KNOWSLEY ARK: Bringing history alive

Photographs can provide us with a powerful record of life from Victorian times to the present.

There are thousands of photographs in the archive collections, offering us a window into the past and recording for posterity key events in Knowsley’s history, from a grainy view of Huyton Railway Station in1860 and the harrowing images of bomb damage caused in the Blitz of 1941, through to events taking place in our own communities today.

One early 20th century, black and white photograph from the photographic archive features a splendid Victorian villa on Archway Road, Huyton. This property, Croft House (now demolished) was built during the construction boom in the years following the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1830.

The ease of commute from Huyton into Liverpool meant that the rising merchant and professional classes could afford to live in the countryside and travel back into the city to work.  

Croft House appears on William Wrennall’s map of the area, drawn up in 1878 - but what can we find out about the people who lived there?

The 1911 census reveals that the householder at that time was a widow called Sarah Blain.

Aged 66, she was living with three of her unmarried, adult children – William, a book keeper aged 44, Laura, aged 42 and Edward, aged 39 and also a book keeper - and her 86 year old widowed mother, Mary Davies, supported by Margaret Smith, a 19-year-old domestic servant.

According to the particulars as to marriage, Sarah had been married for 45 years and had borne a total of six children. Obviously a lady of means, how did Sarah come to be the householder and where were her remaining children?

Using a range of resources in the archive, it has been possible to trace the fascinating history of this family.

The 1901 census gives us a broader view of the Blains. At this point, Sarah’s husband, William Hughes Blain, is still very much alive. Aged 58, he is recorded as being a cabinet maker and employer; all of the surviving children are at home, with Ernest, aged 31 and a salesman, and Arthur, an 18-year-old cabinet maker’s apprentice, completing the family. Where were they in 1911?

Researching the marriage and census records reveals that Ernest began married life at St Chrysostom’s, Everton, with Florence Beatrice Morris in January 1904 and Arthur, now a cabinet maker and upholsterer, had set up home at The Hollies, Westmoreland Road, with his wife, Flora.

Sadly, the civil registration death index reveals that William Hughes Blain died in 1909, leaving Sarah a widow until her passing in 1916.

William Hughes Blain was born in 1842, the son of Arbuthnot (Arthur) and Laura Blain of King Street, Edge Hill. His baptism took place on 22nd September 1842 at St David’s Church and the register notes that Artbuthnot was also a cabinet maker. By 1851, the family had moved to Garden Lodge on Tarbuck Road; the census records that Artbuthnot was born in Donegal, Ireland.

Census records from 1861 reveal that the Blains moved to Wheathill Farm in the township of Roby and, aged 18, William Hughes was taking after his father, carrying out the trade of cabinet maker.

William Hughes and Sarah Davies married in1865 and a year later, in 1866, William Artbuthnot was born. Bishops’ transcripts tell us that his baptism took place at Huyton Church, with the ceremony performed by the Reverend Ellis Ashton.  

Laura, Ernest and Edward followed, and in 1871, the family was resident at Poplar Bank, Huyton.

By 1881, the Blains had moved into Croft House on Archway Road, establishing a family home which would greet the arrival of Arthur in 1883.

How did the family support their comfortable lifestyle, in a beautiful, modern house with extensive grounds and staffed by servants?

The answer to this question can be found in the trade that was carried out by Artbuthnot, his father before him, his son William Hughes and grandson Arthur.

From around 1835, Artbuthnot, or Arthur as he was known, was crafting high quality furniture in Liverpool, establishing a warehouse at 35 Paradise Street in a business that had been started by his own father in 1796.

The firm also worked for Cammell Laird, furnishing the cabins for the screw sloop-of-war, CSS Alabama, which launched from Birkenhead in 1862.  Artbuthnot died in 1868, at which point William Hughes took over the reins of the family business.

His sons all worked in the enterprise, as clerks, book keepers, salesmen and of course, Arthur the youngest son carried on the trade of cabinet maker.

The Liverpool electoral registers (held at Liverpool Archives) and the electoral registers and Gore’s Directories held in Knowsley Archives show us that the business had expanded, operating out of several properties in the city during the latter part of the century.

These properties included an upholstery and carpet warehouse at 35 Paradise Street, a workshop at 28 Atherton Street, stables and a timber yard at Elizabeth Street and workshops on School Lane.

Following William Hughes’ death in 1909, Arthur continued at the helm, with the final entry in the Gore’s Directory for the company being made in 1926.

This listing shows the scope and diversity of the business, which at this time occupied a number of sites, having its offices at 15 Victoria Street, works at 28 Atherton Street, King Street Lane and 22 College Lane: ‘A. Blain & Son, cabinet makers, house & ship upholsterers, French polishers, decorators, furniture removers, office and ship fitters and linoleum and carpet warehousemen, army & navy contractors’

Incredibly, this story of a house and the business that, over 130 years, supported four generations of the family that lived there, has grown from a single photograph.

As we continue to record our lives and experiences through the medium of photography, creating our own digital archives through social media platforms, we can only wonder at the stories that our images will tell...

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