Upstairs, Downstairs the tale of two Victorian women in Preston

Posted on - 12th June, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Fulwood, History, Nostalgia, Penwortham, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Ribbleton
G Whittaker & Preston Digital Archive
G Whittaker & Preston Digital Archive

Working class biographies from the Victorian era are rare, one such has been written by Peter Moulding. This allows us to contrast the lives of two very different women, living in Preston at a  time of great change and poverty. 


While not one of the poorest, Ellen Moulding was certainly of the working class. However, the  other Ellen was a member of the landed gentry living at Red Scar Mansion. She was Katherine Ellen Cross. Notably, the Cross family were very prominent in the town. 

Diary keeping was normally a pastime of the rich and Ellen Cross was no exception, with her  regular notes on the goings on at Red Scar Mansion. 

The lives of these women cover most of the 19th century. 

Read more: A Victorian surgeon in Preston tells all

Katherine Ellen cross  

Katherine Ellen Cross was born in 1847 at Red Scar, She was the daughter of Colonel Assheton Cross. 

Red Scar Mansion, 1920, Pic. Preston Digital Archive
Red Scar Mansion, 1920, Pic. Preston Digital Archive

Ellen Cross led a privileged and sheltered life. She wrote about her grandmother, who managed tenants on the estate:

‚ÄúShe would say to a tenant ‚ÄúWell Martha, your house doesn’t look at all nice, it’s untidy and not as  clean as it should be‚ÄĚ then she would pull open the drawers and the cupboards… Apparently, according to the diary, the tenants loved her for it. The author would beg to differ. 

Peter Moulding makes an interesting point in his article, that Catholics: 

‚ÄĚ ‚Ķ. believe that there is always someone who knows better and we should be thankful for small¬†mercies‚ÄĚ. That could explain the acceptance of this intrusion.¬†

The cotton Famine in Lancashire, Pic. The Smithsonian Magazine.
The cotton Famine in Lancashire, Pic. The Smithsonian Magazine.

Notably, this is fairly typical of how the upper classes patronised the workers. However the family¬†did help ‚Äúthe poor and starving people‚ÄĚ of Preston, during the cotton famine…. by distributing¬†blankets.¬†

Read more: See more nostalgia and history stories on Blog Preston

Ellen Moulding  

Ellen Thornley was born in 1824, a spinster weaver, Living in Penwortham. Opposite, was Nutters Platt farm, the home of William Moulding. By 1845 they were married and had moved to Grovenor  Street in Preston. Notably this was close to the Horrocks textile factory. 

The first married home of Ellen Moulding. Pic. Preston Digital Archive
The first married home of Ellen Moulding. Pic. Preston Digital Archive

The 1851 census says that they were living next door to their Cousin John Thornley and his wife, on Grovener Street. John probably got her a job in the Mill. The Thornley’s were successful  shopkeepers as well as tea and liquor traders.  

By 1851 the Moulding family had two children, with another lost in child birth. As was common at¬† the time children were soon put to work. At nine years of age, the Son, John Moulding is listed as a¬† gardener. He was probably found the job by one of the Thornley’s.¬†

Preston Gas Works, 1940's. Pic. Preston Digital Archive
Preston Gas Works, 1940’s. Pic. Preston Digital Archive

By 1862 William senior was working as a labourer at the gas works and John was still a gardener. Here we come to a connection with Ellen Cross. The mouldings were shielded from the worst of the 1860’s cotton famine, by being in non textile jobs. However, 14,000 were unemployed, by 1865.  Ellen Cross writes about the destitution in Preston at the Time. She states, Her mother: 

‚Äú..collected several; hundred Pounds, all among friends and relations, and with the money bought  blankets and warm things to distribute among the poor and starving people‚ÄĚ. 

Unusually for the working classes Ellen Moulding lived to be sixty eight years of age, dying in  1893 

The biography written by Peter Moulding, is an interesting read. 

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