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Two Mysteries Meet at Neston Ladies Club

Author: Geoff Wright Published: 16th June 2014 09:04

Geoff Wright tell us how two seemingly separate mysteries came to be solved thanks to research carried out recently during the Neston Ladies Day 2014 Heritage Project.

Two mysteries meet at Neston Ladies ClubMarilyn Cooksey finds her ancestors in Neston.

One mystery came to light while the Neston group were researching the stories of early members of the Neston Female Friendly Society in preparation for the library exhibition commemorating 200 years of its annual Walk.

They came across a Mrs Margaret Archer (nee Minshull) born about 1810. According to her obituary in the Cheshire Observer in 1888, she had been a loyal member for 57 years. This certainly gave her a history stretching right back to the beginnings of the walk. However, old census returns suggested she seemed to have resided, at least some of the time, in Everton and frequently flipped the spelling of her surname between `Archer' and `Hartshorn'.

These complications frustrated attempts to discover who her modern descendants were. Were there any still living in Neston? Did they know of their Ladies' Club ancestry?

The second mystery, seemingly unconnected, was a family puzzle faced by Marilyn Cooksey of Preston, whose only knowledge of Neston was that her parents had once taken her to Parkgate and her memory that she had been disappointed by the lack of sea.

In her family there had been a cloud surrounding the death of her great-uncle Harry, who had been lost, aged 19, in the tragic sinking of "The Empress of Ireland" on 29th May 1914. Over 1000 lives were lost in this disaster. Harry's mother, Marian Baker, then living in Liverpool, had heard the news a few days later (coincidentally on or about the day of the Centenary Walk in Neston). Harry's younger brother, Stanley, also on board, had been saved. Only in recent years has Marilyn been able to put together the pieces (and in the process found a cousin she didn't even know existed!). The story can be found here:

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/visit/floor-plan/liners/empress/crew-stories.aspx

But what does all this have to do with Ladies Club?

The answer lies in Neston churchyard. The name of Margaret Archer is inscribed on the top of one headstone, followed by the names of three women covering three generations (and three different surnames). There are no husbands: the only man's name written on the grave being a tribute to Harry, followed by the name of his mother Marian Baker, who died aged 92 in May 1964 - just days before the 150th anniversary Walk, and almost exactly 50 years since her son was lost.

With the clues from this headstone the Neston research team contacted the Liverpool Maritime Museum. Thanks to their staff, on May 29th 2014 - precisely the 100th anniversary of the "Empress of Ireland" tragedy - contact was made with Marilyn Cooksey. The team now knew that Margaret Archer was Harry's great-grandmother, and Marilyn knew that she was Margaret's great-great-great-granddaughter.

Marilyn was delighted to learn of her family's connection to the Neston Female Society and its current celebrations. So (delayed - yet again - by a family bereavement on the day of the Walk) she was able to visit Neston last Thursday and meet members of the Ladies Club research team and Walk organisers - and to put together the final pieces of her family search (see photo above).

The story reminds us all that tragedy and celebration can often be found hand in hand.
 

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