Mary, Mother of Walter

The adult life of Walter UNWIN was bookended by Filey. The first four of the nine children he had with Sarah Jane SEMPLE were born in the town between 1878 and 1884. The next three first saw light across the Pennines, in Horwich (Bolton Registration District). The family returned to the east coast where Filey girl Eva was born in 1894 and Maria two years later. Their parents are buried in St Oswald’s churchyard.


I found Walter on FamilySearch Tree and he seemed well set, grounded enough anyway to be given his wife and children, no questions asked. Once I’d completed that task I added the headstone photo as a memory. Before moving on, I noticed something odd.

One of the Record Hints attached to Walter offers the 1871 Census. This shows him as a 19-year-old Printer’s Apprentice in Barnsley, living with his parents, John and Mary. FST has his mother, “Mary Ann Hirst” dying in 1859. No worries. John married another Mary, surely?

The Record Hint for Mary Ann’s marriage gives her name as just Mary, the place Silkstone and the date 22 January 1837. There is an 1851 census source that places the couple in Thomas Street, Barnsley. They are both working as Hand Loom Weavers and have two children, Hannah (12) and William (3). Barnsley is given as the birthplace for all four. The years between the two children suggest infant Unwin deaths and the GRO records a William the First in 1845. (Both boys had the middle name Henry.) There was another lost boy recorded – Arthur – in 1856. The firstborn, Hannah, has a christening source on FST but I haven’t found her civil birth registration.

The next census, 1861, puts John at 2, Shambles Street, Barnsley, a widower with two sons, William Henry and Walter. There is a supporting GRO death registration for the former Mary Ann Hirst’s death in 1859 but John now has a housekeeper, his mother in law, Mary ROOK, a widow. John Unwin’s mother in law would have been Ann Hirst if she hadn’t died in 1853. And Ann’s husband supposedly died in 1862. So who exactly is widow Rook? Is this a different John Unwin who also happened to have sons called  William Henry and Walter? That John is now a “Time and Work Keeper in Factory” is a caution, but not really a surprise considering the extent to which machines had by this time taken the livelihoods of handloom weavers.

So, on to 1871 when John has a wife called Mary again. Mary who? She is 50 years old, born in Frickley, ten miles or so to the east of Barnsley. She may have been a widow when she married John, so I haven’t tried to trace her origins. I couldn’t find a marriage source but there is a death registration in Barnsley, June Quarter 1875, for a Mary Unwin born in 1821. Walter’s occupation, by the way, is given as “Printer’s Apprentice”.

In 1881, when Walter and Sarah Jane are living in Ravine Terrace, Filey, mourning the loss of their first two children, (and Walter is a “Printer Master Self-Employed”), John Unwin, a widower, 67, born Barnsley and a “former Clerk”, is staying with his younger brother William in Crowle, Lincolnshire.

I couldn’t find a death registration for John in the West Riding of Yorkshire or Lincolnshire, but in the March Quarter of 1887, a John Unwin of the right age died in Bolton, Lancashire. A few months later, the birth of William Henry Unwin was registered in the same place – John’s grandson, almost certainly.

John’s first wife was given as Mary HIRST, but I felt I needed more evidence to confirm she was the Mary Ann Hirst on FST. A little more digging turned up an 1841 census transcription for a household in Park Row, Silkstone, that contained John Hirst, a weaver, his wife Ann, a younger weaver John Unwin, his wife Mary and their 2-year-old daughter Hannah. (Relationships are presumed, not given.) The only issue on FST may be a mix up of sources for several girls called Mary and Mary Ann Hirst born within a year of each other in the same area of Yorkshire (Huddersfield and Barnsley).

Four christening sources from FST:-





If these can be resolved…

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