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Heathfolk Revisited


I am the present custodian of a family heirloom – a silver salver.  The inscription shows that it was presented to Samuel Heath on the occasion of his laying a corner-stone at Heath Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, Crewe, on 2 October 1865.  I always understood that this Samuel was my great-grandfather (1837 – 1922); that was family folk-lore.

My daughter Sally Anne Hall has three souvenir spoons, handed down from previous generations.  The spoons are not particularly valuable, but what makes them interesting are the inscriptions; they were sent to ‘Willie’ from ‘Uncle John’, and bear the words ‘Fond du Lac’ and/or ‘Wisconsin’.  Two are dated 1902 and the other 1908.  ‘Willie’ was my grandfather, William Henry Heath (1862 – 1943), and ‘Uncle John’ (1847 – 1914) was his father’s brother, who emigrated to America in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

In 1995, Sally decided to research the family history.  I had already made a start by setting down what ‘facts’ I knew (I put the word in inverted commas because so many of them turned out to be nothing of the kind), and she took my notes as a basis.

Although my grandfather lived until I was nineteen, and although during most of my teenage years I saw him at least once a week, I realise now how little I knew about him.  I thought he was born in Audlem (Cheshire), and that he and his brother John (another John – this one emigrated to New Zealand!) were Samuel’s only children.  But who Samuel’s wife was I never knew.

Sally was aware of these gaps in our knowledge, and set about trying to fill them.  Her research led her to the Cheshire Records Office, Chester, where she discovered a little book entitled Heathfolk – the Story of a Cheshire Family.  She was able to obtain a photocopy.  The book was written by Canon John Beddow, the Rector of Crewe prior to World War II, at the request of a Mr Powell Heath of Kegworth in Leicestershire.  He was anxious to trace his ancestors, who had been connected with the parish of Coppenhall – the old name for Crewe.

We learned that there were two Samuels – father and son – in the Heathfolk family.  The elder Samuel (who I will call Samuel I, even though he was not the first Samuel in the family) was born in Haslington in 1816 and died in Audlem in 1882.  That looked promising.  But his eldest son, Samuel II, (according to Beddow) was born in Crewe in 1847; he moved to Manchester and had two daughters.  Any hopes of Beddow’s Samuel II being my great-grandfather were dashed, for I had one further item in my possession – a booklet 1 published just after his death.  The opening words of this booklet are:

Samuel Heath was born of Godly parents at Over, Cheshire, on March 26th, 1837.

Not at Crewe in 1847, but at Over (Winsford) ten years earlier!

Then Sally, prompted by Beddow, turned to Eardley’s Crewe Almanack for 1902, which published some reminiscences of his father by another son of Samuel I, Thomas Henry.  There we read that Samuel I laid a foundation stone at Heath Street Chapel.  It now became clear that the silver salver was not presented to Samuel II, but to Samuel I.  If ‘our’ Samuel was not the son of Samuel I, how did the salver come down into my hands?  The spoons, too, presented a problem.  Beddow states that Samuel I’s second son John emigrated to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  Surely he was the ‘Uncle John’ who sent the souvenir spoons 2 to my grandfather, ‘Willie’?  If John was Willie’s uncle, then he must have been my great-grandfather’s brother.  All the evidence in our hands pointed to Samuel I being ‘our’ Samuel’s father, but Beddow appeared to contradict our beliefs.

We looked more closely at what little Beddow had to say.  In fact, he presented no evidence for putting Samuel II’s date of birth as 1847, or for his place of birth being Crewe.  He merely recorded these ‘facts’ in a family tree.  Could Beddow have been wrong?

He obviously knew that Samuel I’s first wife was a Martha Boden, which he learned from the entry in the Nantwich register recording the birth of her third son Thomas Henry.  He knew that she died in 1855, since this date is recorded on her gravestone, but he had no knowledge of the date and place of her marriage to Samuel I.

We can only conclude that Beddow, working on the (not unreasonable) principle that children in those days arrived on average at two yearly intervals, counted back from the one date of which he was certain – that of Thomas Henry’s birth.  Thomas Henry was the father of the William Powell Heath who commissioned Beddow’s work, so one may assume that William gave Beddow some details of members of Samuel I’s family – perhaps a list of those children of whom he was aware: Samuel, John, Thomas Henry and Mary Alice.  To these he added Martha Ann, who died in childhood and whose date of birth (1852) can be inferred from the family gravestone, and Nathan Richard, Samuel I’s son by his second wife.

Beddow, however, did not have access to those powerful tools of the modern researcher – the ten-yearly census returns from 1841 onwards, which are available only after a 100-year lapse.  These tell us the names of everyone in a particular household, their relationships to each other, their ages and occupations and their place of birth.

So we turned to the census for Over in 1841, when ‘our’ Samuel would be four years old.  And there he was!  His father was listed as Samuel Heath, a grocer, aged 25 and born in Haslington.  The link between the two Samuels seemed to be established, but there was no mention of Samuel I’s wife, who was obviously away from home on the night of the census.  Until we had confirmed that the grocer was married to Martha Boden, we could not be entirely sure of our ground.

Since the family was living in Over, our next hunting ground was the registers of the parish church.  Here we found the record of Samuel II’s baptism on 16 April 1837.  His father, Samuel Heath, described himself as a ‘labourer’; his mother was called Martha.  Things were looking up!

Sally then tapped another source of information – the International Genealogical Index (IGI) created by the (Mormon) Church of Latter-Day Saints, which is freely available for consultation.  Here she found a brief note saying that Samuel Heath and Martha Boden were married in Great Budworth in 1836.  A check on the Great Budworth parish register confirmed this.

The census of 1851 had no record of the family in Over, but we were aware of Beddow’s assertion that

the estate of old Thomas II [the great-uncle of Samuel I] was determined, in the early forties Thomas Henry tells us; it might have been much later . . . and Samuel and Martin Heath, the co-heirs of the Coppenhall part of the estate, came to live on it.

Our researches therefore switched to Coppenhall (Crewe), where we found the family in the 1851 census: Samuel Heath I aged 34, born in Haslington; Martha his wife aged 32, born in Over; Samuel II aged 14, born in Over; John aged 4, born in Over; Mary Alice aged 2, born in Crewe; Thomas H aged 3 months; and two servants.  Martin Heath and his wife were living next door.

Our evidence was complete.  The two Samuels were father and son, and Samuel II was my great-grandfather.  Beddow was wrong on this matter at least; how reliable were his other ‘facts’?

Beddow concludes his monograph with the words:

Martin died childless and Samuel [I]’s family carried on the name of Heath.  In the next generation Samuel’s second son John went to America with his youngest brother Nathan.  In America sons were born to these sons of Samuel, but it was his third son (Thomas Henry) who remained at Coppenhall, or Crewe as it began to be called.  Again, the eldest son [of Thomas Henry], Percy Melville Heath, left only a daughter, and it was the second son, William Powell, and the youngest son, who carry on the family name.

Beddow makes no mention here of Samuel I’s eldest son Samuel II, of his eldest son William Henry, of his only son Samuel Percy, or of his only son William Geoffrey.  These four generations of Heaths all descended from Samuel I, but Beddow makes only a passing reference to one of them, even though the last three generations were alive when he wrote his book.  A further generation in this line – Sally Anne and Christopher Melvin – had yet to been born.

When – or probably before – Samuel I settled in Crewe, he built West View, an imposing house where he lived with his family for several years.  When Samuel I retired to Audlem, Samuel II moved into West View with his family.  Sometime before 1875, Samuel II moved to Cheswardine (Shropshire) before going to Manchester, and his younger brother Thomas Henry then occupied the house.  William Powell Heath was born at West View in 1882, which remained as the family home until at least 1900.

Beddow was obviously relying on William Powell to ‘feed’ him with items of family history 3; surely he would have published the correct information if it had been relayed to him?  We must therefore conclude that William Powell was unaware of any details of his uncle's life and family, beyond knowing that Samuel II moved to Manchester and – as we shall see later – had two daughters.  Conversely, it was the daughters of whom we were unaware!

In fact, the only mention Beddow makes of Samuel II in the text of his book concerns his departure:

Most of Samuel Heath’s children left Crewe.  Samuel, the eldest, went to Manchester; two others went to America.

He adds:

It is suggested that the restraints of their home life caused in most of them a reaction and a tendency to break away from ties which had become irksome.  Anyway, they disappear from Crewe.  Only THOMAS HENRY [Beddow’s capitals] remained, and he certainly carried on the tradition in all its fulness, of Nonconformist zeal and benefaction, of civic pride and service, of stern total abstinence.  Perhaps he was the only one who was consistent with his upbringing.

Little did Beddow know of Samuel II’s service to the Methodist and Congregational Churches, his leadership of the Lay Preachers’ Society, his ecumenical outlook – a tradition of nonconformity which has been continued by succeeding generations.  And Beddow fails to mention that Thomas Henry, despite his high moral standards, committed suicide 4 at the age of 49.

Samuel II also appears in the family tree which Beddow appends to his booklet.  This is where his date and place of birth are given as ‘1847 in Crewe’.  He is said to have died in 1912 in Manchester, and to have had two daughters, Elizabeth and Patricia 5.

Where Beddow found these ‘facts’ is another mystery, although ‘Samuel Heath’ appears to have been a fairly common name at that time, and he may have picked the wrong one.  Indeed, the census of 1851 shows no fewer than three boys called Samuel Heath 6 living at different addresses in Hightown, Crewe!

We can only speculate about the reasons for Beddow’s error.  However, he completed the task that he was given – that of finding the ancestors of the Powell Heaths.  At times he was led into interesting branches of the family – the two sons of Samuel I who emigrated to America, for instance – and set out their descendants in some detail in the family tree.  What a pity that he was unaware of Samuel I’s eldest son and his lineage!  As our researches continued, we noted several omissions and inconsistencies in Heathfolk, but no errors as annoying as Beddow’s curt dismissal of Samuel II in half-a-dozen words.

The following chapters are intended to redress the situation by revealing the new evidence we have gathered concerning Samuel I and his descendants.  Inevitably, I have been obliged to draw on Beddow’s earlier work, commenting on it whenever our research caused us to doubt his words.  However, I have no wish to give the impression that everything he wrote was incorrect.  Without his guidance we would never have discovered half of what we know now.

Beddow traces the family back to John Heath of Monks Coppenhall who died in 1685, and hints at connections with a John del Heth who came to the Hall o’ Heath in Haslington 7 in 1338.

John was obviously one of the favourite names in the Heath family.  Indeed, in the male line of ten generations from John Heath of Monks Coppenhall down to myself, only four first names appear: John, William, Samuel and Thomas.  For the more recent descendants in this line, a name outside this limited selection has been added (eg William Henry), and in two cases this second name has been the one by which its recipient was known to his family and friends (Samuel Percy, William Geoffrey), but the Heaths seem to have been reluctant to bestow any other first names on their eldest (and, indeed, most other) males.  I hope that this unfortunate habit does not cause too much confusion.

Although I have written this preface in the first person singular, the following chapters are in an impersonal style, so that readers opening the various chapters at random will not need to wonder who ‘I’ was.  It has also made it possible for me to write my own biographical chapter in a more detached manner.

Here, then, the ‘Heathfolk’ of Beddow’s monograph are ‘revisited’.  There are still some unanswered questions and several unproven theories, and I must leave it to later researchers to discover the facts which have eluded Sally and me.

W Geoffrey Heath
Mellor, Stockport, Cheshire

Originally posted in 1999, but updated as more information comes to hand.

Further Sections:


Chapter 1: Early Days (1321 – 1790)

Chapter 2: Samuel Heath I (1816 – 1882)

Chapter 3: Martin Heath (1810 – 1887)

Chapter 4: Samuel Heath II (1837 – 1922)

Chapter 5: The Heath Family in America

Chapter 6: Mary Alice & Thomas Henry Heath

Chapter 7: William Henry Heath (1862 – 1943)

Chapter 8: Samuel Percy Heath (1893 – 1977)

Chapter 9: William Geoffrey Heath (b 1924)

Appendix: The Will of Thomas Heath



Lest We Forget.  Samuel Heath.  Born, March 26th, 1837.  Died, March 15th, 1922.  A copy is held in Manchester Central Library.  Back

2  Benjamin Heath, a grandson of John, wrote in a private communication to the author: ‘Souvenir spoons were one of his hobbies for many years.’  Back

3  Beddow wrote of William Powell Heath: ‘all through he has been most generous with information and encouragement.’  Back

4  Thomas Henry’s suicide, the subsequent inquest and funeral were reported in The Crewe and Nantwich Chronicle, 7 July 1900.  He had been in poor health for several weeks, and latterly had complained of severe head pains (a brain tumour?).  He had been very depressed, and was concerned about the viability of his business.  Beddow wrote: ‘Thomas Henry, in spite of the fact that he was an Alderman of the Borough of Crewe, and a Justice of the Peace . . . .  died at the early age of forty- nine.’ This conclusion is a non sequitur; being an Alderman and a JP was never a guarantee of longevity!  I suspect that Beddow originally wrote ‘committed suicide’ rather than ‘died’, and was asked by the family to change the wording.  The sentence in its unaltered form would have made more sense.  Back

5  We discovered during our researches that Samuel II – amongst his nine children – had two daughters called Elizabeth and Martha (whose pet name was ‘Pattie’).  Perhaps William Powell Heath remembered these two names, and Beddow translated ‘Pattie’ into ‘Patricia’.  Back

6  One of these boys was the son of William, younger brother of Martin Heath.  Back

White’s History, Gazetteer & Directory of Cheshire for 1860 has this entry under Haslington: “The Heaths, an ancient family, had formerly here a residence called ‘Hall-o’-Heath’.”  Back