The story of William Ormandy Gibson

William Ormandy Gibson

William was the son of Robert and Sarah (nee Ormandy) Gibson. Sarah's amother was Betty Ormandy (nee Park). The following is an essay written by Janet Atherton for an Open University course. William was Janet's great great grand father. Janet also extracted most of William's railway career from the National Archives and has a group photograph from Dunham Massey which includes William.

William Ormandy Gibson - railway career
Dunham Massey photograph (William is second from the left in the front row)

Family history and the history of families in general
A case study of the Gibson family

This case study of the Gibson family in Liverpool during the late 19
th century is used to provide an insight into the history of families in general. The primary sources used are mainly from official records, providing a snapshot of the family at specific points illustrating what happened to the family when rather than why. However, taken together with a range of secondary sources describing families in general and the context of Liverpool in the 19th century they enable the themes of migration and its impact on the family, parental mortality and the railway as a major employer to be explored in some depth.

Robert and Sarah Gibson moved to Liverpool from Ulverston with their three young children in the early 1850s
1. Robert had been employed as port messenger at Ulverston2 and their move to Liverpool may have been prompted by the decline of Ulverston port following the arrival of the railway (Ulverston Canal website). Robert's brother, Thomas, had migrated to Liverpool over 10 years earlier3 and there were regular sailings between Ulverston and Liverpool (Ulverston Canal website; Pooley, 2006). Both factors may have influenced the family's choice of destination.

The family arrived in Liverpool at a time of rapid population growth resulting from inward migration. The Irish influx in the late 1840s due to the potato famine is well known, but there was also significant migration associated with coastal trade from Scotland, Wales and Cumbria (Pooley, 2006). Pooley's analysis of the 1851 census shows that 57.6% of the Liverpool population were born outside the city, with about 12% coming from Scotland, Wales and Cumberland combined. As Ulverston was in Lancashire in 1851, migration from this area is not separately identified. However, examination of 1851 Census Enumeration Books (CEBs) for Liverpool reveals many people giving Ulverston or Dalton in Furness as their birthplace. This would suggest that the Gibsons were typical of many families in Liverpool in the early 1850s.

Walton (1987) contrasts the work of Reach (1972) with that of Anderson (1974) on the impact of migration to towns on family life. Reach argued that the family's
'cohesive powers' were diminished by 'constant labour', whereas Anderson described strengthened family ties. Both authors describe 19th century Lancashire towns and so are relevant to the Gibson family history, although Liverpool differed in important respects from the Lancashire cotton towns as its economy was based on trade through the port rather than production.

Evidence to suggest that family ties and links to Furness remained important to the Gibsons is provided in the 1861 census where Sarah's mother, Betty Ormandy, is in the household along with two lodgers from Dalton in Furness. In addition, Robert and Sarah share a grave with his brother Thomas and his wife
4. Family ties continued for many decades despite later onward migration. Evidence for this is provided by Robert's great grandson, Harry Batty, from Bolton and granddaughter, Amy Gibson, from Trafford Park marrying in 19335. Thus the Gibson family history appears to support Anderson's argument that family ties were strengthened rather than Reach's view.

Robert worked as a breaksman [sic] (railway guard)
6. The railways were a major employer in the second half of the 19th century and provided regular, well-paid work in comparison with casual work on the docks, the other main employer of the working class in Liverpool at the time (Walton, 1987; Pooley, 2006). The average wage of a railwayman in 1906 was twice that of an agricultural labourer (Hendry, 1990). Whilst this information relates to a later period it gives an indication of the position of railway workers relative to others.

The family lived in Edge Hill, an area that expanded rapidly due to the railway. According to Hands' (1915) comments on the 1861 census, Edge Hill had grown by 198% since 1851 compared with only 50% for Liverpool proper. Initially the family lived at Railway Buildings, Crown Street
7 immediately by the goods yard, but by 1861 were living at Myers Street8 described by Hands (1915) as 'neat small houses set back in long gardens'. It is likely that the house was rented from Leigh or Earle who owned land in the area (Kellett, 1969). Working class housing conditions in Liverpool were generally poor, typified by 'court housing' (Pooley, 2006). Indeed, Robert's brother lived in a court near the docks for much of his life9. Robert's railway employment and the family's housing would suggest that they were relatively comfortable compared with many in Liverpool at the time.

The family continued to grow after their arrival in Liverpool. William Ormandy Gibson, my great great grandfather was born in 1856
10, and his brother John, my great grandfather, in 185911. In total there were eight children, all except one surviving childhood12. Infant mortality in Britain was high in the 19th century (Anderson, 1983), and even higher in Liverpool (Pooley, 2006) and so the family would have been relatively unusual having only lost one child. In 1861 the household comprised Robert and Sarah (the parents), six children, Sarah's mother and two lodgers13 - 11 people in total. This was more than twice the average mid-19th century household size of 4.6, including 2.0 children, reported by Anderson (1983).

Robert Gibson was accidentally killed on the railway in 1864 at the age of 47
14. Whilst the main factor contributing to low life expectancy in the 19th century was high infant mortality, death rates throughout adulthood were higher than those today. Life expectancy in Liverpool was also lower than the national average (Walton, 1987; Pooley, 2006). Anderson (1983) describes children's experience of parental mortality in the 19th century. He estimates that 4% of children were total orphans by the age of 15. So whilst not typical, neither were the Gibsons especially unusual.

The family's fortunes would have changed significantly with Robert's death. In comparison with other employers such as the docks, the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) were good employers and the family may have received some compensation (Pooley, 2006). However, this is uncertain as the inquest recorded that his death was 'due to own lack of care'
15. Walton (1987) reports that there was limited work available for women in Liverpool and what was available was generally low-paid. There is evidence that the Gibson family's income was supplemented by taking in lodgers16, and it is possible that it was also supported by children's part-time work or by contributions from adult children (Anderson, 1983).

Paradoxically, Robert's death meant that one of his children, William, received better education than he might otherwise have had. William was admitted to the Bluecoat School in Liverpool in 1865 at the age of nine. The Bluecoat School was a charitable boarding school providing education for fatherless children and orphans (Watlyn, 1967). Watlyn comments that the school's stress on education for its own sake was remarkable when Liverpool was described in an 1869 House of Commons report as ýa city in which education of the poor was in a deplorable conditioný. When William was admitted to the school, there were 67 applications for only 16 vacancies.

It is unclear whether the other Gibson children received any formal education as no relevant school records survive (Personal communication, Liverpool Record Office, 2007). The 1861 census indicates that all six children, aged 2 [sic] to 14, were scholars. However, this may have been recorded incorrectly as there were very few schools for the working class in Liverpool before universal elementary education was introduced with the 1870 Education Act (Pooley, 2006).

The Bluecoat School records also provide an insight into women's employment in Liverpool at the time. Sarah, William's mother, was recorded as cleaning offices. The other occupations recorded were similarly low status and probably poorly paid such as sewing, washing or taking in lodgers. All of these women were widows and would have needed to work to support their families. Walton (1987) contrasts the limited opportunities for women to work in Liverpool with the Lancashire cotton towns where a high proportion were in relatively well-paid regular employment in the mills. The Bluecoat records support Walton's view of women's employment in Liverpool, and Sarah's employment would appear to be typical.

William left school in 1871 aged 15 to take up an apprenticeship as a number-taker with LNWR at Edge Hill, Liverpool (Bluecoat School records). Subsequently he moved to Bolton as a station master

Sarah died in 1872 aged 50
18 when William was 16 and John only 13. It is probable that they would have been cared for by their older brothers or sister. Whilst there is no direct evidence of this for William, two of his brothers also worked on the railway and lived in neighbouring streets in Edge Hill19. Elizabeth Gibson, their older sister, was a nurse. She worked away from Liverpool much of the time20 but a photograph of her taken in Liverpool survives (Photograph of Elizabeth Gibson) and it is possible that she returned to Liverpool for a time to care for her younger brothers.

In 1881, John lived with his brother James in nearby Newton-le-Willows
21. James is recorded as a printer, probably working at McCorquordale's, the printers for LNWR (Newton-le-Willows website). John was recorded as a brass finisher, and would have probably worked at the LNWR works at Earlestown (Earlestown website). John later married Lucy Haslam, who lived in an LNWR cottage close to the Earlestown works22 (Earlestown website). His subsequent pattern of migration may also have been linked with railway developments, moving to Birkenhead in the mid 1890s23 and then to Trafford Park in the early 1900s24.

To summarise, the Gibson family were in many respects typical of families in 19th century Liverpool. They arrived in Liverpool at a time of rapid population growth due to inward migration from coastal trade. Their move to Liverpool was typical as it is likely to have been driven by available employment and influenced by family already in the area. There is significant evidence that family ties were important to the Gibsons, supporting Anderson's argument that families could be strengthened by the move to towns.

Prior to Robert's death the family would have been more comfortable than many other families as a result of his employment on the railway. The loss of a parent during childhood was common, and would have resulted in significant hardship given that Liverpool provided limited opportunities for women to work. However, Robert's death provided William with an opportunity for secondary education which would have been extremely unusual at a time before universal elementary education was introduced. It would also have eased financial pressures.

The railway played a very significant role in the ups and downs in this family's story - probably prompting their initial move from Ulverston, providing regular well-paid employment, causing the father's death, but providing employment for his sons and resulting in the onward migration of three of them from the city. It was common for several generations of the same family to be employed by the LNWR (Hendry, 1990) and so the Gibson's were typical in this respect.

In conclusion, within the limitations of the sources available, it has been possible to use a case study of a specific family to provide some insight into the history of families in general. The family would have been typical of many in Liverpool at the time. However, as Liverpool had some unique factors influencing its development, principally the rapid inward migration associated with coastal trade, there are likely to be significant differences in the Gibson family's experience and those of families in the rest of the country.


Primary sources:

1841 census, Liverpool
1851 census, Liverpool
1851 census, Ulverston
1861 census, Liverpool
1871 census, Liverpool
1871 census, Wales
1881 census, Bolton
1881 census, Kendal
1881 census, Liverpool
1881 census, Newton-le-Willows
1891 census, Shrewsbury
1901 census, Altrincham
Birth registration:
William Ormandy Gibson, Liverpool, 1856
John Gibson, Liverpool, 1859
Marriage registration:
William Ormandy Gibson and Alice Wright, Bolton, 1877
John Gibson and Lucy Haslam, Earlestown, 1892
Harry Batty and Amy Gibson, Trafford Park, 1933
Death registration:
Robert Gibson, Liverpool, 1864
Sarah Gibson, Liverpool, 1872
Cemetery records:
Toxteth Park Cemetery, Liverpool held at Liverpool Record Office
School records:
Bluecoat School, Liverpool, Admission and minutes books held at Liverpool Record Office
Elizabeth Gibson, Bob's photographer, Great George Street, Liverpool circa 1880-1890

Secondary sources:

Anderson, M. (1974) Family structure in nineteenth century Lancashire. Cambridge.

Anderson, M. (1983) ýWhat is new about the modern family?ý, The Family, Occasional Paper 31, London: OPLS, pp.2–16. Reprinted in Drake, M. (ed.) (1994) Time, Family and Community: perspectives on family and community history, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.67–90. (A173 Anthology Item 22).

Hands G. (1915) The History of Edge Hill, Lancashire Local History Society: Liverpool.

Hendry RP and Hendry RP. (1990) The North Western at Work, Patrick Stephens Limited: Northamptonshire.

Kellett, JR. (1979) [1969] Railways and Victorian Cities, Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited: London.

Pooley, CG. (2006) ýLiving in Liverpool: the Modern Cityý , in Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool University Press: Liverpool.

Reach AB. (1972) Manchester and the textile districts in 1849, Helmshore: Lancashire.

Walton JK. (1987) Lancashire a social history 1558-1939, Manchester University Press: Manchester.

Watlyn GG. (1967) The Liverpool Bluecoat School Past and Present 1708-1967. Bluecoat School : Liverpool.

Newton le Willows and Earlestown website – Accessed 20 January 2007
Ulverston Canal website – Accessed 5 December 2006

1 1851 census Ulverston; 1861 census Liverpool

2 1851 census Ulverston

3 1841 census Liverpool

4 Toxteth Park Cemetery Records held at Liverpool Record Office (LRO)

5 Harry Batty and Amy Gibson marriage certificate Trafford Park 1933

6 1861 census Liverpool; Robert Gibson death certificate 1864

7 William Ormandy Gibson birth certificate 1856; John Gibson birth certificate 1859

8 1861 census Liverpool

9 1841, 1851, 1861 censuses Liverpool

10 William Ormandy Gibson birth certificate 1856

11 John Gibson birth certificate 1859

12 Sarah Agnes Gibson died 1861, Toxteth Park Cemetery Records held at LRO

13 1861 census Liverpool

14 Robert Gibson death certificate 1864

15 Robert Gibson death certificate 1864

16 1861, 1871 census Liverpool

17 William Gibson and Alice Wright marriage certificate Bolton 1877; 1881 census Bolton

18 Sarah Gibson death certificate 1872

19 Sarah Gibson death certificate 1872; 1871, 1881 census Liverpool

20 1871 census Wales; 1881 census Kendal; 1891 census Shrewsbury

21 1881 census Newton le Willows

22 John Gibson and Lucy Haslam marriage certificate Earlestown 1892

23 1901 census Altrincham, Lucy May Gibson birth certificate Birkenhead 1897

24 Amy Gibson birth certificate Trafford Park 1903