Being A Family History Detective

I started researching my family history about 7 years ago and soon realised why so many people find it totally addictive. I have always been the sort of person who likes looking for things, the internet has made this so much easier and I jumped in with both feet!

My husband’s family came from Ashton so I started with them as I thought searching locally would be easier. It became a labour of love and these distant ancestors became real people to me – so much so that when reading about historical events I automatically view them in terms of which members of the family were alive at that time.

I started with basic information. My mother in law was born on Curzon Road, Ashton and I knew the names of her family members. This enabled me to find the family on the 1911 census which was my starting point. Tracking back the same names over the 1901, 1891 and 1881 censuses was fascinating. Addresses, occupations, finding family members living close to each other over the years and following their lives was absorbing. I realised that I was more interested in how they lived their lives than merely finding a list of names which stretched back a long way but held no substance, no imagery to me.

I have a favourite person in this family tree. She is my husband’s great, great grandmother Agnes Lee who was born near Kendal in the Lake District. She is my favourite because I found her in Belle Vue Gaol in Manchester in the 1851 census. Her husband and children were at 29 King Street, Manchester, where they were living in the cellar of a jeweller’s shop. Benjamin Lee, her husband, was a porter for the jeweller Henry Whittington and he allowed the family to live in the cellar.

I managed to find prison records showing she had been jailed for larceny and been sentenced to 6 months hard labour at Belle Vue Gaol but there was no more information. I researched newspaper reports from 1851 and managed to find details of the family being brought to the Borough Court

The Manchester Courier, and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 1 February 1851

Robberies from a Jeweller’s shop

A little girl, named Mary Jane Lee, having within the last two months pledged various small articles of jewellery at the shop of Mr Kenyon, pawnbroker, of Garside Street, that gentleman suspected they were not honestly obtained, and communicated his fears to Mr Beswick, the chief superintendent of police. In consequence, when the girl visited Mr Kenyon’s on Saturday last, she was detained until Inspector Maybury was sent for, and that officer (himself unobserved), watched her home, and found that she was the daughter of a porter, in the employ of Mr Whittington, jeweller and silversmith, of King Street.

From inquiries instituted, it came out that the girl and her parents resided on Mr Whittington’s premises, occupying a cellar under the shop, and a sleeping room in the attic, and the girl, after some evasion, confessed that the jewellery pledged by her was the property of Mr Whittington, and had been given to her to dispose of by her mother. When interrogated by Mr Beswick, the mother [Agnes Lee], confirmed her child’s statement, observing that she would not attempt to shield her own guilt; adding that she had stolen the property unknown to her husband, who was entirely innocent.  Directing Mr Beswick to look in a certain spot, where the key of a Chubb’s patent lock was found, which opened an inner door leading into Mr Whittington’s shop, she said that, unknown to her husband, she had procured the key, and with it had frequently got inside the shop and stolen articles which she had sent her little girl to pledge. Notwithstanding that the woman disclaimed any guilty knowledge on the part of her husband, Mr Beswick took the whole family into custody, and on Monday they were brought up at the Borough Court to answer the charge.

Evidence of the facts stated above being adduced, and Mr Whittington having identified a gold pencil case, gold guard, six shirt studs, and two silver fruit knives, as his property (all of which were produced by Mr Kenyon, pawnbroker, as having been pledged by the little girl), the prisoners were respectively asked what they had to say. The husband [Benjamin Lee] (whom Mr Whittington, the prosecutor, said had been in his employment for seven years) said, he was quite innocent of the charge, and bursting into tears, said he could not tell whatever had induced his wife to act as she had done.  She had ever been a kind good wife, and he was greatly distressed that she should have robbed Mr Whittington, for he had behaved towards the family like a father. Here the wife and girl began to cry – Mr Walker asked if there was any reason to suspect the husband – Mr Whittington: Oh no; I have every confidence in him. The father and daughter were then discharged, Mr Whittington telling the former to go back to his duty at once, and the wife Agnes Lee, was committed for trial at the sessions

Mr Whittington’s generosity meant the family could continue at 29 King Street where they remained for another 4 years. Mary Jane, who was 11, had a brother, also called Benjamin, age 9, who was not taken to court. Agnes was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Belle Vue Gaol, on Hyde Road in Gorton, she was released on 13 August 1851.  I wondered what had caused her to steal the items, from the report it seemed out of character. Why did Mr Whittington allow the family to return to the shop when Agnes had stolen from him, it didn’t make any sense?

Further research revealed that Agnes was about 7 months pregnant at the time of her court appearance and the baby was born in prison on 8 March 1851. The baby, called Thomas was baptised in September and his date of birth given on the baptism record. He is the only one of Agnes and Benjamin’s children not to have a birth registered.

I was able to trace other children born to Agnes and Benjamin before Thomas was born.  Her youngest child at the time of her court appearance was Benjamin, then age 9, born in 1842.  In the following years she gave birth to 2 children who died before they were 2 months old.  This would probably explain the reasons for acting as she did. Agnes had a sister, Jane whose husband was a joiner at the Manchester Royal Infirmary when it was situated in Piccadilly Gardens, and the family lived at the Infirmary. Maybe Agnes wanted the money to provide help for the new baby?

Mr Whittington would also be aware of the deaths of the babies, perhaps this was the reason he let Benjamin keep his job. I had originally thought that Thomas had done well to survive in prison, but maybe he was lucky that he was in prison. Women who gave birth in prison could keep their babies with them, providing they were breastfeeding, sometimes until the end of their sentences and they would have had access to regular meals.

My mother in law had always told me that the house she was born in was owned by rich relatives who lived in Lytham but she had no further knowledge of them. I was interested to see how family members who came from such a poor background could have ended up owning blocks of houses in Ashton.  I tracked forwards to 1856 when their youngest daughter Hannah was born in Cowcill Street and Benjamin’s occupation was now Railway Porter, they had moved nearer to Oxford Road Station, perhaps he worked there?  By 1861 they had moved to Gorton and Benjamin was still listed as a Porter. His son, also Benjamin was now 19 and was working as a Solicitors Clerk. Was this their route out of poverty?

It was. Benjamin Lee continued to work as a Solicitors Clerk for his whole career and he moved to the outskirts of town, first to Stretford and then to Levenshulme. He started buying property and in 1871 and 1881 he owned the properties where his mother and father lived in Gorton. Agnes’s husband Benjamin died in 1884 and it was not long before Agnes moved to Ashton under Lyne, where two of her daughters were already living. She lived in Bengal Cottage on Alfred Street and her daughters were around the corner on Curzon Road.  Her youngest daughter Hannah ran a draper’s shop on Curzon Road.  Her son Benjamin owned 10 houses on Curzon Road and also owned property in the Levenshulme area.  Benjamin’s daughters later moved to the Lytham area and my mother in law’s family were living in the properties on Curzon Road until the 1950s.

The one person missing from this story is the baby born in prison in 1851, Thomas. He lived with his parents in Gorton and worked at the London and North West Railway yards at Longsight as an engine fitter. In 1874 he joined the Royal Navy and stayed there until 1895. He then worked as Acting Assistant Prison Warder at the Royal Naval Prison in Lewes in Sussex and became Principal Warden.

Now you can see why Agnes is my favourite person. I could never have imagined at the start that I would ever be able to find out so much detail about events that happened over 150 years ago. The shop at 29 King Street has been a jeweller’s shop ever since. Mr Whittington died in 1874 and his son took over the business, various others followed and now it has been in the Hancock family from 1900 to today. It is not the same building but it is in the same place. It was a very strange feeling standing looking at it for the first time, imagining all the things that had happened.

Perhaps this story will tempt you to research your own family history, I cannot promise you will find anything but hopefully you will have as much fun as I have had!


1851 Census Agnes in Belle Vue Prison


Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 1 February 1851


Benjamin Lee 1851 Census 29 King Street, Manchester


Belle Vue Gaol 1870




Manchester Rate Books

Tameside Local Studies and Archives

Michelle Higgs. Prison Life in Victorian England

GRO Birth Marriage and Death Indexes

Manchester Central Library and Archives

Cheshire BMD

Lancashire BMD

Lancashire Online Parish Clerks


Bonnets, Lunches and Literary Works – a visit to Elizabeth Gaskell House

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell 1810 -1865

On Monday 12th November 2018 ‘Tameside Bobbin’ Club’ visited the house of Elizabeth Gaskell the 19th Century novelist. She lived at 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester with her husband and four daughters. They’d moved from Knutsford, and brought along their cow which they also kept along with a pig and some chickens and grew many vegetables and flowers in the garden surrounding the house.

Elizabeth took up writing at her husband’s suggestion after the death of her baby son. Her husband William was a non-conformist preacher and their house was always open to the parish and their many friends. Elizabeth especially was very hospitable and took an active interest in the running of the house.  The one thing that eluded her was a permanent cook- these were very hard to find and Elizabeth was not very successful in retaining their services.

The house has been lovingly restored to represent the time when the family lived there. After the death of her parents, Elizabeth in 1865 and William in 1884, Margaret Emily known as Meta, the second daughter, remained unmarried and stayed at Plymouth Grove till her death in 1913. She sold off many of the pieces and the hunt is on to find them again. Some have already been returned which is very exciting for the restoration which is ongoing. The carpets, wall-coverings and curtains are not original but all use patterns from the period. In fact Elizabeth in some of her diaries and letters actually describes the various wallpapers that were used and some of the furniture that was bought when they moved to Plymouth Grove in 1850.


William’s study houses books that the family would have read and his desk is covered with copies of the church magazine which he spent many hours editing, this is also where he taught his many students from the parish.

Passing the large staircase you enter a large lounge decorated grandly with original pictures and a semi-grand piano that was played by Elizabeth and her daughters.

The room is set for tea with a lovely table in front to the fire place. Costumes are available to wear to get into the spirit of the time and entertain your many guests as the Gaskells did.



Through into the dining room with wooden floors, a large bay window fills one end of the room from floor to ceiling. The table is set for dinner with all the courses laid at the table together, as was fitting for the time. You can sit at the table and imagine being there.

Elizabeth wrote many letters which vividly describe family life, the holidays they took and her passionate interest in the society of the period which was undergoing rapid change. She is famous for writing Cranford, Ruth, North and South and Wives and Daughters. She also wrote the biography of her friend Charlotte Brontëimage00011

Upstairs there is an exhibition about the running of the house, detailing information about the servants and gardener. Elizabeth’s personal maid travelled with her when she took her lengthy holidays abroad with her daughters.

Downstairs there is a welcoming tea-room that serves delicious cakes and drinks; there is also a shop where you can buy souvenirs, Elizabeth’s books as well as many second-hand books with all funds going to the Gaskell Society.

The house is still being renovated and the Gaskell Society is currently raising money to rebuild the conservatory. To find out more about Elizabeth Gaskell, her family and house and the books she wrote visit the website its definitely worth a visit.


Creating Stories

As part of the Sense of Place project, volunteers were asked to create short films using material they had come across whilst working at Tameside Local Studies and archives. They were shown during the end of event exhibition and subsequent open days, but we are now pleased to announce that they are available on YouTube.

The films are The Black Knight. This is a ballad written and read by volunteer John. After a trip to Portland Basin museum, John became interested in the tale of the Black Knight, which you can read about in an earlier post here. We also visited Chetham’s library to look at their collection of ballads and had a creative writing session from Harry Jelley, both which helped John to write his dramatic piece.

Norman became interested in Harry Rutherford, undertaking independent research away from the volunteer workshops and collecting many images. One of the tasks was to digitize parts of the Rutherford collections and from this he was able to select appropriate images in order to show a timeline of Harry Rutherford’s life.

Another skill that the volunteers had training in was to help them undertake oral history interviews. They were able to interview each other and Lisa talked about Growing up In Tameside. She selected some images from the collections in order to create a short film.

We discovered the George had worked in the Mills when he was younger. George looked through the image collection and selected some images of which were then used with his interview about his experience of Working the Mills.

To create the banners and broadsheet for the exhibition, the volunteers worked over a number of weeks with artist Mitch Robinson from Artden. This short film shows the process and end result of their Printing Workshops.

There is also the film created as an introduction to using Tameside Local Studies and Archives which can be found here.

The work undertaken, increased interest and development of skills that the volunteers developed through their time at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and has given them an insight into one of the ways that stories can be shared through the archives and various ways in how archives can be collected and shared. The volunteers continue to work at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and are also undertaking their own research.

We are also indebted to Heather Butterworth who edited the films.


“Deeds not words”

A well- known statement from the Suffragette movement at the turn of the last century, could easily be applied to an endeavour I, along with others, undertook in the early 1980s, to preserve a piece of Manchester history that we take for granted today.

62 Nelson Street


Back in 1982, near to the old entrance to Manchester Eye Hospital was a dilapidated terraced house that had been boarded up for many years, and with the encroaching expansion of the three hospitals in the area, the site looked doomed to be cleared to make way for car parking and other building construction.

None of the rest of the houses on this unassuming street had remained by this time, so why should these homes be saved?

The cause

Possibly a noteworthy resident could change the future life of this house?

People today would know these buildings to be the Pankhurst Centre, the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her family who led the Suffrage campaign for Votes for Women and where the first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was held on 10th October 1903.

The campaign

Knowing how important this landmark was, a number of women including myself, my mum and my sister together with others including Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter Helen, set about securing monies for its restoration by conducting a sponsored walk through Manchester using Nelson Street as the starting point and finishing at Strangeways Gaol, where a number of suffragettes had been incarcerated during their struggle for the vote.

This wasn’t a straight forward journey from A to B but an opportunity to learn about other notable buildings in the City Centre that also played a part in the lives of not so ‘ordinary’ women. We were to explore places that affected the future of women throughout the country by pioneering acts of individuals.

The strategy

A map was therefore developed demonstrating the history of ‘Women in the Past’ and sold to interested parties for the princely sum of 50p. This guide was also sponsored by important companies of the day who also wanted the building to survive.


And so our group of woman set off on a journey that took in locations such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, Chorlton on Medlock’s Town Hall, the Free Trade Hall and many more, all with a potted history that helped the women’s movement. Some three hours later, we reached our destination and our ‘crusade’ was noted by the Manchester Evening News in July 1982 when a feature was published in the then broadsheet.



The armistice

The publicity we generated no doubt helped the cause as in 1984, work commenced on Nelson Street and what is now known as the Pankhurst Centre was restored to what we see today; a museum dedicated to the Pankhurst family and the suffragette movement, and a women’s aid centre to continue to provide support to women of today.

Remembrance Day

As part of the popular Tameside Local Studies and Archive Centre’s Bobbin Club, a group of people including myself have since re-enacted part of the walk last week by exploring the original map once again.


Manchester’s skyline has changed significantly since 1982 and of those buildings we saw on the original walk, many are no longer there, having been replaced by new architecture. However, the history of each site does not disappear and through online research for media, the chance to learn is just as important as the original walk was, in 1982.

Sisters of Suffrage

For Tameside History Festival Running during September 2018, we asked 2 of our Sense of Place volunteers to look through the local papers for any reports relating to Women’s Suffrage.


John and Norman write:

We were asked to research the Tameside suffragettes movement as a contribution to the Women of Tameside project which delves into the hidden history of women’s rise in society.

Firstly, we were given some background information about the history of the women’s rights movement including the differences between the classification of Suffragettes and Suffragists. Suffragettes were more militant in their campaign approach, interested in direct action to get their message across. Suffragists were less radical, more patient in their protesting by having a peaceful yet stern voice.

We carried out our research using the internet and the microfilmed newspapers in the search room including the Ashton Reporter and the Ashton Herald as our main sources of information. We learnt about the attitudes of the time, the political inequality and the measure of efforts taken to attempt to deem a change. We were given a list of relevant dates between 1903 and 1913 and decided to start looking at the newspapers for 1906.

The predominately male outlook at the time often cast the female perspective as less significant in comparison to them, weak, domestic and politically uninformed as a point of view.

Using the microfilm readers and the internet, we researched about the different groups but primarily concentrated on the movement as a whole.  By doing so we also came across Hannah Mitchell who was a local working class member of the Women’s Social and Political Union at the time.

Hannah Maria Webster was born 1871 in Derbyshire. When working in Bolton she met and married Gibbon Mitchell who was a member of the Fabian Society and Labour party.

She moved to Ashton- Under-Lyne and lived on 53 Elizabeth St, until 1910. In May 1904, she was elected as a law guardian to the board in Ashton-Under-Lyne by the Independent Labour Party and was involved with campaigning for women’s votes.

In 1906 she was arrested and imprisoned after interrupting a liberal party rally at Bellevue. ‘Bellevue Disturbance- Women Suffragettes at Manchester police courts. – Ashton Reporter July 7 1906’

Hannah Mitchell


Hannah Mitchell with her husband and son

On 14th July 1906 the Mayor made speech about women and their children, later that July on the 21st a Mrs Mitchell responded to remarks made within his speech and off the back of this she was able to gain more momentum in her movement. In August 4th 1906, a suffragette meeting in Ashton market took place where key suffragette figure Emmeline Pankhurst was also present.

Looking into the microfilm, archives revealed newspaper articles that detailed events and meetings, one in particular accounted of a meeting that took place in Ashton- under- Lyne where militant suffragettes were publicly disowned by the other societies involved with the movement. – The Ashton Reporter, 27th October 1906.

Another article told of the first of a planned series of winter socials at the socialist hall on Katherine Street, Ashton-under- Lyne. Sixty members and friends were present and were presided over by Mrs. Rothwell.– The Ashton Reporter, 1st December 1906.

Although we found using the microfilmed newspapers fairly easy, we did encounter some difficulties. After loading the Ashton reporter microfilm from 1906 I discovered that the film had been rewound backwards so it began from December rather that January which meant that my entire notes had been written down in reverse order and had to be complied in chronological order – this was fun-not! We also used the microfilm reader linked to a computer which was at times a challenge but we hope to get some more training in using it to its full potential.

We enjoyed looking at a lot of the photographs from the time. We both enjoyed researching the newspapers getting a feel for the era and seeing how, amongst all the big social and political changes regarding inequality, some everyday niggles are still the same.  We will continue in our research looking for more articles in the newspapers and developing a resource for researchers interested in this topic to use.

Information about opening times and how to book time on a microfilm reader can be found here.



The Last Line

Photographs of the 2/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment

by Liam Hart

Second Line 8

“Taking a break. Men of the 2/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment take a break from digging trenches in Southport as part of their training C. February 1915”

Over the last few weeks, Tameside Local Studies and Archives has taken a number of unique artefacts into the Manchester Regiment collection. The 17 photographs of the 2/6th Battalion Manchester regiment shed light into a relatively undocumented yet crucial time in the battalions training. The pictures depict the men of the 2/6th digging practice trenches, posing for pictures with their entrenching tools and eating their sandwiches while training in Southport C. February 1915. Certain clues in the images help us narrow down the date for example, the service caps are not the trench caps which were issued in 1916. Further clues point to late winter as the trees are bare and the ground looks recently thawed from a particularly cold winter. Finally, some of the men appear in their dress uniform which is red and some men do not appear to have a uniform at all too. This is all again due to shortages experienced in this time as equipment and uniforms were all given as a priority to battalions which were overseas already.

Second Line 4

“Here is pictured a group of non commissioned officers. Take note of the shoulder titles on the men kneeling in front. Shoulder titles are a great clue as to which battalion a man was serving with. Furthermore, the chevrons on the arms denote rank while chevrons on sleeves typically denote long service and good conduct or service overseas during the First World War”

While there are names which can be found on the back of some of the photographs, not much is known about whom the men are and what their fate was. What we do know is that in February 1917 the battalion was deployed to France and Belgium and would be involved in the Third Battle of Ypres in October 1917 and the First Battles of the Somme in 1918 which ultimately destroyed the battalion, as due to high casualties the 2/6th was reduced to cadre strength in April and eventually disbanded in July 1918. 

Second Line 2

“Photographs from the First World War tell stories if you look closely, note the Manchester Regiment cap badges, the pre-1916 forage caps, the men in the back with no uniforms and the bend in the trench works to the left of the photograph. You can even see the battalion censor at work removing a hand signal from a fellow terrier above the head of the soldier in the centre”

The photographs came as a donation from John Taylor Firth who is a trustee of the 10th Battalion Manchester Regiment and 40/41 RTR Property Trust. They are an invaluable resource to anyone wishing to understand more about not only the 6th Battalion Manchester Regiment, but also about how soldiers from the First World War were trained. We are deeply honoured to be entrusted with protecting the legacy of these men and will ensure that their history will be preserved for future generations.

Second Line 1

“Some of the men smoke cigarettes while posing for photographs. Note the great coats worn and scarves by some of the men, this gives us a clue to the temperature and time of the year”

Who was left to defend the shores of Great Britain when the soldiers of the Territorial Force went overseas to serve in Egypt and Gallipoli from 1914 to 1917? When the call to arms came for “the terriers” (Britain’s part-time soldiers), to serve overseas, over 90% of them answered the call and proudly shipped off to lands they had only heard of in the news and in stories. However, what happened to the 10% that stayed behind for whatever reason? These men would become the foundations of a new battalion (2/6th) which was tasked with the defence of Great Britain, but also to train new recruits for active service in the first line of the Territorial Force (1/6th).

Second Line 3

“Look at the mud! Digging trenches in sodden fields ensured that these men knew what to expect once they were deployed to France and Belgium”

While the 1/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment was acclimatising in Egypt and training for the Gallipoli invasion, the 2/6th remained in Lancashire and regained its strength. In October 1914 the strength of the 2/6th, combined with equivalent units of 5th, 7th and 8th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment could barely muster 700 men.[1] This was due to the introduction of the Pals battalions which saw Manchester’s bank clerks, accountants and stock brokers joining the City Pals Battalions to serve together rather than joining 2/6th. However, after the initial rush to join the Pals was over, recruitment picked up and by the time that these photographs were taken, the battalion was almost at full fighting strength of 1000 men and would begin training for its eventual overseas deployment in February 1917.

[1] Hartley, John, the 6th Battalion the Manchester Regiment in the Great War, Pen & Sword, 2010, page 195.

Wimpy’s Over The Mediterranean

Meeting Flight Sergeant John Cox – Royal Air Force Wellington Bomber crewman, veteran of the Second World War and member of Tameside Aircrew Association

by Liam Hart

On Tuesday 14th August, Tameside Local Studies and Archives were proud to welcome members and family of Tameside Aircrew Association. A veterans group comprised of ex RAF service personnel, some of who served in the Second World War and its immediate aftermath during the National Service era.

The group which now only comprises of two living members, John Adams and John Cox were visiting the archives to deposit the associations minutes from 1985 until 2017. The minutes are a fantastic asset to the collection and we are very grateful be responsible for their safekeeping their legacy for future generations to learn from. The minutes will be available for research in due course.

Royal Air Force veterans and Tameside Aircrew Association members John Cox (front left) and John Adams (front right) at Tameside Local Studies and Archives

“During the Second World War, the Vickers Wellington medium bomber was affectionately nicknamed the Wimpy after ‘J Wellington Wimpy‘ in the Popeye cartoons of the era”

During the depositing we had a chance to talk more to Flight Sergeant John Cox, who is now in his nineties. Enlisting in February 1943, Flight sergeant John Cox served aboard Wellington medium bombers engaged in Anti-Submarine Warfare during the Second World War in the Mediterranean theatre of war.

Flight Sergeant Cox was trained as a Turret Gunner as well as a radar operator and radio operator. The Wellington bomber was manned by 2 pilots, 1 navigator, 1 turret gunner, 1 radio operator and 1 radar operator. Both pilots would swap their positions to stay fresh and so would the turret, radio and radar operators. Anti-submarine warfare involved using radar to scan the ocean for enemy U-boats. Once discovered, the bomber crew would find and destroy the U-boat. U-boats were particularly vulnerable at night when they would recharge their batteries on the surface. Once submerged they would be much more difficult to find and were a danger to allied ships in the area due to unrestricted submarine warfare which was being waged by the German Navy.

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