Thursday, 1 June 2017

What happened to our family from 1851? Generation Four: Thomas O'Donoghue & Mary Sullivan


The generations
One:    Patrick? Donoghue (b.c.1745) & an unknown wife – gggggrandparents
Two:    James Donoghue (b.c.1775) & Julia Boyle – ggggrandparents
Three:  Thomas Donoghue (b.1806) & Ellen Connor - gggrandparents
Four:    Julia Donoghue (b.1834) & John Carrington (b.1830)
             James Donoghue (b.1836)
             Catherine Donoghue (b.1839) & James Madden (b.1848?)
             John Donoghue (b.1841)
             Thomas O’Donoghue (b.1844) & Mary Sullivan (b.1845) ggrandparents
             Ellen Donoghue (b.1847)
             Mary Ann Donoghue (b.1852) & William Rochester (b.c.1850)       

In Ballyduff

Thomas was born in 1844, so he was six when his parents left the village in 1850/1 with most of the children.  Thomas was too young to have had any substantive schooling in Ireland, but he would have spoken Irish.  His family would probably have spoken some English, in order to interact with their landlord.  As the son of a valued artisan he would have been better off than most, but being born just as the famine was starting, it would have been an awful first few years for a little lad.

Early life in Poplar

In an earlier blog I described how I found Thomas’s parents in Orchard Place, St Marylebone parish in 1851 in an awful area totally dominated by Irish including other Donoghues.  It is my theory that their children went to Dublin with Julia, their oldest child at 16, while Thomas and Ellen, the parents, sorted out arrangements in London.
Thomas would have received his education at Wade Street School.  This is what it looked like when Uncle Bernie took me to see it in the 1990s.

The map below shows where it was in 1894-6. 


Until 1908 it was known as the Wade Street School and from 1908 until 1983, SS Mary and Joseph's Roman Catholic School.  I imagine all of my Poplar ancestors would have been educated there.
There were lots of Irish in this area south of the East India Dock Road in the 1850s to 1880s and many must have had to learn English as a starter.  Both Uncles Bernie and Len heard a lot about Thomas, but were too young to have known him.  I was told he was literate and used to correct the children's pronunciation and spellings.  They both recalled some Irish being spoken in the home by the older folk.
In 1861 Thomas was living with his mother Ellen, brother John and sister Mary Ann in 28 Mary Street (later Rook Street) on the map above.  As I have described before this was a very rough area
‘By the late nineteenth century this area of small terraced houses had developed an unenviable reputation. The vicinity of Sophia Street and Rook (formerly Mary) Street was described as 'a regular Irish den … all the vices of the Irish rampant, murder, rows, riot etc… . and fat brawny brawling women shouting at one another.'
His occupation was shown as hammer man on the census.  Len told me that the hammer man was the man behind a riveter.  He thought that they were called a holder up man later.  The riveter knocked the rivet in from one side and the hammer man was on the other side.  He was more like a mate.
Thomas progressed to full boilermaker status in later years.
The trade of Boilermaker evolved from the industrial blacksmith and was known in the early 19th century as a 'boilersmith'.  The involvement of boilermakers in the shipbuilding and engineering industries came about because of the changeover from wood to iron as a construction material.   It was easier (and cheaper) to utilise the boilermaker's skills to construct the ship as they were already present in the shipyard constructing iron boilers for wooden steamships.  This utilisation of skills extended to virtually everything that was large and made of iron, or later, steel.  In the UK this near monopoly over the key skill of the industrial revolution led to them being termed 'the labour aristocracy' by historians.
Steam engines were used to power many machines, trains and ships in the 19th Century.  A boiler was an essential part of a steam engine as it was used to heat water to create steam.  Boilers were made of plates of metal or tubes that were cut, bent and shaped by the boilermakers.  Boilermakers also worked as general metal workers rolling, shearing, welding, riveting and making metal structures and machines.  They built steam trains, constructed metal bridges and built iron and steel ships.

As his father was a farrier/blacksmith we can see why Thomas, and later generations, became boilermakers.  It also suggests that Thomas’s father came to London specifically to work in the shipbuilding industry, rather than the London sewers and underground construction which was an earlier suggestion of mine.

Marriage to Mary Sullivan

On 15 December, 1865 Thomas married Mary Sullivan at St Mary & St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in the Commercial Road, St George in the East.  Quite why they chose this church we will never know.  This was apparently one of the most famous Catholic parishes in the country
The marriage certificate is shown below 
Both signed their own names and his occupation was shown as caulker.  A caulker filled up cracks in ships, casks, windows or seams to make them watertight by using tar or oakum hemp fibre produced by taking old ropes apart.
They are both shown as living at 2 Lucas Street (Lukehurst Street according to the parish register), Mile End Old Town.  I can’t find that street under either name in maps or lists of the time but presumably they had to show that they were residents of the parish to be married in that church. 
The Sullivans and Mahoneys
John and Margaret were married in 1842 at the Catholic Church of St Mary & St Joseph in Canton Street, Poplar.
In 1851 the Sullivans and their children James (b.1843), Mary (b.1845), John (b.1851) were living at 4 Wades Place, Poplar (see the map above). 
John was a blacksmith, so it is not too long a shot to say that Thomas’s father and John were probably colleagues and that is how the families got to know each other. 
In 1861 John and Margaret had moved into nearby Cross Street.  James was still living with them.  I have not yet established what happened to them after that.
John’s father was James Sullivan and his mother, Mary.  Margaret’s parents were Jeremiah and Ellen, who were living in St Giles in the Fields, further west, in 1851.  This was a notorious ‘rookery’ or slum area heavily populated by Irish.
The Sullivan and Mahoney names are very common in Cork and Kerry but I have been unable so far to find any baptismal records for these folk.
Thomas and Mary’s family
Throughout their life together we sometimes find Thomas with the second name of Joseph and Mary is referred to as Mary Ann on one occasion and Mary Theresa on another.  Catholics take a second name at confirmation.
They had seven children, for whom I give a little bit of detail to be followed at a later stage with separate blogs.
  1. Mary was born 27 July 1866.  She died 14 days later of convulsions.  The informant at both birth and death was James Sullivan of 8 Croucher Place, Railway Street.  I suspect that he was her uncle because her brother would only have been 15 at the time. But where was Thomas?  Perhaps the birth came in a rush and he was at work.  At all future birth and deaths Thomas was present.
2. Catherine (see right) was born 17 June 1867 at 13 Avenue, Bromley She was the Aunt Kate, a quiet, gentle and very religious person, who lived on the top floor of 60 Cotton Street in later years.  Her nieces and nephews (and the neighbours’ children) turned to her when they had problems.

 3. Thomas William, born 21 November 1869, died two years later of compression of the brain which suggests a fall perhaps. He was born at 13 Market Street and died at 2 Charles Street.

   4.  Margaret, born 3 July 1872, at 83 Augusta Street.  She went on the stage, is said to have married a rich Jew and to have had a child, of which so far I have found no evidence.  Her life ended very sadly.  Hers  will be a difficult story to unravel.

   5.  James, my grandfather, was born 15
      November 1874 at 12 Cordelia Street.  He
      ran away to sea at a very young age, travelling
      to faraway places.   He followed his father as
      a boilermaker.  He married Ada Agnes Tait,
      a Protestant, in 1899    
6.  Mary Ann (see right), born 7 March 1877, at 54 Grundy Street. 
    She married George Phillips in 1903.  She was a milliner who made
    all the children’s hats.
7.  Gwendoline Anastasia Celina, born 16 May 1880, at 7 Upper Grove Street.  She died five months later on 30 October of acute bronchitis. 
Seven days later, on 7 November, Mary, their mother, died of tuberculosis.  She was only 35, and was buried in St Patricks Leytonstone.
Tuberculosis, also known as ‘consumption’, ‘phthisis’, or the ‘white plague’, was the cause of more deaths in industrialised countries than any other disease during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  By the late 19th century, 70 to 90% of the urban populations of Europe and North America were infected with the TB bacillus, and about 80% of those individuals who developed active tuberculosis died of it.
For most of the 19th century, tuberculosis was thought to be a hereditary, constitutional disease rather than a contagious one.  By the end of the 19th century, when infection rates in some cities were thought by public health officials to be nearly 100%, tuberculosis was also considered to be a sign of poverty or an inevitable outcome of the process of industrial civilisation.  About 40% of working-class deaths in cities were from tuberculosis.

The choice of first names for child 7 is interesting.  There was a popular French opera called Gwendoline in the 1880s and a cousin, Patrick , who came to Poplar, married an Anastasia. Celina was a derivation of the French Céline, so perhaps she was a character in the opera?  I wonder if it had been performed at the Queens Theatre in Poplar High Street and they liked the names.

My reason for showing all the addresses is to evidence how regularly our people moved house – this was the norm, but I am not sure if people moved by choice to improve their circumstances or were pushed.  Landlords were reputed to be predatory and a lot of sub-letting went on, but it will need more work to understand this better.
On the whole it seems Thomas and Mary moved steadily up in terms of the quality of their accommodation, so he must have maintained a regular income.  Moving north of the East India Dock Road was to achieve a better environment.
In 1851, Thomas and Ellen, Thomas’s parents, were living in 13 Orchard Place, St Marylebone as two of 42.  I have no idea how many floors there were in this building but the conditions must have been appalling
In 1861, Ellen and three children were living in 28 Mary Street (south of the East India Dock Road) as four amongst 11.  The description earlier does not suggest very good living conditions.
In 1871, Thomas, Mary and two children were living in 2 Charles Street (north of the East India Dock Road) as four of 11
In 1881, Thomas and three children were living in 18 New Street as five out of 10
In 1891, Thomas and three children were living in 4 Charles Street in two rooms as four people out of ten in the whole house.  The other family had four rooms.
In 1901, Thomas and two children are living in four rooms in 42 Railway Street.  The other family in the house had two rooms for five people.
By 1911, Thomas, Catherine and Margaret are in 21 Cotton Street with his son’s James’s family of seven.  All O’Donoghues together.
Poplar as a place to live
William J. Fishman’s East End 1888 says that Poplar, including Bow and Bromley was the most promising area to live.
Its amenities were considered good and well maintained i.e. disinfecting houses, public lamps, building and drainage, public lavatories.
And then there was the Poplar Baths opened in 1852, costing £10,000.  It was built to provide public wash facilities for the East End's poor.  The baths incorporated slipper (one end deeper than the other) and vapour (steam room) baths.  The slipper baths section contained 12 baths in the men's first-class division, 24 in the men's second-class and six in both women's divisions. Steam and shower baths were located behind the slipper baths. A comprehensive public laundry was located at the rear of the building, on Arthur Street.  It contained 48 wooden washing tubs, drying equipment and ironing rooms.  An uncovered water tank supplied the baths and was erected above the boiler house with a capacity of 24,000 gallons.
Poplar’s annual death rate was the lowest in the East End with an annual birth rate of 31.6 per 1000 living people and deaths 18.8.  Bethnal Green ran at 39.1 and 26.5.  Deaths from infectious diseases were the lowest at 2.6.
Poplar Hospital was highly regarded with a reputation for a caring service amongst the poor.
Poplar, as the largest district on the eastern border, housed the largest contingent of artisans (26%) compared to the others.  Bethnal Green was the highest in the ‘impoverished’ category.
Thomas’s employment
One imagines that he served some sort of apprenticeship and moved up through the skills.  This is what the records tell us:
At 17, in 1861 hammer man; 1865 caulker; 1866 iron riveter; 1867 caulker; 1869 boilermaker; 1872 caulker; 1874 boilermaker; 1881 iron shipbuilding riveter (see left & right); 1891 riveter in shipyard; 1901 riveter caulker; 1911 ship riveter in ship repair; 1920 boilermaker shipbuilders. 

I find this rather confusing.  I conclude he was a boilermaker who spent most of his time riveting, but could presumably carry out the full range of skills if required
On 1 July 1876, he joined the London 11 branch of the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders founded in 1852. 

I have also found entries in the union’s Admittance Register for his son James and his two grandsons, Uncles James and Len.

Thomas worked for the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd of Blackwall, where he rose to be a foreman. 

Created in 1857, this company was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics' Magazine in 1861 as ‘Leviathan Workshops’.  This 1867 map

shows the yard occupying a large triangular site in a right-angled bend on the east bank of Bow Creek with the railway to Thames Wharf on the third side, and with a smaller site on the west bank. The main yard had a quay 1,050 feet (320m) long.  To the south-east the yard occupied the north bank of the Thames east of Bow Creek, with two slips giving direct access to the main river.

Today the site is crossed by the A1020 Lower Lea Crossing and the Docklands Light Railway south of Canning Town station.

By 1863 the company had the capacity to build 25,000 tons of warships and 10,000 tons of mail steamers simultaneously.  One of its first Admiralty contracts was for HMS Warrior, launched in 1860, at the time the world's largest warship and the first iron-hulled armoured frigate.  HMS Minotaur followed in 1863, 400 feet (120 m) long and 10,690 tons displacement.

Crossrail archaeologists have recently uncovered evidence of this historic shipbuilding company that closed down a century ago.

The Thunderer

Uncle Len told me that Thomas worked on the Devastation-Class ironclad turret ship HMS Thunderer, 9330 tons, built for the Royal Navy in the 1870s.  She was refitted in 1881 at the Thames Ironworks and modernised in 1890-2.  This ship was taken out of service in 1907 and sold for scrap in 1909.

She was replaced by another Thunderer, a 22,500 ton battleship that took part in WWI.   She was the sixth ship of her name to serve in the Royal Navy and was laid down by the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company on 13 April 1910 and launched on 1 February 1911.  She was commissioned on 15 June 1912 at Devonport.  Thomas would have been 66 in 1910 so I don’t know if he would have worked on this one.

 The company also built sections of Sir Alexander Binnie's Blackwall Tunnel in 1895. The tunnel was more than 1300 metres (4410 feet) long and passed under the Thames to Greenwich. 

Industrial relations and the 1889 Dock Strike
Troubles started in 1888 with the journeymen bakers of Stepney walking out on 12 May and the match girls from Bryant & May on 5 July.  They changed the face of British Trade Unionism.
I don’t know whether Thomas was a union shop steward, but the Thames Ironworks suffered from industrial relations problems in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
The company’s approach to labour relations, through its managing director, Arnold Hills, was that of an enlightened patriarch.  He insisted on the right to employ non-union men which was deeply unpopular.
On 9 July 1889, the boilermakers in the Thames Ironworks went on strike, so Thomas would have been out.  The labourers joined the dispute in August and then the joiners walked out.  It was reported in the Thames Ironworks Gazette that ‘strike fever was in the air and West Ham took the infection badly.  The Thames Ironworks were the worst sufferers’.
In the docks (shipbuilding is not the docks) the dangerous nature of port work, combined with low pay, poor working conditions and widespread social deprivation ensured that the workforce looked to their trade unions for protection.  As a result, industrial relations were strained throughout the history of the port.
Until the late 19th century, much of the trade of the port was seasonal.  Sugar came from the West Indies, timber from the north, tea and spices from the Far East.  It was difficult to predict when ships would arrive since bad weather could delay a fleet.  On some days there were many ships in the docks, on others very few.
There was very little mechanisation - the loading and discharging of ships was highly labour-intensive.   Demand for men varied from day to day because there was very little advance notice that a ship was arriving.  The dock companies only took on labourers when trade picked up and they needed them.
Most workers in the docks were casual labourers taken on for the day.  Sometimes they would be taken on only for a few hours.  Twice a day there was a 'call-on' at each of the docks when labour was hired for short periods.

Only the lucky few would be selected, the rest would be sent home without payment.  The employers wanted to have a large number of men available for work but they did not want to pay them when there was no work.
Ben Tillett of the dockers' union described the 'call-on':
"We are driven into a shed, iron-barred from end to end, outside of which a foreman or contractor walks up and down with the air of a dealer in a cattle market, picking and choosing from a crowd of men, who, in their eagerness to obtain employment, trample each other underfoot, and where like beasts they fight for the chances of a day's work."

With such a fluctuating level of income the social conditions in which dockers’ families lived were very hard.
Unionisation only extended to about 5% of the national work force and it was only skilled workers who had union support.  As we have seen Thomas was in a union and did not work in the docks.
The dock strike started on August 14 and lasted five weeks with great suffering by the strikers’ families.  The strike committee was working from an office in Poplar.  Financial support poured in from as far away as Australia.

Marches took place from Poplar into the City and to Tower Hill.  Finally the employers gave in and all of the dockers’ demands were met.
Even after the dockers’ dispute was settled, unrest continued at the Thames Ironworks Blackwall complex.  The joiners downed tools again on 1 March 1890 and the engineers went on strike in August 1891.

This picture is of the shipbuilding foremen at the Blackwall works.  I wonder if Thomas is amongst them.

During this tense period, Hills was 'hissed' by his own workmen as he entered the yard.  The works gates were picketed and some of the replacement men were badly treated by strikers when they left the works.

After this period of conflict, Hills decided that important changes were needed to the company's labour relations practices.  In 1892 he put forward a 'Good Fellowship scheme' of bonuses on top of standard wage rates. Two years later a working day of eight hours rather than nine was introduced.

In 1895  the company formed the Thames Ironworks Football Club.  Originally based at Hermit Road, they played at the Memorial Ground from 1897 to 1904. In that year they moved to the Boleyn Ground in Green Street.

By that time they had become a professional side.  Since 1900, they have been known as West Ham Football Club after Hills had provided the money for a merger with another local side, Old Castle Swifts. 
After Mary’s death
Christmas 1880 must have been a miserable time for the family.  After Mary died, Catherine, at the age of 13, became mother to her younger siblings and Thomas’s housekeeper.
By 1891 son James at age 16 was employed as a riveter’s boy, I believe at the Thames Ironworks like his father.  He had already been to sea in the Merchant Navy.
Catherine is recorded as ‘looks after home’ in 1901 and Mary Ann was employed as a packer in a sweet factory.
In 1911 Catherine had become a washer woman and Margaret was a servant.  Both were single.

It is likely that Thomas retired when he was 70 as this was the pattern of the time, but it would have depended on the arrangements at Thames Ironworks.
He was a small man with twinkling blue eyes, sometimes with a small beard.  He was known to say "God bless your little heart and soul" when a child was in trouble.

He died on 23 March 1920, aged around 76, of bronchitis.  He was described as ‘Formerly boilermaker shipbuilders’.  Catherine was present at the death at 60 Cotton Street.  He was buried at St Patricks Leytonstone.
Each generation in a family contributes to its further development.  Thomas’s father was a skilled artisan.  Thomas maintained that tradition and provided a level of income to ensure ongoing improvement in their living conditions.  From the rural environment of Ballyduff (and the famine), he successfully brought his family through the industrial melting pot of the East End in the second half of the 19th century.
Acknowledgements & sources:,_Shipwrights,_Blacksmiths_and_Structural_Workers
Fishman, William J – East End 1888, Duckworth 1988


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