My Family History…How It Was Researched And What It Revealed

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I have been able to trace the family history of my father, back to the early 1800s, when they were cattle dealers in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

You will find references on how I researched my family history at the end of this post.


At that time England was on the brink of an Industrial Revolution following the invention of the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves in 1764. Samuel Greg built one of the first cotton mills on the River Bollin at Styal, Cheshire in 1784…..just a few miles from Macclesfield.

A huge labour force was required to man the cotton mills, which were being built throughout the North West of England at that time. Poor farm workers and their families moved to the new cotton towns to seek their fortunes.

This is the world into which my great grandfather, Richard Clarke, was born in 1835, the fifth child of James and Sarah Clark.

The family lived in the Cock and Pheasant pub, which is still an inn to this day. It lies between Macclesfield, famous for its silk, and Bollington, whose two large cotton mills the Clarence and the Adelphi, were built in the 1840s and 1850s.

Clarence Mill

In those days it was common for farmers to brew and sell beer as a side line. It seems likely that the Clark family were farmers as well as publicans.

Richard Clarke, the youngest in a family of five, could see that his father was making good money from the sale of his beer. Richard soon realised that, being the last in the pecking order, he was unlikely to benefit from the family business.

So on St Patrick’s day, 1849, aged 17, Richard walked to Stockport, 12 miles away, with just three pence in his pocket. In the 1851 Census, he was living as a lodger in the home of John Baker, a wine merchant, where he learnt the principles of brewing.

However, in 1857, Richard, being an ambitious young man, took over the Sun Inn in Stockport marketplace. In the same year he married a young lady called Eliza . He started brewing his own beer, one or two barrels at a time, and delivered them on a handcart, until, eventually, he could afford a dray man and cart.

Unfortunately the owner of the premises where he was brewing, gave him notice to quit. Undeterred, he found other premises, the business grew and prospered, leading to the building of a new brewery in 1874.

Meanwhile Eliza had five children, one of whom died in infancy. The eldest, John Richard, born in 1858, was eventually to take over the running of the brewery from his father. Richard, the founder of the brewery, became an Urban District Councillor and a Justice of the Peace, before his death in 1899.

Stockport Town Hall

John Richard married Ellen Walmsley in 1881 and they had six children, although only two survived. After Ellen died in 1895, aged 38, John Richard married Christina McKay in 1898. She bore him three children in quick succession. Dorothy, Christina and my father, Douglas, who was born in 1901.

Following the deaths of his father (1918) and his uncle, Edward (1929), Douglas became managing director. Richard Clarke and Co Limited, as it was now known, gradually grew through the acquisition of rival pubs until it finally had over 60 public houses.

Bottled Beer Label. 1950s

Throughout their time in Stockport, the Clarke family played important roles in the political and charitable life of the city. My father was honoured to be knighted by the Queen for his work in this regard in 1955.

The brewery industry was transformed in the post war years through huge multi national brewers buying up small independent breweries. It was a sad day when Clarke’s brewery was sold to Boddingtons in 1962, who, in turn, were gobbled up by Whitbread in 1989. 

It is interesting to note that brewing has turn full circle in 150 years. The entrepreneurship of Richard Clarke all those years ago is now being replicated by the rise of micro breweries throughout the country.


Some Hints On How I Researched My Family History

There are many books about researching family history, so I will just pass on information I gathered along the way.

1) The surnames of the same family evolve over the centuries, so mine changed from Clark to Clarke

2) Censuses have been carried out every ten years from 1841. Before then you have to look at births, marriages and deaths in church records. The original records are now often held in the County Archive, however they are also available online. There is a huge number of records online from ship’s passengers travelling to a new life abroad to regimental army records. Just search the family history records for what you are looking for.

3) There are a number of companies in the UK who hold vast numbers of records. Ancestry UK , which is probably the largest family history site, currently charges £69.99 for six months membership.

4) An alternative route is to join a local family history society as they have a lot of local knowledge.. I was lucky enough to be able to join a local club based in Bollington as I still live in the area. I also used the facilities of the county society whose East Cheshire Branch is based in Mobberley. They make a small daily charge to access their paper and digital records.

I hope you enjoy researching your family history. 

PS We would be most grateful if you would leave a comment or share this post. Many thanks. Val and Ian