In the 19th century Liverpool was a thriving city. Large volumes of trade, especially cotton, passed through its docks. Liverpool became known as “the second city of the British Empire”. The population of the city grew rapidly, soaring from just 77,000 in 1801 to 700,000 at the end of the century. Workers flooded in, seeking employment on ships, in its docks and allied industries. Among them were thousands of Irish immigrants, escaping famine. By 1851 it was estimated that a quarter of the city’s population was Irish-born, most of them living in terrible conditions in slums near the docks.
Goods were moved from the docks to the city using horses and carts. As Liverpool trade boomed, men and horses from the surrounding countryside poured into the city seeking work. It is estimated that there were over 250,000 horses working in the city at its peak, a figure beaten only by London. Liverpool carthorses were big and strong, and were famous for moving heavier loads than was common elsewhere. As well as being used in the docks, horses transported everything from milk to coal around the city.
Every neighbourhood of Liverpool had stables, with some horses even being kept in the back yard of terraced houses, in a stall to which they were led through the house at night. Huge amounts of food were imported from the countryside to feed them, and the manure they created was sent back for farmers to use on their land.
The horses and carters provided work for supporting businesses, such as blacksmiths, farriers, harness-makers, and cart and wagon builders. These mushroomed and prospered in the city. Blacksmiths, in particular, were in high demand. Liverpool streets were paved with granite setts which were hard on horses’ shoes. Due to the heavy work they did, the carthorses tended to slide their feet over the setts, rather than lift them up. As a result, despite the shoes being made of iron and weighing around 2½ lbs each, new shoes were needed every 3-6 weeks.
Matthew Tickle was one of these blacksmiths. He was born in Liverpool in 1811 and baptised at Portico RC Church. In 1839 he married Ann Molyneux and they settled in Howard Road, Vauxhall. For ten years he worked hard at his forge. Then, in 1849, tragedy struck the family.
Matthew died at the age of just 38, leaving his 29-year old widow with three young sons – James, Matthew, and John.
The cause of death was intussusception of the bowel. This is a rare condition in adults. However, it can be a secondary complication of an untreated bowel cancer. As cancer couldn’t be detected or treated in the mid 19th century, this may well have been what happened. Bowel cancer was, (and still is) a cancer with prevalence in younger males.
He died in Paul Street. No house number is shown on his death certificate, so it’s possible poor Matthew collapsed and died in the street.
One can only imagine the devastating effect on his young family of losing their father unexpectedly in the prime of his life. Two years after Matthew’s death, the family can be found on the 1851 census, still living in Howard Road. Ann was working as a charwoman, as was her 18-year old sister, Ellen, who lived with them. They also had three lodgers – William and Mary Bradley, with their 12-year old son, also William. Their rent probably helped to support the family.
Ann remarried in 1852, to Lawrence Burns, one of the many Irish immigrants. Although his occupation was a bricklayer’s labourer, he was literate, unlike Ann or her first husband, Matthew, Lawrence signed the marriage document rather than just making his mark. A witness at their wedding was Mary Bradley, Ann’s previous lodger. In the 1861 census Lawrence and Ann are shown living in Beau Street with Ann’s three sons, all of whom are now apprentice horse-shoers, following in their father’s footsteps.
To read what became of the boys, see The Blacksmith’s Children; Part 2.