Living in Wolverhampton, 1862-1867

In September 1862 George Macdonald and his family moved to what turned out to be his final ministry in Wolverhampton. With Georgiana married and Harry sailing for New York in 1858 after failing his Oxford degree, Alice (in her mid-20s), Agnes (late-teens), Louisa (late-teens) and Edith (mid-teens) made the 120 mile journey from the capital to south Staffordshire. They lived in a large terraced house built around 1850 along Waterloo Road, an affluent street laid-out in 1840 on the western edge of the town. From the back of their house there would have been views across the Racecourse (now West Park) to open countryside.

Although a growing industrial town, Wolverhampton in the 1860s still maintained the look of the large market town it had been in previous centuries. There were many timber-framed buildings, typical of the vernacular style found across the western  Midlands, as well as fine Georgian houses, of which Molineux and Giffard Houses are notable survivors.

Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton in 1870.

The photograph shows Lichfield Street as the Macdonalds would have known it.

All of these Mediaeval and Georgian buildings were swept away in the 1880s when the street was widened and reconstructed.

View of Wolverhampton from the Racecourse, c. mid 1860s.

This photograph was taken when the Macdonalds were living in Wolverhampton. Waterloo Road runs across the middle of the photograph. The back of the Macdonalds first home is on the right with a clearly projecting 3-storey side wing on the corner of Clarence Street (star above). Their later home (arrow above) is on the far left of the pale-coloured terrace in the middle of the photograph, although it is mostly obscured by the large gabled building, the new Baptist Church constructed 1863-4. Although not easy to see, the latter doesn't look complete, which helps to date the photograph.
Most of this view would be recognisable to them, including the Subscription Library on the left. Their first house is just off the photograph to the left; their later home is at the far end of the terrace to be seen mid-way along on the right, opposite the new Baptist Church with its distinctive tower.

A few hundred yards even further along was the end of the large garden of Molineux House (still extant) which is now occupied by Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, founded a decade after the Macdonalds left the town.

Waterloo Road almost 40 years after the Macdonalds left.

Map of Wolverhampton in 1871.

The map shows the narrow streets, some of which were about to be widened, and the newly built Town Hall. The Minister's house in Waterloo Road was yards from the Methodist church in Darlington Street. The present magnificent church with its prominent dome was consecrated in 1901, replacing the building from 1825 where the Macdonalds worshipped. The school built in 1857 behind the church is still extant.

The Minister's home (on the far left of the terrace) at 3, Waterloo Road.

The Macdonalds lived there from September 1862 until late 1863.

The blue plaque commemorating the sisters was erected by Wolverhampton Civic Society, sponsored by the estate agents then using the ground floor.

Darlington Street Methodist Church (built 1825).

The tower of the school buildings (still standing) is seen behind the church.

The interior of Darlington Street Methodist Church in the 19th century.

This shows the pulpit where George Macdonald would have preached.

At the same time as his family moved to Wolverhampton, Fred, now 20, followed the family tradition by becoming a Methodist preacher in Burslem, one of the north Staffordshire Potteries towns.

    Rev'd Fred Macdonald, c.1862, aged
    about 20.

Harry Macdonald, c.1860, aged about 25.

No doubt missing her friends, Alice was soon back in London, staying with the Burne-Jones’s between October 1862 and February 1863. After a short time in Wolverhampton, from April 1863 she visited her brother Fred in Burlsem for a month. Alice, Fred and some of his friends, including John Lockwood Kipling, ate a picnic at a local beauty spot, Rudyard Lake near Leek. Alice is supposed to have first seen her future husband, Kipling, while eating a spring onion!

J. L. Kipling was born in Pickering, Yorkshire, the son of a Methodist minister. He was working as a designer and modeller at Pinder, Bourne and Co, a pottery firm in Burslem. Later, he was later apprenticed to J. Birnie Philip, a London sculptor, and then split his time between the capital and Burslem. From May 1863 he was visiting Wolverhampton to see Alice.

Although already unwell when he arrived in Wolverhampton, George Macdonald had increasing bouts of ill health (he had suffered from severe back pain which made it difficult for him to walk or sleep) and by the autumn of 1863 he was so ill that it was decided he could not work again. To make way for the new minister, the family had to move to a smaller house across the street at 32, Waterloo Road.

A short distance from the Minister’s home, the house on the far left of the terrace in the photograph opposite, is where the Macdonalds lived from Autumn 1863 until 1867. Alice left to get married in March 1865, followed by Agnes and Louisa in August 1866.

George’s illness must have proved a difficult time for the family, particularly from a financial point of view. At least they had the support of the new friends they had made locally.

Mrs Macdonald wrote: “I am pleased with the people here both in the higher and middle classes” after a day with the Hartley family at Tong Castle, Shropshire, just 13 miles to the north-west. Henry Hartley was a Methodist, an iron master and Mayor of Wolverhampton.

32, Waterloo Road. The Macdonalds moved here after living at 3, Waterloo Road from September 1862 until late 1863.

Tong Castle, Shropshire. Demolished 1954.

Mrs Macdonald's diary entries refer to many dinners, teas and outings, especially for Agnes and Louisa. Louisa later wrote: "At that time our home life was completely overshadowed by the long illnesses of our father, and almost all the sunshine that came to my sister and myself in those days we owed to the affectionate kindness of Mr and Mrs Fowler". Henry Hartley Fowler and his wife Ellen Thorneycroft were relatives of the Hartley's. They lived near the Macdonald's at Summerfield, Chapel Ash, opposite the Racecourse. Fowler (whose father was a Methodist minister) was a prominent local solicitor who later became a councillor, Mayor, MP, Secretary of State for India and the 1st Viscount Wolverhampton. His daughter Ellen (born 1860) became a famous novelist in the 1890s.

Louisa Macdonald aged 16. About a year before moving to Wolverhampton.
Agnes Macdonald in 1865, aged 22. Shortly before her engagement.
The Macdonald family was plagued by illness during 1863-4. In 1863 Louisa had contracted smallpox during a summer stay in London; Alice travelled south to look after her, taking her onto Ramsgate for a month to recover. In the Spring of 1864 the infant Philip Burne-Jones and his mother Georgiana went down with scarlet fever. This was catastrophic for Georgiana as she was pregnant at the time. Her son, Christopher, was born prematurely as a result of the illness and died after three weeks. This tragedy had further implications. Recuperating at Hastings, Georgiana did not want to return to the London house which held such painful memories. As Burne-Jones had not worked for 4 months and there were expensive doctors bills to pay, money was short, so plans to extend Red House for the Burne-Jones's to live adjacent to the Morris's were dropped. (Reluctantly, in 1865, Morris sold Red House and moved back into central London).

Over Christmas 1864, Georgiana and Philip stayed in Wolverhampton while Edward Burne-Jones was house-hunting in London. They returned to London in January 1865 after a three year lease on a house in Kensington Square was secured.

In the early 1860s the Macdonald sisters had enjoyed happy times at Red House, often visiting when they lived in London and continuing to visit when they lived in Wolverhampton. William Morris enjoyed their company and gave encouragement to their artistic efforts, being impressed by one of Louisa's wood engravings (she later enrolled at Wolverhampton School of Art). He was always keen to see Agnes as he commented that no-one else could tell such entertaining stories as her. Georgiana was to become one of his closest friends. On a visit during the Spring of 1864, Louisa, Agnes, Georgiana and Jane Morris were recorded in Burne-Jones's watercolour 'Green Summer', set in the garden of Red House.

Red House, Bexleyheath. William Morris's home from 1860-65. Now in the care of the National Trust.

Green Summer by Burne-Jones, 1864.

Jane Morris is in the centre holding peacock feathers, to her left is probably Agnes. Georgiana is shown reading, and to her right is most likely Louisa. Burne-Jones was inspired by the sisters rather than representing them accurately.
In January 1865 John Lockwood Kipling signed a three year contract as Architectural Sculptor and Professor of Modelling at the School of Art and Industry in Bombay, precipitating his wedding to Alice. Her father's illness meant that the wedding could not be held at home (Wolverhampton) and so Georgiana organised it in London for the 18th March 1865. The Kiplings made a short visit to Wolverhampton before embarking on SS Ripon for Egypt and India. On 31st December 1865 Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born to Alice. Louisa is said to have suggested his middle name to commemorate his parents first meeting at the lake of that name in north Staffordshire.

Within a matter of months there were three more Macdonald engagements. In March 1865, when Agnes was staying with the Burne-Jones's helping to arrange Alice's wedding, she first met her host's friend Edward Poynter.

Poynter had already exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy. He had studied in Rome and Paris where he became friends with Frederick Leighton, Whistler, Alexander (Alecco) Ionidies and George Du Maurier. Du Maurier was an artist and Punch cartoonist (from 1865) who married Emma Wightwick. He was the father of the actor Gerald and grandfather of the writer Daphne. Agnes and Poynter were soon engaged (April 1865), not long after brother Fred's betrothal to the daughter of a pottery manufacturer in Burslem.

Louisa was to follow a few months later by becoming engaged to Alfred Baldwin in October 1865. She had only met him the previous August during a holiday with the Baldwins in Stourport, Worcestershire. Mrs Macdonald was unhappy with Louisa's choice as she thought Baldwin was pompous and arrogant, but at least he was wealthy, unlike the other son-in-laws. Alfred Baldwin's grandfather (an iron founder) had moved to Stourport in 1788 after the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal had reached the Severn. Alfred's father died before he was born, so on his majority he inherited his father's share of the family business E. P. & W. Baldwin, which from 1854 was based at nearby Wilden where there was an iron and tin plate works. The business also included a tinplate works in Wolverhampton as well as the foundry in Stourport.

There were now three imminent weddings! Poynter and Baldwin made a number of visits to see their prospective brides and in-laws in Wolverhampton. The wedding originally arranged for Agnes and Poynter on the 9th August 1866 became a double ceremony with Louisa and Baldwin also marrying at the same time. The weddings took place in St. Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton, where, because of their father's poor health, the brides were given away by their brother Fred.

St. Peter's Collegiate Church in the late 19th century. A mainly 15th century church of Saxon foundation, the chancel (to the right) had been rebuilt in 1865.

After the ceremony, Fred rushed off to Burslem to get married the next day (presumably with few, if any, of his family present). Alice was still in India and the Burne-Jones's decided at the last minute they couldn't manage the trip to Wolverhampton. Georgiana had given birth to Margaret weeks before, yet had been able to get to Hampshire instead! Had there had been an estrangement between the siblings or had circumstances simply intervened?

After their honeymoon the Poynters settled at 106, Gower Street, London. Ambrose Poynter was born to Agnes on the 26th September 1867.

Although Louisa wanted to set-up home in Wolverhampton, unsurprisingly, the Baldwins went to live in Bewdley, close to Stourport and Alfred's business. Stanley Baldwin was born to Louisa on 3rd August 1867.

Edith Macdonald never married and like many youngest daughters at the time was probably expected to look after her parents.

In early 1867 Louisa finally persuaded George and Hannah Macdonald to leave Wolverhampton to be closer to her in Bewdley. They found a house a few doors along the High Street from their daughter. George Macdonald died in 1868, Hannah surviving him until 1875.

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