William Charles Mawdsley and John Kenneth Kniveton


These biographies were written by Victoria Doran.

These two men are unusual in being uncle and nephew. William Charles Mawdsley is also unusual as he was 58 when he died and because he served in the US Navy. John Kenneth Kniveton enlisted when only 17 years old and died aged 18.

Mawdsley P

William Charles Mawdsley

JOHN KENNETH KNIVETON was the son of WILLIAM CHARLES MAWDSLEY’s younger sister Martha Alice Mawdsley.

The reason for going into the Mawdsley family in depth is to explain the relationships, which include a marriage of first cousins, and also to exhibit the recurring pattern of apparently prosperous middle class families frequently leaving very little or nothing behind them.

The earliest member of the Mawdsley family I have found was James Mawdsley who married Mary Balshaw on 10 October 1797 at Altcar, Lancashire. By 11 December 1798 they had moved to Maghull, Lancashire and son William Mawdsley (1798-1860) was baptised. James was described as a husbandman.

On 3 January 1825 William Mawdsley married Ann Mawdsley (1801-???) by licence at her parish church of St Thomas, Melling. They were closely related as the register entry makes clear that they required a licence due to their consanguinity. William described himself as a yeoman of Altcar.

William Mawdsley marriage.JPG

William and Ann had 7 children, 3 of whom died before the age of 6 years old. This left Robert (1827-1907), Mary (1829-???), Martha (1833-1910) and Thomas (1834-1908) as survivors to adulthood. It is not known what became of Mary, but she probably died before 1860. All 4 surviving children were educated at boarding schools.

William and Ann brought their family up at Clent House, Turnpike Road, Maghull, where William farmed 71 acres and employed 8 labourers. When he died on 2 January 1860, he left nearly £1,500 with William, Thomas and Martha as his executors. Clearly he was a successful farmer.  

Unusually Thomas, the younger surviving son, took over the farm. He married Elizabeth Ford (1842-1918) of a farming family from Stalybridge on 27 December 1866. They had one son William Ford Mawdsley. Until 1891 Thomas was farming upwards of 80 acres at Maghull, and, like his father, employing 8 labourers. What happened after that is unclear, but at the 1901 census he and his wife and son have moved to Saffron Walden, Essex and seem to be retired, though he still called himself a farmer. After that they moved to Edale, Derbyshire. When he died he left nothing, and at 1911 William Ford Mawdsley was an agricultural labourer. Possibly Thomas was actually a tenant farmer and the owner of the land failed to allow him to renew his tenancy in the 1890s.

In 1851 Robert Mawdsley was living at home, but farming 21 acres on his own account. On 13 October 1857 he married Esther Owen (1830-1901) at St Ann, Rainhill by licence. Esther came from a farming family at Rainhill.

Robert and Esther had 4 children, Anne Jane Mawdsley (1858-1949), William Charles Mawdsley (1860-1918) of whom more in his own right later, Robert Owen Mawdsley (1864-1932) and Martha Alice Mawdsley (1867-1929).

Until at least 1871 the family continued to live at Maghull, Robert now having changed occupation to become a corn merchant. By 1881 they had moved to Walton Park, Walton on the Hill, but Robert was still a corn merchant. By 1891 Robert had returned to farming, now at Yew Tree Farm, Higher Road, Halewood.

Son Robert Owen Mawdsley farmed with him. However we now encounter a similar situation to that of Thomas Mawdsley. Robert senior retired about 1902 and moved with Anne Jane and William Charles to 7 Hilbre Road, West Kirby. Robert Owen Mawdsley married Edith Gladys Johnson (1865-1960) on 5 April 1902 at Birkdale, both being in their late 30s. They had no children. She came from a family that seems to have lived up to their income in the middle classes, but her father left little. In 1911 Evelyn and Robert Owen are in Eastbourne, Sussex, keeping letting apartments. Robert Owen Mawdsley left nothing when he died in 1932.

When Robert Mawdsley died on 6 January 1907 he left only £106, considerably less than might have been expected. Spinster daughter Anne Jane took one of the few options open to the middle class spinster left with insufficient income, and opened a boarding house at St Bernard, Caldy Road, West Kirby. She also took responsibility for her by now very elderly maiden aunt, Ellen Owen, who had lived with the family ever since her sister Esther’s marriage to Robert Mawdsley.

Meanwhile Martha Alice Mawdsley married one Frank Kniveton on 11 Jun 1893, so we will encounter her again when dealing with JOHN KENNETH KNIVETON.

We now need to return to Martha Mawdsley, Robert senior’s sister. On 16 January 1861 she married Joseph Harding (1823-1885) at Maghull. Joseph Harding was the son of a writing master from Cumberland who taught in Liverpool. He was employed by HM Customs as an examining officer. This seems to have been well paid as he was able to employ a couple of servants. After a time in Maghull, he moved his family to Beresford Road, Oxton, Birkenhead. He and Martha had 3 children, Joseph William Berry Harding (1868-1939), Florence Anne Harding (1871-1954) and Charles Reginald Harding (1873-1959). Joseph became an architect, never married and did not leave as much as might be expected. Charles worked for a bank, and did very well, marrying with 2 children. Florence married her cousin WILLIAM CHARLES MAWDSLEY, so we will encounter her again. Martha Mawdsley was left only £12 when her husband died, so this family too must have lived to the very limits of their income. After her husband’s death she moved first to Hoylake and then to Wallasey, housekeeping for her sons.


Mawdsley P.jpg

William Charles Mawdsley (1860-1918) is probably the only member of the United States Armed Forces from our area to die during the First World War. He was also one of the oldest, being 58 years old when he died.

William Charles Mawdsley was baptized on 16 August 1860 at Maghull, Lancashire. He was the eldest son of Robert Mawdsley (1827-1907) and Esther Owen (1830-1901). He broke with the family tradition of farming and went to sea. He started out as a pilot on the river Mersey before working his way up as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy. He spent years as an engineer on the Californian, operating between Yokohama and San Diego. Following promotion, he moved to his final ship, the Buena Ventura.

At the age of 44, he married his first cousin Florence Anne Harding at St Mary, Liscard, Wallasey on 14 August 1905. They presumably married by licence for 2 reasons, because they were closely related, and because he was away at sea too much to be present for banns to be read.

William Charles Mawdsley marriage 1905.JPG

They had 3 children. The eldest Gladys Ellen Mawdsley (1908-1997) married Algernon Dean, scion of a Leasowe market gardening family, and had one daughter.

The next children were twins. Florence (1912-1934) did not marry and died aged only 21. Her brother Robert William Mawdsley (1912-1972) became an electrician, but does not seem to have married either.

At the start of the war, William was working as chief engineer for the Isthmian Steam Ship Company of New York. This company was set up in 1910 by US Steel to transport their products. Originally their ships sailed under the British flag, but in 1914 they were put under the US flag for protection during the war.

William worked on the SS Buena Ventura, which was launched in 1913. When the US entered the war in 1917, the SS Buena Ventura was taken over by the American Transport Service. At this point William had the option to leave the ship, but chose to remain part of her crew. Initially the ship was part of the US Army with a US Navy Armed Guard manning her guns, but on 25 July 1918 she was transferred to the US Navy. At some stage William was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve Force (class 3).

USS Buenaventura from www.naval-history.net.JPG

SS Buena Ventura in US Navy service from http://www.naval-history.net

On 16 September 1918 the ship was a member of convoy OV31, 2 days out of Le Verdun-sur-Mer and on her way back under ballast to Philadelphia. She was in the Atlantic about 200 miles north-west of Spain when she was hit by 2 torpedoes in quick succession. There is dispute about which U-boat was responsible. The convoy had no protection from any escort ships at this stage of the voyage. The lifeboat that William was assigned to was destroyed by one of the torpedoes. The captain apparently ordered him to join another, but if he did it did not survive. He was one of 18 lives lost in the sinking, the remainder of the crew escaping.

USS Buena Ventura service from wiki.JPG

Details of Buena Ventura from wikipedia

Unlike some of his relations, he must have lived well within his income, leaving over £2,500 to his widow. She was sent a letter of condolence by Vice-Admiral Sims, US Navy Commander, US Naval Forces, European Waters, and a commemorative scroll signed by the President  of France, Raymond Poincaré.

There are apparently no Commonwealth style war memorials in the United States. As he was serving in the US Navy, he was not relevant to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is believed that he is commemorated on a headstone in Grange Cemetery, West Kirby. If a photo becomes available it will be added to this post.

He is apparently commemorated on the US Merchant Navy Memorial at Runnymede, Surrey.

He is also remembered on the family memorial in the graveyard of St Andrew’s Church, Maghull.

In 1932 the Navy–Merchant Marine Memorial was erected in what is now known as Ladybird Johnson Park on Columbia Island, Washington DC to commemorate the First World War US dead from the Navy and Merchant Marine.

US Navy - Merchant Marine Memorial Washington DC from wiki.JPG

Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial from wikipedia

Birth: Jul 1860 at Maghull, Lancashire
Death: 16 Sep 1918 at sea; torpedoed
Addresses: 23 Liverpool Road, Maghull (61); Turnpike Road, Maghull (71); Yew Tree Farm, Higher Road, Halewood (01); 7 Hilbre Road, West Kirby (05); 6 Queens Way, Wallasey (11); 13 Airlie Road, Hoylake (18)
Occupation: marine engineer
Unit: USS Buena Ventura
Rank: Lieutenant
Medals: not known
Commemorated: US Merchant Navy Memorial, Runnymede, Surrey; St Andrew’s Church, Maghull, Lancashire
Sources: Census: 61, 71, 01,11, DA, PR, Probate, US Navy Casualty Books; Wikipedia; family


BN 5 8 16 p.jpg

John Kenneth Kniveton

The unusual very ancient surname of Kniveton originates in the Derbyshire village of the same name. From the way it was recorded from verbal evidence, the usual pronunciation seems to be Niverton.

John Kenneth Kniveton was born on 18 October 1897 at Halewood, probably at his grandfather’s farm of Yew Tree, Higher Road. He was the son of Frank Kniveton (1862-1909) and Martha Alice Mawdsley (1867-1929). He was the 3rd of 7 children having an older brother, Frank Mawdsley Kniveton (1894-1962), an older sister, Grace Kathleen Ines Kniveton (1895-1976), and 4 younger sisters, Hester Alice Owen Kniveton (1899-1987), Ruth Setright Kniveton (1902-1987), Ethel Mary Kniveton (1905-1994) and Frances Anita Kniveton (1909-1981). Frances was born after her father’s death.

Frank Kniveton’s grandfather, John Kniveton (1799-1858) was born in Astley, part of the parish of Leigh, Lancashire, a few miles west of Manchester. He married Ellen Jackson (1805-1852) on 10 August 1834 at St Mary, Eccles. When their only son William Kniveton (1835-1916) was baptised he described himself as a husbandman, but at the 1851 census he was an agricultural labourer, and the family was living in Pilkington. Probably because they only had one child, William was able to get apprenticed as an engineer, and then went to sea as a marine engineer.

On 7 May 1859 William married Grace Setright (1838-1920) in her home of Limerick, Ireland. Their first son, John (1859-1883) was born in 1859 in Limerick, so it would seem that the marriage was a necessity. For a while they lived in Bedford in the parish of Leigh, and this was where their second child Frank was born in 1862. They were not well off at this time as Grace worked as a linen weaver in 1861 and the family were boarders, not having their own home. Frank was followed by 2 sisters, Ellen Ann (1864-1960) and Grace (1866-1881) and then by another brother, Will (1869-???).

By 1871 the family had moved to Torr Street, Everton in Liverpool, which will have made life easier when William was not at sea. They remained in Liverpool at various addresses.

Frank’s brother John followed his father to become a marine engineer, but, sadly was lost at sea in August 1883 at the age of 24 when the SS Zelini sailed from Cardiff and was never seen or heard of again.

Frank and Will both went into employment as clerks. Frank worked for a produce broker and Will as a shipping clerk. In 1898 Will emigrated to Australia, and possibly later moved to New Zealand.

They were certainly a family not bound to home, as when Frank married Martha Alice Mawdsley on 11 January 1893 at St Nicholas, Halewood, he gave his address as Valencia, Spain and described himself as a merchant.

Frank Kniveton - Martha Alice Mawdsley marriage.JPG

Their eldest child, Frank Mawdsley Kniveton was born in Spain in 1894, so presumably Frank and Martha decided to live there at the beginning of their marriage. However by the time Grace Kathleen Ines Kniveton was born in 1895, Martha at least had moved back to Halewood. It seems probable that she and her children actually lived at Yew Tree Farm with her father, and it is likely that that is where John was born on 18 October 1897. John was baptised on 5 Dec 1897 at St Nicholas, Halewood. His father again gave his address as Valencia, Spain and described himself as a merchant.

When Hester was born in October 1897 the family was still at Halewood, but by 1901 they had moved to 1 York Avenue, West Kirby, though they usually described it as Sandy Lane. From this time on Frank Kniveton always describes himself as a fruit salesman. One wonders whether he was ever actually a merchant on his own account. About this time Frank Kniveton moved his Spanish base from Valencia to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. From surviving passenger lists he seems to have spent up to 9 months at a time away from England. He will have been a very intermittent presence in his children’s childhoods. At the 1901 census John was at Yew Tree Farm with his grandfather.

In 1905 sister Ruth arrived on the scene, followed in 1905 by Ethel. In September 1907 Martha accompanied Frank to Las Palmas, taking one daughter, presumably the then youngest Ethel, with her. They only returned to England in July 1908. This followed the death of Martha’s father Robert Mawdsley in January 1907, so, possibly, Martha’s elder spinster sister Anne Jane Mawdsley was left in charge of her nephews and nieces in West Kirby for this period.

Frank Kniveton died in Las Palmas on 5 April 1909. Martha went out to Las Palmas at some time in 1909 as she returned to England on 29 April. However no record of her journey to Spain has been found, so we do not know whether she was there when Frank died. She was pregnant as daughter Frances was born later in the year.

Frank Kniveton probate.JPG

Frank left over £650 in England, but it seems probable that he also left some estate in Spain. Certainly Martha subsequently lived as if she had been left with more money.

At the 1911 census, John was a pupil at Braeside School, Devonshire Road in West Kirby. This was a boarding school preparing boys for public schools. Previous alumni include ERIC BLACKBURN and ALEC ROWAN HERRON who also died in service during the war. It is not known whether John went on to a public school.

John’s mother remained at 1 York Avenue after her husband’s death. John’s older brother Frank aged 17 was at that time working as an apprentice fruit broker, so he presumably did not remain very long at school.

John’s military record has not survived, so it is informed speculation that he answered the Earl of Derby’s call for volunteers in August 1914 to enlist in the 17th (Pals) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment as Private 26115. If so he was one of the 1050 men who got up very early on 31 August 1914 to be the first to enlist at St George’s Hall. GEORGE EYTON HOULDSWORTH was another who joined the same battalion on the same day, but at that stage they probably did not know each other. John was still 48 days short of his 17th birthday, so one of the youngest to enlist, and presumably lied about his age.



Liverpool Pals cap badge

From his medal card we know that John landed in Boulogne, France on 7 November 1915. This was when the battalion first reached the war zone.

J K Kniveton medal card - snipped.JPG

The 17th Battalion saw its first serious action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 when they successfully attacked towards Montauban with few casualties.

John was killed in action during the phase known as the Battle of Albert which took place during the first fortnight of July. He was last seen alive at Trones Wood on the 10th July. He was just 18 years old.

He is buried at Bernafay Wood British Cemetery, Montauban.

Bernafay Wood jpg.jpg

Bernafay Wood Cemetery, Montauban

He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial and the plaques at St Bridget & St Andrew churches, all in West Kirby.

John’s elder brother Frank Mawdsley Kniveton became a Lieutenant in the King’s Liverpool Regiment and was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1918.

His sister Grace never married, possibly because many of her potential husbands were killed during the war. However all 4 of his younger sisters married. The youngest, Frances, married one Walter Longton Mawdsley. It is probable that they were 3rd cousins, but this has not been checked.

Birth: 18 Oct 1897 at Halewood, Lancashire
Death: 10 Jul 1916 at Trones Wood, Somme, France; killed in action
Addresses: Yew Tree Farm, Higher Road, Halewood (01); Braeside School, Devonshire Road, West Kirby (11); 1 York Avenue, West Kirby (14)
Occupation: not known
Unit: ‘A’ Company, 17th (Pals) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment
Rank and number: Private; 26115
Medals: 15 Star, Victory & British War
Buried & Commemorated: Bernafay Wood British Cemetery, Montauban, Picardy, France grave G 6
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, MC, Census: 01,11, BN, PR, Probate, UK Deaths at Sea, BR




11 thoughts on “William Charles Mawdsley and John Kenneth Kniveton

  1. Another superb pair of biographies, which remind us of the surprisingly diverse and international experiences and involvements of many prewar Merseyside families.

  2. William Charles Mawdesley is remembered on the family memorial in the graveyard of St. Andrews’ Church, Damfield Lane, Maghull. He had started out as a river pilot on the Mersey and worked his way up in the merchant navy. He spent years as an engineer on The Caliornian, operating between Yokohama and San Diego. He then was promoted, and moved to the Buena Ventura, with which he met his death.
    A letter of condolence was sent to his widow by Vice-Admiral Sims, US Navy Commander, US Naval Forces, European Waters. Shwe was also sent a commemorative scrll signed by president Poincare. His name is engraved on the US Merchant Navy Memorial at Runnymede, Surrey.

  3. John Kenneth Kniveton was my great uncle. He was known as Kenneth. His elder brother was Paco.
    His sisters were known as Dolly, Ruth, Molly and Fanny, in addition to Hester (Tess), my grandmother, who asked me on her deathbed to find and visit his grave, which I did in 1987. With a German friend we laid a wreath. Kenneth was indeed a Liverpool pal. He lied about his age, and was partially deaf. I have some letters written from France, trying to cheer his mother by saying the shellfire had improved his hearing. He died in Trônes Wood, now a pretty place, but then a famous hell hole, one of the worst places of slaughter on the Somme.
    My grandmother Tess married Oscar Prentice, General Manager of the Sea Insurance Company. They lived in some style at Oxton Hall, before retiring to the South Coast. Thank you for this great piece of research on the Mawdsley/ Knivetons.

  4. Hi Nicholas

    Many thanks for your kind comments. All very interesting. This is one of my favourite posts.


  5. John Kniveton is listed in “Liverpool Pals who proceeded overseas in November 1917”
    He was indeed in the 17th Battalion ( 1st City Battalion The King’s)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s