Family tree: Thomas Cheshire descendants

Tribute to Phil Cheshire

Richard Bishop’s dying wish was that his cousin Samuel Cheshire must look after his wife Eliza after his death. A family joke is that Sam certainly fulfilled his promise – he married Eliza and added five children to the family!

Sam Cheshire

The only photo we have of
Sam Cheshire

Eliza and Sam lived in New Park Road in Shrewsbury within sight and smell of the gas works and close to the allotments and band-stand hall. We loved the garden with its lilac tree and gooseberry bushes; the parlour had a black range and big leather furniture.  Sam was gassed in the war and died of TB when my Dad was 16.

Sam’s service records were probably destroyed in the bombing of 1940. According to the sparse details on this card, his regiment, the 8th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, entered France on 6 Sep 1914. Here is a summary of troop movements for this Battalion:

8th (Service) Battalion
Formed at Shrewsbury in September 1914 as part of K3 and moved to Seaford, where it came under command of 66th Brigade in 22nd Division. Moved to billets in Eastbourne in December 1914. Moved back to Mar 1915 and on to Aldershot in May.
Landed in France on 5 Sep 1915 but sailed from Marseilles 28 Oct, landing at Salonika 6 Nov 1915.

As their stay in France was quite brief and mostly stationed in Flesselles near Amiens, where did Sam’s encounter with gas take place? In an account of the 8th KSLI (by then part of 66th Regiment, 22nd Division) in Salonika, there is this description:

There was lingering gas in the Jumeaux Ravine ( probably ours!) and some of the men had to fight in respirators. Imagine, if you can, what it means to fight up a hillside under a deadly fire, wearing a hot mask over your face, dimly staring through a pair of clouded goggles, and sucking the end of a rubber nozzle in your mouth. At the same time heat is pouring down on you from a brazen sky. In this plight you are called on to endure the blast of machine-gun fire, the pointed steel or bursting shell of the enemy. Nor are you called on to endure alone ; you must vigorously fire back, and vigorously assail with your own bayonet. It is as much like hell as anything you can think of.

Sam’s main skill was in the control and welfare of horses,  which he learned in his occupation as a farm worker. The British Army had a stock of  800,000 horses at the start of the war,  but lost over  500,000 – killed and maimed by Artillery and machine-gun fire. Cavalry was still at that time believed by the British to be the best way to conduct a war.

St Lucia church Upton Magna

St Lucia church, Upton Magna

From the mid-eighteenth century (and probably earlier), Sam’s ancestors had worked the land around the small village of Upton Magna in Shropshire. In common with many rural areas, poor housing contributed to diseases that wiped out nearly an entire generation of the Cheshire family between 1813 and 1839 (as St Lucia’s church burial records show). With agricultural work becoming scarce and wages poor, Richard Cheshire migrated to “Castle Ward Without”, beyond the town walls east of Shrewsbury. Out of the frying pan into the fire… “An 1853 report states the area was ‘in a disgraceful state….no proper drainage… dirt of privies overflowing the doors… many houses with no back doors… 38 houses were one-roomed and known as cellar-holes'” (Peter Dunhill, Gazetteer of Shops, Pubs, Businesses, Churches and Schools in Castlefields and Ditherington).

Into this environment, Eleanor Cheshire was born in Walker’s Rookery, St Michael’s Street in 1866. She was only two years old when her mother died of typhoid fever. Who cared for Eleanor? Her older sister Mary (who married Richard Bishop) worked as a factory operative and her father and brother were labourers.

Pregnant for the seventh time in 1899 with Richard John Cheshire (who died at a few months old), Eleanor ended up in Atcham Union workhouse at Cross Houses in the parish of Berrington with her three boys.

Atcham Workhouse Laundry

Laundry at Atcham Union workhouse at
Cross Houses, Berrington

And from Cross Houses Workhouse
let out for the day
all the old women enclosed in grey
all the old men who loved a ‘do’
brought by special arrangement
crowding aisle and pew
in their sad-coloured garments …

A marquee on the lawn
teacups filled and refilled
a feast for the famished
sharing her special moment.
The wedding cake’s cut,
brought round twice, one old man wheezing in delight
‘this time give us a piece that dunna bend.

From The Echoing Green by Gladys Mary Coles

Eleanor’s youngest daughter was raised by her married sister Mary Bishop, but where were the two older daughters, mentioned in the 1891 census?

Eleanor had no choice about her girls’ fate. They were not orphans, but the 1891 Custody of Children Act stripped “unfit” parents of their rights. Laundress Martha (aged 14) and scholar Louisa Cheshire (13) were inmates at Dr Barnardo’s Home in Barkingside, Essex from 1899. Life could be harsh and disciplined in this “Village Home” and family contact was discouraged, but high days and holidays, pageants, pantomimes and concerts were lovingly remembered by Florence Stevens (alas, her memoirs no longer feature online). The girls were there for two years before being wished “God be with you” in the Children’s Chapel. They were to be saved from the workhouse. Barnardo published compelling reasons for emigration to Canada, with images of children being Taken Out of the Gutter.

In Sep 1901, the SS Tunisian left Liverpool bound for Quebec with a consignment of 188 boys and 102 girls. Barnardo’s agent Alfred Owen travelled on the same ship as Martha and Louisa. He kept a diary which was published in Barnardo’s Canadian Ups and Downs magazine (Sep 1902). The crossing started off “blowing hard and ship pitching heavily” and sea-sickness left particularly the girls “awfully wretched”. There was no alternative but to put the children to bed “with plenty of saw-dust down – nothing more to be done”. As the three-week voyage progressed, Owen commented on the children’s excellent behaviour, the “girls a charming little party”.

A reception home was established at Hazelbrae in Peterborough, Ontario for schooling, after which children were fostered with local families and indentured to farms and in service. Inevitably there were cases of abuse and neglect, especially in remote parts of the country. Many young people lied about their shameful origins, changing their names and hampering attempts to trace them. It is not known where Martha and Louisa were placed or how were they treated in those early days, but a clue as to their whereabouts in 1902 was an entry in Ups and Downs visitor’s notebook which confirmed that they were able to see each other every day.

Further research has revealed a tragic end to this tale for Louisa (which cannot be related here for the sake of any living descendants) and Martha was last heard of in Toronto in 1907.

Would these children have fared better in the gutters of England? Snippets from a genealogical quest include: “Home Children do not talk of their past… perceived themselves as ‘discards’. Pressure by eugenicists… they might contaminate Canadian blood lines” (B. Young,Chasing Grandma, Quebec, 2001, pp.41-2). Five million descendants in Canada demonstrate the success of populating the colony, but there were also harrowing tales of abuse and exploitation, a shattering reality for youngsters who were “pushed” to “the land of milk and honey”.

Partly from an essay ‘Emigration of Home Children’ written for Oxford University course
Emigration and Transportation, 2012

Cheshire of Birkenhead

Family tree: Samuel Cheshire of Birkenhead

In the early days of collecting information on the Cheshires, I was convinced that our family sprang from Birkenhead. Subsequently I was to find that the Samuel Cheshire that I thought was my grandfather died on the day of his birth in 1890. Tragedy struck the family again in 1901 when Samuel’s father died. The cause of death was: ‘Suffocation consequent on immersion in Morpeth Dock, Birkenhead, and there is insufficient evidence to say how or in what manner the said deceased got into the said Dock.’ Certificate received from Cecil Holden, Coroner for Birkenhead. Inquest held 5 March 1901. Widowed at 29, Elizabeth attempted to provide for her children (the oldest aged 9, the youngest just 7 months old) as a charwoman. Saddened by the plight of this family, I then found that my real grandfather was recorded as a girl living with his destitute mother and siblings in Atcham workhouse in Shropshire.