James Reed and Eliza Gibbons
  Liverpool, England
  1848-1900

Left: Modern monument in downtown Liverpool remembers the thousands who died in the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852

For reasons not yet known, James Reed died within a few years of arriving in England, possibly before his 50th birthday. It must have been a struggle for his widow, Eliza, but she made ends meet as a dressmaker and by taking in lodgers. By 1861, income was coming in from Eliza’s children, although exactly how many is unclear. Matilda, the eldest daughter, described herself as a “dealer” on the 1861 census, but after that she disappears from the historical record. Similarly, there is no sign of son, Thomas, or daughter, Margaret, and it’s possible they may have died. William had married Ellen Bourke, an Irish girl whose family may have been known to the Reeds in the old country. William and Ellen’s little son was already a year old when they married, but all of them fit into the Ford Street house. Possibly Eliza watched the child while his mother worked as a general servant. Son David married a few months after William,and moved nearby with his new wife, Mary Barton. In mother Eliza’s home, the remaining children contributed. Even 15-year-old son John worked as a carter. The addition of lodgers must have made the house cramped. The fact that one of the lodgers was a sailor may have eased the pressure a little, but his wife and daughter must still have needed a room of their own.


Daughter Sidney was only about eight years old when the family arrived from Ireland. It is her story and those of her descendants that part of this website particularly follows. In 1870, then in her late 20s, she married Edward Berry. They form the first Berry family in our records about whom anything significant is known. Though they had only two sons who survived to adulthood (one died age 30), their remaining son gave rise to an extensive posterity of Berry families. Most remain in the Liverpool area today, while other descendants are found as far away as Australia and the United States.

Above: Number 2 Court, Ford Street. This was identical to the block in which the Reed family lived at Number 35 Court Ford Street in the mid-1800s. In the architecture of the courts, “homes” were enclosed on three sides.

Below: Changing faces of Ford Street as housing gave way to light industry, in 1967, and the same spot in 2009.

Eliza, the matriarch of the family, lived into her 80s. On the 1881 census she has a 17-year-old granddaughter living with her, and is earning money by using her mangle to wring the water out of clothes for people. Ten years later, she was a boarder in another court-style home, living with an unrelated brother and sister. Even at that age, she earned money as a basket hawker.  All her life, after she arrived in England, Eliza lived in the same neighborhood.


Below:

Map of the Vauxhall Road area of Liverpool at the end of the 1800s. Ford Street runs along the bottom of the picture. From these streets, men had only a few minutes walk to the gas works, the wharves along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, the tannery, a timber yard, rice and flour mills and a sugar refinery.

Typical mangle with which women squeezed the water out of clothes. Some, like Eliza Reed, made a living out of it.

For details of the family tree of James Reed and Eliza Gibbons, click on the WorldConnect icon below. This will open a window for these individuals in the Otterson-Berry family tree at RootsWeb.com.

The Reeds were just one more family among tens of thousands who were finding refuge in the great English port city - but they came to a different world.


The port was in its commercial heyday. Even the abolition of the slave trade half a century earlier had not significantly impeded Liverpool’s growth. But if life after 1850 changed for the Reeds, the impact of this infusion of thousands of Irish Catholics on Liverpool itself was far more profound. The immigrants would literally and permanently remake the city, settling first along the extensive dockyards and inner city and ultimately transforming the port’s social fabric, its politics, its religious identity and, eventually, even giving Liverpool its distinctive local accent.


Conditions in the port city were squalid, even appalling for many poor families. The Reed family found a home in one of the courtyard enclosures of Ford Street, one of many grim blocks of residences along the main arterial roads that skirted the northern dockyards. Their neighbors were mostly Irish immigrants like themselves - Gallaghers, Malleys, Noons, Boyles and Dunlaveys. Many of the men worked as laborers, but there was also the occasional pedlar, along with factory workers and a few professions such as tailors.

James and Eliza Reed and their eight children were just one more family among tens of thousands of Irish who were finding refuge in the great English port city in the mid-1800s - but they came to a different world.


Compared with the rural life they had known, it must have been disorientating and intimidating. The port was in its commercial heyday. Even the abolition of the slave trade half a century earlier had not significantly impeded Liverpool’s growth. And if life after 1850 changed for the Reeds, the impact of this infusion of thousands of Irish on Liverpool itself was even more profound. The flood of Irish immigrants would literally and permanently remake the city. Settling first around the extensive dock-related industries and inner city, ultimately they transformed the port’s social fabric, its politics, its religious identity and eventually even gave Liverpool its distinctive local accent.


Conditions in parts of the port city were squalid, even appalling for many poor families. The Reed family found a home in a courtyard enclosure on Ford Street, one of many grim blocks of residences along the main arterial roads that skirted the northern dockyards and industry, flanked by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Their neighbors were mostly Irish immigrants like themselves - Gallaghers, Malleys, Noons, Boyles and Dunlaveys. Many of the men worked as laborers, but there was also the occasional pedlar, along with factory workers and a few professions such as tailors. There was far more opportunity for work than there had been in Ireland, but crowded conditions grew steadily worse over the years, and poverty and disease took their toll. Contemporary writers wrote scathing reports of the conditions in the late 1800s.