Origins Of A Beatle … 500 Years Ago!

Origins Of A Beatle … 500 Years Ago!

In the Manorial Roll of the Parish of St. Columba, Isle of Man for 1530, we find the record of rents paid for farmland, among which:

Patrick McCleuage … 14s 2d (now 71p)

This may not mean much at this stage, but this is possibly the first written record of an ancestor of a Beatle in existence, namely Paul McCartney. How so? Well, the prefix ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ appended to names of Gaelic origin historically signified ‘son of’, and removing this prefix, the name ‘Cleuage’, with various changes allowing for semi-literacy and non-unified spelling, appears in McCartney’s family tree right up to Paul’s paternal grandmother, Florence Clegg (the anglicized version of the name). The fact that the parish church of St. Columba (pictured above), serving the parish of Arbory, stands in the tiny hamlet of Ballabeg, where people with the same name were usually related, or had common ancestors, leads me to the supposition that the aforementioned 16th century land tenant belongs to the same family tree I am about to explore.

To get to more solid base for tracing the inhabitants of Arbory to Sir Paul, we have to move forward around 170 years. We start with one Gilbert Comish, whose birth and marriage details aren’t clear, but I’d estimate that he was born some time just before 1700. His son – also named Gilbert – married, on 24th July 1736 in Arbory, Margaret Clark, who also appears as Margaret Kaveen. This discrepancy could be explained by the fact that both surnames derive from someone who wrote for a living – one Gaelic in origin, and the other anglicized. Their son, William Comish, was christened on 27th November 1743 in Arbory. William then married Cath Costeen, and their daughter, Elizabeth Commish (two ‘M’s’) appears in the parish registers as being ‘christened on 6th July 1783 in Arbory’.

Moving into the 19th century, when establishing firm ancestral roots becomes much easier, we find that Elizabeth Commish marries Robert Clague on 3rd October 1808 at Malew, Isle of Man, around a mile from Ballabeg (the first “modern” reference to Paul McCartney’s grandmother’s name, albeit an alternative spelling), and a son, Paul Clague was christened on 7th December 1815 at Arbory. We also know of an older brother, Robert, christened on 5 March 1810, who later appears as living with his brother, Paul, in the 1871 census. Paul Clague is Paul McCartney’s great-grandfather.

Old View Of Ballabeg

The 1871 census, taken at 131 Breck Road in the Anfield district of Liverpool, is interesting for what it includes – and what it doesn’t, necessitating a lot of explanation. Here is the census result:

Paul Clegg (55) fishmonger – born Isle of Man
Jane Clegg (33) wife born – Isle of Man
Robert Clegg (61) brother – born Isle of Man
Elizabeth Clegg (24) daughter born Liverpool
Anne Alice Clegg (18) daughter born Liverpool
Paul Clegg (16) son born Liverpool
Gilbert Clegg (1) son born Liverpool

We know know that Paul Clague has moved his family the 80 miles across the sea to Liverpool, and anglicized his name to Clegg. This must have happened no later than approximately 1847, given that daughter Elizabeth was born in Liverpool, a decade or so earlier than the date given in other accounts. It’s also clear that his wife, Jane, was too young to be the mother of at least Elizabeth, and probably of Anne and Paul Jr., too, and the 15 year gap until the birth of Gilbert  is curious as well. Delving deeper into records of marriages, births and deaths resolves all these issues satisfactorily.

In fact, Paul was married three times, and must have moved to Liverpool as a relatively young man, some time before 1840. He married his first wife, Ann Bell in Liverpool on 25th August 1840, still using the surname “Clague”. With Ann, he fathered four children, Thomas, William, Margaret, and the previously mentioned Elizabeth, suggesting that the first three had left the family home by the time of the 1871 census. Ann died, possibly while giving birth to Elizabeth, some time before 1849, when Paul married his second wife, Margaret Bell, on 29th January, 1849 at St Nicholas Church, Liverpool, this time under the surname “Clegg”. Whether the two Miss Bells were related is not known. With his second wife, he fathered the Ann and Paul Jr. mentioned above in the 1871 census. Margaret died in 1856.

Now finding himself with 6 children and no wife, Paul Sr., takes in a young servant by the name of Jane Clague, the daughter of a farmer named Thomas Clague. This poses the obvious question of whether Jane, who was also born in the Isle of Man, was another of the Arbory Clagues, and was in fact related in some way, however distant, to her employer. Whatever the relationship, he married his servant on 9th July 1863. There were three children born during the marriage. The first, Gilbert Cummins Clegg, was born in 1864, but died just two years later in the West Derby district of Liverpool. The second, born in 1869 was given almost the same name – Gilbert Cummins Grimes Clegg – and is the final participant in the census listed above.

That brings us to Paul Clegg’s last child, Florence, Sir Paul McCartney’s grandmother, born around 1874 or 75. Her only natural brother, the second Gilbert, who may have known Jim McCartney, Paul’s father, very briefly, married Rose Roberts in West Derby in 1891 and by 1911 had 4 surviving children out of 6 born, Jane, Gilbert, John Paul and Joseph Gilbert. According to later census returns, Gilbert senior first worked as a dock labourer and lived at 152 Friar Street in the Everton area, but by 1911 he was employed as a tram conductor, living at 6 Blyth Street, Everton. He died in 1941. Paul Clegg had died in Liverpool towards the end of 1879, aged 64. Jane Clegg is listed in the 1881 census as a ‘fishmonger’s widow’.

It is at this point that the McCartneys enter the story. Joseph McCartney was born on 25th November 1866 at Great Homer Street, a few months after Liverpool was hit by a cholera epidemic which killed hundreds. Joe was the grandson of a possible Irish immigrant (although his grandfather’s origin has never been definitely proven), and worked all his life in the Liverpool tobacco company, Cope Brothers & Co. He was also the first performing musician in a so-far unbroken line in the McCartney family, playing the E-flat bass tuba, and being followed by his son, James (The Masked Melody Makers and Jim Mac’s Jazz Band), Paul (who had a popular beat combo called The Beatles), and Paul’s son, James, born in 1977.

Great Homer Street in 1852, the decade before Joe McCartney was born

Joe McCartney met Florence (Florrie) Clegg, and they married in 1896. Four children were born, of which two died, before James, father of the future Beatle, was born on 7th July 1902 at 8 Fishguard Street, in the Everton district of the city. From this point, of course, the story is well-known, and has been told many times.

A series of remarkable coincidences emerge out of this story, regarding the origins of both Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Both owe their very existence to a close ancestor that married three times, with their last wife being their former servant, and with her being the mother of the two Beatles’ direct ancestor. In each case, the first two wives were called Anne (or Annie) and Margaret. Also in each case, the father in question had the same given name as his famous descendant.

There are many facets to the Beatles story, and dedicated fans, biographers and historians are always looking for new angles to tell the story, uncovering places and sites which then get added to the ‘must visit’ itinerary. I am left to wonder if the still-quiet village of Ballabeg knows its small part in producing one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, or would even welcome such attention!

*My thanks and acknowledgement go to Gwyn Hughes for the donkey work he did on the ancestry bit.


© Copyright 2018 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.