Thursday, 14 March 2013

Finding J T Hollingworth

The fact that J T Hollingworth was present in the marital home on Census Day 1891 was crucial to finding more information about him.

From that, I knew that I was looking for a man born about 1845 in Lancaster. Unfortunately, birth records for Lancashire showed no matching person.

Family Search Standard Finder revealed that Staley Bridge (or Staleybridge or Stalybridge) actually lies in Cheshire and that is where the birth of John Thomas was recorded. It also was where he was living with an uncle in 1861 (prior to his marriage to Sarah) when he was employed as a cotton piecer.

While this leaves me no closer to answering my original question -- Where was John at the 1871 and 1881 Censuses? -- it does raise two new questions -- How did a boy in a cotton mill become a Gas Fitter? What brought John Hollingworth across the border into Wales?

In fact, the new questions may be related. Although spinning and weaving factories were widespread throughout the English midlands, there was little evidence of this industry in North Wales. There is only a small chance that J T Hollingworth moved to follow the same line of work.

This suggestion is supported by the next Census return; but in a manner that further complicates the issue. John is neither a cotton mill worker nor a gas fitter. In April 1871 (after his marriage to Sarah) he was a railway porter living in Tranmere, Birkenhead.

It seems most likely that he would have been employed by the Great Western Railway which ran a Birkenhead to London Express service as well as servicing most of Wales (including Rhyl, where the station opened in 1848).

It is certainly plausible that John joined the railway company and was posted to serve in Rhyl before being moved elsewhere in the network. One might be tempted to comment on the fact that he was lodging on Merseyside with the Davies family; were it not for the fact that the name is so common.

It is easy to understand that a young man might decide to change employment yet again if his second career took him away from his family for extended periods.

Although the scientific curiosity of destructively-distilling coal to produce a flammable gas had been known since the mid-seventeenth century, the widespread availability of a suitable technology was a recent development. The 1860s were the golden age of coal gas development. For a young man seeking a stable career in a growing industry, a trade supporting the reticulation of gas to households would have been very attractive (in much the same way that digital communication is today).

If there was one thing that Wales had plentiful supplies of, it was coal. So there would be no shortage of work as one town after another established furnaces and networks of pipes connecting them to homes. So it is not all strange that John Hollingworth should go home to train as a gas fitter, but it did not enable him to settle. It is the nature of an infrastructure roll-out that it demands an itinerant workforce.

John's growing family shows that he returned to Vale Road in Rhyl regularly and was unlikely to have established a "home" elsewhere. So I expected to find him in the Census of 1881 as a lodger wherever he happened to be employed at the time, and this document shows him staying in a pub in Ecclesfield (Yorkshire).

So was his presence at Vale Road on 5 April 1891 merely another weekend at home before leaving for more work or a sign that he had settled? His stated occupation suggests John was probably still a mobile worker at this time.

By 1901, he has changed his job description to Standing Engine Driver, indicating that he has turned his skills to a new field to enable him to live full-time at home. In 1911, John Thomas was living in retirement at 80 Vale Road with his eldest son John. (Sarah had died in 1906.) But in a sense he had returned to the trade that shaped so much of the lives of his family. His occupation is listed as retired Gas Fitter.

That should conclude my study of J T Hollingworth. After all, however fascinating his story may be, he is not a direct ancestor. The husband of a sister of our 3xgreat grandmother is about as tangential to my main concerns as you are likely to get.

And yet ... I know nothing about Samuel Fielding, the uncle (presumably his mother's brother) with whom he was living in 1861. Where were John's parents?

Why would anyone believe that a family history can ever be finished?

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