Backford, Mollington & District Local History Society

Year Name Job Family Notes
1841 Thomas Owen Station Master Not Local, Wife: Ann, Children: Charlotte, Elizabeth, Joseph, William

Thomas Owen is the first recorded local resident Station Master of the new rail locomotion passing through the township.
1851 Thomas Jones Station Master Originated Scholey, Flintshire, Brother: Benjamin, Sisters: Margaret, Martha   Parents: Thomas & Maria
Edward Roberts Guard Backford
Shoemaker's son
Ten years earlier, Edward was recorded as following his father's shoemaking trade but obviously, like so many young boys, he had been attracted by the wonders of steam locomotion! 
1861 John Evans Station Master From Rossett, Wife Fanny, Children Mary B.
Thomas Coppack Rail Labourer Mollington
Son of John and Charlotte, Wife Mary, Daughter Charlotte
George Wardle Signalman Mollington, Son of James Wardle
John Cross Telegrapher Mollington, From Liverpool

The Coppack family warrants particular mention.  Thomas Coppack continued in this role, on and off, for a number of years.  He was born in Mollington in 1824 to John and Charlotte Coppack, where John was an agricultural labourer.  Charlotte was born in neighbouring Lea and Charlotte was also the name of Thomas' sister By 1861, Thomas Coppack and Mary had further daughters Emma, Sarah and Mary plus two sons John and George.  The census of 1871 showed another daughter, Alice, and a further son, Joseph but Thomas had by then forsaken the railway for agricultural work and the family were living in a cottage in Lea.  That was not, however, the end of Thomas' association with the railway since by 1881, we will see he is again employed as a railway labourer and his son Joseph is a railway porter.  In 1891, Thomas Coppack is retired and living with Mary at 1 Hough's Cottages, Lea with 20 year old granddaughter Charlotte and 7 year old grandson John.  Joseph was still working for the railway but as a platelayer and was living locally in Mollington with his wife Ann and baby daughter Mary.  In 1901, Thomas is widowed and living in Lea with his youngest daughter, Alice.

1871 Samuel Dean Station Master Not resident at station. 
From Alveley, Shropshire
Francis (Thomas) Farrington Porter Lea-by-Backford
Wife Sarah,& daughter Anne. 
Lodging with Eliza Lewis
James Lea Plate Layer

Francis (Thomas) Farrington’s father George was an Ag. Lab on the Mollington Hall estate and who was rehoused when his cottage was demolished to make way for the new railway station and Thomas had tried farm work himself, according to the 1861 census, when he was working as a carter at Lea Hall for the Robinson family. He started work for the railway in 1866 and had served 25years by 1891 (Ref.3.)  Thomas had three brothers George, John and Charles and two sisters Mary and Betsy. By the time of the 1881 census though, Thomas was married and he and his wife Sarah were living in Mollington with their two young daughters Annie and Frances.

James Lee, a platelayer, had also worked as an Ag. Lab. according to the 1861 census when he worked for the Allen's on a farm at Backford Cross.  However, by 1871 he had married Mary Lewis and was living with his mother-in-law Elizabeth Lewis in her cottage in Lea, 2 Lea Cottages on Mollington Road  they had four children.

1881 reveals a large increase to 9 local residents that worked for the rail company and were domiciled around Mollington.

George Clarke was not local, coming from Bedford and his wife was from Birkenhead. Their first two children were born in Northampton and Lincoln which is a sure measure of the mobility of railway staff at that time.  William Evans came from Sealand and lodged with the Harding family in 1881.

1891 census data identify 11 people domiciled around Mollington and working for the rail company.

1891 James Morgan Station Master From Wellington, Shropshire - Wife Sarah - Children Ada and Annie
Joseph Coppack Plate Layer Mollington - Wife (Mary), 1 daughter
George H Clark Clerk Mollington - Wife (Jane), 4 children
Thomas Farrington Signalman Mollington - Wife, 2 daughters
James Lea Plate Layer Lea - Wife (Mary), 2 children
Charles Lea Plate Layer Lea - Son of James
Joseph Venables Shunter Mollington - Son of James Cartwright
John Charnley Rail Clerk Mollington - living with parents
Joseph Blackwell Plate Layer Backford - brother of groom at Backford Hall
Thomas Donelly Signalman Lea-by-Backford - Boarding with Charles Chaloner and daughter Fanny.
William Evans Plate Layer Mollington - Lodging with Jones family

Joseph Coppack, aged 25, was now married and he and his wife Anne (nee Griffiths) from Stoke were living in Mollington; he was another resident of the village who had served for more than 25 years on the railway.

By 1900, there were 17 trains each day from Mollington to Chester and 14 from Mollington to Birkenhead.  Fares were by then considerably cheaper than when the station had first opened in 1840 such that Mollington to Chester first class cost 6d, (c.f. 1840. 1s0d) second class 4d and third class 3d.  Fares to Birkenhead were 2s-0d, 1s-4d and 1s-0½d respectively for the three classes of travel.

The census returns for 1901 showed 15 railway employees living in the nearby townships and of these, 7 originated from the neighbouring county of Shropshire.

1901 Alfred Pinches Station Master From Leebotward - Wife Mary, Children Leonard J.
Thomas Donelly Signalman Lea-by-Backford - Married to Fanny Chaloner
Thomas Smith Signalman Nook Lane, Backford - Wife Mary, Daughter Lily
John Powell Signalman Boarding with Thomas Coppack and daughter Alice
Frank William Jones Signalman The Smithy, Lea-by-Backford - Boarding with John and Sarah Dean
John Nicholson Plate Layer Lodging with Coppacks
George H Clarke Accountant Rose Cottage, Grove Road
Wife Jane, 1 son
George Lockley Platelayer Lea-by-Backford - Boarding with Thomas Smith, Wife (Sarah) and daughter
John Pyman Clerk Lea-by-Backford - As George Lockley
James Lee Platelayer Dunkirk, Lea-by-Backford - Wife and 4 children
Samuel Morris Plate Layer Parkgate Road, Mollington - Mother, Wife and 2 sons
Joseph Newnes Ticket Collector Grove Road, Mollington - Lodging with Godwin family
William Pritchard Porter Grove Road, Mollington - Lodging with Godwin family
John Pinches Clerk Station House - Brother of Station Master

Thomas Donnelly had now married his landlord’s daughter, Fanny and George H Clarke (age 51) had been promoted to railway accountant.  Samuel Morris first came to live in Parkgate Road in 1871 where he and his parents, William and Martha were lodging with Sarah Brown, but they were not listed in further censuses until 1901. He was still living in Parkgate Road in 1901, where he was living with his widowed mother Martha plus his wife and two sons John and Arthur.

William Townley came from Ludlow. He and his wife lived in Station Cottage with their four children.  A local man from Dunkirk, James Lee was still working as a platelayer in 1901 and he was then in his 66th year. This made him working on the railway for in excess of 30 years.

The next part of this story will be in 2009, when The National Archives plan to release most of the details of the 1911 census on-line.  Hopefully, we will then be able to see how the railway workers in Lea and Mollington changed in the early years of the 20th century.  If local people appear to have been in the minority when it came to employment on the railway during the period 1841 to 1901, it is important to put these numbers in context by considering the sizes of the local populations at that time.  In 1851, Great Mollington had an overall population of 122 which increased to 145 by 1901  (excluding Little Mollington)  With an estimated working population of 75, 15 railway employees now clearly represent a significant proportion, approximately 20%, The railways did have a considerable impact on the structure and composition of the local community.  In addition to the direct employees, there were a great many local families, in these primarily rural communities, who offered the visiting workers accommodation in their homes in some cases on quite a long term basis; they must have appreciated the extra income that came from providing accommodation and the associated economic benefits of wage earning rail workers.

There was another collision reported, this time by The Manchester Guardian in 1858, in which 20 persons were injured on the line near Mollington station. Apparently the express which left Birkenhead at 3-30 p.m. ran into a light engine that had broken down. While the drivers and stokers of both engines were slightly hurt, the passengers on the express were thrown from side to side in their compartments and several had their faces cut. After about half an hour’s delay, the train was taken on to Chester where the sufferers were promptly attended to by surgeons John Harrison and J D Weaver. 

However, this line did have some very irregular use for goods traffic and therefore, didn’t suffer the final indignity which befell so many others; it was never stripped of its rails and converted into a country walkway!  Furthermore it was resurrected in the late 1980s under the control of the Liverpool Metro Co. (later Merseyrail) who used a 50% grant from the European Development Fund to electrify it as an extension to the Liverpool underground system and thus once more providing a rail link from Chester to Liverpool and Birkenhead. This new passenger serviced commenced on 4th October 1993. The nearest operational stations to Mollington and Lea now are at Capenhurst to the north and Upton, Bache to the south.