Collections Long read Series

Robert Wagstaffe Killer (Part 2)

This is the second of three blog posts by Julie Ramwell introducing a unique 18th-century trade directory with annotations by a Manchester surgeon.  The first post focussed on the life of the surgeon, Robert Wagstaffe Killer (1763-1841).  This post explores the range of annotations that he made.

Portrait of Robert Wagstaffe Killer. Reproduced by courtesy of Chetham’s Library

Manchester’s ‘principal inhabitants’

Trade directories, which provide basic details of names, addresses and occupations, can help to fill the gaps between and/or before census returns.  The annotations by Robert Wagstaffe Killer (1763-1841), made mainly in the early 19th-century, flesh out these bare bones, providing a wealth of detail about Manchester’s ‘principal inhabitants’, their families, their work and their characters.

Opening showing Killer’s annotations

Successes and failures

Manchester in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was a dynamic space, constantly changing and expanding.  There were opportunities for success – and failure.  James Watson, Gentleman ‘acquired a good property by manufacturing umbrellas being the first of any consequence of that trade in Manchester’. Likewise, after separating from their business partners, the Sandfords, McConnel and Kennedy went on to become the largest cotton-spinning concern in Manchester.

Sandfords, Mc Connel and Kennedy, cotton-spinners and machine –makers, New Islington
… Mc Connel & Kennedy … each … now occupies a mansion … Thus have industry & ingenuity in a few years raised them from common mechanics to a state of affluence.

By contrast, Robert also records numerous bankruptcies and failures.  Benjamin Potter, merchant, who died in 1810, had ‘retired from trade’, but ‘made this year some bad speculations in cotton and died insolvent’.  1816 is noted as ‘a year of ruin to hundreds’.

Removals from town

Business failures sometimes resulted in removal from the town, as speculators tried their luck elsewhere.  R. Wetherell, silk and cotton-manufacturer, ‘went to Liverpool’; John Parke, Africa-check-manufacturer, ‘to the Isle of Man’, and James Norman, merchant, ‘to Paris’.  Other reasons for removal include retirement, family connections – and crime. John Smith, calico-printer, ‘Having defrauded the Revenue, … fled to America in 1811 or 12.’  

Though most relocations were local, to nearby towns in Lancashire or Cheshire, others travelled further afield: from Penzance to Flintshire; to Europe, and beyond. Long-haul destinations include Brazil, Argentina and Jamaica.

Manchester Medical Men

Barnes Ralph, surgeon, 13, Shudehill
removed to Eccles and died in 1802. His widow became Matron of the Lying Hospital in 1805.

In addition to recording appointments, resignations and dismissals of his medical peers, Robert provides numerous insights into the private lives of Manchester’s surgeons, doctors, man-midwives and apothecaries.  We learn, for example, that his friend John Bill, M.D. became a wine merchant in 1802; that Thomas Tomlinson, surgeon and man-midwife, had a love-child with his housekeeper, and that Michael Ward, surgeon, was ‘the oldest practitioner in Manchester’ when he died in 1834, aged 72.  Of particular interest are Robert’s comments on character and ability:

John Ferriar (1761-1815)

Ferriar John, M.D. 4, Dawson-street
died suddenly of apoplexy Feby. 1815 aet. 52. He was a man of learning & a skilful Physician, but his temper was so unaccommodating – his Pride so great, & his manner to his medical brethren so disgusting that his practice had greatly diminished. – He is said to have been very intemperate of late.’

Family history

Family relationships are key to the family historian, and Robert’s annotations provide a wealth of incidental detail on marriages and offspring, before the years of civil registration and census returns.   References to children often include names, occupations and places of residence, plus details of marriages and deaths. Other relationships mentioned include siblings, in-laws, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins, providing valuable clues about extended family networks.

Marriage, widowhood and re-marriage all feature. For example, we learn the surnames of all three consecutive husbands of Mrs Hyde of Ardwick.  Separations and divorces are also noted, along with unusual alliances:

Bernhard Frederick, merchant and manufacturer, 8, St. Mary’s
Had foolishly married his Housekeeper who alienated him from his relatives & old friends.

Sutton Joseph, timber-merchant, 21, Shudehill
Married again when aet. 77 to a Miss M[atild]a Lowe of Stockport aet: about 20.

Some facts can be corrobated and/or expanded by contemporary sources, including parish registers, probate records and entries in newspapers and journals.  Miss Lowe, for example, was actually 28 when she became Mrs Sutton. Rather surprisingly, Joseph outlived his young bride. 

Other snippets of information capture individual details and events, which would otherwise remain unrecorded.  We discover, for example, that Thomas Fleming, archal-maker, and John Walker, drysalter, both ran close carriages; that George Smith, a commissioner of taxes, ‘went by appellations – Gentleman Smith & Walking Smith for he often walked 20 miles before dinner’, and that Ellen Mawson of Ardwick, was ‘a singular old lady who in her dress preserves the Costume worn sixty years ago’.

Manchester life

Robert’s focus on individuals also offers glimpses into Manchester’s religious, educational and cultural practices. William Hardman, drysalter, ‘‘a great lover of music’ is recognised as ‘one of the fathers of our concerts’, while Nathaniel Gould, merchant, is described as ‘an indefatigable Patron of the Sunday Schools’. In the ‘great character’ of Charles Lawson (1728-1807), headmaster of Manchester Grammar School from 1764 until his death, we are told, ‘the gentleman & the scholar were intimately united.’  Sadly, Robert did not recall all of his schoolmasters so fondly:

Derby Rev. John, M. A. second master of the Free-Grammar-school, 20, Long mill gate
His learning was not deep. His temper was fretful, and his partialities and prejudices were so evident as to disgust most of his scholars.

The third and final blog post in this series will focus on ill-health and causes of death.

Find out more:

Scholes, John, of Manchester, Scholes’s Manchester and Salford Directory (Manchester: Sowler and Russell, 1794) with annotations by Robert Wagstaffe Killer has been reproduced in full in the Library Digital Collections.

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