The “Elusive” Peter Atherton

July 27, 2015

I started my Atherton One-Name Study to try and break down one of my brick walls. It took me about five years, but I did eventually break it down – of sorts!

Peter Atherton had always been my “problem child”. My Great Great Grandfather Peter Atherton was shown on the 1841 census as being aged 12, living in Bamford Street, Stockport, with his family: James Atherton, 45, Head, Bobbin Turner, b. Cheshire; Mary Atherton, 50, Wife, b. Cheshire; Ellen Atherton, 15, Dau, Weaver, b. Cheshire; James Atherton, 13, b. Cheshire; and Peter Atherton, 12, b. Cheshire. Common Christian names have also been a problem with my ancestors and this was to be no exception.

I have not yet found Peter on the 1851 census to this day – any thoughts?

Peter Atherton married Mary Wright at Norbury Church, Stockport, on 29 Nov 1851. Both were “Of Age”. Peter was a Bobbin Turner and Mary was a Baker. Residences for both were shown as Bosden. The fathers were James Atherton, also a Bobbin Turner, and John Wright, also a Baker! Witnesses were Nicholas Cookson and Robert Sutcliffe.

So I still did not have any certainty about his age, though I did discover that they had 2 children – Alfred Atherton, on 17 Sep 1852, and Elizabeth Ellen Atherton, on 10 May 1857. Elizabeth Ellen sadly died of measles aged one.

Peter then dropped off the radar completely. I did have a “possible” in the 1891 census (RG12/2798), where he is shown as being born in 1831 in Stockport , Single[?], Lodger, Wood Turner, living at 18 to 22 Hillgate, Stockport (St Thomas) – 1 of 47 lodgers! That query still remains “open”.

As I could not find Peter, the obvious follow up was wife and child. I (eventually) discovered that Mary (Wright) had re-married on 1 Sep 1859, aged 24: Mary Atherton, “Spinster”, married Thomas Proctor, 23, Bachelor, a Tailor, at the Parish Church, Heaton Norris. Residences for both were shown as Heaton Norris. The fathers were recorded as Edward Proctor, a Tailor, and John Wright, a Baker. Witnesses were Thomas Jackson and Olivia Lomas.

The 1861 census revealed the now Mary Proctor (28) living at 7 Withens Row, Brinnington, with husband Thomas Proctor (23), a Tailor, and son Arthur [Alfred] Proctor, 9 months, born Portwood, Stockport. This child was in fact Alfred – aged 9 Years – not 9 Months!

Alfred joined the army in 1870. Regt No 1823, Pte Alfred Atherton, enlisted at age 19 on 4 Jul 1870 into 109 Regiment of Foot (109th Bombay Infantry Regiment) at Manchester and saw army service in India before being medically discharged on 30 Apr 1877 at Netley with heart problems. Total army service was 6 years 290 days. His army trade was Bleacher. Note: Alfred’s place of discharge, Netley, is within 2 miles of where his Great Great Granddaughter Julie Ann Davies (nee Atherton) lived with her husband Paul Davies and daughter Kate Margaret Davies 125 years later!

Anyway, back to my search for Peter Atherton! (You will see later why I include Alfred’s army details).

After many months of searching, I discovered through the military records on FindMyPast and at The National Archives, that Peter had joined the army just 2 months following the birth of his son Alfred! That is why I could not find him in the census records!

19 - Peter war service

The details that I found on Peter were as follows:

Peter Atherton (1438 Pte) joined 80th Regt in Manchester on 15 Nov 1852 aged 22 years.

Transferred to 28th Regt 1854 and also served in 51 Foot (LI) from Mar 1863.

He was medically discharged to Bow Lunatic Asylum (Grove Hall in Fairfield Road) on 13 Oct 1868 aged 37 years 10 months having served a total of 12 years 247 days – Malta 2 yrs 183 days, Turkey & Crimea 2 years 40 days and East Indies 8 years 24 days.

In possession of three Good Conduct Badges.

In possession of Turkish & Crimea Medal and clasps for Inkerman and Sebastopol.

His name appears nine times in the Regimental Defaulters Book and he had been tried by Court Martial!

He was to be entitled to a deferred pension on 13 Nov 1880.

You may think that would then be the end of the story and that I would be able to pick him up in the census records thereafter – not quite so!

As stated above, he was committed to the Lunatic Asylum at Bow on 13 Oct 1868. Peter, being Peter, decided it would be a good idea to leave Bow and “escaped” on 5 Mar 1870! This confirmation was in a written reply to the War Office that, as he had not been recaptured, his name was struck off the books of the Asylum. I have to assume, as this correspondence was dated between 1878 and 1880, the War Office may have been looking for him to pay him his deferred pension?

Other than the possible sighting in the 1891 census, I have no knowledge of where he might have “escaped” to in 1870. I have not found any trace of Peter in the 1871 or 1881 census, nor have I found his death – again, any thoughts?

I also thought it strange that Alfred joined the army at about 3 months after his father Peter was escaping from Bow. What do you think?


Derek Atherton
Member 1047

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