John Thomas Onions & The Engine Wrights

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A secondhand clothes seller at Newcastle Cloth Market reads as customers inspect her goods, mid 19th century. Photograph: NEMiPA- Collection of the Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle

John Thomas ONIONS was born in Gateshead to an unwed mother, Martha, 21 September 1842. He was 2 years old when his mother married but was still listed as John Thomas Onions in his grandfather’s last will and testament in 1845.

Until the Legitimacy Act of 1926, illegitimate children had no legal kin except their mother, a decisive impediment in matters of property inheritance and poor law settlement, hence the reason why he was named in his grandfather’s will.

Five generations of the Onions family line
Five generations of the Onions family line

By 1851, 8 year old John Thomas Edgar, having adopted the name of his step father, was living in a tenement on Lambton Street, Gateshead, with three younger half-siblings, and attending school.

Lambton Street, Gateshead, was built in 1851. John Thomas Onions lived at No. 19, the last house on the left. Lambton street was demolished in 1938. Photograph circa 1937.

Tragedy struck the family during a cholera outbreak in September 1853 when John Thomas’ step-father, John Edgar and his grandfather, Benjamin Onions, both died. John Thomas was only 11 and his four siblings were aged between 1 and 7 years.

Despite the loss of his male parental figures, John Thomas was employed as an engine wright, repairing steam engines, by the age of 18. He lived with his mother, Martha 38, who worked as a shop keeper, while raising four school-age children, and collected additional income from two lodgers.

Lambton Street, Gateshead, is conveniently located between the North Eastern Railway Works and Glass Works, OS 25” Map 1892-1913

In 1867, 24 year old John Thomas married a very pregnant 17 year old Ann LUMSDON in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pregnant brides were not an uncommon sight in Victorian England. The young couple moved into a refreshment house in Neville Arcade, owned by Ann’s father. Within three months, their first child, Jane Ann, was born.

Ann LUMSDON was born 21 July 1849 in Alnwick, Northumberland, the youngest of nine children, to Jane SUMMERS & John LUMSDON. The family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the mid-1850’s, where John started an occupation of refreshment house keeper, licensed to sell ale and porter. The family lived in the eating house in Cloth Market and shortly thereafter acquired a second business in Neville Arcade.

A secondhand clothes seller at Newcastle Cloth Market reads as customers inspect her goods, mid 19th century. Photograph: NEMiPA- Collection of the Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle
A secondhand clothes seller at Newcastle Cloth Market reads as customers inspect her goods, mid 19th century. Photograph: NEMiPA- Collection of the Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle

The newly married couple moved into Ann’s father’s refreshment house in Neville Arcade, with three young children: Jane Ann 4, John Thomas 2, & Elizabeth 7 months. John Lumsdon was battling through bankruptcy proceedings for the refreshment house and eating house, along with cancellation of his beverage license.

After thirteen years together, John Thomas & Ann moved their growing family of five children to York in 1880 where John Thomas was employed as a fitter on the railways. Their sixth child, William, was born in the Loriman’s Buildings, in the parish of St Mary Bishopshill, the first of three tenements on Price Street occupied by the family. 

Price Street, between Nunthorpe Road & New York Street, St Mary Bishophill, York, developed between 1870-1880, surviving until the late 20th century. 
Ordnance Survey 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952
Price Street, between Nunthorpe Road & New York Street, St Mary Bishophill, York, developed between 1870-1880, surviving until the late 20th century. Ordnance Survey 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952

While the Irish immigrants had helped to swell the ranks of the really poor in York during the mid 19th century, the skilled clerks and railway workers, such as John Thomas, formed the other main class of immigrants that became the backbone of a class of prosperous artisans.

They lived alongside the poorer classes in their own colonies near the railway works, out along the Holgate and Acomb Roads. Oxford and Cambridge Streets, Rosary Terrace, and Providence Place off the Holgate Road were heavily settled by railway workers.

3 Rosary Terrace (outlined in red), off Holgate Road, overlooked the railway tracks and engine sheds of York Railway Station, OS 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952
3 Rosary Terrace (outlined in red), off Holgate Road, overlooked the railway tracks and engine sheds of York Railway Station, OS 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952. The house is just a stone’s throw from The Crescent where their great-grandchildren would be raised.

No. 3 Rosary Terrace, a mid-Victorian terrace, was the family home to the Edgars, from the mid 1890’s onwards. The home was convenient for John Thomas’ employment as a Carriage Fitter and Engine Fitter for the Railways until his retirement around 1910. Once their children were out of school, Ann took up the role of Postmaster and the couple made their final move, two streets down, to Stafford Place (too small to appear on the map).

Their children went on to become grocers, nurses, drapers, carriage fitters, and sign writers, and their grandchildren became teachers, nurses, hairdressers, machinists, coach painters, electrical engineers, corn merchants, railway engineers, and aviators. The Edgar family dispersed across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

John Thomas lived until the ripe old age of 81, finally succumbing at home in 1924, with the cause of death listed as cerebral hemorrhage and heart failure.

Transcription: Second March 1924, 6 Stafford Place, Holgate Road | John Thomas Edgar | Male | 81 years | Railway Engine Fitter Retired | (1) Cerebral Hemorrhage (2) Cardiac Failure certified by E M Walker M.B. | Edgar William George Davis, son in law, present at the death 40 Lower Ebor Street, York | Registered Third March 1924 | R K Chapman, Registrar

Ann followed a little over a year later in 1925, suffering from chronic bronchitis and ultimately cardiac arrest, age 75, with her son James Albert Edgar in attendance.

Transcription: Thirtieth June 1925, 6 Stafford Place, Holgate Road, UD | Ann Edgar | Female | 75 years | Widow of John Thomas Edgar, Railway Engine Fitter | (1) Chronic Bronchitis (2) Cardiac Failure certified by L. M. D. Mill M.B. | J A Edgar, son, In attendance , Burns Hotel, Market Street, York | Registered Second July 1925 | R K Chapman, Registrar

Family Tree

  • Benjamin ONIONS (1795-1853) & Jemima ABEL (1797-1869)
    • Martha Edgerton ONIONS (1822-1890) & Unknown
      • John Thomas ONIONS (1842-1924) & Ann LUMSDOM (1849-1925)
        • Jane Ann Edgar (1867-)
        • John Thomas Edgar (1869-1947)
        • Elizabeth Edgar (1870-1956)
        • Martha Edgar (1873-1968)
        • Maude Mary Edgar (1875-1968)
        • Margaret Edgar (1878-1881)
        • William Edgar (1880-1938)
        • Margery Edgar (1883-1904)
        • Robert Edgar (1885-1962)
        • Adelaide EDGAR (1888-1975) & John Henry BAINBRIDGE (1892-1940)
        • James Albert Edgar (1891-1960)
        • Andrew Edgar (1899-1902)

References

Julian

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