Monday, 12 January 2009

What a load of cobblers: Margaret Thatcher's ancestry

Margaret Thatcher is commonly associated with the genteel town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, an association which goes hand-in-hand with her label 'the grocer's daughter'. What is not so widely known is her family's historical association with another small town in the county of Northamptonshire.

Born in Grantham on the 13th October 1925, Margaret Hilda Roberts was the younger daughter of Alfred Roberts and Beatrice Stephenson. Beatrice was descended from a line of Lincolnshire rural fen dwellers, known as 'Fen Tigers'. Alfred was originally from Ringstead in Northamptonshire. Comprehensive research on the Roberts family has already been carried out by others, and I find the details intriguing.

It would appear that the first Northamptonshire Roberts of Margaret's lineage was one William Roberts, a cattle drover from Wales, who set up home in the village of Ringstead, Northants in approx. 1789. Ringstead was a largely agricultural community, with a tradition of lacemaking. From the early 1800's, the econonomy of the region switched to production of boots, and specificallt army boots. For William Roberts sons this meant ready employment in the factories centred on the small town of Raunds, some two miles from their village. Between 1791 and 1905 the Roberts clan expanded in number, until the extended family accounted for a significant part of the village population. Virtually every one of the Roberts family was employed in the boot industry, until the town of Raunds was hit by serious industrial action in the early 1900's.

In 1902 the Boer War finally came to an end. This was good news for many, but a serious threat to the army boot industry in Raunds. The factories waged an under-cutting war on each other to win military contracts, which resulted in starvation wages for the boot and shoe workers. By early spring of 1905 things had come to a head, and nearly 600 Raunds workers were on strike for their livelihoods. Violent clashes ensued with the smaller group of strike breakers. One of the leading 'black-legs' was George Henry Roberts, a direct relation of Margaret Thatcher.

George Henry Roberts was obviously a man of principle. He personally endured horrendous threats and physical assault, as did his wife Mary and their young children. At one point the family's home was attacked and windows smashed. What is clear however is the fact that George Henry stood alone amongst the Roberts in his stance on the strike. His own brother William opposed him, and on the event of the Raunds & Ringstead March to Parliment in May 1905 George was one of the only Roberts workers not in attendance or support.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Eleanor Rigby: Further Developments

In the last week news has emerged of a schoolbook found in Liverpool, bearing the name Eleanor Rigby Whitfield. A Mrs Bennet has uncovered the geography book whilst clearing out her shed. When she first moved into the property she was informed by neighbours that the house was one the home of Eleanor Rigby, but she gave little credence to the matter.

The press stories state that when she first found the book, Mrs Bennet was uncertain as to it's relevance due to the 'Whitfield' surname. Research enabled her to establish the story outlined above. The book contains Eleanor's signature, as well as that of a Hannah Whitfield, apparently Eleanor's half-sister.

I have carried out further research, which confirms the story to some extent, but raises certain questions. Eleanor's widowed mother, Mary Elizabeth Whitfield (born Rigby) remarried on 15th Jan 1911. Her second husband was Richard Heatley, and the marriage took place in Wavertree, Lancashire (West Derby District, 1st Quarter, Vol 8b; page 531). Seven months later Mary Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Hannah Heatley on 10th Aug 1911 (Prescot District, Vol 8b; page 1339).

Hannah Heatley was therefore Eleanor Rigby Whitfield's half-sister, but there appears little likelihood that she would have signed her name as Hannah Whitfield, given the legitimacy of her birth in marriage, and despite her mother becoming pregnant two months before her second marriage.

A record of death for Hannah Heatley was registered in Liverpool in October 2001.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Eleanor Rigby: Eleanor Whitfield

The recent revelation that Paul Macartney has donated a document to charity which points to the identity of Eleanor Rigby is fascinating. For decades, the opinion of Beatles fans and researchers has been devided as to who or what inspired the rather pathetic figure of Eleanor in the famous song. One train of thought was that 'Eleanor' was taken from Eleanor Bron, who starred in the film 'Help!', and 'Rigby' from the name of a shop in Bristol. On the other hand, a gravestone bearing the name Eleanor Rigby was uncovered in the churchyard near the doorway to St Peter's church in Woolton during the 1980's. A grave of a 'Father MacKenzie' also lies nearby. Eleanor's inscription records that she is the grand-daughter of a John and Frances Rigby. Paul Macartney was once a choirboy in the church, and in later years he and John Lennon would frequently sunbathe in the churchyard.

The document donated to the Sunbeam Trust charity is a page taken from an accounts book dated 1911, detailing staff pay at the City Hospital in Parkhill. It bears the signature of one E. Rigby, a 16 year old scullery maid. The gravestone in St Peter's records Eleanor Rigby's birth as 1895. I recently attempted to find documentary evidence of Eleanor and the other relatives mentioned on the gravestone in the Census Records, as well as any entries of Birth Death & Marriage in the local Registers.

From the gravestone itself, it is immediately clear that the primary internment in this grave is that of John Rigbywho lived approx 1843-1915. Census searches reveal a John Rigby born in Woolton in 1844, who grew up to become a stonemason. It is entirely possible that John carved his own gravestone, a not uncommon practise in the trade. The secondary burial was that of John's wife Frances, living approx 1843-1928. The Register of the 2nd Quarter 1871, West Derby District, Vol 8b; Page 670 records the marriage of John Rigby and Frances Hesketh. The Census of 1871 for Much Woolton, taken just before their marriage records John Rigby boarding with Frances and her mother Mary, a laundress, at 4 Pit Street. Frances was also a laundress, unmarried, with an illegitimate son John, aged 6.

John and Frances set up home together, and by the time of the 1881 Census were living at 12 Cobden Street in Woolton. By this time they had three children: Mary Elizabeth, 6; William, 5; and Frances, 2. No mention is made of the illegitimate son John. Frances was still working as a laundress, whilst John practised his trade as a stonemason. By 1891, the family had moved to 8 Vale Road in Woolton. The only additions to the household were John's neice and nephew, Annie Howard (a domestic servant) and John Howard (a blacksmith).

It is the 1901 Census which reveals the truth of the real identity of Eleanor Rigby. John and Frances are found still living in 8 Vale Road, Woolton. John is still a stonemason, son William is a gardener, young Frances is a laundress like her mother. Mary Elizabeth is recorded as a widow, married name Whitfield. She has with her a daughter listed as Ellenor Whitfield whose age is given as five years. A Birth register search reveals an Eleanor Rigby Whitfield in the 3rd Quarter, 1895, Prescot District, Vol 8b; Page 665.

This birth record raises questions in light of the information on the gravestone, and the detail from the 1901 census. These may be answered by a marriage record of the 3rd Quarter, 1893, Prescot District, Vol. 8b; Page 1109 between Mary Elizabeth Rigby and Arthur Whitfield. The fact of Mary Elizabeth's widowhood is proved by the registration of Arthur Whitfield's death in the 3rd Quarter, 1895, Prescot District, Vol. 8b; Page 485. From this it is clear that whilst not illegitimate, Eleanor Rigby Whitfield was brought up as plain Eleanor Rigby, as stated on the gravestone.
The gravestone also records the internment of a Doris W Rigby in 1927, who died in infancy at the age of 2 years, the daughter of 'F & E' Rigby. Only one Doris W Rigby can be found in the BD & M Registers in the 4th Quarter of 1924, Liverpool, Vol 8b, Page 503. What is of great interest here is that her mother's maiden name is recorded as Whitfield. To date, nothing has emerged to identify 'F & E Rigby', Doris W's parents as recorded on the gravestone.
Besides the burial of Frances, the daughter of John and Frances Rigby, the gravestone records one other name, that of Thomas Woods, apparently Eleanor's husband. No record can be found of their marriage. However, the Register of Deaths for Liverpool in the 4th Quarter of 1939, Vol 8b, Page 241 records Eleanor as 'Eleanor R Woods'.