Francis Wrightson of Thornaby
Thanks to Thomas Leonard Wrightson
[Photo Gallery] [Family Photo]
Francis became, and still is, the family mystery man. There are several stories about
him, including the quarrels he had with his father, John*. In 1876 or 77, when he was
17 or 18, he left home in Middleton Tyas. Whether this was because of friction or to
take up employment is not known; I suspect both. The following year, 1878, he
married Margaret Alice Simmons, daughter of a Master Mariner. The Simmons family
lived in Whit by, but Margaret was obviously working in Middlesbrough. On the
marriage certificate Francis put down his occupation as accountant, a bit pretentious
perhaps, but a clue surely to his character. Like most of the Wrightson's he was no
doubt good at arithmetic, and probably was a book-keeper or accounts clerk. No
family members witnessed the ceremony which was in the Register Office in
Middlesbrough. As John was a regular church goer this must have rankled. All eight
of Francis' siblings were married in church!
We know Francis kept in touch with, and visited, his mother* and that he was involved
with the socialist movement then gaining ground in the North East (see contemporary
newspapers ). On one visit to Middleton Tyas, on being informed that Francis was the
political agent for a socialist, John (a High Tory) is said to have exclaimed, "Thou
hound thou, tha'll do owt but work."* This is harsher than it seems, most people would
draw the line at calling someone a dog!
Frances Alice was born on 8th February 1879 in Lyndhurst Street, Thornaby, Francis
being described as 'clerk' on the certificate. They were still living in Lyndhurst Street
(number 17) during the 1881 census, but Francis was now described as 'labourer'. Was
it financial, or due to one answer too many, the move from office to toil? Thomas was
born on the 5th August 1881 -the photograph which follows is typical of the period and
would be the sort of thing Sarah would have treasured. Violet Leonora was born on the
4th September 1885, also at 17 Lyndhurst Street.
In 1891 Francis was described on the census as 'Labourer in Ironworks'. Most of
Thornaby was employed in 'Ironworks', a contemporary map showing five separate
factory units! Their fourth child, John Frederick Norman, arrived on the 12th August
1893; by which time the family had moved, across the street to Number 16. I visited
to check if it was perhaps larger, but the property no longer exists.
At some date in 1894, or early 1895, Francis took a post in Ireland, what and where is
unknown. The thought must be that he had applied for, and been appointed to, a
position. It cannot be assumed that anyone would take a wife and four children on a
speculative visjt. Once there, and after a period of time, he disappeared, leaving
Margaret and the children. Many scenarios could be imagined. Polly told Sally Carter
that Margaret wrote and Sarah sent money to enable the family to come home.*
Tradition has it that John refused to have anything to do with them,* but I am
persuaded it is more complex than that. Thomas, Francis' grandson, remembers his
father saying, 'That lot at Middleton Tyas turned our family out.' This could only have
been a family memory as John F.N. was only two years old in 1895.
Why does a man walk away from a marriage and four children after sixteen years?
Why are grandchildren turned away when in need? I suspect Margaret had become a
shrew (hardly surprising considering the circumstances) or in present day jargon, an
acute manic depressive. She may have released a tirade on John, possibly in earshot of
a third party. We know bad blood existed between John and Francis and possibly
between John and Margaret. There was less understanding in those days and the
outcome, losing her grandchildren, would have broken Sarah's heart. Margaret found
her way back to Thornaby, where she probably had friends, and eventually settled into
a house near her original home.
It is believed that Sarah sent money on a regular basis to help the family.* In the late
summer of 1895 Thomas was sent to Forresters Hall, presumably for John to arrange an
apprenticeship or training for him. * (He would have been fourteen, then the usual age
to start job training. ) Had Sarah suggested this in a letter to Margaret, hoping to
persuade John to soften his attitude? John sent him away, although Sarah is supposed
to have given him clothing, and presumably a meal, before he left to return home. *
What happened to Francis? We may never know. There were rumours that he had
been seen in Middleton Tyas (possibly hoping to see Sarah) and that he had married
bigamously.* He must have moved to a family-free area, and he must have changed his
name. It is doubtful if he emigrated as we have been in contact with family members
in Australia and the U.S.A.
Margaret must have had a struggle; no doubt Frances and Thomas handed over their
pay intact, but unless there was money from the Simmons family she would have been
constantly penny pinching. And after January 1896 when Sarah's death occurred
(probably accelerated by events) the dole from Middleton Tyas would have ceased.
Neither Frances nor Thomas married until they were in their mid-thirties; was this due
to parental indoctrination on the sorrows of marriage? Certainly Margaret never
remarried, but she apparently told the children their father was dead. Both Frances and
Thomas added 'deceased' after his name on their wedding certificates. The marriages
took place in Register Offices, an echo from 1878.
of Martin Henry Murphy, the husband of Frances, we know only what can be gleaned
from the certificate. Of Irish stock certainly, and a labourer in the Ironworks, he was a
close neighbour of the family, and a contemporary of the two elder children. I hope he
was a kindly man and that Frances was happy. They did not have any children; the
Index was checked over a twelve year period. I have been told by Thomas jnr that they
adopted a son.
The story of Thomas's marriage is more intriguing. Isabella, another close neighbour ,
was five years his senior. She may also have been of Irish extraction, as her maiden
name Cork suggests. She married first David Moodie in 1894, her daughter Lilian May
being born in 1899. Whether they separated, or David was a journeyman, is not
considered relevant; he died in Maidstone in August 1915. Tom and Bella were
married, in Hull, three months later, the ceremony being witnessed by Lilian May. Hull
probably gave distance from the Moodie families in Thornaby, and possibly from
Margaret too. Margaret would, in the space of a year, have lost income from two
sources. Lilian married in 1923, but obviously kept close ties with her stepfather as he
died at her home in Hull in 1953. Isabella predeceased her husband, dying in 1939.
They also had no children of their own.
Violet Leonora never married, staying at home with Margaret. She drowned in the
Tees on 30th November 1921. Unfortunately the Coroner's Report seems to have been
destroyed and, strangely, the local papers did not report the event, so there is only the
death certificate as evidence. As she was the last one at home one is left wondering
John F.N. survived the War, returning demobilised in 1918. He married Ellen
Donaldson of Stockton in the late months of that year. Of interest is the fact that on
the marriage certificate under 'Father' is 'Francis Wrightson -general labourer', no
deceased. John and Ellen's son, Andrew Donaldson Wrightson, was born in the June
quarter of 1919. There is no indication of further children until the birth of Thomas in
Margaret Alice died in 1928 at the home of Frances and was buried in the same grave
as Violet Leonora in Thornaby Cemetery. Her death certificate states 'Wife of Francis
Wrightson', again no 'deceased'. Had they had news that he was alive and was Violet's
end partially connected with such news?
Andrew D. married Annie Brown in the summer of 1947 and they had three children,
John Frederick, Joan and Andrew. Thomas married in the March quarter of 1960; he
and his wife had two sons, Paul and Ian. It is at least pleasing to know that some
normality eventually came out of what had been a tragic mess.
*For items thus marked I am grateful to Barbara Mortimer (my cousin) who gleaned what information she
could from Sally Carter during the early 1980's. The whole truth, and the emotions involved, will never
TLW July 1997
Thought to be Francis with Margaret Alice, Frances and Thomas