Luanco. Image source: Wikipedia
Old Hall St, late C19. Image source.
Ysidro Álvarez was one of the earliest members of what would soon become a thriving Hispanic waterfront community. Like his neighbour José Romero, he arrived in Liverpool in the 1850s, married a local girl, and worked his way through a whole range of professions. Ysidro, however, was more fortunate than his short-lived compatriot. He resided in Liverpool for more than fifty years and died in 1914, at the age of 83.
Ysidro was born in an Asturian fishing port, either Luanco (left) or Luarca in about 1831. Like many men from the Asturian coast, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a mariner, achieving his certificate of competency as a first mate in Dublin in June 1858. Within a year, he had made his way to Liverpool, and on 6 July 1859, under the name *Manuel José Álvarez, he married Hannah Matilda Ivans, known as Annie, at Liverpool's St Saviour church.
Like many seamen, Ysidro had given up the sea on his marriage, setting up as an outfitter and dealer at 26 Old Hall Street, where the family would be based from 1861 to 1875. Ysidro and Hannah had five children, although only the two eldest survived early childhood: Elvira Maria Elizabeth (1860-1924); Manuela (1862-1912); Annie Amelia (1863-1864); Joseph Ysidoro (1865-1869); Julian (b. and d. 1867). For much of the time, Ysidro's nephews from Asturias, Ricardo Ovies (b. 1847) and **Julian Ovies (b. 1854) lived with the family. The household also sometimes included servants, although this did not always turn out successfully. In November 1861, we read in the local newspaper that:
Exactly a year later, in November 1862, the family's new servant, Elizabeth Ellis, was sentenced to four months in prison for stealing 'a quantity of Orlean cloth, two handkerchiefs, two mufflers, a brooch, and a purse,' which were found under her bed in the Alvarez family home (Liverpool Mercury, 10 Nov. 1862: 5). Undaunted, we find them advertising again in 1864 for 'a servant-of-all-work who can wash' and 'a young girl about 15 years of age as Nurse,' specifying that 'none need apply except with good character' (Liverpool Daily Post, 23 Jan 1864: 3).
Like many small business owners of the time, Ysidro also had to deal with petty crime at his workplace, which allows us some insight into his businesses. For example, in March 1866, we read in the Liverpool Daily Post that:
Walsh offered no defence and was found guilty. By 1869, Ysidro was also involved in the boot and shoe trade, advertising in October of that year for 'a young man who thoroughly understands the business' to manage a shoe shop (Liverpool Daily Post, 14 Oct. 1869: 3). He seems to have been unlucky in his employees, since the following month he was once again the victim of an inside crime:
Ysidro's involvement with the courts did not always see him in the role of victim. Between 1863 and 1865 he was a defendant in three separate court cases. Perhaps the most difficult case was in March 1863 when Ysidro's sister in law Frances Butler accused him of sexual assault. Ysidro's defence was that they had enjoyed a consensual affair and that she had decided to prosecute only when he refused to stand surety for her in a loan application. The jury agreed and the case was dismissed, but it must have taken its toll on all concerned (Liverpool Daily Post, 27 Mar. 1863: 8). In 1864 he was again before the bench, this time for having failed to pay for more than £50 worth of goods from another draper (he was found guilty), while the following year, he was involved in a legal tussle with a former employee over ownership of a small terrier dog. Apparently Ysidro had borrowed the dog in order to have its photograph taken with his daughter (Elvira?) and then failed to return it for almost a year. The case was dismissed, but the employee got his dog back, and then sued Ysidro for false imprisonment (Liverpool Mercury, 18 Feb 1865: 4; 15 Apr. 1865: 6).
What is interesting about all of these cases is that unlike in other contemporary cases involving Spaniards, the newspapers never mention Ysidro's Spanish origins, suggesting that Spanishness was not a central part of his public identity. That said, we have evidence that Ysidro sometimes used Spanish in a professional capacity. For example, in 1869, he officiated as interpreter in the trial of a Manilla sailor called Juan Florenda, who was accused of stabbing to death two 'coloured seamen' in Frederick Street (Liverpool Daily Post, 12 Aug 1869: 7). He also seems to have branched out into importing cigars, the very definition of Spanish luxury goods. During July 1866, the Liverpool Daily Post carried the following advertisement:
Ysidro kept up this sideline for several years. Almost a decade later, the Liverpool Mercury has him advertising another consignment from his new address in Park Lane:
Meanwhile, Ysidro and Annie's family life seems to have been troubled, especially with the deaths of their three small children during the 1860s. On leaving Old Hall Street between 1871 and 1875, the family moved south to Toxteth, where in 1881 they are recorded at 3 Wilson Street. By 1891, however, the family was dispersed. Ysidro and eldest daughter Elvira were living at 80 Selbourne St, but Manuela, now 29, was in the Liverpool Workhouse and her mother Annie was a patient at Rainhill Hospital. Annie died in 1900 and Manuela in 1912, both at Rainhill. Elvira, on the other hand, seems to have inherited her father's interest in business. Artistically talented, she attended the Liverpool School of Art, receiving an advanced drawing prize in 1894 (Liverpool Mercury, 19 Dec. 1894: 7). In 1889, she had a stand at the Spanish Exhibition in Earl's Court in London, which was described in the programme as
By 1900, both Elvira and Ysidro were shop owners. Elvira ran the Fine Arts Repository at 105 Bold Street, in the heart of Liverpool's most elegant shopping quarter, while Ysidro operated a tailor's shop from their home on the 'Spanish block' at 60 Park Lane. It was a far cry from his arrival in the city forty years earlier, when he had been one of just a handful of Spaniards. Now, as a resident of the 'Spanish block,' he was surrounded by compatriots and there was even a (short-lived) 'Spanish Club' run out of the boarding house next door.
Ysidro's long life ended in 1914, when he died in Liverpool at the advanced age of 83. He left no living descendants but the unmarried Elvira, who would survive him by just ten years.
*The alternative name is confusing, but cross-referencing different records, it seems likely that Manuel and Ysidro were the same man. After 1861, he was always known as Ysidro, sometimes spelled Ysidoro, Isidro, Isidore, Isodoro, or Isidoro; variations on his surname include Albarez, Albriz, and Allrig.
**Julian de Ovies settled in Liverpool and was the father of the Liverpool-born American religious leader, Raimundo de Ovies.