• Sarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 20.

Week 20 – Textile.


With this week’s prompt, I’m honestly spoilt for choice! Even setting aside the various seamstresses in the family, I’m still left with

  • Fustian cutters from Lymm

  • Silk and cotton weavers from Stockport/Hazel Grove

  • Flax dressers and weavers from Belfast

  • Carpet weavers from Bridgnorth

And in my husband’s family (from the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland)

  • Lace makers

  • Calico printers

I went with a metaphorical roll of the dice (and a mental note to come back to some of the others later, time permitting). So, without more ado, let me introduce you to the Goodwin family of Bridgnorth.


Bridgnorth on the River Severn


My 4x great-grandfather, Edward Goodwin, was born in Bridgnorth in 1793. He was the fourth child of Thomas Goodwin and Margaret Bagley and belonged to the sixth generation of Goodwins to be born in Bridgnorth since a certain Raph (or Ralph) Goodwin arrived there with his wife and their first child shortly before 1620.


A handful of carpet manufacturers are recorded in Bridgnorth from at least 1815, and in 1824 Thomas Martin Southwell built the Southwell Carpet Factory on the site of the old Franciscan priory. By the 1860s this factory employed 600 people and it would prosper in one form or another until as late as the 1970s.


Edward married Mary Hancox in 1818 and had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood. I don’t know how he was employed as a young man, but on the 1841 census he was working as a weaver, as were three of his sons and his oldest daughter’s husband. He died in 1846 of “pulmonary consumption” (tuberculosis) – quite possibly a direct result of conditions in the factory, where the air would have constantly been filled with dust and fibre particles.


My direct line passes to Edward’s oldest surviving son, John Ambrose Goodwin, born in Bridgnorth in 1822. In 1835, John was apprenticed to George and William MacMichael, who belonged to one of the other main carpet manufacturing families of Bridgnorth, and he is recorded as a rug weaver on the 1841 census, living alone in Spittle Street. He married Maria Johnson in Bridgnorth in 1844 and in late 1850 or early 1851 moved to Wolverhampton.


I don’t know what prompted John to head for the city: his older sister Ann Maria’s husband Matthew Wharington moved there at much the same time, although Ann Maria initially remained in Bridgnorth. Both men are recorded as rug or carpet weavers in 1851, and John’s brother-in-law James Johnson (another carpet weaver) also followed them to Wolverhampton in the late 1850s.


In 1861 Matthew was still working as a weaver, while John and James are more ambiguously recorded as “labourers”. By 1871, however, both had found work in another branch of the textile industry, and from then onwards are shown on various records as tarpaulers, tarcloth makers or tent and sheet makers – all basically the same thing.


John and Maria had nine children, but tragically Maria died of severe haemorrhaging after giving birth to their youngest daughter Emily in 1863. John took care of the family alone for several years, probably with the help of his oldest daughter (my 2x great-grandmother) until she married in 1867. Baby Emily survived and was brought up by her maternal aunt, going on to have a large family of her own. John finally remarried twice: first to Maria Peplow in 1869, and after her death to Mary Price in 1879. Both were widows of his own age or older with grown families of their own.


John died in Wolverhampton in 1882 of bronchitis and a weak heart – another pulmonary disease which may have been linked to his occupation. He was the last of this branch of the family to work in the textile industry, with most of his sons turning to the local iron foundries for employment.

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