married -

Phelan, Laurence, 10, Male, Son, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and  write - Not Married -

Phelan, Ellie, 5, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read only  - Not Married -

Brennan, Mary, 45, Female - Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Not  Married -

Another Phelan household in the 1901 census, this one actually in Piltown itself, is this one containing 50 year old Richard Phelan and his two sisters Elizabeth and Margaret. My main doubt about this one is that Richard states he is 'not married' as opposed to saying he is either married or widowed. The same family are to be found 10 years later in the 1911 census and again Richard Phelan describes himself as 'single' as opposed to a widower and also states that he has no children. There are two nieces present in the household in 1911 but the evidence would still suggest that the 3 sibling adults are 2 spinsters and a bachelor:

1901 Census

Residents of a house 9 in Pilltown (Pilltown, Kilkenny)

Phelan, Richard, 50, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Read  and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Elizabeth, 40, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny,
Farmer's Daughter,  Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Margaret, 41, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Retired Shop Keeper,  Read and write - Not Married -

1911 census

Residents of a house 52 in Piltown Town (Piltown, Kilkenny)

Phelan, Richard, 65, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Farmer,  Read and write - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Margaret, 52, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and  write  - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Elizabeth, 50, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and  write - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Johanna, 27, Female, Niece, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny,  School Teacher,  Read and write - Single - - - -

Phelan, Bridget, 11, Female, Niece, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and  write - Single

Another Phelan family to be found in Piltown in 1911 is this one:

1911 Census

Residents of a house 3 in Glenbower (Piltown, Kilkenny)

Phelan, Thomas, 80, Male, Head of Family, R Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Read  and write both Irish and English, Married -

Phelan, Bridget, 74, Female, Wife, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny - Read and write Irish and  English, Married - married 57 years, 11 children, 7 surviving

Phelan, Richard, 46, Male, Son, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Son, Cannot read -         Single - - - -

Phelan, Patrick, 35, Male, Son, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Son, Read and write -   Single - - - -

Phelan, Mary, 33, Female, Daughter, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny -  Read and write - Single - - -

Phelan, Thomas James, 10, Male, Grand Son, R Catholic, born in Philadelphia, Scholar,  Read and write - Single - - - -

Note the place of birth of the grand son - Philadelphia.

The same family can be traced back to the 1901 census, bearing in mind this couple had 11 children, 7 of whom survived beyond 1911 and only five shown on the census records, there is margin for John to have come from this family (and Lawrence for that matter), the father is a Thomas not a Richard although there is a Richard listed as an adult child of this couple.

Residents of a house 4 in Glenbower (Pilltown, Kilkenny)

Phelan Thomas 62 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmer Read and  write Irish and English Married -

Phelan Bridget 50 Female Wife Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny -  Read and write Irish and  English Married -

Phelan Richard 32 Male Son Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Son Cannot read English only Not Married -

Phelan James 20 Male Son Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Son Cannot read English only Not Married -

Phelan Mary 22 Female Daughter Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Cannot  read English only Not Married -
Phelan Lizzie 18 Female Daughter Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Cannot  read English only Not Married

The Mass Card of Lawrence Whelan

Our grandmother Elizabeth Whelan kept the following Mass Card in her possessions which relates to the death of a Lawrence Whelan in 1924. No living relatives in either Birmingham or Dublin know who Lawrence Whelan was.

The Mass Card reads as follows:

In loving memory of my dearest husband Lawrence Whelan, 65 North King Street, Dublin. Who died 13th April 1924 aged 50 years.
At the moment we don't know who Lawrence was in terms of his relationship to John Whelan. He would have been born in 1874 making him a year older than John (year of birth worked out from the 1911 census), making it very feasible that he was a brother or cousin of John Whelan.

A further search of the 1911 census gives a Lawrence Whelan residing in Wexford with his mother. He was single, so it is unlikely that this is the correct person.

However, a search for Laurence Whelan gives us several individuals of the right age group across Ireland, including an interesting one in Bolton Street with his family. Going on the basis that incorrect spellings were so common in the old census records, I think it is worth considering the likelihood of this gentleman being the person we are looking for, though more evidence would be required to prove it, for example do we know of descendants of Lawrence / Laurence?

The family in Bolton Street in 1911 is as follows:

Residents of 31.2 Bolton Street (Inns Quay, Dublin)

Laurence Whelan, aged 35, male, head of family, RC, born in Dublin, porter, married for 7  years

Mary Whelan, aged 29, wife, born Dublin, children born 3 children living 3

James Whelan aged 5 born in Dublin

Mary Whelan aged 4 born in Dublin

Joseph Whelan aged 0 born in Dublin

The only point which may go against this being the man we are seeking is that he was born in Dublin and not Kilkenny which is where John was born (presuming they were brothers which might not be the case).

An interesting record from the 1901 census of Kilkenny, is this one with a Lawrence Phelan aged 34, exactly the right age to be the man on the Mass card whom I am speculating was John Whelan's brother or cousin. Kilmacar is towards the north of the county so a long way from Piltown unfortunately though it is still worth considering the possibility of a relationship.

Residents of a house 13 in Rathkyle (Kilmacar, Kilkenny)

Phelan Bridget 60 Female Head of Family Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmer Read and  write - Widow -

Phelan Lawrence 34 Male Son Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmer Read and write -  Not Married -

Giffith Margaret 14 Female Servant Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny General Servant Domestic Read and write - Not Married


Monday, 7 January 2019

Happy New Year 2019

Dear readers of my blog

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and all those people who have been kind enough to leave messages.

I must apologise that I have been very neglectful of my blog during the past year as I had a lot going on and was rather pre-occupied with other platforms of genealogy such as Ancestry and DNA research.

Looking through the messages left on my blog by so many people in relation to different strands of my family history research but also wider West Midlands social history too, I am realising that this is a valuable format to publish research.

So my apologies to those who have left messages and to whom I have not yet replied. I will endeavour to do some catch-up in the coming weeks.

Happy New Year!

Peter Millington   

The children of Caleb Price and Annie Redfern

Caleb Price and Annie Redfern married at St John the Baptist church in Halesowen in 1898. 

Caleb Price and Annie nee. Redfern had four children, the youngest of whom was Gladys (aka Nanny Blount).

Gladys had an older brother Basil Stanley Price (1898-1969) and two  sisters, Elsie Edith (born 1901) and Ethel Hilda (1904-1981). Ethel Hilda Price married Joseph Coldicott (1888-1967).

Gladys married Victor Manuel Blount (born 1910) who was the father of David. It seems she  also had a relationship with a man whose surname was Fazakerly and also lived for many years with a widower from Ladywood named James McGill Cresswell (1881-1956). I will provide more information about Victor Blount and James Cresswell shortly.

Gladys had two children, David and his sister Janet (born 1935). James Cresswell had four children from his first marriage to Florence A Pearce (born 1879). These were Florence L Cresswell (1901-1984), James B Cresswell (1905-1975), Frederick S Cresswell (born 1907) and Ernest Leslie Cresswell (1910-1983). These were therefore the step brothers and step sister of David and Janet Blount, though clearly much older by some 30-40 years.

Parents of Caleb Price

As we have seen in the census records, the parents of Caleb Price were Stephen Price (1853-1905) and Hannah Higgins (1856-1890). Stephen and Hannah Price had eight children of whom Caleb was the oldest:
Caleb (born 1876), Eliza Price (born 1878), Moses (born 1879), Hannah (born 1881), Albert (born 1883), Lavinia (born 1886), Edward (born 1887) and Arthur (born 1890). All of the children were born in Hasbury / Halesowen.

About Hasbury (from Wikipedia)

During the 19th century and before, Hasbury was a small hamlet consisting of mainly farms and agricultural land with the main thoroughfare being, as it is today, Hagley Road. These farms were dotted either side of the Hagley road and included Hasbury Farm (at the rear of what is now the Tesco Express), High Farm (now High Farm Road), Cherrytree Farm (rear of the former Fox Hunt Pub, now Harvester), Bassnage Farm (now Bassnage Road), Lutley Farm, Yewtree Farm (aprox. location off Yew Tree Road). These farms for the most part were built of large red sandstone blocks taken from the nearby Hasbury Quarry located off Quarry Hill which now forms part of Hasbury School's playing fields.
By the mid 20th century the majority of these historic farms had been sold off and demolished with their extensive fields and land sold off for new housing estates.
Whereas the areas of Lower Hasbury (towards Lutley) were mainly farmland, the areas of Upper Hasbury contained some areas of Victorian terraced housing and some small villas focused around Hagley Road and the former stretch once known as Spring Hill (the stretch containing Aldi today) During the mid to late 19th century this area in particular became a hub of home industry. As agriculture waned and the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, Hasbury and other areas of Halesowen began to focus not on farm labouring but on nail making, for which Halesowen became well known. Cottages and terraced houses alike would often build small forges and workshops adjoining their homes or as separate buildings in back gardens. One example of a nail maker’s shop was located on Church Street and was rebuilt at the Black Country Living Museum where it stands today. Only one example of a nail makers cottage and nail shop exists intact today in Hasbury which is located on Hagley Road near to Hasbury School. The cottage dates back to the mid to late 18th Century and is constructed of the local Hasbury sandstone, a stone once common in the area. This was originally a farm labourers cottage, probably working for a local farm such as High Farm or Hasbury Farm. This was then extended c.1880 to form a small brick nail shop for the whole family to work in making nails. This cottage was listed Grade II by English Heritage in September 2013 and is the only building to be nationally recognised in Hasbury and protected by law.

The family of Stephen Price and Mary Ann Morgan

We saw in the 1891 census that 14 year old Caleb Price (grandfather of David Blount) was living at Wall Well in Halesowen with his grand parents, Stephen and Mary Price. Stephen (1817-1892) and Mary (born 1821 in Ludlow) had five children, one of whom was Caleb’s father also named Stephen. The children were as follows:
Arthur (1844-1891), Sarah (1845-1929), Eliza (born 1848), Stephen (1853-1905) and Edwin (born 1856).
Stephen Price senior was the fifth of ten children. His parents were Joseph Price (1785-1832) and Sarah Holloway (1785-1838). Their children were as follows:

Caroline (1808-1813), Jane (1809-1895), Thomas (born 1812), Maria (1815-1856), Stephen (1817-1892), Jesse (1821-1896), Joseph (born 1825), William (born 1826), Levi (1827-1910) and John (born 1829).  

The stone masonry heritage of the Hasbury Price family

There is a very well researched website on Rootsweb at the following link, which provides a lot of information concerning the origins of the Price family and their connections to the trade of quarrying and cutting stone for buildings both in Halesewen and in Canada:

Of the origins of Stephen Price senior’s grandfather, William Price (born Cymyoy, Monmouthshire in 1742) it provides this brief history:

“The Price family worked at the quarry near Margaret Hill Lane (now called Quarry Lane) in Hasbury (a suburb of Halesowen), Worcestershire. William Shenstone, the renowned Halesowen poet, wrote that stone from this quarry was used on the `Ruined castle` a folly in Hagley Park (1749). Also, the granite was probably used in the construction of the Abbey and Halesowen Church. In the booklet `Hasbury from a Haystack` by Alan Bissell, Joseph Price’s family is mentioned for their work:
`One of the men who was much in demand when the first chapel was being built was a  Welshman named Price. Mr. Price was a stonemason who had been working on the Canal  Locks at Northfield. Hearing of work available at the Sandstone Quarries at Hasbury, he  came to live here and would have been very useful in cutting the sandstone blocks from the  quarry in the field near the site of the present church. Sadly, Mr. Price died at the age of 43  leaving a wife and six sons.
His wife had to walk to Northfield every week to get half-a-crown to help her bring up her  family. The chapel prospered in a spiritual sense and the trustees acquired more land from  Mr. Partridge who owned the quarry at that time. Mr. Partridge was a stone mason and the  headstones that he made could be seen standing in the quarry as the members of the congregation made their way to the services. A sharp reminder of their mortality and need to  make their peace with their Maker. ...So the building of the chapel commenced. We have no record of the men who did the brickwork except for the very fine bit of stonework which  formed the arch over the front doors. This stone work was the gift of William Price, who like  his father had become a stone mason. He gave the stone and the labour on it as his contribution to the new chapel. The stone came from the quarry, which was situated in  Quarry Lane. They also borrowed the tackle needed to lift the beams for the gallery from the  quarry`. ”

I believe that the Welshman referred to here only as Mr. Price was either William Price of Monmouthshire and his wife, Phoebe Prosser born at Grosmont, Monmouthshire in about 1746 or it could refer to one of William’s sons, Joseph who married Sarah Holloway and according to other records had seven sons and three daughters (see previous page).

William Price and Phoebe Prosser had two sons and a daughter (there could have been more):

Phebe Price (born 1767), William Price (born 1786) and Joseph Price (1785-1832).

To recap, William Price from Monmouthshire was David Blount’s 4 x great grandfather and his son Joseph who married Sarah Holloway was David’s 3 x great grandfather and one of their sons, Stephen Price, was David’s 2 x great grandfather.

The Rootsweb web page tells us that one of Stephen Price’s brothers, also Joseph, emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada in 1870:

“According to the 1851 and 1861 Worcestershire censuses, Joseph Price worked as a stone cutter. Joseph, Alfred, Maria and Sarah Price emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada from Hasbury, Worcestershire UK c.1870. Joseph and his 14-year-old son Alfred resumed their trade New Brunswick, Canada. Both Alfred and his father were employed by the Fundy Red Granite Co. in St. George by 1877. They may have worked in Saint John prior to this.

In England, Joseph`s brother Stephen lived nearby at Well Wall, and they worked at the quarry near Margaret Hill Lane ( now called Quarry Lane) in Hasbury (a suburb of Halesowen), Worcestershire.

Joseph Price who went to Canada was a brother of Stephen Price (David’s 2 x great grandfather) and also a brother of William Price pictured above with his family. Death records show that Joseph Price died on 8th August 1899 at St Stephen, Charlotte, New Brunswick, Canada. His daughter Harriet died just 7 days before her father on 1st August 1899 at the same place. Joseph’s wife, Sarah nee. Williams (b. November 1826 at Halesowen) died on 8th May 1900 at St Stephen, New Brunswick. Their son Alfred (born 1857 in Halesowen died At Ft. Fairfield, ME, USA in 1920 but was buried at St Stephen, New Briunswick and a daughter named Maria E Price (b. 13th May 1864) died at St Stephen, New Brunswick on 24th August 1935. The couple had 3 additional children, Emma (1848-1905), Roland (1851-1851) and Ann (born 1852) who did not go to Canada with their parents.

The following is an obituary for Joseph Price following his death in 1899:

From the Saint Croix Courier Thursday, August 10 1899:.
Obituary of Joseph Price

 "This community numbers one good citizen less than it did on Tuesday morning, for death came suddenly to Joseph Price that day. He had been at work in Calais that day and was returning home on his truck wagon. When near the end of the Ferry Point bridge, he was seen to fall to the ground. He was quickly carried into the custom house and physicians summoned, but ere they arrived life had fled. One wheel of the cart had passed over the body, but it was evident that his death was caused by heart disease. Mr. Price was a native of England, seventy-four years of age, and had followed the trade of a stone cutter here for many years. He had long been a consistent member of the Methodist church, and was faithful in attendance upon all its services. He was universally respected in the community and beloved by many. His funeral will be held from his home, corner of Main and Queen streets, this afternoon at two o'clock.".
Birth: Jan 1825 - Hasbury, Worcestershire UK
Christening: 13 Feb 1825 - Halesowen, Worcester, England
Death: 8 Aug 1899 - St. Stephen, N.B. Canada
Burial: 10 Aug 1899 - Lot #12, Geranium Path, St. Stephen Rural Cemetery, St. Stephen N.B. Canada
There is strong evidence that not only did Joseph and Sarah William Price go to live in Canada with three of their children, but so did some of the children of Joseph’s brother William Price (pictured opposite). These included Henry Price (1851-1922), Caleb Price (1862-1918) and Caleb’s twin sister Mary Price (pictured opposite) who married William King Shilvock.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Blount and Price family - connections to Halesowen and Bayston

Elizabeth Lawlor married David Blount

Betty (nee Lawlor), David Blount and son Alan Blount in 1997

Our grand parents, James Lawlor and Elizabeth nee. Whelan both from Dublin had six children all born in Birmingham. Joan Patricia was born on 23rd February 1939, Kevin Patrick was born on 22nd May 1940, Patricia Ann and Elizabeth Ann ( Betty ) - the twins - were born on 16th January 1944, Brian Anthony was born on 30th April 1945 and  finally Dennis was born on 16th December 1947.

Joan married Geoffrey Millington, Kevin married Pauline Lee, Elizabeth (Betty) married David Blount, Pat married Brian Yourell, Brian married Christine Curley and Dennis was gay and his partner for many years has been Graham Turner-Smith.

Elizabeth Lawlor (aka Betty) married David Blount at Birmingham Register Office on 9th February 1961. They had four children, Alan born 1961, Jayne born 1962, Stuart born 1964 and Linda born 1965.

David Blount

David James Blount was born in June 1944 in Birmingham. His mother was Gladys Price (1908-1976) and he was brought up by his mom Gladys and her partner James McGill Cresswell (1881-1956) who became David’s step-father.

In 1935 Gladys Price of Birmingham married Victor Manuel Blount. Also in 1935 the couple are registered to vote at 2 King Alfred's Place in Ladywood along with Joseph Coldicott, Hilda Ethel Coldicott and James Cleaver Phillips. But by 1939 Gladys was living with James McGill Cresswell at 46 Essington Street.

David was born in 1944. There are no other records of Victor Blount on the Birmingham voting register. However, a 1 year old child named Victor Blount is registered at Bayton near Cleobury Mortimer in the 1911 census. Interestingly there is a relative in the household with the unusual first name Emmanuel Paggett (father in law to Charles Blount). The father, Charles Blount, was a coal miner.
Alan and Jayne Blount circa 1962

David's sister Janet was born in 1935. Victor Blount was born in Bayston in 1910.
David’s mother, Gladys Price (aka Nanny Blount) was born in Halesowen in 1908. Her father was Caleb Price, born in Halesowen in 1876 who married Annie Redfern, also of Halesowen. 

We shall see in the next few pages that the Price family were a well established family in the Hasbury district of Halesowen who were quarrymen and highly skilled stone masons. Evidence points to the possibility that they helped to build many churches in this part of the Black Country and that some of the family moved to Canada where they also became established as stone masons and builders. 

At the moment this is where I'm at in terms of the direct male line of the Price family:

John Price of Cymyoy, Monmouthshire married Ann, their son William born 1742 married Phoebe Prosser in Wales. They moved to Hagley. Their son Joseph born at Hagley in 1785 married Sarah Holloway from Pirton, Worcestershire. Their son Stephen born at Hasbury in 1817 married Mary Ann Morgan from Ludlow. Their son Stephen born 1853 at Hasbury married Hannah Higgins of Hasbury. Their son Caleb Price born in Halesowen in 1876 married Annie Redfern of Halesowen and their daughter was Gladys Price born in Halesowen in 1908. Gladys was Nanny Blount. Her son was David born in 1944—therefore 8 generations from John Price to David Blount.

Caleb Price

Records for Caleb Price of Halesowen


Caleb Price was the father of Gladys Blount, who was paternal grandmother of my cousins, the Blount family who grew up in Bartley Green, Birmingham.

The 1911 census record above shows the family of Caleb and Annie Price living at Chapel Street at Hasbury, Halesowen. Caleb was a button presser born in Worcestershire. The children included Basil aged 12, Elsie aged 10, Hilda aged 7 and Gladys aged 2. Caleb and Annie had been married for 12 years. The child named Gladys was David Blount's mother, aka Nanny Blount.

Going back ten years, the 1901 census (below) records Caleb and Annie Price again at Chapel Street in Halesowen. This time Caleb's birthplace is confirmed as Halesowen and their two children in 1901 were Basil and Edith Elsie. Caleb was a button maker.
In the 1891 census Caleb Price is living with his grandparents at a place called Wall Well in Halesowen. Caleb is 14 years old and works as a button factory hand. His grandfather Stephen aged 70 was a stone mason born in Hasbury. His grandmother Mary, also aged 70 was born in Ludlow.

In the 1881 census Caleb is living at Hasbury, Halesowen. Aged 4 in 1881 Caleb was the oldest child of Stephen and Hannah Price. Stephen was a nail maker born in Hasbury (as was Hannah). Caleb's siblings included Eliza (aged 3), Moses (aged 2) and Hannah (aged 2 months).

Button Making in Halesowen

In the 1891 census we discover 14 year old Caleb Price living with his grandparents in Hasbury, Halesowen and employed as a button factory hand. We have seen that Caleb was also working in the button making trade in 1901 and 1911 so he clearly worked as a button maker for many years.

There were a number of button factories in Halesowen, mainly moulding buttons from animal horn. William Harris was one button factory owner in Halesowen and another, Thomas Coley, had the largest button factory in Britain. Or perhaps Caleb worked for James Grove's company (pictured) in Birmingham Street. Because button making was lighter work than nail or chain making (both common in Halesowen), the industry employed more women and more children who would often go into school for two hours before running off to the button factory.

The following newspaper article about the closure of the James Grove & Sons button factory in Halesowen was published in The Express and Star, 21 December 2012

Sad day as Halesowen buttons maker comes to end

For generations, skilled Black Country craftsmen have turned out the highest-quality buttons for the biggest names in fashion.

But today their workshops lay abandoned, and the factory of 155-year James Grove & Sons in Halesowen was empty and quiet.

It appears to be the end of an era for a family business that had been making up to 40 million traditional horn buttons a year.

Just this summer the was revelling in new work from top fashion brands Barbour and Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Ben Sherman. The only problem on the horizon appeared to be the company’s ageing workforce and the difficulty of replacing valuable skills as staff retired.

But a month later, managing director Sue Witcutt, who had steered the business for the previous six years, working with owner Peter Grove, had been terminated as a director. Two new directors, taken on in August, were terminated last month. Today the factory that had been the home of James Grove & Sons since 2007, in Stourbridge Road, Halesowen, stands empty, and there is no sign of the 20-strong workforce.

The business originally started out in premises at the junction of Birmingham Road and Cornbow in Halesowen in 1857 and moved to its present site in Stourbridge Road in 1865 where the old Bloomfield Works was built.

The works was replaced in 2006 when the company invested £1.5 million in its present purpose-built factory, where about 40 million buttons a year were made.

When founder James Grove started up the business he sold horn and hoof buttons made in Halesowen from hotel rooms as he travelled across Europe. The firm grew and built up markets supplying uniform buttons for the military, railways and the GPO – at its peak in 1917 it employed 600.

James Grove had still been turning buttons from traditional horn from Asia and also used polyester, corozo and casein as raw materials.

The 20-strong workforce includes some highly-skilled and experienced craftsmen including one employee who had been with the company for half a century. Indeed, the skills of its workers was seen as one of the strengths of the business as it tried to step up marketing earlier this year to attract fresh orders, using its website to get its designs across to new customers.

Its proud tradition had seen James Grove and Sons supply buttons to the Ministry of Defence, British Railways and the General Post Office, and the firm’s history can be traced back to making buttons during the American Civil War of 1861 as well as for British soldiers fighting in the trenches of the First World War.

Founder James Grove served his apprenticeship with William Harris, who had a button factory at Spring Hill, which quickly became the largest and best-equipped horn button factory in Britain.

James and his wife Ann Elizabeth set up their business in premises rented from Ann’s father, but in 1865 this proved to be too small and so they decided to build the Bloomfield Works in Stourbridge Road.

The company employed about 600 men and women. Today, it employs around 40 people using sophisticated machinery and polishing techniques. When James Grove died in 1886 the reputation of the company as makers of top-quality horn buttons was firmly established. When visiting the Bloomfield Works in the 1950s people would have seen the long line of storage sheds piled high with sacks of horns and hoofs.

The horns and hoofs were the raw materials used to make buttons – and any that were rejected were ground down to make fertiliser, so nothing was wasted. Pieces of horn were put into steam heated presses to make them flat and then button blanks were cut out by machines. After five generations, the modern manufacturing process had been similar, with some work still done by hand.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Carrie’s rural memories have a certain Irish lilt

Robby McMahon
The great thing about people’s memories of the past is how they often open the doors to further research. This is what happened when I received an email from Carrie Browne-Carey whose memories of a rural childhood in the townland of Lurgan in County Offaly recalled a celebrated Irish ‘lilter’ named Robbie McMahon.Carrie began by recalling her childhood in the 1950s in the hilly townland of Lurgan which lies near the border of Offaly and Westmeath, close to Clara and Moate:

“In a small townland like Lurgan, everyone knew each other very well and we visited one another’s houses regularly. I spent a lot of my life in the house of the Conways and also with the Stone family. When my brother and I were small children our Dad went to work in Dublin and our Mother would sometimes go and stay with him. During this time we stayed with the Stone family.”
“I was very young but I do remember enjoying my stay and loving a dog they had called Lucy. Mrs Stone baked her own bread as did her daughters, but there was one cake that I can almost taste yet. They called it a sweet cake but it was just like a white soda cake with sugar in it and it was gorgeous.”

“Another thing I enjoyed was, they nearly always had a pet pig and I always made sure to be there in the evening while it was small to feed it with a bottle and then sit with it on my lap for ages.”
Carrie also remembered that very often local people would have musicians and singers performing in their own homes, especially if there was a special occasion.   

“Mrs Stone had three daughters and two of them, Kitty and Liz went to work in Dublin. It seemed a long way away at that time.  Liz only got home every summer for two weeks holidays and I looked forward to that time so much.  Liz was such a lovely girl. I then remember Kitty got married to Eddie in Dublin and when they came back from their honeymoon, there was a big dance as I remember in their barn in Lurgan.  It was such an exciting thing for me as a small child. There was music, dancing, singing and I remember doing Irish dancing, though it was simple as I was very young.  Everyone went across the yard to the house for the tea.”
“As I got older I remember a musical family by the name of O'Reilly came to our house and also to the Stone residence and there would be a sing-song and dancing instantly. I remember on one occasion Liz was home on holiday and friends of hers called, I happened by chance to call in. I was very glad I did as one of the men was called Bobby McMahon from Spancil Hill in County Clare. Bobby was a man we heard singing very often on radio and of course his special song was Spancil Hill. He was also a great lilter. He would lilt Irish dance tunes and make it sound like a musical instrument, one tune that is still in my head is the Mason's Apron, he did a great job on that one. Anyway on that evening of course we got him to lilt and that started the dancing. We were doing a half set and I was dancing with him. Now I was only about 9 or 10 years of age so when it came to the basket swing, my feet were lifted off the ground and I kicked the lid off a skillet pot and it broke in two halves! I nearly died but Mrs Stone said “go on dancing, never mind it”. She had bad arthritis so she loved people to go in and party!”

Carrie’s wonderful recollection of live music in the farmhouses of rural Ireland are both reminiscent and captivating. Whilst many of us today are familiar with the musicians who entertain us in bars and clubs, the idea that this tradition was preceded by musicians performing in the humble parlors and barns of people’s rural homes is evocative of days-gone-by. Carrie has also educated me for one on the Irish tradition of lilting through her real-life memory of one of its greatest exponents, Bobby (aka Robbie) McMahon.
I have often heard the expression ‘the lilt of the Irish’ which refers to the characteristic rising and falling of the voice when speaking, the pleasant and gentle accent of many parts of Ireland. It is also used to describe the good humor of Irish people, or a certain cheery outlook I am certain we are all familiar with. But I had never heard of the traditional singing form of lilting, apparently most common in the Gaelic speaking areas of both Ireland and Scotland.

Lilting is music made by the human voice which creates the rhythm and tone of musical instruments with much diddling and jigging - if lyrics exist they are often nonsensical. Lilting may have originated in tough times when musical instruments were not available – though many dispute this theory because it did not develop in other peasant cultures under similar constraints. Whatever its origins, the energetic and compelling rhythms of lilting, accompanied by hand clapping, foot stomping and drumming of the table made it ideal for Irish dancing.
Robbie (or Bobbie) McMahon was born in County Clare on 11 December 1926 and became well known as an entertainer on Irish radio. McMahon composed his own songs as well as singing traditional favorites. As Carrie pointed out, he is best known for his rendition of the beautiful ballad Spancil Hill which earned him the title of King of Spancil Hill. Robbie first sung the ballad at age 16 in the cottage of Moira Keane and in the presence of the nephew of the song’s author Michael Considine.

Robbie McMahon lived all of his life at Spancil Hill where he continued to farm and also continued to entertain in pubs, bars and, yes, rural cottages right up until his sad death in 2012. A film was made about his life called Last night As I Lay Dreaming.
Thank you to Carrie Browne-Carey for her enlightening email and for sharing her memories. 


Dorothy’s family connection to Wexford history

Father John Murphy
History is never far below the surface in Ireland and ordinary conversations will often reveal extraordinary connections with notable people and important events of the past. This is what happened when Wexford resident Dorothy Kenny (nee. Walsh) told me recently about her ancestor Father John Murphy.

Dorothy and husband Seamus are Wexford born and bred; they have raised their five children, Aoife, Doireann, Sinead, Conor and Sarah-Jo at Monamolin near Gorey. Both played for Wexford based GAA teams, Dorothy told me:
“Both of us played for Buffers Alley. Seamus played both hurling and football for 'The Alley' and was Chairman for 10 years steering the club through a major building development project. I played camogie for Senior Wexford and won an All-Ireland in 1975.”

Like many from the ‘model county’, both Seamus and Dorothy have family connections going back to the 1798 rebellion. Whilst this event took place over 200 years ago, it had a profound effect on an otherwise peaceable and very rural county and every Wexford family was affected, often in very traumatic and brutal ways. It is therefore not surprising that there is still a strong tradition of oral history dating back to 1798 in the county.

Dorothy told me that her family were descended from the sister of Fr John Murphy who played a leadership role in the 1798 rebellion. We therefore attempted a search to discover the connections between Dorothy’s family and John Murphy. This is a slightly unusual way of doing family history research, as one normally starts at the current generation and slowly works backwards, discovering ancestors along the way. However, in this situation we started at two different points in time and set out to fill in the gaps in between.

John Murphy was a Roman Catholic priest born at Tincurry, Wexford in 1753. He was executed by British soldiers at Tullow, County Carlow on 2 July 1798. John was a tenant farmer’s son from a big family, his brother Patrick was also killed in the 1798 Rebellion at Vinegar Hill. He also had a sister, Katherine, who married John Patrick Walsh. The parents of John Murphy were Thomas Murphy and Johanna Whitty.

John Murphy was educated in a hedge school by a local parish priest and grew up speaking Irish and English. He was described as a splendid horseman, excelling in athletics and handball. Following his ordination, Fr John Murphy went away to study at a Dominican college in southern Spain in the 1770s. Returning home five years later, Fr Murphy was made curate in Kilcormuck, better known as Boolavogue, where he had a thatched chapel.

Fr Murphy was initially against rebellion and actively encouraged his parishioners to give up their arms and sign an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. However, on 26 May 1798 he gathered with a group of local men to decide how to defend themselves against the brutality of yeomanry patrols. That night Murphy’s group encountered the burning down of a local family’s cabin and a confrontation took place which ended with the killing of two of the yeomen. That night the Wexford Rebellion started with Fr John Murphy leading it alongside other local United Irishmen leaders.

Through the next month, Fr John Murphy led a growing army of poor Wexford tenant farmers against the might of the English army. Initially armed only with pikes and pitchforks, Murphy’s ragged army of rebels defeated well-armed militia and yeoman with cavalry at Oulart Hill, Enniscorthy, Wexford town and Gorey. From a few hundred men with pikes, the rebel army grew quickly to a force of 10,000. But with reinforcements from England, including German mercenaries, the rebels were badly defeated at Arklow and at Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy. English retaliation was brutal, wounded rebels were shot or worse and more than 30,000 Wexford people were killed in the five week uprising. Father Murphy and a man named James Gallagher were captured in the Blackstairs Mountains and taken to Tullow where they were summarily tried, found guilty of being rebels and sentenced to death. Both were hanged in the market square in Tullow. The yeomen cut off Fr Murphy’s head, put it on display on a spike and burned his body in a barrel of pitch. Fr John Murphy is remembered in the Irish ballad Boolavogue.

Our search to discover Dorothy’s line of ancestry back to Fr John Murphy began by identifying her father Edmond Walsh’s family in the 1911 census living at house 12, Effenorge, Tinnacross, Wexford. The family included Edmond’s parents Aidan and Mary Walsh (Dorothy’s grandparents). The family were also recorded at Effernoge in the 1901 census. It is well known that Irish census records become more difficult to find for the 19th century, but increasingly we find church baptismal records for that period are available to view online. Using these records we could identify the baptism of Dorothy’s grandfather Aidan at Ferns in 1853 and the baptisms of his siblings. The beauty of a baptismal record is that it also names the parents, therefore taking us back another generation.

Another useful source of records is the Griffith’s Valuation of the 1850s which tells us that a farmer named William Walsh was occupying 70 acres of land at Effernoge at that time. Finally the Tithe Applotment books of 1824 show two separate tithe payers named William Walsh residing at Effernoge. It would be fair to speculate that they may be a father and son. The Tithe Applotment books move us much closer to the generation of Fr John Murphy and the 1798 rebellion. William Walsh senior of the Applotment books could feasibly be the same generation as Father Murphy or, more likely, his mother may have been Katherine, the sister of John Murphy who married John Patrick Walsh. Incidentally, Effernoge is close to both Boolavogue and Tincurry and there was also a farmer named Michael Murphy recorded at Effernoge in the Tithe books of 1824. Whilst we need more information to confirm these connections, I can’t help feeling that we are there or thereabouts in plotting the line between Dorothy and her 2 x great grandmother Katherine Walsh (nee. Murphy).

Thank you Dorothy Kenny for sharing this interesting family connection to the momentous events of 1798. If any of our readers have further information to offer, we would be very interested to hear from you.