Thomas Starr 1890-1957: A Hard Life for an Intelligent Man

This pictures shows my grandad, Thomas Barrow Starr, and my grandma, Florence Starr, when they got married in 1919. My grandmother’s previous husband had disappeared in the First World War.

My grandad himself survived the war, quite by accident. In 1914, every man jack wanted to be in the war “that would be over by Christmas”. To join up meant going down Middlesbrough. On hearing that grandad had walked from Portrack to Middlesbrough to get recruited, the recruiting sergeant asked “don’t your feet hurt”. On being told “just a bit” my grandad was marked down as “flat feet”, unsuitable for soldering, as the recruiting station was overwhelmed. This kept him safe, even when, later on, conscription came in.

My grandad had wanted to get into technical education in Stockton, and although he passed the entrance exams his family could not afford the fees. Accordingly, the rest of his life was spent labouring. For a time, he worked on a cogging steel mill at the Malleable, which must have been the reason he became quite deaf.

I only knew him in his last ten years, when his lungs were so bad, he was permanently on the sick. The last job he had was with lime kilns at the Malleable works, which must have been deadly. His working days finished when one day he arrived home at 17 St Anne’s Terrace, Portrack, only to hang over the garden gate, absolutely exhausted. Each day of the rest of his life, he would walk to the end of the street and stand in the alcove of the Portrack Pub, with his cap and long overcoat, out of the wind. What a waste.

Photograph and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

8 thoughts on “Thomas Starr 1890-1957: A Hard Life for an Intelligent Man

  1. Hi Fred
    Derek here, your grandad probably knew my uncle Dave who worked as a tool maker and lived in Dugdale Street where my grandad Arthur Metcalfe ran the Royal pub.


  2. I was wondering if Thomas Starr was related to my uncle, through marriage, Wilfred Starr. He married my Aunt, Aline Williams. Wilf emigrated to Benoni, South Africa in 1938, and died in Somerset West in 2006


    • Thanks to our good neighbour Maggie Robson, who lives in Norbury SW16, and who does people’s ancestry records, I now know that my grandad, Tom Starr, did not come from Teesside, being born in Rhodes. Lancs, in 1891. By 1901 he was a kid, living in 14 Regents Street , Stockton, with his father, Thomas, and mother, Frances. Judging by the age of Tom Starr’s sister Annie, his parents must have been married about 1880.

      So Thomas Starr would have been my Great-Grandfather. He was born in Redford, Notts in 1852. In the 1901 census he declared his occupation as steel plate loader, probably at the Malleable. However, my understanding is that he was more than partially blinded at this time, being hit in the eyes by red-hot mill scale, twice in one day, some years earlier. My guess is that this was connected with him being involved in the manufacture of wrought. To the family he was known as a turner-overer. Possibly this was the initial stage in which the white-hot mass of impure wrought iron was squeezed to get rid of entrapped slag. It required a lot of manipulation.

      Unfortunately, the accident happened two weeks before industrial compensation came in. Thomas Star died in 1919, so for much of his life he would have been a dead weight on the family.

      The census records show no trace of the Starrs before 1852, so I would not be surprised if they came from Ireland. They were Protestant, so maybe from the north of Ireland.


      • Hello Fred,
        Thank you for the info. I was surprised to see the 14 Regent Street address mentioned. With a quite rare name of Starr, this may be worth following up. Aline Williams was born in 1905. Racking my brains, I’m sure Wilfred Starr’s parents moved to Stockton-on-Tees from Cambridge area. I do remember it was a small village. Name of house was “Starr Cottage” In South Africa their holiday cottage was named by them as “Starr Cottage.” Aline’s parents resided in 6 Regent Street which was a large property. Ground floor rear held 6 cars and above was the tailoring factory. G/father was a travelling Tailor who often visited the farming Communities in North York Moors area.

        I guess it needs research of the Census to ascertain occupants, but it seems quite a co-incidence that my Aunt Aline married a Starr and your Starr’s resided in the same street. They did not have any children. My father, Arthur Williams, brother of Aline, was born in 1911.

        Hope you find some interesting facts, and I would be pleased to be informed accordingly.

        Best wishes,

        David Williams.


  3. Sad that his parents couldn’t afford his future longing. He was very intelligent and life could have very different for his health, that would go for many I’m sure.


    • Yes, very sad, and probably not untypical. (It’s not really the same but mother was bright, passed the written exam for grammar school but was shy so failed the interview and ended up going into service as a housemaid, whereas her gobby younger sister did get in.)


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