William started out as a labourer on a farm at Sturton Grange, a tiny agricultural community in Warkworth, Northumberland. He was working among English people so we assume that he gained the name “Irish Willie” from the people he worked and lived with. Poignantly,the memoirs tell of his wife, Sarah in her latter years.
” . . . .when she was old and losing her memory a bit Grandpa missed her and saw her away down the road walking very quickly. He hurried after her and asked her to come and have tea with him, but she said “No, please don’t ask me as I’m a bit late and I’m hurrying to meet Irish Willie”.
William and Sarah met while he was working under her father, Henry in the tilery at Sturton Grange. Many large farms had tilerys on them to make the drainage tiles that were used to drain excess water from the land. They were generally built where there were large deposits of clay. The process was very labor intensive.
Sarah Clark was described as being a tiny girl with a pink and white complexion. She spoke in the old dialect using thou and durst (dare), common in the border country. Whatever, her attributes, William decided she was the girl for him. Her family did not agree to them marrying, so they ran away to be married across the Scottish border. It was thought at Gretna Green but finding no records of them there, I contacted the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society. I was able to get a record of an irregular marriage for them which took place on July 10, 1847 at Lamberton Toll, Scotland. This is just north of the border and close to Alnwick where they spent their early years. The reasons for the irregular marriage can only be assumed but Sarah was of age being 26.