Saturday, 4 April 2015

Ancestors in Newcastle

Men working in the quarry near Wilmcote, Warwickshire

I received an email this week from a person named Eric Carpenter in Newcastle upon Tyne who is researching his ancestor Charles Carpenter who moved to the north east of England in the mid 1800s and married a woman named Catherine McCarten.

Eric has sent me some family photos and other scanned documents from his research. He did not know the precise connection to my family tree but suggested we were both connected through the Carpenter family who originated from the hamlets (my is pun fully intended) of Warwickshire around Stratford upon Avon.

My own line to the Carpenters is explained somewhere on this blog and in my family history research documents (see links in right column).

Emily Carpenter was one of my great-great-grandmothers on my father's paternal side. Emily was born in Wilmcote in Warwickshire in the mid 19th century and came with her parents to live in Birmingham, which is perhaps 25 miles from rural Stratford but was at that time one of the centres of the industrial revolution in Britain and part of a rapidly expanding urban conurbation. Birmingham was known as the city of a thousand trades due to its rich diversity of small trades and workshops, it was the hub of the canal network of the late 18th century connecting London and Bristol in the south with places like Manchester and Liverpool in the north. Birmingham had also been home to James Watt and Mathew Boulton who developed the steam engine in the late 1700s, thus driving the industrial revolution all over the world.

Birmingham was therefore a logical destination for poor agricultural labouring families like the Carpenters who joined the majority of my ancestors, pouring into the conurbation in Victorian times in search of housing and employment. They mainly came from the surrounding shire counties, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. They also came from Wales and post-famine Ireland.

Wilmcote was a small hamlet just a few miles north of Stratford upon Avon. It was the home place of William Shakespeare's mother Mary Arden, well-known for her family farm and homestead. I once visited Wilmcote and talked to a vicar in the tiny local church. He told me that in the early 19th century the area was the site of a large temporary camp for 'navvies' (navigation workers) - the people working on the canals and railways from Birmingham, through Warwickshire to the south.

I knew from census records that members of the Carpenter family, including my g-g-g-grandfather Henry Carpenter, worked in a local quarry, presumably cutting stone for the construction industry. I immediately found it intriguing to find out why one of the family, Eric's ancestor Charles, would have ended up settling so far away in Newcastle when everyone else around him had their eye on Birmingham, Coventry or the Black Country. Journeys for working class migrants were hard in those days, there were no National Express coaches or Virgin Rail, a 200 mile journey like this would most likely have been done on foot.

Newcastle had its fair share of industry and employment opportunities in the 19th century. Situated on the great Tyne estuary it was an important port and a centre of ship building. It was also an area of coal mining and related industry. But why travel so far, probably on foot, to find employment when the factories and workshops of the West Midlands were on his doorstep? My immediate thought was the railway industry.

Subsequent research has pinpointed Charles as the youngest child of William and Elizabeth Carpenter of Wilmcote in the parish of Aston Cantlow. He is found as a 4 year old with his father William and brother Henry (my g-g-g-grandfather) living in the home of his older sister Hannah and her husband George Keasey on Aston Road, Wilmcote in the 1841 census. His mother Elizabeth (nee. Green), who would have been in her late 50s was not in the household which might suggest she died following a very late-in-life childbirth.

In the 1851 census my ancestor Henry, now 24 is still living in Wilmcote with his father, his wife and small children, but there is no sign of Charles who would have been 14, suggesting he has already left home in search of employment. At the moment I can't find Charles anywhere else in the 1851 census. Soon afterwards, my ancestor Henry moved to Birmingham where he was found working as a locomotive driver, substantiating my theory that the family might have followed new opportunities presented by the railway industry.

Charles turns up in the 1861 census living in county Durham in the north of England, sure enough registered as a railway labourer. This is where he married Catherine McCartan. It seems that Catherine might have been born in Ireland as she was registered in 1851 as a 14 year old servant in a large house in county Durham. By coincidence, Catherine and Charles married in 1861. They later moved to Newcastle where the family has remained throughout the 20th century, probably unaware of their Irish and Warwickshire roots until Eric has started his research.

I now await a reply from Eric to progress our mutual research. Whether one day we will establish connections with the Arden family of Wilmcote is perhaps wishful thinking - the scholars may not be comfortable about a Geordie and a Brummie making claims to Shakespeare's genealogy.