Finding the Failsworth Veterans Blog

About a year ago, a lady called Jennifer sent me a photograph of group of ‘Peterloo veterans’ dated 1884. Having heard that I was looking to find Peterloo descendants, she thought that it was something that I would like. Having seen the photograph it was pretty impressive -a group of eleven old veterans of Peterloo, sat posed in their Sunday best, all having witnessed one of the worst events in the regions history.

With my genealogist hat on, the picture had another appeal. What if I was able to trace the modern day descendants and we recreated the photograph in time for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre? I was experienced in finding people, but never this many in such a short space of time. This would mean that I would have to trace the family history of eleven people and then find and convince the descendants to pose for a picture! This would be the most challenging research project that I have ever undertaken.

At the start of the research, I only knew four facts about the people in the photo. I had their names, age, I knew they must of had a Failsworth connection and they were alive in 1884. That was it. I had no idea if they had children, if they were married or even if they still lived in Failsworth. So, with the backing of my boss Dr Sam Edwards at Manchester Metropolitan University, I decided to give it a go…


Research Diary

August 2018

I have decided to start with Richard Waters who is sat the furthest right on the photograph. In terms of research this should (along with McMurdo) be the easiest to trace because I can’t imagine there are that many ‘Waters’ living in Failsworth. The other surnames are really popular north Manchester names; Schofield, Ogden, Chadderton, Dawson, Hilton and Whittaker. The nearest census record to the photograph is the 1881 census, so I am going to start there…


Oct-Feb 2019

Working on another project


March 2019

Prof. Robert Poole has sent me an account of what happened the night the photograph was taken. It is fascinating! Catherine McMurdo sang a song with 15 verses in it and she smokes a pipe!

After getting Robert’s email, I decided to go back and re-look at the research that I have done so far. Still feels like a million miles away from finding descendants.


April 2019

Working on another project


May 2019

This month belongs to Mary Collins. I have spent most of my free time this month trying to find her and I think they might have recorded her name wrong :((( I can not find a Mary Collins with a Failsworth connection who is on the 1881 census and was alive during the time of Peterloo. WHERE ARE YOU COLLINS???

After three days of trying every variation of Collins you can think of, I think I have found her! Mary Collins is actually Mary Collinson who is the right age, it still a handloom weaver in 1881 and lives on Wrigley Head Road. Now time to find her descendants….


June 2019

After spending May looking at Mary Collins, I decided to look at another female veteran called Susannah Whittaker. Her tree is pretty straight forward and I think that I have finally found a descendant!! YES!! And she lives in Oldham which is not that far away! I have managed to get an address from the Electoral Register and I have sent her a letter, so fingers crossed she replies.

[End of month] No reply from the letter!


July 2019

The pressure is now on to find descendants!! After working on other projects for a lot of this year, I need to properly get cracking. If we want to get the retaking of the photograph to as many people as possible via the media, I only have 10 days to find the descendants, a photographer, and a location, in time for the retaking of the photograph which has to happen on 2nd August 2019 in order to get out before the 200th anniversary on 16th August 2019.


I need help! There is no way that I am going to pull this off on my own in such a short time frame, so I have enlisted the help of my good friend and former MMU Heritage M.A student Zoe Willock. We meet in Costa and I get my usual Costa hot chocolate with everything on it and Zoe got a skinny latte. I gently break it to her that we only have approximately 10 days to pull this off. She laughs, says I’m mad, but is up for the ride. So we draw up a plan.

First, we go through all the research that I have done to date. Which, due to other commitments, is not as much as I had thought. I believe that ten out of the eleven are traceable – I can find them on the 1881 census. We quickly work out that Richard Waters (no solid evidence of who he actually is) is not worth carrying on trying to find. I am gutted. I feel like I have let him down. However, one day I will find him. Out of the traceable ones, I  had only possible descendants for two… A potential descendant for Thomas Chadderton that lives in Macclesfield and a descendant of Susannah Whittaker who lives in Oldham – I had already wrote to this person in June and they had not replied 😦

Second, we agree that we need at least six people to make the photograph work, if we can’t get the six I think we cancel the shoot because there will be too many empty chairs. More pressure!

Third, we need to find a location in Wrigley Head, Failsworth, where we can take the photograph. An old mill would be prefect, if one still exists.

We finished the planning session and agreed to meet the following day. Due to the short time frame we decided to start knocking on the doors of the descendants I thought were related.


Armed with more hot drinks, Zoe and myself drove to Macclesfield to knock on the door of the first descendant. Sadly, it is not good news. After knocking on the door, we met a neighbour who informed us that the lady had passed away a couple of months earlier. She said that she had no children, however, she had a goddaughter who was left the house and the people who lived at number nine had her details. We posted a note through number nine and hopefully they will pass it on to the goddaughter. I know that the goddaughter is not directly related but she might know a direct relative.

Not great news from the Oldham descendant either. They were not in and a neighbour said that they were on holiday. Having already written to these people and having got no response, I think that is it time to find another descendant.


I was working hard last night on Ancestry and I think that I have found a descendant for David Hilton. Her name is Carrie and she is on Facebook. I sent her a message and within 20 minutes I got a response. What she knows about her ancestors matches the family tree that I have created. Carrie had researched up to David’s daughter Ann. I haven’t shown her the picture as I am saving it so I can see her reaction.

Descendants found 1/10


Today I have sent two letters to two descendants. The first is a relative of Alice Schofield and they live in Leeds and the second is a relative of Catherine McMurdo and they live in  Warwickshire.

We also have a location!! After driving around Wrigley Head, we quickly realised that it would not be possible to take the picture on the road itself. However, there is a lovely pub at the bottom of the road called the Church Inn. I have managed to speak to the Landlord and they are happy to have the picture taken in the pub. Happy day!

Descendants 1/10


WE HAVE ANOTHER DESCENDANT!!!!!!! So, Joyce, who I wrote too yesterday and is related to Catherine McMurdo, is going to come up to Manchester with her husband Tony and be in the picture. Happy historian!

Tonight I have had another break-through. I have found a descendant of Thomas Chadderton on Facebook called Kirsty. She is happy to be in the photograph.

After a slow start things are looking up!

Descendants 3/10


For the past few days I have been chatting to another genealogist on Ancestry and our Whittaker trees have a lot of matches. The genealogist has put me in touch with the tree owner and he is called Ben, he lives in Yorkshire and he is happy to be in the photograph!

I decided to re-visit Thomas Schofield today. I know his son Sim married twice and he had no children. However, I know the family lived in Blackpool, so today I went on my friend’s show on BBC Radio Lancashire to see if there are any living in descendants of Thomas. Sadly, no response from potential descendants.

Descendants 4/10


Still not hit the magic 6! If I don’t find anymore today I may be forced to cancel.

YES!!! Today has picked up! Felt a bit crappy today. I was seriously doubting if this was going to happen, however, after speaking to a lady on Facebook who lives in New York and is related to John Davies, things are looking promising! She has put me in touch with her cousin Geoff Woolley, who is the first person that knows about their ancestor at Peterloo.

Descendants 5/10


No entries today.


Yesterday I was busy researching and forgot to post. However, I have found descendants for Mary Collinson and they live local and will come on Friday! Win :))

After near giving up on the Dawson line, I found a relative late last night that lives in Wrigley Head! Literally the hardest one to find is the person who lives closest to where the original photograph was taken! Zoe has posted a note through the door and I am hoping that they make contact. Fingers crossed!

Today, I managed to speak to Kamara who is a descendant of Thomas Ogden and she is going to bring her gran to the photoshoot in two days :))))))))

Descendants 7/10


The descendant who is related to Jonathan Dawson has been in touch and they are going to come tomorrow! HAPPY :)))

The weather this week has been really bad and I am just hoping that the sun comes out and everyone turns up tomorrow.

Descendants 8/10