William Storey (1790-1857)

William Storey (1790-1857)

  • Born Alston, Cumberland, England
  • Died Sunderland, Durham, England
  • Married 1810, Knarsdale, Northumberland, England, to:

Jane Martin (1787-1860)

  • Born Craig Head, Northumberland, England
  • Died Sunderland, Durham, England
  • Nine children

The South Tyne River rises on Alston Moor in Cumbria. From there, it presses its way northward through several villages nestling in the North Pennines before making a great sweeping bend at the village of Haltwhistle. Running eastwards a few miles south of the remnants of the great Roman wall built by Emperor Hadrian in AD122, it reaches its confluence with the North Tyne after about 15 miles before flowing on to the north-east coast of England and the port city of Newcastle. 

Confluence of North Tyne and South Tuyne rivers, England
Image owned by Oliver Dixon, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Above:  The confluence of the North Tyne (straight ahead) and South Tyne (to left), seen from the right bank of the river.

Below:  Alston, Cumbria, as it is today, including St. Augustine's church, re-built in 1869.

The South Tyne is one of the more prominent and defining features of this part of England’s high country, officially designated as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” Most of the small towns and villages in the area - Alston, Kirkhaugh, Slaggyford, Knarsdale, Eals, Lambley - are dotted along its length.  Alston, at 1,000 feet elevation where the South Tyne and the River Nent flow together, is said to be the highest market town in England. It was also the home of at least four generations of Storeys that we know of, and Storeys are recorded in other parts of Cumberland and neighboring counties in the 1600s.

William Storey was born in 1790 in Alston, when part of the modern county of Cumbria in England’s far north-west was known as Cumberland. He was the son of William Storey and Elizabeth Elliott, the seventh child and third son in a brood of 13. His father and grandfather had been born in the same town. His mother, Elizabeth Elliott, was from Stanhope in County Durham.

Alston, Cumbria
Public domain
Alston, Cumbria
This photo of Alston is courtesy of Tripadvisor
St Augustine church, Alston, Cumbria
Photo by Peter Wood (CC licence BY-SA)
Storey-Martin marriage reg 1810

Like his siblings, William was christened in St. Augustine’s church, the second church of that name to be erected on the same site. The first building dated back to the 12th century and was dedicated to St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. But by 1769 the crumbling place of worship was pulled down and a new one built. It was described in the 1815 Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales as “a neat, modern building.” There were several other, more modest nonconformist churches or meeting houses for Methodists, Quakers and Independents at that time. However, St. Augustine’s was again pulled down in 1869 after a century of use and replaced by the church which stands today in the heart of the town, its most prominent landmark.

By the time William was in his teens, Alston Moor parish numbered more than 5,000 people. Alston itself consisted of small, modest stone houses with slate roofs. William probably attended the town’s free school, which operated on a small endowment. Later, sometime before 1815, a schoolhouse which operated on the Lancastrian method was built for 200 children, charging four shillings per student per year - within range of many poor families.

The surrounding moorland was inadequate for serious agriculture, and more suitable for sheep. But the area had one enormous advantage - the presence of significant deposits of lead, silver, zinc and other minerals. Lead had probably been mined in the area since Roman times. Most of the working men in Alston when William was growing up worked in nearby lead mines.  By 1815, those mines were employing some 1,100 miners and yielding an annual profit of from £16,000 to £20,000.

William married Jane Martin in 1810 at the age of 20. She was from the parish of Knarsdale, just over the county boundary with Northumberland, the youngest of nine children. Like many of the families in Alston parish, she seems to have lived in a cottage or small group of cottages called Craig Head, too small to be called even a hamlet.  At a time when most working men and woman could not read or write, William had enough schooling at least to be able to sign his own name in the marriage registry in a clear, legible hand.

Above:  Knarsdale parish register page that records the marriage of William and Jane Storey. It reads: "William Storey and Jane Martin both of this Parish were married in this Church by Banns this  8th Day of September 1810 By me, Thos. Todhunter, Rector. This marriage was solemnized between us William Storey Jane Martin her mark ("X") Now Storey. In the presence of us Robert Storey William Calvert Robert Pearson." William and the witnesses all signed their own names, in handwriting considerably better than that of the rector.

Below left: Valley of the South Tyne, near Knarsdale, Northumberland. Below right: The Northumberland village of Blanchland.

Valley of the South Tyne near Knarsdale
Photo by Mike Quinn, CC BY-SA. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3423038
Blanchland, Northumberland.
From geograph.org.uk. CC-SA.

William was working as a blacksmith in the lead mines when he married - a trade he had probably followed since his mid-teens. He remained a blacksmith all his working life.

William and Jane’s first two children were daughters, Mary born in 1811 in Knarsdale, and Elizabeth less than two years later in Blanchland, a small village on the Northumberland-Durham border and another site for lead mining. The successive births of William and Jane’s children allow us to trace the family’s movements ever further eastwards from the bleak moorland of the Pennines toward the more populated towns and cities of County Durham.

While lead mining had provided work for generations of men in the parishes around Alston, the rise of the coal mines with their higher pay rates, particularly the rich seams in County Durham to the east, were beginning to suck workers from rural communities everywhere.

The town of Jarrow, on the south bank of the River Tyne another 50 miles to the east, was just such a community, tripling its population between 1800 and 1850, spurred by the boom in coal-related industries. Some time before 1818, William and Jane moved their family there. At least five of their children were born in the town - all boys - between 1818 and 1830.

Whatever the economic imperatives for such a move, the family’s time in Jarrow was to prove one of the most difficult in their lives. The couple lost a daughter and three sons while living in the industrial town. Elizabeth passed at the age of 17 in 1830, and they lost 11-year-old Richard in the same year. Just one-year after that, George, their infant son only a year old, also died. Two more years passed before they were to lose eldest son William, still only 15. In addition, the large eight-year gap between the births of the last two boys, Robert and George, suggests that William and Jane lost some more children during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy during the difficult decade from 1823 to1833.

Since compulsory death registration and the issuance of death certificates which included the cause of death were not mandated until 1837, we can’t know how Elizabeth, Richard and George died. Deaths of infants were very common, but less so for children after the age of 10. Measles, tuberculosis, influenza, and what was commonly referred to simply as diarrhea were all killers of children. Such a tragic period of loss was very probably the result of easily transmissible diseases, and in the recorded history of the period we find another possible cause for the death in 1833 of William at age 15: cholera.

In October of 1831, a ship from the Baltic states docked at Sunderland, less than 10 miles from Jarrow. Sailors on board quickly spread what became known as blue or Asiatic cholera first in that port city on the River Wear, and from there north to Scotland and south to London, probably on the coastal vessels which took coal from Sunderland to the capital. It was not long before the disease moved inland along the rivers and roads of Britain. In the next two or three years, this new form of cholera took 52,000 lives.

Cholera victim, England 1830s
Public domain

The British medical profession at the time knew what the disease did, but not what caused it or how to contain it. The symptoms were horrifying. Violent vomiting, diarrhea and sweating dehydrated the body. Death usually occurred within a day or two, sometimes within hours. The prevalent theory that cholera was caused by bad air led to houses being washed with lime and there were various attempts to eradicate bad smells. The true cause - contaminated water, especially from sewage - was not understood until some years later.

Whether it was grief over the loss of their children, fear of health conditions in a large town, or simply economic opportunity that took the Storey family out of Jarrow, we can only surmise. But these few difficult years are a reminder of how precarious and uncertain life was in the face of childhood diseases, poor sanitation and unsafe work practices.

William moved his family to Salter’s Lane in the village of Haswell, just over six miles east of Durham City, sometime after the coal mine opened there in 1835.  This is where we find him on the first detailed, house-to-house census conducted in England in 1841. In 1838, daughter Mary had been the first of the children of William and Jane to marry, and by the end of the year had presented them with their first grandchild.

Haswell had been a small farming community until, like so many other villages and towns in and around County Durham, coal seams discovered beneath the green fields and the sinking of mine shafts had drawn thousands of miners and would-be miners to the area. Along with the influx came rapid construction of houses, schools, churches and pubs until the coal reserves eventually petered out, the people left and the village became a shell of what it had been.

It isn’t known if William and Jane were in Haswell when the pit experienced a contentious miner’s strike in 1844, and a major disaster in September of the same year. William would have been only 54 years old, so still working, when coal dust ignited and an explosion tore through the colliery, killing 95 men and boys. The accident left the village stricken and bereaved, with dozens of families having lost husbands, fathers and sons.

Two names on the 1841 census of William’s family are something of an enigma. Two children, Thomas and Isabella, are with the family. Both are listed as 10 years old, suggesting possible twins. However, neither have been found on later censuses or on death records, and Jane would have been 44 by the time of their birth - perfectly possible, but late enough to raise questions about their parentage. If not their own children, they may have been orphans, perhaps a nephew and niece, which research has yet to confirm.

Sometime in the 1840s, William and Jane made their last move, this time to Sunderland, or more specifically Monkwearmouth on the north side of the River Wear. A large coalmine was there, which features frequently in the history of Otterson and related families. In the 1851 census, Alston-born William and Northumberland-born Jane are living without any children or grandchildren in Sun Dial Yard, off John Street.  And that is where William died, in 1857, from “dropsy” - the old name for edema, or swelling of the tissues associated with congestive heart, liver and kidney failure. His wife, Jane, survived him by three years.

Even with his death certificate, William left us with a puzzle. The informant on his death certificate is not his wife, Jane, as might be expected, but Sarah Otterson. This is the first recorded intimation that the Otterson and Storey families knew each other. Nine years later, William’s granddaughter Jane Storey would marry coalminer John Otterson. Exactly who this Sarah Otterson was is yet to be positively determined, but the most likely explanation is that she was the recently married wife of Nicholas Otterson, who was born in Jarrow in 1825 and who very probably knew the Storey boys who were around the same age while their fathers worked in the mine. When members of both families ended up at the large mine in Monkwearmouth, they would have been near neighbors in the colliery housing.

The Storey Diaspora

We are used to thinking of the word "diaspora" as it's applied to global shifts in populations - the mass movements of Jews, Irish, Poles and countless others. But a single family in a few generations can find its descendants very far from their original home. And those transplants from one community to another have increased dramatically since the  Industrial Revolution.

William Storey diaspora 1756-today
Relationship of William Storey to Webmaster  
(William Storey is the third great grandfather of Michael Otterson)
           Richard Storey (b. about 1728)
     William Storey (b. 1756) md. Elizabeth Elliott
        William Storey (b.1790) md. Jane Martin
     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


Sincere thanks to Mark Heptinstall, a descendant of William Storey, for painstaking detective work that has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of this family's history.