My family connection to the Walkers of Ashton in an indirect one through my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hiland. She had married James Stanley who died some time before 1860 and given birth to my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Stanley, the father undetermined, and in 1866 she married Jonathan Walker. Although he himself died ten years before my grandmother was born, she used to tell me stories about “Blind Jonathan” who appears to have had a colourful past which this page commemorates.

The origins of the Walker family are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Jonathan named his father as Aaron Walker at both his weddings and he was living with his parents in 1851 and 1861, but both remain elusive in terms of church records. I can find no baptism or marriage for Aaron, neither is there sign of a baptism for Jonathan even though his siblings were christened at St Michael and All Angels.

It is possible that both are descended from James Walker and Alice Shore who married at St Michael and All Angels, Ashton, in 1768. They had ten children, all but three of them girls. The eldest son, Aaron, was born in 1775 and married Sarah Greenwood in 1796. They in turn had eight children, but no sign of Aaron born about 1802, so this remains speculation.

Aaron the younger married another Sarah some time around 1820 and it was they who were the parents of Jonathan Walker, along with seven other children.

Jonathan Walker was one of the family's colourful characters. His first wife was Elizabeth or Betty Greenhalgh who he married in 1847 at Manchester Cathedral and the couple had three children, Olive, Mary and Samuel, between then and 1860.

A Shot in the Dark

It is possible that Jonathan was active in the Chartist uprising in 1848. This was a forerunner of the trade union movement and promoted universal male sufferage. They were very much disregarded by various governments and their frustration turned to violence in August 1848, during which a policeman was shot by a person or persons unknown.

Joseph Radcliffe was sentenced to death for the murder, although it was fairly clear that he wasn't to blame. This was eventually commuted to banishment for life and he ended up in Australia, although he rturned to England twice on journeys to and from America.

Six other men were tried for their part in the murder and one of them was Jonathan Walker, aged 20, which fits our 'Blind Jonathan' He was transported for seven years for "having feloniously devised war against HM Queen in order to change her measures."

More research is needed to see if this was the case and whether Jonathan was indeed transported, although this seems unlikely. Having said that, there is a suspicious gap between the birth of his second and third child by Betty. (More information on the incident)

By 1861, Jonathan was a widower, Betty having died in 1860 aged 32 and in 1866 he married Elizabeth Stanley, née Hiland, at St John the Evangelist, Hurst. At the 1871 census, Jonathan was a collier, although registered as being blind. With him and Elizabeth were four children, Thomas from her previous marriage, Samuel from Jonathan's marriage to Betty, Mary Elizabeth, Elizabeth's daughter, father undetermined, and three month old Jonathan, the couple's shared child. The phrase they used to describe their mixed brood was 'mine, thine and ours'!

The Murphy Riots
Murphy Death Mask
William Murphy's Death Mask

The main story involving Jonathan told by my grandmother is his part in the Murphy Riots of 1868 when religious tensions between Protestants and Catholics were running high. He was living on Orange Street at that time, a Protestant area. During the disturbances, Jonathan is said to have saved the life of a Catholic man who was being pursued by the mob.

T he story goes that the man banged on their door begging to be saved and that Jonathan hid him inside. When the mob arrived, they took the word of a blind man that there was no-one to be found inside. There is more background to this incident on this site.

By 1881, Jonathan was reduced to being a mangle turner and washing servant, while Elizabeth was a mangle woman. Jonathan died in 1890 aged 62.

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