Slavery’s legacy in seven superb episodes

Yrsa Daley-Ward

I was recently listening to Descendants, a BBC Radio 4 documentary that in seven episodes illustrates just how intimately all our lives are entwined in the shame of slavery. The series is presented by the poet and writer Yrsa Daley-Ward who was born in Preston to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father. The programme brought to mind my schooldays in Preston in the Fifties.

When I was at Deepdale Primary School one of my best friends was Willy Herbert. We lived in Burrow Road and Willy lived round the corner in St Paul’s Road. His mum and my mum were friends and for some reason that I can no longer recall Willy and his younger brother Fitz used to come to our house for tea each afternoon after school.

I’m reminded of Willy whenever I pass the bus depot on Deepdale Road. The pair of us were climbing on the roof when Willy fell through a skylight and was left dangling above bus crews gathered below. Police were called and we were marched home by a young police constable. I got off lightly on the understanding that lads will be lads. Willy was not so lucky, for his dad, a former boxer, was much stricter than mine. Willy and I lost contact when he moved away and we went to different secondary schools.

Willy’s young brother Fitz, who I remember as a very gentle youngster, and who went on to become a boxer like his dad, was called Fitz by us but that was not his proper first name (which I can no longer remember). And Mr Herbert was not really Mr Herbert, he was Mr Fitzherbert, his ancestors having been given the name of their owner when they arrived in the West Indies as slaves from Africa.

There’s a double cruelty in the Fitzherbert surname for it harks back past the slave owners of the 18th and 19th centuries to those robber barons, the Norman bully boys of the 11th century. In Anglo-Norman England it meant the son of Herbert. Willy was probably wise to stay with the simpler surname given the unsavoury associations of the full Fitzherbert name.

Another West Indian connection from my childhood was the son of our next door neighbour in Burrow Road who went out to Jamaica to run Leyland Motor’s operations on the island. When the old lady died her house was bought by George, whose surname I’ve now forgotten. George had arrived in Preston from Jamaica to work at the old Courtaulds factory at Red Scar.

It is the way in which the Descendants series builds on such associations and interconnections that makes it such a fascinating listen. It is supported by the extensive scholarship of The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London. The UCL website has a marvellous online database of British slave owners in which can be found the details of the slave holdings of the Athertons of Preston, which Aidan Turner-Bishop has turned into an article for the Preston Historical Society.

The series delves back and forth in history linking slaves and slave owners with their descendants now living in Britain. The episodes do not take a simple course through the history of slavery, instead bringing out the complicated enmeshing of family connections resulting from the fathering of so many children on female slaves by their white masters. And the difficulty of separating the promoters of slavery from the abolitionists is revealed, again because of tight connections, both familial and commercial, between merchants on both sides of the slavery debate, especially in Liverpool.

One surprising fact that the series notes is that one of those Liverpool merchants was the father of that grand old Liberal William Ewart Gladstone. He received the highest sum in Britain when slave owners were compensated for their loss when slavery was finally abolished, and Gladstone himself helped steer the compensation Bill through Parliament.

Another interesting comment came from one of the contributors to the series who recalled Enoch Powell touring the West Indies some years before his Rivers of Blood speech urging islanders to take the boat to Britain. Nurses were much needed in the early days of the NHS.

The series is family history at its finest and is deeply moving, find it here:

Who owned Preston? — 2

The contribution of the volunteers working on the tithe schedules project for the Lancashire Place Name Survey (98,200 records and counting) is shaping up to supply one of the most valuable sources for the study of Preston history to have come available in many years, detailing just who owned what land and listing hundreds of field names, many of which can be traced back to the Middle Ages. I’ve now completed work on the tithe records for Ribbleton township and have started work on the other Preston Parish townships and Fulwood. The complete schedules for the following are now on line:

Ashton tithe schedule
Fishwick tithe schedule
Preston tithe schedule
Ribbleton tithe schedule and maps

The map below of fields in Preston Parish and Fulwood with a plan of the Ribbleton land holdings inserted should give some idea of how the completed project will look:

Plan of the fields in Preston Parish in the 19th century

Who owned Preston?

Volunteers working for the Lancashire Place Name Survey have put local historians in their debt by transcribing and putting on line tithe schedules for Lancashire (DRB/1).

I thought I’d see how useful the transcript was for Preston history studies by selecting the records for Ribbleton (DRB/1/165). The choice of township was dictated by the small number of entries compared to the other Preston Parish townships, which meant the records could be cut and pasted from the archives site with minimum tedium.

My aim is to extend the coverage to take in Preston and the surrounding townships to map who owned the town in the 19th century. If similar projects are carried out for the rest of the county it should be possible to map who owned Lancashire in the 19th century.

Landowners in Ribbleton: one of the maps that can be viewed at higher magnifications and downloaded by following the link below.

The Ribbleton tithe schedule and plan

“Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!”

Primrose League badges

How to explain the continued electoral success of the Conservative party in Lancashire in the second half of the 19th century despite a widening franchise that gave working-class men the vote? The results prompted one Liberal commentator to complain, “Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!” One possible explanation is the superior organisation of the Conservatives at grass roots level when throughout Lancashire and the rest of the country the party’s mobilising force was the now almost forgotten Primrose League. The league recognised that the working-class defiance of earlier in the century had given way to a deference to their betters that could bring the working class into the Tory fold. The focus here is on the league’s operation in Preston (consistently loyal to the Tories from 1865 to 1906) and nationally, but it operated successfully in all corners of the county.

Preston and the Primrose League

Preston History Library additions

I’ve added more titles to the Preston History Library. They include: Alan Crosby’s article on using surnames to trace migration into Preston in the fourteenth century; David Hindle’s history of music halls in Preston; Andrew Hobbs’s history of Preston newspapers in the last half of the nineteenth century; and Zoe Lawson’s article on shops and shopkeepers in the working-class districts of Victorian Preston.

Also of Preston relevance are two articles on the ever-interesting Lancashire Past website:

Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire

The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire has a vast archive of articles dating back to its foundation in 1848, many of great value to students of Preston history. Simply putting ‘Preston’ into the search box on the society’s website yields more than 500 articles relating to the history of the town. Top of the list of results is Michael Mullett’s superb article on divided loyalties in Preston from the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution. His article and four more from the first page of search results have been added to the Preston History Library with the permission of the present editor, Dr Bertie Dockerill, to give a flavour of what can be found on the society’s site.

Five articles from the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire journal

All change in 14th-century Preston

In the middle of the 14th century the Black Death reached Preston and killed up to 3,000 people in the parish, (although the accuracy of this figure is open to question). The first cases were recorded at the beginning of September 1349, the last in early January 1350. It took just three months for this brutal plague to carry off as much as half the population of the town.

No less brutal was the sacking and burning of Preston by marauding Scots led by Robert the Bruce in 1322, one of several such raids the county was suffering at that time. And brutal indeed was the Little Ice Age that descended on Europe at the beginning of the century, wrecking harvests and issuing in years of recurring famines, the worst of which came in 1315. Not surprising then that Barbara Tuchman should write in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, that, ‘A physical chill settled on the 14th century at its very start, initiating the miseries to come.’

The calamities probably accounted for the major changes in Preston society by the end of the century

Ellen — a working-class biography

Gravestone of Ellen Moulding and her family
Time’s slowly erasing the memory of the Moulding family

There are numerous biographies of ‘the great and the good’ of Preston in the various histories of the town. What is lacking are the stories of ordinary members of the working class who had no one to chronicle their lives. Family historians are expert at uncovering these lost histories, and a particularly good example is the biography that Peter Moulding has written of his great-great-grandmother, Ellen Moulding.

Ellen Moulding’s biography

Preston History Library additions

Three more titles added to the Preston History Library. A history of Preston Parish Church by Tom Smith and two histories of Goosnargh: a fairly weighty one by Henry Fishwick and a very readable one by Richard Cookson.

Mr Cookson was headmaster of Goosnargh School from 1832 to 1873, at a time when teachers were poorly paid. He supplemented his income by becoming Registrar of Births and Deaths for the district and running a farm, and still found time to write books.

He married late in life after a very long courtship when he and his bride were in or approaching their eighties, the marriage delayed, if I remember rightly, by opposition from his wife’s family, who thought he was after her (their) money. There was, again if I remember rightly, an ugly squabble over the will after his wife died.

Preston History Library