I have grown rather fond of the Macadams. I imagine William to be a jolly, cheerful man but nothing goes as well as he seems to plan. There are a few “probablys” in the first part of his story, but don’t despair!
William and his wife Helen Mclachlan were both born in Scotland, I think in Kirkcudbright, although I have had problems proving this. (Helen’s brother, Robert, gives Kirkcudbright as his birthplace in the 1861 census) They married in the ancient church of St Alkmund’s, Derby on Christmas Day 1822. There doesn’t seem much reason for this, hard not to wonder how they ended up here. Had a previous generation taken part in the Jacobite march to Derby? ( see Reverend Henry Cantrell of St Alkmund’s Derby) Much digging and even imagination has provided no answer to this bit.They got married at the old church, demolished in the 1840s. (Confusingly, most websites talk about the old church, actually the second one, being built in 1845 and demolished in the 1960s.) At the time of his marriage, William was a bookseller.
William and Helen appear next in Leicester, with the birth of their first child, Helen. She is christened in St Martin’s Church on November 23 1823. Then follows a girl almost exactly every two years, Margaret (1825), Mary (1827), Maria (1829), Jane (1830), Eliza (1833), Phoebe (1835) and their first boy, Frederick William (known as William) in 1836, followed by Thomas in 1838. The Mcadams are consistently upwardly mobile in their homes, moving regularly to larger houses, always new. In 1825, when Margaret is born they are living in a small brick building above a shop in King Street, by the time Frederick William is born they are in Belvoir Street, round the corner, still above a shop, but with three floors. With such a large and growing family they must have needed room. But each street they move to is new and no doubt a “good address” with added comforts. Sadly, Maria dies in 1835.
William senior appears not to be newsworthy during those years, he clearly has his hands fairly full, but, in May 1839 his name appears in the local paper, attached to a list of signatories requesting a public meeting. It is clear he is politically active, but by 1840, it is clear that he is a member of the Reform Society, which was especially important in the political development of Leicester ( you can read more about that here and here if you would like) The Leicester Mercury, in which the adverts appear, was run by the brother in law of leading Chartist John Biggs.
advert from the
Saturday 11 April 1840
During the period 1839- 1842, the Chartist demonstrations took place in Market Place, around the time William’s first business advertisement appears in the press. “the public, electors and non-electors alike, were aroused by a programme of lectures, public petitions, meetings, and open-air demonstrations, culminating in the great demonstration of June 1841, when 4,000 persons crowded into Market Place” Perhaps the discreet entrance through the Jitty (alley) was used in a more cloak and dagger way than just discreetly buying a bottle of bubbly! How he has gone from bookseller to umbrella maker and wine selling is a story, as yet, not uncovered.
His business to me seems an odd and interesting mixture. I can’t say that umbrellas and British wine are the most likely of mixes! The curious part of the figures is that you can have one bottle of champagne for 21/ and a dozen for 40/. I am not quite sure how that one works financially!
Umbrellas are such a common sight and normal idea to people of the 21st century that it is easy to forget that was not the case when William was running his business. Whilst the first mention of a non folding umbrella is in China in 21 AD, they only became on ready made sale in London during the 1780s. In 1838 they were mentioned in Charles Random de Berenger’s fashionable book “Protect Life and Property” as a suitable weapon for use against highwaymen!
In order to visualise the interior of the shop, a description of the shop in 1871 describes it having “two excellent front counters, glazed show case, ranges of shelving and several nests of drawers, window casing, chandeliers, standard and branch gas fittings and other gas fittings, excellent American fire grate, shop chairs, forms and benches, and trade utensils, four pairs of decanters, wine glasses and tumblers” Quite grand and perhaps sounding very much more like somewhere to drink wine than buy it. By 1857 he is calling himself a “wine merchant” (Leicestershire Mercury – Saturday 04 April 1857)
Business sounds prosperous and the children keep appearing. Agnes Maria, Annie Victoria, Robert Cullen and Edward Adam are born every other year until 1845. Twenty two years of childbirth and Helen 43 and William 49 when their last child is born. In 1840, when Agnes is born, they are living in new houses, not flats, in Knighton Street. William continues to be politically active throughout the 1840s, towards the end of the decade supporting Richard Cobden
In 1850, the first Mcadam girl gets married at St Martin’s church, when Helen marries Samuel Muggleton, a draper of Red Lion Square in Stamford. Margaret, Mary and Jane follow in close succession and grandchildren start appearing with scary regularity. In the census of 1851 they are living in newly built East Street, now a carpark!
Sadly, Eliza dies in 1854 and Margaret in 1857. Things have taken a turn for the worse.
In 1855 his bankruptcy is announced in the Leicester Journal. One would imagine this would be the end to it, but he seems to continue in business from the same address without problem. 9 Pocklington Walk was just a few streets away from Market Place and seems to be…..now a carpark! The houses would have been quite new in 1855.
In 1857 the lists of voters in the forthcoming election appears in Leicestershire Mercury, with William voting for John Biggs and John Dove Harris , who won the seat.
In Market Place, the other voters listed as a bonnet manufacturer, a provision dealer, a butcher, a hatter, two seedsmen, six printers, a bookseller, a stationer, a laceman, a flourseller, five grocers, a strawhat manufacturer, three ironmongers, a cheese factor, two victuallers, two shoemakers and FIFTEEN DRAPERS! (perhaps someone reading this can explain that to me?)
By the 1861 census only Agnes, listed as an umbrella maker and William, a hosier warehouseman are at home with their parents and they are living above the shop in Market Place, where he dies in 1862. He is buried, without a headstone, in Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester.
WILLIAM MCADAM (probably) KIRKCUDBRIGHT 1790- LEICESTER 1862
HELEN OR ELLEN MCADAM NEE MCLACHLAN KIRCUDBRIGHT 1802- LEICESTER 1870
HELEN OR ELLEN LEICESTER -GENOA, CAYUYA COUNTY, USA 1875 MARRIES SAMUEL MUGGLETON
MARGARET -LEICESTER 1825 -KINGS NORTON, WORCESTERSHIRE 1857 MARRIES STEPHEN BARBER
MARY -LEICESTER 1827- 1894 WILLIAM TOPLIS FROST
MARIA- LEICESTER 1829- LEICESTER 1835
JANE- LEICESTER 1830- LEICESTER 1866 MARRIES FREDERICK ELLIS
ELIZA -LEICESTER 1833- LEICESTER 1854
PHOEBE- LEICESTER 1835- LEICESTER 1869
F. WILLIAM- LEICESTER 1836- LEICESTER 1871
THOMAS – LEICESTER 1838- AYU
AGNES MARIA – LEICESTER 1840- CORNFORTH, COUNTY DURHAM 1880 MARRIES David Macneilage MD