A ruby wedding

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. From left to right, back row – Nana, Helen, Grandpy, Mum, me – front row – Sharon, Anna, David. June 1988. In the garden of Upper West End Farm, Stainburn. Own collection.

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.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. From the left: Aunty Hilda, Grandpy, Nana, Anna, Hugh & Edna Ryder. Opposite Nana is Helen, to her right are Dennis & Dot Beecroft and to her left Uncle Henry & Aunty Marian. June 1988. At the Smiths Arms, Beckwithshaw. Own collection.

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.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. Cutting the cake back at home, Upper West End Farm, Stainburn. June 1988. Own collection.

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.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. With Rosemary Briggs (nee Booth), Nana’s bridesmaid & cousin. In the carpark of the Smiths Arms. June 1988. Own collection.

A favourite photo

From left to right: Pete Warren, Alec Houseman, George Christopher Houseman, aka Bob, aka Dad, Kevin Wilson & Nicholas Houseman. Own collection.

I’ve loved this photo of my Dad ever since I found it tucked within the little leather suitcase of family photos inherited from my Mum’s parents aka Nana & Grandpy.

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.

What a birthday date book taught me about WW1

Mary (Pollie) Wellock. Own collection.

I grew up thinking our family had escaped largely unscathed through both WW1 and WW2. Farming was a reserved occupation and none of our ancestors had fought in either of these two horrific wars. Slowly but surely my thinking has changed. First there was my great, great Uncle, William Henry Barrett who fought in WW1 and died of tuberculosis six years after the war ended, possibly a disease caught whilst serving. Then there were two cousins, Harry Clough & Frank White, relatives of my great grandmother, Hilda Mary Scott, both killed in battle. These are the ones I have so far written a story about, but there are others too, cousins & half cousins that I have come across in my research.

Still, it felt like these were isolated incidents. We are farmers & miners. We weren’t required to fight. That was until I started to transcribe my great grandmother (Mary Wellock)’s birthday date book a couple of weeks ago. Mary or Pollie as she liked to be known was my Grandpy’s mother, born in 1886. One of eleven children in a close family I was quickly able to identify the majority of the entries. Pollie had had eight brothers but by 1914, three were likely too old to serve, two had emigrated to Canada and two had died as children, so it was probably easy enough to protect Benjamin who, as he had no children, might just have come under pressure to volunteer, or even been conscripted had he not been a farmer.

I moved on to identifying Pollie’s friends and it was then I realised that one memorial in the remote Yorkshire village of Greenhow Hill, which Pollie called home, was the unlock for many of the people she had recorded as friends. Take a moment to study the names in this photo. (I make no apologies for this being the second time I have shared it on this blog).

Memorial plaque, Greenhow Hill https://greenhow-hill.org.uk/people/1914-1918/

Busfield, Newbould, Swales, Barrett, King & Moor all appear in Mary’s date book. The Whitehead family connects very closely to the Busfields. Mary was close enough to the Swales family to list the birthdays of three siblings Edith Ellen, Ethel & James. James fought and came back, their two brothers Herbert & Leonard were not so lucky, both dying in 1916. Over half the names listed on Greenhow Hill’s memorial can be easily and closely connected to Pollie’s friends identified through this one date book.

James Swales’ birthday as recorded in Pollie Wellock’s birthday date book. His sisters Edith Ellen & Ethel also appear. James fought in WW1 together with his brothers Herbert & Leonard who both died in 1916. Own photo.

Was there a sweetheart amongst the fallen? I tend to think not as Pollie was already 28 and unmarried when war started. If it was a local boy she loved she would have been wed by then. Instead, I’d like to speculate that William Henry’s connection to Greenhow Hill was how she came to meet his brother, George Thomas and that their shared experience of friends & brothers at war led them to connect.

This was a remote farming village where many households worked in protected occupations. No matter how insulated we thought our ancestors were from the war they were not.

With much gratitude to Mary (Pollie) Wellock, who had such a fascinating birthday date book, to her daughter-in-law, Mary Booth, my Nana, who kept it safe for me and above all to those who fought and those who remembered them.

There’s a later blog exploring the rest of the birthday book here

The tank in the woods

The post landed with a loud thump. It was a package from my sister containing two old issues of “After the battle.” Why was my sister sending me thirty-year-old magazines on the machinery of war?

The tank in the woods, with my sisters & I. Own collection.

This picture above provides the connection. My sister had been walking the paths close to our childhood home and remembered the decrepit but much loved tank in the woods. “I was thinking about my connection to the area, and the land, and the top land, then the area round it, and we walked that way, and I was telling […..] about it. Then I was thinking it would be great if we could find the spot where it was.”

The tank in question was a Churchill Mk II. Once belonging to C Squadron, 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment and she had become bogged down on Stainburn Moor in 1941. In the 1950s the Forestry Commission planted the area with spruce trees and the tank must have slowly been forgotten by everyone but those who lived close by. People like us for whom the tank was like a piece of playground equipment in the middle of the woods.

After the battle – issue 35 – featuring our tank on the cover. Own collection.
After the battle – issue 46 – describing the tank recovery. Own collection.

When a local resident sent a picture into “After the battle” in 1982 our tank became a cover girl. Someone, somewhere decided she was worth saving and by 1984 the tank had been recovered and taken to the Museum of Army Transport in Beverley. When that Museum closed in 2003, she was moved to the Tank Museum in Dorset where she remains to this day. As the only Churchill Mk II in the country, she even has her own YouTube video. Tank Chats #112 | Churchill Mk I and II | The Tank Museum.

“Our” tank, on a family trip to the Museum of Army Transport. Own collection.

Today was a wonderful reminder of the many strange paths family research takes you down. With much gratitude to my sister Helen for researching this lovely snippet of our family’s history.  

A postscript

Paul Towers is my third cousin through Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman, my Grandma’s paternal grandparents. We now know we are relatives through at least two other branches and, as Paul grew up in Leathley, he also knew my Houseman Uncles from school. Yet it took a myheritage DNA match for us to connect as fellow family history geeks. In the last six months I’ve learnt how much his commitment to sharing family history has helped me with my own. Thanks to my sister’s own research I can start to return the favour because, as it turns out, Churchill tanks & Bovington tank museum link directly to his father, Bob.

Bob Towers at Bovington. Paul Towers photo.

I knew my dad had been in tanks during the war but he never, ever spoke about it. Then, the Washburn Heritage people got in touch for a story about locals who had served for their oral history project. I think it was this that opened him up. He knew he was in the twilight of his life and he told me he wanted to go to the Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset. I booked a local pub and we went down for a couple days. He took some of his photos and papers from the army for them to copy or keep. On meeting the curator he was extremely grateful. Dad had been in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment and the museum had no artefacts regarding them at all. The attached photo is him standing next to a Churchill similar to the one he was in. The following summer dad said he wanted to go again, so I booked the same pub, but this time I rang the museum and spoke to the curator. When we got there he was waiting for us, he gave dad a transcription of the 7RTR war diary and took us to the display where dad’s memorabilia was on show. I swear he was close to tears“. 

Who could have asked for a more perfect postscript to connect the past to the present?

Two families, one community & a spurious link to Bonfire Night

Taken on Farnley Estate in the 1950s. Two families, one community. Own collection.

On a quiet Friday evening with nothing else planned I pulled out a few photos from the little leather suitcase determined to make a bit more progress on scanning & labelling the contents. Studying photos of my Nana & Grandpy (Mum’s parents) always puts a smile on my face and my wonderful Mum is always willing to share what she knows as I try to place the time, place and people.

At first glance I didn’t think it particularly special, some 1950s event at Farnley Hall where key community members, including my Nana, were invited. Whilst I love trying to make sense of these formal black & white photos, which may or may not have been published in the local newspaper, they don’t tend to offer anything more than a simple family snapshot does.

Then I studied the photo more closely and realised it featured not just one set of grandparents but two together with several more relatives including my Great Grandfather, Jesse Houseman.

Every living adult ancestor we had at the time was on this photo, taken together as one community, long before the two families were united in marriage.

A little bit of greaseproof paper & bad drawing may help, or may not! 1) Nana 2) Grandpy 3) Grandma 4) Grandad 5) Jesse Houseman (my great grandad) 6) Jessie Houseman 7) JB Liddle 8) Nicholas Horton-Fawkes 9) Reg Snailham 10) Clarice Snailham 11) Marian Barrett, 12) Robbie Trotter 13) Gilbert Trotter

Nana is fourth from the left on the front row, handbag on her left arm. Left of Nana are Clarice & Reg Snailham, neighbours from Stainburn, right of Nana is Marian Barrett, wife of Grandpy’s brother, Henry. Grandpy is stood behind Nana, face half hidden. Whether Nana was shy or (as I remember) someone who always put others first, you only have to look at the front row of shoes to know she wasn’t one who fought for limelight.

Then look along the front row and spot the woman peeping over the suited man’s shoulder. That’s my Grandma, my Dad’s Mum. She was not an attention seeker, but she also wasn’t a woman you would overlook. Grandad is at the back, bang in the middle, by far the tallest of my Grandparents so that placing makes sense. To his left is my Grandma’s Dad, my Great Grandfather, Jesse Houseman. This dates the photo to post 1954 when his wife, my Great Grandmother, had died.

The woman to the left of Jesse is Jessie, his daughter & my Grandma’s sister and to the right of her, her husband, JB Liddle. Grandma had one other sister, Muriel. Muriel’s brother-in-law Gilbert is right at the back left, face half hidden. Robbie Trotter, another of Muriel’s brother-in-laws (who according to my Mum was “allowed to go out” with my Grandpy & his brother because they were sensible and didn’t drink & drive) is prominent centre second row pushing Grandpy out of the way…

Two families, one community, long before marriage brought my two branches together.

And the spurious link to bonfire night? Guy Fawkes is believed to be a descendent of the Fawkes of Farnley. The man front left of this photo holding some papers is one Nicholas Horton-Fawkes, at the time, local landlord and owner of Farnley Hall, where this photo was taken.

With much gratitude to my Mum, who is always there when I want to ask questions about photos, to my Nana & Grandpy for keeping this amazing photo and to Grandma, Grandad & Great Grandfather Jesse for all being present on this day.

Me, car, YFC: Dad in three words

My Dad’s plastic wallet. Own collection. Although I may have decided that preserving the contents was more important than the preserving the wallet.

The plastic wallet may be dirty, cracked and held together by Sellotape but the contents almost perfectly sum up what was important to my Dad (George Christopher Houseman aka Bob) as a young man. As my Mum put it when I asked her about the wallet “Me, car, yfc were intertwined.”

My Dad’s driving licence. Underneath the full licence is a provisional one dated from 1 September 1967. Own collection

First there is the driving licence. The provisional licence was issued on 1 September 1967, the day after my Dad’s 17th birthday. I am a little surprised that it took him until six months to obtain the full one as it took less than four to get mine…..

Farnley Estate YFC programmes from September 1962 to August 1971. Own collection.

Then there are the Farnley Estate YFC programmes spanning the years from September 1961 to August 1973, missing only the year 1971 – 1972. Comparative to the rest of the family Dad was a late joiner of the YFC in 1961 at the grand old age of eleven, because, as my Grandma wrote “he could not stand late nights.” These programmes track the lives of both sides of my family. In 1961 my Grandad, Mr G Houseman, was an advisory member, my aunt Christine, Miss C Houseman, the notice and scrapbook secretary. By 1969 my Mum & her brother Richard start to make an appearance. Whilst Mr & Mrs G Houseman are both now part of the advisory committee and Miss C Houseman has been promoted to treasurer, Mr R Barrett has been appointed as vice chairman and Miss A Barrett as minute secretary. My Dad just scrapes in as regional rep alongside both Christine & Richard. Richard is elected as chair in 1969, my Dad in 1970, Richard again in 1971 – did the two friends stand against each other or agree to take it in turns? And the one missing programme tells its own sad story, as it’s the year my Uncle Richard died. The heart went out of the club that year.

Elizabeth Ann Barrett on the doorstep of Upper West End Farm, kept in my Dad’s wallet. It’s a pink ribbed top and the outfit would have been made either by my Mum or my Nana. Own collection.

Last is the photo of my Mum, stood on the back doorstep of Upper West End Farm, Stainburn in a dress she likely sewed herself. The fact that it is folded, creased and torn is testament to the order of “Me, car, YFC” – it was a love story until its end.

Sardines & Cadbury’s Roses

From Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

I only realised when I was older how much my Mum valued the rare occasion when she could have an evening that was her own. My Dad died in 1984, I was nine, my brother three months and there were three sisters inbetween. The five of us needed so much love, support and encouragement and Mum was the person responsible for us all. Yet she herself was a person, grieving her husband, trying to find her way back to life – she was just 32. That’s where Nana & Grandpy (my Mum’s parents) stepped in and had us all to stay. The farmhouse was theoretically three bedrooms but the smallest one had long since become the storage space for my Nana’s dressmaking activities – materials, patterns and jars and jars of buttons, mainly stored in those old glass Cadbury’s Roses’ jars. So we slept in my Mum’s childhood bedroom. One wall was the wardrobe, dressing table and airing cupboard (making plenty of strange watery gurgles throughout the night). If i remember rightly there was a chest of drawers on one side, then, crammed in the rest of the space, one double and one single bed. Top to toe, the five of us slept in these two beds like sardines packed in a tin. Yes, it was not without the occasional cross word or foot fight and we still tease each other about snoring (although that mainly relates to more recent experience) but tucked up tight, five in two beds, we felt safe and loved and (unbeknown to me at the time) my Mum could slowly learn to heal and be the most amazing person she is.

A short blog inspired by Genealogy Stories Curious Decendants Club.