Thomas Edward Gallagher, Biography

9th October 1879  -  2nd April 1926
Thomas Edward Gallagher was born on 9th October 1879 at 3, West Street, West Hartlepool, County Durham, UK to Edward and Susan (nee Paul) Gallagher.  Thomas was the second of sixteen children, though only thirteen survived to adulthood.  Two of his young siblings died in two separate fire accidents at their home and a third died of Bronchitis.  Thomas' father, Edward, was born in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, and his mother was born in Seaham Harbour, County Durham to Irish parents.

Thomas became an accomplished acrobat and was particularly adept at walking on his hands.  He and his brother would wager with other children that he could walk across the bridge over the railway line entirely on his hands, and while balancing on the hand rail.  Few believed that such a feat was possible and they all lost their money. 
Thomas Gallagher (taken c1907)
Thomas married Ethel Austen in 1907                                       
Thomas fathered six children, however, the eldest, Edward (Teddy) born in 1909, died of complications from Scarlet Fever at the age of five.  Paul was born in 1911, Alfred in 1912, Margaret in 1914, Liles in 1916 and Brian in 1919.

During the war years (1914-1918) Thomas was enlisted to continue working at the Spencer & Sons Steelworks as they were manufacturing products that were critical to the war effort.

Thomas' father, Edward, died in 1919 and a few months later his widowed mother Susan emmigrated with several of her children to New Jersey, USA.  Only Thomas and a few of his siblings stayed in England.

Thomas was a talented pianist and singer with a fine baritone voice and, he would sometimes play the piano and sing to entertain the family or visitors.  However, he never forgot his acrobatic skills and taught all his children to walk on their hands.  He would lie on the floor and let his children climb on his hands and shoulders and then lift them up like an acrobatic team.  He also taught them to play cricket.  Ethel left disciplining the children to Thomas who, if he judged the transgression serious enough, would occasionally administer the "slipper".
Paul, Margaret, Thomas, Brian, Liles, Alfred, and Ethel (left to right) at 10 Greenfield Place (1925)
Thomas and Ethel Gallagher (1925)
By 1925 Thomas had become seriously ill with cancer of the neck and throat.  It was believed that a kick in the neck that he received while playing rugby, may have triggered the condition.  In the hope that the warmer climate in the south of England might benefit his health, Ethel moved the family down to Ottery St Mary in Devon, where they rented accomodation at Ash Farm.

Soon after Ethel arrived in Devon with her sick husband, young family, and no source of income, they met the Lindsay family through the local church.

The Lindsays, were relatively well off and on learning of Ethel's predicament, they, very generously, paid for the three youngest children, Brian, Liles and Margaret, to attend local boarding schools. 

Meanwhile, Paul and Alfred, now teenagers, found jobs to help support the family.

Sadly, Thomas never lived to see any of his grandchildren.  A few months after arriving in Ottery St. Mary, Thomas died on 2nd April 1926 at the young age of 46.  He was buried at St. Michael and All Angels Church, Honiton, Devon.

At the time that Thomas was buried in 1926, the family was too poor to afford a headstone so he lay in an unmarked grave until August 2005, when Alfred, now his only surviving son, finally redressed the situation and had a headstone erected in memory of his late father.  Thomas' wife, Ethel, died on 21st February 1956 and is buried in Crewkerne cemetery.  The family had relocated to Crewkerne during the WWII to escape the German bombing raids.


                       by David Gallagher & Alfred Gallagher, July 2010



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In the 1901 census Thomas was living with his parents and his job was recorded as Timber Yard Foreman.  He met his future wife, Ethel Austen, from Faversham, Kent while on tour as an actor and acrobat, and they were married on 28th September 1907 in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne.  To accomodate his new responsibilities of starting a family, Thomas found employment at Spencer Steel Works in Newburn on Tyne, including the positions of Locomotive Fireman and Foreman Slinger.  During the 1911 census the family was living in 6, Beanley Avenue, Lemington on Tyne.  They later moved to 6, Tyne Vale Terrace, Lemington on Tyne and then on to 10 Greenfield Place, Ryton on Tyne. 
Greenfield Place, Ryton, the family home c1925
Thomas Gallagher(front right) with West Hartlepool RFC, 1904 (photo courtesy of Chris McLoughlin, West Hartlepool RFC)
Thomas was living with his parents in 1901 at their family home and China shop on the corner at 46 Murray Street, West Hartlepool.  Over 100 years later, the shop is now a Charity shop (pictured above, photo courtesy of Chris McLoughlin).
Thomas was also a skilled sportsman.  He played rugby for West Hartlepool Rugby Football Club for many years and was capped playing for Durham County in 1906-07.  His family was very much into Rugby as his father, Edward, was secretary of West Hartlepool RFC and his sister, Susan Westoe Gallagher born 1900, was named after Westoe Rugby Football Club.
Thomas' Rugby Cap for Durham County
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The house where Thomas' children were born before and during WW1, 6 Tynevale Terrace, Lemington on Tyne, has been significantly modernised.  (photo 2014, courtesy of Tony Jones)
Spencer & Sons Steelworks, workers outing to Lanchester(?), 26 June 1920 (Thomas is far left)