The life and times of John Dracup, Salford radical


This post is dedicated to John Dracup (1787-1858), a radical shopkeeper who emerged from obscurity some 200 years ago, during the political turmoil associated with the Peterloo Massacre.

In later life he became a local politician, helping to run and regulate the rapidly expanding town of Salford. Ultimately he became a member of the first Salford Borough Council.

But shortly afterwards he retired from politics and shopkeeping, shaken by the premature deaths of his last two surviving sons, one an aspiring minister of the Independent church, the other continuing the family drapery business.

Following his own death, in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, his daughter-in-law became involved in the first campaign for women’s suffrage and his son-in-law was elected to Parliament.


John’s antecedents

John’s parentage is uncertain.

The 1851 census gives his place of birth as Bolton, Lancashire. I could trace no contemporary record of such a birth, but a John Dracup is registered on October 11 1787 at Steep Lane Baptist Chapel in Sowerby. The father is named as Nathaniel Dracup.

Steep Lane is located in the Pennines, midway between Bradford and Rochdale, some 25 miles from Bolton. The Chapel is significant in Dracup family history, since an earlier John Dracup (1722-1795), elder brother of prominent early Methodist Nathaniel Dracup (1728-98), served here as a Baptist minister.

He was appointed in 1761, leaving in 1778 but returned again for a second stint from 1784 until his death.

Four further Dracup children born to Nathaniel are registered at Steep Lane Chapel during this second period: Mary (b.1789), Thomas Hay [sic] (b.1791), Robert (b. 1794) and Elizabeth (b. 1796).

Who is this Nathaniel Dracup?

Some family trees suggest it was the prominent Methodist’s third son, (1767-1825), the Rev. John’s nephew, who married Mary Wright (d. 1819) in 1787.

But this seems unlikely. He too was an influential Methodist living in Horton near Bradford, a trustee of Hunt Yard Chapel there. He also had other children during this period (Jonas Dracup b.1788 and Ann Dracup b.1795) who were baptised in Bradford and have no link to Steep Lane. The births are distributed in such a way that Mary might have been the mother, however.

A more promising candidate was born in Bolton in 1760, dying in 1799. This Nathaniel married Rachel Kay (1770-1828) in Bolton in December 1786.

An advertisement in the Manchester Mercury of 17 November 1789 refers to the imminent sale of several Bolton properties, one being:

‘Lot 12th: A Messuage or Dwelling House, and Tenement, with part of a Back Yard and Pump belonging to the land situate at the Bottom of New Acres in the Occupation of Mr Dracup.’

Nathaniel is listed by name in a 1791 directory as a school master in Bolton-le-Moors and we know that, in 1798, he was the tenant of a Mr Hardman in Bolton.

There is some evidence of a small Dracup enclave in Bolton at this time. An Elizabeth Dracup of Bolton was married to Thomas Oldham in Manchester on July 26 1787.

A Mary Dracup was also buried at St George’s, Little Bolton, on November 3 1823. She had been born in 1789, so this could well be the girl of this name registered at Steep Lane, potentially John’s younger sister.

Nothing further is known of provisional sister Elizabeth or provisional brother, Thomas Hay Dracup. It is conceivable that ‘Hay’ is a misreading of ‘Kay’, this child taking his mother’s maiden name.

The remaining Steep Lane child, Robert, is most probably the emigrant of that name who founded the Canadian branch of the Dracup family tree.

The reason for Nathaniel choosing to have his children’s births recorded at Sowerby, so distant from his home, is a mystery, but the most likely explanation is that he was a practising Baptist who had an association with this Chapel.

He might also have had a familial connection. It is quite conceivable that Nathaniel is the Rev. John’s son, but I have found no substantive evidence to support this theory.

As for John’s mother, we know that Rachel Dracup, a widow, is associated with Salford in an extracted probate record dated March 1828. Did she perhaps come to live with John during her final years?

Unfortunately there was also another Rachel Dracup (b.1750), resident in Bury, who died aged 75 and was buried in Bolton on 11 September 1825. It is conceivable that the probate record could be associated with her.

On the balance of probabilities, my family tree attributes John and the four other Steep Lane-registered children to Nathaniel from Bolton and his wife Rachel Kay.


A snapshot of Salford at this time

The place name Salford derives from an old English word describing a ford in a river next to willow trees. The river in question is the Irwell, which separates Salford from neighbouring Manchester.

Salford was originally the dominant settlement of the two, Manchester’s ascendancy dating only from the Eighteenth Century, when most mill-owners elected to build on the Manchester side of the Irwell.

One of the first mills in central Salford was the Engine Twist Mill, built between Chapel Street and the Irwell. This was amongst the earliest multi-storey iron-framed buildings. It had introduced gas lighting by 1806, also supplying part of Chapel Street, so making that the first gaslit thoroughfare.

This detail is taken from a map of Manchester and Salford produced in Weimar in 1809. It illustrates the significance of Chapel Street as the central spine of the emerging town.



A town hall was built on Bexley Square between 1825 and 1827, looking across the Square onto Chapel Street. One of the oldest known photographs of Salford shows the town hall bedecked with flags in May 1856 to mark the end of the Crimean War.


We know that, from the 1820s onward, John’s shop was located on Chapel Street opposite the Town Hall, but nothing now remains of the building, nor can I trace any old photographs.

During John’s lifetime Salford expanded rapidly from a small town into a substantial urban centre. Population estimates vary, but some sources suggest that Salford’s population grew six-fold in only 30 years, from some 12,000 inhabitants in 1812 to over 70,000 by the 1840s. By the 1860s it had topped 100,000 inhabitants.

Another source reveals that, in 1841, there were 229 linen drapers and haberdashers operating in Manchester and Salford combined, John being one of the more prominent.

Both Marx and Engels spent time in Salford during John’s lifetime.

Engels was sent to work in the Ermen and Engels Victoria Mill in Weaste by his wealthy mill-owning father. On returning home he published ‘The condition of the working class in England’ (1844).

He explains how wealth and poverty exist side by side:

‘For the thoroughfares leading from the Exchange in all directions out of the city are lined, on both sides, with an almost unbroken series of shops, and are so kept in the hands of the middle and lower bourgeoisie, which, out of self-interest, cares for a decent and cleanly external appearance and can care for it. True, these shops bear some relation to the districts which lie behind them, and are more elegant in the commercial and residential quarters than when they hide grimy working-men’s dwellings; but they suffice to conceal from the eyes of the wealthy men and women of strong stomachs and weak nerves the misery and grime which form the complement of their wealth.’

Of Salford he writes:

‘All Salford is built in courts or narrow lanes, so narrow, that they remind me of the narrowest I have ever seen, the little lanes of Genoa. The average construction of Salford is in this respect much worse than that of Manchester, and so, too, in respect to cleanliness…

…The narrow side lanes and courts of Chapel Street, Greengate, and Gravel Lane have certainly never been cleansed since they were built. Of late, the Liverpool railway has been carried through the middle of them, over a high viaduct, and has abolished many of the filthiest nooks; but what does that avail? Whoever passes over this viaduct and looks down, sees filth and wretchedness enough; and, if any one takes the trouble to pass through these lanes and glance through the open doors and windows into the houses and cellars, he can convince himself afresh with every step that the workers of Salford live in dwellings in which cleanliness and comfort are impossible.’

This provides useful context to help place John’s social class and in which to set his subsequent civic career.

Although he clearly saw himself as a self-made man, it is quite likely that he inherited rather than saved the capital required to set up as a shopkeeper. He strove to improve the lot of the working man, but contemporary newspaper reports show that he had no hesitation in taking to law those who were driven to steal from his shop.


John’s family

Nothing is known of John’s early life.

At the age of 22 he married Catherine Walmsley, on December 3 1809, in the Anglican St Mary’s Parish Church.

Bolton is given as Catherine’s place of birth in both the 1851 and 1861 censuses. She was born Catherine Walmisley [sic] to Robert and Alice Walmisley of Bolton on October 11 1785 and baptised as a Presbyterian on 14 November that year.

The banns also mention Catherine’s older brother, Hugh Walmisley, now a warehouseman in Manchester, who was born in Bolton-le-Moors in April 1782.

John and Catherine’s six known children are:

  • Robert, born on October 21 1812 and christened on 30 December 1812.
  • William, christened on 5 January 1815. The family is living in Manchester at this time and John is working as a grocer.
  • Hannah, christened on 22 January 1817. The family is still resident in Manchester and John’s employment is simply ‘shopkeeper’.
  • Frances, christened on 16 July 1819. Details the same as above.
  • Caroline, christened on 8 August 1821. Details again unchanged. She died of ‘brain fever’ aged 7 and was buried on 14 August 1828 at the Cheetham Hill Chapel in Crumpsall. The family’s address is given as Chapel Street, Salford.
  • Thomas, christened on 2 May 1823. The address is given as Manchester and father John’s occupation as draper. Thomas died of ‘fever’ aged 20 months and was buried at the Cheetham Hill Chapel on 24 October 1824.

Cheetham Hill was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, founded in 1809. It was located a few miles north-east of Salford. The initial building incorporated a Sunday school and preaching room. The Chapel closed in 1872 and the graves in the cemetery were exhumed in 2003.

There is some inconsistency in John’s religious adherence, since he was apparently born a Baptist, married a Presbyterian in an Anglican church and was buried – as were all of his children – in a Wesleyan Methodist cemetery.


John establishes his radical credentials

The Times of 27 July 1819 reports court sessions in Manchester at which James Wroe, Editor of the Manchester Observer, is charged with several counts of seditious libel for ‘exciting insubordination in the country, and rebellion against the Government’.

This is just three weeks before the Peterloo Massacre.

Wroe had been born in Bradford in 1788 or 1789 so was John’s exact contemporary. Originally a woolcomber, he moved to Manchester and began to sell books from a stall.

By 1818 he had opened a bookshop in Great Ancoats Street and became part of the group of radical thinkers that founded the Observer. Within a year it was widely circulated, reaching most of Britain’s cities and selling up to 4,000 copies weekly.

John, aged 32 at this time and father of a young family of four, is described as a shopkeeper of Jersey Street (also in the Ancoats area of Manchester). The report mentions him as one of those providing surety for Wroe’s bail, in his case to the value of £125.

This demonstrates his commitment to the radical cause and that, even at this early stage, his income must have been relatively substantial and secure.

In March 1819 Wroe also helped to found the Manchester Patriotic Union Society (PUS), dedicated to Parliamentary reform, becoming its treasurer. It was this group that organised the public meeting on 16 August which culminated in the Peterloo Massacre.

A contemporary report, published in the Times, explains how the meeting took place on a large, vacant piece of ground on the north side of St Peter’s Church in Manchester.

By lunchtime the author estimated that some 80,000 people had assembled (official figures are lower). Several carried banners or flags calling for annual parliaments and universal suffrage.

The meeting was addressed by Henry Hunt, a leading radical orator. This is a watercolour of Hunt by Adam Buck painted around 1810.




The report continues:

‘At this stage of the business the Yeoman Cavalry were seen advancing in a rapid trot to the area: their ranks were in disorder, and on arriving within it, they halted to breathe their horses, and to recover their ranks. A panic seemed to strike the persons at the outskirts of the meeting, who immediately began to scamper in every direction. After a moment’s pause, the cavalry drew their swords, and brandished them fiercely in the air: upon which Hunt and Johnson desired the multitude to give three cheers, to show the military that they were not to be daunted in the discharge of their duty by their unwelcome presence. This they did, upon which Mr Hunt again proceeded. This was a mere trick to interrupt the proceedings of the meeting: but he trusted that they would all stand firm.

He had scarcely said these words, before the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry rode into the mob, which gave way before them, and directed their course to the cart from which Hunt was speaking. Not a brickbat was thrown at them – not a pistol was fired during this period: all was quiet and orderly, as if the cavalry had been the friends of the multitude, and had marched as such into the midst of them. A bugle-man went at their head, then an officer, and then came the whole troop. They wheeled round the waggons till they came in front of them, the people drawing back in every direction on their approach.

After they had surrounded them in such a manner as to prevent all escape, the officer who commanded the detachment went up to Mr Hunt, and said, brandishing his sword, “Sir, I have a warrant against you, and arrest you as my prisoner.” Hunt, after exhorting the people to tranquillity in a few words, turned round to the officer, and said “I willingly surrender myself to any civil officer who will shew me his warrant.”… Mr Nadin, the chief police officer at Manchester, then came forward, and said, “I will arrest you: I have got information upon oath against you,” or something to that effect. The military officer then proceeded to say, that he had a warrant against Johnson. Johnson also asked for a civil officer, upon which a Mr Andrew came forward, and Hunt and Johnson then leaped from off the waggon, and surrendered themselves to the civil power. Search was then made for Moorhouse and Knight, against whom warrants had also been issued. In the hurry of this transaction, they had by some means or other contrived to make their escape.

As soon as Hunt and Johnson had jumped from the waggon, a cry was made by the cavalry, “have at their flags”. In consequence, they immediately dashed, not only at the flags which were in the waggon, but those which were posted among the crowd, cutting most indiscriminately to the right and to the left in order to get at them. This set the people running in all directions, and it was not till this act had been committed that any brickbats were hurled at the military. From that moment the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry lost all command of temper.’

This is George Cruikshank’s caricature of the Massacre.



Estimates of casualties vary. A subsequent committee of sympathetic radicals established in 1820 listed 11 dead and some 420 wounded. Others put these figures as high as 18 and 700 respectively.


Following the Massacre

Wroe subsequently published a much fuller  account of events and their aftermath in a series of pamphlets. They cover subsequent inquests and court proceedings, concluding with an alphabetical list of those ‘killed, wounded and maimed’. Wroe is believed to have coined the name ‘Peterloo Massacre’.

During the ensuing proceedings, John Dracup again provided surety, this time of £100 for Robert Jones, a Manchester rag dealer aged about 25 and one of ten named in an indictment alleging that:

‘…being persons of a wicked and turbulent disposition, did on the 1st day of July combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together to excite tumult and disturbance; did on the 16th day of August last, unlawfully, maliciously, and seditiously assemble together, and cause others to assemble, to the number of 60,000, in a formidable and menacing manner, with sticks, clubs and other offensive weapons, with banners, flags, colours, and placards, having diverse seditious and inflammatory inscriptions, and in martial array; and did on the said 1th of August make great tumult, riot, and disturbance, and for half an hour unlawfully, riotously and routously [sic], continue assembled, making great tumult, noise, and disturbance.’

On this occasion John is described as a linen draper of George-lee [sic] Street. This is presumably George Leigh Street, which lies slightly to the north of Jersey Street in Ancoats.

The police were instructed to stop publication of the Manchester Observer. On 16 September 1819, the Times reported that James Wroe’s nine year old brother David and a 15 year-old apprentice had been arrested.

John Dracup and one Thomas Chapman ‘waited on the magistrates to inquire into the nature of the charge against the prisoners, and to tender bail’.

At this point Wroe’s wife was also arrested for selling copies of the Observer. Dracup and Chapman undertook the sureties.

In October John also provided bail for a woman who had been imprisoned, accused of incitement to riot in the evening following the Massacre.

At James Wroe’s trial on 25 October, according to the Morning Chronicle, John states:

‘I am bail in other cases, to the amount of about £200. I attended here last Sessions, and refused then to swear that I was worth £400, after payment of all my debts, not being then prepared. I will now swear that I am worth £500 after payment of all my debts. I do not owe £40. My property consists of stock in trade, and money out at interest.’

In its edition of 24 September 1819, another newspaper, The Irishman, reports a London meeting addressed by Henry Hunt:

‘Mr Hunt next read a letter…which letter detailed the unreasonable oppression which had been practised on the wife and son of Mr Wroe, who had been arrested on account of the bills which had been found against Wroe, the husband of one and the father of the other – an act which was stated to be unparalleled for its atrocity and severity, even in the reign of Charles I; and after adding that they had been immediately bailed by the public spirit of Messrs Chapman and Dracup, Mr Hunt concluded his speech by returning them thanks for the honour which they had that day conferred upon him.’

In 1844, following Wroe’s death, his widow was in dire straits and John was one member of the committee formed to collect subscriptions on her behalf.

This is Richard Carlile’s coloured engraving marking the Peterloo Massacre.



What became of John’s surviving sons?

Comparatively little is known of John’s eldest son Robert Dracup, though it is clear that he was destined for a religious career rather than the family business.

The 1841 census records him living in the Exeter household of a dissenting minister called George Payne. The entry describes the house as ‘Dr Payne’s College’ and Robert, aged 28, is one of eight students, slightly older than his peers.

Robert died the following year in Bury, Lancashire. We do not know why he was there. The Manchester Times gives the date of death as 27 July, so he did not quite reach his thirtieth birthday.

The Western Times also reported Robert’s death, describing him as ‘a student of the Western Academy Exeter’, so explaining the nature of the institution he attended.

The Western Academy was a small theological college for Congregationalist and Independent Ministers, established in 1829. From 1832 it was located in Marlfield (aka Maryfield) House, Pennsylvania Close, with Payne as theological tutor.

This picture shows the Academy as it was in 1838. It was later destroyed by WW2 bombing.



The 1841 census shows that John’s other surviving son, William, is living with his parents and sisters in Chapel Street and is employed as his father’s assistant.

William married Elizabeth Askew (1821-93) on 13 August 1844 at the age of 29. Elizabeth, a native of Salford, was therefore six years his junior. At the time of her birth, her father Robert Askew is described as a calico manufacturer, so he was probably professionally acquainted with John.

But within only eighteen months of his marriage William also died, succumbing to a ‘disease of [the] brain’ at the age of 31. He was buried on February 24 1846 in the Wesleyan Cemetery at Cheetham Hill.

Soon afterwards John retired from professional and public life. One can imagine that he was badly shaken by the premature loss of his two remaining sons.


The chronology of John’s business 

The evidence cited above suggests that John switched from grocery to drapery shortly before 1820 and, very shortly after this, transferred his business interests from Manchester to Salford.

Notices placed in the newspapers in 1822 reveal that John’s linen drapery business was originally a partnership with one John McKinzie, and called after the latter, suggesting that John was the junior partner. Their partnership was dissolved on 4 October 1822.

The first reference to a shop located in Chapel Street dates from 1825, exactly when construction of the Town Hall was begun. It seems likely that the family lived over the shop. A contemporary entry in the ‘History, Directory and Gazetteer of the County Palatine of Lancaster’ records:

‘Dracup, J, linen draper & hosier, 131 Chapel Street S.’

At some point John entered a second partnership with one James Kelly. That was dissolved at the end of December 1827, although Pigot’s Directory (1828) continues to refer to:

‘Dracup & Kelly, 133 Chapel Street, opposite new market house, Salford.’

A lengthy advertisement appeared in The Manchester Times of 29 August 1829, giving the address as 132 Chapel Street. It includes a list of the items for sale:

‘Muslins, Nets, Laces, Handkerchiefs, Shawls, Dresses, worked Footings and Edgings; Gloves and Hosiery in all their branches; Stuffs in great variety; Merino ditto of the best quality; Scotch and Yorkshire Tartans; Prints of the best colours and newest patterns; Persians, Lutestrings, and Sateens; superior Ginghams, Calico shirtings, Irish Linens, Dowlas and Union ditto; French Cambrics; Scotch ditto; Long Lawns, Diapers, Hollands, Family Sheetings, Flannels, Blankets, Quilts, Ticks, Table Linens, India Nankeens, striped ditto, Jeans, Dimities, Umbrellas, Sewing cottons, Silks, SMALLWARES, &c.

Black bombazines and Crapes, of the most approved makes and finish, and all other Articles of Family Mourning.

Woollen, Worsted, Angola, Mohair, Cotton, and Silk HOSIERY.

Kid, Beaver, Silk, Cambric, Nankeen, Cotton, and Woollen GLOVES.

Children’s SOCKS of various kinds, &c., &c., &c.’

It concludes:

‘J DRACUP having laid two Shops together, has one of the DWELLING-HOUSES attached thereto TO LET.  It is remarkably dry, airy and pleasant; Rent moderate; and having an entrance from the front, is a very advantageous situation for a respectable Milliner, or others requiring publicity of situation.’

In 1834 the Guardian carried an account of how two women were caught ‘uttering base coin’, or using counterfeit money, initially in Mrs Bell’s shop ‘opposite the town hall’ and then in Dracup’s shop next door.

Advertisements in the early 1840s give the shop’s address variously as 133 and 135 Chapel Street, suggesting either that it has moved or has expanded into the neighbouring premises.

Shortly after son William’s marriage, John handed over the business to him. An advertisement placed in the Manchester Guardian of 9 October 1844 reads:

‘John Dracup, on retiring from the linen drapery business, which he has conducted in Salford for upwards of twenty years, begs his friends to accept his sincere thanks for the kind and liberal support bestowed upon him during that period, and respectfully solicits a continuance thereof on behalf of his son, who succeeds him, confident that the experience he has acquired, with other advantages which he possesses, will enable him successfully to compete for their favours.

W. Dracup begs to assure the public, that he shall be as unremitting in his efforts to render this establishment worthy their confidence, as during the years he conducted it on his father’s account….’

For a couple of years the shop is described as being William’s but, shortly after his premature death, an advertisement was placed in the Manchester Courier of 7 March 1846:

‘In consequence of declining health, and the sudden death of his last surviving son, the advertiser is under the necessity of DISPOSING of his STOCK IN TRADE. The purchaser may enter upon the premises, which are within ten minutes’ walk of the Manchester Exchange, and on which a respectable connection has been forming during 23 years, with increasing advantage. This would be a very desirable opening for a person of talent and spirit, the stock being in prime order, and composed almost entirely of plain goods. Apply to Jno. Dracup, Chapel-street. Opposite the Town Hall, Salford.’

The purchaser, a Mr O H Williams, auctioned the stock and fixtures a year later, prior to alterations and restocking.

John’s early civic service 

John’s first recorded intervention in public life was in August 1824, when he was aged 36. At a public meeting, convened in the Dog Tavern, it was agreed:

‘That a Company be formed, for the purpose of supplying Houses, Shops, &c., with compressed Oil or other Gas, to be called ‘THE MANCHESTER PORTABLE GAS COMPANY’’

John was one of 16 men appointed to a committee to establish the company.

The following year, at the second general meeting of the linen and woollen drapers, mercers, hosiers and haberdashers of Manchester and Salford, he was appointed to a committee charged with enforcing a commitment to:

‘…close our respective shops at EIGHT o’clock on each night of the week, Saturday excepted, when every individual shall be at liberty, according to the nature of his trade, to regulate his own time. The only exception to this rule to be, in such instance where articles of Mourning (expressly wanted under such circumstances) are required, when any shopkeeper may, for the time being, open his door to the admission of such an order or customer.’

Later in 1825, he was one of the stewards appointed to sell tickets for a dinner marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Manchester Philanthropic Society, which later evolved into an early trades union. He continued to play a prominent role in the Society, named regularly as a member of its organising committee and as an auditor.

In 1829 he was appointed to a committee drafting a bill to revise the Salford police act and establishing a Police Commission. In 1830 he was identified as one of the burgesses responsible for implementing in ‘the Islington district’, a new act ‘for better cleansing, lighting, watching, regulating, and improving the town of Salford’.

Also in 1830 he was appointed a member of the Political Council of the Manchester Political Union, dedicated to the pursuit of universal male suffrage, the abolition of the corn laws and the complete abolition of slavery.

In 1834 John is one of several men on a provisional committee organised to convene public meetings to discuss dissenters’ grievances. At meetings in March of that year they set out these grievances, including:

‘..that, owing entirely to the operation of the present ecclesiastical system, there is no general Register of Births, Dissenters are prevented from legally contracting marriage, and from interring their dead in parish burial grounds, unless they conform to rites of which they conscientiously disapprove; and by the imposition of religious tests, they are excluded from the English Universities.’


John as civic dignitary 

Newspaper reports from 1832 confirm John’s first significant civic appointment, as Chairman of the Salford Police Commissioners’ committee responsible for regulating scavenging, sewers, paving, lighting, hackney coaches and nuisances.

His first annual report justifies expenditure some £170 in excess of estimates:

‘This excess they attribute to the presence of cholera in the borough, and the necessity which thence arose of paying increased attention to the cleansing of the streets, &c., and of from time to time removing accumulated masses of offensive matter, stagnant water, &c., which hitherto had been considered unworthy their attention.’

The UK’s first major cholera outbreak took place in 1831-32 when some 20,000 died. In Manchester alone, approximately 1,300 residents contracted the disease, half of whom died.

Over the next few years John gradually assumed a more prominent role on the Police Commission. He helped to audit the annual accounts. In 1840 he chaired a meeting to elect five new police commissioners for the ‘Islington district’ of Salford. In 1841 he was appointed to the Finance Committee and the Town Hall and Market Committee.

At a meeting called in 1843 to find a new borough reeve – the official that acted as chair of the Commission – John was nominated:

‘Mr THOMAS GALLEY begged to propose Mr John Dracup of Chapel-street, as a fit and proper person for boroughreeve…He was an inhabitant of the town of at least 20 years’ standing, was largely assessed; and his experience, as every one knew, rendered him quite equal to the duties of such an office as that of boroughreeve. He was in the habit of coming in contact with all classes, from the highest to the lowest, in Salford; he had been a commissioner of police for many years; and he had one quality which he (Mr Galley) admired above all others, that of using his influence to reconcile all differences existing in the town and especially amongst the commissioners.’

The jury responsible for electing the borough reeve deliberated for an hour but eventually selected another candidate.

In February 1842, he played a prominent role at a borough meeting to discuss the repeal of the corn laws:

‘Mr JOHN DRACUP moved as the second resolution:

“That this meeting, having lost all confidence in the house of commons as at present constituted, and claiming a guarantee for good government for the future, and feeling convinced that no effectual remedy will be applied till the power be lodged in the people, do respectfully but firmly demand that the franchise be forthwith extended to every man who is 21 years of age, of sound mind, and unstained by crime, together with the privilege of voting by ballot and annual elections, electoral districts, the payment of members, and no property qualification.”

MR DRACUP said that he had agitated for universal suffrage before Mr Rankin was born. – MR RANKIN, in seconding the motion, congratulated the meeting that one of the oldest radicals in Salford now came forward to move a resolution adopting all the six points of the people’s charter. – (“Hear” and applause.)’

In 1844 Salford was granted borough status and, on 12 July, the election of councillors took place, with seats available in four different wards. Twenty-four councillors were elected to the first Salford Borough Council, amongst them John Dracup, representing Blackfriars Ward.

Shortly afterwards arrangements were agreed for the transfer of powers from the Police Commission to the Council, establishing committees of the latter to mirror those of the former.

John was first appointed to the Lamp, Scavenging and Hackney Coach Committee. In November 1844 he also became a member of the Watch Committee and the Nuisance Committee.

Unlike several of his colleagues, John seems to have attended frequently and punctually, having given up his drapery business to William. In April 1845, one newspaper report of the Council meeting concludes:

‘MR DRACUP proposed that in future all member of the council who were five minutes late in their attendance should be fined 2s. 6d. – (Laughter.) – A variety of opinions were expressed as to the desirableness of of such a regulation; but, ultimately, it was resolved that the fine should take effect only on those who were not present quarter of an hour after the time.’

But John’s time on the Borough Council was short-lived. A report from The Manchester Times of 3 July 1846 covers a Council meeting at which:

‘The Mayor read a letter from Mr Dracup, stating that ill health would compel him to retire from the borough, and calling upon the Council to fill up the vacancy which would be the consequence. He (the Mayor) was sure the Council would sympathise with Mr Dracup under the circumstances. (Hear, hear.)’

Other reports mention his plan to move from the borough. This did not materialise, since the 1851 census finds him living with his family at Arlington Place in Broughton, Salford.


What became of John’s surviving daughters?

John died on 30 March 1858 at the age of 70 in his home at Arlington Place. He was buried in the Cheetham Hill Wesleyan Cemetery on 3 April. No cause of death is given.

There is a probate entry dated 19 May:

‘The will of John Dracup, late of 1 Arlington-place Broughton-lane Lower Broughton near Manchester in the County of Lancaster Gentleman deceased who died 30 March 1858 at Arlington-place aforesaid was proved at Manchester by the oath of Frances Dracup of 1 Arlington-place aforesaid Spinster the Daughter and one of the Executrixes – Effects under £3,000.’

Catherine died in 1862 at the age of 77. Subsequently the trustees of John’s estate placed up for sale three freehold properties – numbers 43, 45 and 47 Broughton Lane – with an annual rental value of £96.


Elizabeth, William’s widow

Almost immediately following her husband’s death, William’s widow Elizabeth embarked on a teaching career, initially in partnership with sister-in-law Frances.

An advertisement in the Manchester Guardian of 3 July 1847 says:

‘Aldred Place, New Windsor, Manchester: Mrs and Miss Dracup receive a limited number of young ladies to board and educate. The health, intellectual progress and spiritual welfare of the pupils are the objects of unremitting attention. Prospectuses may be had, and references will be given, at the establishment, on application.’

In 1848 John placed an advertisement, relating to Aldred Place. He wished to borrow a sum of £1,000 or £1,200 ‘on the security of a newly-erected freehold building which has cost upwards of £5,000’.

This might suggest that John had invested heavily in this property, anticipating continued income from the family drapery business, but is now having to make economies.

The venture was short-lived since the 1851 census finds Frances back at home with no specified employment.

But meanwhile Elizabeth has a school at 43 Bankside, Broughton, Salford. She is living alongside her mother, her sisters Mary Ann and Emily and six pupils. The two elder sisters are described as governesses, the younger is a teacher of music and drawing.

In January 1861 the Manchester Guardian advertises the transfer of Elizabeth’s school from Cliff House, Higher Broughton to ‘Seawood House, near Grange, Lancashire’.

The 1861 census duly shows Elizabeth running her own establishment at Seawood House, which is located in Lower Allithwaite, Cumbria, some 60 miles north-east of Salford.

We know that Elizabeth followed in the radical footsteps of her father-in-law since hers is amongst the 1521 names on the 1866 women’s suffrage petition to Parliament which marks the beginning of serious campaigning to this end.



She continued to advertise her School in the Manchester Guardian until 1876 but, in 1877, she remarried. Her second husband was Thomas Firth, a retired worsted spinner. They were relatively wealthy: the 1881 census records three domestic servants, including a cook.

Elizabeth died in 1893.



Frances  was living with her mother in 1861, together with a servant and a ‘ladies’ companion’, at 1 Arlington Place. Catherine, John’s wife, is described as a ‘landed proprietor’.

I cannot find Frances in the 1871 census, but by 1881 she is employed as matron and housekeeper at a theological college in Rotherham training ministers for Congregational churches, similar to the establishment that Robert had attended.

This one was short-lived, amalgamating with a similar College located at Bradford in 1888. The building is now part of Thomas Rotherham Sixth Form College.

By 1891 Frances had returned to Broughton, Salford, and is living as a boarder of independent means in the house of Robert Acheson, a woollen merchant. By 1901 she had moved to the house of Agnes Ogden, a widow.

She died on 17 July 1907, at the age of 88, leaving just £85 in her will.



Only three months after William’s death Hannah married Henry Lee (1817-1904), the first marriage celebrated in the Richmond Independent Chapel in Salford.

Henry had been born in Chorley, Lancashire. His father, a surveyor, had died owing the town £130, which his sons paid off shortly before this marriage.

After a period working for his father, Henry was apprenticed to a Preston manufacturer, moving on to work for Robert Gardner, a textile merchant.

In 1842 a partnership between Henry Lee, Henry Broadhurst and Edward Tootal evolved out of Gardner’s original company.

Tootal retired in 1856 and, by the 1860s, Henry Lee and his brother Joseph were in partnership with Broadhurst and a Robert Scott.

This company, called Tootal Broadhurst Lee, developed the Newton Heath Mill in Manchester and the substantial Sunnybank cotton spinning and weaving mills in Daubhill, Bolton. Henry Lee Street still marks one of the entrances.

Initially involved in hand loom manufacture, centred in Blackburn, the company changed policy, investing heavily in steam-powered looms and the production of ‘fancy cloths’. Lee became extremely wealthy.

The 1851 census records the family living at 58 Arlington Terrace, Broughton. John Dracup, now retired, is close by. Henry is described as a cotton manufacturer. Already there are three children: Helen (1847-1936), William Dracup (1848-69) and Edith (b.1850).

By 1861 the family has moved to Sewell House in Lower Broughton Road. Helen is no longer living at home (perhaps she is at school), but there are four further sons – Harold (b.1852), Arthur Henry (1853-1932, Walter (b.1855) and Lennox (1856-1929) – plus two further daughters: Florence (1858-1931) and Rosalie Kelsall (b.1859). There is also a governess, a cook and two nurses.

By 1871 the family has moved to Sedgley Park in Prestwich. Henry is now described as a ‘magistrate, spinner and manufacturer. Four children remain at home, serviced by a housekeeper, a governess, a cook, three maids (one a ladies maid for Hannah), a farm bailiff and a combined groom and coachman.

In 1874 Lee was a Liberal candidate to become one of Salford’s two MPs, but was unsuccessful, as both seats returned Conservative politicians.

In 1877 a marble bust of Hannah was completed by Florentine sculptor Odoardo Fantacchiotti, no doubt commissioned by her husband.

It now resides in Berrington Hall, Herefordshire, having been bequeathed by her granddaughter Lady Vivienne Cawley, formerly Vivienne Lee (1878), daughter of Hannah’s second son, Harold.

The bust reportedly fell into the harbour at Marseilles, presumably during transportation from Italy to England.

In 1880 Henry was successfully returned as the Liberal candidate for Southampton, holding that seat until his defeat in the 1885 election. In 1886 he again stood unsuccessfully, this time for Manchester North West.

The 1881 census shows that the family remained in Prestwich but their address is now given as New Hall. Henry is described as ‘MP, county magistrate, cotton spinner manufacturer employing 2,600 persons’. There are five children living at home, including Walter, now a solicitor, plus a cook and five maids.

In 1891 the address is the same. Henry is described as a ‘merchant and manufacturer. He lives with Hannah (aged 74), Lennox (aged 35) a cotton spinner, his wife, Betsy Lee,  their son and two daughters, a housekeeper, a cook and eight further servants.

Hannah died in January 1894 at the age of 78. Henry survived until 1904, dying at the age of 87.




2 thoughts on “The life and times of John Dracup, Salford radical

  1. I am researching Emily Askew, who, at Xmas 1861, was presented with a copy of the first British publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete poems (pub 1852) by ‘Frances’. There is, unfortunately a fly in the ointment, which may mean that I have the wrong lass. The dedication is to ‘Emily M Askew’ and I cannot find, anywhere, on the censuses, any references to ‘your’ Emily having a middle name. Regrettably, a good friend who has been able to find the baptisms, in the Independent Chapel, Salford, of Elizabeth Askew and several of her sisters, cannot find that of Emily, which would have taken place in c.1830. It is possible that the volume of records for that year has been lost. I had been hoping that this might give any other names she might have been given at birth.

    The school at Bankside in 1851 (the number 43, incidentally, is not the house number, but the schedule number of the census innumerator) where Emily taught music and drawing, appears, perhaps, to have been a ‘special’ school of some sort, since all but two of the pupils were listed as ‘blind, or deaf and dumb’. Extraordinarily, so are a number of others living in the street. The second listed in the 1861 census, seems to have catered for ‘able bodied’ children. One came all the way from Heidelberg, in what was then the Grand Duchy of Baden.

    I had assumed that the Xmas gift might have been given to Emily by one of her pupils, Frances M. A. Irwin, of Liverpool, but I now find, from your website, that she had a sister in law of that name, which seems more likely.

    I realise that all of this is mere speculation, since I cannot, immediately, prove that these two Emily Askews are one and the same, but there are certainly some interesting bits of circumstantial evidence.

    I am wondering, therefore, if, perhaps, you have any further details about ‘your’ Emily Askew, please?

    I can tell you that she married, in 1877 probably at Ormskirk, one Joseph Ward. She was 47 and he was 70. They do not appear to have produced any offspring -unsurprisingly, perhaps?

    Anyway, I hope this may be of interest and if you can throw any light, I would be very interested to hear from you.

    All the best



    1. Hi Duncan

      How intriguing!

      To be honest, I hadn’t even included other members of the Askew family in my family tree, so I haven’t looked into Emily’s life at all.

      I can see that there are other potential candidates for the Emily M Askew in question, including at least one with a sister called Frances. Unless you have some evidence you haven’t mentioned that would tie the receiver of the present to the geographical area where ‘my’ Emily was residing?

      I apologise for assuming the census enumerator’s number was the house number of the Bankside School – that’s a real schoolboy error.

      I’m sceptical, though, that all those children and neighbours were blind or deaf and dumb, I had a quick look at later census records for their neighbour, Richard Hilditch, the barrister, and he’s not declared blind or deaf and dumb in those. I wonder whether those people were being ‘checked off’ for some other purpose?

      Good luck with establishing the true Emily.

      Best wishes



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