Robert Storey (1822-1889)


Robert Storey (1822-1889)

  • Born Jarrow, Durham, England
  • Died Brandon, Durham, England
  • Married 1841, Sunderland, Durham, England, to:

Margaret McFarland (1824-1870)

  • Born Southwick, Durham, England
  • Died Brandon, Durham, England
  • Nine children

Elizabeth Whittaker Kyle (1818-1889)

  • Born Durham, England
  • Married 1871, Sunderland, Durham, England (a widow)
  • Died Brandon, Durham, England

Right:  The old Jarrow bridge, near the ancient monastery of St Paul's. Built from stone in the early 18th century, the bridge previously carried the main road from South Shields to Jarrow across the River Don.

Below: Inside St. Paul's, Jarrow, including the baptismal font. Robert Storey was probably christened here.

St Paul's, Jarrow
Photo: Michael Otterson
Baptismal font at St Paul's, Jarrow
Photo: Michael Otterson

Below:  Haswell Colliery, County Durham, where Robert Storey worked as a "putter."  Robert described the work there as "very bad."

Haswell colliery, Durham
Photo credit: Cleveland Mining Heritage Society

Born the son of a blacksmith in the north Durham town of Jarrow, Robert Storey entered the coal mines at the age of seven, at a time when children were extensively used in British industry and when mine owners treated their workers like slave labor. But he remained a coal miner for over 50 years.

Old bridge over the Don at Jarrow
Photo: Michael Otterson

In 1842 the British government passed a desperately needed piece of legislation. The Mines Act banned mine owners from employing women and girls below ground, and made illegal the employment of boys under the age of ten from working in the dark, cold and often damp tunnels.

The Act followed a government commission of inquiry, triggered by an accident in a Yorkshire mine a few years earlier when a stream overflowed after a storm and flooded into the access shaft, drowning 26 children. Victorian society was shocked to learn of the appalling conditions in the country's mines, especially when it was revealed that women and young girls often worked stripped to the waist.

Robert Storey was only seven years old when he first went into the mines, probably starting at the colliery in Jarrow, a north Durham town on the south bank of the River Tyne where he was born in 1822. A thousand years earlier, Jarrow had been a center of scholarship and renown. In 1822, it was just another small town about to experience the explosive growth brought about by the industrial revolution. Jarrow was not the traditional home of Robert's parents. His father, William, was a blacksmith from the small town of Alston, in England's high country - the North Pennines -  50 miles to the west of Jarrow. His mother was from the same general area.

Like many other children, Robert's first job in the mine was to act as a "trapper" - opening and closing the doors along the tunnels where the coal tubs came into the mine empty and came back full.  When he was eight, he was given the responsibility of driving a horse - a pit pony.

When interviewed by the government commission early in 1841, Robert told the inquiry that he "liked trapping very well," and was anxious to "get a penny in my pocket at week's end." Such were the expectations of working class children in that era. But around this time, Robert's blacksmith father moved the family to Haswell, a small town just over six miles east of the city of Durham, where a new mine had been opened in 1835.  At 14, Robert became a "putter," which involved taking empty tubs to the coal face where miners were chipping coal from the seams by hand, and dragging the loaded tubs back to the place in the pit where they could be taken out.

In his commission testimony, Robert said the "putting at Haswell is very bad." Still a teenager, he was bullied and beaten by the men employed on repairing the wagon roads along the tunnels. "I was afraid to complain lest I should be whipped again," he said. But the work was cripplingly hard - dragging a tub along rails, each one weighing 1,000 lbs. when fully loaded.

"We were not allowed to get time to sit down to eat from five in the morning to five at night," he said. "When men changed at the six hours' end, and the new men came on, one of the putters stopped to get his victuals about ten minutes. Next day when he came he was denied work for having stopped the ten minutes. He had to go to the office and stand his trial before the viewer (colliery manager), and promise not to stop again before he could get any more work, and he lost his day." Robert went on to explain that when another young man asked why this putter had been denied work, he was sent home for the day.

"In all pits, if the machine breaks, they will not allow a farthing for the time we lose. If we stop away a day they fine us half a crown," he explained. Half a crown, or two shillings and six pence, would have been about one fifth of a miner's weekly wage at the time.

Why did men, young and old, choose to work underground in such appalling conditions? In reality, the life of a coal miner was difficult and dangerous, but it paid a reliable living wage, and along with it, a place to live. This was especially true when additional members of the family could work in the mines, and census records are abundantly clear in showing how many sons followed their fathers into the mines as soon as they were old enough. Mining unions were being formed, and over the following decades there would be improvements, but they were slow in coming.

In his late teens, Robert, set his sights on the large coal mine in Sunderland, known as Monkwearmouth Colliery. It was close to the coast, and in time its tunnels would extend their narrow fingers for miles under the seabed.

At the time Robert arrived in Sunderland, about one third of the Monkwearmouth miners had been born outside County Durham - testament to the drawing power of the mines for men working for an even smaller pittance as agricultural laborers, or the struggles of those facing dim prospects in their poorly paid occupations. Robert would remain working at Monkwearmouth Colliery for more than 25 years.

It was not all work, however. Robert met and married Margaret McFarland, a local Sunderland girl, before he was 20. They were married at the parish church in Bishopwearmouth, across the Wear river on the south side of Sunderland. She was even younger, a mere 17. Two sons, James and John, came first - the following year and in 1845. Their first daughter, Jane, was born in 1848.

Some time about 1850, something unusual happened in Robert's life.  Thirteen years earlier, a small group of American missionaries had docked in Liverpool, soon moving north to Preston where they established a small branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Locals, both in England and in the United States, called them "Mormons" because of their belief in the Book of Mormon as an additional scripture to the Bible. The new church preached restoration theology - the idea that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been corrupted over centuries and had been restored in these "latter days." The message resonated with thousands of English men and women, and the church spread rapidly across much of the country.

It had reached Sunderland a few years earlier, a branch of the church had been established, and at some point Robert Storey heard the missionaries' message. On 13 September 1851 he was baptized by immersion by George Swan in the Sunderland suburb of Hendon.  There is some evidence that Swan was probably a member himself rather than a missionary.

Monkwearmouth colliery
Bishopwearmouth Church of St Michael
Wikipedia: Credit - Jonathan Thacker

Top:  Monkwearmouth colliery, where Robert Storey worked for 40 years. The mine, shown here as it appeared around 1900, remained open and profitable for many more decades after Robert's death.

Above: Bishopwearmouth parish church of St Michael and All Angels, as it is today.

It seems that Robert did not remain a member of the church, however. In the church's record of members of the Sunderland branch at the time, there is a margin note alongside Robert's name which simply states, "Cut off."  According to a church librarian at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, such actions were not uncommon at the time. They could simply mean that the church member failed to attend meetings regularly, and was not necessarily guilty of a major infraction. It's unlikely we will ever know, but unlike so many other converts to the church from England and Wales, Robert never emigrated to the United States and unnumbered members of his posterity therefore remained in the British Isles.

There is something of a sequel to this story. By the 1920s the church's membership had swelled considerably in Sunderland, and anti-Mormon feeling had been aroused by sensational publicity surrounding the church's former practice of polygamy (officially discontinued in 1890). Thousands of people protested in the streets of Sunderland in what became known as the "Mormon riots." Eventually, hostility dissipated, and today the substantial presence of the church in the Sunderland area is well integrated with the broader community.

By 1861, Robert and Margaret's family had grown to nine children - three more daughters and three more sons. Seven of them, with ages ranging from one year to 19, were still at home. 

The decade of the sixties passed, the older children were growing up and two more sons joined the family.  They moved to Brandon Colliery, not far from the city of Durham, where new coal seams had opened up in recent years. But then tragedy struck. Four days after Christmas in 1970, Margaret died of what her doctor said was "disease of the stomach" and paralysis.  She was 46. For Robert, a man in middle age with seven children at home, that must have been a devastating and unexpected loss. 

Eighteen months later, Robert married again, to a widow, Elizabeth Kyle, formerly Whittaker, five years his senior, at All Saints parish church in Monkwearmouth. Presumably, after decades in the mine, they still had friends and family there. The two youngest boys, Thomas, age 17, and Robert, age 15 on the 1881 census, had moved to Brandon with them and even at that age had begun working in the Brandon pit.

Robert and Eliza, as she was known, stayed in Brandon for the rest of their lives. Eliza died in their colliery home at 44 Durham Street just two days into the new year of 1889 from heart problems, age 72. Robert died from liver disease a mere 12 weeks later, also at home, just short of his 67th birthday.

All Saints oparish church, Monlwearmouth
Photo: Credit - All Saints parish website

Above:  All Saints church in Monkwearmouth.

Brandon Colliery railway station, after closure
Photo: Wikipedia - credit Ben Brooksbank

Above: Brandon railway station, closed in the 1960s.  When  job-providing mines closed, population often dropped precipitously.

Relationship of Robert Storey to Webmaster  
(Robert Storey is the second great grandfather of Michael Otterson)
        William Storey (b.1791) md. Jane Thompson
     Robert Storey (b.1822) md. Margaret McFarland
         Jane Storey (b.1848) md. John Otterson
     Robert Otterson (b. 1881) md. Lizzie Abernethy         
          Robert Otterson (b. 1911)  md. Doris Dix 
            Michael Otterson (living) - Webmaster