Monday, June 21, 2021

Found! John Gregory

After a considerable amount of diligent searching over several weeks, I'm very happy to be able to say that John Gregory's baptismal record -- as well as the marriage record of his parents -- have been found! The christening record was located first, with the assistance of Juliette Pochelu and Margaret Stanley. Margaret, in particular, did the valuable work of checking through all the records of 1805/1806 to be sure there were no other John Gregorys about. The result of this work was to identify a John Gregory born on 22 September 1806; his parents were listed William and Fanny (the latter a nickname for Frances). Everything matched, but there was one puzzle: the christening took place at St. Michael's, a "chapel of ease" (a place where more convenient church ceremonies could be held for those who lived at some distance from their parish church) -- and it was located in the district of Angel Meadows, the city's most notorious and squalid slum!

It was hard to imagine our John Gregory having grown up in such adverse circumstances, but the answer to the mystery was hinted at when Juliette sent me John Gregory's parents' marriage record; it turned out they had been married at Manchester Cathedral. Then, just recently, local family history expert Gay Oliver found records of William Gregory listed as a grocer on Chapel Street in Salford, a respectable middle-class trade in a respectable mercantile town. Since he signed his own name in the register, he was certainly literate, and doubtless his son learned to read and write as well.

Rev. Joshua Brookes
But why marry in the Cathedral and then have your firstborn baptized in a poorer neighborhood? The answer lies in Manchester's unusual ecclesiastical arrangement: while people could have baptisms at any church, weddings could only be held at the Cathedral -- specifically its Collegiate Church -- since it was the only official parish church of the entire city of Manchester and environs. The Wardens and Fellows of the Collegiate Church jealously guarded their sole right to conduct marriages, along with their fee of three shillings sixpence. This of course meant an extraordinary number of marriages, which were often conducted in "batches," often including as many as a dozen couples; William and Fanny were in a more modest batch of four. Presiding over all these ceremonies was the well-known divine Joshua "Jotty" Brookes, who had the duty from 1790 to his death in 1821; of him it was said that he conducted more marriages than any cleric in the history of England before or since!

All of which explains why William and Fanny were married at the Collegiate Church, but opted to have their son christened at a "chapel of ease," where the fees would be far more modest. Salford in their day was a growing, prosperous town -- it has since been entirely absorbed by the City of Manchester -- and Chapel Street was more or less its main thoroughfare. 

On a whim, recalling that my own ancestor -- James Clarke, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather -- was born in Salford in 1804, two years before John Gregory -- I looked up his and his siblings' records. To my astonishment, I found that their address was also Chapel Street! It's a long street, of course, but it's wonderful to imagine my ancestor and John, only two years apart, passing each other on the pavement and perhaps knowing one another. James Clarke even had a sister, Frances, who was known as "Fanny," and also named after his mother -- and indeed we know that, John Gregory honored his mother's name by giving it to a daughter. And to add icing to the cake, James's parents were married in the same church as the Gregorys, and also by Brookes!

The Arctic shores of King William Island, where John Gregory's skull lay for more than a century and a half, are very far indeed from the streets of Salford -- but back in the early 1800's, my ancestor and he were almost neighbors. It certainly makes his death feel a bit more personal to me.