Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover continues to grab me, even after at least 3 previous attempts over a period of a year of unsuccessful research on William Shawcross. The reasons for my obsession include my failure to ‘crack the code of silence’, the boldness of the addressees penmanship, the multiple use of two different stamps of Victoria and the multiple postmarking on the front. It was addressed to Wm Shawcross Esq., Fern Acre, Brooklands Road, Sale, Cheshire. At top left there is a ms. Via Brindisi, No 4 Balmoral, January 15, 1877 [presumably the date written].

To add to the complexity the recipient Shawcross has added a line to the address ‘Answered by Brindisi March 16 (—–). At the top there is an unframed originating BALMORAL/ JA 21/ 77/ VICTORIA postmark, and the five stamps have the barred numeral ‘96′ (Type A2R, with no side bar), the two lilac mauve ‘TWO PENCE’ and the three blue ‘SIX PENCE’. There is a transit MELBOURNE/ 17/ JA 24/ 77, as well as a boxed ‘REGISTERED’ and an oval red ‘REGISTERED/ ( )/ LONDON (Figure 1).

The reverse has a transit red oval REGISTERED /23/ 12 MR 77/ MANCHESTER and a small black destination SALE/ C/ MR 12/ 77 (Figure 2).

In addition to the information on the cover’s front, the following meager data was all I had from a year’s intermittent research: William Shaw was confirmed living at the above address and in the National Archives he was described as an importer from China and the Far East and that he had a daughter. Two particularly poor undated pictures of William, both sitting in an armchair, produced by John Higham of Manchester were found on the internet, and one of these is shown as Figure 3.

William and his wife had a daughter, Ada Shawcross who was born in 1856 and they were living at Fern Acre, Broadlands Road, Sale. She married Percy H. Leigh in 1883, and he was described as a silk merchant. He was probably a well off man for their home, named “Brentwood”, as described and photographed (but not seen), befitted a man of money. An undated photograph of Ada Shawcross was taken by the same John Higham, and it was numbered consecutively to the photos of William, and Ada is shown in Figure 4.

I emailed Trafford Council one whose libraries is in the area of William Shawcross’ address, and after a delay in the mails, I received the following information: William was born ‘about 1817′ and died at the age of 78 in the district of Altrincham, in the county of Cheshire. Limited details were found about the family and household in three 10-yearly Census. In 1871, William was head of the household at the age of 53 and he described himself as Retired Merchant with Manchester, Lancashire as his place of birth; his wife, Mary was 38, had no reported occupation, but reported her place of birth as Southport, Lancashire. Their only child, Ada was 14 and was a Scholar, her birth being Manchester, Lancashire. The family had three servants, two were domestic housemaids and one was a cook.

The 1881 Census, showed William as the head of the household, and he was now a widower, and he reported under occupation that he had “income from Dividends & Let of Money”. Ada described herself as daughter aged 24, with no occupation noted. They still had 3 servants, a Lady’s Maid, a House maid and a cook.

The 1891 Census showed William as head of the household aged 75, and living on his own means, Ada was no longer a member of the household, but there were still 3 servants, described as a Housekeeper, Cook, domestic senior, and a House maid. From this additional information it is reasonable to assume that William Shawcross had been a successful merchant.

I wish to acknowledge Karen Cliff who provided the data from the 1871, 1881 and 1891 Censuses.

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