Tag Archives: Shropshire

Welsh Roots of The Beatles – George Harrison

Of all the members of The Beatles I think George would be my favourite. Perhaps its because of the films he produced and the fact that he worked with Jeff Lynne, a musical hero of mine. He also wrote some pretty good tunes after he left the group.

As my interest is predominantly involved in discovering any Welsh ancestry of The Beatles I was curious whether George had any. As with John Lennon, there are Irish roots in George’s origins and of course English, through the Harrison line. However, it is through his mother, Louise French (1910-1970) that he has those Irish and Welsh genes. Louise French was the daughter of John French and Louise Woollam, and it is through the Woollam line that George gets his Welshness from. Louise’s father was John Woollam, a native of the parish of St Martins in Shropshire. Her mother was Jane Daniels, John’s second wife, and according to an Ancestry.co.uk tree, they were married on the 25 November, 1872 at Widnes, Lancashire. I first discovered John Woollam in the 1881 census living at Virgin’s Lane, Little Crosby. This interested me because I used to visit the area when I was involved in recording listed buildings at risk, and other conservation work whilst I was employed with Sefton Borough Council. Back in the early 90’s I could be found walking through the little settlements of Thornton, Ince Blundell and Lunt listening to the music of Rush on my walkman. Little did I know that I was waliking in the footsteps of George Harrison’s great grandparents!

In the 1871 census we find John a widower living in a lodge at Little Crosby Hall, employed as a gardener, living with his children, John and Margaret, his brother Henry, and a servant, Lydia Daniels, born in Prescot, Lancashire. Could this be a sister of Jane’s? I suspect it is. In that 1881 census, John and his new wife are the parents of three more children, George, Walter and Louise, destined to become the grandmother of George Harrison.

So, where is the Welsh connection? We must research another generation of George’s family tree and find them in Shropshire, the homeland of John Woollam. John was the son of Roger Woollam and Ann Swallow. They were married on 30 May 1835, probably in Denbighshire, where Ann was born. According to the 1851 census, her place of birth was stated as Llansannan. So we find (at last) George’s Welsh ancestor, with a surname that would not appear to be typically Welsh. Ann was born March 13, 1811 and was the daughter of John Swallow and Benedicta Edwards, of Dyffryn Aled, and a quick check on Google maps places it near Prestatyn. John and Benedicta had at least another child, John, born 24 Apr. 1809. Frustratingly I cannot find anything beyond Benedicta even though she has a Welsh surname. Her name intriques me and I would love to find out more about her.

Where does this surname Swallow originate? How did it arrive in Denbighshire? I tried to find this out but I had little success. The only bits of information I could find was that it may have originated in Lincolnshire, because of a river with the same name. One thing for sure it probably evolved to become Swallow, and previous incarnations include, ‘swaluwe’ which is medieval English for, you’ve guessed it, swallow, or de Swallwe and Swalowe and Swalough from the late 14th century. With a surname like Swallow I had assumed that it would be relatively easy to find more individuals from this family, especially in Denbighshire. Not so! The only one I found was a William Swallow who was christened at Holt in Denbighshire on 3rd Oct. 1781. His parents are listed as George and Elizabeth Swallow according to the Family Search website. The only way to find out more is to visit the archives, because the records for Wales on Ancestry.co.uk is pitiful.

Another possible Welsh connection might come from the parents of Roger Woollam, George Harrison’s GG grandfather. The extracted parish records collection on Ancestry.co.uk revealed this:

10 Feb. 1810 Roger, son of Charles and Elizabeth Woollam, born 13 January 1810, Ifton.
From Llanymynech, St Martins Parish Registers, St Asaph Diocese

Ifton Heath is a few miles up from St Martin’s, Shropshire, and very close to the Welsh border. From the same parish records we find this:

7 Jul 1806  Charles Woollam, born in parish of Whittington, and Elizabeth Jones, spinster, lic..

It’s a good bet that these were Roger’s parents and perhaps that Elizabeth parents were from across the border. I found two more entries for baptisms for children of Charles and Elizabeth, namely, William Jul 10 1808 (born 22 Feb 1808), and Mary Mar 15 1812 (born 24 Feb 1812), both at Ifton.

Expanding from this and not yet proven, I find a christening on the Family Search website for a Charles Woollam on 15 Dec 1778 at Whixall, Shropshire. His father is named as James Woolam (as spelt on the site). Whixall is in the parish of Prees, a few miles east of Ifton and St Martin. There is also a marriage in Prees between a James Woolam and Ann Williams on 6 Apr 1776. I must restate that these Family Search findings are speculative but nevertheless worth checking out one day. Going further (speculatively of course) there is a christening for a James Woolam on 11 Nov 1744 at Whitchurch, Shropshire, parents John and Martha Woolam. These places are located in roughly the same area in Shropshire and totally plausible for them to be connected.

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Welsh roots of The Beatles – John Lennon

Liverpool has been well known for increasing its population in the 19th century with a substantial Welsh and Irish contingent. Many came to the famous English port predominantly for work opportunities, leaving their taciturn, simple lifestyles in their rural countries, and deciding to take their chances with the harsh, and at times brutal industrial environment, in the rapidly populous areas of north west England. The obvious question that is often asked by genealogists is this. Why did so many leave the security of their long established communities to expose themselves to the relatively unknown elements that we associate with industrialisation?

This is our perspective gained from the advantage of having hindsight. At the time our ancestors were struggling to survive in their own areas. They could see that their communities were worsening and felt that they did not have a choice. They must have made these decisions with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The prospect of giving themselves a better income and therefore a higher standard of living must have been a great motivator. Some did find fame and fortune but of course a great many didn’t, finding life hard, and constantly surrounded by death and hopeless poverty. We have to thank those individuals who dared to venture to these grimy, dangerous and unforgiven territories and give birth to future generations so that they could get a chance to make a mark on the world.

Such humble backgrounds can be found when investigating the ancestry of the four members of the Beatles. Predominantly more Irish than Welsh, the research so far has taken me to some interesting locations. However, the purpose of the research was to concentrate on their Welsh origins, and this is what I want to focus on. The Irish ancestry has been well researched and I thought it would be a good assignment to locate any Welsh ancestry that the fab four have got. A good source for John Lennon’s Irish ancestry can be found here

John Lennon has Welsh roots on his mother’s side. Julia Stanley (1914-1958) was the daughter of George Ernest Stanley and Annie Jane Millward, who were married late 1906. They had four daughter, Mary (b.24 Apr. 1906), Elizabeth Jane (1909), Julia, and Harriet (1916). On the whole researching the Milward line proved to be quite time consuming and exact, accurate records were difficult to find online. This is a classic example of the type of difficulty family historians can come up against. Some people can be difficult to find especially on the census records, and this is exactly what I found when trying to pinpoint the parentage of John’s grandmother Annie.

I could only find Annie Jane for certain in two census: 1881 and 1911. There is an Annie Milward living at 62 Frederick St, Liverpool, in the 1901 census, in the house of a Harry Daley, a native of the United States. The only problem is birthplace which is stated as Liverpool. She was born in Chester. However this kind of mistake is not unusual. As she was a boarder at the property she probably wasn’t asked by the landlord where she was born. He assumed Liverpool so wrote that down instead of Chester. Her profession was seamstress which again points me in the right direction because she states in the 1911 census, which is more reliable, that she was a tailoress.

Her father was John Milward and in the 1881 census, the enumerator has written ‘Wales’ as his birthplace. It often frustrates me that the enumerator didn’t bother to write exactly where John stated where he was born. This occurs with census information concerning Scots and the Irish immigrants as well. In 1891 he states he was born in Rhyl, Flintshire. 

Various websites have come up with different names for Annie’s mother, the wife for John Milward. I can only find one census where I can categorically know for sure that Annie’s parents were John Milward and Mary E Milward. But with such ambiguity it is essential to hunt down the marriage record to make sure. Of course there is always the possibility that some couples who state they were married on the census were in reality not, or got married in later years.

1881 census – Liverpool

John Millward (43) – clerk in law stationer’s office – born Wales
Mary E Millward (30) – wife                                               – born Wales
Annie J Millward (8) – dau                                                   – born Chester
Mary E Millward (6) – dau                                                    – born Liverpool
Harriet C E Millward – dau                                                   – born Liverpool

Residence: 17 Kent Square

In the 1891 Liverpool census, St Paul’s district:-

John Millward (48) – Wid – boarder – clerk, merchants – born, Flintshire,  Ryle                                                                                                                   
Mary Millward (16) – single – boarder – servant                 – born Liverpool

Residence: 71 Highfield St.

However, I’m still unsure and would never assume anything based on this kind of census evidence. This shows how difficult family research can be!

Searching for the family of John Milward has been difficult too. It appears that his father was a Thomas Milward born in St. Asaph, North Wales, but here too it is not so straight forward. Checking the 1841 census there are two Thomas Milward born in St. Asaph, and at first I thought that I had found a father and son with the same christian name. It is a mistake to assume that the surname Milward/Millward must be rare in North Wales, not Welsh sounding at all. In fact there appears to be earlier generations of Milwards in the North Wales area, increasing the possibility of the existence of another Thomas. Later census reveal that Thomas was at least 24 years older than his wife Jane, and reveal a consistency of having a son named John (Annie Jane’s father) but who is the other Thomas in the 1841 census?

1841 census – St. Asaph

Thomas Milward (50) – gardener        – born in county
Francis Edwards (25) – painter             – born in county
Anne Jones (50) – servant maid           – born in county
Elizabeth Milward (15)                             – born in county

Residence: Bronwylfa St.

and,

Thomas Milward (35) – gardener        – born in county
Jane Milward (35)                                      – not born in county
Edward Milward (11)                                 – born in county
John Milward (7)                                         – born in county
Elizabeth Milward (5)                                – born in county
Mary Milward (2)                                        – born in county

Residence: Roe? (near Elwy Cottage)

From a present perspective this could flumox a researcher because it seems like a mistake has been made by the enumerator. I was searching for one Thomas Milward who fits the criterias to make him the one I’m looking for. Seeing two of them (and on the same census page) places a seed of doubt. Has the enumerator made a mistake, and duplicated the entry? Knowing that the 1841 census was not noted for being the most accurate, enumerator mistakes, or rather the lack of a stringent accurate attitude, are expected, so what do I think is going on here?

I interpret this data as it stands, namely there are two Thomas Milwards. It would make much more sense if the two Thomas’ swapped places! What I think is that there is a Thomas Milward who was a gardener and living with a painter named Francis Edwards, probably a relative, aged around 50, but there was also another with a wife and family, and aged the same as his wife. Probably the enumerator either couldn’t make out the scribblings of Thomas’s writing on the original sheet, and guessed that he must have been around the same age, or he didn’t care about the accuracy!

So, it would be interesting to research the Millwards of Flintshire and Denbighshire and there are a lot of them. My online research has revealed that they first appeared in the area as early as 1767, a marriage between a John Millward and a Frances Williams at St Mary’s Church, Flint. They had at least 7 children. Originally, they came from the West Midlands area, probably Shropshire or Staffordshire.

In conclusion, I didn’t uncover any new information on John Lennon’s Welsh roots, but have opened up the possibility of further research. Thomas Milward’s wife was from Denbighshire, and more likely his mother was Welsh too, and the elusive wife of John Millward, if she could be positively identified, will open up another purely Welsh lineage to his family tree.