THE MACGOWAN FAMILY

Introduction to the MacGowan’s



Whitehaven Harbour in Victorian times


I can remember saying, “I wonder if they are on the 1881 census”. As most family historians will know this is a good place to start, and it was no different with the search for the McGowan family, which was to lead from North Staffordshire into Wales, Ireland, and to Whitehaven in Cumbria

The MacGowan papers were given to the Staffordshire archives in 1967. the year after the last son of the family had died in August 1966 age 90. Chris Latimer, the Archivist at Hanley, asked our Mining History Group if we would be interested in helping to catalogue the papers. When we first saw the trolley full of the boxes, books, and maps we were very surprised just how many there were

The collection seems to have been started by John MacGowan senior and over the years he added to it, keeping all sorts of things with many insights into how collieries were run in the late 19th century. There was correspondence with many of the agents and owners and the last son also added his papers right up to the late 1950s

I thought it would be of interest to see how the family of a colliery agent and manager lived. There is a vast difference in their lives and the lives of the miners who worked and lived in the same village

John MacGowan Senior (1839-1926)


John MacGowan was a man of the Victorian age, with the ambition of lots of men of that time-what we today would call a self- made man. As far back as 1861, when he was just 21 years old, he was a paymaster sergeant in the Royal Cumberland Militia at Whitehaven

If you wanted a better life, hard work and getting noticed by the right people was important, this is how he must have built up friends and connections with the militia and also the Presbyterian Church as when he married Margaret Wear in 1864, his father-in-law was the company sergeant major of the local militia and also an elder in the same church


John Pattinsons corn mill Whitehaven


The Victorian class system was very rigid so it was a long climb if you wanted a better life for yourself and when you married, your family, John and Margaret went on to have a large family of ten children

On the marriage certificate of August 1864 he is listed as a clerk both he and his new wife were 24 years old, they moved to Maryport after their marriage he may have had a job within the coal mining and ironstone industry in the area. In the late 1860s he had moved to Northern Ireland as a colliery agent. At this time vast amounts of coal and ironstone were being shipped out of Whitehaven to Ireland. Travelling out to Ireland would have been by ship out of Whitehaven and also rail journeys


Whitehaven Harbour 2007


His wife would have been quite used to travelling as she had been born in Canada in 1840 when her father was serving in the Royal Scots. By the early 1870s John had moved once more, this time into North Wales as a colliery agent. It may have been for the Dee Side colliery company as there are two books about this colliery in the collection. It was here he would have had many contacts with mining in lots of areas in the midlands and North Staffordshire as well His last move was to Talke were he became a colliery agent for Bidder and Elliot at Harecastle and Woodshutts collieries. So with a growing family of seven children, they moved to Ash House in Newcastle Road, Talke. In 1878 and this became the family home till 1966 (there are letters in the collection which indicate that the family bought Ash House and Lower Ash Farm around the time of the First World War.)


A 1924 Map showing Ash House


Even after his retirement in 1898 he was still being consulted about things going on in the area and the collieries, as his papers, maps, and contacts indicate

He and Margaret celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary in 1924. They had a keen interest in their family. The three younger boys hade been born at Talke in the early 1880s. They lost one son Frederick, born in February 1880; He only lived eight hours and was buried at St Martins in Talke. At that time, to bring up ten children and to only have one die just after his birth was very lucky. There were still children living at home in 1901. There is a photo in the collection of John MacGowan and his youngest son Reginald (Rex).taken in September 1914 at Ash House, with John MacGowan sitting on one of the motor bikes in his smoking hat. I am not sure what make the bikes are but there is an insurance paper which lists a motor bike as a Hudson

As the younger boys left school he took a keen interest in the work they looked for, to ask about jobs for them. They all worked at times in North Staffordshire, particularly at the time of the Great War


Mr and Mrs MacGowan at Clough Hall in 1916


John MacGowan Senior died in October 1926 aged 87. There is an obituary with a small photograph in the Weekly Sentinel. His wife Margaret died in the following year; also aged 87. She died at Llandudno but was buried at St Martins Talke, with her daughter Margaret’s husband, Canon George Kenworthy, doing the committal at the grave side Her obituary appeared in the Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel on 25th June 1927, with a photograph. It was a big help in my research on the family

John MacGowan junior


Liverpool and the MacGowan Oil Label


John junior was born at Maryport in Cumberland. We do not know where he was educated as he was only young when he moved with the family to Ireland and then to Wales. When the family came to North Staffordshire he may have had a short time at Newcastle High School. He then started to work with his father at the Harecastle and Woodshutts collieries

In the early 1890s some letters in the collection seem to be about John looking for jobs in the mining industry in South America. This could have been a way of getting him away from home as there is a mystery about him. When I was doing the research I heard from a man who was trying to find out about his grandfathers mother. She had an illegitimate child in 1892 was living at Talke, and was about the same age as John. After the child birth his mother gave him the name Ernest John MacGowan Twemlow, but no fathers named appears on his birth certificate. This could have been his mother’s way of giving him his father’s name. But the mystery is how this child was educated, as his grand parents was were working-class and were coal miners but he was-well educated and went on to be an engineer. The MacGowan boys also went into mining engineering. Could the MacGowan’s have paid for this child’s education?

John junior went on to live in Liverpool and worked with the company MacGowan Brothers Oil Importers, Maguire Street, Liverpool. He married sometime in the 1890s and on the 1901 census he was living with his wife Charlotte at 10 Woodland Road, Rock Ferry. She had been born at Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, no children are listed on this census and I do not think they ever had children. Later in 1905 he was very ill and his mother writing to him and his wife hoping he was better. He and his wife travelled to the Canary Isles for a holiday. A remark in a letter about his wife Charlotte’s good care of him gives insight into the family’s life

The Oil Company changed its name to British Lubricants in the early part of the 1900s but was still at Maguire St. He was still living in Liverpool when his parents died in the 1920s, He could have had some business interests with his sister Margaret’s husband Fredrick Pattinson and his father John Pattinson who had connections in Liverpool and Whitehaven

Margaret MacGowan, eldest daughter (1867/8 death 1950s age 92


This daughter was born at Maryport. Again I do not know about education. There must have been contact with her grandparents as Mrs MacGowan (nee Wear) still had her family living at Whitehaven when the 1881 census was taken her: father was listed as a Chelsea Pensioner living with his wife and daughter When the family moved to Talke, Margaret was about 12years old, the only things we found out about her early life was a report in the Staffordshire Advertiser about helping the young daughter of John Crimes named Cassy at a local church fete. The Crimes family were neighbours of the McGowan’s at Newcastle Road

Margaret married very well. Her husband Frederick Pattinson was the son of John Pattinson, a corn merchant at Whitehaven and Liverpool, he had the Beacon Mills on the north shore at Whitehaven built in 1907. Pattinson went into partnership with a Mr Winter. The business owned three steamships. (Margaret) (Clint) and the (Busk) which carried grain from Whitehaven to Liverpool. The (Margaret) also carried passengers twice a week between Whitehaven and Liverpool. The business was sold out to Quaker Oats in 1949 and the magnificent brick building was demolished in 1972. Margaret and her husband Frederick left England from Liverpool on the 24th August 1892 going to San Francisco also on the ship was her brother Richard McGowan. Margaret’s marriage produced one child, also named Margaret, but her husband died young in 1901

She married for the second time to Canon George Kenworthy of Penning-in-Furness. They must have married later in life as on the 1901 census George Kenworthy was unmarried, and was a vicar at Bassenthwaite, Cumberland During the Great War (1914-1918) he was chaplain of CC Sanatorium at High Carley in Lancashire. He died in 1942 and was buried at Bassenthwaite. Her daughter married a Captain Bell (Navy) and they had children

Richard MacGowan


This son took a long time to trace. I knew from the 1881 census that he had been born in Ireland in May1886. When looking through the papers there was a photo with the words To Harry 1911. This photo turned out to be Richard with his son. Also Richard (or Bert). He is listed in a Newcastle-under-Lyme High School register as being from September 1883 to 1887

Richard immigrated to America in 1892 and was working as a mining engineer in Alpine California. Until recently I had not found much about him. When his mother died in 1927 her obituary said he had long been fruit farming in California


Richard Macgowan and his son Bertie and Captain H.E. MacGowan


So the trail went cold until it was suggested that I have a look at the 1920 census of the United States and there he was, now age 50, living with his wife and three son’s .The boy in the photo was now 18 years old. The other sons were only three and one year old but both with McGowan family names of Norman and John. His wife was only 33 years so with the age gap of the children he may have been married twice

Jane Helen MacGowan (1871-


Jane was born in Ireland on the 25th March 1871. I did get a birth certificate for her which was a help in finding what job her father was doing. Again he was a colliery agent. Nothing is known about her education. As a Victorian girl she could have had some education at home

I next found a reference to her when I sent for a death certificate for her sister Annie Ada who died on the 6th February 1895, aged only 21. Jane is listed has being with her sister when she died of a severe chill. There is a funeral card in the papers and Annie was interred at Talke churchyard. It must have been very sad for her sister Jane, as they must have been close as on the 1891 census they are listed with a family as visitors at Weston Coyney ,Caverswall,with the family of mining engineer Thomas Storey

Jane was married in the following year. On the 19th August 1896 she married Thomas Corbett Maddock, one of the sons of the late John Maddock, pottery manufacturer of Burslem. They married at St Thomas in Kidsgrove. He was given as a gentleman on the marriage certificate, and living at the Harecastle Hotel .I think they had a family as, again in the obituary of her mother in 1927, the names linked to Jane Maddock are Tom and Ivor

Again there might be a mystery about this marriage, A letter from her father in June 1918 mentions an annuity to be paid to her and mortgage interest which had been paid most punctually. There was also an unexplained reference to “the trouble we would wish to see ended” If she was in need of money she was only to ask her family and by the 2nd August 1918 her father hoped she would be delivered from money anxiety. She was also living in Montreux in Switzerland at the time of her mothers death in 1927

Florence MacGowan


I found very little out about Florence. She was still at home in 1908. The man she married, William Hamilton Core, might have come from Manchester as there is a letter with his name, living at Groombridge House, Withington, Manchester. By 1933, on the register of electors she is back living at Ash House with her brother Harry (Harold)

Captain Harold Ernest MacGowan


Harold was born in Wales and the family moved to Talke in 1878, so by the 1881 census he is listed as a scholar but he was only three years old. His later education was at Newcastle High School, which he left in 1894. In 1901 he went to South Africa to join Baden Powell’s Mounted Police. This force was created in August 1900, two months after the fall of Pretoria. Major General Robert Baden Powell, famous as the leader of the besieged garrison of Mafeking. was appointed to raise and command this new force

There is a letter in the papers about Harold MacGowan and his selection as a fitting and proper person to be enrolled in the South African Constabulary. He was granted a passage to South Africa and the sum of Ł15 the cost of the passage. This letter was signed in the presence of his brother Norman

When the Boer War ended he returned home and was awarded the South African War Medal and bars. He returned to his job as a merchant- he could have been involve in the oil merchants business at Liverpool

At the start of the Great War he joined the 5th North Stafford’s north midlands Territorial (46thand 59th division where he was a captain. He may have been in the territorial’s before the war. He was away from home for most of the war, not returning home till 1919/20

Family and business letters by his father and brothers refer to him as being away from home for a long time. There are receipts in the papers for things he bought when he was away from home, such as new boots and a silver tray

On his return in 1919/20 he went back to business and from that time seems to have run most of the families interests. Later in the 1930/40s Harry MacGowan had set up his own company, but in September 1940 he came up against a problem between the Manor of Audley and a Mr Smith who had copyholds at Talke o”th Hill Colliery Co. Mr Smith did not let the Manor of Audley know about his workings and leased the mines under his copyhold in 1907 without the lords licence and received rents and royalties until he went into liquidation in 1928, so he had not paid the share to the manor which he should have done if he had a license

How Harry got into this is rather strange, there are solicitor’s letters and legal documents in the papers. He seems to have met the widow of this Mr Smith who was living in Colwyn Bay Wales

There were some remarks about mines under Higher Ash Farm. In one letter the solicitors make the remark that “We feel sorry for Mr MacGowan who seems to have made a poor bargain”

His interest in the collieries was about the explosives used in the mines and he became an authority on mining and explosives, for many years he was connected with I.C.I Explosives Division, Most of the letters from the 1930/40/50s are concerned with this. It is interesting to see letters about World War 2 and how they had to keep records of where all the explosives which were used in mining were kept. All the letters make interesting reading about our mining history, both before nationalization and after 1947

I wrote to one company, Latch and Batchelor, of Birmingham, who specialised in the making of wire ropes. This company had made the Atlantic telegraph cable which was laid by S.S Great Eastern in 1866.I received a very nice letter back from the companies Managing director, Guy Horsfall who said Harry McGowan had been held in high regard by colleagues at Latch and Batchelor and mining customers at the then N.C.B. He also enclosed a book from the 1960s about wire ropes made by them (I have given this book to the Stoke-on- Trent Archives to put with the McGowan papers) by the way this letter has the most wonderful letter head

The letter from Latch and Batchelor


Harold McGowan was still working as a consultant when he was 80 years old. One letter from October 1956 was about a meeting at Glebe Colliery

Harold McGowan was 90 years old when he died in August 1966, He had moved from Ash House to 29 Priory Road, Newcastle- under- Lyme some time in that year. His funeral took place at St Giles church, Newcastle but his interment was in the family vault at St Martins Talke

Norman R.H MacGowan (1882- 1929) and Reginald Claudius MacGowan (born 1884) The two younger sons


Both of the younger boys were born at Ash House in Talke, Norman on the 29th September 1882 and Reginald (known as Rex) on the 7th December 1884. both boys went to Newcastle High School between 1894 and 1900. Norman worked with his father at the Harecastle and Woodshutts collieries. Both brothers also attended The Collins-Harding mining and engineering school at 67 Stanley Street, Tunstall. They seem to have had correspondence with other mining organizations and there are books about Practical Coalmining which had cost 6/- each. Both were members of the North Staffs Mining Students Association

They seemed to have been involved in local groups and there is a programme for Kidsgrove Young Mens Mutual Improvement Society. On the 6th April 1885 in which Norman and his older brother John had parts in “Frivolity in Court” and later in 1908 there was an invitation Dance at Alsager Lawn Tennis Club to which both Norman, Reginald and their sister Florence were invited. This took place at St Mary’s schoolroom, Alsager, on Friday, 4th December and the tickets cost 6/6 each

Norman McGowan went on to gain experience in metalliferous mining at Greenside lead mines, Helvellyn Cumberland, and later serving with Mr Arthur Hassam estate agent and surveyor at Newcastle Staffs

Later still he was appointed surveyor at Fletcher Burrows & Co Atherton Collieries, Lancashire for four years as a surveyor for five collieries

Norman left a diary with Norton Colliery 1916 on the cover. There are not many entries in this, but there is a small glimpse of his and his brother’s life in the early years of the Great War.One entry from 25th June 1916 reads, “Rex and self at Norton Colliery in Hupp car, Lunch at my house then on to Leek and the Roaches back via Congleton” They also travelled out to Rudyard. and one night Norman had to leave his car at the North Staffordshire Hotel as the lights would not work, so he walked home

The Hupmobile


Note on the car. Of which there is a photo in the collection. After much searching it was found to belong to their brother Harry who was serving in the army. It was an American car a “Hupmobile.” How it was acquired is one more mystery and the DVLA could find no record, even though we have the car number (E1621). E-Bay did turn up some adverts from an American paper of 1912 and the car is very like the one in the photos. It is also reported in the Sentinel in 1914 as there was an accident between a tram and the car in Glebe Street in Stoke. Rex was driving the car when it was hit by the tram. The cost of repair was ten pounds, paid out by the Motor Union insurance company. which was part of the A.A. Norman was at Birchenwood colliery in 1915 and was in the rescue team. There is a photo of him at Kidsgrove Library in the local studies mining section (N50)

Norman and Rex had to go to the recruiting court at Newcastle. Persons engaged about mines were exempted so they did not go into the army

There are some small drawings in the collection which were done by Norman McGowan. One is of a train done in July 1898 and one of a ship, RMS Lucania, a Cunard liner. This ship was a Blue Riband winner between Liverpool and New York in 1894/95. She was the first Cunarder outfitted with Marconi wireless,in 1901. this ship burned and sank in her dock in Liverpool in August 1909

Rex McGowan was at Grange Colliery in October 1910 and Parkhouse colliery in 1913 as agent and manager. To get petrol for travelling with your car or motorbike in the Great War you had to apply to the Mines Department at the Home Office in Whitehall and on the 5th November 1917 he was granted a licence for 4 gallons of petrol a month

I have not found out much more about Rex McGowan and I do not know if he continued to work in Staffordshire after the war. In 1910 he had moved from Ash House to live at 11 Ruston Road, Cobridge. There are two photos of him in the collection, one with his father at Ash House taken in the yard with their two motorbikes, and one with the Hupmobile at Goldenhill

Norman became agent and manager of the Norton Collieries of Robert Heath & Sons, but ill-health compelled him to resign this position and he underwent a serious operation. He was later appointed agent and Manager at New Hayden Collieries, Cheadle Staffs. On March the 19th 1926 he had to retire because of his health. He was presented with an illuminated address and a clock by the officials and men of the collieries. Norman's death was announced in the Colliery Guardian of the 7th of June 1926. He was 47 years old.


The Ink Drawing of the Lucania and a Train


Business Interests


How did a man such as John MacGowan Snr with a home and a large family make enough money to pay for the education of boys at Newcastle High School, was money made from other sources. A letter to Sir George Elliot, thanking him very gratefully for an advance in his wages when he was working for Harecastle Collieries, was signed your obedient servant, John MacGowan

But another letter dated July 16th 1891, again to Sir George Elliot, accepted with many thanks, appointment as agent for the sale of ammonite (a mineral from which explosives are made). This covered the areas of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. With the payment of 5% commission on sales. Travelling expenses were to be paid to MacGowan by the Mines Safety Explosive Co Ltd of which Sir George Elliot was the chairman

John MacGowan Snr must have been pleased when he was given the agency for the sale of the ammonite as this would bring in a good income. There is a book in the collection (book 9) which is a copy book of letters which make very interesting reading. Some of the letters refer to this ammonite and the sales of it

There is a receipt for the 4th June1894 for a canal boat. “Prosperous” which MacGowan had paid Ł30 for, was this to do with some business

There are two Christmas lists from 1904 and 1906 listing colliery officials selected for gifts which were cigarettes, cigars, or small amounts of money. This list gives the collieries and the names and addresses of the officials and insights into business practices of the times

By reading through the papers, both business and private, you can see the connection made between most of the colliery agents and managers, how they had interests in other areas to do with mining and how they might earn extra money for them selves, They also met socially as a telegram (January 4th 1910) to Rex MacGowan shows: AM Henshaw of Talk o th Hill Colliery invited him to the Officials Supper at Butt Lane at the Co-Operative Hall four days later

Some Letterheads




This is the collection of a family involved in business, and in that collection are some of the letters of local enterprises, written on letter-headed paper. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that almost all of those businesses have disappeared. I have put some examples above

By Kate Box


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