This story is one of the winning stories in the 20sStreets competition. The competition invited entrants to research and share stories of the 1920s, searching for the most fascinating local history stories covered by the 1921 Census of England and Wales. There were six winning stories and twelve runners-up entries.
Connecting the threads of life
An investigation on social class and society in Whalley and Billington, Lancashire from 1901-1921
By Oakhill History Club, part of Oakhill School, Whalley, Lancashire, winner in the Group category
Oakhill History Club is a collective of passionate historians aged 11-15. Over the past three years, we have been producing the school History magazine ‘The Oak’. We meet weekly and enjoy investigating various historical topics and love local history. For the 20sStreets local history competition, we have researched the mill workers and their families that lived on Factory Row in Billington near our school in Whalley, Lancashire. We have decided to investigate this particular street because it connects to the original owners of Oak Hill House, where our school is based. We focused on the stories of specific families through our research at the local library and the Manchester Central Library.
We have decided to investigate this particular street because it connects to the original owners of Oak Hill House, where our school is based. We focused on the stories of specific families through our research at the local library and the Manchester Central Library.
Oak Hill House was built by Thomas Longworth in 1892, and it was only converted into a school in the 1970s. Walking through the school, we are surrounded by the old Victorian architecture, the open fireplaces and colourful flowers embossed into the ceiling. The true beauty of the house reveals the wealth of the Longworth’s. We have some photographs from when the house was sold in the 1970s, and our History classroom is located in the former lounge; the English room once housed the dining room.
We have enjoyed investigating the people who lived in Oakhill over 100 years ago and piecing together their stories. It has also been revealing to contrast the story of the Longworth’s with the stories of the people who brought them their wealth: the workers in their mill. The Judge Walmsley Mill was built in Billington on the river Calder by Thomas Longworth’s father, Solomon. Part of the mill building is still there today, and the small street next to it (Factory Row) was built for the mill workers and their families. In our area of Lancashire, mills were plentiful, and the industrial might of the cotton industry still echoes in the towns, villages and cities which are part of our daily lives.
It has also been revealing to contrast the story of the Longworth’s with the stories of the people who brought them their wealth: the workers in their mill. The Judge Walmsley Mill was built in Billington on the river Calder by Thomas Longworth’s father, Solomon. Part of the mill building is still there today, and the small street next to it (Factory Row) was built for the mill workers and their families. In our area of Lancashire, mills were plentiful, and the industrial might of the cotton industry still echoes in the towns, villages and cities which are part of our daily lives.
The Families of Factory Row
Factory Row is now known as Longworth Road, a street with terraced houses along both sides. According to the 1921 Census, 163 people lived on the street throughout 36 households. In each household, at least one person worked in the local mill, and the range of jobs listed on the census includes weavers, winders, printers, a bricklayer, a clog maker, a fireman and those who stayed at home performing duties. 39 of the 163 were children below the age of 16, with the youngest being 1 month, while 6 were over the age of 60, with the oldest being 78 years old. There were four widows and two orphans on Factory Row. One child became an orphan at just 12 years old. Most had come from the county of Lancashire, although some of the inhabitants had arrived to live on Factory Row from further afield. The Davidson family at Number 22 had come from Durham, Northumberland, via Moffat in Scotland. Elizabeth Richards, who lived at Number 31, was born in Winsford Cheshire. Most of the children were in education up to the age of twelve, with those over twelve working a combination of full-time and part-time roles in the mill.
The Gorton Family
In 1921, the Gorton family lived at Number 11 Factory Row and had five people living in the household. Mary Jane Gorton, aged 61; Mary Alice Gorton, aged 25; Bernard Gorton, 23; Sarah Gorton, 21 and Charles Gorton, aged 4. It is interesting to note that Charles Gorton (aged 4 in 1921) had no known father. This might have shocked the small communities of Whalley and Billington at the time. We then researched the Gortons in the 1911 Census and found them living at the same address. In 1911, we found out that the ten people within the household lived in three rooms. At the time of the census, George Gorton was 22 and still living with his family. HIs father, Robert Gorton (b. 1858) was still alive in 1911.
We were interested in George because he was not noted in 1921. We researched further and found he had joined the army just four weeks after World War Onehad been declared on the 3rd of September 1914. We examined his military record and that he was discharged on the 31st of January 1917 because he suffered from a fractured arm that unfortunately had to be amputated. George was appointed the ‘Victory Medal Award’ on 26th of September 1915 and later received a ‘Bronze Star Award’. His service number was ‘14361’.
In the 1921 Census, we found George Gorton worked as a gatekeeper at Lancashire County Asylum, Calderstones. Calderstones was originally called The Queen Mary Military Hospital between 1915 and 1920 and held over 2,000 beds to aid injured servicemen in their recovery.
Thomas was the eldest son of Aryon Walmsley. He was born in 1884 in Clayton Le Moors, Lancashire and raised on 32 Factory Row, where we found him on the 1911 Census. In 1911, he was 27 and married, but there was no direct evidence of his wife. He was also only two years younger than his step-mum, who was 29 and married to his dad,
Interestingly, Thomas fought in the First World War. As a soldier in the Northumberland Fusiliers in France, we discovered that he had been captured as a prisoner of war. We searched the records and found his wife was called Isabella, and in 1911 she lived at 30 Queen Street, Whalley. While they were married in 1909, we believe they couldn’t afford to live together. We later researched Thomas and Isabella’s relationship throughout the 1920s. We found them both on the Electoral Register on the 1920s Electoral Register and discovered that they were registered as living together in Whalley on King Street. We thought their story was truly romantic as they had been separated after marriage and by war but reunited in the 1920s – a happy ending!
The Knowles Family
Daniel (59) and Elizabeth-Ann Knowles (54) lived at Number 36, Factory Row. Daniel’s job was cotton weaving, and ElizabethAnn’s job was home duties. Their children were named: Christopher (19), Jane-Ellen (22), Dorothy (20), Nancy (16) and Hilda (13). All members of the family had been born in Blackburn, Lancashire. In the marriage records of the St Leonard’s Church in Langho, we found that another daughter, Isabella Knowles, was married in 1920 to William Howarth. They lived as a newly married couple at Number 19 Factory Row, near Isabella’s parents. They had a three-month-old son named William Howarth – grandson to Daniel and Elizabeth-Ann.
World War One
We researched the names inscribed on the local war memorial and found four men who died and whose families lived on Factory Row in 1921. One of these was Private William Knowles, who died in 1916, aged 24. He was the older brother of Isabella, and we believe that this is why Daniel and Isabella’s son was called William when he was born in 1921. Many families on Factory Row lost their sons throughout World War One. The Peters at Number 28 lost William in 1918. The Hornby family at Number 31 lost their son Luke in 1917 and the Charnley family at Number 5 also lost their son in 1917.
The residents of Factory Row shared tragedy and hope, and the community carried the fabric of life woven with dark times and light.
The History of the Longworth Family at Oak Hill House
The Longworth family built Oak Hill House in 1892. Thomas Longworth is recorded as living in our schoolbuilding in the 1901 census with his wife, Julia and their son Tom who was 10 years old. When the 1911 census was produced, nine people are recorded as living at Oak Hill House. At this point in time, Julia was widowed and living with her sons Harold, Frank, and Tom. There were also servants living in the house with the Longworth’s. In Oak Hill House, in 1911, there were twelve rooms shared by nine people.
When we searched through the 1921 census, we found a sad story. Julia was still in the house but living with only a cook and maidservant, aged 70. Our school building must have felt empty after having a young family for many years. Frank Longworth, who was 33 in 1921, had moved from the family home at Oakhill House to The Woodlands, Cherry Tree, Blackburn. He lived with his family: Dorothy, his wife (33) and Ruth, his daughter (4). There was also a cook, a housemaid, a parlour maid and a visitor from New York. In 1921 Harold Longworth was 36 and was employed at Walpole Street Mill in Blackburn. We discovered he was a visitor at the Medley Hydro in Matlock, Derbyshire, at the time of census’ production.
As Harold was staying at the Hydro, we can assume that Harold was in ill health. He died young, at the age of 52. Harold is buried in the family grave in St Mary’s and All Saint’s churchyard in Whalley. Finally, we found their youngest son, Tom Longworth. In 1921 Tom stayed in the Dolbardon Hotel in Caernarfonshire and was a clerk in holy orders. He later became the Bishop of Pontefract. We found his photograph online in the National Portrait Gallery collection. It is amazing to think of him as a child in our schoolhouse.
We also researched the Uncle of Frank, Harold and Tom, Arthur Longworth. In 1921, he was documented as living at Cirnew House, How Mill, Carlisle, with his wife, Susan. Arthur and Susan were both 68 years old. At the time of the 1921 census, the couple had a domestic visitor from Russia living with them. Arthur and Susan’s visitor was called Emily Reddish.
We will continue to find out where Emily was truly from. Various census documents that we looked at say that Emily was born in Russia, whilst other censuses’ say she was born in Britain. Also living in Cirnew House was Alfred Ingram, Arthur and Susan’s chauffeur. We found that Susan and Arthur had two children. A daughter called Margaret, who was 13 in the 1901 census, and a son named Eustace. Like the families on Factory Row, we discovered that Eustace had been killed during the events of World War One. We have enjoyed researching the stories of people connected to our school building. We have brought the stories of their daily lives to light and shown how each member of society, whether Mill Owner or Mill Worker, was connected by the tragedy of war. Our research raises many more questions, which we will continue to answer as our journey through time continues.
The rest of the winning and runners-up stories will be published on our 20sStreets portal in the coming weeks.