Doris Darbyshire

Francis Whitfield (1844–1931)

Richard Whitfield
(c. 1821–?)
Phoebe Whitfield
(c. 1822–?)
Ann Martin
(c. 1840–1878)
Ellen Talbot
(c. 1847–1891)
Sarah Whitfield
Elizabeth Harrison
Ellen Whitfield
Doris Whitfield


Francis Whitfield was born on 27 July 1844 in Bold, Lancashire, about 5 km east of Prescot. He was the eldest son of Richard Whitfield, a farmer (later a railway worker), and wife Pheobe. Richard from Halewood and Phoebe from Bold were married in Rainford Chapel on 1 July 1844, presumably in anticipation of Francis’s birth. Francis had two younger siblings: Amanda and Walter. The 1851 census enumerated Richard, Phoebe, Francis, and Amanda living on Upton Lane, Widnes, about 6km south-southeast of Prescot (Walter was not yet born).

When he was old enough to work Francis got a job with the railroad, perhaps with his father’s encouragement and/or assistance. At the time of the 1861 census Francis, aged 15, was living a long way from home in a boarding house in Newchurch – a town between Leeds and Blackpool – working as a railway porter. At some point during the next eight years he moved to Wigan. On 9 January 1869 Francis married Ann Martin at St Catharines Chuch of England. The 1871 census enumerated Francis and Ann living at 25 Byrom Street in Poolstock, Wigan. Francis was employed as a railway goods guard, an occupation he continued in until his retirement circa 1910. Francis also became a lifelong resident of Poolstock, living there almost continuously for the next 60 years.

Francis and Ann were married for almost ten years. Circa 1876 Ann contracted tuberculosis at the age of 36. She lived with the illness for two years, but died on 24 October 1878. To the best of our knowledge the couple had no surviving children: there were none listed living with the parent(s) in either the 1871 or 1881 census. At the time of Ann’s death the couple resided at 33 Walmer Street in Poolstock.

Six months after Ann’s death, on 17 April 1879, Francis married Ellen Talbot at St. James Church in Poolstock. The 1881 census enumerated Francis and Ellen living at 35 Pool Street in Poolstock with Ellen’s mother, Sarah Talbot, and her grandmother, Alice Talbot.

Ellen gave birth to a daughter, Alice Whitfield, in the summer of 1882. Alice died at the beginning of October 1883 at the age of 13 months. She was buried at Wigan Cemetery and Crematorium in Ince. We do not know whether Francis and Ellen had any other non-surviving children. On 16 September 1884, the couple had their only surviving child, Sarah (Sally) Whitfield, born at 35 Pool Street.

Like most Poolstock families the Whitfields were renters and moved house every few years. Some time after 1884 they moved to 10 Corporation Street. On 2 February 1891, Ellen Talbot died of pneumonia at age 44. When the 1891 census was taken two months later Francis and his daughter Sarah were still living at 10 Corporation Street with Ellen’s mother. They had taken in a boarder.

Four years later, on 16 April 1895, Francis married his third wife, Elizabeth Harrison, a spinster and textile mill worker. Francis and Elizabeth were neighbours in Poolstock and had no doubt known one another for more than 20 years (although Elizabeth was not living in Poolstock when they were married). Elizabeth moved to 10 Corporation Street to live with Francis and Sarah. It is likely, although not certain, that Ellen’s mother Sarah Talbot, who was about 75 years old at the time, also continued to live in the home. She died three years later in December 1898.

Francis and Elizabeth were a typical Poolstock couple. Francis continued to work as a railway goods guard and Elizabeth was a stay-at-home wife and mother. The couple had two children: Ellen (Nellie), born in 1896, and Doris, born in 1900. Ellen was born at 10 Corporation Street. Doris was born at the next family home on Darlington Street. The 1901 census enumerated the Whitfield family – Francis, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ellen, and Doris – at 147 Darlington Street East. Sarah, by that time aged 16, was working as a cotton reeler, probably at one of the local spinning mills.

By the time of the 1911 census Francis, who was by then aged 66, had retired from his work as a railway guard and listed himself as a “fish and chip potato dealer.” Elizabeth and Sarah were employed as his assistants. The business was run from the family’s three room home at 24 Byron Street, Poolstock (not to be confused with Byrom Street). We may speculate that the business involved purchasing potatoes, washing, peeling and cutting them up, and selling the resulting product to one or more local fish-and-chips shops.

Our next record of the family is daughter Doris’ marriage to John Darbyshire in 1929. The family had by then moved to 70 Pool Street. Two years later daughter Sarah married John Thomas Calland. In 1934 Ellen married Cranley Britnell. Francis, however, died of myocarditis before Ellen’s marriage, on 7 December 1931. He is buried in a family grave at Wigan & Ince Cemetery.