Four Branches of a Family Tree
Adshead, Ashbrook, Bray and McGowan Family Tree
This is the story of four branches of my family, leading back in time from my parents to my grandparents and great-grandparents.
The information is not complete. Some dates are missing, and recent data has been withheld in order to protect the privacy of the living.
Much of this research was my mother's work. She handed her genealogy files to me, and this webpage is my attempt to put some of her lengthy notes in order. This webpage is also a little gift to any relatives who might be interested in our shared ancestry.
And the anecdotes might jog a few memories.... Here's to Family!
Annie McGowan (nee Ashbrook)
Ashbrook marries Rathbone
The Ashbrook family can trace their ancestors to Anglo-Saxons in England between the 11th and 12th centuries, and the name first appeared in ancient medieval records in Gloucestershire. The Ashbrooks held lands and estates in England but were also actively allied with other influential families.
My maternal great-grandparents were William Ashbrook and Sarah (nee Rathbone). William was born on 2nd September,1875, at York Buildings in Leftwich. He attended Timberlane School (now demolished.) His father was also named William, as was his grandfather.
He was a nurse in the 2nd Cheshire Battalion sometime between 1899-1902, when he was stationed in Bombay, India. He married Sarah on 26th December, 1904. They lived at John Street in Witton, then later at East Avenue in Rudheath. He later worked for ICI, and on his daughter Sarah's wedding certificate his occupation (in 1927) described as that of a distiller. He died on 10th February, 1963.
Sarah was born on 7th April, 1877 and attended Timberlane School. Her mother was named Fanny Pemberton, and her father Frederick was a labourer at a brewery. Sarah died on 24th June, 1956, and the couple are buried in unmarked graves at Witton Church, Rudheath in Cheshire.
Their children were: Sarah, born 16 October, 1905; Joseph, who was born and died in 1909; James (Jim) born 20th January, 1914; Charles (Charlie) born 1911; Agnes born 25th December 1920 (or 1918?). These offspring included two sets of twins; Annie and William, twins born 26th October, 1906; and Frederick and Jack born 20th April, 1917.
My maternal grandmother was Annie McGowan (nee Ashbrook). She was born at James Street in Northwich, Cheshire, on 26th October, 1906, and attended the Victoria School for Boys and Girls. Aged 13, she was placed in service at Watcroft Hall, Northwich. Later she worked at The Rajah/Ilford (photographic paper), where she met Jack. She married John Joseph 'Jack' McGowan in Witton Church at Rudheath on 26th February, 1927. To supplement their income she took in lodgers and worked as a cleaner at The Rose and Crown in Knutsford.
She loved life, a game of bowls, a glass of stout and Barbara Cartland novels, and made sure all her children attended church and Sunday school. She was particularly fond of Manchester Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers, and enjoyed long walks over Knutsford heath. She spent most of her life in Knutsford, Cheshire, some of which she lived on Silk Mill Street in a cottage which belonged to a Trust for war widows.
In 1985, with failing health, Annie went to live with her daughter Agnes's family in Lowton, Lancashire. In October of that same year, she underwent heart surgery and had a pacemaker fitted at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester. She was moved to Hope Cottage, a nursing home on Pilkington Road in Southport where she died on 8th August, 1986. The cremation service was conducted at All Saints Church in Southport.
She was mother to: Joan, Agnes (my mother), Vera, Norah, Frank, John, Kathleen, Patricia, Phylis and Mary. Two of these died young; Joan at five weeks old in 1926, and Norah at six years old in 1938.
Battle of the Somme
John Joseph McGowan marries Annie Ashbrook
Certificate Granting the Right of Burial
The McGowan family can apparently trace their ancestral roots back to Pictish origins. From Invernesshire in Scotland, they migrated to West Ireland and other countries.
John Joseph ‘Jack’ McGowan was my maternal grandfather, whose family settled in Knutsford, Cheshire from County Mayo in Ireland. His were a middle-class Catholic family who were outraged at Jack’s choice of wife, who was from a Protestant working class family. Jack married her despite his family’s threat of disinheritance, a threat they carried out. My mother can still recall, as a child, being refused permission to enter the McGowans’ homes.
Jack was born on the 17th April, 1897, and his Godparents were Thomas Connaught and Mary Walsh. He attended the Catholic school on Queen Street (which later became The Little Theatre), then the Egerton Boys School. He worked at Hill's Bake House on King Street, before going to fight in France during Crimean War, having lied about his age, where he was wounded in the leg. He also fought in World War One with The Kings Rifles, or 'Green Jackets'. His health suffered from exposure to nerve and mustard gas in the trenches during the infamous Battle of the Somme, when he was also buried alive under earth dislodged by a mortar bomb. I recall his three medals framed on the living room wall.
Battle of the Somme
He worked as a navvy on the water pipes which lie under Knutsford moor, and during 1939-45 he was employed by ICI, first at Blackpool then later at Northwich. He worked in hotels on the Isle of Man, and at The Rajah in Mobberley, Cheshire, when he worked with photographic paper, which is where he met Annie Ashbrook. They married in Witton Church at Rudheath on 26th February 1927 and they lived in The Holdings with the Ashbrooks before moving to a flat above John Noble Hairdressers in Middle Walk, Crosstown. They returned to The Holdings for Agnes's birth, then they moved to his mother's in Queen Street, Knutsford, before moving again to a flat over Wareham's Wallpaper Shop in King Street. Swinton Square in Knutsford became their next home, then Springfield Avenue in Shaw Heath, then to the British Legion Cottages on Northwich Road, Knutsford. Then it was back to Shaw Heath, where he died on 8th August, 1972. He is buried in the same grave as his six-year old daughter, Norah, at Tabley Cemetery.
Jack's father (my maternal great-grandfather) was John Frank McGowan, who was born in 1852 in Roscommon, Ireland. He claimed to have won a competition for the champion potato picker at the County Mayo Fair. By trade he was a 'Cross-legged' Tailor, and one of his jobs was to sew clothes for people living in Knutsford Workhouse (later named Cranford Lodge), a place where one of his own daughters, Alice, would later die. John married Jane Agnes Corrigan (of Silk Mill Street) in 1885, and they lived at The Vaults (also called The George Tap, or Royal George Hotel) on King Street in Knutsford. They managed this hotel and bar for fourteen years, and this was where my grandfather was born. John died in 1916, and Jane in 1933.
George and Elsie Bray
The Bray family name can be found in Brittany, Ireland, Cornwall and Scotland – and is thought to have travelled outwards from Brittany with the Normans. In England, the Brays all descend from William DeBray, a Norman who in 1088 witnessed the Charter of Battle Abbey.
My paternal great-grandfather was James William Bray of Marsh Lane in Rostherne. Born in 1852, he married Harriet Fixter (date and place unknown.) James was employed as a traction engine driver. He died on 10th November, 1908 and is buried at Rostherne Church. Harriet was born sometime in 1854, and died on 29th December, 1933, and is also buried at Rostherne Church.
George Bray, my paternal grandfather, was born at Marsh Lane in Rostherne, and attended Rostherne School. He loved animals and worked with horses on the Tatton Hall estate (where my mother's brother-in-law and his son would later work as gamekeepers.) One of George's jobs had him delivering bread via a horse and cart, the route having been taught to him by his own son, Eric (my father) when Eric was due to leave the job. George owned various horses, his favourites being a snow-white horse named Blackie, and Dollie. He smoked a pipe and kept dogs all his life; as an elderly man he had a two chihuahuas named Rex and Perky.
From 1927-1933, he lived in a tied-cottage while working on Joe Royal's Farm. From there, he and Elsie moved to Heaton Road in Bowdon Vale, then to Green Lane in Timperley (1936?) They moved to Ashley Road in Hale in 1940, which is where Elsie owned and ran a grocery shop. In 1941 their house was bombed, which was when they moved to York Road in Bowdon.
George had a smallholding in Bowden, Cheshire, where he kept fowl and a few pigs and sheep. My sisters and I were at the smallholding when he told me to open a shed door. When I did, a mass of bright yellow chicks stampeded round my feet to reach the freedom of the hen field. I can clearly remember the tumbling yellow fluff and flurry of excited peep-peeping noises, and my grandfather’s quiet laughter as he said, "And now you have to round 'em all up again", knowing this was impossible. I would have been around four years old at the time. He must have deliberately delayed releasing the chicks, knowing I’d be visiting.
Most of the Adshead family lived – and still live – in the Cheshire/Lancashire area. It’s one of Britain’s most ancient family names, and its origin is open to some debate – “axe head” maker being one. This surname could also derive from a now-lost town or village thought to have been situated near Prestbury in Cheshire. The placename is derived from the Olde English (pre 7th Century) "Addesheafod" or "Eddesheafod", and means "headland of Addi or Eddi", (a personal name of unknown origin); and "heafod", meaning "a head(land)".
My paternal grandmother was Elsie Bray (nee Adshead). She was born on 13th July, 1898 in Staffordshire, and attended Navigation Road School in Altrincham. She married George Bray on 14th April, 1921 in Rostherne Church, Cheshire. They lived on Dale Street in Broadheath before moving to Hale, in Cheshire, where she owned a grocery shop in Ashley Road.
Cakes, Cats and Choirs
She had a parrot, a large tortoise and several cats. She sang in the church choir, served on the parish council and was a member of a whist club. My father, Eric, told me she grew dahlias in the front garden and one of his many jobs was to sell the cut flowers to people who passed by. She also insisted that my father sing in Timperley choir and in Bowden Church choir (at different times) as this earned them an extra sixpence. The Timperley choir master was William Timpson of Timpson Shoes, who lived in Hale and drove a Buick (some time around 1938?)
Later, she ran a successful confectionery business from her front room. She was well-known locally for her heavy fruit cakes decorated with intricate royal icing, and she specialised in cakes for baptisms, weddings and similar events. People would also call at her house to buy eggs from her husband's small-holding. She maintained both businesses well after retirement age, until she and George moved to a bungalow in Kimnel Bay near Rhyl, in Wales, which was right next to the sea wall and overlooked sand dunes. She died on 12th May, 1977 immediately after moving to their new mobile home at Ringway, Altrincham. Her remains were cremated at Altrincham.
Gran had an extraordinary way of slicing bread. She’d grip the loaf under her arm in a head-lock, thickly smear butter over the exposed end, scrape most of it off again, and then slowly carve off a slice.
She was mother to five children: Dorothy Muriel, Dennis George, Elsie Joyce, John Eric (my father) and Bernard Terrence.
- Adele's Garden
The garden was a wild tangle of waist-high grasses, weeds, brambles and mare's tail when my husband and I bought our home on the Wirral peninsula in 2000.
- West Cheshire Lad
Thomas Joseph Walton, AKA West Cheshire Lad, or simply "T", was a philosopher and poet whose work was similar to that of GI Gurdjieff.
© 2009 Adele Cosgrove-Bray