The Women’s Institute (WI) movement has been inspiring women for over 100 years, providing opportunities to learn, to campaign and above all to connect socially with other women. This is the story of fifty years of fun and friendship enjoyed by Nana as a member of her local group, Farnley Estate WI.
Nana was just twenty years old when she married Grandpy and moved away from her childhood home in Askwith to join her in-laws at their farm in Stainburn. It was 1948, petrol rationing was still in force. Jumping into a car to visit friends & family, even those just a few miles distant, was simply not an option.
Fortunately, Nana’s mother-in-law had a solution. What better way to introduce the Nana to some new friends than to take her along to a meeting of the WI? Farnley Estate had been formed just over a decade before and in that time had become an established part of the local social scene for women living in the villages of Farnley, Leathley and Stainburn. I doubt anyone guessed how much of a long-lived gift this turned out to be.
The Nana I knew was never one to seek the limelight and totally unconscious of how much she was liked and admired. Huddled in a warm coat and hat (village halls were draughty places) I imagine she stayed close to her mother-in-law through those first few meetings listening to “a demonstration of slipper making and rope soled shoes” and “travel talks from the dark continent.” I also imagine her quietly slipping into the kitchen at the end of the evening to help with any washing up.
It wasn’t long before Nana became more actively involved, entering the monthly competitions with some success. Her first listed win was for ginger biscuits in March 1949 and it’s no surprise that Nana, a dressmaker by trade, triumphed with her “apron from a shirt” in May 1950. Sadly, her entry in another 1950 competition “a perfect husband in 14 words” has been lost to time……
In August 1958 Farnley Estate WI celebrated their 21st birthday in style at Leathley Grange making the front page in the local newspaper. Nana is standing second from the left in a wonderful polka dot dress which she likely made herself. My Mum, possibly toothless, is the little girl on the front right.
This certainly wasn’t the last time Nana would involve her family in WI activities. As children we often went along to “waitress” at the legendary Teas on the Green, or my favourite, to help sort the clothes and bric-a-brac donated for jumble sales which meant being the first to spot a new jumper or book.
Then there were the outings which Nana loved, and this was where I was in for a wonderful surprise. I had a vague memory that Nana had once had a passport and may have even been on a plane. When you consider that my Mum, her daughter, reached her mid-thirties before taking her first flight it gives you a sense of quite how memorable this must have been. Yet between us we couldn’t remember the details. Leafing through Farnley Estate WI’s booklet “Celebrating 80 years” I came across a photo entitled “a member’s first experience of flying” and there in the middle of the trio boarding the plane was my Nana on her way to the tulip fields of Holland, which is coincidentally where my Mum is headed as I write this!
Nana gave back as much as she received. She was voted onto the committee and was to hold the role of Treasurer although never President and it is not surprise that her commitment was honoured twice, close to the end. In 1997 she was chosen to accept Farnley Estate WI’s 60th birthday certificate Estate WI at the annual WI council meeting in Richmond, and then, in 1998 received a certificate for fifty years of continuous membership.
Sadly, this story of fun and friendship was to end just a few months later. The minutes from 1 February provide a final testament to the love and respect in which Nana was held by the WI.
“A minutes silence was held in memory of Mary Barrett, who died suddenly yesterday morning. Members were very shocked and sad at the loss of a good friend and regular attender at WI meetings over the past 50 years”.
With much gratitude to Farnley Estate WI for the pleasure they gave my Nana and to Daphne Baxter & Sue Kerridge in particular for providing me with extra stories and materials, to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52ancestors challenge and Natalie Pithers and the curious descendents club for keeping me writing and of course to my Nana, who is much loved and missed.
Smaller than a modern five pence piece made of nothing more valuable than gilt and paste, Grandma’s locket could hardly be considered an heirloom. Until, that is, you unpack the stories.
The locket tells of two wonderful times in my Grandma’s life.
Grandad’s picture matches the wedding photos leading me to think this was a wedding gift. As my uncle recently said, “she worshipped me father.” There’s Thomas in the background, brother Thomas, twelve years older, who acted as the father figure when my Grandad’s dad died but perhaps didn’t always act in my Grandad’s best interest when it conflicted with his own.
Grandma’s picture appears to be taken from the one below. She’s with Mary & Jim Marshall (George’s sister & brother-in-law) and likely one of George’s sisters. Neither Aunty Mary nor Aunty Hilda ever had children of their own and remained close to Grandma all her life.
Yet the patina of this locket holds far more of our family history than just two photos of special times.
Twelve times in my life (so far) people have broken into my home and stolen money, TVs, computers, rings and whatever else was worth selling at the time. In one particular house it became fairly standard to come home on a Friday night and find that the house had been broken into. I’ve learnt how to hide or wear the few pieces of jewellery that is either valuable or sentimentally important. I’ve learnt not to take it personally.
Twice though the burglars have taken an entire jewellery box.
The second time was (I hope) my last burglary. I lost the necklace my dead husband had bought me and the ring I’d bought myself after sneaking away with my sister from him & his friends to visit the diamond museum in Amsterdam. I lost the silver bracelet which held charms purchased to reflect twenty years of my life. I lost the paste necklace that was my go-to for posh black-tie events. I lost the little silver stamp holders that made me smile every time I posted a birthday card. I lost the poppy brooch my Mum had bought me because it was the flower for my month of birth. I lost the cheap plastic orange ring that was festival perfect. I even lost the box that my sister had carefully chosen to store all these “treasures.” It hurt.
The first time this happened it was my Mum who suffered. Six months after my dad died Mum arrived home to find our house had been broken into. They’d watched the house; they knew she took my sister to playschool on a Friday morning. They’d gone straight to her bedroom and ransacked one jewellery box, before someone disturbed them, and they ran taking the whole of the second box. So many memories embedded in inexpensive jewellrey that would likely just get thrown were gone. Unlike when it happened to me, Mum had never been burgled before. Whether you’ve experienced this type of crime or not, take a moment to think how it felt to lose so many memories so soon after losing the person to whom they related.
Grandma did the best she could. She took out her own jewellery box and encouraged my mum to take what she wanted. The tiny locket was amongst the things Mum chose. And in doing so this tiny locket became a family heirloom.
One of the wonderful things about writing up & sharing these stories is they often lead to more family memories. Amongst the contents of Grandma’s jewellery box was a broken signet ring. Mum had it mended and inscribed with A for Ann. When my sister tried it on she declared it was A for Anna and it has remained on her hand for the last 30 years!
I am planning a series of stories about objects imbued with family heritage. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and was finally inspired to write by a workshop on the history of an item by Gudrun Laurent part of the wonderful Curious Descendants Club run by Natalie Pithers.
The year was 1707. Queen Anne was on the throne: Queen in her own right, her husband merely a consort. Britain was now just about a “thing” as the negotiations over The Scottish Union were to conclude the following year. We had survived the Glorious Revolution, the Nine Years War and were now fighting the War of Spanish Succession “to preserve the balance of power in Europe”. Despite the heavy land taxes (four shillings a pound) government borrowing increased leading to the formation of the Bank of England in 1694. England was polarising and, in the countryside, successful (tenant) farmers were beginning to dominate the rural economy leaving the less successful to drift downwards into the life of the landless labourer. Closer to home the medicinal powers of the Harrogate springs were starting to draw increasingly large numbers of people to test the purported curative powers.
1707 was also the year that Jeremiah Wilkinson “of Wooten” [likely Weeton] was recorded as being buried at Harewood on 8 December. Jeremiah could be our 9x great grandparent through his son, John, a product of his first marriage to a woman called Ellen rather than Grace Moore who our Jeremiah may have married at Harewood on 4 July 1671. Jeremiah is a rather typical example of the nearly 100 ancestors I can name who were alive in the year 1707. I know nothing more than can be gleaned from church records. This brief paragraph is the sum total of everything I know.
Imagine my excitement then when ancestry offered the hint of a record from the Yorkshire Quarter Sessions of a George Houseman of Winsley indicted on 7 October 1707 with a copy of the original document.
Houseman is not like Smith or Cooper. www.freebmd.org.uk currently shows records for just 2,639 births in England & Wales between 1837 and 1997(*) of which just under half were born in Yorkshire. The Housemans of Nidderdale database records 674 that are proven to directly connect to us and Hartwith cum Winsley was a township right in the centre of it all.
I spent the evening on two trusted (but secondary) genealogical websites. It seems there are two potential contenders. A father’s cousin or a cousin’s nephew, in modern parlance a first cousin once removed
A. My ancestor, baptised on 14 May 1689 at Kirkby Malzeard, son of Thomas Houseman and Elin Carrick. This George married twice, first to Mary Jackson on 11 June 1710 at Kirkby Malzeard who was buried on 1 February 1722 at Ripley and second to Margaret Wilks in 1723 at Pateley Bridge. George’s only recorded children come from his second marriage. Three of his children were recorded as being on Winsley in 1685, 1687 and 1701 in their baptisms.
B. My ancestor’s father’s cousin baptised on 27 April 1661 at Hampsthwaite, married Anna Leuty on 21 January 1686 at Kirkby Malzeard. Two known children: Grace (baptised 1 May 1697 at Ripley) and Ann (baptised 29 November 1689 also at Ripley). One of his daughters, Grace, was recorded as being from Winsley when she was baptised in 1687 and this George was also recorded as being from Winsley when he was buried in Ripley in 1729.
(And as an aside for future the original John Houseman was apparently “slain in Mr. Wythes barn of Eastkeswick with thunder” – how hard was that not to drop into a rabbit hole).
I had no choice, I had to get the Latin translated and here we are:
Knaresborough October 7th 1707
George Houseman: And that George Houseman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, labourer, on the first day of June in the 6th year of the reign of lady Anne, by the grace of God now queen of Great Britain, etc, at Burton Leonard in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, extortionately, injuriously and unjustly exacted, received and had from a certain John Dickinson four shillings and six pence in ready cash, under colour and pretext of a fee due to a certain Robert Stephenson and John Hardcastle, special bailiffs for executing a certain execution upon the body of the aforesaid Dickinson, where in truth no such fee was due to them, to the serious damage of the aforesaid John Dickinson and against the peace of the said now lady queen, her crown and dignity, etc.
Witnesses: Thomas Fox, gentleman, John Dickinson.
Acknowledged: fine 6d.
Knaresborough 5th October 1714
George Houseman: And that George Housman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, husbandman, on the first day of October in the first year of our lord George, by the grace of God now king of Great Britain, etc, at Winsley, aforesaid, in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, unlawfully and unjustly permitted and still permits his hedges and fences in a certain close of the same George called Fleak Bank to be in ruin and decay, to the serious damage of his neighbours, and against the peace of the said now lord king, his crown and dignity, etc.
Witness: Lawr[ence] Danson, gentleman.
Acknowledged: fine 1s.
So we have a labourer in 1707 who extorted money and a husbandman in 1714 who didn’t keep his hedges cut….
George A (my ancestor, the younger) was married for much of this period. George B (the older) had two daughters. Both have links to Winsley. Was it youthful exuberance (George A would have been aged 18 & 25 when the crimes happened) or an older man not knowing how to stay solvent in a changing world with only daughters to see him through (George B would have been 46 & 53)? My gut feel knowing George A left a legacy is that it was the other but who knows? And either way they are both part of my history and understanding of the world in 1707.
*On 28 April 2022, the Houseman count on www.freebmd.org.uk stands at 2,639, the Wellock count at just 1,239 – if I ever do a one name study, I will do two. These two family surnames are heavily concentrated around specific locations in Yorkshire. If you are a descendant of anyone bearing either of these surnames, there is a high chance we are related and a good chance I can prove how – please do get in touch!
My siblings & I have never quite agreed how to spell Grandpy (my mum’s dad). Is it Grandpy, Grampy or Granpy?
It seems, from recent consumer research into the names we Brits call our grandparents, that Grampy is now the more popular. Whilst I may have to concede Grampy is, in fact, a legitimate spelling, he’ll always remain Grandpy to me! Reading the research further I discovered that Grampy is particularly popular in Wales and the South West and my curiosity was piqued for Grandpy’s own great grandparents, Elizabeth Prout and Thomas Barrett, were born in Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire, respectively. Could the name have echoes of distant ancestors? And what other grandparent names have we used in our family?
I was the first grandchild on both sides, so Mum was able to decide what our grandparents would be called. She had a Nan & a Grandma herself so decided on Nana instead for her mum. Grandpy was not, sadly, a historic echo but rather chosen simply as a name which was different and more fun. (As an aside Nana’s sister, Hilda, became Gam, which I also love). Mum’s relationship with her in-laws was undoubtably more formal and she avoided calling her in-laws by any name until I was born when she could refer to them as Grandma and Grandad. My nieces and nephews know Mum as Gran (as Nana will always be Nana, and Nan felt far too old), Dad as Grandad Bob and Mum’s husband as Papa Joe (of Charlie and the Chocolate factory fame).
Mum’s grandparents were Nan & Grandad Booth (Marion Moody & Arthur Booth) and Grandma & Grandad Barrett (Mary Wellock & George Thomas Barrett). Grandpy, in turn, called his own Barrett grandparents Granma & Grandad Barrett (Jane Brooks and Henry Barrett), demonstrating conclusively that the name Grandpy did not pass from our Welsh forebears.
Dad only really knew two of his grandparents. According to my uncle, my grandad’s mum (Mary Abigail Clapham) was Grandma and my grandma’s dad (Jesse Houseman) was Grandad. As there were only two grandparents, there was fortunately no need to add a surname. Fortunate as confusingly both would have been Houseman! Grandma always called her own parents Mother & Dad, perhaps reflecting their respective family status which is also seen in how she referred to her own grandparents. Her father’s parents were Grannie Houseman & Grandad Michael (Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman) and her maternal grandmother was simply Grandma (Maria Reynard) “a refined lady.” Strangely there is no note in Grandma’s memoires of her maternal grandfather, John Scott. He had died just before Grandma was born so she never knew him, yet her other grandfather, Michael, had died almost thirty years earlier and he was still warrented a mention.
With seven Grandads, a Grandpy and a Papa, four Grandmas, a Gran, a Granma, a Grannie, a Nan and a Nana in our family we seem to mirror the modern research. Whilst 68% of men are known as Grandad the women show more diversity with Nan coming in at 33%, Grandma 32% and Nana 24%. Once again, I am grateful to Mum for choosing a more unusual option as a name!
A born & bred Yorkshire lass tells her family stories for a second time!
This time I talk about “farming, names, female ancestors, inheritances, local history and more with tips for making ancestors feel alive and looking for ‘ordinary’ people” plus of course the three critical river valleys of the Washburn, Nidd & Wharfe.
I was excited to take part in this one as I’ve long listened to the Journeys into Genealogy podcast – it’s well worth hearing some of the other episodes too.
Here are some of the links to the stories I talked about.
With much gratitude to Emma Cox for including me on her podcast (the whole of which is worth a listen to) and to Natalie Pithers who recommended me to her and who’s own podcast #twiceremoved is also brilliant.
Thomas Bradbury was a very typical and quite unremarkable example of my Victorian farmer ancestors. Born on 21 December 1820, the youngest of eleven children and the third surviving son, Thomas had been fortunate to secure his own tenancy of a twenty-acre farm within walking distance from where he was born. He married a local girl, Jane Teal, on 29 November 1845. Six healthy children arrived at regular intervals and the family continued to farm at Woodmanwray until Thomas died, aged fifty-eight, on 29 March 1879. Thomas’s gravestone in the Providence United Reformed Churchyard at Dacre had given me his date of death. What else was there left for me to learn? Nonetheless, I added his death certificate to my general registry office shopping basket before moving on to other, more interesting ancestors.
A month later my sister called. A pupil at her school had accidentally ripped the birth certificate belonging to a colleague’s son. Might I be able to help her source a replacement? (There are, it seems, practical benefits to having a family history geek as a sister). It was back to the general registry office website. I took the opportunity to add the rest of my shopping basket to the order and Thomas’s death certificate was on its way.
And right there, under cause of death, was Thomas’s story.
Agriculture still has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) of all the main industry sectors, with the annual average rate over the last five years [to 2020/2021] around twenty times as high as the all-industry rate. At primary school we watched horrifying educational videos of children crushed by machinery or drowning in slurry. Yet friends were still beset by agricultural injury (including one who lost fingers) and I particularly remember the vividly coloured bruises Grandpy received from a tussle with an unruly sheep. Stepping back a hundred years or agricultural accidents were much, much more common and medical assistance much, much less effective.
It was mid-October 1878 when Thomas dislocated his right shoulder. Perhaps he had a run-in with a cow or fell from a roof he was fixing, maybe he twisted his arm trying to manoeuvre a too-heavy stack of straw or simply got caught under an overturned wagon. A common enough occurrence, the initial accident didn’t leave a written record. Whatever the cause it would have been painful and debilitating, the sole positive being that of his family: adult children to run the farm and a wife to provide nursing care.
The dislocation must have resulted in disruption of the blood flow to his right arm. Gradually over the following couple of months, Thomas would have seen the tissue in his right arm blacken and die. Whilst it is possible that numbness would have overtaken the pain, the foul smell of infected gangrene could not have been ignored and at some point, Thomas would have called on the services of the local doctor and Medical Officer of Health for Pateley Bridge, Edward Warburton MCRS, LSA.
Thomas was fortunate to have such a qualified doctor within calling distance. Edward Warburton’s father, Joseph, had first arrived in Pateley Bridge in 1807 to act as an assistant to Dr Strother. In 1815 the law changed requiring new doctors to be licenced and whilst in earlier years Joseph’s apprenticeship and family connections would have been sufficient, he was now required to qualify. Joseph headed off to London where he studied under the esteemed Mr R. C. Headington (later a president of the Royal College of Physicians) qualifying as a surgeon-apothecary in 1816 before returning to Pateley Bridge. By 1834 he had attracted a young John Snow to act as his assistant, the same Dr John Snow who is considered to be the founding father of both modern epidemiology and the scientific use of anaesthesia. Such was Dr Snow’s reputation that it was he who administered chloroform to Queen Victoria during the delivery of two of her children. Edward himself was apprenticed to his father and qualified through practice at Leeds Royal Infirmary in 1846. Snow remained a long-standing friend of the Warburtons, and Edward would likely have been far more knowledgeable about anaesthesia than many of his rural counterparts. There have been studies too, which demonstrate that the average mortality rate after amputation in cottage hospitals was somewhat lower than that in large city institutions but it still hovered around one in five. Surprisingly in the late 1800s, living this part of rural Yorkshire put Thomas in the best possible hands.
Just before Christmas, Thomas underwent surgery. By 1878, anaesthetics were being used effectively and, more critically, the principles of antiseptic surgery were just starting to be accepted. Thomas may have felt hopeful. He seems to have escaped the initial dangers of shock, haemorrhage, and exhaustion. There was no early onset of septicaemia. The new growth of early spring arrived. Snowdrops were replaced by wild daffodils and garlic. However, amputation also comes with an increased risk of heart attack and deep vein thrombosis, or, more likely, if gangrene had spread beyond his arm, it would have continued to attack vital organs. In the end, nearly six months after the initial accident and three months after his amputation, Thomas died at home in Woodmanwray, his family by his side, his cause of death certified by his surgeon.
Thomas & Jane’s eldest daughter, Amelia, married Michael Houseman. Their son, Jesse was the father of Mary Houseman, my Grandma. Grandma loved to tell a death story, but this was just a generation too far back for it to be part of the tales she told and a reminder of how important it is to track down every document.
Brief biographical details of Jane Teal and Thomas Bradbury
Jane would have been born between 17 January & 2 March 1823 at Holm House (possibly Lower Holme House according to later census records). She was the daughter of Amelia Layfield and George Teal and had five other siblings.
Jane & Layfield were twins. We don’t know whether Jane was born first, but it was Layfield, her twin brother who is listed first in the baptism record on 2 March 1823. It seems she may have been the strongest as Layfield died in November 1826 aged just three years old.
Jane’s mother died in May 1830 when Jane was seven years old.
By the time she was 18, Jane was working as a farm servant at How Gill, Stonebeck Up about 8 miles further up the valley from her family, but in close proximity to her brother William.
Thomas was born a little earlier, on 21 December 1820, the youngest of the ten children of Catherine King & Charles Bradbury. By 1841, the family had moved to Fountains Earth which bordered Stonebeck Up. Thomas’s widowed sister, Catherine, and her son, were living next door. Jane & Thomas likely met around this time.
The pair married on 29 November 1845 in Ripon cathedral. By this time, both were living in Dacre and Thomas was described as a farmer, Jane as a servant. Jane was illiterate, but Thomas could write. I wonder if Thomas had finally found a small farm of his own and Jane had taken work nearby or had even moved to be with him. It seems odd that they got married in Ripon if they had both already moved to Dacre. But equally odd they didn’t get married in Middlesmoor if they hadn’t. Dacre church had been built in 1837.
The couple had six children representing many of the family names. Charles & Catherine (paternal grandparents), Amelia & George (maternal grandparents), Teal & Layfield as middle names (Jane & her mother’s maiden names).
Charles (1848 – 1925), Amelia (1848 – 1931), George Teal (1850 – 1898), John Layfield (1853 – 1922), Catherine (1857 – 1882), William (1860 – 1926). Catherine & her husband died within six months of each other. All the children married and had children of their own.
The couple lived the remainder of their adult lives on a 20 acre farm at Woodmanwray towards the north end of Dacre. Woodmanwray old chapel, where perhaps they worshipped is now available to rent on Airbnb. There’s a lovely description of the farm when it was put up for sale on 30 June 1885. At the time the land was still farmed by Jane & Thomas’s son, George Teal.
“All that compact FARM, with the recently stone-built House, together with the Plantation, Garden, Barn, Stable, Cowhouses, Piggeries and other outbuildings and 9 CLOSES OF LAND, with the allotments or enclosures of grass and unbroken-up lands…..There is a never failing stream of water running through the premises…..The situation is healthy, well sheltered, commands pleasing views of the neighbourhood and is very suitable for residential purposes…”
Thomas died on 29 March 1879. Jane continued to live at Woodmanwray and expanded the farm to 35 acres with the help of her children. She died, of heart disease and exhaustion on 16 January 1891, aged just 67. They are both buried at Providence Congregational Church at Dacre.
With particular thanks to my twitter #AncestryHour friends who helped me broaden the research, to Spence Galbraith who studied Dr John Snow and made his research on the Warburtons available online and lastly to Thomas Bradbury, my great, great, great Grandfather for enduring the long months of pain whether stoically or not.
I inherited the beautiful leather-bound album from my Grandma, Mary Houseman. She is turn had inherited it from her mother, Hilda Mary Scott. Beyond that, I knew almost nothing of the pictures within. How old was it? Who had put it together? Who were the photos of? Whilst the clasp itself was broken, the people inside were strangers, their connection to our family locked away, with the key lost forever.
What better thing for someone living alone in lockdown 1.0 than to work away at that lock? I carefully extracted and scanned the photos, scribbled down possible family trees, studied the later pictures of Hilda Mary’s siblings, aunts, uncles & cousins and dived into the world of Victorian photography. Some ideas emerged, I started making educated guesses but was uncertain and didn’t feel I was really doing the album justice.
Then up popped professional dress historian, portrait specialist and photo detective Jayne Shrimpton on Who Do You Think You Are? and I realised it was time to turn to an expert. It took a few more months but finally I was sitting in Jane’s beautiful Lewes garden on a hot, sunny July day slowly unlocking the album’s secrets. Who knew that leg-o-mutton sleeves could date a photo to within three years? Or that a red line around a photo meant it was twenty years older than others on the same page? Several “educated guesses” proved to be out by a decade or two but my earlier research combined perfectly with Jayne’s dress expertise to put many names to faces.
Now, finally, Maria’s album can be unlocked and shared without doubts. The album opens with her husband John Scott likely with his father Charles not long before Charles died. Next are two portraits of Maria aged 21 and 40. Turning the page we see Maria & John’s infant children possibly including the only photo of a son, Charles, who died just three years old, followed by Maria’s siblings and their partners. And so it continues.
There is still a lot more work to do to identify all the people in this album and whilst it’s likely there will always be gaps, I am hopeful that by sharing this story others may spot their ancestors.
Maria was born in Ellerbeck on 16 December 1861 the second child of Mary Ann Gill & William Reynard. The Reynard family moved to Topcliffe when Maria was about five. Maria married John Scott, the son of Elizabeth Webster & Charles Scott, in 1885. The Gill family were from Norwood, the Reynards from Hampsthwaite, the Websters from Boroughbridge and the Scotts from Minskip. Maria & John had eight children. Two sons died as children leaving just William Richard (b. 1889) to carry on the Scott name. Hilda Mary (b. 1891) (my great grandmother) married Jesse Houseman, Laura (b. 1895) married John Taylor Houseman (Jesse’s nephew), Gertrude (b. 1899) married William Clarke, Clarice (b. 1900) married Malcolm Pennock and Marjorie (b. 1906) married Harold Millington Shutes. If this album was a wedding gift, I am sure it won’t have been the only one.
With much gratitude to my great, great grandmother, Maria Reynard, for creating this album, to Hilda Mary Scott & Mary Houseman for keeping it safe and to Jayne Shrimpton for helping me unlock its contents!
This is part of a series of biographies of early ancestors.
Dressed in her mother’s “for best, dear” muslin, Jane stepped cautiously through the church gate. The baby was fast asleep in her arms. Her father, John, was just a couple of steps behind. The pair paused and looked at the congregation milling about in front of the church. It appeared to be mainly the smarter folks from Kirkby Overblow village. It was the last day of August and Jane was pretty certain that their Rigton neighbours would be hard at work harvesting, not able to spare the time to walk the three miles to church. “Come on” John urged, doffing his cap as he stepped forward. The pair crossed the threshold into the cool interior and nervously approached the vicar. “We are John & Jane Howson from Rigton and we’ve come t’ get the babe baptised.” Not a lie of course, but hiding a truth, that John was the grandfather, not father, of the boy his daughter held. “Welcome” said the vicar, “John, you say” not quite recognising the man “we’ll call you to the font during the service.” Jane & John took a seat in a pew to the furthest side of the church. The baby slept soundly in her arms through hymn, prayer, hymn, prayer, hymn, sermon, prayer… right up until the point where the vicar poured cold water from the font on his forehead when he woke with a loud scream. “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost we baptise you John Thomas and welcome you into the church community.” And just like that it was done, the bastard baby was baptised and recorded in the parish record as John Thomas, son of John & Jane Howson, Rigton.
Two documents made Jane’s life much harder to research than some. The first was the baptism record referred to above. The second was an 1891 census listing one Jane Wilkinson, wife of Isaac, living in North Rigton somewhat at odds with a gravestone showing her as having died in 1883. I had a lot of fun trying to put this story together….
Jane was born in Leeds around 1826, the only child of Mary Robinson & John Howson. Whilst Mary had been born in Boroughbridge & John in North Rigton, both were living in Leeds at the time of their marriage in 1826. Given that the 1841 census lists John & Mary as living on Lowerhead Row (the eastern part of The Headrow and close to Kirkgate Market) and John’s occupation as “butter dealer” it is reasonably safe to assume this is the general area where Jane was born & brought up. Jane herself was staying with her maternal grandparents in Boroughbridge in 1841.
Everything changed for Jane on 6 August 1845 when her son, John Thomas, was born at Rigton, apparently fatherless. Had the whole family returned to Rigton before Jane became pregnant? Had they returned from Leeds knowing she was? Or had Jane returned from Boroughbridge in disgrace to join her parents or grandparents just before the baby was born? Then there is the baptism record for one John Howson at All Saints, Kirkby Overblow on 31 August 1845 listing two parents as John & Jane Howson from Rigton. This record has led a lot of people to assume there was a brother, John, married to another Jane, also having a son called John in 1845. I can find no other evidence that such a brother, wife or child existed which led me to imagining the above sleight of hand.
Isaac’s earlier years are much more straightforward. Born in Rigton the only son of Ann Thomas & Matthew Wilkinson. Isaac was baptised at Kirkby Overblow on 23 October 1826 and in 1841 was living with his paternal grandfather and uncle, still in North Rigton.
The couple were married on 24 September 1847 at Otley registry office, the existence of John Thomas potentially the reason for not getting married at Kirkby Overblow. (Either that, or the church had discovered Jane’s earlier deception!). A son, James, was born in 1849, and a daughter, Mary Ann (our great, great grandmother), was born in 1850. The couple lived with or next door to Jane’s parents in the centre of North Rigton village for the remainder of their lives.
Weeton station is just over a mile from North Rigton and Isaac started working on the railways, as a repairer (1851), platelayer (1861 & 1871) or labourer (1881) leaving only to become a full-time farmer after the death of his father-in-law in 1883. In due course John Thomas became an “engine tenter” (overseeing an engine’s operations) and James an engine driver leaving just Mary Ann to marry a local farmer.
Jane died at the age of 56 or 57 on 12 April 1883 from bronchitis and pneumonia not long after her father and only a couple of years after her mother. Having lived so close to their grandparents, the children must have been devastated and, unusually for a woman, Jane has her own beautiful headstone “in affectionate remembrance” at Kirkby Overblow complete with a poem:
“My wearied limbs are at rest.
Suffering and pain with me are o’er
I meet my friends whom God hath blest
In heaven where we shall part no more”
But if Jane died in 1883, why does the census list one Isaac & Jane Wilkinson as living in North Rigton in 1891? If there’s one complication in family history research that trips me up more than any other it’s forgetting that my male ancestors seemed to like marrying two women with the same first name. Maybe it’s so they don’t get mixed up. Isaac was one such culprit marrying Jane Woodhead (previously Lancaster) at Wetherby registry office on 26 April 1890. Sadly the marriage didn’t last long. Jane died just four years later. Unlike our Jane, she doesn’t appear to have merited her own headstone.
By 1901 the 75-year-old Isaac will still living on Rigton Hill, now with his granddaughter Mary Abigail (Mary Ann’s daughter & Grandad’s mother). He died four years later on 6 July 1905 from “syncope [fainting] caused by the shock of an accidental fall on the thirtieth day of June last.” An inquest was held, but I’ve been unable to locate any records.
There’s one final part to the story. Whilst Isaac seems to have ignored both his daughter, Mary Ann, and Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Abigail, when he wrote his will, he did chose to recognise both his son, James, and his wife’s illegitimate child, John Thomas, equally. One half of £164 – 4 – 0 may not have been a particularly large sum (it’s worth less than £13,000 in today’s money) but clearly demonstrates that Isaac thought of John Thomas as his own.
With much gratitude to Jane Howson & Isaac Wilkinson, my great, great, great grandparents for helping me hone my research skills. Jane and Isaac are the parents of Mary Ann Wilkinson who is the mother of Mary Abigail Clapham who is the mother of my Grandad.
We are simultaneously both a large family and a small one. With four siblings and five nieces and nephews, a family gathering is rarely smaller than fifteen and normally much larger. Yet we have but one cousin, who is more than a decade younger than I. For many years my siblings & I were the only grandchildren. My grandparents were grandparents, not quasi parents, but I think this goes a long way to explaining why we were close.
On my Mum’s side this was even more apparent. Mum had just one brother, Richard, and after he died in his early twenties, Mum became a de-facto only child.
That’s why when Nana & Grandpy celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary we were centre of the action. Anna is sat next to Nana, Helen just opposite them both. Mum appears to be the youngest adult as we sit surrounded by Nana & Grandpy’s oldest friends. There’s Aunty Hilda (my Nana’s sister), Uncle Henry & Aunty Marian (my Grandpy’s brother & his wife), Dot & Dennis Beecroft (who hosted my Mum so she could get married at Leathley church), Edna & Hugh Ryder (grandparents of one of my oldest friends) and Rosemary Briggs (nee Booth) (Nana’s cousin and bridesmaid). Lunch was at the Smiths Arms in Beckwithshaw. Soup appears to have been on the menu & no doubt a roast. There was cake at home afterwards, not in the cold, rarely used, best room, but in the warm, homely, everyday room.
In the end it is not Nana & Grandpy’s faces I see in these photos, but a forty year relationship, a close-knit group of friends and a deep and abiding love for my mother, my siblings & I. With gratitude to my Nana & Grandpy for being such wonderful grandparents and to Natalie Pithers for her mini-challenge “paper – ruby – wood” which prompted this blog.
It was likely taken at some point in the 1970s, Dad in his twenties, at his most handsome. Strong jawed, floppy haired with a calf-lick creating the wave at the front, beaming smile, beautiful Houseman eyes that we all inherited although unlike Dad most of ours were brown and a half open shirt.
Dad is relaxed and happy, surrounded by brothers and friends. Hanging out together in the pub, perhaps after a Young Farmers’ meeting.
My Uncle Richard, my Mum’s brother is missing. Richard was one of my Dad’s best friends and very much part of the Young Farmers’ crew. It’s possible Richard took the photo which might explain why it was in the leather suitcase. But it wasn’t part of a set, it was a single photo. The more likely explanation is that this was taken some time after my Uncle had died in 1972.
There aren’t many photos of my Dad. He wasn’t keen on them being taken. Indeed, there’s none of us five children together with our parents. For Dad was to be killed in December 1984, less than three months after my brother was born. That’s why a photo of him looking this way is so precious.
Someone, somewhere likely gave this photo to my Mum’s parents, a gift to remember their lost son-in-law. A treasure that has made its way to me.
A postscript. On sharing this blog with my Mum, her immediate response was “that’s the man I fell in love with.” A treasure indeed.
With much gratitude to my Dad, to the photo-taker (whoever they may be), my Nana & Grandpy, the photo-keepers who enabled this photo to come to me and nd also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, this week on favourite photo, encouraged me to publish this story.