Category Archives: Catholic

Michael Horan: St Mary of the Angels War Memorial, Batley

Several years ago I researched the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. The resulting booklet was sold in aid of the Royal British Legion and the church roof appeal. Over the subsequent years I’ve continued to add to this research – somehow I’ve not been able to let them go.

In May 2020 a medal came up for sale in a military auction in Ipswich. The nearest thing to an auction I’ve participated in is eBay. But this medal was one awarded to a St Mary’s man. I felt compelled to bid, so signed up to do so online. And to my relief I won. The Victory Medal of Michael Horan is now back in Batley, after spending time in Hereford and Anglesey, before its sale at the Ipswich auction house.

Auction Win – Michael Horan’s Victory Medal and his Headstone Photos

Here is Michael’s story, significantly updated since my initial St Mary’s research.

Michael’s parents, Irish-born James Horan and Annie Gollagher, wed in late 1875. As anyone who researches family history knows, spellings of names can be notoriously inconsistent. The Irish accent adds to the confusion. Annie’s name in particular varies depending on records. Her maiden name is occasionally spelled Gallagher, and even her Christian name is inconsistent, with some documents recording it as Honora. The Horan surname is occasionally written as Horn.

The couple settled to married life in Batley. Plentiful employment opportunities in the shoddy industry, and a growing County Mayo community, of which James and Annie belonged to, were the town’s major magnets. James was an integral part of shoddy industry, working as a rag-grinder. It was a filthy, hard, dust-ridden, unhealthy job, which involved grinding down the rags in preparation for them to be mixed with fresh wool in order to produce shoddy fabric.

The couple had six children of which, to date, I have identified five. Only two survived to adulthood. These were Mary and Michael. All the Horan offspring were baptised at St Mary of the Angels, and the infant burials are all recorded in Batley cemetery, within sight of the newly built Catholic Church.

In order of arrival, Mary was born on 4 June 1876; Michael followed on 7 November 1878; Others included Ellen, born on 5 November 1880 and buried on 11 May 1881; John Patrick, born on 23 January 1883 and buried, age two, on 1 February 1885; and Thomas, born on 4 January 1885, just a month prior to his brother’s burial. He also died age two and was buried on 15 May 1887.

The Horan’s family addresses are reflective of ones associated with the Batley Irish community. They included New Street, Fleming’s Buildings, Newsome Fold, Scargill Fold and latterly Hume Street. The Horan’s lived at 64, whilst my Cassidy great grandparents lived at 36.

In 1891, when the family were living at Yard 2, Commercial Street, 12-year-old Michael was already working, as a hurrier in a coal mine. This was the first rung of the ladder to a career as a miner. In 1901 he was lodging along with another Batley man, Patrick Brett, in the home of Margaret Dawson in Winlanton, Durham, and working as a coal hewer [1]. But he was back home in Batley by 1911, still working as a hewer.

There are other references to Michael in Batley in the first decade of the 20th century, minor brushes with the law, two of which resulted in stays at Wakefield Prison. On 8 April 1904 the Batley Reporter and Guardian carried the following piece:

ASSAULTING THE POLICE – Michael Horan, collier, of Batley, was charged with being drunk and riotous in Commercial Street, on the 2nd inst., and further with assaulting Police-constable Harris. – Police-constable Moore stated that at ten minutes past seven on the date mentioned he was on Commercial Street, accompanied by Police-constable Harris, when they saw defendant fighting with another man. He was very drunk, and used bad language. They asked him for his name, which he refused to give, and after walking about 40 yards Horan commenced to kick Police-constable Harris. – The defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 2s. 6d. and costs for being drunk and riotous, and 5s. and costs for the assault on the policeman.

The Wakefield Prison records show both his imprisonments resulted from similar offences – 10 days for being drunk etc., on 11 April 1904 [2]; and 7 days for obscene language on 24 May 1907 [3]. In the absence of a photograph of Michael, at least from these records we have a brief physical description. He stood at 5’2” and had brown hair. His education was the basic Standard I.

Michael enlisted in September 1914. At the time he was employed as a miner at Batley’s West End Colliery. In the ownership of the Critchley family, who were associated with Batley Hall, the workings of this mine were between Cliff and Spring Woods, near the bottom of Scotchman Lane, close to the Batley/Morley boundary.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.NE, Revised 1905 to 1906, Published 1908 – Shows the location of West End Colliery

Briefly with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Service Number 16939), it appears Michael quickly transferred as a Private to the 10th (Service) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, with the revised Service Number 19681. His date of arrival overseas fits with him setting sail with the battalion from Folkestone at 10.30pm on the night of September 1915 on board the Duchess of Argyll. They arrived at Boulogne in the early hours of the following morning. With him was a fellow-St Mary’s parishioner Pte James Groark, Service Number 19677.

After entraining for Watten on 11 September 1915, arriving there at 11pm that night, there then followed a series of punishing marches, mainly in the evening and early hours of the morning. These equated to a distance of around 50 miles as the crow flies, until they arrived at Vermelles at 10pm on 25 September [4]. Exhausted before they started, they went straight into action, forming part of the reserve for an attack on the Hulluch-Lens Road. It was a true baptism of fire for the pair. They were being thrown into the Battle of Loos. This was the first time the British used poison gas during the war. It also witnessed the first large-scale use of New Army or ‘Kitchener’s Army’ units. And given their rapid approach, no wonder the casualty toll proved to be so heavy for these new troops. More details about the York and Lancaster Regiment at Loos can be found in the Online Diary of Eric Rayner blog [5].

The battle commenced on 25 September 1915. The British were able to break through the weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in full range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating.

The 10th York and Lancasters were no exception. By the time they were relieved at 3.30am on 27 September their casualties stood at 14 officers and 306 other ranks killed, wounded or missing [6]. James Groark suffered a thigh wound in action on the 26 September. It was sufficiently serious for him to be evacuated to England for treatment in a Cambridge hospital.

From October 1915, the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary is one of those beloved by family historians. Its appendixes name not only officers, but other ranks casualties too. It includes dates and, even better, other details. For example some month’s lists state if death or injury occurred in the trenches, in working parties (including those with the Brigade Mining Section) or resting etc. Some have other information, such as “wounded accidentally” or “self inflicted.” This extends right through to the end of July 1916, with a separate list devoted specifically to casualties incurred during fighting between 1 and 3 July 1916, the first days of the Battle of the Somme.

This Somme list is broken into sections, identifying those killed in action, men who died of wounds, and pages of the wounded who were evacuated to England, along with the date. There is also a list of others wounded but not evacuated to Blighty, along with the source of this information, e.g. 64th Field Ambulance. Then follows the missing men, and finally a section with amended casualties. This primarily includes updates on those initially posted as missing.

Michael’s name is in the unit war diary amongst these lists. So, what happened to him?

At 9pm on 30 June, the eve of the attack [7], the 10th York and Lancasters left their billets in Ville, making for their assembly trenches north east of Becordel and just west of Fricourt. They fell under the 21st Division, who would be taking part in the attack around the heavily-defended German-held village of Fricourt. As they made their way up the line, did memories flash back to the previous September’s march? Or was hope held of the “possibility of a collapse of the enemy’s resistance…”, brought about by the prolonged period of preparatory bombardment which commenced on 24 June? [8]

British Plan Somme 1 July 1916 (21st Division north west of Fricourt), Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

On 1 July 1916 the plan for the 21st Division was that on the left side of Fricourt village would be the 63rd Brigade (which included the 10th Yorks and Lancasters), and beyond them the division’s 64th Brigade, would together carry out an outflanking move to the north. They would join up beyond the village with units of the 7th Division carrying out a similar manoeuvre to the south. Attached to the 21st Division for the attack was the 50th Brigade (taken from the 17th (Northern) Division). Their battalions were designated to attack closest to the northern edge of Fricourt, in an area known as the Tambour. This area was a series of craters, the scene of heavy underground warfare since 1915. The 10th West Yorkshire Regiment would lead off here, followed by the 7th East Yorkshires [9]. Later in the day, when the flanking manoeuvre was complete, the plan was battalions from this brigade would take Fricourt.

Looking towards Fricourt in 2017, the Tambour Mines (to the left) and Fricourt New Military Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Before the attack a final heavy bombardment of the Fricourt area began at 6.25am on 1 July. Gas was released between 7.15am and 7.25am, during which period a Stokes bombardment was also launched. At 7.28am two mines were exploded to the right of the Tambour [10]. Two minutes later the 63rd Brigade assault commenced with the 4th Middlesex Regiment and 8th Somerset Light Infantry in the initial wave. The 10th York and Lancaster were following up as part of the second wave of the attack, along with the 8th Lincolns. The York and Lancaster’s unit war diary for 1 to 3 July goes on to say:

At 8.30 a.m. [1st July] 10th York and Lancs. and 8th Lincoln Regt. advanced from Assembly Trenches and passed through the Middlesex Regt.and 8th Somerset L.I. respectively, coming under very heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. After very hard fighting (in which heavy casualties occurred) the Battalion consolidated in LOZENGE ALLEY and later in DART LANE. Battalion remained in this position till about 2 p.m. third day when it moved up to SUNKEN ROAD and took up Support Position in DINGLE TRENCH, with H.Q. in SUNKEN ROAD. [11]

The 10th York and Lancasters were relieved at 4 a.m. on 4 July. The diary, in its appendixes, contains a more detailed account:

OPERATIONS
July 1st 1916 – July 4th 1916
The Battalion advanced through 4th Middlesex Regt, who were in German front line, and came under heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. The leading wave got some distance in advance of DART LANE, when they were held up by machine gun fire from FRICOURT WOOD. At the same time three large parties of Germans attempted to bomb their way up all the trenches South of DART LANE. Also at the same time the Battalion Bombers were having a hard struggle with a large bombing party in LONELY TRENCH. They had three barricades in this, which we destroyed. We then placed a barricade at North end of LONELY TRENCH near junction of LOZENGE ALLEY. A party of D. Company with stragglers from other Units were sent into ARROW LANE to protect that flank, with the assistance of one gun of Machine Gun Corps. This party came under heavy fire from the South, the enemy making several strong attempts to bomb up EMPRESS SUPPORT and the remains of EMPRESS TRENCH. The remainder of Battalion were then in LOZENGE ALLEY with the Lincolns and parties of other Units. This we were consolidating. About 5.0 p.m. I re-organized the Battalion to take them to DART LANE, which I consolidated. I had also a holding party of Bombers at corner of DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and LONELY LANE. I had also a party in ARROW LANE: with this party were about 30 men of the 10th Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion remained in this position until about 2.0 p.m. on the second day, during which time the Battalion was working very hard in passing up S.A.A., [12] Bombs, etc. to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for supplies very urgently. This work went on continuously till about 2.0 p.m. when I was ordered to move up and join 62nd Brigade. I took Battalion up SUNKEN ROAD and put them in DINGLE TRENCH from D 21 Central to about junction of DINGLE TRENCH and PATCH ALLEY, with my headquarters in SUNKEN ROAD at South end of ROUND WOOD.
Whilst here we were under a shell fire from 2 heavy enemy guns. We remained here till relieved by one Company of 12th Manchester Regt at about 4.0 a.m. on morning of 4th. The blocking party ordered to follow immediately in rear of 4th Middlesex Regt did not reach their objective, as all the men were knocked out with the exception of about six men, the Officer being wounded just after getting over the parapet. I also collected what spare bombers I had and sent them up to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for more men. The party protecting our right collected a fair number of prisoners from the dug-outs in DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and various small communication trenches.
One Officer and a small party of men actually reached the hedge running on outside of FRICOURT FARM, but were compelled to fall back owing to a large bombing party coming down LOZENGE ALLEY from FRICOURT FARM.
Lieut-Colonel.
5th July 16. Comdg. 10th (S) [13] Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment [14].

Extract from Trench Map 57D.SE.4 (Ovillers), Scale 1:10000, Edition 2B, Published 1916, Trenches corrected to 27 April 1916 – Illustrates some of the locations mentioned in the 10th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary Operations Report (above)

With elements of the 21st Division now behind them, the Germans began to abandon Fricourt during the night of the 1/2 July. British troops entered the village on the 2 July.

As a result of the part they played and their consequent heavy losses, the 63rd Infantry Brigade swapped with the 110th Brigade, to become part of the 37th Division. At its departure it received the following communication on 8 July from Major-General David ‘Soarer’ Cambell, commanding the 21st:

I cannot allow the 63rd Brigade to leave my command without expressing to all ranks my immense admiration for their splendid behaviour during the recent fighting.
No troops in the world could have behaved in a more gallant manner.
I feel sure that the 63rd Brigade will uphold the reputation of the 21st Division in the Division to which they are attached.
Whilst deeply deploring your heavy losses, I feel that these gallant men have willingly given their lives to vindicate the character of the 21st Division.
Hoping that our separation may be of short duration only, I wish you Good Luck [15].

Michael was amongst the heavy casualties. His name appears in the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary. It is amongst the list of 24 other ranks listed as killed in action between the 1 and 3 July 1916. Officially his death date is 3 July.

News of his loss reached Batley later that month. According to reports he was carrying ammunition when a shell exploded in his immediate vicinity causing his instant death [16].

Michael is buried at Becourt Military Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt, in the Somme region of France. He is commemorated at home on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial and Batley War Memorial.

Becourt Military Cemetery, Final Resting Place of Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Michael’s parents survived him. His father (age 75) was buried in Batley cemetery on 7 April 1923. His mother (age 72) was buried in the same cemetery plot on 24 December 1925.

Whilst his sister Mary did marry John Owens at St Mary’s on 24 July 1915, the couple had no children. John died in December 1926 and Mary in November 1933. Mary’s death brought to an end the direct relations of Michael and helps explain why the medal went out of the family.

Michael was also awarded the 1914-15 Star and British War Medal. Those I have not traced. But at least his Victory Medal is back in his hometown. And although he is not buried in the same cemetery as his family, he is commemorated in the church just across the road.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church Batley – War Memorial Panel Commemorating Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Notes:
[1] 1901 census, England and Wales, surname written as Horn, accessed via Findmypast, original records held at The National Archives (TNA) Reference RG13/4763/99/27;
[2] West Yorkshire Prison Records 1801-1914, accessed via Ancestry, original records at West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Prison Records, Reference C118;
[3] Ibid;
[4]
The route according to the unit war diary was Watten, Nortebecourt (Nortbécourt), St Omer, Campagne [Les Wardrecques], Aire [Sur la Lys], St Hilaire [Cottes], Auchel, Sailly la Bourse (Labourse) and Vermelles.
[5] For more on the 10th York and Lancasters at Loos see Eric’s Daily Diary, 2 September 1915, The Battle of Loos – how Haig tried to kill my grandfather, http://ericsdailydiary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-battle-of-loos-how-haig-tried-to.html
[6] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[7] The attack was originally planned to start on 29 June. However, summer storms and heavy rain which led to the decision being taken on 28 June (less than 21 hours notice) to postpone until 7.30am on 1 July.
[8] Addition to Operation Order No. dated 23 June 1916, H Broadbent, Lieut. & Adjt. For Lt-Col. Cmdg. 10th (S) BNA. York & Lanc. Regt., 29 June 1916
[9] The 10th West Yorkshire’s suffered in excess of 700 casualties. According to Gerald Gliddon in Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion their casualties were higher than any other British battalion on 1 July. Martin Middlebrook in The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 stated their losses was probably the highest battalion casualty list for a single day during the war.
[10] The 178th Tunnelling Company laid three mines which were due to detonate that morning, but only two explosions occurred, with the largest mine failing to detonate;
[11] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[12] Small Arms Ammunition;
[13] Service;
[14] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[15] Ibid;
[16] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 July 1918

Sources:
1881 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses, accessed via Ancestry and Findmypast, originals at TNA;
• Batley Cemetery Records;
Batley Reporter and Guardian, 8 April 1904 and 28 July 1918;
Capture of Fricourt, Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Fricourt;
• Cooksey, Jon, and Jerry Murland. The First Day of the Somme. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Database, https://www.cwgc.org/;
• Gliddon, Gerald. Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2016;
• General Register Office birth, marriage and death indexes
• Hart, Peter. The Somme. London: Cassell, 2006;
• Middlebrook, Martin. The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916. London: Penguin Books, 2016;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Parish Registers, St Mary of the Angels;
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers Effects Records 1901-1960, accessed via Ancestry, original records National Army Museum Accession Number 1990-02-333, Record Number Ranges 322001-323500, Reference 167;
• Stedman, Michael. Somme: Fricourt-Mametz. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1997;
• Trench Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
• Reed, Paul. Walking the Somme. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2011.
Wakefield Prison Records, accessed via Ancestry, originals at West Yorkshire Archives;
War Office and Air Ministry Service Medal and Award Rolls, accessed via Ancestry, TNA Reference WO329 Reference 1590 and 2787;
Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, References 102/0462/HOP-HOR and 686/04D;
WW1 Medal Index Cards, accessed via Ancestry, originals at TNA.

The Priest Who Predicted His Death?

When Fr Thomas Bruno Rigby preached his last sermon at his beloved church of St Mary of the Angels on Sunday evening of St Patrick’s Day 1872, he prophetically exhorted the congregation to be prepared for death, observing there were so many unforeseen accidents that either he, or any of them, might be suddenly called away at any moment. Little did he know how true it was to prove for him. 

The following morning he set off from Leeds to Lancaster to attend the funeral later that day of Ripon priest, and old college friend, Rev Wilson. By the evening he was dead, the result of a horrific train incident.

When Fr Rigby came to Batley in September 1867, the town’s growing Catholic community did not have a church in which to worship, this despite the first priest arriving in 1853 and land being purchased to build one in 1863. A letter dated 7 December 1863 in “The Irishman”, from the then incumbent Rev P Lynch, confirmed the land purchase, and indicated that the 1,500 Catholics were using a former rag and shoddy warehouse accommodating just 150 as an interim chapel. The letter was an appeal for donations from Ireland. The hope was to lay a foundation stone for a new church on 17 March 1864. But this still had not materialised when Fr Rigby took up post.

The newly arrived Fr Rigby felt it his bounden duty to remedy this. He immediately set about helping with raising money and putting plans into motion for a permanent place of worship for his flock. He quickly achieved his goal, assisted by generous donations from woollen manufacturing brothers Capt W.H and Simeon Colbeck (a convert to Catholicism).  

On 17 May 1869, the Diocesan Bishop of Beverley, Rt Rev Dr Robert Cornthwaite, laid the foundation stone, Beverley being the diocese under which Batley fell during this period. On 15 December 1870 the church of St Mary of the Angels at Cross Bank, Batley finally opened its doors to parishioners. Not only that, with his passion for education, Fr Rigby also established a Day School for the community’s children.  

But less than 16 months later, on 18 March 1872, 38-year-old Fr Rigby lost his life in particularly horrific circumstances. 

Thomas Rigby, son of James and Ann Rigby, was born in the Ellesmere district of Manchester in 1834. His family had a very strong Catholic pedigree. His mother’s cousin Dr John Briggs was the first Bishop of Beverley, and Bishop Cornthwaite’s predecessor.  

With a fondness for books and learning, Thomas also determined to become a priest and went to the English Catholic Benedictine school at Douai, in northern France between 1849-1856. From there he moved on to the English College in Rome where he spent a further four years, being ordained in 1860. 

Described as “always good”, not tempted by the splendour and art on offer in Rome, and according to the testimony of one “never late for morning prayers”, the impression given is of an unassuming, quiet, very studious individual, totally devoted to his learning and vocation. He excelled at mathematics, travelled extensively, was linguistically adept in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian and German and had friends worldwide. 

Returning to England, he moved parishes frequently in the early days of his ministry. Posted initially to Burton Constable, Hull in 1860 he went on to serve at Bradford in 1861, North Kilvington 1862, Goole in 1864, Sheffield in 1865, St Patrick’s, Leeds in 1866 before finally coming to Batley to assist Rev. Patrick Lynch in September 1867. Soon after his arrival Fr Lynch died whilst in Ireland, and Fr Rigby succeeded him. 

It is particularly ironic that only weeks before his death Fr Rigby informed his friend and fellow-priest Fr. McCarten, that after all his earlier moves he felt at home in the town. He wanted to work there for the remainder of his life, so he might leave the church unencumbered by debt and lead the people he loved so much further advanced in their knowledge of Almighty God. 

His efforts have indeed had a lasting impact on generations of Batley Catholics, in the shape of the wonderful Grade II listed building where countless services, baptisms, marriages and funerals have taken place. 

Designed by John Kelly of Leeds-based architects Messrs Adams and Kelly, at a cost of around £2,364, the church was constructed in a Gothic Revival style, using stone from neighbouring quarries. Seating 650 on wooden benches, the internal walls were plastered and painted in a salmon tint, and the majority of the roof between the rafters in grey. I mention this, because these colours were maintained in the last refurbishment, several years ago. 

There are plans underway for another internal refurbishment, following major work on the roof. Back in December 1870 this slated roof, with a red earthenware ridge, was constructed by Messrs Pyecroft of Leeds. The apex of the apse roof was finished with leaded finial and a wrought iron cross; the copings of the gables with stone crosses. 

Of the other main contractors, according to newspaper reports, only one Batley firm – that of Mr J.W. Hey, plasterer – was involved. Alterations to the church took place in 1884 and 1929, but the building is essentially the same as in 1870. 

St Mary of the Angels Church, Batley – by Jane Roberts

Many dignitaries attended the opening High Mass at 11 o’clock on Thursday 15 December. Diocesan Bishop and foundation stone layer, Robert Cornthwaite, returned to officiate, aided by clergymen from throughout Yorkshire. Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, gave the sermon, along with a subsequent one at 6.30pm Evening Vespers, honouring a promise made to Fr Rigby that whenever he opened a church he would come to preach not once but twice. In between services, they repaired to the Station Hotel for a formal lunch. 

So, with a magnificent new church to house the congregation, Fr Rigby continued his ministry in the town. His enthusiasm for education shone through, urging the poorer members of his congregation not to neglect their children’s schooling because they could not afford the fees. Such was the value he placed on learning, he even paid out of his own pocket for a number of poorer children to attend the Catholic school. This in the wake of the 1870 Education Act, when parents paid schooling fees. 

He did not take part in broader local affairs to any great extent, but one of his last forays on the wider Batley arena was in connection with education, in particular that of the poor. The whole experience left him very bruised and disillusioned, with a feeling he had been unfairly treated and he had not been listened to in the same way other speakers were. A proud Englishman, his friends detected as a result of the encounter, he was beginning to realise the way in which Catholic priests were actually regarded by some compatriots.

The meeting of the Batley School Board and ratepayers took place at the Town Hall on the evening of 20 February 1872 and lasted until 10.30pm. Described as a largely attended and excited meeting, it was called by the Mayor to discuss the contentious decision of the School Board to pay the fees of children whose parents could not afford them, at the local school of their choice rather than Board Schools – in other words public money potentially going to Established Church and Catholic denominational schools. Essentially ratepayers would be funding an element of religious education. The alternative, to restrict them to Board Schools, risked poor parents not sending children to school for reasons of conscience. The Board itself was divided on the issue, which they passed with the slimmest of margins.  

Batley was a mixed religious town, with a significant Dissenting population, alongside the Established Church and Catholics. The acrimonious debate, peppered with raucous cries from the ratepayers, saw Catholic Fr Rigby and J Wilberforce Cassels, vicar of St Thomas’ presenting a united front when speaking from the platform, much to the sarcastic amusement of those opposed to denominational schools. Mr Marriott’s jibe of “This man (addressing Rev Cassels and pointing to Fr Rigby), consigns you to eternal damnation as a schismatic – and you, I believe send him to a very warm place” typifies the comments. 

The heated debate ranged from objections to paying fees for children whose parents by their dissolute habits had brought themselves to a paupered condition, to freedom of choice and persecution; from accusations of seeking to use public money for their own religious purposes, to arguments about time spent on religious teaching detracting from education in reading, writing and arithmetic. Over 140 years later and nothing changes! 

Fr Rigby came in for particularly harsh treatment as illustrated from this account of proceedings in the “Dewsbury Reporter” 

Mr Wormald Waring [from the secular camp] and the Rev T.B. Rigby, Roman Catholic priest, now rose together to address the meeting, and while the former was received with applause by a majority of those present, the latter was assailed with a storm of howls. The denominational party however cheered him”. 

The meeting concluded with a vote against the decision of the School Board and a warning that if the bye-law was enacted “it will produce the same animosity and irritation which was produced by the enforced payment of church rates”. 

The events weighed heavily on the mind of Fr Rigby, touching upon his religion, the possibility that one man could force another man’s child into a place against his conscience, and his strongly held belief in education of the poor. He wrote to Fr McCarten on the subject. 

We then come to the fateful evening of 18 March 1872. Fr Rigby was making his way back from that Lancaster funeral, held in the city’s St Peter’s church. Rather than returning direct to Batley, he and Fr Thomas Loughran of Leyburn made a life-ending choice. They decided to take the 7pm train from Lancaster’s Green Ayre station to Morecambe, to visit a friend. Some reports refer to it as Green Area, replicating the error in railway timetables up to around 1870.  

They arrived shortly before departure time. Fr Rigby stopped to talk to two ladies, whilst Fr Loughran enquired of porter William Walker how long they had before the train left. Upon being told it would go in a minute or so, they decided they would have time to go to the toilet. 

Fr Loughran made it back to the train in the nick of time, the whistle blew, the doors closed, the guard gave the signal and train set off, driven by John Winter (who hailed from Hunslet, Yorkshire). Before getting into the brake van, Northamptonshire-born guard Thomas Sturman noticed Fr Rigby and warned him not to attempt to board. 

The platform was brightly lit, well maintained and, as William Walker oddly described it, there were no pieces of orange peel lying around. The short-sighted Fr Rigby was still seemingly trying to ascertain his companion’s carriage. He spotted Fr Loughran and made an attempt to reach him. Another Northamptonshire-born man, foreman porter Edward Garley (some reports incorrectly say Richard Gorley) saw Fr Rigby walking sharply down the platform as the train set off and cautioned him twice to keep back. He and labourer George Allen saw the priest miss his step and stumble between the platform and moving carriages. Gorley, only a yard away, tried unsuccesfully to catch him. He immediately called out for the station officials to switch the signals to stop the train, which quickly drew to a halt. But it was too late. A carriage had passed over the priest’s chest and arms. By the time William Walker reached him, he was dead. 

His body was conveyed back to the presbytery at St Peter’s, where the inquest headed by coroner Mr Holden returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”. 

On the evening of Thursday 21 March his remains arrived back in Batley by train. Several hundred people processed from Cross Bank Batley to join the crowds already waiting at the station. Shops closed their shutters as a mark of respect and thousands lined the route as the hearse containing Fr Rigby made its way back to church, where his oak, flower-strewn coffin was placed on a bier in front of the black draped wooden altar. The church was full. Those unable to get in were allowed walk through the church, past the coffin and out via the sacristy. 

Fr Rigby’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The church was similarly filled to overflowing for the funeral, held the following morning at 11 o’clock. Over 30 priests attended, and long-time friend Fr McCarten preached the sermon during which almost all the congregation shed tears. He expressed gladness, in the midst of sorrow, hearing it was in the exercise of charity, attending the funeral of another priest, he had met his death. He went on to say he had built his parishioners a church “where they would have consolation administered, and where they would be carried at last”. 

More information about the St Mary of the Angels roof fund is here

Sources:

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes.

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”.

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”.

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”.

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”.

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”.

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments.

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry.

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccessful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases.

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally.

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease.

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection.

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse.

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies .

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment.

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now.

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay.

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include:

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)

Batley Privy Riots and the Death of a Policeman

Searching for my ancestors in the Batley library newspapers, I ended up totally side-tracked reading about the goings-on in the town’s New Street area. Some incidents involved distantly connected relations. But the real value was the insight it gave into the community in which my ancestors lived, over a narrow timeframe. I looked at the two years from Christmas 1875. Whilst I didn’t read every paper, the ones I skimmed gave a flavour.

The 1875 Christmas festivities in New Street, an Irish immigrant area, resulted in court appearances for a number of its residents. The first involved Ann Gavan, a married woman (so far no link with my Gavans), accompanied by the headline in the “Batley Reporter” of 1 January 1876 “The Way Christmas is Kept in New Street”. On 27 December she appeared at Batley Borough Court, convicted of being drunk and riotous on Christmas Day.

She attracted police attention on Christmas Eve. Seeing a crowd gathered around her house, Police Sergeant Gamwell looked through the window. He saw her lying heavily drunk on the floor, surrounded by a crowd of boys. Her husband was also drunk. In fact they were seldom sober. By 3am Christmas Day the pair were cursing and swearing, attracting a large crowd. At this point Police Constable Shewan apprehended Ann. He couldn’t manage her husband too.

But this wasn’t an isolated New Street incident. Appearing in Batley Borough Court on the same day were an assortment of individuals. Christmas Day saw John King, described as an old man – although what constituted old then may not be the case by today’s standards, hauled off to the police station. Again the charge was one of drunk and riotous behaviour. He also assaulted the arresting office, Police Constable Beecroft. On 26 December Patrick Jordan and Patrick Moran’s drunken fight resulted in a drunk and riotous conviction for the pair. Their escapade tied up five or six police officers most of the evening. And Michael McManus was similarly convicted, for the 17th time.

That wasn’t the end of the parade of individuals before Batley Borough Court for events that Christmas in New Street. The following week’s edition of the “Batley Reporter” contained a string of obscene language cases: Mary Foley used obscene language towards several policemen on 26 December; Ellen Tarpey was convicted of using obscene language toward Mary Gavan (a potential family connection here) on 27 December; the case against John Hannan (another family link) was dismissed. He faced a charge of using obscene language towards Ann McCormick on 28 December. And finally yet another case involving Ann McCormick as victim, this time at the receiving end from John McManus on 27 December. The Mayor wished the bench could fine her too, as he considered her equally to blame in the incident.

The idea that this was a one-off string of cases occasioned by Christmas doesn’t hold water. True the police office was nearby, so the area fell under particular scrutiny. But no other area of Batley had such a high proportion of cases. In fact the Mayor “….commented strongly on the number of cases of obscene language brought before the Bench especially from that locality; and said if it was not for the cases from that district the magistrates would have little to do”.

And going through the papers there are more cases, not confined to holidays. The one incident that stuck out for me did involve distant relatives: John Hannan, of the murderous poker assault episode on his father-in-law, and his wife, Margaret. The newspaper heading reads “Dealing Gently With New Street Rioters”.

The incident started at 3.45pm on Sunday 15 October 1876, lasted two or three hours, and involved several residents. It was sparked by the disputed use of a privy in the yard of Patrick Gannon. Hannan and another man broke open its door. They claimed they had a right to be in the toilet. It appears Gannon and nearby neighbour Mary McManus, with whom the Hannans now lodged, shared the same landlord. The landlord authorised Mary’s use of the privy.

687px-Toilet_in_the_Beamish_Museum_01 (2)

Outside Toilet at Beamish – Wikimedia Commons by Immanuel Giel

Gannon claimed that as he challenged the “intruders”, Hannan struck him. At this point Gannon fetched the police.

Normally in these circumstances the police would not attend. They would issue an assault summons. On this occasion Police Constable Friendly Hague went with Gannon to New Street, an action subsequently criticised. He defended it by saying Gannon was afraid to go home. Perhaps the fact Hannan was well-known to the police had an influence.

It was claimed Hannan re-commenced his attack on Gannon. Police Constable Webber, upon seeing the crowd gathered in New Street, went to see what was happening. He assisted Police Constable Hague in apprehending Hannan, who resisted. In the ensuing melee Bridget Gannon, wife of Patrick, came out with a poker. At this point Hannan was on the floor, black in the face from being throttled by Police Constable Hague.

Margaret Hannan now joined in to rescue her husband. She too was armed with a poker, striking both Gannon and Police Constable Hague about the head, shoulders and back with it, saying “I’ll not let the b___ take him”. She was led away by Mary McManus.

Michael Gallagher also joined the affray, kicking Police Constable Hague whilst on the floor, saying “We’ll kill the b___ if you like”. Hannan incited Gallagher further by crying “Go into him”, so Gallagher obliged, aiming another kick.

The upshot of this Court appearance before the Mayor, Alderman J.T.Marriott: Hannan was cleared of assaulting Gannon. He was also cleared of damaging Police Constable Hague’s trousers, as the Mayor said the policeman should not have rushed in as he did. He was, however, convicted of the assault on Hague; as was Gallagher; Margaret was convicted of assaulting both the policeman and Gannon.

Whist on the surface this seems a series of humorous incidents, it highlights the problems faced by these early Victorian police in executing their duty. It was also a precursor to an event with far more serious consequences: the death of a policeman in the town on 9 December 1877. Inevitably New Street featured in the events.

William Peet [1] was born in January 1853, the son of agricultural labourer Thomas Peet and his wife Sarah. His baptism took place on 1 May 1853 in the parish of Wolvey in Warwickshire, close to the border with Leicestershire. The family are recorded here prior to William’s birth in the 1851 census, with daughters Sarah Ann (6), Elizabeth (2) and Jane (2 months).

By the time of the 1861 census the Peets had moved north to Broomhill near Barnsley. In addition to William and his parents, the family included Jane (10), Joseph (6) and infant son Thomas.

William’s father died sometime prior to the 1871 census. This census shows William as the oldest child residing in his mother Sarah’s home. Not yet 50 and described as an annuitant, she had five other sons at home, three under the age of 10. These were Joseph (16), Thomas (10), Fred (8), John (7) and Harry (4). William’s wage from his job as a mason’s labourer must have been a welcome support.

In September 1874 William married 19 year old Mary Downs at Wombwell parish church. The register entry describes his occupation as a miner. Two daughters followed, Lily (1875) and Sarah Ann (1877).

It was shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth that William undertook a significant change of career. 1856 saw the creation of the West Riding Constabulary, an organisation which William joined on 17 September 1877. The Examination Book shows he measured 5”8¼”, had light hair, light blue eyes and a fair complexion. He described his trade as a labourer, his previous employment being at Barnsley’s Lundhill colliery. He was attached to the Division responsible for policing in Batley on 23 October 1877.

It was at around the time of a sequence of serious incidents between Batley’s Irish community and the police. In one incident, originating in New Street at the end of November 1877, Police Constable Beecroft suffered such a serious assault it rendered him unfit for work weeks later. This was the situation facing the new policeman. A situation which cost him his life on Sunday 9 December 1877.

The remarks column of his Examination Book reads:

Killed in a street row at Batley by a number of drunken Irishmen (between 11pm and midnight). He and PC 278 Herring were quelling the disturbance when 7 or 8 Irishmen turned round and began to beat, stone and kick them in a most unmerciful manner, one of them striking a fatal blow on the head with a heavy walking stick taken from PC Herring”.

From around 9pm on 8 December PC Peet and PC Robert Herring patrolled the Batley area around New Street, Wellington Street, Hick Lane and Union Street. At just gone 11pm they heard a disturbance on Cobden Street and witnessed a crowd of around 60 men and women. A number of them, William Flynn (27 year old shoemaker), Patrick Phillips (labourer, age 25 ), John Ryan (labourer, 24) and Michael O’Neill (labourer) had been to a jig at Patrick McGowan’s “Prince of Wales” beerhouse in Cobden Street. New Street’s Ann McCormick, a rag picker and a familiar name in my research of the area, (there was a mother and daughter of this name and I suspect this was the daughter whereas the one involved in the Christmas 1875 incidents was the mother), also attended the dance. Now, after closing time, many of the revellers became involved in a street dispute.

Some men had their coats off, including Flynn, O’Neill and Phillips, and were threatening to strike men from the Staincliffe area and neighbouring town of Heckmondwike, including Patrick Hunt. When PCs Peet and Herring arrived Ann McCormick, screaming and crying, claimed she had been struck by one of the Batley men, pointing in the direction of Flynn and O’Neill. Apparently it was the latter. There is the possibility she was trying to obtain payback for a prevented marriage.

1892 map showing the area events took place

The police tried to diffuse the situation, attempting to get the crowd to disperse. At this point the Staincliffe and Heckmondwike men made their escape. Flynn and his mates progressed down Peel Street, swearing and cursing but then, reaching Wellington Street, refused to move.

Challenged by Herring about their dispersal delay, one of the men knocked the policeman down stealing his wooden stick. He then charged at PC Peet striking him about the head with the stolen weapon, knocking him to the ground and taking his truncheon.

There was some confusion as to the identity of this assailant. PC Herring remained adamant throughout the judicial process it was Flynn; but it was a dark night with little lamplight, and evidence from others was confusing with some indicating O’Neill. Some giving evidence claimed not to have seen blows struck, others only fist blows. Doubt was also cast on Herring’s identification because he had only been working in the Batley area for a few weeks. And new witnesses crawled out of the woodwork disputing events. For example Mary Foley appeared at the Assizes claiming she witnessed the row but hadn’t appeared before the magistrates earlier in proceedings because she “had a queer husband, a large family, and did not want to be mixed up with the police”.

Whilst Peet was down, Flynn, O’Neill and Ryan aimed kicks at him. They then turned on PC Herring.

This provided an opportunity for PC Peet to regain his feet and assist his colleague. The pair managed to grab hold of Flynn. Other men in the crowd began to pelt the police with stones and loose setts which had been left in he street by council workmen carrying out repairs. John McManus, a 25 year old collier, was identified as the man who threw the setts. Phillips as a stone-thrower. Peet was hit on the back of the arm or shoulder. The stone-throwing enabled Flynn to escape into a house in New Street, the police giving chase.

No other officer heard PC Herring’s whistle-blowing calls for help and the crowd refused to assist, so he remained watching the house whilst PC Peet brought police reinforcements. The extra police arrived but upon entering the house they found Flynn had vanished.


The police now went about tracing and arresting those involved. These included Flynn (apprehended in his bed at his Ward’s Hill home 1.30am. His wife woke him and he struck her saying “You b*****”, and to Robert Webber, one of the arresting policemen “It’s thy b***** phizog is it?”). Others rounded up were McManus, Ryan, Martin Devanagh and Patrick and James Phillips. Patrick Phillips, according to some reports, lodged in John Hannan’s house, but the Clark Green[2] location does raise questions as to whether it is “my” man. One person though evaded capture – O’Neill.

Whilst this was going on, at just before 1am in the morning Peet complained of feeling ill and returned to his Purlwell Lane home in the Mount Pleasant area of town. It was a house which he and his family shared with the Herring family. During the early hours he became increasingly unwell, lapsing into a coma. Police surgeon James Cameron was called at around 6am and Peet died just before 8am.

Cameron undertook a post-mortem, assisted by Dr William Bayldon. It revealed Peet had suffered a skull fracture and haemorrhage, causing his death. Peet’s body was taken back to his home near Barnsley for burial.

The two-part inquest in front of Thomas Taylor, district coroner, was held on the 11 and 18 December at the New Inn at Clark Green in Batley. A verdict of murder by Flynn was reached.

The men next appeared before the Magistrates, and a large crowd, at Batley Town Hall on 20 December. The case against Devanagh was dropped as the evidence against him was not sufficiently strong. Herring couldn’t swear to his presence and he, naturally, denied having been there.

At the end of the hearing James Phillips was also discharged. Although said to be at the row, he wasn’t seen doing anything termed fatal.

That left Flynn, Ryan, McManus and Patrick Phillips committed to trial at the Yorkshire Winter Assizes on a wilful murder charge: Flynn as the man who inflicted the fatal blow, the others for aiding and abetting. Some discussion did take place about extending this serious charge  wider than Flynn, but the balance of opinion swayed in favour of it. They concluded it was not necessary that all persons should inflict the fatal blow. If those present aided and abetted, they were all equally guilty of wilful murder.

The proceedings in Batley were not without occasional humour, a kind of “us and them” scenario reminiscent of Sir Jeremiah Harman’s Springsteen, Gascoigne and Oasis comments. These included an exchange in Batley Borough Court  about the meaning of “jig“, with Mr Airton from the West Riding Police providing the explanation.

“Dewsbury Reporter” 22 December 1877 – A Jig Explained

At the inquest  Ellen Chappell, a witness, illustrates wonderfully why we have variations in ancestral surname spellings.

Surname Confusion – “Huddersfield Chronicle” 19 December 1877

The Assizes took place at Leeds Town Hall the following month. One of the first decisions made by the Grand Jury was a downgrading of the charges against Ryan, McManus and Phillips as there did not appear to be any common purpose between Flynn and the others to attack Peet. They now faced a charge of assaulting a policeman in the execution of his duty. Only Flynn faced the charge of wilful murder.

His trial took place on 18 January 1878. To an outbreak of applause in the court the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict. This on the basis of uncertainty as to who stuck the fatal blow – they could not definitely say it was Flynn. He was detained to face an assault charge with the others, the following day.

This was the final trial of the Assizes. Because Flynn had been acquitted of Peet’s murder, no evidence was offered for the assault and he was discharged. Guilty verdicts were reached against the other three men, who each received six month sentences.

Mary Peet and her children returned to her hometown of Wombwell, near Barnsley. The Police Committee granted her a £65 gratuity. A subscription fund was also established for her. She married coalminer Den(n)is Bretton in 1879, having a number of other children during her second marriage, including a son named William.

Besides a man loosing his life, the death of PC Peet highlighted racial tension in Batley, between the Irish and local communities. A series of local newspaper letters and articles are testimony to this. One letter illustrating the fact, which attracted much attention, appeared in the “Dewsbury Reporter” of 15 December 1877. It was written from “A Batley Lad”. It harked back to the leniency shown to those New Street privy rioters amongst others. It read:

The murder of a constable, often predicted, in Batley, has at last taken place, and perhaps the Irish now will be a trifle more quiet. They have felled many a policeman during the last two years, and when brought up, especially when Mr J.T. Marriott was Mayor and Ex-Mayor, have been let off, as your paper recorded from time to time, with most inadequate punishment. The Irish in this quarter are a very low lot, and rows and fights have taken place every weekend, but instead of the magistracy supporting the representatives of the law they have leaned to the other, and not virtuous side.

I think it is time that we had our own borough police, for if we had I think we should not allow them to be knocked about by the Irish roughshod as the poor county constables have been.

Perhaps the Irish after this murder will remember Patrick Reid”.[3]

Rev. Canon Gordon, the priest at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, referred to the incident in his sermon on Sunday 16 December 1877. He stated the Irishmen involved in the disturbance and murder never entered Church, and were Catholics in name only. He went on to say the event was a disgrace to all true Irishmen and Catholics. The incident confirmed his previously expressed opinion that a murder would be committed in Batley as a result of the excessive drinking which prevailed in the Irish classes. He concluded by expressing the hope that God would severely punish the guilty as a lesson to future generations.

This was the community in which my Irish ancestors lived and were part of. Its history forms a critical backdrop in shaping their everyday lives.

I’ve named only a fraction of those involved in the various stages of the trial for the murder of William Peet. If anyone believes their ancestor is involved I’m happy to check my notes.

Footnotes:
[1] Sometimes referred to as Peete
[2] Modern spelling is Clerk Green
[3] Patrick Reid was an Irish hawker executed in York on 8 January 1848 for the triple murder in Mirfield of James and Ann Wraith and their servant Caroline Ellis

Sources:

  • Ancestry.co.uk – Warwickshire Anglican Registers for the Parish of Wolvey; West Riding Constabulary Examination Books; Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909; Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 (HO 27);
  • “Batley Reporter” newspaper
  • Census: 1851-1881
  • FindMyPast – Doncaster Archives Yorkshire Marriages; newspapers including “Dewsbury Reporter”, “Huddersfield Chronicle”, “Leeds Mercury”, “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer”,
  • GRO Indexes
  • Wikimedia Commons for photograph of outside toilet, by Immanuel Giel – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1110467

Obsolete Mayo Family History Website: Wayback Machine to the Rescue

In a couple of my blog posts (My County Mayo Family and The National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers Website and Parish Registers: Brick Wall Breakers and Mystery Creators) I’ve referred to one of my much loved, and missed, websites. It was a County Mayo baptism and marriage transcript site, EastMayo.org, launched in 2005. Mainly using LDS films, it’s aim was to provide a free facility to researchers of family history in East Mayo. It concentrated on “that area of County Mayo encompassed by the Roscommon border and the towns of Charlestown, Boholo, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Knock, Claremorris and Ballindine”.  

 The transcripts included:

  • Aghamore 1864-1883 and Knock 1869-1905 Baptisms; 
  • Aghamore Marriages 1864-1882; 
  • Claremorris Civil Registrations 1872-1875; 
  • Claremorris Marriages 1806-1890 and Baptisms 1835-1912; 
  • Kilconduff Marriages 1846-1878; 
  • Kilmovee Baptisms 1854-1910 and 1881-1913; 
  • Kilmovee Marriages; 
  • Kilmovee Marriages Out of Parish; 
  • Knock Marriages 1883-1943 

With generations of my family from the Catholic Parish of Kilmovee, this site was a Godsend. I was disappointed when it disappeared. Although in 2015 the National Library of Ireland launched its free Catholic Parish Register website plugging some of the gap, the EastMayo.org had a broader date range for its limited number of Parishes.   

And there were some extras such as the fabulous “Kilmovee Marriages Out of Parish” transcriptions. Basically, if someone married out of Parish, the priest in the Parish the marriage took place contacted the priest in the person’s baptismal Parish informing them. 

I’ve seen something similar in the Batley St Mary’s registers. These contained such letters slipped between the pages. Indeed in this Parish, the priests went so far as to annotate the person’s baptismal entry with their subsequent marriage details, whether the marriage took place in or out of Parish.  

The Kilmovee transcripts covered marriages in the first part of the 20th Century, with marriages taking place within Ireland and beyond. Although only a snapshot of around 30 years, the Batley marriages of my grandpa (John Callaghan) and his brother (Martin Callaghan) are captured in them. 

An example of the global range of these marriages is seen in the initial transcriptions. They included former Kilmovee parishioners marrying as far afield as Glasgow, Batley, Orange – New York, Stockport, Congleton, Manchester, Doncaster, Accrington, Huddersfield, Charlestown, St Helens, Jersey City – USA and Silver Falls, Canada.  

Information on these Out of Parish marriages varied, but could contain: 

  • spouse; 
  • baptismal date (a bit of creativity here – most of the dates given seem to be approximate); 
  • parental details, with sometimes the mother’s maiden name; 
  • date and place of marriage (church and location);
  • witnesses; 
  • officiating priest; 
  • age; and  
  • if the person is widowed. 

The information provided linked your ancestor to a Parish. It also enabled you to track back further, for example by looking at the baptism transcripts.  

Yes, there were acknowledged transcription difficulties, but it was a wonderful resource.  

An updated EastMayo.org site domain name still exists with links to Irish-related websites, though it is not the original site with all that wonderfully name-rich information. But all is not lost. The original, as it stood between 2006-2011, can still be accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 

And I’ll end with another really useful County Mayo website, which can be found here. Besides current day information, including where to stay and things to do, there is information about the area’s history, geography and culture generally as well as that of individual towns and villages. There is also a message board which may be helpful for those with Mayo roots.

Batley Rugby League Club’s WW1 History-Maker

Some debate occurred in the Yorkshire press in March 1915 as to who was the first Northern Union player in Yorkshire and beyond to obtain a commission in The Great War.

The “Huddersfield Daily Examiner[1] and “Yorkshire Evening Post[2] declared that in Yorkshire the accolade fell to Wakefield Trinity’s William Lindsay Beattie who was appointed temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Border Regiment on 15 March 1915.[3] He lost his life on 27 January 1917. Lancashire-based Wigan’s Gwyn Thomas was reputed to be the first commissioned Northern Union player. However, I believe this event occurred towards the end of 1914. Thomas survived the war and joined Huddersfield in 1919.

Both papers overlooked Batley winger, Robert Randerson.

Robert Randerson Robert Randerson

Robert, (or Bob as he was known according to the local press), joined the Leeds University Officer’s Training Corps (OTC) shortly after Britain’s entry into the War. “The London Gazette” of 25 August 1914 lists Robert as amongst those OTC cadets and ex-cadets appointed as temporary 2nd Lieutenants.[4] Promotion quickly followed. In January 1915[5]“The London Gazette” announced his appointment to temporary Lieutenant with effect from 10 December 1914. Only months later, on 15 May 1915, he became a temporary Captain as notified in a June edition of the same official journal.[6]

Letters of correction to the papers followed; and the Batley Club itself was adamant the honour belonged to its player. In its Annual Meeting of May 1915 it pronounced:

“Randerson…..was the first N.U. player to receive a commission. This honour has been claimed by others but it belongs to Lieut. Randerson and the Batley Club”[7]

Within weeks of this discussion, on 7 August 1915, Robert was to lose his life in the “Yorkshire Landings” at Gallipoli.[8]

Robert was born in York in late 1890, the son of Robert and Annie Randerson (neé Wilkinson). His siblings included Annie (1886), Benjamin (1889), William (1892), John Wilkinson (1897) and George (1899).

The family were comfortably off with Robert senior earning his living as a master corn miller then as a grocer and corn merchant. By 1901 the family lived on Haxby Road, York and remained here at the time of Robert’s death.

They were an old Catholic family with strong religious convictions and connections. After training at Ushaw, Robert’s uncle Benjamin served as a priest initially briefly at St Patrick’s, Leeds, then St Charles Borromeo, Hull and lastly, until his death in 1897, at St Hilda’s, Whitby. In the 1911 census Robert’s sister, Annie, was a nun residing at St Wilfrid’s Priory, Arundel. She was employed as a head mistress at the town’s St Phillip’s Infants’ School.[9] His younger brother, John, was a boarder at the Franciscan College at Cowley, Oxfordshire.

The 1911 census shows Robert, a former pupil at Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School in York, following his sister Annie’s educational career path. A student at St Mary’s College, Hammersmith, the objective of this establishment was to train Catholic men to serve as teachers in Catholic schools throughout the country. Robert demonstrated his sporting ability whilst studying here. In an inter-College sports contest he broke all previous records for the 100 yard flat race, covering the ground in a shade over 10 seconds.

Robert came to Batley in around 1913 as an assistant master at St Mary’s school. He soon became involved in the wider Parish community, holding the role of choirmaster at St Mary’s church.

But he became known beyond the town’s Catholic population when he started playing rugby for Batley. Initially in the reserves, he made his first team debut in a cup-tie at Halifax on 14 March 1914. His career was limited by the outbreak of war, but in this short time he made five appearances for the Batley first team scoring four tries.

At the declaration of war Robert’s strong sense of duty kicked in. He was the first Batley player to enlist and was quoted as saying:

“I am not a fighting man; I don’t like to fight, but I ought to go and fight at a time like this”.

He served with the 6th (Service) Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), one of Kitchener’s New Army battalions. His enlistment necessitated a re-arrangement of the St Mary’s Boys Department school timetable, an event noted in the school log book.

It was whilst serving with the Yorkshire Regiment based at Belton Park, Grantham, that he made his final appearance for Batley against Keighley on 10 October 1914. He told the club secretary Kershaw Newton that it would be his last game with the Gallant Youths until peace was signed as, with his exhaustive training programme of marching, drilling, lectures and special studies as an officer on top of his ordinary duties, he was “about played out by the weekend”.

Additionally, with his officer responsibilities, he could not afford to risk a rugby playing injury.

“….I have 60 men under me and am responsible for them, and will have to lead them in war. To make them and myself efficient requires all my time and energy, and I do not think it would be right to risk laying myself up with an injury….”

Poignantly he wrote:

“…..I will come and hope to see many of my old friends round the railings as a sort of good-bye until we get the serious business through and when honour and justice are satisfied I trust to have many a jolly game on the hill”.[10]

Robert scored one try in Batley’s 19-0 victory. But, ironically given his concerns about injury before the game, he suffered the misfortune of a kick to the head. This blow confined him to a darkened room for a few days on returning to Belton Park.

At the beginning of July 1915 Robert and his Battalion left Liverpool bound ultimately for the Dardanelles. Initially landing at Mudros they moved onto the island staging post of Imbros to acclimatise and practice night landings and attacks. On the evening of the 6 August they left Imbros and at around 11pm that night they finally disembarked on the Gallipoli peninsular, south east of Nibrunesi Point on B Beach. The aim was to take Lala Baba, a low hill between the southern side of Suvla Bay and the Salt Lake.

Map of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove from Gallipoli Diary, Vol. 2 by Sir Ian Hamilton - Edward Arnold, London - From Wikimedia Commons Map of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove from Gallipoli Diary, Vol. 2 by Sir Ian Hamilton – Edward Arnold, London, 1920 or before – From Wikimedia Commons

As the men moved off from the sea shore they were immediately engulfed by the darkness of the night, it being impossible to see a body of troops at a few yards distance.

Lala Baba was eventually taken, but the Unit War Diary records a heavy price paid with 16 officers and about 250 other rank casualties (killed and wounded) in the fighting during those first hours of the night of 6/7 August 1915. This was out of a total of 25 officers and 750 other ranks that set off from Imbros only a short time earlier.

Robert was amongst those officers killed. He died on 7 August 1915 within hours of landing. According to a fellow officer he met an instantaneous death as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. In a letter to Robert’s father he wrote:

“We made our landing of the evening of the 6th August below the Salt Lake. The 6th York’s covered the landing of the rest of the Brigade. At about 10a.m we disembarked from the barge with little opposition and started up the peninsular to take a hill called Talla Baba, and there we lost a lot of men. I got there just before 12 midnight. Some of our men had gone over and some were held up by the Turks entrenched on top and there were several of our officers wounded and killed there, I was told your son had been killed there and the sergeant who told me said that he had been shot through the head, so his death seems to have been instantaneous”.[11]

The first news of Robert’s demise reached Batley around the 12 August when Mrs Power, with whom he had apartments in Norfolk Street before the war, received a brief note from his father informing her that he had been killed in the Dardanelles.

Local tributes poured in for him, newspapers referring to him as “Gentleman Bob”.“The Batley Reporter and Guardian” praised his “manly character and sterling qualities” concluding he “was a true sportsman and a most popular player on the field and a perfect gentleman in private life”.[12]  

The Batley News eulogised his virtues saying:

“A pattern of good conduct on the football field, handsome appearance, of excellent physique, and a splendid teacher, his demise removes from the Heavy Woollen District one whose manifold example commends itself to the rising generation”. [13]

The members of the Batley Education Committee were equally fulsome with their tributes to Robert in their meeting at the end of September 1915. They expressed sympathy with his family and appreciation for his work in the town. Alderman H North said that:

“Captain Randerson was a typical gentleman; an ideal leader of boys and a man appreciated by his scholars and school managers. …… His death had removed from Batley a most capable servant of the education committee….. The town was poorer by his demise”. 

His death was also noted in Catholic newspaper “The Tablet”[14]

Robert Randerson, remembered on Batley St Mary's War Memorial Robert Randerson, remembered on Batley St Mary’s War Memorial

I will leave the final word on Robert from the school in which he worked. Almost exactly one year to the day from the St Mary’s log book entry about timetable changes forced by Robert’s enlistment, the same log book has an entry on 16 August 1915 announcing that school re-opened after the midsummer holiday. It went on to say in a restrained, understated way:

“News received that Captain Randerson, Assistant Master from this school, was killed in action at the Dardanelles on August 7th”. 

Sources:

  • Batley News
  • Batley Reporter and Guardian
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • FindMyPast – newspapers, census records and Teacher’s Registration Council Registers: http://www.findmypast.co.uk/
  • School Log Book – Batley St Mary’s
  • “St Mary of the Angels War Memorial” – Jane Roberts
  • “The Gazette” website: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/
  • “The Tablet” archive: http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/
  • The National Archives Catalogue Reference: WO/95/4299: Unit War Diary – 32 Infantry Brigade, 6th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment 1 July 1915-31 December 1915
  • Wikimedia Commons – Map of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove from Gallipoli Diary, Vol. 2 by Sir Ian Hamilton – Edward Arnold, London, 1920 or before

[1]“Huddersfield Daily Examiner”, 25 March 1915
[2]“Yorkshire Evening Post”, 27 March 1915
[3]“The London Gazette”, Publication date: 19 March 1915, Issue: 29106, Page: 2745
[4]“The London Gazette”, 25 August 1914, Issue 28879, Page 6697
[5]The London Gazette”, 15 January 1915, Supplement 29043 Page 594
[6]The London Gazette”, 11 June 1915, Supplement 29192 Page 5736
[7]“Batley News”, 22 May 1915
[8]http://www.cwgc.org/media/50615/suvla_version_7.pdf
[9] The Teacher’s Registration Council Registers show she was headmistress at St Phillips between 1910-1916
[10]“Batley News”, 10 October 1914
[11]“Batley Reporter and Guardian”, 1 October 1915
[12]“Batley Reporter and Guardian”, 13 August 1915
[13]“Batley News”, 21 August 1915
[14]“The Tablet” Et Cietera, 28 August 1915 http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/28th-august-1915/23/et-cietera and Catholic Roll of Honour, 1 January 1916 http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/1st-january-1916/13/the-catholic-roll-of-honour

Copyright

© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My County Mayo Family and the National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers Website

8 July saw the launch of the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) Catholic Parish Registers website[1].  As with any new launch patience was important in the early hours.  Heavy traffic did slow the system down initially. However, I eventually managed to connect with the website that evening.

I have now spent a few very satisfying hours looking for the records for my County Mayo ancestors.  These are my early thoughts.

  • Obvious really, but you do need to have an idea where your ancestors were from, and from there the Catholic parish. This does not necessarily correspond to the Civil Parish. It also pays to be aware of adjacent parishes and also any parish boundary changes. The NLI Parish Registers website provides a helpful link[2] to help identify the appropriate parish and there are other websites and books[3] which perform similar functions.  In cases where you are unsure of the location of your ancestors Griffiths Valuation and surname distribution patterns[4] may provide clues. But if like me you have ancestors called Murphy, the use of these can be limited. Fortunately I know the area of East Mayo from which most of my ancestors hailed although a couple are proving elusive.
  • There are limitations in terms of date coverage. The registers start from the 1740s/50s in some areas of Ireland and generally end in around 1880, although there are some exceptions to this cut-off point. Registers in County Mayo tend to start later. The County Mayo parishes I am interested in illustrate this. Kilbeagh baptisms range from 1855-1881, marriages 1845-1866 and a different marriage set on a separate film for 1855-1881; Kilmovee has 1854-1881 and 1855-1881 (not the same entries) baptisms, with marriages 1824-1848 and 1854-1880; Knock baptisms range from 1868-1881 and marriages from 1875-1881. So not a great deal of coverage in terms of years to follow a family generationally, and the baptisms and marriages timeframes do not correspond exactly. Relating this to one branch of my family, my grandpa, John Callaghan, was born in 1895 in Carrowbeg near Kilkelly, County Mayo. His parents Michael Callaghan and Mary Murphy were married in 1883 and his eldest sibling was born in 1884. None of these events fall within the dates of the Kilmovee registers. I can follow his mother’s family (she was born in around 1856), from Sonvolaun, in the Kilmovee registers. But his father was born in around 1848 and possibly came from Shanveghera Townland (Knock), for which there is no coverage for the relevant period. So the registers have been of limited help here[5].
  • There are 56 parishes across Ireland which are not covered – fortunately this does not affect the parishes of my ancestors which all feature to some extent, although maybe perhaps not for the years I would want. Ballycroy in County Mayo is an example where there is no coverage.
  • The registers cover mainly baptisms and marriages. So if you are seeking burials you are probably going to be out of luck. This is the case for all the known Catholic parishes of my ancestors. In my quick scan of County Mayo I only found Kilfian, Killasser and Kilmoremoy (which also falls into Sligo) had burials.
  • Christian names are in Latin. Can be a bit daunting at first but there are websites which help with this.[6]
  • The names in the registers are not searchable by keyword. So it is old-fashioned page by page trawl through the scanned microfilmed document, although you can narrow the date parameters if necessary. To be honest I love looking through the complete register. It gives me more of a feel for the community in which my ancestors lived. I also have an indication as to surname spelling variations. It also means I am not reliant on someone else and their possible omissions and errors in transcribing or indexing. You can fast track the process if you have Ancestry[7] access using their “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Baptisms 1742-1881”,   “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Marriages and Banns 1742-1884” and “Ireland, Selection of Catholic Parish Deaths 1756-1881”. Be warned though the Latin name issue can create problems if you do use this method. A search for my paternal great grandfather Patrick Cassidy under is Anglicised name does not come up on this Ancestry search. But he can be found under “Patritius Cassidy.” So consider wildcard searches. 
    National Library of Ireland, Catholic Parish of Kilbeagh Baptisms 1 Jan 1855-16 Jan 1881, Microfilm 04224 / 17 - 5 April 1868 Patrick Cassidy baptism

    National Library of Ireland, Catholic Parish of Kilbeagh Baptisms 1 Jan 1855-16 Jan 1881, Microfilm 04224 / 17 – 5 April 1868 Patrick Cassidy baptism

  • I love the fact that for baptisms mother’s maiden names and sponsors (godparents) are included in the registers. These can provide further family connection pointers.
  • One of the Kilbeagh Marriage Registers[8] provided an “impedimenta” column providing additional information such as degrees of relationship, so again useful follow up clues.
  • Finally it does help to know the history behind the records to explain why things are the way they are. In this respect I find “Irish Church Records” edited by James G Ryan a useful, clear-written reference.

Yes, in common with other similar projects there are some pages where writing is faint and difficult to read. One page I looked at in Kilbeagh[9] had what looked like a leaf, but was probably a giant ink-splodge, obliterating part of the page.  Not great if that is the page you are interested in.

But I am overjoyed that such a fantastic, free genealogy resource is now available for those with Irish Catholic ancestry. And the site is one to which I shall return frequently as I try to find out more about my County Mayo roots, including my pre-famine Gavan and Knavesy (and its numerous variants)[10] ancestors, for whom I have still to identify origins.

Finally, to date the identified County Mayo surnames relevant to my direct-line ancestry are:

  • Cassidy
  • Loftus
  • Barrett
  • Maye
  • Callaghan
  • Murphy
  • Horaho
  • Gavan
  • Knavesy

Sources:

National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers: http://www.nli.ie/en/parish-register.aspx and http://registers.nli.ie/

[1]http://registers.nli.ie/
[2] http://www.swilson.info/ – love the soundex search
[3] The Irish Times website http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/placenames/   and “Tracing your Irish Ancestors” – John Grenham
[4] See the Irish Times website surname distribution feature http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/
[5] Some time ago there was a fantastic East Mayo website which had transcripts of the parish registers from parishes within the area, including the later Kilmovee baptisms and marriages. This has long since gone. But it was a great help with my early Kilmovee searches. Thank goodness for the Internet Archive Wayback Machine!
[6] I use http://www.from-ireland.net/irish-names/latin-names-in-english/ and http://comp.uark.edu/~mreynold/recint7.htm   and http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~oel/latingivennames.html For a general guide to Latin words in Irish Catholic Parish Registers I use http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/latin-irish-parish-registers.html
[7] http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
[8] Kilbeagh Marriages Microfilm 04224 / 16
[9] Kilbeagh Marriages March 1859 Microfilm 04224 / 15
[10] Includes Knafesy, Kneafsey, Kneafsy, Nacey, Nasey, Neacy, Neafsey and Neasy to name but a few