Cats Whiskers and the Bloxwich Boy

Philip Roobotham’s Prize

This article is dedicated to all those at Cats Whiskers

This is a story that starts for me a few weeks back when a book was passed to me via the Cats Whiskers shop in Great Wyrley. For those that don’t know it, it is in the Quinton Precinct and does sterling work locally for the protection and re-housing of cats. The idea was to try and tell the tale not so much of the book but of P Roobotham, to whom it was given in 1888 as a prize – as you never know, someone may pay a little more for it!

The Pictorial Treasury of Famous Men and Famous Deeds is an undated and unattributed work that was printed by James Sangster & Co, London. It is very much a product of the Victorian society that spawned it – masculine dominated and centring on brave explorers, fearless generals, inventors, writes, reformers and romantic poets and so forth…

The Book - The Pictorial Treasury of Famous Men and Deeds

The Book – The Pictorial Treasury of Famous Men and Deeds

The book isn’t in the best of condition; stained, battered and with breaking binding its former majesty is shown by the now fading gold-edged pages and the splendid inside cover showing Jacques-Louis Davids’ Napoleon Crossing the Alps on what is believed to be his rearing mount, Marengo…

Inside Cover, showing the book was once a colourful and desirable one.

Inside Cover, showing the book was once a colourful and desirable one.

Anyway, this was the book that was awarded to a P Roobotham by a W Bentley on the 10th December 1888 for early and regular attendance at the Bloxwich Sunday Morning Adult School.

The prize dedication, 10 December, 1888.

The prize dedication, 10 December 1888.

Plenty of clues to go on – so firstly, the school. The Bloxwich Sunday Morning Adult School was opened in Bloxwich on 6th December 1882, with a W Bentley being listed as one of the superintendents. The school was housed in the Elmore Green School and was one of two adult classes in Bloxwich – the other being held on a Tuesday at the National School on the High St. The school was NOT a Sunday school – it was non-denominational and taught reading, writing and arithmetic as well as some bible study. Several of these schools appear in the Walsall area in the wake of the establishment of the School Boards in 1870 (and the eventual provision of education for all children).

So, who was P Boobatham? Well, he is a bit of a nightmare to follow as his name changes between various derivatives; Roobotham, Rowbottom, Roobottom and others – further, also tags the names wrongly because it is such an unusual name. I don’t always highlight these changes otherwise I would bore the back-side off you.

Saying that, our story begins in 1863 when a Philip William Roobottom is listed in the births index for the September quarter of that year; it is likely mind you that he was born on 30th June 1863. He was born to parents George and Sarah. George was 33 and originally from Essington. Sarah was 31 and from Blakenall. We know they had one daughter at least, as Mary is recorded in 1861 as a 5 year-old scholar. It is unclear as to what became of her, or if there were other children prior to Philip.

It is funny to think that our first record of Philip, other than a birth entry, is an educational one. Philip was born before there was compulsory education – and indeed, the survival of the book may suggest he never in fact went to school, but he did – albeit a little later than the 5-years of age which would become the legal requirement.

As far back as 1811 the Church of England had set-up a national school system, which taught a more rounded syllabus than the Sunday schools that were more concerned with religious doctrine. The Rev. John Baylie built the Bloxwich National School on the High Street (now Bloxwich Church of England School) back in 1828 (it was rebuilt in the 1860s).

Bloxwich National School, attended by Philip 1870-1875

Bloxwich National School, attended by Philip 1870-1875 (Walsall Local History Centre)

Philip is enrolled into the school in January 1870. He is named as Philip Rowbottom and his father, George. They lived on ‘The Green’ – which is incorrect, the family had been in Church St since 1861 at least, but would move to ‘The Green’ sometime before 1881. Philip was 6 years and 6 months at enrolment and his birth-date recorded as 30th June 1862. Children were being enrolled at different ages and I believe they have written 1862 instead of 1863. This is however the right person, there are no other Philip’s in Bloxwich with any remotely connected surname.

The date of enrolment is January 1870 - they are listed as living on 'The Green'

The date of enrolment is January 1870 – they are listed as living on ‘The Green’

No other information is recorded other than he left the school in January 1875.

Philip in the Admission/Discharge Register for Bloxwich National School

Philip in the Admission/Discharge Register for the Bloxwich National School

If we return to 1871, we find the family registered at 60 Church St, Bloxwich. George is described as a tailor, Sarah has no profession, Philip is a scholar (as we know) and there is another son, the 7 month-old Thomas. Mary is not on this census although she would have been 15. We know George and Sarah are Primitive Methodists, as all of the children that follow Philip are baptised at the PM Chapel on the Pinfold, Bloxwich. I cannot trace a baptism for Philip.

By 1881 the family are located at 23 ‘The Green’. Samuel and Eliza have joined the brood and they, like Thomas, are all scholars. Philip, now 17, has made his way into the working world as a brush-maker. In 1881 there was a brush-makers in the High St and by 1888 the Excelsior Works would be built in Harrison St; as Philip remained in the brush trade all of his life there is every chance he may have worked there.

The 1881 Census (National Archives)

The 1881 Census
(National Archives)

The later 1880s would bring large changes to Philip’s life, which may be connected in some way to his attendance at the Sunday Morning School. These are evident from the 1891 census.

The 1891 census, which shows huge changes to Philip's life.

The 1891 census, which shows huge changes to Philip’s life (National Archives).

By 1891 Philip is head of his own household, that being 111 High St, Bloxwich. In early 1889, just weeks after he had been awarded the book, his father had died, aged just 58. Just weeks after, Philip married Ada Allen in Birmingham and he dragged her up to the delights of Bloxwich to start a family, and duely, she presented him with a daughter, Ada Mary, the following year.

Philip was also left with bringing-up the family. He has his widowed mother and brothers Thomas and Samuel stopping with him. Further, the family had an insurance agent boarding with them, one Ernest Jones.

As the family moved towards the new century, the arrival of two further children; William (born 1893) and Sidney (born 1895) was tempered with the death of Philip’s mother in 1900. Further, in true Bernard Manning style, I am not sure his mood would have greatly improved as his widowed mother-in-law had come to stay by 1901.

The 1901 census (National Archives)

The 1901 census
(National Archives)

It is interesting to note that Philip is now described as a ‘brush finisher’. I would like to quote from Ken Doughty’s website for the Society of Brushmakers’ Descendants (
‘After a row of bristles had been inserted the wire was tied off so that they were held tight, and this was continued until the whole brush was “filled” with bristles… After all the bristles were inserted and the wire or twine secured a brush-back of thin veneer would be fixed over it to hide the work. These were glued with fish glue, but as this was also unreliable four small brass screws were also added to keep the back secure. The brush was then “finished”- i.e.shaped, sanded, stained and polished. This could be a specialist job and some brushmakers described themselves as “brush finishers“.’

It seems, after twenty years or so, that Philip had progressed from a brush-maker to the more specialist brush-finisher. Things appear to have been looking-up for Philip, but alas, his wife Ada was to die in the middle of 1901, at the age of just 39. Philip never remarried.

By 1911, the family had moved to 87 High St, Bloxwich. William had left the family home and I believe it is likely he that is a fruit and fish salesman’s assistant living in Manchester, at his employer’s address.

1911 census (National Archives)

1911 census
(National Archives)

Just after the census, Philip was to see his daughter marry and, I would suppose, fly the nest. Sidney, I believe (due to the loss of the service records) served as a private with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps during WWI – leaving Philip, likely, alone and no doubt apprehensive as he spied the casualty lists in the Walsall Observer. If Sidney did serve, and I am pretty sure he did, he survived.

Philip shook off this mortal coil in November 1923. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Field Road cemetery, his final address being given as 141 Harrison St. At the end of the day it matters little as to whether it is Roobotham, Rowbottom, or, as I favour, Roobottom. Even the 1911 census has him as Roobottom on one side and Rowbottom on the other. After this small amount of research, which does no life justice, he is Philip and he is a Bloko Boy!

My thanks to:
Cats Whiskers
Walsall Local History Centre
The National Archives
Ken Doughty

  1. […] into local mining history and the Harrison empire will find stuff of interest, as will Cannock, Bloxwich and Walsall […]

  2. Linda says:

    Rest in peace Bloko boy … unmarked graves are so sad 😦

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