Monday, 8 October 2012

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner that I love Middlesbrough!

Woolwich Arsenal © 2009 Loz Flowers Creative Commons Licence
My grandfather was born and raised in the north of England in the 1920s but he was a lifelong "Gooner".  That is - for those of you not fans of English football - he supported Arsenal, a football club founded in south London in 1886.  It wasn't that he was disloyal but that his mother's family had moved north from London where they had all worked at the great Woolwich Arsenal ordnance works, the birth place of Arsenal football club.

I was incredibly surprised on first discovering that my "northern" grandfather was - at least half - a Londoner.  The story didn't seem to fit with the picture I had of migration to the great industrial cities of northern England that grew like wildfire in the 19th Century.  I thought these cities had been built on local rural workers and migrants from those areas of the UK that suffered the worst agriculturally - Ireland, Scotland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and the like.  Not Londoners!

I couldn't understand why my grandfather's family would have moved from south London where they were settled and had employment to the area around Middlesbrough in north Yorkshire to which they had no ties.  The work at the Arsenal was certainly hard - my grandfather's grandmother filled ammunition caps there when she was just a child - but it was still employment and the ironstone mines of Middlesbrough were hardly offering anything easier!

So I started to research whether this was a personal journey or one that other families had made at a similar time.  What I uncovered completely changed my understanding of 19th Century migration within the United Kingdom.  From a quick analysis of the census I discovered over 50 families made the journey from Woolwich to Middlesbrough and the surrounding villages of the "rusty gold" ironstone  mines as Middlesbrough grew at a phenomenal speed from a village of just 154 people in 1831 to "Ironopolis" or as Gladstone described it an "infant Hercules" and a population of over 90,000 by 1901.

Families in Middlesbrough, Guisbrough, Marske, Skelton, Wilton & Redcar connected to Woolwich
1861 Hormer, Keay, Bruntfield
1871 Patterson, White, Grundy, Everson, Edwards, Shaw, Taylor, Waterman, Gatehouse
1881 Armstrong, Hodder, Newton, Newnham, Gill, Wiltshire, Bingham, Buss, Cook, Copus, Denney, Higgins, Jessop, King, Oldham, Tindale, Walker, Ward, Watts, Wray, Wright
1891 Drew, Oheara, Holmes, Sadler, Smith
1901 Havord, Jones, Lawrence, Moulton, Naylor, Walker, White
1911 Tucker, Cafferey, Denney, Dormelly, Easton, Gibbins, Haggerty, Lawrence, McLoughlin, MacNeil, Mitchell, Pearson, Rice, Stevens, Wagg, Walker, Waylor, White, Young

Middlesbrough from Guisborough © 2007 T Brelstaff Creative Commons Licence
What these records seem to show is that the new cities of the north needed not just raw unskilled agricultural labour but also skilled or at least semi-skilled workers that they had to recruit from previously industrialised areas.  And that there was an ongoing need to recruit workers not just as the cities grow but as their core industries changed and developed, with the majority of the Woolwich families moving to Middlesbrough in the 1870s and later when Middlesbrough was being forced through global competition to innovate radically to hold onto its position as the world's largest steel producer.

Further research into these families also challenged my preconception that migration to the new cities of the north was a one off.  I thought that families "upped sticks", moved and then stayed put in their new home.  But the migration patterns of the Woolwich families are much more complicated.  Some of them seem to have been long time south London and Kent families, but others such as the Gills who originated from Worcestershire & Herefordshire had only been in Woolwich for one generation before moving north and other such as the Gatehouses, Ohearas and Newtons were actually local Yorkshire families who had moved to Woolwich and then back up to Middlsbrough.

What emerges is a pattern of families moving backwards and forwards taking skills with them and returning with new skills.  And it was a pattern that my grandfather continued.  In the 1930s, still in his teens he got on a train by himself and made the journey back south to London to start as an apprentice at - of course - the Royal Ordnance Works in Woolwich.

Please do add your posts on migration within or to the United Kingdom to the linky below:

Researching patterns of migration from and to places that your family lived is pretty straightforward but requires a little patience.  If you have some migration clues from your own family history, it's simply a question of searching for census records containing both places names or if specific villages aren't producing results with county names.  If you don't have any clues to start from it's a matter of wading through census searches for your target place to see if records come up with births or deaths outside the county and then using these for more specific searches to see if they are individual movements or part of something wider.


  1. Hi again Alice,
    I also have an instance of migration from this area in my family tree.
    My gg grandfather's sister, Mary Jane Richardson moved with her husband & family from Loftus to Poolsbrook in Derbyshire at some point between 1891 & 1901.
    Her husband, William Shaw, was an ironstone miner at the Skinningrove mine. During this decade the industry had gone into decline & had also been beset by strikes so many ironstone miners moved to Poolsbrook to work in the expanding coal mining industry there.
    Some went back to Loftus later, but my lot stayed put.

  2. This is a really interesting post and has given me some ideas for future research. I'll be looking to see whether other families or individuals from the country towns moved into the same areas of London.