Monday, December 15, 2014

From Hell hole to Hebden Bridge - Samuel St Ledger and Alice Dodd

Today Angel Meadow, near Manchester's Victoria Station, is a pleasant park. But in the middle of the 19th century it was a pauper's burial ground next to St Michael's church, and was surrounded by the most notorious and overcrowded slums in Manchester.

This is how journalist Angus Reach described it in 1849:
"The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy, and most wicked locality in Manchester is called Angel Meadow. It lies off the Oldham Road, is full of cellars and is inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps, and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, live those unhappy wretches the low Irish.” 
Clearly Angus didn't have a high opinion of the Irish. But his description of the slum conditions around Angel Meadow is confirmed by other sources. Tanneries, dye works, breweries, tripe works, timber yards and other industries added to the noise and stench of the area.

In the 1850's this was home to Samuel St Ledger and Alice Dodd, the future parents of Sarah Jane St Ledger and grandparents of Albert Edward Orton, my grandfather.

At the time of the 1851 census Samuel was living at 6 Style Street, just off Angel Meadow. Although he gave Manchester as his place of birth, it's quite likely that he was the son of one of the many thousands of Irish people who swelled Manchester's population in the early part of the 19th century.

Samuel shared the house with Ann St Ledger, an Irish widow listed in the census as his sister-in-law, along with 15 other people, most of them from Ireland. He was employed then (and in every future census) as a fustian cutter in one of the many mills.

Possibly Samuel was a son, grandson or nephew of Samuel Ledger (sic), born in Ireland in 1774, who in the previous 1841 census lived with his wife Ann in St Michael's Place, just around the corner from Style Street. So far I haven't been able to make any firm connection between the two Samuels.

In 1851 Alice Dodd lived a few blocks away from Samuel, in Brooks Court, just off Long Millgate St, with her three surviving children, Ralph (born 1841), Samuel (born 1848) and Alice (1850). Another child, the first Sarah Jane (1845), had died in infancy. Like Samuel, Alice was a fustian cutter. Whether or how she worked with three children to care for is unknown. Perhaps better not to think about it.

Given her surname and her address, it is quite possible that Alice too was of Irish descent. According to the 1851 census she was born around 1816 and listed Manchester as her place of birth. However in later censuses her date of birth is closer to 1824.

I have some doubts about whether Samuel St Ledger was the father of Ralph Dodd (more of that later) and I can't be certain that he was father to Alice or the first Sarah Jane. They were both registered and baptised under the name Dodd. However he was surely father to Samuel Dodd, and William Dodd (born 1853) who both had 'St Ledger' registered as their middle name. (In later censuses all of the children took on the name St Ledger as a surname, and all except Ralph listed Samuel as their father when they married.)

Both Alice and Samuel claimed to be married in the 1851 census. However the minister who baptised the younger Alice in November 1850 recorded her mother as "Alice Dodd, spinster". So if they were married to each other, it must have been in the few months between then and the census in March 1851.

It's quite possible that Samuel and Alice (the parents) simply couldn't afford to marry or live together, and found whatever accommodation they could, while maintaining a relationship with each other. Another possibility is that Alice was already married and so couldn't marry Samuel, but I haven't found any record that suggests this. My impression is that the normal niceties of social life fell apart in the chaos that was Manchester at this time, and Alice and Samuel were fairly typical of this. So far no record of a marriage has come to light.

All that can be said is that, by the time of the 1861 census, Samuel and Alice were living as man and wife under the same roof. Mary Ann, who was born in 1857, was registered under the surname St Ledger, so the move to the same address probably occurred sometime between 1853 and 1857.

By 1861 the family was living at 7 David Street in Salford, and had now expanded with the birth of Frances in 1860. Sadly she died the following year. Sarah Jane (named, as was common then, after an earlier sibling who hadn't survived) arrived in 1862 while the family were still in Salford.

If there were other children between 1862 and the birth of David Saul St Ledger in 1868 they aren't recorded. David was born in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, so the family must have moved in this period. As I suggested previously, this may have been as a result of the so-called 'cotton famine' in Lancashire in the 1860's, with many families moving to Yorkshire to look for work.

In 1871 the family were living in what seems to have been part of a row of workers cottages on Foster Mill Lane, in Wadsworth, a village close to Hebden Bridge. While their accommodation may not have been luxurious, it's difficult to imagine that it could be any worse than the slums of Angel Meadow.

UPDATE: check out this informative video about Angel Meadow

Angel Meadow and St Michael's Flags by David Dixon
View of Chiserly, Wadsworth by Humphry Bolton