The story begins in 1732 when John Cain married Isabel Emerson at St. John’s Chapel in Weardale. They had at least eight children including the three youngest sons John, Thomas and Emerson. Perhaps the brothers went to Blanchland to earn a living as lead miners, for John and Emerson married Blanchland girls, while Thomas married a Stanhope lass. Then, perhaps to make their fortunes in the mines of Alston Moor, the brothers decided to move with their wives to the Wellgill/Hilltop area of Nenthead in the 1780’s. There they continued to expand their families and they also joined the Independent congregation to worship at Redwing Chapel near Garrigill.
Tragedy followed John. He appears to have married four times, to Margaret, Ann, Mary and Sarah in succession. Margaret and Ann never recovered from their first childbirth, and by the time of his fourth marriage, in 1803, John was too old to father any more children. However he had produced four surviving children, all by his third wife, Mary, with one traceable son, Adam. The next brother, Thomas, with his wife Mary, produced two daughters who died in infancy, and two sons, John and Thomas. The third brother, Emerson, and his wife Jane, produced seven children of whom three daughters and one son, Forster, survived to adulthood.
Of this next generation the sons, Forster (born 1786), John (born 1789), Thomas (born 1794), and Adam (born 1799), followed their fathers into the mines – there was little else to do on Alston Moor and the mines were at their productive peak. One of Forster’s sisters, Isabel, married well; her husband, Isaac Hornsby, was a senior mine agent for the London Lead Company. Another sister, Sarah, moved away when she married Joseph Deighton of Wallsend. Of Forster himself little can be discovered. He was a miner, he married Margaret Waugh in 1807 and they lived at Hilltop where they had three children and he disappears after 1821.
Thomas was married at the age of thirty-two, quite late in life for those days, in 1826 to Frances Proud of Slaggyford. A little of their family life is known; they became Wesleyans and they had five children, but only their three daughters survived. Thomas was a mine agent for the London Lead Company and, as a privileged worker, he was given a house in Hillersdon Terrace, then the family moved to Garrigill sometime after 1851, where Thomas died in 1862.
Adam married Elizabeth Walton in 1822 and for a time they lived at Nentsberry Greenends before moving to Tynehead between 1827 and 1829. Things can’t have been satisfactory there and they moved to the Durham coalfields before 1834, where Adam became a ‘sinker’ of mine shafts.
John married Nancy Cowper in 1810 and they had nine children, including four sons, Thomas (1813), Joseph Cowper (1815), John (1821) and Cowper (1826). John the father was a mine agent for Galligill Syke West Company. After his death in 1845 at the age of fifty-five, Nancy, or Ann as she is recorded in the census returns, stayed on in Galligill. Of their daughters, Mary went into service in Hexham and Nancy went into service in Yorkshire. Neither of them married. The eldest son Thomas became a mine agent for the London Lead Company but moved away northwest to become a ‘mining engineer’ in Dumfriesshire sometime before 1851.
Joseph Cowper became a lead mine agent for several companies on Alston Moor and lived with his wife, Hannah, and two daughters next door to his mother in Galligill. In the later 1850’s he was appointed surveyor of the London Lead Company’s mines in upper Weardale and went to live at Newhouse in Stanhope, where he lived for the next thirty years or so. As lead mining declined in the area he became manager of the mines and later the smelt mills as well. Joseph, like his brother John, lived long enough to enjoy a retirement at his final residence in Grosvenor Place, Newcastle.
John became a lead miner and mine agent and he also moved away, this time southeast to Wensley in Yorkshire, then Darlington in Durham before settling at Leyburn in Yorkshire where he lived to a ripe old age (over seventy-nine in fact). Like his uncle and namesake he had had his share of tragedy. His first two wives, Ann followed by Mary, died and his last wife, Margaret, whom he married in the 1880’s, was thirty-nine years his junior and fifteen years younger than his spinster daughter, Sarah, who lived with them.
The youngest son, Cowper, stayed clear of lead mining and instead went to Newcastle to serve an apprenticeship as a draper, after which time he moved to County Durham where he seems to have made a modest but comfortable living with his wife and two daughters, at first in Stanhope and then in Darlington.
In 1861 there were only two Cain households left on Alston Moor, John’s widow Ann with her daughter at Galligill, and her brother-in-law Thomas with his wife and daughter at Garrigill. All the others had died or left the district. Soon there were no Cains left here because Ann and Thomas died in the 1860’s and the daughters disappear from the records. Within three generations the Cain family had come to Alston Moor and gone.