Claire Foy

Claire Foy

Online resources can provide a great way to set the scene for major events that some of actress Claire’s ancestors got swept up in…

Andrew Chapman, Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

Andrew Chapman

Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

‘The thing I love most about my job is researching. It’s finding information ^= that’s the basis of a lot of the stuff that I do.’ Thus opens Claire Foy’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, scheduled to be broadcast on 8 June 2023 as part of the show’s 20th series. As it happens, the award-winning actress’s family tree contains two dramatic stories which are uncovered and explored in the program, and of course good research forms a key part of that journey.

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In this article we’ll explore one of those stories, which revolves around a major political incident in the late 19th century, and we can use the amazing research resources available at TheGenealogist, all without giving away any specific spoilers about the nature of the involvement of Claire’s forebears, of course.

Claire is no stranger to dramas, at least in her career ^= she has particularly made her name through portraying Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall and Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, and she has had other starring roles on TV in A Very British Scandal, as the Duchess of Argyll, and on the big screen, such as her lead role in the psychological thriller Unsane .

Claire Foy
Claire Foy playing Margaret in A Very British Scandal Credit: BBC / Blueprint Pictures

Although Claire may be used to playing royalty, her own family background is quite different. She knows most about her mother Caroline’s side (née Stimpson), as she came from a large and close-knit Irish family (‘they have a thousand relatives,’ Claire observes) and her charming 93-year-old grandfather Jimmy is at its heart.

Claire’s episode of the show begins by exploring the lives of Jimmy’s father and grandfather, both touched by tragedy. But it also turns out that her father David ^= who was adopted as a child ^= had Irish roots. He had managed to track down his birth mother Joyce Manwaring back in the 1980s. We can use TheGenealogist’s civil registration records to establish that she was born in Manchester in 1929:

Foy's Grandmothers Birth Record
Claire Foy's grandmother Joyce Manwaring came from Manchester – an important city in her family's story

And indeed we can use the clever tools at the site to make further family connections. Clicking the little icon of a couple below that result brings up the site’s Parents’ Potential Marriage SmartSearch feature, and in fact the first result turns out to be the right one for Claire’s direct ancestors:

Claire's great-grandparents
TheGenealogist's SmartSearch helps us find Claire's great-grandparents, Harry Manwaring and Emily Martin, who married in Prestwich, only three miles north of central Manchester

The WDYTYA trail then follows Emily Martin’s line, and it’s her grandfather, John Henry Martin, who got caught up in the major political event alluded to earlier. Here’s John Henry ^= Claire Foy’s 3x-great-grandfather ^= with his family, including young John, in the 1881 census, with their parish helpfully plotted on a Victorian Ordnance Survey map:

1881 census shows two generations of Claire's ancestors
The 1881 census shows two generations of Claire's ancestors in Manchester ^_ and reveals John senior was born in Dublin

Just how John got caught up in events is a fascinating tale told by the programme, but here let’s return to Claire’s theme of research, as there’s a wealth of information at TheGenealogist which we can use to set the scene.

The political event in question became known as the ‘Manchester Outrages’ of 1867 ^= only weeks after John had married his wife Eliza – and formed part of the Fenian Rising of that year. This was a rebellion of Irish nationalists against British rule in their mother country. Manchester was a city where many Irish people had come to live, especially in the wake of the Great Famine of the 1840s ^= and some of them were supporters of the republican cause.

On 18 September 1867, two key Irish American members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasey (also spelled Deasy) were being transported in a police van from court to Manchester’s Belle Vue Gaol. Word had got out about who was in the van, and a large group of Fenian supporters waylaid it. In the fray that followed, a police officer, Sergeant Brett, was shot and killed. The dramatic events were reported nationwide, along with the subsequent trial, for which the law of ‘joint enterprise’ was used to arrest dozens of Irishmen in the city, regardless of whether there was any clear evidence of their involvement.

TheGenealogist’s Newspapers & Magazines collection offers us a rich opportunity to research this story in detail, aided by contemporary illustrations. A name search for Deasey and Kelly soon brings up a report from the 28 September 1867 edition of The Illustrated London News, for example, along with this dramatic engraving based on a sketch by ‘an eye-witness of this extraordinary action, Mr C. Wright, whose business lay in Hyde-road, not far from the scene’:

The 'Manchester Outrages'
The 'Manchester Outrages' vividly depicted in the Illustrated London News

The railway arch where all this took place was on Hyde Road, only a few hundred yards from the prison itself, and although it has been replaced by a modern bridge now, a plaque is there commemorating the events of what it refers to as the ‘Fenian Ambush’. It is easy to use TheGenealogist’s MapExplorer tool to get a real sense of the locations in question. The early Ordnance Survey map below dates from the 1890s, shortly after Belle Vue had been demolished and replaced by housing. (By a quirk of fate the much-loved actor John Thaw, star of police dramas The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, grew up on Stowell Street, one of those built on the prison site.)

The scene of the Fenian attack
The scene of the Fenian attack. The red square marks where it took place; the green one shows the former site of the prison, which had stood right next to a zoo!

When the trial began in November the same year, The Illustrated London News again reported. It described the how ‘a body of police’ and ‘a strong guard of infantry’ were on hand, and that ‘an immense crowd of people had assembled in the main streets’. The report covers the trial of five named men, three of whom were destined to become known as the Manchester Martyrs ^= and refers to ‘twenty other prisoners whose trials are still in progress’.

trial of the Fenians in Manchester
The Illustrated London News, 9 November 1867, reported on the trial of the Fenians in Manchester

How did Claire Foy’s ancestors get tangled up in all this? Were they in that crowd outside, or among the armed guards – or were they in the dock? You’ll have to watch the show to find out!

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