Prelude to the Askew migration

Today’s post was inspired by my second cousin once removed, David Richard Askew. We’re both descendants of Wilfred L. Askew and his first wife Hattie S. (Eddy) Askew. He reached out last week to let me know how much he appreciates the work I share on this blog, especially with respect to our shared ancestors. We talked for nearly three hours about all things Askew, and he gave me several new leads (in the form of inherited family stories that I hadn’t heard), and made me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface of Joseph and Jane Askew’s story.

In today’s post, I’ll do a bit more scratching to see if I can reveal more information about Joseph and Jane and their family in the two decades prior to their migration to the United States.

Unlike many of my ancestors, whose lives were tightly bound to the land they farmed and who rarely traveled far from their homes, Joseph Askew had no such ties to a particular place. I suspect that he would have preferred to farm and develop his own land, that was not a possibly for a man of modest means in nineteenth century Cumberland. Certainly not for Joseph Askew.

Joseph (born April 11, 1840) was the fifth of ten children born to Joseph Askew and Ann Turner. Joseph Askew the elder was a husbandman and agricultural laborer according to all the parish records and English census records I’ve been able to find for him between 1827 and 1861. In Col. Joseph Askew’s biography published in 1902 in the Compendium of History and Biography of Northern Minnesota (pages 320–323), however, Joseph the younger stated that his father was “a contractor and bridge builder, having charge of the [Cumberland] county bridges.”

Regardless of his father’s occupation, it is clear that Joseph Askew was accustomed to having to travel in search of profitable employment. According to Joseph Askew’s 1902 biography,

At the age of seventeen years Mr. Askew went to Scotland where he worked on the Glasgow water works and assisted in laying the first pipes in the Dumbarton water works system. He also visited Edinborough where he saw the crown of Scotland, a guarded treasure, and other relics of Scottish history and also visited other places of interest. He then went to Newcastle on Tyne, England, where he was employed on the water works and spent about one year in that part of England. He then went to London where he was engaged several months on the sewerage system. From there he went to France and was there engaged in tunnel work on the railroad south of Paris for six months. After attaining his majority, he began work in the iron mines of Frizington, county Cumberland, England, deciding to make his home there, and was thus employed fourteen years, becoming very proficient in the work of the mines and for six years held the position of sinker and shaftman. He followed the mining business in England until 1875 and in the spring of that year came to America landing at New York.

Compendium of History and Biography of Northern Minnesota, page 323

In the paragraphs below, I would like to unpack this seemingly simple record of Joseph’s work and travel experiences between age 17 and age 21 (21 years was considered the age of majority in Victorian England), or from mid-1857 to mid-1861.

Glasgow, Scotland (mid-April 1857–June 1859). During this period, Joseph worked for the Glasgow Corporation Water Works. By the mid-1840s, the growing population and industrialization of Glasgow resulted in terrible pollution of the Clyde river and a subsequent crisis of fresh water for the city. City officials decided to divert 50,000,000 gallons of water per day from Loch Katrine. The water was to be carried the 36 miles south to Glasgow using only gravity, so an elaborate series of 70 tunnels and numerous elevated aqueducts was designed. Between 1855 and 1859, laborers constructed the necessary infrastructure for the project, and Joseph was probably among the labor force for this massive project. Thomas Annan, the preeminent photographer of Glasgow in the mid-19th century, photographed the end stages of this project in 1859 and published 18 photographic albumen prints of the project in an 1859 book entitled The Views of the Line of Loch Katrine Water Works. You can see the plates from his book here to get an idea of what Joseph worked on in his first major job away from home. Another collection of photos of the project—and one that focuses more on the everyday workers and construction activities—was announced less than a month ago (February 27, 2019). I’ve written to Scottish Water (the inheritors/discoverers of the photos) to ask about seeing high-resolution scans of these so that I can search for possible images of a teenaged Joseph Askew. Queen Victoria inaugurated the Water Works on October 14, 1859, so the maximum span of Joseph’s tenure with this project was probably mid-April 1857 to mid-October 1859. Given the timing constraints on his other jobs (discussed below), he probably left Glasgow for Newcastle upon Tyne in June 1859.

View of part of the Loch Katrine waterworks in 1859: Culegarten Aqueduct Bridges Nos. 1 and 2. The Culegarten Aqueduct Bridges carry the water across small ravines and burns in the area south of Loch Ard. Image courtesy of Glasgow Libraries.

Dumbarton, Scotland (1857 or 1858). Joseph says he “assisted in laying the first pipes in the Dumbarton water works system.” According to what little documentation I could find (see page 2 in this reference), the first pipes of the Dumbarton water system were laid in 1857. Given that Dumbarton was only 13 miles from Glasgow, I’m assuming that this was a short-term job that he did during a lull in his regular work on the Glasgow project. His discussion of seeing Edinburgh as a tourist during this same time period supports my assumption that Glasgow remained his center of operations during this period.

Newcastle on Tyne, England (June 1859–June 1860). Given his timetable to London and Paris, Joseph’s one year in Newcastle upon Tyne was probably from June 1859 to June 1860. I haven’t yet found any specific information about this project.

London, England (June 1860–October 1860). Joseph says he spent several months in London prior to being in Paris, so if we assume “several months” means 3–5 months, then he was in London from about June 1860 to October 1860. Joseph travelled to London to work on the London sewerage system. After the “Great Stink” of July and August 1858, Parliament resolved to fund the building of a modern sewer system for London. Until this point, sewage flowed freely in the streets of London and into the Thames river. Civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette designed a network of 1,100 miles of underground, brick-lined street sewers that flowed into 82 miles of underground, brick-lined main sewers, as well as pumping stations and sewage outfall systems. Even this was an underestimate of London’s sewer needs—by the time the initial project was finished, there were 13,000 miles of street sewers, 450 miles of main sewers, and 100 miles of interceptor sewers.

Construction of a main sewer drainage in 1859 in East London, under Wick Lane, near Old Ford, Bow. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

Paris, France (October 1860–April 1861). If Joseph spent his last six pre-majority months in Paris, he would have been there from about mid-October 1860 to mid-April 1861. In his biography, it is stated that Joseph “engaged in tunnel work on the railroad south of Paris” during this time. I haven’t been able to determine which railroad he worked on during this time. One possibility is the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture, although this would probably not have been described in 1907 as being “south of Paris,” as it was within the city limits. 1860 was far too early for the Métro. That leaves the French intercity rail system. The French rail system by design centered on Paris as a hub, and by 1855, French railroad companies had organized into six regional companies:

Of these, the Nord, and Ouest lines could not be described as being “south of Paris,” but the Est, Paris-Orléans, Midi, and Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée lines remain possibilities.

Egremont, England (April 1861). While in his biography, it is stated he went to Frizington upon his return to England, the 1861 England census shows that he was living at 96 Main Street in Egremont, county Cumberland, on April 7, 1861, just four days before his 21st birthday.

So on the night of April 7, 1861 (the official time for this census), Joseph was back from Paris and living as a boarder in the home of his older brother John Askew, John’s wife Mary, and their infant daughter Ann. John had moved away from their childhood home in Gosforth to the village of Egremont, about 6 miles to the northwest of Gosforth. The house they were living in (96 Main Street) still stands in Egremont (the center house in the photo below):

96 Main Street, Egremont (pictured at center). John and Mary Askew’s house, where Joseph stayed for a while after returning from Paris.

I believe that it was during this short time he was in Egremont—just after returning from Paris, and just before heading off to Frizington—that he met his future wife, Jane Eilbeck. In April 1861 Jane was a 20-year-old woman working as a “general servant” in an inn in Egremont run by 36-year-old Elizabeth Wilson. In 2012, Gordy Askew told me that while later in his life Joseph Askew built and owned two hotels (the Arlington Hotel in Menahga, and the Commercial Hotel in Wadena), it was actually his wife Jane who ran the hotels, because she had a background in hotel work in England. I think that’s what we are seeing on this very census. Elizabeth Wilson was a single mother of two children—15-year-old Helena and 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth—so she may have left much of the work of running an inn to Jane.

On the night of April 7, 1861, Jane was living at the in inn at 32 Main Street. This building still stands in Egremont, although it’s now a chip shop:

32 Main Street, Egremont—the building which was once the inn that Jane Eilbeck worked at in 1861.

Frizington, England (April 1861–March 1875). When enumerated on the April 7, 1861, English census, Joseph’s occupation was listed as “iron miner.” This seems a strange occupation to list for a young man who had just spent four years working on tunnel building enterprises for water works, sewers, and railroads. I suspect that his occupation was listed as “iron miner” because he had already gotten a job in the Frizington iron mines, or perhaps because that’s the job he had made up his mind to get.

According to data provided by the Durham Mining Museum, there were 101 mines within five miles of Frizington, but if we limit our search to just iron ore mines within the village of Frizington, there are only six:

  • Crossgill Mine—not certain this was an iron ore mine
  • Dalmellington Mine—not certain this was an iron ore mine
  • Frizington Mine—definitely an iron ore mine
  • Lonsdale Mine—not certain this was an iron ore mine
  • Margaret Mine—not certain this was an iron ore mine
  • Parkside Mine—definitely an iron ore mine

Of these, it seems most likely that Joseph worked in the Frizington Mine or the Parkside Mine. These are the only two mines in Frizington known to be iron ore mines, and both are known to have been in operation during the time Joseph was an iron miner in Frizington.

A cautionary note—a presumably different Joseph Askew was listed as being associated with a mine 30 miles south of Frizington. I believe this is the Joseph Askew who was the son of John and Betty Askew and who was baptized on August 6, 1837, in Dalton-in-Furness. As I’m not yet certain that this isn’t our Joseph Askew, I’ll include this information below. According to the list of mines on page 402 of the Reports of Inspectors of Metalliferous Mines, in 1874–1875, a Joseph Askew was the agent of the Elliscales Mine near Dalton-in-Furness, owned by George Banks Ashburner of Dalton-in-Furness. Dalton-in-Furness is in the extreme southwest corner of the county, at least 30 miles south of Frizington. According to page 207 of Mineral Statistics of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, this Joseph Askew was also the agent of the Elliscales Mine in 1873.

During Joseph’s time in Frizington, a lot happened on the personal front. He married Jane Eilbeck on August 25, 1862, in Egremont parish—her birthplace and the place I believe they met sixteen months earlier. The Carlisle Journal carried this brief mention of their wedding: “At Egremont, on the 25th inst., Mr. Joseph Askew, miner, to Miss Jane Eilbeck.”

Joseph and Jane were eventually to have thirteen children together, seven of whom were born in England. Their birth locations give some indication of where the couple was living at these respective times. Joseph and Jane’s eldest three children were born in Egremont:

  • Elizabeth Ann Askew (born ca. June 1863)
  • William Henry Askew (born December 12, 1864)
  • Isabella Askew (born January 1868)

It was during this time (specifically early May 1866), that Joseph Askew broke his femur in a railway accident (see this earlier post) involving a passenger train running into three accidentally decoupled wagons of an ore train traveling to the coastal port town of Whitehaven, about 4 miles west of Frizington. Joseph is described as “a youth in the service of the Company,” leading me to the conclusion that he was attending to the decoupled mining cars when the passenger train rammed them.

Joseph and Jane’s next two children were born in Arlecdon, a small village about 1.5 miles northeast of Frizington:

  • Samuel Askew (born ca. 1869; died as an infant)
  • Henrietta Askew (born February 15, 1869)

The 1871 English census shows that Joseph and his family were living at No. 4 Angle Terrace, Frizington, when the census was enumerated on April 2, 1871:

No current road named Angle Terrace exists. It must have been quite close to No. 1 Yeathouse Road (which does still exist), and hopefully I’ll be able to find the location of the road and their house on a contemporary map.

It was probably sometime in 1872 or 1873 that Joseph and Jane first heard of the Furness Colony and its promises of land and opportunity. The brief newspaper ad shown below (from December 7, 1872) is the first published mention I’ve seen of the Furness Colony:

While this was the first, it was by no means the only ad for the Furness Colony. I’ve found close to 100 such ads—run in newspapers in Scotland, Cumberland, and Wales—trying to recruit hardworking, motivated, skilled workers to come and build towns along the Northern Pacific Railroad in Minnesota to make the lines profitable.

Another ad from February 8, 1873, that was more typical of the ads extolling immigration to Minnesota;

In addition to the newspaper ads, there would also have been meetings, posted announcements, and word of mouth spreading of the idea of becoming a member of the Furness Colony and migrating to Minnesota.

Joseph and Jane’s last two English-born children were born in the port town of Whitehaven:

  • Wilfred Lawson Askew (born July 15, 1873)
  • Louisa Beacham Askew (born July 1874)

I’ll end this post here, and will discuss the plans of the Furness Colony and the March 1875 immigration of Joseph, Jane, and their six living children to Minnesota in another post.

1 thought on “Prelude to the Askew migration

  1. Dear Michael, I see you’ve been quite busy since we last spoke. Absolutely smashing as a Brit might say, tantalizing details for a future pilgrimage. Thanks again for the hi rez photo’s, I’m sorting and printing the best of them for a 6 generation photo album for my two girls Natacha, and Marcelle. My love to you and yours.

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