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The Fallen of Kirkby

Eric Montague Fitzroy Rothery

Muirlands today (by kind permission of the owners)
Muirlands today (by kind permission of the owners)
  • Son of William Brockbank Rothery and Margaret Hannah Rothery (née Todd-Newcomb), of Muirlands, Kirkby Ireleth
  • (A brother, Vernon Rothery, (q.v.) also died in WW1 and is named on Kirkby war memorial.)
  • Died on 15th February 1917 of ‘Gumma of the brain’ and convulsions, at Birkenhead Union Infirmary, Tranmere, aged 27.
  • Buried in Flaybrick Cemetery, Bidston, Birkenhead, (now Flaybrick Memorial Gardens), Church of England Section, Section 4, Grave 105a.
  • Occupation given as ‘Marine Engineer, Merchant Service’.

Muirlands, the rather grand mansion at the extreme southern edge of Kirkby-in-Furness, has seen its share of tragedy. Eric and Vernon Rothery both died in the First World War, and in the Second World War Kenneth Herbert Price from the same house was killed over Holland in a Wellington bomber. (Price is not on Kirkby’s war memorial, but rather on Barrow cenotaph.) The Rotherys had already lost one twin, Laura, at just one month old in 1895, and Mrs Rothery herself died in horrific circumstances at their other home in Chambres Road, Southport in 1912 (see below). Mr Rothery left Kirkby in 1917 and lived at 10 Chambres Road until his death in 1946 aged 85, when he was buried in his son Eric’s grave in Birkenhead. The Rotherys have a stone memorial with a cross and anchor in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard just opposite the porch. Mrs Rothery is buried there and so is Laura Irene Marguerite. The whereabouts of the graves of the other members of the family are unknown.

The Parents

William Rothery was born in Workington, which was then in Cumberland, and became an engineer, by the age of 32 rising to ‘Inspector of Railway Material’. In 1881 he was living at 1 Cocken Villas in Barrow, the home of his stepfather, and by 1891 he had built The Muirlands for himself in Kirkby, and his mother and step-father had moved to Little Croft.

Margaret Hannah was born in Kirkby to the Todd-Newcomb family of The Guards Farm. In 1879 she first married John Parker, a farmer of 117 acres at Chapels Farm, but by the early 1880s John had died very young, leaving her with one daughter, Miriam Isabel, born in 1880.

According to the Barrow News, neighbours William Rothery and Mr Todd-Newcomb, Margaret’s brother, were friends with a common interest in supporting Askam Football Club, and by 1891 Margaret Hannah had re-married, to William Brockbank Rothery, and taken Miriam with her to live with him at Muirlands.

The Children

William and Margaret had 12 children together, six boys and six girls; and it must be admitted they had a way with names!

  • Clifton Ulric Hume, born 1888
  • Eric Montague Fitzroy (1890-1917)
  • Wilbert Darcy Newcomb, born 1891
  • Augusta Mary (1892-1962)
  • Reginald, born 1893
  • Norman Bernard Vernon (1894-1917) (See account of his death below)
  • Laura Irene Marguerite, born 1895 and died at one month old
  • Nora, her twin
  • Maurice, born 1897
  • Esme (1900-1980)
  • Mary, born 1903
  • Myrtle, born 1904
Rossall School archway
Rossall School archway

Clifton and Eric attended Rossall Prep School in Thornton Cleveleys from 1899 and 1900 respectively, until 1902. (At that time the family was living at least part of the time at 14 Woodville Terrace in Lytham.)

Clifton joined the Mercantile Marine in World War 1 and as far as we know, survived. Eric seems to have followed his father’s profession, becoming an ‘engineer apprentice’ from 1907 to 1910, with the London and North Western Railway Company. He then followed his younger brother, Vernon, who was recorded as an ‘engineer at Cammel Laird’s’ when he signed on for the army at Birkenhead on 14 July 1916. (See separate page for Vernon.)

Eric became an engineer in the Mercantile Marine (Merchant Navy) on the SS Ultonia.

The SS Ultonia’s Part in Eric’s Story

The SS Ultonia
The SS Ultonia

The Steam Ship Ultonia was a passenger-cargo vessel built at Swan Hunter’s Yard in Wallsend-on-Tyne in 1898. Originally intended to carry cargo and cattle, it was altered to also carry 675 3rd class passengers on the North Atlantic run to America. In 1904 accommodation was added for 120 2nd class passengers and a total of 2,100 3rd class, for emigrants travelling to America.

It is believed that Eric Rothery joined the SS Ultonia as an engineer in 1910. Therefore he may have been aboard when it was involved in the war effort as early as August 1914, first bringing regular army ‘Old Contemptibles’ back from Malta, and then taking Territorial troops out to India to relieve regular soldiers for the war.

Then in 1915 Ultonia was reconfigured yet again, in New York, to enable her to bring 2,000 horses per voyage from America to the war in Europe. It was at this point, on 25 April 1915, that Eric was recorded on Incoming Passenger Lists as arriving in Liverpool aboard the SS Orduna. The Orduna was being operated on the transatlantic route by Cunard, the same company as the Ultonia, and Eric was described as ‘Engineer ex Ultonia, of 6 Price Street, Birkenhead’. Presumably he was returning to Britain to continue his war service with the company while his own ship, the Ultonia, was refitting

Extract from Incoming Passenger Lists
Extract from Incoming Passenger Lists

Eric Rothery’s Death

There are no records to show where Eric Rothery was between April 1915 and his death on 15 February 1917, but his death certificate describes him as ‘Marine Engineer (Merchant Service)’, and gives his address as 288 Conway Street, Birkenhead. The National Probate Calendar confirms his address and adds that he ‘died 15 February 1917 on war service’ and left £580 13s 5d.

The Death Certificate issued to Mr Rothery gave the cause of death as 1) Gumma of the brain and 2) Convulsions. A gumma is a soft, non-cancerous brain tumour, sometimes resulting from an injury or the presence of a foreign body in the brain, but also sometimes resulting from syphilis. It occurs when granulation tissue is formed in response to infection or inflammation, which the immune system is unable to combat. Since the only known incidents happening to SS Ultonia occurred after Eric’s death (see ‘Post Script’ below), the cause of his ‘gumma’ is likely to remain unknown.

Eric Rothery’ death certificate
Eric Rothery’ death certificate
Conway Street Birkenhead… Eric was living at 288 at the time of his death
Conway Street Birkenhead… Eric was living at 288 at the time of his death
…and Conway Street today
…and Conway Street today

Post Scripts: After Eric Rothery’s death, the Ultonia was involved in a collision with a British collier off Land’s End on 27 March 1917, after which the collier sank. Then on 27 June 1917, on a voyage from New York to London, Ultonia was hit by a torpedo from German submarine U-53, and sank 190 miles southwest of Fastnet. Only one life was lost (though presumably up to 2,000 horses died).

Mrs Rothery’s death in 1912

By 1912 the family had a large house in Southport as well as Muirlands in Kirkby, and it was at ‘Hazelmere’ in Chambres Road Southport that Mrs Rothery died in tragic circumstances. Margaret Hannah Rothery, then aged 52, was in the house with one ‘young daughter’, (probably Nora, who would then have been 17), Maurice, 15, Myrtle 8, and a maid, Florence, when a fire broke out. At 5am Nora Rushton bravely rescued everyone except her mother, who had locked her bedroom door.

10 Chambres, Southport, today. Photo: Julie
10 Chambres, Southport, today. Photo: Julie

Mrs Rothery’s remains were later found in horrific circumstances, and it was thought she had burned to death, having caught her hair or clothes on the gas fire, perhaps by falling. A verdict of accidental death was recorded by the Coroner, who praised Miss Rothery for her “great intelligence … presence of mind … practical knowledge and ability to cope with an emergency”.

Mrs Rothery was buried with her baby daughter Laura Irene in the family grave in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard in Kirkby.

Extract from newspaper regarding Mrs Rothery’s death
Extract from newspaper regarding Mrs Rothery’s death
The Rothery family grave in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard
The Rothery family grave in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard
The Rothery family grave in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard
The Rothery family grave in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard

Only Mrs Rothery (died 1912) and Laura Irene (died 1895, aged 1 month) are buried here. Eric and Mr William Rothery were buried in the same grave in Flaybrick Cemetery, Birkenhead. The cemetery is closed, and the gravestones (in contrast to the family grave in St Cuthbert’s) now present a pitiful sight, being broken and displaced.

Inscription reads: Sacred to the Memory of Margaret, the beloved wife of William Brockbank Rothery of The Muirlands, who passed away at Hazelmere, Southport, Aged 52 years. Thy Will Be Done Laura Irene Marguerite Rothery Died Nov 7th 1895, aged 1 month
Inscription reads: Sacred to the Memory of Margaret, the beloved wife of William Brockbank Rothery of The Muirlands, who passed away at Hazelmere, Southport, Aged 52 years. Thy Will Be Done Laura Irene Marguerite Rothery Died Nov 7th 1895, aged 1 month
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