James and Matthew Tickle were 8 and 6 years old respectively when they lost their father. Their little brother, John, was still a baby. The boys’ mother, Ann, worked hard as a charwoman to support them, subsidising her income by taking in lodgers. Two years after she was widowed, she remarried and things probably a little easier for the family.
As soon as they were old enough, the boys were apprenticed to a blacksmith. Apprenticeships normally began when you were 14 years old, although some boys could be taken on at 13 as ‘apprentice’s helpers’. This was often the case when they were orphans. John Tickle is listed as a Horse Shoer’s Helper in the 1861 census, despite being only 13, so it is likely the boys all started work at the younger age. Often they would be apprenticed to a friend or family member, perhaps someone who knew their father.
The indenture lasted for 7 years, during which time they would not only get formal training in their trade but, in addition, the master undertook to develop the apprentice’s general understanding of life and the appropriate manners and wider skills necessary to conduct their business. Once they had finished their apprenticeship they were entitled to call themselves Master Blacksmith and to set up in business on their own account, which they did.
James and Matthew both married in their early 20s. James married Ellen Every on 23 December 1866. It was common for marriages to take place over the Christmas period, as this was the only time working men might have off. Often several couples would be married at the same ceremony. Matthew married Elizabeth Lewis a month later, on 24 January 1867. James & Ellen set up home in Beau St. while Matthew and Elizabeth lived in Rose St., both in the largely Catholic area near Scotland Road.
The 1871 census shows both brothers now had children. 29-year-old James & his wife, Ellen, had a 2-year-old daughter, Ann, possibly named after her paternal grandmother, and a 12 month old son. They lived at 9 House No.5 Court, Beau Street. The ‘Courts’ were a slum area of Liverpool, with overcrowded back-to-back houses, poor ventilation, and no running water or proper sanitation. To see what life in the Courts was like, take a look at this video.
Matthew and Elizabeth lived close by, at 18 Beau Street. They also had a 2-year-old daughter, Ann (how difficult they make it for us genealogists!), and a 6-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, known as ‘Lil’. John, the youngest of the three Tickle brothers, now also a time-served blacksmith, lived with Matthew and his family in Beau Street. Although they were not in one of the courts, there were several families at the same address and so their living conditions were unlikely to be much better than those of James’ family.
Over the next ten years, while the brothers were in their 30s, they worked hard to build a business and reputation. By the time of the 1881 census James is shown a a farrier, rather than a blacksmith. Although the terms were sometimes interchanged, usually farriers were more skilled and able to deal with the general health of the horses (especially their feet and hooves) as well as supplying shoes.
In 1881, James & Ellen were still living in Beau Street, but now had a house to themselves at number 15. In addition to Ann and Matthew, they had two more sons, John and Robert, and a baby daughter, Ellen. Meanwhile, Matthew & Ellen had moved to 9 Cazneau Street, where they had a house and a shop. It’s likely that the family lived in accommodation above the blacksmith’s forge. Their neighbours included another farrier and a saddler. Kelly’s Directory of Liverpool 1881 shows the firm of Tickle Brothers, Farriers, at 9 Cazneau St . While family legend cannot be relied on, it is recounted that the Tickle Brothers had an important contract to shoe horses working on the Liverpool docks, and that they also built a reputation for taking care of horses. In the days before there were many veterinary physicians, farriers often performed the role of horse doctors. A small pair of stuffed hooves has been passed down through the family. These were reputedly given when one of the Tickles saved the life of a precious mare, although losing the foal in the process. Family rumour has it that this was a racehorse, but in truth, it is more likely to have been a carter’s horse, essential to his owner’s livelihood.