The Unwin family of Derbyshire and Liverpool

CQD medal

The ‘Come Quickly Danger’ medal awarded to George Unwin 1866-1928. See ‘Incidents' 

The connection

George Unwin 1892-1975 is Will’s maternal grandfather

The name

The name has two meanings. In early old English ‘Hunwine', was a personal name meaning ‘bear cub friend’. In early Middle English it means ‘unfriend’ or ‘enemy’


Auntie Eileen 1915-94, Uncle George (Buddy) 1920-86 and Will’s mum Rita 1917-2000. The snap was taken c1924


A newspaper cutting marking the death of Betty Unwin on the liner City of Benares in 1940. She was being evacuated to Canada when the ship was torpedoed by a U-boat. 

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George Alfred Unwin 1866-1928, Will’s gt grandfather, was a steward on the White Star transatlantic liners. He was on RMS Republic in 1909 when she sent the first Come Quickly Danger radio message. He died in New York and his coffined body was brought back to the UK aboard a Cunard liner.


A menu from one of the White Star liners in the early 20th century, when George Alfred Unwin was a ship’s steward.

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George Unwin 1839-84, Will’s gt gt grandfather, was a sailmaker who died in Montevideo after his ship, Rotomahana, an iron-hulled sailing vessel, caught fire and was wrecked off the Falklands. Pictured is the Lady Elizabeth, a similar ship that came to grief off Stanley. Picture: Brian Gratwicke, Wikimedia Commons

Odds and ends

• Will’s grandfather George Laurence Unwin was a cotton porter on Liverpool docks. He was known as "the memory man" for being able to name the Liverpool FC team that played any match since 1900. He is also believed to have had a trial as a player for a major club, possibly Manchester United or Burnley.

• One of George Laurence’s boyhood stories involved his mother berating him for being late home one night. He was insistent it had stayed light later that night. Us grandchildren treated the tale with the scepticism it deserved. In recent years, however, the phenomenon of “bright nights” has been recognised.

• Frank Unwin 1920-2018 (1st cousin once removed) published his memoirs in 2018, recounting his time as a PoW. He escaped from the Italians and then his British officers before being caught by the Germans. He went on to have a distinguished career in the diplomatic service. Frank’s brother Les 1922-2001 was landlord of the Golden Lion pub near Rugby. 


• The Unwins moved from Derby to Liverpool in the early 1800s. We haven’t found a precise date but 4x gt grandfather James 2 was born in Derby in 1791 and was in Liverpool by 1841. His wife Margaret Williams was born in Lancashire; judging by the ages of their children, we believe James was in Liverpool by 1818.

• Disasters at sea blighted the family. George 2 1839-84, 2x gt grandfather, died after a ship fire in the Falklands; George Alfred 1866-1928, great grandfather, was on the RMS Republic in 1909, and Betty Unwin 1928-40 (1st cousin once removed) was killed when the City of Benares was torpedoed.  

The detail

Want to know more about the Unwin and Brookfield families? We’ve put together these family history files. The Unwin tree also includes the Stanley and Goff families

Being written!!!
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The Peacock Inn in Toxteth was one of the first licensed pubs in Liverpool. It was run by the grandparents of Margaret Williams 1838-1922 who married George Unwin 


Will’s mum Rita Unwin went to Gwladys Street school, Liverpool. This photo is from 1926


Sailor boys – an 1890s picture of Will’s great uncle ‘Frank’ Unwin 1888-1965, left, with his grandfather George Laurence Unwin 1891-1975

Quick reference: Bramhill

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Quick reference: Hudson