Up, down the story of two Victorian women in Preston

G Whittaker and Preston Digital Archive

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


Although not one of the poorest, Ellen Molding was certainly working class. However, the other Ellen was a member of the landed gentry living at Red Scar Mansion. She was Katherine Ellen Cross. In particular, the Cross family was very important in the city.

Journaling was normally a pastime of the wealthy and Ellen Cross was no exception, with her regular notes on events at the Red Scar Mansion.

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

Read more: A Victorian surgeon in Preston tells all

Katherine Ellen Cross

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

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

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

“She would say to a tenant, ‘Well Martha, your house doesn’t look pretty at all, it’s messy and not as clean as it should be’ and then she would open drawers and cupboards… Apparently, according to the newspaper, the tenants loved him for it.The author would not agree.

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

” …. believe that there is always someone who knows better and we should be grateful for small mercies”. This 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 quite typical of how the upper classes patronized workers. However, the family helped “the poor and hungry” of Preston, during the Cotton Famine…. distributing blankets.

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

Ellen Casting

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. This was notably near the Horrocks textile factory.

Ellen Molding's first marital home.  Photo.  Preston Digital Archive
Ellen Molding’s first marital home. Photo. Preston Digital Archive

The 1851 census indicates that they lived next door to their cousin John Thornley and his wife, on Grovener Street. John probably got him a job at the factory. The Thornleys were successful traders as well as tea and liquor merchants.

In 1851 the Molding family had two children, one of whom was lost at birth. As was common at the time, children were quickly put to work. At nine, the son, John Moulding, is listed as a gardener. He was probably found the job by one of the Thornleys.

Preston Gas Works, 1940s. Photo.  Preston Digital Archive
Preston Gas Works, 1940s. Photo. Preston Digital Archive

In 1862, William senior was working as a laborer at the gasworks and John was still a gardener. Here we come to a connection with Ellen Cross. Castings were protected from the worst of the cotton famine of the 1860s, by being in non-textile jobs. However, 14,000 were unemployed in 1865. Ellen Cross wrote about the hardships in Preston at the time. She says, her mother:

“..collected several; a hundred pounds, all between friends and relations, and with the money bought blankets and warm things to distribute to the poor and hungry”.

Unusually for the working classes, Ellen Molding lived to be sixty-eight and died in 1893.

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


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