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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Christopher Chapman Singleton 1863 - 1932

An Orangeman in the family

A chance find of an obituary in a newspaper led me on an exploration of my great grandfather’s political leanings and his involvement in the Orange Order.

On a recent trip to London, I took the opportunity to visit the Colindale Newspaper Library for the first time.  Not having any luck finding what I was looking for, I decided to see if there were any death notices for my Great Grandfather Christopher Chapman Singleton who died in 1932, I didn’t know the exact date, but knew from the GRO indexes that it was in the April to June quarter. I order the microfilm for the Barrow News for 1932 and after winding through the file for quite a while, I got lucky and found an obituary for him.  This told me he died on 9 May 1932 at 144 Sutherland Street, Barrow, but I was astounded at some of the information in the piece.

From the Barrow News of 13 May 1932:

Late Mr C C Singleton
The death took place at Barrow on Tuesday of Mr C C Singleton of 144 Sutherland Street at the age of 68 years.  Deceased was the only life member of Barrow Conservative Party and was chairman of Central Ward branch.  He was a prominent member of the Association for over 40 years and was also a well known and esteemed member of the Orange Order.  He had been in failing health for several months.  He leaves a widow and grown up family.

This, for me was revelatory.  My grandfather Jack Singleton (born 1901) had always been a staunch Labour member and trade unionist, to find that his father Christopher had been not only a member of the Conservative Party, but a life member and chairman of a branch, was a bit of a shock.  However, the biggest surprise of all was that he had been a member of the Orange Order.  At that time I was not aware of just how much Orangeism had spread into the UK in the Nineteenth Century, nor indeed, that there was not only a large Irish membership of the Orange Order in the UK, but a significant membership of English people.

Christopher was born in Liverpool on the 21st September 1863 to William and Mary Singleton, he was one of 10 children and the last to be born in Liverpool.  Within nine months of his birth, the family had moved to Barrow-in-Furness, into one of five cottages on Barrow Island, which were later demolished to make way for the gun shop to be built.  Christopher’s father William was a Steam Crane Driver (1891 census) on the docks. On the 26th February 1877, aged 13, Christopher was indentured as a coppersmith with the Barrow Shipbuilding Company (later to become a part of Vickers and now incorporated into BAE Systems); he was to work there for the next 55 years, the rest of his life. He would have been involved in making and maintain the many parts made of copper that go into a new ship, in his spare time, he also made small copper ornaments such as kettles and pans.

It was during his time at Barrow Shipbuilders that he became interested in political matters, and began his long association with the Conservative Party and the Orange Order. In 1867 the second reform act became law, it extended the franchise to every adult male householder living in a borough constituency, which meant that as Christopher and his brothers became householders, they became eligible to vote; and as such like many working class men, were wooed by both major parties of the time, the Liberals and Conservatives for their votes come election time.

Christopher chose the Conservatives and he was to become a lifelong member of the Central Ward Branch in Barrow, of which he was chairman at the time of his death.  He appears to have been held in high esteem by his fellow members, and many of them turned out for his funeral.  The obituary in the Barrow News (21 May 1932), mentions that the mourners included “representatives of the following: The Conservative Association.  Central and Salthouse Conservative Clubs, the deceased’s own lodge L.O.L 905, L.O.L.365, L.O.L.329, L.O.L. Female 62, L.O.L. Female 146, L.O.L. Male Juv. 22, L.O.L. Girl Juv. 101, R.B.P. Star of Beth., Salthouse Women Unionists, Central Women Unionists, Primrose League and other bodies.”

The Orange connection shows up strongly here, with representatives from 8 lodges, including male, female and juvenile lodges.  I have not been able to find out how many lodges there were in Barrow in the early 1930s, however, Donald M. MacRaild’s book Faith, fraternity and fighting, notes that in 1905 there were 13 lodges in Barrow and Askham, an increase of 9 since the 1880s.  Orangeism was very strong in Barrow and the North West, and there are still lodges in the North West today.

I was very surprised when I read that he had been a member of the Orange Order for over 40 years, as I was not aware that the order had spread outside of Ireland.  It was, of course, brought over to England by the many Irish migrants of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.  Unfortunately, there are no records available at the Barrow Archives for these lodges, and as MacRaild points out in his book, the Orange Order itself does not have an archivist and where records do survive, they are not very extensive. Not being able to fine many primary sources for Christopher’s membership of both the Orange Order or the Conservatives, I have had to rely on secondary sources such as MacRaild’s book mentioned above and his other book Culture, Conflict and Migration: the Irish in Victorian Cumbria. I found both books, which are previewed on Google Books, to be fascinating in the information they provide on Orangeism, especially in the North West, and this has helped me to understand Christopher’s involvement and place in the order. 

Barrow was the most powerful Orange town in the north of England.  With its direct steamer links to Belfast, both Protestant and Catholic Ulsterman arrived in the town, to work on the docks or at the shipbuilding works, on a daily basis.  One of these migrants was Alexander Hazzard who was from County Down in Ireland and in 1884 married Mary Chapman Singleton, Christopher’s older sister.

Christopher married Mary Alice (Polly) Fogg in 1890 (his first wife Alice Willacy had died in 1889, along with their baby daughter shortly after the birth).  Christopher and Polly moved to live at 5 Glasgow Street in Barrow where the majority of their 12 children were to be born.  This is likely the house in the photograph of Christopher, Polly and their first four children.  A further family photograph taken outside the same house shows Christopher, Polly and their eldest seven children (including my grandfather Jack, seated on his father’s lap) taken about 1904.  I had often wondered about the sashes and plaid the children are wearing and now believe that these could be Orange related, unfortunately the insignia on the older boys’ caps and the medallions on the younger children are too dark to make out.  I believe the flag in the photo behind Christopher may well have Orange associations, and it looks like it has been fastened to the wall and a plaque secured on top of it.  Unfortunately, there is no-one in the family I can ask questions about this photo now, the last of Christopher and Polly’s children died in 1990.

One of the biggest political debates to take place during Christopher’s lifetime, and one in which he would have been involved as both a Conservative and an Orangeman, was over the question of Home Rule for Ireland, which would enable it to have more say in how it was ruled.  Opposition to Home Rule was led by successive Conservative governments from 1880 onwards, their aim was to pursue a policy of conciliation, which became known as constructive Unionism. The Conservative party is still known officially to this day as the Conservative and Unionist Party.

For Christopher his politics as a Conservative supporter and a member of the Orange Order went hand in hand, indeed one of his fellow Orangemen, Provincial Grand Master Harold Ledgerwood was a local Conservative councillor.  It is quite likely that Christopher knew and campaigned politically for Ledgerwood and other Conservative members who were linked to the Orange Order.  His obituary in the Barrow News stated that he had held the highest orders in the Order and may well have run for council himself.  However, there are no available records for me to check, so this will have to remain speculative on my part. 

I wonder now, if my grandfather Jack’s political leanings were as an antidote to his father’s, or whether he felt his sympathies lay more naturally with the emerging and strengthening Labour party, which had its first parliament in 1924 when he was a young man of 23 and newly married with a young son.  I will never know.

When Christopher died in 1932, he left a wife, Polly and nine surviving sons (two children died in infancy, and the only surviving daughter, Hilda died in 1918 aged 24), attended his funeral along with workmates, friends, political colleagues and members of the various organisations he belonged to.  Though a surprise to me, his political activities have enabled me to better understand the times that my great grandparents were living through.

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