Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Poor Predecessors

During the Great Irish Potato Famine, my mother's paternal family moved from Co. Sligo, Ireland to the Sandgate area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to start a new life.

Their new home was Wall Knoll, on Newcastle's Quayside and close to where the famous Millennium Bridge now sits. Today, Newcastle's Quayside is filled with night clubs, bars and fancy restaurants - but over 160 years ago, it was a very different story. 

In 1849, my 4x Great Grandmother, Mary Queenan died of cholera. A month previous, Mary's son-in-law, John Costelloe died. Only two years before John's only child, Maria died aged only nine months. Sadly only a year after Mary Queenan's death, one of her daughters Mary Fleming also died. Mary Fleming had only given birth to a daughter a few weeks previous. As cholera is a waterborne disease, the Queenans could easily have been drinking water directly from the river Tyne. If this truly was the case, that only shows the amount of desperation felt by the family. Even today the river Tyne is filthy. I can't imagine how it would've been all those years ago.

Mary Queenan's burial on 6th September 1849
 at All Saints, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Mary's burial sadly appears on the same page as her son-in-law,
John Costello
From contemporary articles written about the Sandgate area at the time the Queenans lived there, it sounds a truly awful place to live. After reading, you can easily believe why three members of one family died within such a short time.  

One particular extract from the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury is below, from a man who surveyed the living conditions on the Quayside;

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He had frequently seen, especially among the Irish population, two or three families, and one or two lodgers, in a room nine feet square, men, women, and children being huddled together in one living mass.
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The Queenans did not stay in Wall Knoll for very long after. By the mid-1850s they had moved to the village of Murton near North Shields and worked as drainers in the pits there. Soon after, more of the family moved into the area and also worked down the pits. 

From then on, the Queenan name changed considerably. The surname soon became Quinnan and from there, Quinnin. Another branch of the family took the name McQueen, and moved to Sunderland where they became tenants of public houses.