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Janet in Yorkshire

The sad life of my great aunt Bridget McDonough, Mrs Stephen Cochrane

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I wept when I finally pieced together the sad tale of the awful life of poor great-aunt Bridget, whom I'd never heard of until I began my research. This blog entry is my attempt to record all the trials and adversities that one poor and uneducated Northumbrian woman of Irish descent faced during an all too short life. I'm sure there were many other women like Bridget - too many children, too little money and no prospects of a better life.

My great aunt Bridget was the third child of Michael MCDONOUGH and Julia DUNN, and her baptism entry recorded that she was born in Blyth on 10 November 1863 and baptised on 15 November 1863 in the recently opened RC church of Our Lady & St Wilfrid.
Nothing is known of her early life, apart from her appearance in 1871 census, when she was recorded at the family home in Folly Road, Blyth – she was seven years old. In early 1881 Bridget married Stephen COCHRANE and by the time census was next taken later that year, the couple had set up home at 22 Folly Road, nearby to Bridget’s parents who lived at number 20, and their first child, a daughter Mary Ann, was baptised in July of that year. Stephen’s occupation was described as a riveter in the shipyard and he was Bridget’s senior by three years.
There was a steady stream of children, born at regular intervals - William in 1883, Margaret in 1885, followed by Thomas in 1888 and Catherine (known as Kate) in1890. So during the first ten years of marriage Bridget would have had her hands full with five children to feed and rear.
Incidents reported in contemporary newspapers indicate that marriage had brought Bridget other problems too. Between 1886 and 1901 there were at least three instances of her husband being summoned to appear at court on charges of having been drunk and disorderly in the street. The accounts of his actions whilst under the influence of drink show that the extent of his disorderly behaviour worsened over the years.
Stephen was found guilty of each charge, was given a fine and also had to pay costs, money which perhaps could have provided his wife and children with a better quality of life.
Of a much more serious nature than the charges of drunkenness was Stephen’s court appearance in June 1887, when he was charged with “feloniously ravishing” a single woman “on the highway near Blyth Links, on June 6th.” He was accused of spying on a couple sitting on the beach and of then following them, propositioning the woman and of attacking her in an attempt to make her go off with him. She reported the incident to the police and Stephen was accused of rape. Witnesses were called, including a doctor, who stated that he had examined the victim but as he had found no bruising or other marks on her body, he did not think that she had been subjected to the kind of violence she had claimed. The Bench decided the case should go to the Assizes. However, on Saturday 23 July 1887, under the heading “Alleged rape,”
“The Morpeth Herald” reported that
“The Grand Jury threw out the bill against Stephen Cochrane (29), fireman, for having in the parish of Earsdon committed a rape on Mary Ellen Baird.” The court records for the above case show that Stephen had also been involved in criminal activities before his marriage. On 20 January 1874 he had been sentenced to 10 days imprisonment and to spend two and a half years at the Reformatory for stealing a purse. On 22 July 1879 he had been sentenced to one month’s hard labour for stealing pigeons. By the time of the accusation of rape, he had been summarily convicted 14 times. So, life as a wife and mother must have been hard for Bridget and sadly the Cochrane living arrangements were squalid too. Her parents had moved from Folly Road to Crofton Terrace and Stephen and Bridget had also moved, but only within the Folly Road area. When census was next taken in 1891 Bridget was recorded with her 5 children and also her brother-in-law John Cochrane, a 25 year old seaman. She was described as married and "wife", although her husband was not at home. Stephen had left the shipyard and gone to sea as a fireman. The family address was 4 Folly Wood Houses - the houses were called “wood” houses, because they were constructed of mahogany wood. However, the accommodation they provided was of a very poor quality, as shown in the July 1891 report made to the Blyth Local Board by the newly appointed medical officer, Dr J Cromie. He described how there were
“4 houses at the Wood Row, Blyth Folly, with 17 persons without either drains, privies, ashpits, or water taps, and that the roofs admitted the rain and were not fit to live in.”
The rents were 3/6d a week and his recommendation was the houses should be closed at once. It was agreed by the committee that a notice should be served on the owner to “put the houses in a sanitary order” or they would be closed. The landlord agreed to the closure of the properties and the tenants were asked to move out: but in May 1892 legal action had to be taken to serve Stephen Cochrane with an eviction notice to quit one of the properties.
Three more Cochrane children were born in the next decade – sons Stephen junior in 1892, and John in 1896. A daughter Julia was born in 1894 and baptised at Our Lady & St Wilfrid on 11 March of that year, but sadly her life was very short for her funeral service was held in the same church almost one year afterwards, on 25 February 1895. Two years later Bridget lost her eldest son, William. Aged just fifteen years, he had been employed as a riveter and in May 1897 he had had an accident whilst working at Blyth Dry Dock. Following the accident he had first been cared for at home for some time but was then taken to the Knight Hospital where he remained for the last six weeks of his life. At the time of the inquest into his death, Bridget’s address was given as 20 Milburn Street Cowpen Quay.
One of Bridget’s descendants tells of a family story that Stephen Cochrane is believed to have been “lost at sea” at some time in the 1890’s. However, I do not think this was the case for I can find neither records nor newspaper accounts to corroborate such an event. What I did find was a 4 Mar 1900 baptism record for Michael Cochrane, son of Stephen and Bridget (their ninth known child.) The ceremony was conducted at the family’s RC church but sadly it was followed on 19 June 1900 by the child’s funeral. When the census was taken in 1901 the Cochrane family resided in Croft Street, Cowpen; once again Stephen was not at home and Bridget was recorded as 35 yrs old, married and head of house. With her were her 4 youngest children and William, Annie and Lizzie Armstrong, recorded as her nephew and nieces. Contrary to the family story, Stephen was still alive and well at that time – for he had appeared at court in March 1901, charged with being drunk at The Black Bull public house, refusing to leave licensed premises, and then assaulting the pub landlord. Later that year, Bridget gave birth to her tenth and last child, a son Martin, who was baptised at the family church on 22 September 1901.The priest recorded the child as the son of both Stephen Cochrane and his wife Bridget McDonough Cochrane.
Just 38 years old, Bridget died in December Quarter 1901 in Tynemouth Reg Dist, perhaps as a consequence of childbirth. Tragically the death of baby Martin was registered in June Quarter 1902.

I have found no records of Stephen after his wife’s death. My view is that he probably took up with another woman and started a new chapter in his life. The elder children fended for themselves, whilst the younger boys were taken in and cared for by one of Bridget’s brothers.

RIP Bridget

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