Monday, 4 January 2010

The story of Mary O’Hagan

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The death certificate of Mary O’Hagan, remembered more formally as Miss O’Hagan, the aunt of Terence Millington who left them money in her Will. Thought to have been born in Newry, Mary spent most of her life working in domestic service and died in William Street in 1907.
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Prior to researching this fairly comprehensive history of the Millington family, I actually had very little anecdotal evidence to go on. Unlike my grandmother, Florence Clayton’s side of the family, there were very few family stories about the Millingtons. It is quite probable that this was because my grandfather William did not get on with his own father, Terence, and the oral tradition which had flourished in the Clayton family had therefore not taken place on the Millington side.

However, there was one story which cited an event arising from the Will of a spinster aunt of our great grandfather Terence, named Miss O’Hagan. My own aunt, Kathleen Robinson, related the story as she had been told it herself, by her father:

"Our Grandad Terence had a spinster aunt named Miss O’Hagan who was very well off. They say she was a teacher at St Patrick’s on Dudley Road and was a very religious woman who loved the church. On her death, Miss O’Hagan bought a wooden seat for St Patrick’s and she also left Terence some money in her Will. But Terence spent most of it in the pub – one day he was in the Prince of Wales on Dudley Road and he was buying everyone drinks when he dropped his bag of sovereigns all over the floor in the bar and there was a mad rush of people trying to pick them up. Our dad remembers being taken to Scarborough on a day trip by his father, probably paid for out of his inheritance".


Are you going to Scarborough fair? The destination of Terence Millington and his young family in 1907, thanks to the benefaction of Aunt Mary (aka Miss O’Hagan)

Intrigued by this snippet of information about the death of Miss O’Hagan, I attempted to search for further evidence of her in old records. On the basis that she was a spinster, O’Hagan therefore being her maiden name, my hunch was that she had to be the sister of Terence’s mother. My deduction proved to be correct when I discovered a copy of Miss O’Hagan’s Will in Birmingham Library.

Mary O’Hagan died on the 4th June 1907, leaving effects of £710 11s. 10d. (Probate Birmingham 17 June to Walter Lord, post-office – overseer). Her address was given as 6 Moorcroft Cottages, William Street.

Mary left the sum of £150.00 to her sister, Alice Millington and to the children of her sister she left "the residue of my property in equal shares". The children listed were Harry, Terence, Alice, Annie and William. There was one further child mentioned named Katie Mary O’Hagan, who is referred to as "her natural daughter". It is unclear if this sixth child is the natural daughter of Mary or Alice.

Mary O’Hagan also left provision for the payment of her bills and funeral expenses, but there is no mention of a donation to St Patrick’s church. The executor of Mary’s Will was her friend Walter Lord and she signed it on 4th May 1907, exactly one month before her death in the presence of G.H.E Bekenn (m.R.C.J.L.R.C.P.) and Thomas Howlett (Solicitor) at 30 Bath Row, Birmingham. Probate was granted on 17th June 1907, 13 days after Mary’s death.

Mary’s death certificate reveals that she died on 4th June 1907 at her home in 6 Moorcroft Cottages, William Street. She was 65 when she died and was recorded as a spinster. Her occupation was recorded as ’formerly a cook (a domestic servant)’. She died of Carcinoma of the Breast / Exhaustion and her death was certified by G.H.E Bekenn M.R.C.S (who had been one of the witnesses to the Will one month earlier).

As mentioned previously, Mary’s death was registered on 6th June 1907 by A.Vickers (her niece). There is no evidence in either of these records to clarify whether Miss O’Hagan had indeed worked as a teacher at St Patrick’s.



Made famous in a well-known Irish ballad — the dark Mountains of Mourne literally do sweep down to the sea. It is believed that the O’Hagans originated from Newry, a large, busy town on the border of Armagh and Down in Northern Ireland, very close to the Mountains of Mourne.


Miss O’Hagan in the 1881 and 1901 Census?

I was recently told by one of my dad’s cousins (Patricia nee. Millington) that the O’Hagans possibly came from Newry, which is on the border of counties Down and Armagh in northern Ireland (Newry is quite close to the Mountains of Mourne).

There is a record of a Mary O’Hagan born in Newry in the 1901 census. This lady was single and was working as a Domestic Cook at a place called Haunch Hall in Longdon, Staffordshire. Mary O’Hagan is recorded as being 53 years of age. We already know that at the time of her death in 1907, Mary O’Hagan was 65, therefore the age of the lady in Longdon is about 6 years out.

However, bearing in mind that census records and transcriptions are quite often inaccurate, for instance 58 or 59 could easily be read as 53, and as there are no other Mary O’Hagans recorded elsewhere in the 1901 census with a similar profile and this one is in the West Midlands, I would not therefore rule out the fact that this lady could be the one we’re looking for.

The lady recorded in the 1901 census was working at Haunch Hall for Stephen and Alice Stokes. Stephen was a 76 year old leather merchant of PCC who had been born in Wednesbury. His wife Alice was 77 years old originally from Tutbury in Staffordshire. Their 42 year old son Thomas A Stokes was a barrister coroner born in Walsall and they also had a 39 year old daughter named Clara Stokes born at Edgehill, Staffordshire.

The rest of the household were servants, Mary O’Hagan being the oldest. Alice Mullinder was a 28 year old housemaid from Penn. Emily Hawkins was a 28 year old ladies maid from Stafford. Maud Gregory a 20 year old house maid from Handsworth. Gertrude Bromhead was a 30 year old house maid, also from Handsworth and Elizabeth Copestake was a 17 year old kitchen maid from Gentleshaw in Staffordshire.

There is also an earlier record of a Mary O’Hagan working as a cook in domestic service, this time in the 1881 census at a dwelling called the Royal Oak Hotel at Bettws Y Coed in Caernarvon, Wales. Once again there is slight discrepancy in the recorded age of this particular lady, she was 35 according to the census which is about 4 years out when compared to her age at death. However, again I would not discount this record purely on this basis as I have observed far bigger anomalies within old records, where it has turned out that two conflicting pieces of information turn out to be the same person.

What interests me about this record relating to an address in Wales is that I have on occasion heard my father and his siblings recalling that someone on the Millington / O’Hagan side of the family was either Welsh or had Welsh links. It could even have been that Miss O’Hagan herself had a Welsh accent. At the moment this is 50% conjecture but I believe it is a hunch worth pursuing. Did Mary O’Hagan live and work for a large part of her life in Wales?

In any case, the household at the Royal Oak Hotel at the time of the 1881 census was fairly substantial, including Mary O’Hagan there were 20 people, seven were members of the Pullan family who owned the hotel, four were visitors and eight were servants:

Edward Pullen, aged 51, born at Knaresbro, York was head of the household and was the hotel keeper as well as a farmer of 70 acres. His wife Lousia was 48, born at Harrogate, York. The Pullens had three daughters, Dora (21), Kate (19) and Hetty (18) and two sons, Frank (16) and Percy (5), all born at Harrogate, York.

The visitors at the Royal Oak Hotel were Robert Ackrill, a 64 year old printer and newspaper proprietor born in Worcester, his wife Caroline aged 58, Henry T Grubb, a 44 year old civil engineer from Ireland and W.Graham, 45 year old Captain H Militia, also from Ireland.

The servants at the Royal Oak were Thomas Hughes the ostler (groom) aged 46 from Capel Curig in Caernarvon, James Laurie the gardener aged 35 from Scotland, Mary O’Hagan the cook aged 35 from Ireland, Hanna Roberts a waitress aged 26 from Bettws Y Coed, Annie Owen a 19 year old housemaid from Llangerniw in Denbigh, Jane Jones a 28 year old housemaid from Capel Garmon in Denbigh, Jane Lloyd a 46 year old housemaid from Pennal, Merioneth and Sarah E Jones a 22 year old kitchen maid from Bangor, Caernarvon. With the exception of Jane Lloyd, all of the servants are listed as being unmarried – again this evidence fits our profile of Miss O’Hagan who remained unmarried all of her life.

The surname O’Hagan is not common, even in Ireland. In birth, marriage and death indexes for instance it generally occurs before the much more prevalent Irish surname O’Hara. The prevalence of O’Hagans in census records is therefore not great and when they do occur it should be of some interest to this research. For instance initially I could only find one family of O’Hagans recorded in Birmingham in the 1881 census and this is the family of a Patrick O’Hagan living at 71 Brierley Street. Patrick O’Hagan is a 52 year old chemical distiller from Ireland, his wife Margaret is 50 years old from Ireland and there are 8 children ranging in age from 24 to just 3.

I am not sure if this family is related to Alice and Mary O’Hagan and their father Patrick, recorded as a traveller on Alice’s marriage certificate in 1870. The couple at Brierley Street may have been slightly too young to have been parents of Alice and Mary, but in the absence of other O’Hagans in Birmingham, I keep an open mind regarding a connection.


Houses in No.7 Court, William Street in about 1905. This picture was taken by the city’s Housing Department to record slum properties. In the 1891 census John and Alice Millington were recorded at 6 Court 1 House William Street, literally round the corner to the Court pictured above. Alice’s sister Mary O’Hagan also had a cottage in William Street


Life in William Street

Despite owning her own cottage and, it seems, being relatively well off, Mary O’Hagan lived in one of Birmingham’s poorest districts. We may also recall here that, according to the 1891 Census John and Alice Millington also lived in William Street at 6 Court 1 House. William Street is off Bishopsgate Street in Lee Bank, close to Five Ways.

In 1886, William Street was specifically cited by Birmingham‘s Medical Officer as having overcrowded courts, sodden yards and dirty houses where babies and children regularly died of cholera, scarlet fever, malnutrition, diarrhoea and suffocation from overlaying (too many people in a single bed).

According to the Medical Officer, William Street had all of the familiar ingredients of slum housing: dirt, damp, dilapidation, sickness, misery, want of ventilation and want of light, resulting in dirty habits, low health and debased morals.

The standpipes, where people drew their water supply in the yards of the old courts were often breeding grounds for disease. In 1886, 383 children in Birmingham died of a measles epidemic alone. Pictured left a water standpipe photographed in a William Street courtyard.

In 1905 the city’s housing department took pictures of the courts of William Street to record typical slum properties in the city. A photograph that appeared in the Old Brum Magazine shows No.7 Court, William Street with a group of women in the background. A map of this and nearby Courts, which appeared in the same publication, shows No.6 Court, where the Millington family lived literally around the corner from the Court in the photograph.




Another (undated) view of William Street and a plan of the Courts in William Street in the early 1900s. Court 6 where the Millingtons lived in the early 1890s is adjacent to Richmond Place on the plan.

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