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I read with great interest Anne Forsyth’s article in the July issue (FHM 158) about the introduction of the old age pension, and its effect upon society. In the article there was a reference to the diminishing role of the workhouse, as the elderly were lifted above the poverty line just enough to keep them out of the workhouse for the first time. The reason it struck a chord with me is because I have recently discovered that my grandfather died in the workhouse hospital in 1916. I had not realised the system was still in force at that time. I have logged on to the workhouse web site mentioned in the article, but found it difficult to access the information I wanted.

I had for some time failed to find out when my grandfather had died; my only clue was that he was listed as deceased on my mother’s marriage certificate dated January 1932. Mum had never discussed her family and we, my sisters and I, did not press her for details. All we knew was that Mum was born in Middlesbrough and that her mother and father came from Ireland. When I became interested in genealogy that is virtually all I knew about my maternal grandparents. By this time Mum had passed away.

Following several attempts at finding granddad’s death details, I pushed my search further back in time than I had before, and found Timothy CARROLL who died in the Middlesbrough workhouse in 1916 of chronic myocarditis. The thing that is so puzzling is his age, which is given as 62 years when he was actually only 45 years, being born in Cork in 1871, on 27th December, the son  of Cornelius CAROLL and Mary (nee SWINEY). This was enough for me to dismiss this person as not being my grandfather.

However, I had also sent for the marriage certificate for my grandmother, Mary, and her second husband, Patrick BARTLEY. They married in 1927, 11 years after Mary was widowed. The address given as Mary’s place of residence (3 Cardwell Street, Middlesbrough) is the same as the address given for the informant on Timothy CARROLL’s death certificate, his sister-in-law E McGURN (obviously Mary’s sister). I feel this is too much of a coincidence and now believe this Timothy CARROLL was my grandfather.

Can you suggest how such a large discrepancy in his age could have occurred? Is it possible that my grandfather or his family lied about his age in order to obtain admittance to the workhouse hospital, or some other kind of benefit? My grandmother was left with six children from 14 years of age and under – it must have been very hard. Of course she was not the only young widow left with children; after all it was the middle of WWI.

Mrs Pat Jones


‘Sister-in-law’ has of course two main meanings: the wife of your brother, or the sister of your spouse. It is also possible for the term to refer to a step-sister.

Why the discrepancy in age? Possibly ‘sister-in-law’, E McGURN didn’t actually know how old Timothy CARROLL was when she went to register the death and made a guess. You could see if any records of the Middlesbrough Workhouse survive, and if so what age was recorded in those for Timothy.

The brilliant website, created by Peter Higginbotham, is a must for anyone interested in workhouses or the Poor Law. The website includes very detailed information on the Middlesbrough Workhouse, including plans and photographs. Records of the workhouse are kept at Teesside Archives, (Exchange House, 6 Marton Road, Middlesbrough TS1 1DB; and include Guardians’ Minute Books (1875–1930), and Admission and Discharge Records (1894–1930).

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