Sarah Elizabeth Cowen

Aka Gran Bletcher

The summer of 1899 was the hottest since 1868, along with a drought it was also the driest summer on record (at that time) – on June 2 Sarah Elizabeth was born to parents James and Sarah Alice.  James was 23 and Sarah was 20 years old; they had married in St Andrews Church, Ancoats on June 10 1897.

Sarah Elizabeth was christened in St Silas, Ancoats on 31 Jan 1900

Dad James occupation is listed as ‘scavenger’ – probably a street cleaner of some kind. 

In 1901 the young family were living in 2 rooms in Peter Street, Manchester and James was still shown as a ‘scavenger – corporation’.

1911 census shows the family living just off Hyde road – where they now occupied 3 rooms; Gran was 12 and according to the return there were no other children from the marriage – which is unusual for these times.

Sarah & Harry

January 1919 was cold and wet; just two months after the end of the first world war, Sarah Elizabeth Cowen married Harry Moores Bletcher.  They were married in St Andrews Church, Ancoats – the church where her parents married just over 20 years before. 

Harry was born in 1898, he joined the Territorial Force in 1915 – giving his age as 19, it wasn’t unusual to add years to be able to sign up.  Amazingly the form used to sign up only asked for ‘apparent age’ and did not ask for a date of birth.  However, grandad proved not to be suitable and was ‘considered unlikely to become an efficient soldier’ – he had extreme flat feet and defective intellect.  In 1919 this could have meant anything from an inability to concentrate due to exhaustion to learning difficulties.  Suffice to say, grandad was discharged after only 4 months service, in August 1915

It hasn’t been possible to date the picture of Gran & Grandad up to now, except I would guess it would be around the date of their marriage – indeed it could be their wedding photograph.  I haven’t been able to confirm what uniform Grandad is wearing. 

Sarah Elizabeth Cowen
Harry Moores Bletcher

Sarah Elizabeth and Harry Moores went on to have 6 children, they were rich in love – unfortunately not rich in money 😊

Let us now take a look at Sarah Elizabeth’s parents and grandparents……………………………..

Sarah Elizabeth’s father, James – great grandad, was born on 30 October 1873 when the family lived at 45 Loom Street, Manchester (just off Oldham Road on the way into Manchester centre)  He was the second son for parents Alice and Thomas and one of an eventual 7 children. 

It is relatively simple to follow the life of an ancestor through the census records; James will be recorded – hopefully – in the 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census records.  Births, marriages and deaths are confirmed by registration records/certificates.

187345 Loom StreetJames was born on 30 October 1873.  His father was Thomas Cowan, a tailor and his mother was Alice Conduit.  His birth was registered on 8 December 1873
18813 Taylors CourtJames is 8 years old and living with his father Thomas, age 30 and a Tailor, his mother Alice, who is also 30, his older brother Thomas, age 11 and his younger sister Ellen who is 6.  All the children are registered as ‘scholars’ so the assumption is that they are attending school
189166 Primrose StreetJames is now 17, his occupation is a ‘dyer’ – very likely working in a cotton mill.  He is living with his mother Alice, his father is not recorded living with them but assume he is still
1892The Gangs of ManchesterGang culture was rife in Manchester and great grandad was a member of one of the most notorious gangs – the Bengal Tigers.  The two sides of our family (mum and dads) came together, for an instant, in 1892 as a result of a gang related incident.  The story is told further down the page……………………………..
10 June 1897St Andrews Church, AncoatsJames married Sarah Alice Redford
2 June 1899 Sarah Elizabeth was born.  The birth was registered on 24 July 1899, the family lived at 12 Jones Street.
19011 Peter StreetJames is 27 and living with wife Sarah, 24 and their daughter Sarah age 2.  James has recorded his occupation as ‘scavenger (corporation’
191191 Grey Street, Hyde RdJames is living with his wife Sarah and their young daughter, also Sarah (Gran).  James records his occupation as street sweeper (corporation).
20 July 1914309 Gt Ancoats StreetJames died, at the young age of 40.   His cause of death is peripheral neuritis – a failure of the nerves to carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord.  This produces pain, loss of sensation and inability to control muscles and can result in abnormal blood pressure, digestion problems and loss of other basic body processes.  One cause is exposure to toxic substances, James did work as a dyers labourer. At the time of his death the family lived at 309 Great Ancoats Street. He is buried in the Roman Catholic section of Southern Cemetery, section H, grave 1003.  This was a family plot and his brother and mother are buried with him.

James parents were Thomas Cowen (great great grandad), who was born in 1842, and Alice Conduit, born in 1844.

James and Alice were married on 31 January 1870, in the Cathedral Parish Church, Manchester.  Thomas is a tailor, however, both Thomas and Alice are illiterate – as can be evidenced on the certificate where they ‘made their mark’ in lieu of a signature.

As you can see, lots of information can be gained from the certificate and it provides data to continue research to next generation back to 3 x great grandads John Cowen and William Conduit.

Thomas Cowen was born in 1842 and his first appearance was in the census return of 1851.  His age, his fathers name and occupation are all given on the marriage certificate and this allows me to confirm that I have the correct Thomas Cowen.

From the birth registers I was able to identify and order his birth certificate.  This showed his mother was Ellen Coveney and this further helped to follow him through the census records.

28 April 1842Cable StreetGreat great grandad was the eldest child born to parents Ellen and Thomas. 
1851Cellar of 111 ShudehillThomas was 9 years old in 1851, he lived with his parents John and Ellen, and his brothers John, Peter & James. Father John is a tailor and notes his birthplace as Ireland.
186124 German StThomas is 18 and is a tailor. He is still living with his parents John and Ellen.  There are now 6 children in the family. Most notable is the age registered for John and Ellen, this could be an error on behalf of the enumerator or John and Ellen could have given an incorrect age – they are both younger than they were in the 1851 census!  This did cause some concern when carrying out the research but the conclusion is that this is the right family – the children, names and ages are correct, as are the occupations and place of birth.
31 Jan 1870Cathedral Parish church, ManchesterThomas Cowen, age 26 and a tailor married Alice Conduit, age 25.  Both are illiterate
187175 Loom StThomas is lodging at this address with his wife Alice and new son – also Thomas.   Thomas gives his age as 30 years, Alice (registered as Eliza) is 24 and their son is 3 months.  Thomas is a tailor and Alice is a weaver
18813 Taylor CourtThomas and Alice are living with their children Thomas, James (our great grandad) and Ellen. The issue with age seems to have followed through to this generation also.  Thomas and Alice both give their age as 30.  In 1870 Thomas was 26 on his marriage certificate, meaning he should be 36 in the 1881 census ………
189166 Primrose StThomas is missing in the 1891 census, his name could have been mis spelt or he could just not have been enumerated/recorded in the census.  Alice records her age as 46 and is head of the family, living with 4 of her sons
1901Crumpsall workhouse       6Higgins BldgsThomas is shown as age 61 and is an inmate in Manchester Workhouse, Crumpsall.  His occupation is tailor and his marital status recorded as ‘married’.  He is also recorded as a ‘worker’ so it is possible he was in the infirmary rather than the workhouse.  Alice is living with 2 of her sons, she is 58.
1911Crumpsall workhouseThomas is now 70, shown as a former tailor and married. I am still looking for Alice, there is a possible Alice Cowen but I need to do further research to confirm this is the right Alice.
19286 Jan 1928 123 Crescent Road, CrumpsallAlice Cowen died at the age of 82, the widow of Thomas Cowen (Tailor Journeyman)  Cause of death was senile Dementia.

1851 census extract.   NOTE John and Ellen are both shown as 30 years of age

1861 census extract.  NOTE John and Ellen have now reported their ages as 28 and 26.  Their eldest son Thomas (gtgt grandad) is 18 – so his father was 10 years old when his eldest son was born !!

Thomas was born in 1842, I am still searching for his death which is sometime between 1911 (the last census) and 1928 (his wife’s death certificate states she is a widow).

Still work to do on this generation and questions which I would love to be able to answer – why was Thomas in the workhouse in 1901 and 1911; was it possible he was there for 20 years or just a coincidence that he was there on the evenings of the two census returns. 

Thomas’ father John had an interesting life; according to the census records he was born in Ireland around 1821.

By 1841, 34,000 Irish people had moved to the Manchester area and accepted poor pay and conditions because the worst in England was better than the best in Ireland. 

Manchester was the heart of the cotton zone and society in early industrial Manchester was centred around the cotton industry; indeed Manchester owed its existence to cotton.

Living conditions for the working classes in Manchester was extremely poor, many streets were unpaved and without sewers; many houses were poorly built and almost all had a cellar.  Families would live in one room, disease and illness was rife.

Our 3 x great grandfather John Cowen was living on Back Foundry Street in 1841.  Unfortunately the census provides no more information on the dwelling he lived in but it is likely he shared a room with other workers.  He records his occupation/trade as tailor.

1841Back foundry stJohn Cowen, age 20, Tailor
184115 AugustJohn Cowen married Ellen Coveney in St Patricks Chapel, Manchester.  John was of ‘full age’, Ellen was a ‘minor’ – so under the age of 21 at the time of the marriage John gives his address as St Georges Road and Ellen’s address is just Shudehill Given the marriage and birth date of first child it is likely Ellen was expecting when the couple married.
184228 April Cable StreetThomas (2xgt grandad) was born
1851Cellar 111 ShudehillJohn and Ellen are living with their sons Thomas, John, Peter and James. John is a tailor John and Ellen record their ages as 30
186124 German StreetJohn and Ellen are living with their children, Thomas, John, Peter James, Joseph and Margaret Jane. John is a tailor John is now 28 and Ellen is 26
18654 February   30 German StreetEllen dies, age 38.  Cause of death Bronchitis, heart disease and dropsy. 
187167 Loom StreetJohn is 45 and has remarried, his wife Elizabeth is 30.  Children living with the couple are Joseph, age 15 from his first marriage.  Robert is age 7 and Mary E is age 1.  It isn’t clear from the census whether Robert is Ellen’s son or Elizabeth’s son.
188167 Loom StreetJohn is 50 and Eliza is 36 Robert (14), Mary Ellen (12), Eliza (9), Bella (3), Owen (2) Given that John was born around 1821 his age should be 60
189167 Loom StreetJohn is 60 and a night watchman.  Eliza is 47.  Robert (24), Mary Ellen (21), Isabella (14), Owen (12) John (7)
189267 Loom StreetJohn (3xgt grandad) dies from Haematuria (blood in urine), Asthenia (physical weakness).  His death certificate said he was 62……..he must have been at least 10 years older than this. His son Robert registered the death. Given that his eldest son (our 2xgt grandad) was born in 1842 this age at death would not be possible.  John would have been 12 when his eldest son was born.

John had a total of 12 children, John was his youngest and was born when John was 63.  The family lived at the same address, 67 Loom Street, for 20 years or more.

I am still searching for the second marriage details, the couple will have married quite soon after the death of Ellen – his first wife.  I have ordered the birth certificate for Robert, as he is likely the first child from the second marriage.  I can then find the maiden name of his mother.