Francis Ritson and Mary Maddison

St Cuthberts Allendale parish church

Francis Ritson was born in 1830 in Allendale, Northumberland, England.

Francis was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Ritson, born in 1812 at Allenheads, Northumberland.

He was baptised on 5 December 1830 at St Cuthberts, Allendale.

Elizabeth had another illegitimate child with William Wigham b 1808 – Hugh Ritson b 1836 who was baptised 21 Feb 1836 at St Peter and Allenhead, Allendale. This time the father is named on the baptism record.

On the 1841 census Elizabeth, aged 50 is living with Joseph Howe, an agricultural labourer aged 50, born out of the county of Durham. Has Elizabeth left her two children?

I’ve been unable to find Francis Ritson in the 1841 census, but his brother Hugh aged 7 is living with his grandparents Hugh and Isabella Ritson in Dirtpot village, Allendale.

coal mining at Crook Durham

On the 12th November 1855 Francis, aged 24, married 19 year old Mary Maddison at the Auckland Registry Office in Durham. Francis states he is a pitman, and gives his residence as Crook, and his father’s name and occupation are blank (confirming he is illegitimate).

Mary states her residence is Etherley, and her father is Joseph Maddison, an engineman.

Mary was the daughter of Josiah Maddison (1814-1878) and Isabella Elrington (1816-1876). She was one of seven children born to the couple. Mary was born in 1837 in Wallsend, Northumberland and she was baptised on 10 September 1837 there.

Witnesses to the marriage of Francis and Mary were George Wearmouth and Francis Bainbridge. Was there a reason they married in a registry office and not the church? Yes there was!

St Mary Magadalene Medomsley, Durham


Their daughter Isobella Ritson had already been born on 22nd September 1855 in Crook, a month before they were married. Whoops!

She was baptised in Medomsley (14 miles from Crook).


Francis (Frank) Ritson and Mary Maddison had eleven children together –

  1. 1855 Isabella b Crook d Broomhill 1935 married John Luke
  2. 1858 David b Crook d 1900 Croxdale married Eliza Brown
  3. 1860 Josiah b Wingate d 1860 Wingate
  4. 1861 Josiah b Wingate d 1929 Gateshead marr Mary Robertson
  5. 1865 Elizabeth b Jobs Hill d 1906 Prestwich marr James Fletcher
  6. 1867 Francis b Usworth d 1900 Crofton Mill marr Margaret Ramshaw
  7. 1870 Mary Ann b South Shields d 1871 Chester le Street
  8. 1872 William b Chester le Street d 1872 Chester le Street
  9. 1875 Newrick b Durham d 1878 Chester le Street
  10. 1877 John b Merrington d 1878 Chester le Street

In 1841 Mary Maddison, aged 4, was living with her parents and baby brother Thomas aged 1, in Staple Row, Jarrow, Durham. Her father Josiah (sometimes called Joseph) was a brakeman in the coal mine.

In 1851 as a 14 year old, she was out working as a servant and living with William Reavely, house agent and his wife Hannah in Rupell Street, North Shields.

After the couples marriage in 1855 Francis and Mary lived at Mill Row, Wingate, Durham in the 1861 census. Francis was still working as a coal miner and now the couple had three children living with them – Isabella aged four and David aged two.

In 1871 the family were living at Middle Row, Usworth. With Francis and Mary were Isabel (Bele) 14, David 12, Josiah 9, Elizabeth 6 and Francis aged 3.

Croxdale Colliery miners housing

Ten years later in the 1881 census the family had moved again to Robsons Terrace in Croxdale Colliery. The family had increased again and living with Francis and Mary now are David 22, Josiah 19, Elizabeth 16, Francis 13, and two lodgers Gilbert and Elizabeth Dodds.

All the boys are coal miners, excepting the youngest Francis who is at school. Also living with them is their 2 year old grand daughter Mary Luke (daughter of their son John and wife Isabella).

coal mining child aged 12

In 1842 a law was passed that stopped women and children under ten years from working underground in mines in Britain. Before this law was passed, it was common for whole families to work together underground to earn enough money for the family to live on.

It was not until 1872 that the age of boys who could work in the coalmines was raised to 12 and eventually to 13 in 1903.

Even so, there is a great deal of evidence to show that colliery owners continued to employ children illegally for many years afterwards.

Francis Ritson died on 6 April 1884 in East Chevington, South Broomhill, aged 53 of angina. His daughter Isabel Luke signed her mark ‘x’ when she registered the death. He was buried in the Chevington churchyard cemetery on 8 April 1884.

In 1891 widowed Mary, aged 50, born in Wallsend is boarding with the Bottom and Rodchester families at the Tudhoe Colliery in Durham. I wonder if they are related somehow? The two wives names are Sarah Bottoms b 1853, and Jane A Rodchester b 1862, maybe one is a daughter that I haven’t found yet?

St Aidans West Herrington Durham

It seems Mary decided she didn’t like living alone, and married again. She wed James Robson, a 60 year old retired policeman, also a widow, on 12 October 1893 at St Aidan’s parish church in West Herrington, Durham.

James was born in Fleetham, Northumberland in 1833, and had been previously married twice before, firstly to Margaret Handyside (1822-1871) as an 18 year old in 1851 at Newcastle Upon Tyne. They had five children John (1851-1871), Margaret (1856-1915), Elizabeth (1858-1871), James (1860-1871) and Robert (1865- ).

After Margaret died, he remarried Caroline Grey (1825-1892) in 1875 in Alnwick, Northumberland. Caroline was the widow of Thomas Redpath (1823-1870), police sergeant, and they had one daughter together Mary Alice (1868-1872).

In the 1891 census for Bedlington, James Robson is living with wife number 2 Caroline. Living in the same street is James’ son Robert and his family. Robert is a coal miner.

Mary and James Robson (ex sergeant of police) appear in the 1901 census together living at Youngers Terrace in Warkworth, Northumberland. Click to enlarge images below.

Mary is a long way from home, but it seems she moved back up to near where James Robson is from.

James died on 13 June 1902 at 46 Chestnut Street, Hirst, Northumberland and left his effects of 20 pounds to his son Robert, a coal miner. His son Robert was also living in Hirst.

Mary Ritson nee Maddison died in January 1906 in South Broomhill, Durham aged 68 years. Perhaps after James’ death she moved back down near her family, as she was buried in the Chevington Cemetery on 2 February 1906.

East Chevington Cemetery Durham