GO West young man - then come back to Rotherham

Celia Parker with archive material from a new display donated by a mystery benefactor at Rotherham Library
Celia Parker with archive material from a new display donated by a mystery benefactor at Rotherham Library
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IT’S nice to go travelling - but it’s even nicer to come home.

If that really is the case, then it could go some way towards explaining why a pioneering family from South Yorkshire went half way around the world to find a new beginning - only to return home again a few years later.

The hidden history of the Uttley family’s trans-Atlantic trip is told in small cache of documents, handed in anonymously to Rotherham Archives and Local Studies last year.

Now it will be the highlight of the service’s new ‘Treasures from the Archives’ display.

The items belonged to the Uttleys, who ran various small businesses in Rotherham in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

They belonged to a large extended family from Greasbrough, many of whom were employed as coal miners from at least the late 18th century.

Isaac Uttley was born at Greasbrough in 1847, one of nine children to miner John Uttley.

He married Martha Sellars, a miner’s daughter, early in 1870 and, almost immediately, they were on their way to Liverpool where they boarded the Nemesis, arriving in New York on April 25 1870.

In best pioneering tradition, they made their way to the mid-western plains country of Illinois, where their two children John and Emma were born.

In July 1870, when a US federal census was taken, they were living in the small settlement of Scott, where Isaac had found work as a coal miner.

Ten years on, they were still in Scott, but Isaac had taken up farming.

Perhaps they were not successful, perhaps homesickness got the better of them. Whatever the reason, the family was back in England by 1885 and Isaac was running the Carter’s Rest beerhouse at 30-32 College Road, with a sideline as a grocer.

It was there in January 1897 that Emma died and, shortly afterwards, her parents moved further up College Road to number 62, where they ran a tobacconist’s until Martha’s death in 1922 some 10 years after her husband Isaac.

Meanwhile, John had done very well for himself.

He qualified as a pharmacist and founded the retail chemist’s business J Uttley Ltd, initially at 66 College Road and later at 11 Bridge Street, where it traded until the late 20th century.

John died in 1931, aged 59.

The items on display give some snapshots of the lives of this Rotherham family, a little over 100 years ago.

They include a photograph of John outside his chemist’s shop, which also sold the relatively new phonographs and records, as in demand then as iPads are today.

There’s also an invoice, dated 1897, for some smart bedroom furniture from London and a letter from the brewery, who owned Carter’s Rest, to Isaac suggesting ways of attracting a ‘different class’ of customer - that is, the more respectable type of working-man.

Rotherham’s Assistant Archivist Celia Parker said: “These are, on the face of it, unremarkable items left by unremarkable people.

“However, it’s possible to tease some information from every single document, even an empty envelope from the US suggesting the family kept some links with their former home.”

- The display can be seen in the service’s searchroom in Central Library. Log onto www.rotherham.gov.uk/info/448/records for details of opening times.