Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


The search for Samuel Burrows

Sam Burroughs was my father’s mother’s father and when I first started to research his life all I had to work with was a few lines scribbled on a rough sheet of paper, the result of a short conversation with my father many years ago. All I knew was that ‘Our Sam’ was a Police Inspector, a poet and a lay preacher. Also that one of his sons had emigrated to Canada. Not much to go on, but I was surprised just where it would lead me.

A Submission by Derek Wilcox

This article Originally appeared in
The black Sheep and Police List

The first stop on the road was that wonderful piece of work the 1881 census. Looking up Burroughs – Manchester showed le famille Burroughs ensconced at 12 Russell Street Moss Side. Sam was 33, born in Bristol and a police inspector already, his wife Frances came from Ireland and there were all the little Burroughs, including my own Grandmother Frances Alice aged 8.

The census also allowed me to calculate Sam’s date of birth and his probable marriage, so the next stop was the GRO Indexes which revealed a Samuel Burroughs being born in Bedminster in 1847. Bedminster was a registration district of Bristol, so that fitted nicely.

Two other sources proved valuable. The first was the Manchester Police Museum whose curator and assistants pointed me in the right direction several times. On the first occasion they provided me with a copy of Sam’s police record, which showed all his ranks, when he joined and left and a physical description of him. In addition it told me he was born in Bristol, and had served in HM Forces before joining the police.

The other source was the IGI Internet search facility. For once I actually got lucky and a search for Sam’s marriage produced an entry for 1868 at Manchester Cathedral. His wife being Frances Newman.

So it all began to come together. Or did it? My Grandmother – who should have known – always maintained that Sam came from London. So why did my Sam Burroughs say Bristol?

The mystery deepened with the arrival of his marriage and birth certificates, together with his army records. According to his birth certificate he was the son of Lewis Burroughs, a miner of Bedminster. So far so good, but on his marriage certificate his father is given as Nathaniel Burroughs a coal dealer. It also showed that he was serving with the 68th foot at the time of his marriage. And his army record showed that he had lived at Clerkenwell and signed on at Westminster. Add to which his wife Frances gave a Salford address which never existed! Now I really did begin to wonder if I had the right man.

About this time, via the ‘In Touch’ page in the Manchester Evening News, I also managed to make contact with a long-lost cousin of mine who had known my Grandmother much better than I did. He presented me with another problem by sending me two of Sam’s poems, one of which had obviously been published – but where? According to my cousin the poems were now held by the Manchester Police Museum and may also have been used by the Christian Police Association magazine.

But I first needed to solve the problem of Sam’s origins. I formed the theory that Sam had been born in Bristol, but his mother had remarried another Burroughs, and then moved to London at some point. Again the GRO indexes were consulted, and lo and behold, there was poor Lewis popping his clogs in 1848 just a year after Sam was born, and then in 1851 his mother Martha remarries to Nathaniel Burroughs! The entries were right next to each other in the marriage indexes. Nathaniel must have been her brother-in-law but this has yet to be confirmed. However, the 1881 Census also showed a Martha Burroughs, a widow, living in Lambeth with her second family.

So my theory proved correct that Sam was born in Bristol but when he married in 1868 he still believed that Nathaniel was his father. As they say, it’s a wise man . . .

But this was only scratching the surface. Once again I returned to the Police Museum in the search for those poems. Unfortunately they couldn’t find them, but they did inform me that Sam had been involved in a major police scandal in Manchester and there were lots of documents available about that.

The hunt was up and the next stop was Manchester Central Library to read up in the local papers of the period – 1897. Briefly the scandal involved Sam’s Superintendent – William Bannister who had been very much involved with some ‘disorderly houses’ of the day and had used his influence to protect some from prosecution and used his officers to raid others to put them out of business. Two years after both men had left the force the Home Office launched an enquiry and Sam was a major witness.

After straining my eyesight by trawling through the local Evening News and Guardian of the day, II suddenly discovered the whole enquiry had been recorded in book form from the original transcripts. This was invaluable as the whole of Sam’s evidence was presented, including letters and other material only referred to in the press reports. Furthermore his second wife Annie also gave evidence and I got a brief glimpse of his home life.

But more importantly I also got to know what Sam was doing in 1897, having resigned from the force in 1895 owing to his inability to work further with Bannister. Sam had joined something called the National Vigilance Association and was now the secretary of the Manchester and Northern Counties branch.

As I discovered, the NVA, whose name speaks for itself, was formed in the late 19th century in response to the W T Stead Pall Mall case. This was the notorious case whereby Stead, editor of the Pall Mall gazette , went out and bought an 11 year old girl and smuggled her out of the country. His aim was to highlight the appalling ease with which young children could be procured for immoral purposes. Stead’s trial raised a storm of moral outrage, one outcome of which was the NVA.

But before I followed that trail, I made one of those discoveries which all family historians dream of.

Still following the police enquiry of 1897 I started to look through contemporary issues of the Police Review held at Manchester Library. While the reports held nothing new, I noticed that each week they ‘spotlighted’ a police officer and provided a detailed biography and photograph. My hopes raised, I started to look at later issues and there in June 1898 I found it, a full biography of ‘Our Sam’ complete with photograph. What was amazing was that without his big bushy beard, he bore a strong resemblance to my brother. It’s true what they say about heredity.

Armed with this I also started looking at other issues of the Police Review and at once began to find poems of Sam’s. At the same time I was in touch with the Christian Police Association, who still publish their magazine ‘On and Off Duty’. Together the two magazines provided me with 10 poems with more I hope yet waiting to be discovered. It was obvious that Sam was a very active man belong to various committees as well as the Police Bible Society, and Christian Police Association.

This also led me to speculate that ‘Our Sam’ must have been a Freemason given his lifestyle, but a quick request to the Manchester offices proved fruitless. A letter to the Grand Lodge in London has also yet to produce a reply.

By now, from my own research and stories handed on by my cousin, I had begin to form an impression of Sam’s character, and it wasn’t very sympathetic. By our standards he would have been a rather austere and sanctimonious person, albeit a very well-intentioned one. His homelife, however was not without drama. According to my Grandmother, her step-mother demanded that she dress as a maid and wait on visitors. Being made of sterner stuff, my Gran ran off to Oldham and became a nurse. Sometime later ‘Our Sam’ tracked her down and demanded all the money she had made from nursing, leaving her penniless. As I said, not a very sympathetic figure!

But back to the NVA. Where could I find their records if any? A quick search at Manchester produced some odds and ends, but none of them mentioned Sam’s name. Then once again the Internet came to my rescue. Dialling up the John Rylands University Library I entered the keyword: ‘Vigilance’ and was rewarded by the title of a book: Vice & Vigilance a history of vigilant societies.

The book was available at Manchester but as I live in Liverpool, I went down to the main University Library and there it was. More importantly the bibliography listed the sources of the material and the records of the NVA were to be found in the Fawcett Library in London.

The next step was obvious and I managed to persuade a London researcher to bore himself rigid by going through the records. It was well worth while as apart from copies of the written reports furnished by Sam about fairs and theatres and affiliation cases, it also provided me with the information that he resigned from the Association in 1898 after just two years of work.

This was a problem as his potted biography had mentioned the same thing, but had also said that he had a view to joining another association but made no mention of which one and where? To make matters worse it become plain that the whole family had decamped from Manchester around 1900 and I could not find them anywhere in the local area. And to make matters even worse neither could I find the death of Sam’s or his wife Annie anywhere in the GRO indexes, despite trawling through them three times!

While thinking about this I tried other avenues, such as the fact that he was a lay preacher. Knowing he had married again in a Primitive Methodist church I tried the records at the John Rylands library and various other Methodist sources, but to no avail. That side of his life would seem to be a closed book.

So now I had two main problems, where did the family go in 1900 and when and where did Sam die?

I realised I might answer both questions in one go. I knew that when Sam had retired in 1895 he had claimed a pension from the police force. In those days pensions were paid directly from the Watch Committee and any change of circumstances of the pensioner had to be notified to the committee. So back once more the Manchester Library to look up the minutes of the Watch Committee. Unfortunately though, the printed minutes do not cover all the business of each meeting, much of it being abbreviated under the heading of ‘Further Business’

There was only one thing for it, I had to get at the original minute books.

This proved surprisingly easy. A letter to the Town Hall was answered by an e-mail explaining that the books I required were stored in the book room and available for inspection on any weekday. They did warn me however that the book room was no place for the faint-hearted or anyone who didn’t like getting their hands dirty!

How right they were. A few days later I presented myself at the Chief Executives office and was taken down to the cellar. Anyone familiar with Manchester Town Hall will know it is a High Victorian building, with an interior like Camelot and cellars like the Lubianka. After what seemed an age descending a spiral staircase going ever deeper into the gloom, we arrived at a solid steel door, which creaked open to reveal the dark and mysterious Book Room.

Around the walls were shelf after shelf groaning under the weight of immense leather-bound volumes. I followed my guide through the various stacks until he flicked on a light switch and revealed a row of shelves disappearing into the distance loaded with huge, dusty volumes, each one kissing cousin to those which Moses brought down from the mountain. It was like the library at the Unseen University. With a smile he left me to it.

Half an hour later found me stripped to the waist, perspiring freely and covered in red dye from the crumbling bindings. But each volume had its own fascination as the Watch Committee really ran Manchester in those days. As well as being responsible for the police and fire service, they supervised such things as pawnbrokers licences, street traders, theatres, parades, shows, paraffin sellers and hackney carriages. In fact almost every aspect of life in a big city came under their watchful eye.

And the volumes were an education themselves. Hand-written of course, they contained paragraphs on police defaulters and police rewards. Various cases were heard. Whole local byelaws were bound in. People were appointed and dismissed at their pleasure. Pensions paid and fines levied. A historian could have spent hours with them.

But I was here for a purpose, and after wading through 20 years of minutes, I found what I was looking for. On the 28th August 1919, the Watch Committee were informed of the death of ex-Inspector Samuel Burroughs. His death occurred on the 3rd of January 1919 in – Atlantic City New Jersey.

I stood stunned for a moment, partly because I had found what had taken me months to find, but also by the place he died. What on earth was a strait-laced, teetotal, Methodist ex-police inspector doing in Atlantic City? It was like the Archbishop of Canterbury dying in Blackpool. There had to be an explanation.

By now I had begun to see the Internet as a primary source of information, so I immediately placed a message on the soc.genealogy and MLFHS newsgroups, asking for some help in America. Very shortly afterwards two kind people: Mary Price and E Cunningham volunteered. One of them obtained a copy of Sam’s death certificate within a few days – a great improvement on the time taken over here – while Mary Price obtained details from the Census of 1920.

Together the two documents showed me that Sam had not been alone, but had obviously gone over there with his son Frederick in 1913, the entry date shown on Fred’s census return. Sam’s death certificate was also full of information, not least showing me that his second wife Annie had predeceased him and the place of his burial – Pleasantville – which is the first town on the mainland from Atlantic City.

But I still had a further mystery, where was Sam before 1913? Then it dawned on me that if I traced the marriages of his other children, it may show where the family was. Elementary my dear Watson?

Back to the GRO indexes. His eldest son Frederick had married aged 21 in Manchester so he was no use, but then I saw mention of John Charles Burroughs marrying in Holborn in 1898. Could it be? Yes it was. His marriage certificate shows Samuel Burroughs, Inspector, as his father and the address as Goswell Road.

And that’s more or less where we are now. I’m still hoping to obtain a few more details of Sam in America but I need a volunteer over there to do some legwork for me. Similarly I need someone to do a few look ups of street directories in London. As always, there are quite a few loose ends, so I I feel there’s still a lot of mileage left in the search for ‘Our Sam’.

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