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A personal theory by Kenneth William Nesworthy.

Matthew Nursworthy - A seafaring history

Matthew Nursworthy was a seaman who visited the port of South Shields. The earliest records I could find indicate that he was in the North-East England town on December 18th, 1842.(1) This was his wedding day where he tied the knot with Mary Ridley at St Hilda's, Church of England, situated next to South Shields Market Place.

Mary's father, Robert, was a Shipwright and Matthew's father, Thomas, was listed as a labourer. Neither Matthew nor Mary could sign their name and simply marked 'X'' for the certificate. Both were residents of South Shields. How long Matthew had lived in Shields, I do not know but Mary, with the 'Geordie' surname of Ridley, I imagine was a local girl.

Shields Pier, South Shields

Shields Pier, South Shields: from an old postcard

Having checked the 1851 census, I discovered that the family had moved onto the River front next to the mighty River Tyne. The river was a hive of hustle and bustle with the activity of sail ships coming in and out of port. Residing at 15, Marshalls Quay, the newlyweds lived next door to Mary's family at number 14. Living in that household were Robert and Elizabeth Ridley and their son, daughter, grandson and a visitor. (1851 census) People living here were referred to as "SkitEnders"; this term applied to those abiding in the poorer area of the town. Ironically, most of the population in the town lived in this area due to its close proximity to the main artery of their life, the River Tyne.

The 1851 census (2) recorded Matthew as thirty-two and Mary as twenty-eight. Consequently, I was able to calculate the ages of Matthew and Mary on their wedding day as twenty-three and nineteen years respectively. At the time of the census, the couple by then had three sons, Robert, six, James, four and Matthew, two. The 1851 census document's information regarding place of birth initiated my theory on how the family name began to develop and evolve.

Shields Sands beach, South Shields

Shields Sands Beach: from an old postcard

Matthew was born in a place called Staverton, a small inland village on the River Dart, situated in the beautiful county of Devon in the South West of England. He was listed in the 1851 census as a Mariner and probably sailed to South Shields on a cargo ship in the early 1840's, meeting Mary whilst in port and marrying in 1842.

Settling in South Shields, he still could not read or write by 1851 and could only mark 'X' as his signature. His West Country drawl and unfamiliar accent may have been difficult for the local government officer completing the census to understand. Subsequently, the outcome was that the officer scribed what he considered the man from the West Country to have said. As Matthew was unable to verify what had been written, the Geordie officer's translation was recorded, and so 'Nors' became 'Nurs'.

By the time of the next census in 1861 the family name had changed again to Nesworthy. For what it's worth, Matthew's later life appears to have been both peripatetic and one of decline. He continued to go to sea and appeared on the Southend, Essex census in 1871 as the mate of the ship "Perseverence" (3). After the turn of the century he was listed as a pauper living in the South Shields Union Workhouse. (4) He died in 1903 at the age of 86 years.(5)

Continued in column 2...

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Bringing it all home

For people reading this who reside outside the UK, admittedly it may seem, at first, a little difficult to fully comprehend but I can assure you that this indeed is a most creditable theory. During the early-mid 1980s, I became interested in discovering more about my own surname, Nesworthy.

King Street, South Shields

King Street, South Shields about 1900: from an old postcard

Having lived in England's North-East coastal, port town of South Shields all my life,13th April 1956 onwards, the name Nesworthy was known to me only amongst my immediate family. I soon realised that Nesworthy was not a common name in our local area, finding only a few Nesworthys in the telephone directory who resided both in the Boldon area and north of the River Tyne in North Shields. During this time, I began to travel around the country and the world. In the hotels in which I stayed, I would refer to the local area telephone directory searching for the name Nesworthy and always feel a sense of both disappointment and relief should I not find any names. This was the first indicator that I, like many people, wanted their name and story to be unique. Of course, everyone's story is unique.

Old Market Place

The Old Market Place, South Shields: from an old postcard

The Nesworthy family, in which I grew up, resided in the area of Laygate, South Shields and was a truly extended family. All lived in Egglesfield Road in a block of one hundred year old, one- bedroom terraced houses and all within 30 metres of each other. Grandad, William Ford, a former shipyard worker, lobster pot fisherman and skipper on the pilot cutters and his wife, Little Nana Agnes, only 4 feet 7 inches tall, lived at 122. Their eldest daughter Norma and husband Joss Thompson lived directly above at 124. At number 100 lived middle daughter Sheila, husband Harry Collier and daughter Lesley Ann and directly below at 98, lived youngest and surviving son Kenneth, wife Yvonne and son Kenneth William. This was a most stable, secure and loving time of my life with many fond memories of family time together.

I was already aware that our name was not a local, North-East name such as Robson ,Milburn, Fenwick or Armstrong. Instead, I believed it could have derived from Scotland, Nana Nesworthy's family having originated from the borders. Moreover, I quite liked the idea of having a Scottish name. I even considered the possibility that it the name may be of Scandinavian origin with Grandad having sea-fairing roots, and as a port town, positive ties across the North Sea seemed indeed plausible. Such a variety of possibilities arose as I searched romantically in my mind for my roots.

Following many hours in the South Shields Local History Library, I have started the Nesworthy story following my basic bloodline back through the male generations of Nesworthy: and starting with the youngest I have now traced a direct line to that first Matthew Nessworthy who first set foot on Tyneside.

Ken Nesworthy

Ken Nesworthy


1. Marriage of Matthew Nursworthy to Mary Ridley.Parish Church of St Hilda, South Shields. Parish Register entry no. 494. Dec. 13 1842
2. 1851 England Census: South Shields. HO/2400 Folio 158
3. 1861 England Census: RG13/4726 South Shields ED2 Folio 34 13 Schedule 67
4. 1901 England Census: RG13/4739 South Shields Union Workhouse Folio 103 10 1
5. Nessworthy; Matthew 86: England and Wales Civil Registration Index 1837-1983 Deaths March 1903 S Shields 10a 452

Added April 21st 2005
Last updated: March 18th 2012

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