A Lancashire Family Album

My Grandpa Monks kept all sorts of studio portraits of his Lancashire family. These images are a great example of Victorian and Edwardian fashions. This photo is Harold’s mother, Mary (Polly) Monks, in 1914, just before Harold emigrated to Vargas Island on the west coast of Canada.

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Polly Monks in 1914

Harold’s “Ma”, Mary (“Polly”) Barton was born in August 1864. Her parents came from mining and farming communities surrounding Wigan, Lancashire. William Barton’s family originally came from Up Holland, and can be traced through parish records back into the 1700s. By the mid 1850s, they were living in Pemberton, then a mining community. William Barton (and his father also named William Barton) were engine drivers in coal mines. Mary Hilton’s family was from Shevington and Standish area, north of Wigan and possibly moved to Pemberton (east of Wigan) There are 3 Mary Hiltons all from Shevington born to brothers around the same time, so it’s been virtually impossible to pin down exactly which Mary Hilton she is!

Though the parents were from the greater Wigan area, Polly Barton was born in Litherland, outside of Liverpool, and moved to the Wirral, where her dad was now an engine driver for the Wirral Water Works near Prenton. When Polly was about 10-12 years old, the Bartons moved back to Kitt Green, where William Barton farmed on 12 acres at Catterall’s Farm.

Here’s Polly Barton, circa 1881 (aged 17) at the time she was a draper’s apprentice in Pemberton. A draper was “dealer in fabrics and sewing needs, cotton, linen and woollen, or a dealer in dry goods” (source census http://www.1891.com) That would explain the nice quality fabric and buttons and detailing on her dress.

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Polly Barton (right) and Lizzie Halliwell

Harold’s “Dad”, William Monks was also from the greater Wigan area. William was born in 1863 in a colliery town, Hindley, Lancashire (east of Wigan). William’s dad, George Monks, was a coal miner. Parish records show that the Monks family had been in the area for generations. However, probable changes in colliery output meant William Monks needed to move to other mining areas for work. Census and birth/death records show that the Monks family moved to Pemberton and then to Oldham (east of Manchester). In 1881, William Monks (aged 17) was a clerk in a colliery office in Oldham. The family later moved back to the Pemberton area, where William met his future wife, Polly Barton. (It seems that the Monks house on City Road in Kitt Green backed onto land that was Catterall’s Farm).

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William Monks, Wigan 1880s

Harold’s parents were married in 1889 and moved to Earlestown, Lancashire, where William Monks began work for the London and North Western Railway “wagon works” as an iron piler (and union representative). See more about this in my story A Lancashire Lad. Off duty, William Monks was clearly a very stylish dresser (as was his son Harold!) Note the watch chain on William’s vest — he continued this style in all of his later photographs! In this portrait from 1914, look closely for the pens in the breast pocket — also a “style feature” that continued through his life.

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William Monks 1914


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William Monks on the allotment in the 1930s — with suit and watch chain!

Here’s another snapshot of William Monks circa 1918 (with Eton collar and bow tie) with his son Will, also quite a stylish dresser! Harold’s brother Will Monks worked as an engineer at T&T Vicars, the biscuit-making equipment manufacturers. Note that Will Monks (known to our family as “Uncle Will” and remembered as a very old man who emigrated to Canada in the 1970s) was called “Willie” by his family — the name not quite in keeping with his rather stern countenance in these photos!

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William Monks Sr, Willie Monks, Florrie Makin

The girl in the photograph is Harold’s cousin Florrie Makin, daughter of his aunt Esther Hettie Barton from Catterall’s Farm. There’s a sad story about Aunt Hettie. She was apparently abandoned by her husband George Makin, and soon “died of a broken heart” (according to a family source, this was written on her death certificate) in 1915. Florrie came to live with Harold’s family, and he always considered her to be a younger sister. (Note that she was called Florence Mary, very similar to Florence May Monks, Harold’s sister, who had tragically died aged 4 years old). Harold was close to Florrie and made a special trip to England in 1928 for her 21st birthday.

By 1913, Willie Monks had left Earlestown and was now working for McVitie’s biscuit factory in Harlesden, Greater London. In August 1913, Willie married Alice Gregory at St John’s Church Earlestown. Alice was also from the greater Wigan area — unclear how the two met, but possibly tennis? Apparently they were both avid tennis players!

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Will and Alice Monks, 1913

Harold kept this notice of the Monks-Gregory wedding announcement, which gives a good overview of the Monks cousins, friends and neighbours (I’ve been able to cross-reference names with the 1911 census)

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Harold was Best Man and gave them a pair of blankets as a wedding gift. Florrie Makin gave them a pair of oil paintings. Uncle, Aunt and Grandma in South Africa sent them a cheque. This South African connection is of note — there had been an apocryphal story about Uncle George, William Monks’ brother, who had financial misdealings, left his clothes on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal to fake his death, and who resurfaced in South Africa.

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Uncle George Monks in South Africa

Yet, if George was living in South Africa with his wife and mother, and sending a cheque to his nephew in 1913 and being photographed in 1916, he doesn’t seem to have been so mysterious after all!


George ran an insurance business in Orrell, Lancashire. Perhaps had had got into trouble? Back in 1999, I asked my English cousin about this — she maintained it was just a story and his family knew all about him going to Africa. (Note in the 1930s, Uncle George’s grandson George married Florrie Makin, Harold’s cousin).

Harold packed all of these family snapshots into his travelling trunk and took them with him to Vargas Island on the west coast of Canada. Three years later, he was back in England, training with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and made several visits to Earlestown and London to visit the family. This snapshot shows the family re-united in March 1918, just before Harold was to go on active service on the Western Front.

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The Monks family in March 1918: Willie and Alice Monks, Harold, Florrie Makin, William and Polly Monks.

Harold returned safely from war duty, saw the family again, then returned to Canada where he stayed in contact with Dad and Ma, Florrie (now called “Flo”) and Willie and Alice (who was especially good at writing him letters and sharing snaps of the children Harold William and Stella). Read more about Harold’s contact with his family in this story: “Cards from Dad and Ma”