Poverty and privilege in 1860s Preston

Benjamin Disraeli portrait

“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws … THE RICH AND THE POOR.”

― Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, or the Two Nations


Few places better illustrated Disraeli’s ‘Two Nations’ than Preston during the cotton famine of the 1860s. After the Lancashire writer Edwin Waugh visited Preston in 1862 to report on the famine and the plight of the town’s destitute poor he recorded that the town, ‘… has seen many a black day [but] it has never seen so much wealth and so much bitter poverty together as now’, and he contrasted life for the leisured classes strolling on Avenham Terrace with that of the poor folk in the courts and alleys off the main streets ‘who have hardly a whole nail left to scratch themselves with’.
Edwin Waugh’s Portrait of Cotton Famine Preston.

This ‘Two Nations’ verdict on Preston is clearly substantiated by an examination of the lives of two men who shared the same surname, but little else. Timothy Pedder, an unemployed bargeman born in Thurnham, near Lancaster, died of starvation in ‘a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel’ in Back Hope Street, Preston, and was buried on 13 January 1862. He lived in the town for only a few years. Edward Pedder, a partner in the Preston Old Bank and a member of a family long-established in the town, lived in style at Ashton Park. He died on 21 March 1861, just three weeks before his bank collapsed. Edward was exposed as a swindler and the shamed family fled Preston. A great deal can be discovered about the Preston Pedders, very little about the Thurnham ones. Tim Pedder’s life would have gone almost totally unrecorded if it were not for the fact that Edwin Waugh visited his family shortly after his death.


Timothy Pedder (1814-1862)

An image from volume two of Edwin Waugh’s Collected Works gives a good impression of the sort of accommodation in which Tim Pedder and his wife and six children lived.
Two of the addresses where the Pedder family lived while in Preston

Waugh recorded the circumstances of Tim Pedder and his family:

When we got to the lower end of Hope Street, my guide stopped suddenly, and said, ‘Oh, this is close to where that woman lives whose husband died of starvation’. Leading a few yards up the by-street, he turned into a low, narrow entry, very dark and damp. Two turns more brought us to a dirty, pent-up corner, where a low door stood open. We entered there. It was a cold, gloomy-looking little hovel … It is not more than three yards square. There was no fire in the little rusty grate. The day was sunny, but no sunshine could ever reach that nook, nor any fresh breezes disturb the pestilent vapours that harboured there, festering in the sluggish gloom. In one corner of the place a little worn and broken stair led up to a room of the same size above, where, I was told, there was now some straw for the family to sleep upon. But the only furniture in the house, of any kind, was two rickety chairs and a little broken deal table, reared against the stairs, because one leg was gone.

A quiet-looking, thin woman, seemingly about fifty years of age, sat there, when we went in. She told us that she had buried five of her children, and that she had six yet alive, all living with her in that poor place. They had no work, no income whatever, save what came from the Relief Committee. Five of the children were playing in and out, bare-footed, and, like the mother, miserably clad; but they seemed quite unconscious that anything ailed them. I never saw finer children anywhere. The eldest girl, about fourteen, came in whilst we were there, and she leaned herself bashfully against the wall for a minute or two, and then slunk slyly out again, as if ashamed of our presence. The poor widow pointed to the cold corner where her husband died lately. She said that ‘his name was Tim Pedder. His father’s name was Timothy, and his mother’s name was Mary. He was a driver (a driver of boat-horses on the canal); but he had been out of work a long time before he died.’

The personal details that Waugh recorded allow a short biography to be recovered:

Parish records show that Tim was baptised on 3 July 1814 at St Michael’s, Cockerham, the son of Timothy, a labourer, and his wife Mary, of Thurnham. The St Michael’s records show many Pedders living in the district, and Timothy was a popular first name for sons. [1]

At the 1841 census Tim, aged 25, was living in Brows, Thurnham, with his parents, with his occupation given as boatman. [2] He married Betty at St Michael’s on 7 October 1846, when he was living at Glasson Dock. Tim, his father and Betty’s father were listed as labourers. Tim signed his name, suggesting a certain level of literacy. Betty signed with her mark, as did the two witnesses

The same parish records source shows that their first child, Anne, was baptised at Christ Church, Glasson, on 15 August 1847. Their next, Mary, was baptised at Christ Church on 4 March 1849. In each record Tim’s occupation is given as labourer and the couple are shown living at Brows. The couple then moved a short distance to Glasson Dock where Tim found employment as a boatman. Four more daughters were born there, the last two, twins, in 1857. [2]

By the time of the 1861 census the Pedders were living in Preston in Sweeps Lobby, off Vicar Street. The birthplaces of all but one of the children do not match the parish records. It is more likely that the parish records are correct, which would mean that the Pedders arrived in Preston some time after 1857. A Thomas Pedder, 41, a labourer, and his blind wife Jane, 37, were living next door (both were born in Preston), but it is not known if they were related to Tim. The census information is shown in the table below. [3] Timothy Pedder was buried on 13 January 1862. [4]

NameRelationAgeOccupationBirthplace
Timothy Pedderhead45labourerThurnam
Betty Pedderwife37not givenNan Bucks
Ann Pedderdaughter13cotton dofferThurnam
Mary Pedderdaughter12cotton messengerGarstang
Margaret Pedderdaughter8scholarBurnicar
Elizabeth Pedderdaughter7scholarBurnicar
Ellen Pedderdaughter4scholarPreston
Alace Pedderdaughter4scholarPreston

For more on poverty in Preston:
A disturbing view of Victorian Preston
Child murder in Victorian Preston
Irish ‘ghettoes’ in 19th-century Preston
19th-century Preston’s ‘worst slum’


Edward Pedder (1810-1861)

Ashton Park, the Preston seat of Edward Pedder
Ashton Park, the home of Edward Pedder, shown in a print facing page 508 in Charles Hardwick’s History of Preston, dated 1855.
Ashton Park on the 1 in 500 Ordnance Survey plan of Preston in the 1890s. The red rectangle represents the footprint of a house in Back Hope Street, in one of which Tim Pedder, his wife and six children lived.

For more on privilege in Preston:
Desirable Dwellings: Nigel Morgan’s book on middle-class life in Victorian Preston
Edwardian Preston’s ‘class’ ceiling
Public School Prestonians
Who owned Lancashire?


Compared with the scanty information gleaned about the life of Timothy Pedder, there is an absolute wealth of information about Edward Pedder, whose life was laid bare when an examination of his affairs following his death revealed the extent of his plundering of the Preston Old Bank to fund his extravagant lifestyle. Edward, then aged 50, was found dead in bed at his home, Ashton Park, on 21 March 1861, [5] his death coming less than a year before Timothy Pedder’s. Shortly after his death, his brother Henry Newsham Pedder issued a circular announcing the suspension of the bank’s operations. Henry attempted to distance himself from the debacle, declaring that it was Edward ‘who had the entire management of the bank’, although he himself had been one of the principal beneficiaries of Edward’s ‘generosity’. [6]

Edward was a Preston Tory alderman, a magistrate and a deputy lieutenant of the county: one of the ‘great and the good’ of the town. In fact, ‘his election to be mayor at the Guild of 1862 was spoken of as being likely’, according to the Preston Guardian in announcing his death. Pedder’s Lane at Ashton and Pedder Street in Preston are named for the family.

The collapse of the bank will be dealt with in a separate article. What the collapse did was force Edward’s executors to sell off his entire estate, lock, stock and ‘butt of exceedingly fine Madeira’. The auctioneer’s sale announcements reveal life at Ashton Park in great detail, beginning with the sale of ‘Horses, Carriages, Dogs, Stable Yard, and Gamekeepers’ Effects’, including three carriages and a dog cart, announced at the beginning of May: [7]

At the same time the sale was announced of the ‘valuable collection’ of garden, greenhouse and conservatory plants. These included 250 miscellaneous orchids, kept alive in the ‘hot house’ while the likes of Tim Pedder were freezing in their empty hovels or out in all weathers at poor relief work on Preston Moor: [8]

The next sale was of the contents of the house. The auctioneer’s announcement reveals that Edward had been spending heavily on furnishing his home, for the ‘superb and costly furniture and appointments, were all very recently supplied …’, and the billiard room had not long been fitted with a new table. There were twelve bedrooms for the family, separate rooms for the servants, with the butler and housekeeper each having their own room. There was also wine cellar which contained ‘upwards of 500 dozens of Port, of the choicest vintages, a butt of exceedingly fine Madeira; several hundred dozens of the finest sherry; French and Rhenish wines; brandies and liquers’: [9]

And finally came the sale of Ashton Park, which had its own separate gas works, and the 115 acres of landscaped grounds, together with several other properties in the neighbourhood making up Edward’s estate: [10]

For another glance into the world of Preston’s leisured classes see The last days of Walton Hall.


[1] ‘Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk Project’, n.d., http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/.

[2] 1841 England Census, HO107/554/4/10, n.d., https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/collections/8767/images/LANRG9_3135_3138-0759?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=EMM70&_phstart=successSource&pId=9654396.

[3] 1861 England Census, RG 9/3137/114/17-18, n.d., https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/collections/8767/images/LANRG9_3135_3138-0759?treeid=&personid=&rc=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=EMM70&_phstart=successSource&pId=9654396.

[4] ‘Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk Project’.

[5] Preston Chronicle p2, 30 March 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207456580/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=ad81c8cb.

[6]Preston Chronicle p4, 13 April 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207456664/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=5e7754de.

[7] ‘Ashton Park Sale of Horses and Carriages’, Preston Chronicle p1, 11 May 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207456917/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=1802df7c.

[8] ‘Ashton Park Sale of Garden and Conservatory Plants’, p1, 11 May 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207456917/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=1802df7c.

[9] ‘Ashton Park Sale of Contents’, Preston Chronicle P1, 29 June 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207457250/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=57d1fd79.

[10] ‘Ashton Park Auction’, Preston Chronicle P1, 29 June 1861, British Library Newspapers, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/Y3207459786/BNCN?u=lancs&sid=zotero&xid=4a94c102

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