20 May 2017

Adam Ainsworth - his four wives, curs and a horsewhipping

This isn't about Aldridge or even Walsall. It's family history and is not connected to the Midlands in anyway. If you're from up north though, you might be interested!

In loving memory and dedicated to Maria Gloria McHaffie nee Donohoe 1934-2017

I first made Maria’s acquaintance 6 years ago. She made quite an impact upon me as she did with everyone she met. Maria was a feisty, independent and an extremely intelligent woman, who worked hard and fought hard all of her life.

When we first talked about her family history one name leapt out from the past; Adam Ainsworth. Maria spoke vehemently. Adam was evil and  responsible for stealing the family fortune from the Jackson’s and had also driven his fourth wife to commit suicide at the docks in Barrow-in-Furness.

The story was intriguing and this blog is a record of my research so far BUT not all mysteries have been solved and not all family legends examined for the grain of truth that explains the foundations of the legend. This is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Maria was not a direct descendent of Adam. He was her two times Great Uncle on her maternal side.

I shall start at the beginning of what I know.

Adam and his sisters, Christiana (Christiana was Maria’s Great Grandmother) and Mary Ann were the children of Robert Ainsworth and Christian nee Brocklebank. Both Ainsworth and Brocklebank are old names prevalent in Lancashire, Cumberland Westmoreland. Robert married Christiana on 30 November 1835 in Whicham, Cumberland. Adam was the youngest born in 1842 in Whicham. They settled nearby in Green Cottage, Whitbeck.

Robert Ainsworth, Maria’s Great Great Grandfather  is integral to this story because he must have had an enormous influence upon his son Adam and clearly, he cared for his family if his last will and testament is anything to go by.

From what I can gather Robert was of humble origins, his father being a labourer and he is described in the 1841 census as an agricultural labourer. Sometime between 1841 and 1850, Robert’s wife, Christian died, leaving Robert as sole provider and carer for Adam, Christiana and Mary Ann. No record can be found to substantiate this but then no record of Christian can be found to indicate that she still lived beyond that time and when Robert married Agnes King in August 1850, he is described as a widower, working as a husbandman and resident in Dalton-in-Furness. By the time the 1851 census was taken the family was scattered with Robert and Agnes living alone in Hawcoat, an area now encompassed by Barrow-in-Furness and where Robert stayed for the rest of his life.

Somewhere along the line Robert got a financial break, how and in what form is not yet discovered but it seems to have coincided with the growth of Barrow from a tiny hamlet in the early 19th century to an enormous industrial town by the end of the century, following rapid expansion after the railway arrived in 1846 to transport iron ore and slate. Perhaps he was a shrewd investor, scraping a few pounds together to invest in various ways that came to fruition by him becoming owner of a good number of properties built in that ever expanding town.

In 1851 Robert is described as a licensed hawker. A hawker is a seller of merchandise that can easily be transported, back then either by hand or perhaps by horse and cart. The goods would have been inexpensive and usually consisted of handicrafts, cheap household items and food. The licence would have been issued by the local council. Robert must have been a good salesman and have worked incredibly hard in what was a competitive business because by 1861 he was trading as a grocer from his shop in Hawcoat.  Times got better and ten years later Robert is now a farmer of 5 acres, living at 34 Hawcoat. This too must have been lucrative and no doubt his early experience as an agricultural labourer and then a husbandman helped him enormously,  as ten years later and at the age of 70, Robert was now a retired farmer at 35 Hawcoat. It is interesting to note that afterwards Robert only ever described himself as a retired grocer, adding ‘master’ to make it appear more salubrious!

Robert and his second wife Agnes never had children and Robert became a widower for the second time when Agnes died in 1883. He did not marry for a third time.

So what about Adam? He was very young when his mother died. Separated from his sisters and father he is found living in Millom, near to where he had been born, in 1851 age 8, attending school, a lodger of Thomas, a shoemaker and Isabella Braithwaite, who may have been distant relations of Adam's. By the age of 18 Adam had found a trade, working as an apprentice tailor and living as a lodger with John Gawith, his wife, their five children and another lodger, in Barrow.

By 1864 Adam had completed his apprenticeship and moved to Kendal then part of the old county of Westmoreland to ply his trade as a tailor. There he met Margaret Haddath, a dressmaker, who was three years older than him. Margaret had been born illegitimate in the Workhouse in Ulverstone. She had been brought up by her land owning farmer grandparents and various unmarried aunts and uncles, on their 50 acres at Hard Crag near Ulverstone. Judging by what Adam achieved in life, I believe he must have had a presence that impressed Margaret because in 1865 she gave birth to Adam’s first child, a son named Albert Robert. The following year Adam married Margaret because by then a second child was on the way. Alfred was born before the end of the year!

Adam and Margaret remained in Kendal living in Highgate Yard, just off the main street that runs through the lakeland town. They had a daughter in the early part of 1871 and Margaret made a little extra cash by taking in four young boarders, all of them tailors. Unfortunately good fortune and industry was to end for Margaret. Her death on 17 September 1872 was reported in the local newspaper. Adam uprooted his young family and moved to Barrow, where his father was now farming and his sister Christiana was raising a brood herself, having married George Jackson. Adam presumably would have felt better able to raise his children with other family around him and possibly it occurred to him that he did not want his children to be boarded out as he had been.

Adam throughout his life, was never a man to let the grass grow under his feet. It is not known how he met with Elizabeth Clara Tatley, a young widow who had been living in Leeds but when 1874 was a brand new year he married her in Ulverstone. Elizabeth was the daughter of Donald and Martha Finlayson. She had been born in barracks in London as her father was a cavalryman, rising to the rank of drill sergeant. In early 1868 Elizabeth had married Jacob Tatley who sadly died almost immediately. There had been no time for children.

Adam and Elizabeth were industrious both personally and professionally.  Elizabeth not only had her readymade family of step-children to care for but she also had two daughters by Adam in 1874 and 1876. There was also a son, Donald born in 1879 but unfortunately he died as an infant the following year. They moved into numbers 62 and 64 Dalton Road Barrow, which they converted into one property. Husband and wife worked as drapers both in Dalton Road and also in their newly acquired premises on the main thoroughfare of Duke Street in central Barrow. The premises at number 85 remain there to this day having escaped Herr Hitler’s bombs during WW2 and is a listed building. With Adam’s skills as a tailor and the rapid expansion of his business during a period of general recession,I think it can be safely assumed that Adam offered outfitting services also, clothing the great and the good of Barrow in the finest textiles and the latest fashions. No doubt it helped that Adam never let any opportunity pass him by.

A glimpse into the world of Adam and Elizabeth can be found through reports of an action for damages they took against the local railway company. Ainsworth v Furness Railway Company was heard in court in January 1879. In October 1878 Elizabeth had travelled to Manchester with the company. Unfortunately for her, all platforms were busy when the train arrived and so the doors were opened and passengers asked to alight without the safety of a platform. Elizabeth fell onto the rails injuring her head, right arm and knee although not seriously. Now we all know from modern advertising that where there is blame there is a claim and the claim was for £1250, an enormous sum back then. The compensation was sought for lost takings in their shop owing to Elizabeth being indisposed and also for the incidental expenses of engaging a nurse. The appellants counsel considered that Elizabeth had been negligent in not alighting the train safely and indicated that she had been careless! Nevertheless Adam won but only received damages of £130, still a considerable sum.

It seems that by 1880 Adam had made attempts to embark upon a political career in a local sense. He stood in Newbarns Ward, Barrow in 1880 but came bottom of the list by a good margin. Perhaps Elizabeth’s actions with regards to a local newspaper editor was held against him with the local (mostly) male electorate taking a stance against Adam for not holding his wife in check. It is an incredible story.

Here is my transcription of a report from the Sunderland Daily Echo on 27 October 1880 but there are reports to be found in newspapers the length of the land. Notoriety hit the Ainsworth’s!


The pleasure of horse-whipping editors is somewhat extensively realised in America and so long as the practice was confined to the other side of the Atlantic we could afford to laugh and pursue even tenour of our way unmindful of the existence of certain cowhide whips, the threatened use of which ere now has aroused more merriment than uneasiness in our editorial bosom. Man, however, is an imitative animal, so also is woman and therefore it is with feelings somewhat akin to alarm we find that the horse-whipping mania has manifested within a hundred miles of our border.
In this latest case no idle threats were used; the victim was unsuspectingly inveigled into a public room in a hotel and without being allowed a single chance of escape, was horsewhipped for an offence committed by one of the staff for whose literary misdeeds the poor editor was practically though not morally responsible. Worse still, the gentleman was horsewhipped by a woman whose sex protected her from bodily chastisement in return and for our own sake we sight that fact distinctly remembered. The assailant did not incur any personal danger because of her sex. Had she been a man-we won't say what might have happened but we advise people who are much given to crow loudly and to threaten still more loudly that editors are terrible fellows when their backs are up and are particularly well versed in all the most approved methods of self defence.
To some whose shoulders are in no danger a statement of the facts of the case under notice will doubtless be amusing; to others the action of Mrs Ainsworth will doubtless be a beautiful example of a wife’s vindication of the honour and the good name of her husband; to us who feel a personal interest in such proceedings ‘it is a case which merits the strongest condemnation from every right-thinking member of society’. In descending to details , it is necessary to give Mr Adam Ainsworth, of Barrow, a gratuitous advertisement. Mr Ainsworth is a draper and has two places of business one being under the personal superintendence of his better half. Like other men in a similar position, he aspired to municipal honours and issued an address to the burgesses of Newbarns Ward. His candidature was opposed by The Vulcan, a local newspaper, which advised Mr Ainsworth to retire and added that ‘he was a nobody and unfit to represent Newbarns Ward’. This notice appeared on Tuesday week and as  heretofor, the local papers have not ventured to give advice of this kind it created some commotion in Barrow. Mrs Ainsworth was exceedingly angry but evidently being of a frugal turn of mind, like the wife of another linen draper bold, she nursed her wrath until the arrival of the weekly half-day holiday on Thursday. Then she commenced a search after the author of the libel on her husband. She journeyed to The Vulcan office and was told the editor, Major Harrison, lived full 20 miles off at Grange. Nothing daunted, she continued her search by rail and trap until the evening, when the Major was unsuspectingly  landed at the Rigg’s Hotel at Grange, to meet a lady who wished to see him on a particular business. He entered the drawing room of the hotel, we are told in a very gentlemanly manner and asked for the lady whose pleasure it had been to send for him. Mrs Ainsworth stepped forward and asked if in the new arrival she saw Major Harrison. The latter replied that this was the case  and asked the name of the lady whom he had the pleasure of speaking to. ‘Mrs Nobody’ replied Mrs Ainsworth. After some further words (a local paper tells us) the Major began to ‘smell a rat’ and invited the lady into a room on the other side of the corridor. Mrs Ainsworth obeyed his request but took care to leave the drawing room door open. The Major, in reply to Mrs Ainsworth, admitted he was the editor of The Vulcan and was responsible for all that appeared in the columns of that paper. Mrs Ainsworth read to him the paragraph respecting Newbarns Ward and asked the Major if he was responsible for that. He said he was.  ‘Do you know Mr Ainsworth Sir?’ ‘No’, said the Major, ‘I never saw him in my life that I know of’. ‘Then’, replied Mrs Ainsworth ‘how do you know he is a mere nobody and not fit to represent Newbarns Ward? I may tell you that Mr Ainsworth is a respectable tradesman in Barrow and has been in business for eight years. May I ask if you are prepared to apologise for what you have said?’. The Major declined to do this but said Mr Ainsworth would get redress by writing to other journals and other journalists would like to have the opportunity of dealing with it. ‘You do not call yourself a journalist do you? I call you a scribbler. You have acted the part of a cur and I will give you a cur’s chastisement’. No sooner had she conveyed this  pleasant intimation to the Major than she unfolded a copy of The Vulcan, displayed a dog whip and striking the gallant Major over the face and shoulders three times saying ‘Take that, and that, and that’ quoting Shakespeare ‘Such duty as the subject owes the prince, Even such a woman oweth to her husband’. The Major seized her by the hands and told her she was a woman and he was not in a position to defend himself. She replied ‘I know I am a woman but treat me as if I were a man and give me into custody if you like.’ The Major declined to do this and there for the present, the story ends. If two over the shoulders and one over the cheek be an adequate return for simply telling a candidate  he is not fit to represent a ward how many three times three has a certain gentleman run up on our account. We may be truly thankful  that among the good ladies of Sunderland a Mrs Ainsworth has not been found, nor is one likely to be found. As for the sterner sex- well, we do not fear its members; we’ll build for them a ‘Byzantine place of worship’ and change their angry threatenings into the mild cooings of a dove”.

What a story! What a woman! You do wonder at the conversation between Elizabeth and Adam following this episode.

Adam was eventually elected to serve the people of Barrow for the Yarlswood Ward and served for many years.

In 1886 tragedy struck and for the second time in his life Adam became a widower. Elizabeth, strong minded and strong willed, whipper of a newspaper editor, was no longer there to defend her beloved husband.

At the end of the following year, Adam married again. The marriage was reported in The Liverpool Mercury on 8th December 1887. “AINSWORTH - PETERS November 22nd at St Peter’s Church, Church Street, Adam Ainsworth of Barrow to Eliza Peters, widow of the late Captain Peters, of Bristol.”

Eliza was born Eliza Jane Noble in Chester in 1852. When she married Adam she brought with her, her two children from her previous marriage who were just seven and eight years old.

Adam diversified in business becoming an auctioneer and not of bits and pieces either. Adam was auctioning property. On the 12th November 1890 he successfully auctioned various properties around the Barrow area including a valuable freehold hotel. Ironically, considering the origins of his first wife Margaret, Adam was elected to the Board of Guardians for the  workhouse where Margaret had been born, in April 1892. It will be interesting to read the minutes of meetings he participated in. I do hope he was kind and compassionate with any decisions he made. He remained a councillor.

By 1891 Adam and Eliza had moved to 55 Vincent Street Barrow and at the grand old age of 48 he had retired as an auctioneer. Perhaps home life was becoming even more chaotic than it had been previously for he and Eliza and had produced two sons in two years by then, with a third following in 1892. Alas Eliza died before the end of the decade and Adam then remained a widower for  five years before marrying again. His young children from his third marriage stayed  with him and with a succession of older widowed female servants, he managed both the children and also the various properties he had acquired over the years. It was one of these properties that put his name in the public domain of the newspapers once again. The Lancashire Evening Post on 18 July 1902 carried this report:

“At Barrow, this morning, ex-Councillor Adam Ainsworth was fined five shillings plus costs for permitting water to run to waste at two houses belonging to him. Ainsworth maintained that he was not responsible, having provided a stop tap on the supply pipe to prevent waste. He could not stand by the pipes and see the water turned off. It was stated that the reservoirs are falling fast. The Chairman appealed to the public to exercise the greatest care to prevent the waste, matter which was getting serious.”

Adam stood once again as a candidate in Yarlswood Ward in 1902 however, he was thwarted by two unstamped votes. From my research so far I believe he did not stand for election again.

It is a lovely thing to imagine Adam taking his young motherless children to the local confectioners to buy sweets and confections and thereby make the acquaintance of Lillian Dora Topping who worked for her family in their shop. At the age of 63 and after the deaths of three wives, Adam married Lillian who was 28 years his junior. She was no spring chicken and wasted no time at all in producing another set of children for Adam. In the space of five years she gave birth to four children, bringing his total of children across four marriages to twelve.. Adam must have been a virile man!

By 1911 Adam, Lillian, five of Adam’s children and a young female servant had moved to The Rallies on Hawcoat Lane Barrow, where he remained until the end of his days. I am led to believe that this was a large house and quite ostentatious.

Adam died on 13th November 1913. His fourth wife remained a widow for her remaining years. She lived for another 20 thereby putting to rest the legend that she had been driven to suicide, leaving a young child, not two years old, lying on the docks at Barrow. Margaret had died in Kendal with no docks nearby. Elizabeth appeared to be an incredibly strong woman whose youngest child was seven when she died and Eliza’s youngest child was also seven when his Mother died. An extensive search of newspapers around the dates concerned reveal no Coroner’s Inquests into deaths of women connected to Adam, so it seems for now, that he didn’t drive anyone to suicide.

There is no doubt he was a strong and driven man. He succeeded in everything he turned his hand to. He was virile into old age and certainly appears to have been charismatic if his marriage record is anything to go by. I can find no evidence of cruelty or evilness. His last will and testament demonstrates the love and respect he had for his fourth wife and for all of his children. The gross value of his estate was £6416 15s 2d, net £66 13s 2d. He has amassed some considerable wealth and it had to be stretched in nuemrous different directions. All of his furniture, plate, linen and other household and domestic effects, good and ornaments were left to his wife Lillian for use during her lifetime. She was also provided with an annuity of £2 per week for the duration of her life. The residue of his estate after discharging all debts and mortgages was distributed evenly between all of his children from all four marriages.

So how was  the legend born that Adam had stolen the Jackson family fortune? I believe the answer lies with Adam’s father, Robert.

Robert as you will recall was a self made man who rose from nothing to some standing in the local community. His middle child Christiana married George Jackson in 1859. George was the son of an agricultural labourer who was still working the land when he died of heart disease at 71. He left nothing. George worked as a labourer or agricultural labourer for most of his life although by his 50s he had become a horse-keeper in Barrow. George and Christiana worked hard all of their lives providing for their four children that survived childhood. Three did not. There was no money there.

When Christiana’s father Robert Ainsworth died in 1895, a retired farmer living in the arguably the best district in town at the time, he left an estate valued at £211 4s 8d net. Not bad. He also left an extremely complicated will, which rather nicely details his assets and for me, explains why Maria thought the Jackson’s had money to steal.

Robert left two houses in New Street Barrow and two houses in Gleaston along with his shares in two ships named George Fisher and Julia to his son Adam Ainsworth.

He bequeathed a life interest in 5 properties in Anson Street, Barrow to his daughter Mary Ann. On her death he detailed that the five properties were to be distributed in their entirety and entirely to her five children.

To Christiana Jackson, Maria’s Great Grandmother, Robert bequeathed a life interest in four properties scattered about Barrow. On her death, three of the properties were left to three of Christiana’s children Mathias, Amos and Albert. The fourth property was once again bequeathed as a life interest, to Robert’s  granddaughter Agnes. It is fair to say looking at what happened to Agnes and also her actions, that there was a strained relationship between her and her father George Jackson and perhaps Robert had disapproved of her behaviour too. Once Agnes died that final property was to pass entirely to Agnes’s daughter, Christiana Millward.

So the Jackson’s did in the end own property via Christiana but it was not stolen from them by Adam.

The source of the animosity towards Adam is probably found at the feet of his sister Christiana or maybe I’m being unfair but it is easy to imagine Maria’s mother being heavily influenced during the first eleven years of her life by her Grandmother Christiana, who perhaps felt slighted by her brother in some way that we will never know about and who didn’t die until 1919.

There is much research yet to do but oh how I wish I could have chatted with Maria about what I have found and perhaps got her to reconsider her thoughts about Adam. I have a suspicion that Maria was actually very proud to have been related to Adam but we all need a bogeyman in our lives and Adam was convenient!

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