Hunting for Horsfalls: Charles Horsfall's story 
John Woodley

This article, written for St Faith's parish magazine, forms a part of the growing Horsfall archive on our website.

My previous article about the Horsfall family focused on Howard Douglas, benefactor of St Faith’s.  This month’s article draws upon further research and looks at the life of Charles Horsfall, grandfather of Howard Douglas Horsfall.

The Horsfalls were (and still are) a large and distinguished family who hailed from Yorkshire. At the beginning of the 19th century they settled in Liverpool, exploiting the natural resources that the river and docks provided, trading expertly with many parts of the world.  Over the years, wealth provided the family the means to explore other avenues of interest beyond commerce including politics, sport, military, art and the church.  The Horsfalls were evident by their great generosity, philanthropy and interest in liturgy, funding the entire building costs of nine churches in the Liverpool area.

Charles Horsfall was born in 1776 in Huddersfield.  It is not clear when he first came to Liverpool but first appears in 1803 following his marriage.  Records of him appear in local Liverpool Trade directories and by 1825 was well established, listed as being a merchant with interests in various civic affairs ranging from the Hibernian Society (established to promote wider Bible readership in Ireland) to financial affairs such as being on the committee of the ship-owners association. He made a significant impact upon the life of Liverpool and was bailiff to Liverpool later serving as Mayor between 1832-33.  He was generous in his donations to various charities during his life and upon his death through his will.  Together with other local wealthy merchants he helped erect a church in Everton (St George’s), being an original subscriber.  He also contributed to the building of the original Christ Church in Waterloo.

Charles married Dorothy Hall Berry, the daughter of a slave merchant, at Holy Trinity Church, Liverpool, in June 1803. Their first child was born in 1804.  Another twelve children followed over the next twenty years.  In 1811 Charles erected a house on Netherfield Road North in Everton and for much of his time in Liverpool, he and his family resided there. 

In the early 19th century, Everton was the place for noblemen and wealthy traders - the attached 1837 picture by W. G. Herdman shows the large merchant houses on Netherfield Road and Northumberland Terrace with St George’s Church standing on Everton Brow.  From their vantage point merchants could enjoy views across the river to the Wirral and Welsh mountains and keep watch on their ships sailing up the Mersey into dock.   The latter part of the 19th century saw these large houses being cleared to build terraced houses for the working class while in the late 1960’s and 1970’s massive slum clearances saw most of this terraced housing being demolished, the area returned to park land.

Whilst researching Charles using the Ancestry website, I came across several Horsfalls living in Jamaica in the early 19th century.  Their names (Duncan, Molly, Sally, Charles and Ireland), seemed to be at odds with other children born to him until I realised that these ‘children’ were in fact slaves of his. Slaves would often take their master’s surname and adopt European forenames.  Further research established that Charles had visited Jamaica in 1792 as a young man, presumably with the thought of seeing what opportunities could be afforded by his trade with this colony.
Records show that he had a sugar plantation and after 1807 he was involved in trade with the Americas. A by-product of his trade in the Caribbean was that he became a keen botanist.  Seeds were brought over and cultivated at his gardens and glasshouses in Everton.  There is a type of convolvulus named ‘Ipomoea Horsfalliae’ created in 1834.

Horsfall’s involvement in the slave trade is well documented. A Slave Register, created in 1823 showing a ‘return of slaves’ in the St Andrew district of Jamaica demonstrated that Horsfall had 69 slaves, forty males and twenty-nine females.  They ranged in age from 5 months to 65 years.  It would be another ten years before the Slavery Abolition Act would be enforced.  Slave merchants would be compensated for the loss of business caused by the abolition of slavery.  A complex formula paid compensation according to location, age, sex and usefulness.
There is no doubt that Charles Horsfall along with many other slave merchants, made great profits from the misery and despair wrought by their hands.  In 1835 he received compensation from the British Government equivalent to a sum of approximately £840,000.   Although slaves were to be freed on payment of compensation, quite often slaves would be ‘apprenticed’ to their slave owner, which turned out in some cases to be just another form of enslavement.

In 1846, whilst residing at Brook House, Crosby, Charles died of ‘senile decline after paralysis’.  His estate was valued at £262,000, the equivalent of at least £26 million pounds today.   His estate would no doubt be made up of assets, cash, property, ships and goodwill. This would eventually be shared amongst his children.  The first ‘Horsfall Church’, would be erected to his memory and named Christ Church.  It stood at the corner of Great Homer Street and Anderson Street in Everton but was destroyed by the blitz of 1941.
What started out as a simple query to try and find out a little about our benefactor has resulted in a much wider enquiry and revealed some rather unpleasant history.  The early wealth of the family was, to some extent, built upon human misery.  Withdrawal from the slave trade left them endowed with ships, connections and cash to invest in trading in more conventional cargoes.  They also invested widely in industry such as the developing railways.

Further questions remain unanswered.  I am still unclear of the family’s appetite for providing quite so many churches (must there be one?).  Could it be related to guilt for their involvement in slave trading?  Maybe one-upmanship or sibling rivalry?  Perhaps it was just Christian devotion.

Sources consulted:
Wikipedia (legacies of British slave ownership) (genealogical research into the Horsfall family) (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)
Crosby Central Library, Waterloo

Posted April 10th, 2013

View of Everton, 1817 by W.G.Herdman

Ipomoea Horsfalliae

The Horsfall archive home page