50 years of WI fun and friendship

Nana (aka Mary Barrett) at a WI event.

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’s 50-year certificate. Own collection.

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.

This photo, taken in Leathley Parish Room in 1977, is typical of Nana. She’s the woman in the red jacket (she was to pass her love of red onto her daughter, my Mum) with a beaming smile tucked away amongst the crowd. Photo from Daphne Baxter.

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……

Photo of Farnley Estate WI’s 21st birthday celebrations at Leathley Grange, published in the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer on 29 August 1958. Nana is second from the left and my Mum is the child stood at the front right. Own collection.

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.

A WI jumble sale in 1989. Nana is on the right and the youthful one on the left is me! Own collection

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!

From the Farnley Estate WI booklet called “Celebrating 80 years.” Nana is the one in the middle.

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.

This document told of a crime but was it “our” George Houseman?

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

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 opened it and realised eighteenth century handwriting was the least of my worries as the record was in Latin…….More tantalising still when I searched the database there was a second indictment for Georgius Houseman, also of Winsley, in 1717. Was it worth investing in translation? What did I know of my Houseman ancestors at that time? Who could have been of an age to commit crimes in 1707 and 1717? Was it, in fact, my 6x great grandfather George Houseman, the father of the George Houseman who married Margaret Grange and was the founder of our local dynasty?

Which George Housemans were in contention? Own miro board.

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:

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

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.

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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!

The naming of our grandparents

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?

My sister Anna’s christening in 1979 taken in the garden at Hill Top Cottage, Lindley. From right to left, back row: Grandpy & Grandad, middle row: Mum, Grandma & Nana, front row: me, Helen & Anna. Own collection.

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).

An extract from Mary Wellock’s date book showing use of “Granma Barrett” to describe Jane Brooks. Own collection.

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.  

An extract from Grandma’s memoires “The Changing Years” referencing Grannie Houseman and Grandad Michael. Own collection.

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!

With much gratitude to my grandparents for all their love and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Infographic presenting the main research findings on what we call our grandparents, from the original press release.

An almost Yorkshire story – the podcast version two

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.

Betty Beecroft & Victorian women’s property rights.

Walter Scott – the boy who was shot by a friend.

Maria Reynard & John Scott’s photo album.

Jane Howson & her the story of her illigitimate child

Mary Ann Gill & her spice loaf

Elizabeth Dean & the Butterworth connection.

Martha Handley reflecting back on 90 years of life

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.

The slow and painful death of Thomas Bradbury

Warning: this is a rather sad unpleasant story.

The gravestone of Thomas Bradbury showing alll the genealogical data and none of the story. Own photo.

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.

Thomas Bradbury’s death certificate. Cause of death: dislocation of right shoulder 23 weeks, amputation of shoulder 14 weeks. Certified by E. Warburton MRCS&LSA.

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.

Amputation case, mid 19th century. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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…”

From the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, Friday June 19, 1885, a description of the farm at Woodmanwray

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.

Unlocking Maria Reynard’s family photo album

Maria Reynard c. 1902, perhaps on her 40th birthday. From Maria Reynard’s album. Own collection.

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.

There was one exception. Thanks to the apparent beauty of a small child, captured by a travelling photographer and subsequently enlarged, followed a few short years later by the same child’s tragic death, I could identify one person with absolute certainty. Walter Scott was to be the key. Walter was Hilda Mary’s brother and that meant that the album likely belonged to either Maria Reynard, Hilda Mary & Walter Scott’s mother or her mother Mary Ann Gill.

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!

Jane Howson (1826 – 1833) & Isaac Wilkinson (1826 – 1905)

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….

The first accurate survey of Leeds was published by Netlam and Giles in 1815. It clearly shows the different types of development at each end of the Headrow…[including] the narrow streets, and crowded terraces of back-to–back houses of the east end. https://secretlibraryleeds.net/2015/09/25/the-headrow-coffee-change-loss/

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.

Birth certificate of John Thomas Howson.

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.

Rigton Hill, 1906, from www.northrigton.org. The Wilkinson family likely lived in one of the houses on the left.

Meanwhile the railways were coming. The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Act received Royal Assent on 21 July 1845 with construction starting on 20 October 1845.  The section from Weeton to Wormald Green opened on 1 September 1848 and from Weeton onto Leeds on 9 July 1849.

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 Howson’s gravestone at Kirkby Overblow. Photo from www.gravestonephotos.com

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.

Rose Cottages, Rigton Hill. Isaac likely lived in the closest one. Own photo.

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.

Estate notice published in The Yorkshire Post on 29 July 1905

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.

Extract from Isaac Wilkinson’s will, written in 1901, proven in 1905.

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.

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.

Margaret Grange (1728 – 1816) & George Houseman (1727 – 1815) – a founding family

Most people have sixty-four sets of great great geat great great grandparents. I, however, have sixty-three, for Margaret Grange & George Houseman were the ancestors of both my Grandma (Mary Houseman) and my Grandad (George Houseman). Houseman is my birth surname, doubly inherited and it is through this couple that I connect to almost all the Housemans in Yorkshire (where the majority of Housemans in England still reside). It is also where my fascination with family history started. (See Is Grandma related to Grandad?). Although I can trace back further, Margaret & George are, for me, our founding family and, as we will see at the end, the foundation of a multi-generational connection between Housemans and the Yorkshire village of Darley.

So who were Margaret Grange and George Houseman?

Margaret was likely the sixth of seven children born to John Grange of Porch House, Pateley Bridge in c. 1728. It is difficult to be certain of this as I have been unable to find a baptism record, but her birth fits into the pattern of the siblings one of whom was called Joseph and who was likely the Joseph Grange who stood as witness at her wedding. Margaret’s year of birth is derived from the age of death listed on her burial record.

George’s heritage is clearer. Baptised at St Marys, Pateley Bridge, on 3 March 1727, his parents were Margaret Wilks & George Houseman. George had one half sibling, John (b. c. 1719), son of George senior and his first wife, Mary Jackson, and three full siblings Elizabeth (b. c. 1724), Michael (b. c. 1731) and Thomas (b. c. 1732). John seems to disappear from the records and, given he was the oldest son, I suspect this means he died young. Thomas died as an infant and Elizabeth too died, unmarried, in 1745. This left just the two brothers, George & Michael, who remained close, both starting work as linen & flax weavers and both acting as witnesses at each other’s weddings. Michael will continue to feature through this blog.

Margaret & George were married on 14 June 1759 at St Jude’s church, Hartwith with their wedding witnessed by their two brothers as mentioned above. Margaret was living in this parish at the time, George in the nearby parish of Pateley Bridge.

Home was “The Holme” at the east end of Darley. Holme Hall, dating from 1667, still exists today, beautifully restored and grade two listed. I like to imagine this was where they lived although it is entirely possible they were living in a mean little cottage close by which has long since disappeared…..

rom wwwHolme Hall, extracted from www.houseman.info, taken by J Simpson

Seven children arrived in quick succession: Thomas (b. c. 1760), Elizabeth (b. c. 1761), George junior (b. c. 1763), William (b. c. 1765), Benjamin (b. c. 1767), John (b. c. 1769) and Margaret junior (b. c. 1775). Margaret junior was likely a bit of a surprise arriving so long after the rest when Margaret herself would have been in her late forties. By contrast, George’s brother Michael had just one child, a son, Michael, in 1761, nine years after he had married.  

They were a healthy family. All seven children survived to adulthood, married and had children of their own. Sadly Elizabeth, George and Margaret were to die before their parents, but the other four children lived much longer with Thomas even reaching the grand old age of ninety-eight.

George continued to describe himself as a weaver on his children’s baptism records but at some point started to rent land in the local area. Both George & brother his Michael were ultimately to describe themselves as yeomen, as farmers. It is possible they inherited money from George senior during this time which enabled them to prosper. Michael died relatively young in 1785 and whilst the majority of his estate went to his sole heir, Michael junior, there were specific bequests for his nephews & nieces, George & Margaret’s children.

George lived much longer, dying in 1815 at the grand old age of 88 and was buried on 15 July at Pateley Bridge. Margaret died less than a year later, also, apparently, aged 88. However, oddly, Margaret was buried on 9 May 1816 at Hampsthwaite and not with her husband. This only thing I can think to explain this is perhaps she had moved to live with one of her children following the death of her husband the previous year.

Fortunately for us, George left a will which helped validate much of what I have written above. Thomas, as eldest son, was appointed executor and tasked with taking care of his mother. Thomas’s daughter, Margaret, was given a specific bequest of £5 which makes me think she had been the one taking care of her grandparents in their old age. The rest of the will is pretty equitable. Following Margaret’s death, the furniture was to be sold “by fare and open sale” and this, together with bills, bonds and all other security (totally just under £200 or nearly four years wages for a skilled tradesman at the time) was to be split equally between all the children, or, if deceased, their children, with one exception. Hannah, wife of the late George junior, was to receive just five shillings. This is amount was designed to prevent her contesting the will. There’s no indication in the will as to why she was left out but it’s possible there were questions as to her “character”. George junior & Hannah Furness were married by licence rather than banns on 14 October 1794 and their first daughter, Mary, was baptised just two weeks later. Hannah was to go on to marry again in 1817 and perhaps she had already been “seen” with her future second husband Thomas Akers.

Michael was to appear in the family’s life one last time, or rather his son, Michael did, for Michael junior died without children of his own. He left a substantial bequest to his cousins and, following the death of his wife, Margaret, in 1831, the cousins were to split nearly £1,000 between them. This was wealth indeed although somehow it seemed to dissipate over the generations between then & now!

The two branches of Margaret Grange & George Houseman connecting back to us as drawn out by Grandma. Own collection.

Margaret & George’s real legacy was not money, but rather the founding of a multi-generational connection between Housemans and Darley, a connection which continues to the present day. Thomas was the great great grandfather of my Grandma, Mary Houseman (born in Haverah Park, just a few miles from Darley). John was the great great grandfather of my Grandad, George Houseman (born at Fairfield Farm, Darley where his nephew still farms). George junior had only daughters and although Benjamin had two sons, one died young and the other had just one (illegitimate) daughter so no Houseman legacy from either. However, William (who incidentally married Catherine Downs, daughter of Alice Moon & John Downs who are also my 5x great grandparents) had one son, John. His descendants form the third branch of Housemans in Darley to which I used to think I wasn’t related. Every Houseman in Darley, and there are still a number, descends from either Thomas, John or William and hence from Margaret & George, truly a founding family.

With much gratitude to Gary Houseman at www.houseman.info for all his work untangling the various Houseman lines and to Amy Johnson Crow for her continuing #52ancestors series.

Betty Beecroft (1811 – 1882) and Robert Houseman (1806 – 1865) – an illustration of the (lack of) Victorian women’s property rights

Caroline Norton (1808 – 1877) was almost Betty’s contemporary. Married young to an abusive & jealous husband, she left her husband in 1836. At first, she attempted to subsist on her own earnings. Then her husband went to court to claim this money as his leaving her penniless. He also, legally, took sole custody of her three sons. Caroline became a tireless political campaigner and is credited with doing much to ensure the introduction of the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act 1870 which started to create the conditions for women to become legally separate people. Betty’s story is an illustration of why Caroline’s work was so necessary for women of Betty’s era were defined by her relationship to a man.

Betty Beecroft was likely the second of the two children of Faith Bell & Luke Beecroft. Betty’s elder brother, John, was born on 8 August 1808 almost exactly nine months after their parent’s wedding on 1 November 1807. He was promptly christened at Pateley Bridge. What date or even what year Betty arrived, however, is somewhat more difficult to determine…. What we know for sure is that Betty was baptised on 6 April 1817 at Thornthwaite. Ages in later documents would suggest a date of birth anywhere between 1809 & 1816. Was she already eight by the time she was baptised which would have meant having her last child at forty? Or was she still a baby at the time meaning she married at the tender age of nineteen to a man ten years her senior? My guess is closer to the former than the latter, but a guess is all it can be.

Robert Houseman’s date of birth on the other hand was clearly listed on his baptism record, also at Thornthwaite, as 2 March 1806. He was the twelfth child of fourteen, his parents, Mary Akers & Thomas Houseman being much more productive that Betty’s!

Childhood for Betty was likely largely uneventful or at least, as is often the case, any events went unrecorded. Until her elder brother John died, unmarried and childless, in 1832. This must have come as a shock to her parents. Betty’s father, Luke, was around 65 by now and seems to have amassed a reasonable bank balance from running the New Inn in Darley. Without a son to inherit the business the monies would come to Betty, the daughter whom he hadn’t even seen any hurry to get baptised.

Was this when Robert started to express an interest in Betty? As a twelfth child he would certainly need to have made his own way in the world and a daughter, who was now an only child, would have been an attractive prospect.

Whatever the intent, Luke was obviously determined to protect the interests of his daughter and any potential grandchildren. Luke wrote his last will and testament was written on 11 March 1835 six months before Betty & Robert married (8 September). Luke died before the year was out, buried at Hampsthwaite on 23 December. Whilst various assets were bequeathed directly to his nephew, Betty’s share would be held in trust to be managed by friends, Thomas Petty & Thomas Skaife. The “rents issues and profits” would be paid to Betty’s mother first and on her demise to Betty. But the assets themselves would only be divided between any lawful children on Betty’s death. In other words, Betty received the income and not the assets – important in this era where a woman’s property automatically became that of her husbands on marriage.

Luke Beecroft’s will, 1835.

The money wasn’t entirely free of Robert’s influence, for life in a small village is intimately connected. The above-named Thomas Skaife, trustor for Betty, had a sister, Tibby, who just happened to be married to Robert’s cousin John. Then there was Benson Skaife, cousin of Thomas Skaife, husband of Robert’s sister, Mary, and one of the witnesses at Betty & Robert’s wedding. Benson was sadly to die just a year after the marriage and his son, Joseph, came to live & work for the couple. Benson & Robert may simply have been good friends but another connection to the Skaife family can’t have harmed Robert’s case.

For there was money at stake. Luke’s estate was valued at something under £1,500 including £970 deposited in cash. The national archives currency convertor suggests that £970 was equivalent to approximately 4,850 days wages for a skilled labourer, which is more money than any skilled labourer on average wages could ever hope to amass.

Betty & Robert benefited from the “rents issues and profits” throughout their married life as Faith, Betty’s mother, came to live with the young couple and their growing family. Children arrived at regular intervals: John Beecroft (1837), Thomas (1838), William (1840), Michael (my great, great grandfather) (1842), Ann (1845), Joseph (1847) and Benjamin (1849). Faith would have likely helped her daughter deliver all seven of these healthy babies.

I believe that Betty & Robert would have been living at Red Syke Farm, Thornthwaite for much of their married life although the first actual evidence of address is not until 1871. This farm was to pass from father to son for at least two further generations. Luke had set his daughter & his grandchildren up well.

All seven children survived infancy, but four (William, Thomas, Ann & Joseph) were to die as young adults before marriage, three of them before Robert’s own death from consumption on 25 October 1865 at the age of 59.

Robert’s will was written just a month before he died. In it he sought to “give and bequeath unto my wife Betty Houseman the residue and remainder of my property the whole of my farming stock of whatsoever kind also the whole of my crops my hay corn straw and the [xx] of all the land also the household furniture and everything within and without that is the whole of my property whatsoever and wheresoever until my youngest son Benjamin attains the age of twenty one years and then my will is that the whole then remaining shall be sold and the money arising therefrom shall be equally divided amongst all my children.” The property was not left solely to the eldest son, but is instead split equally between all, perhaps reflecting the equality seen in the will of his father-in-law, Luke. Strangely too, it is his fourth (albeit second surviving son), Michael, who is appointed as executor and it takes nearly seven years for probate to be received. There’s a hint, perhaps, that the relationship between father and oldest son (John Beecroft) wasn’t entirely happy, and whilst John Beecroft was at his father’s side when he died, he may have been living some twenty-five miles away in a village called Aberford where he marries in 1869.

Whatever the family dynamics it is Betty who, in 1871, is named as head of the household and farmer of 37 acres in the 1871 census despite the return of John Beecroft and his new wife. By 1881 Betty has moved to Folly Gill with her youngest son Benjamin and is no longer the farmer. Instead she is an “Annuitant” benefiting still from the provisions in her father’s will.

Betty died on 19 August 1882 from an apoplexy fit. Aged 73 according to her death certificate, or 71, or maybe only 67 if you believe other records. She’s buried with Robert and four of her children at Thornthwaite, the exact same place as her story begins.

With much gratitude to Luke Beecroft, my great, great, great, great grandfather for leaving such a protective will and to his daughter Betty & her husband Robert Houseman, my great, great, great grandparents for continuing the tradition. Betty & Robert are the parents of Michael Houseman, father of Jesse Houseman, father of Mary Houseman, my paternal Grandma. I am also grateful to Betty & Robert for moving to Red Skye Farm, postcode HG3 2QS which made me smile as we grew up just a few miles away at Hill Top Cottage, Lindley, postcode LS21 2QS!