Annie Bentley & Edith Moody – my mother’s line

The old leather suitcase full of genealogical goodies. Own photo.

Back in March I snuck up to Yorkshire to see my Mum. It was her birthday, I hadn’t seen her for eight months, she’d had her first jab and she was on her own for a few days. Technically we could be a household bubble as I live on my own, but we were both cautious not wanting to advertise a 200 mile trip at a point when we were still advised to stay close to home. I brought my scanner. Mum dug out a little leather suitcase full of old family photos and documents. We spent three wonderful days identifying photos, family artifacts and sharing family stories.

My Dad’s family history is well documented – my Dad’s Mum, my Grandma, was, essentially, a genealogist. I can also (benefiting from the hard work of others) trace Grandpy’s line (my Mum’s Dad) back to the 1500s.

That leaves me with my Mum’s Mum, my Nana, Mary Booth. Her parents, Marion Moody and Arthur Booth grew up in different parts of Yorkshire – Marion’s family were coal miners living close to Wakefield, Arthur’s family were farmers living around the Otley/Bingley area. Those who know Yorkshire will understand why I still have a question as to how they actually met. Both families were relatively poor (two feature in my paupers blog) and moved a lot for work. Of my first 126 direct ancestors (ie up to great great great great Grandparents) I have just one illegitimate ancestor and it’s in this branch [Postscript, November 2022, Annie’s father, also turned out to be illegitimate].  Even the DNA evidence is scattered – just enough distant cousins for me not to question the track, not enough to help me go back. That’s why the most exciting discovery in that little leather suitcase was a photo of my Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s Mother, Annie Bentley – the first one I had ever seen. This being just after Mother’s Day in many parts of the world is a good reason to tell the story of Annie and her family, particularly of her daughters Edith & Elsie, who, for different reasons, never got to be mothers, which makes it important to tell their tale too.

The sole photo of Annie Bentley, own collection

Childhood & marriage

Annie Bentley was born on 7 July 1876 in the village of Netherton, near Wakefield, the fifth of twelve children. Annie’s parents, Mary Hinchcliffe & George Bentley were both from mining families. The Hinchcliffes came from Barugh near Barnsley and the Bentleys from the Netherton area near Wakefield. Whilst Barugh and Netherton are within an easy half hour drive these days it was a very different proposition in the 1860s and 1870s. It seems likely both Mary & George moved for work associated with Parkhill Colliery as their marriage at Wakefield registry office in 1867, has them both living in Eastmoor without family as witnesses.

The marriage certificate of Mary Hinchcliffe & George Bentley, Annie Bentley’s parents, in 1867

By 1882, the Bentleys had settled in Netherton in a row of mining villages called Little London. This little strip of housing was apparently built by Emma Lister-Kaye. Emma was the daughter of Sir John Lister-Kaye who owned Caphouse colliery. Emma, being female, did not inherit the baronetcy, but she did inherit the colliery. She was heavily supportive of the local area and on her death her manager described her as “an aristocrat to her fingertips, and an excellent business brain, which could not be said for her father.” Annie grew up in a miner’s cottage, but likely a better than average one.

The Bentley girls seemed to have developed an obsession with the Greenwood boys. Three of Annie’s sisters married two brothers and their nephew (see my sister is also my aunt). One of these, Florence, moved to Otley, which might just be the explanation for how my great grandparents (Marion & Arthur) met. Annie, however, had different ideas and chose nearby boy, Ernest William Moody. Ernest was just a couple of months older and living in close by Horbury Bridge. In 1891 they were both working in a mill, Annie as an assistant feeder and Ernest as a millhand and whilst I haven’t, yet, been able to prove they were the same one it seems a likely explanation. They married on 26 December 1899 at St Johns, Horbury Bridge. A Christmas wedding sounds romantic but was more likely chosen to coincide with a factory closure.

St John’s church, Horbury Bridge complete with Mum. 2021. Own photo.

The Moody family

By 1901, Annie & Ernest were settled in a small terrace house on King Street, Horbury Bridge.

Children followed, Marion (my great grandmother) was born on 5 April 1902, Edith on 15 September 1904, Elsie on 8 February 1907 and then a bit of a gap before a son, George, arrived, on 10 September 1913.

The new century was a time of social movement. The labour party was formed in 1900. In Horbury canals had given way to railroads but left plentiful water for factories and of course there was the coal which drove the economy at that time. There are hints about how the family were involved in this social movement. George (their son) was heavily involved in the labour movement in adult life, Ernest gave some very detailed evidence at the inquest of a fellow worker in 1936 suggesting he was prepared to be public about workplace accidents and then there is an intriguing photo of Ernest at the Harrogate baths that feels like an organising conference of some sort. It’s a direction for future research.

Photo taken at Harrogate Baths. Ernest Moody is sitting on the front row, third from the left. Own collection.

What this meant to Annie is impossible to establish. There is a family rumour that George was the son of the lodger. There was such a lodger, Tom Atkinson, registered on the 1911 & 1921 censuses, but I suspect the rumour is more likely to be a reflection on a couple who had different lives than of an actual affair. More likely still is that this was a family dealing with an ill child. Elsie, Annie’s youngest daughter, died on 29 June 1924, at home with her family in Lodge Terrace, Netherton (now South Lane) in Netherton. She was just seventeen. In the one photo we have she is sat in a chair with a newspaper or magazine and I believe she would have been ill for some time.

Elsie Moody. Own collection.

Annie’s eldest daughter, Marion, my great grandmother, married the following year and moved away. Edith, however, stayed close.

Edith (aka Auntie Edie)

Edith Moody, possibly between 1914 & 1918, possibly in a work place – possibly either a factory or in a hospital. Own collection.

Whilst Elsie’s story is contained within Annie’s, Edith’s continued long beyond Annie’s and deserves its own telling. Whilst my great Grandmother, Marion, died when my Mum was just nine. Auntie Edie was someone I had the pleasure of having personally known. The two things that shine through for me are her love for family and her love for Uncle Charlie.

Annie died in 1932 aged just 56 and Edith married Charles (“Charlie”) William Hardy in 1934. Charlie was cute, came from a good family (his father was a police constable) and he had a solid job in a local factory. Did she wait until after her mother died and no longer needed her at home? Maybe. It was often the case that at least one daughter was “encouraged” to stay at home and look after her parents. There is further evidence of filial responsibility in the 1939 register. By then Edie & Charlie were living at Sunny-Dene, 17 Elmwood Grove, Horbury, the home where the two were to live out their whole lives and her father, Ernest and her younger brother, George, were living with them continuing to be supported by Edie.

Edith Moody. Own collection
Charles Hardy. Own collection

The photos I have continue to tell the tale of family love. They fall into two groups. One group has Edie by the side of her sister Marion either with or without Marion’s two children my Nana, Mary & her elder sister Hilda. The other group is generally taken in the garden at Sunny-Dene, Edie & Charlie with their arms around each other and, generally, a brother, a niece or a nephew.

Edith with her sister Marion (my great Grandmother) and her two nieces Hilda & Mary Booth (my Nana). Own collection
Auntie Edie & Uncle Charlie in the garden at Sunny-Dene. Own collection.

My strongest personal memory of Auntie Edie is of a trip to Horbury, to the garden of Sunny-Dene. I think it was around the time of my birthday and we had were visiting for tea. Auntie Edie’s neighbour gave me a black handbag and this became the holder of my marbles as we competed in the playground of Norwood School. I have no idea who that neighbour was, but this generous gift is a suggestion of someone who made deep friendships with their neighbours.

Sadly, Uncle Charlie died on 13 December 1978 and, yet, even here we have evidence of the closeness of the coupler. Charlie’s probate wasn’t finally settled until Auntie Edie, too, died on 20 February 1984 when the estate, such as it was, was split equally between Edie’s two nieces and one nephew. A few months later my Dad died. My Mum always says that she was grateful Auntie Edie had never had to learn of her great niece’s loss, a reflection of the great affection Auntie Edie had for my Nana & my Mum, who were almost as close as a daughter and granddaughter in her heart. With much gratitude to Annie Bentley and Edith & Elsie Moody who are just three of the people who make up my motherhood. Also, to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Postscript: Edith also appears in Nana’s box of joy.

St Oswald’s church, Leathley – a place of family joy and sadness

St Oswald’s, Leathley

Religious centres witness our beginning and our end, moments of intense joy and of deepest sadness almost always in the presence of our dearest family and friends. Even for those of us without strong faith they have so much more meaning than just the stone or brick from which they are built. St Oswalds church, Leathley has become that special place for me.

The picturesque village of Leathley is bounded by the river Washburn, a river which features heavily in my family history. It is an old settlement, established in the Anglo Saxon period, more sheltered than many of the surrounding villages. St Oswald’s Church occupies a piece of rising ground in the centre of the village, across the road from the village green, parish rooms and the almshouses. The tower dates from the Norman period and was enlarged in 1472. It is a simple, serene church surrounded by a peaceful graveyard.

Looking south from the village green next to St Oswalds. This is the road I walked to my wedding. Photo © Mark Anderson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

St Oswald’s played an important role in our family for several decades prior to us moving to the village of Leathley in 1988 – this blog brings together some of those stories.

The story starts with my great grandparents, Mary & George Thomas Barrett. When Mary & George Thomas retired in 1948 (passing the tenancy of the family farm in nearby Stainburn onto their son, my Grandpy) they moved to Little London Cottage in Leathley. Sadly their retirement was not to last long. George Thomas died in 1951 and Mary followed in 1954. They were buried, together, at St Oswald’s.

Fast forward nearly twenty years. My Nana & Grandpy, Mary & Walker Barrett watched their two children, Richard & Ann, grow to adulthood. Nana was an active member of Leathley WI and would often have been in and around the church. Then tragedy struck, Richard was killed aged just 22. His funeral was held at St Oswald’s and Richard’s remains buried with his grandparents, no doubt in the hope they would be together. 

Headstone for Richard Arthur Barrett, my uncle

It is then that our connection takes a more joyful turn – the wedding of Ann (my Mum) & George Christopher Houseman, otherwise known as Bob, (my Dad) on 9 June 1973. Although Stainburn has its own beautiful church, weddings were no longer being held there. Instead the wedding should have taken place at North Rigton. It was St Oswald’s though, that held a special place for the family and so Ann moved in with family friends (Dot & Dennis Beecroft) to be technically within Leathley parish for the three weeks whilst the banns were read. One must assume that this was with the blessing of the vicar!

It was a glorious, joyful, special occasion, a time to put aside the family sadness and celebrate the coming together of two very special people. Mum wore “a dress of palest blue chiffon with ribbon lace bodice and scallop-edged flowing skirt appliqued by flowers” made by Nana. The Young Farmers provided a guard of honour with forks and the tradition of lifting the bride over the lychgate was upheld.

Mum & Dad’s wedding

Then it was time for christenings, my own in 1975, and those of my three sisters in following years. It’s a beautiful old font topped by a carved wooden triangular canopy but, no matter how beautiful, the shock of the cold water was still making some of us cry!

My christening at St Oswalds. Left to right: George Christopher Houseman (my Dad), Jesse Houseman (my greatgrandad), me, Mary Houseman (my Grandma) and behind Joseph Ross (Godfather) & Tracey Ross.

Then in December 1984, my Dad was tragically killed in another road traffic accident. Someday I’ll feel able to write fuller stories of my Dad. But it was to St Oswald’s we turned for the solace provided by a final resting place. My brother’s christening, held early the following year at St Oswald’s, was bittersweet.

Although Nana & Grandpy had retired to Otley, it was to St Oswald’s we turned when Nana died in 1999 and she was buried close to her son. The church was overflowing, those planning perhaps not quite understanding how much she meant to so many people. It became Grandpy’s final resting place too, many years later.

Again the cycle turned. When I got engaged to Paul there were all the usual decisions to be made – location for the reception, wedding outfits, photographer, band, but there was only one place I wanted the ceremony to be held – St Oswald’s. I chose to walk to the church through the village providing a strange spectacle no doubt for the cars speeding past. Our wedding was witnessed by friends & family, there was a guard of honour from the Young Farmers (this time with shepherds’ crooks) and, although a little red-faced, Paul continued the tradition of lifting the bride over the lychgate. In amongst all the celebration there was time to visit my Dad’s grave and it helped to know that he was there in the churchyard with us.

My wedding, 9 September 2000, inside St Oswald’s
The lychgate at St Oswalds

Mum, too, chose St Oswald’s when she married six months later – in the church records there is only one other wedding between mine & Mum’s. One of my sister’s, too, chose St Oswald’s for her wedding.

My Mum signing the register at Leathley for her second marriage to Joe Ross.

I moved to Leeds and Mum moved to live with her new husband near York. We still visited Leathley regularly but were no longer living in the parish. Then our third family tragedy. On 3 May 2004 my husband Paul was killed, aged just thirty, in yet another road traffic accident. The vicar had changed since we were married and initially questioned why Paul’s funeral should be held at Leathley when we no longer lived in the village. It didn’t take long for someone to share the importance of St Oswald’s to our family. Paul has a small square stone close the second entrance. He’s safe there with my Dad, my Nana & Grandpy, my Uncle and his Grandparents. My family take wreaths at Christmas and bluebells in the spring.

Gravestone of George Christopher “Bob” Houseman with a wreath at Christmas.

It is the joy and the sadness that makes St Oswald’s hold a very special place in my heart.

You can read more about Grandpy’s life and the early part of Mary Wellock’s life at Toft Gate.  

With much gratitude to St Oswald’s of Leathley, to the many clergy who supported us through these times and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Darley Silver Band – a Houseman musical tradition

George Houseman in the uniform of the Darley Silver Band, own collection

We are not exactly what I would call a musical family. One of my sisters played the guitar for a while at middle school and another learned the cornet for a year and that was about it. Even mandatory recorder lessors were a trial for me, and I suspect they were even more of an ordeal for those forced to listen as I practiced……So it’s almost a surprise that the Houseman family was a core part of the musical scene in Darley, Yorkshire for at least a couple of generations. This is their story.

Our known family association starts with the Darley Temperance Band which was formed in 1901 as a successor to the original Darley String Band.

My paternal Great Grandfather, George Houseman (b. 1868) and his two brothers Fred (b. 1876) and Willie (b. 1870) were regular players, with George playing the cornet. The three are pictured on this 1911 photo, George is the one player not in uniform on the back row, Fred is stood on his right. Willie is named as being in the photo, but not identified and I don’t have a photo to compare.

Photo of Darley Temperance Band, 1911, featuring my Great Grandfather George and his two brothers, own collection.

The Darley Temperance Band quickly became popular in the area, with a particular favourite being the “Hospital Sunday” concerts where the band played at services and led the march between the two chapels and the church to help raise funds for the sick and destitute to pay their medical bills.

The band eventually became the known as the Darley Silver Band and by the 1930’s, my great, great Uncle Fred and his sons John Robert, William, Charlie & Ted were all stalwart members. My Great Grandfather, George, appears to have retired, replaced by his eldest sons Thomas & William.

My Grandad, also George, was the youngest of George’s Houseman’s children, born when Great Grandfather George was 52. Although Grandad was just fifteen when his father died there must have been plenty of time for musical education before then as at some point my Grandad, cornet in hand, joined his brothers in the band.

The Darley Silver Band continued to take part in the main festivities and ceremonial occasions in the village through the forties and fifties and headed up the fancy dress parade as part of Darley Thanksgiving Week at the end of the second world war.

Photo from own collection of a Darley Silver Band parade

Perhaps it was the trim blue, red & gold uniforms that appealed to my Grandma. In any event the band continued to be an important part of my Grandad’s life even after they married. As my Grandma wrote in her memoirs:

George often went back to Darley to the band practice and other occasions. I liked to go and hear the band play they all had uniform trimmed with red and gold braid which looked very smart. George played a cornet, but not quite as good as Thomas and Arthur”.

That quote helps to demonstrate quite how much of a family affair the band was, with Thomas being George’s eldest brother and Arthur being his brother-in-law, married to George’s sister, Hilda. His cousins, John Robert & George Edwin rounded out the Houseman contribution to Darley’s musical life.

Photo from Summerbridge & Dacre Silver Band collection featuring (seated): my Grandad, George (second from the right), Arthur, husband of my Great Aunt (fourth from the right) and Thomas, my Great Uncle (fifth from the right).

Sadly, I have no memories of my Grandad playing. He was 54 when I was born and had long since ceased to play with the band. Darley Silver Band was disbanded in 1959 and although many members joined the Summerbridge and Dacre Silver Band this may have been when Grandad hung up his cornet. It was his love of cricket that I remembered him for. He died in 1987, when I was twelve, following two years of illness which left him bed bound for much of the time. Yet, who knows, through photos and stories maybe the musical tradition just might live on in our next generation.

With much gratitude to George Houseman (my paternal Grandad) and his father, George for their musical pursuits. Thanks also to the Summerbridge and Dacre Silver Band for their history page that enabled me to learn much more about my family and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

The antithesis of fortune – three stories of pauper ancestors

Woman making oatcakes, The Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker published 1814 Haver Cake……is almost exclusively made in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and constitutes the principal food of the labouring classes in that district. It is a thin cake, composed of oatmeal and water only, and by no means unpalatable, particularly while it is new.”

My ancestors’ occupations were that of smallholder farmer, miner, weaver, charwoman, servant and other assorted rural labours. The occasional blacksmith or farmer of a few hundred acres hints at a steady income a step above the labouring poor, but we are not a family with a story of vast wealth. The rural poor leave little documentary trace. The daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, women in other words, don’t always even leave a record of their name. Yet without many of these women I would not exist.

Consequently, instead of using weeks #52ancestors theme of “fortune” as a prompt to tell the story of a fractionally wealthier (male) ancestor, I have taken it as an opportunity to document the lives of three women who were the exact opposite. It is a pleasure to introduce you to three of my maternal ancestors: Nanny Sidgewick, Martha Bottom and Widow Swinden.

Agnes (Nanny) Sidgewick

Litton is a remote village high up in Craven District in North Yorkshire. It’s a beautiful, fertile village which was apparently “notorious in the 18th century for its cockpit, situated between the village and the River Skirfare, where cock fighting and badger baiting took place.” It was here, c. 1773, that Agnes was born, the second child of Leonard Sidgewick & Dorothy Ashworth. Leonard died in 1778 leaving Dorothy to raise their four young children alone.

St.Oswald’s Church, Littondale cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Alan

Agnes was 25 and John Preston, 29, when they married in Litton on 21 April 1798. Together they had five children, my great, great, great grandmother, Isabella, being the youngest. In the children’s baptism records Agnes’s name is listed as Nanny – one of those tiny snippets of detail which has survived the years.

By 1841 Agnes & John were living in Conistone, a village about seven miles downriver from Litton. This one census tells a story of their poverty. Agnes was living in one house in the village, still working, at the age of 68, as a farm servant. John, by then an invalid, was living in a different property with their daughter Isabella and died later that year of “natural decay.”

The last eleven years of Agnes’ life would have been tough. Isabella married and moved away in 1843 and Agnes was left alone. In her seventies, she would have struggled to survive. As Ian H Waller (My ancestor was an agricultural labourer) puts it so succinctly “In any rural community, labourers had to work while they could. Age was no deterrent and there was a not a pension. No work, no pay, no food.”

1851 census – Agnes Preston (nee Sidgewick)

In 1851 we come across Agnes again living alone in Conistone, with her “rank, profession or occupation” listed simply as “pauper.” She died of consumption, aged almost 80, on 17 February 1852.

Martha Bottom

Moving fifty miles south to Thornhill, near Wakefield we meet Martha Bottom.

Martha’s earlier life is hard to evidence. Later documents (the 1841 & 1851 censuses & her death certificate) suggest she was born c. 1781 but I’ve been unable to trace a baptism record.

In contrast the banns of marriage between Martha & her husband, Joseph Hall, appear to have been recorded twice, the first time on 28 January, 4 February & 11 February 1798 and second time on 27 January, 3 February & 10 February 1799. Possibly there were two sets of Martha Bottoms & Joseph Halls marrying in Thornhill in quick succession. Possibly the banns were duplicated. However, my favourite theory is the inconvenient arrival of a new born right before the wedding was due to take place causing the actual ceremony to be postponed.

Pallots marriage record

Martha & Joseph went on to have eleven legitimate children between 1799 and 1820: that’s a twenty-year span of pregnancy and childbirth…. Rachel, their tenth child born in 1817, was my great, great, great, great grandmother. The family lived in the township of Shitlington with different documents referencing the specific villages of Netherton, Overton and Midgely.

All of Martha & Joseph’s surviving children had left home by the time Joseph died in early 1841. However, the 60 year old Martha’s child rearing days had not ended. Her daughter, Mary, had had four illegitimate children before dying in 1839. Three of those four children (Henry, Emma & Sarah) were living with Martha in Midgely in 1841, with one having also died.

1841 census for Midgely village, Shitlington showing Martha (nee Bottom) and her three grandchildren

The 1840s would have been tough for an older widow with three small children to support as this extract from a book by Philip Ahier vividly illustrates.  

“Conditions in Netherton, as well as elsewhere, during the “Hungry Forties” were very bad for the majority of the workers. Mr John Oldfield, in his “Recollections,” in a few terse sentences paints graphic word-pictures of these times:-

“Our food was nearly all porridge. Ebenezer Parkin made oatbread, and I have often sat by the back stone and eaten the shavings made. In 1845, my father played a whole winter and never earned a penny. When I was getting 4/6 weekly at Lord’s Mill, flour was 4/6 to 5/10 a stone, and I was nearly clammed to death. I used to take a meal dumpling for dinner and to eat it at breakfast time, and then walk and clam til I got home at night, when I had porridge. I have pined many a score of days after eating my dinner at breakfast time, and then having had to wait till night.””

Martha is still living in Midgely in 1851, at this point on her own, described as a pauper although several of her children were living in Midgely or nearby villages. She died aged 74 of apoplexy (or stroke) on 27 February 1855.

Widow Swinden

The evidence of my 7th great grandmother’s existence is slim and mostly circumstantial. Yet exist she must, less I wouldn’t.

Joseph Swinden married Ann Green on 27 December 1744 in St Michaels & All Angels church, Thornhill, Yorkshire. The following year, an Ann, wife of Joseph Swinden, was buried in the same church. Joseph went on to have had seven children baptised in the same church between 1748 and 1764, the eldest, Ann, being the mother of Martha Bottom described above. There is no evidence of a second marriage. Equally there is no evidence of any other Swindens whose wives could have died in Thornhill at the time and Joseph had to have had those seven children with someone. This leads me to believe that it was indeed Ann Green who died in 1745 and that at some point before 1748 Joseph married my 7th great grandmother, and, together with Joseph, had at least seven children.

In the baptism records, Joseph was described as being from Thornhill Edge. Joseph was buried on 14 May 1768, again at Thornhill, with his burial record describing him as “of the Lees, pauper” so we can assume this is also where my 7th great grandmother lived for the majority if not all of her life.

Finally, we come to the end of her life and the sole documentary evidence of my 7th great grandmother, a burial record from Thornhill in 1771 reading simply “Wid Swinden buried” – it’s not even possible to decipher the month in the copy of the record. Even in death she exists only in relation to another, her husband.

From Thornhill parish records, 1771

I’ve written this blog to give life to Widow Swinden, Martha and Agnes. I’ll never know what they looked like, what made them laugh or cry, whether they loved their husbands or merely tolerated them. Yet I do know that they were all daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers and that in itself is worth celebrating.

Later note: I shared Wid Swinden’s story on a podcast which then inspired a poem.

With much gratitude to Agnes Sidgewick, Martha Bottom and Widow Swinden without whom I wouldn’t exist. Thanks also for their incredible research into Wharfedale families and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Two and a half days

Receipt from Staffa nursing home for the birth of George Christopher Houseman

Two and a half days is such a short period of time. Sixty hours. 3,600 minutes. Take a moment. Think back over the last two days or even the last week – what did you do, think, learn or feel? I’ve been content in lock down winter to treat each day as a new one, to let the hours and days flow past waiting for the year to start. I barely notice one day after the next.

George Christopher Houseman lived just two and a half days.

He was the first son of Mary & George Houseman. Born in Staffa nursing home in Harrogate on 25 February 1946. (Incidentally only seven months after Mary & George were married). He died two and a half days later.

Grandma (Mary Houseman) was the family story keeper. Being of Yorkshire heritage she wasn’t one to shy away from plain speaking. So, the facts she told were – George Christopher existed, he was born and a few days later he died, but she didn’t seem to want to share more – it was a sad memory.

That could have been the end of his story. It wasn’t.

Mary & George had a wonderful daughter, Christine Mary, born in 1947 and then a second son in 1950 who they also named George Christopher. This same named child was my father. The first George Christopher my Uncle.

I have a fascination with the siblings of my ancestors who remain unwed, or who married and didn’t have children. Without any descendants they tend to be less well researched, somewhat ethereal and in danger of being forgotten. Yet they often have fascinating stories much more likely to pop up on censuses with other relatives and have wills that help connect. I want George Christopher to be more than a memory (mine) of another’s memory (my Grandma’s) and so this blog is written.

George Christopher now exists for me in three documents: a receipt, my Grandma’s autobiography and his death certificate.

I found the receipt for the nursing home stay carefully folded up in a small wallet when I inherited Grandma’s papers. Staffa nursing home was popular with mothers in the 1940s in the years before the NHS came into existence and was where my own father was born too. It was the only document she had of her life.

My Grandma’s autobiography, the Changing Years, tells us more about the love she bore for her first son.


We have had so much sadness in our lives that I find it hard writing about it in detail but I can not overlook it as I spend many sad hours thinking about so many of my family that I loved so much and meant so much to me during my life. We were both heart broken when we lost our first baby, a little boy that we had very much looked forward to having in our family. I know that Dad and Mother were so pleased to have a little Grandson in the Houseman family. He was born on the 25th of February 1946 and only lived two and a half days and is buried at Dacre Top Cemetery. It took an awful lot of courage after a long three days in labour for me to get over it. But I was very well looked after at the Staffa Nursing Home in Harrogate and was soon able to come home and get back into my routine. The doctor told me that the only way I would get over it was to look forward to having another baby.

And finally, I ordered his death certificate. George Christopher died on 27 February 1946 at Harrogate General Hospital of purpura neonatorum, blood spots and discolouration of the skin resulting from coagulation in the small blood vessels. I have no way of knowing if he was a premature honeymoon baby or a pre-marriage full term. There doesn’t seem to be a particular increased incidence of purpura in premature babies but I can imagine a seven month pregnancy resulting in a weaker child much more than I can Grandma being pregnant when she married!

Two and a half days may not seem like a very long time but I hope this blog demonstrates it’s long enough to leave a legacy.  

With much gratitude to George Christopher Houseman (1946 – 1946), and thanks also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Folk ask why girls wear mini skirts?

Card sent from my Grandad, George Houseman to his wife, Mary Houseman, the author of the poem.

I’ve found tantalising glimpses of love in my family history research. One of my favourite documents is the will of my 4 x great grandfather John Booth. Written in 1860, John refers to his “dear wife” (Jane Lund) three times in just a few short lines.

Valentines – stories of romance and courtship – are more difficult to spot in formal records. It’s impossible to tell whether the marriage between neighbours was a story of childhood sweethearts or just one of proximity and convenience. Even John & Jane’s love is more likely a result of a long, shared life than of hearts & flowers.

Instead, I’m turning a poem written by my Grandma, Mary Houseman.

Grandma’s poems and scripts reflected the local countryside and farming life. They were written to celebrate a birthday, to be recited at a Sunday School anniversary or performed in Young Farmers entertainment competition. The writing is perhaps not of the highest artistic merit. It is definitely of its era and spelling and punctuation are best described idiosyncratic.  (My Grandma & I may have attended the same school, Norwood County Primary, but education in the 1920s & 30s was distinctly different to that in the 1980s). Nonetheless her writing evokes an era and a place. It is also, frequently, funny, and consequently well-loved by those who have the opportunity either to read the poems or watch scripts performed.

So here it is, my Grandma’s reflections on courting.

Folk ask why girls wear mini skirts?

Its obvious to me

They’re on the marriage market

To let the buyers see. That.

The body work is neat and clean

And the boot is firm and round

The chassis well upholstered

And the moving parts are sound

The modern man. He has a choice

Not like in younger days

They took them at face value

Long skirts and whale bone stays

And many a Grandpa’s I’ll be bound

Felt sad that they’d been caught

When in the bridal chamber

They viewed – what they had bought

So modern men – remember this

Now. When you make your bid

You’ll not be caught, with a pig in a poke

The way your Grandpa’s did.

With much gratitude to my Grandma, Mary Houseman (1921 – 2020), who also features in in an earlier blog “Is Grandma related to Grandad?” and thanks also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

A spice loaf & a wig

Photo of a Yorkshire spice loaf from Traditional Yorkshire recipes

For the first 23 years of her life, Mary Ann (my great, great, great grandmother) was the daughter of Richard Gill, tailor. In 1859 she married and became Mrs William Reynard, the blacksmith’s wife. These are typical of the identities ascribed to our ancestor mothers. We track the women through their fathers, their husbands and their children and then we pass by. What makes this story different was one short reference to a spice loaf, baked regularly by Mary Ann in her kitchen, a glimpse of a woman behind the men.

Mary Ann was born between 7 June & 13 July 1836, the sixth of Maria (nee Spence) and Richard Gill’s eleven children. We can assume she was baptised at Fewston church, like her siblings, although there is no record of this. Instead, her date of birth is derived from her age on later records.

The Gill family lived at Bland Hill in the village of Norwood close to the beautiful river Washburn in Yorkshire. It’s where I went to primary school, regularly passing R Gill & Sons, Joiners, without any inkling of our potential relationship.  

Richard was a tailor, likely sourcing linen, worsted or cotton from one of several mills sited along the river Washburn. The Gills were relatively prosperous. There was work enough for at least three of the sons to join the family business and a small farm to retire to. Richard was perhaps also a man very much aware of his social status even beyond death. Richard died in 1883 aged 76. His grave in Fewston churchyard is marked with a large granite obelisk instead of a simple slab of york stone like most of the others.  Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, when his grave was excavated in 2009/2010 as part of the building of the Washburn heritage centre, Richard was found to have been buried in his socks and wig, surely the sign of a man with pride.

The Reynard family lived on a farm in the nearby village of Hampsthwaite. William (born in 1833) was three years older than Mary Ann and it is quite possible they knew each other from an early age. As the second of three sons, William had little chance of inheriting the family farm and so, by the age of 18, he was working as farm servant at a large farm in Allerton. At some point over the next few years, he trained to be a blacksmith and moved to Osmotherly, over 40 miles away.  

Whether Mary Ann & William had stayed in touch over that period, or whether William bumped into a newly grown up Mary Ann on a trip back to see his family, it was at this point that the 27-year-old William felt sufficiently secure in his station to approach Richard Gill for Mary Ann’s hand. They married in Otley on 13 July 1859.

Children quickly followed. Sarah Ellen (1860), Maria, my great, great, grandmother (1861), and Annie (1865). Then a move to the village of Topcliffe, perhaps to take over a more prosperous blacksmiths business. Mary was born in 1867, Hannah in 1871, John William in 1873 and finally George Gill in 1879. They were a close family – I’ve inherited a great deal of warm correspondence between the children in later years although, sadly, none with or about their mother, Mary Ann. Maria’s family album contains many pictures of the family.

A daughter, a wife and a mother. Then I chanced upon “Topcliffe. A history by Mary Decima Watson” written in 1970 and here was my glimpse into Mary Ann herself.

It was a custom at the turn of the century for the tradesmen of the town to send out their accounts once per year. The joiners, the sadlers, the shoemakers and the village blacksmith. The farmers sold their livestock for the year, and would then settle their accounts with the tradesmen. The village blacksmith’s wife had her own special custom, she made a very nice spice loaf, so that when the farmers called to pay their accounts to Mr Reynard, the blacksmith, she would cut a piece of this loaf for the farmers, or anyone paying their accounts to eat while her husband attended to the business side.

An excellent baker, a custom-setter and, I like to think, a thoughtful and generous woman.

Sadly, Mary Ann died of influenza and jaundice on 2 April 1895, aged just 58. Dead, but not forgotten, thanks to that spice loaf.

Mary Ann was mother of Maria Reynard who was mother of Hilda Mary Scott who was mother of my maternal Grandma, Mary Houseman.

With much gratitude to my Mary Ann Gill for her spice loaf, my friend Andrea for the photo of the memorial, the Washburn heritage centre for their work on the graves at Fewston and thanks also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

The Wellocks, Toft Gate and the Great Depression of British Agriculture

The family of Mary & Richard Wellock.
Back row L to R: Thomas, Margaret, Walker, Elizabeth. Middle row L to R: David, Major, Front row L to R: Benjamin, Richard (father), Mary, Mary (mother), Richard

This is a story of a family (the Wellocks), their home (Toft Gate on the edge of Greenhow Hill near Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire) and the impact of a little studied economic era on one family’s lives (The Great Depression of British Agriculture).

Before we journey to Yorkshire & study the economics lets meet the family.

Mary (nee Walker) and Richard Wellock were my great, great grandparents. Here they are in my Mum’s favourite ancestor photo taken c. 1893 surrounded by their nine surviving children. My great grandmother, Mary, is the young girl in the middle of the photo with her hands on the legs of her parents. My great, great grandparents, Mary & Richard, look particularly stern and careworn. Their children, clearly in their best clothing, show no hint of a smile.

To understand this photo and learn more about the family we first need to know more about Toft Gate and the Great Agricultural Depression.

Looking out from Toft Gate, Greenhow

Toft Gate is one of those solid old stone Yorkshire Dales farmhouses that is still farmed to this day. You might visit the barn café on a beautiful spring day and idly ponder how wonderful it might be to live there. Until winter kicks in. At 1,300 feet above sea level, Greenhow Hill is “probably” the highest village in Yorkshire. Winters are cold and long with wind rattling over the moor. Work was hard with a fairly straight choice between farming and lead mining. Rudyard Kipling describes it thus:

“Greenhow Hill stands up ower Pately Brig. I reckon you’ve never heeard tell o’ Green-how Hill, but yon bit o’ bare stuff if there was nobbut a white road windin’ is like ut; strangely like. Moors an’ moors an’ moors, wi’ never a tree for shelter, an’ gray houses wi’ flagstone rooves, and pewits cryin’, an’ a windhover goin’ to and fro just like these kites. And cold! A wind that cuts you like a knife. You could tell Green-how Hill folk by the red-apple colour o’ their cheeks an’ nose tips, and their blue eyes, driven into pin-points by the wind. Miners mostly, burrowin’ for lead i’ th’ hillsides, followin’ the trail of th’ ore vein same as a field-rat”.

Nonetheless, Richard’s father, Thomas (my great, great, great grandfather) appears to have been of hardy stock. He took over the lease of the 150 acre farm in the early 1860s, moving in with his second wife, Isabella (nee Preston) and their children, Richard (b. 1844), Agnes (b. 1847), Benjamin Preston (b. 1852) and David (b. 1853).

By then Greenhow Hill was in economic decline. In part this was area specific. The mines, which had been in operation since Roman times, were now deep below the water table, making them far more expensive than newer large open pit operations abroad. One by one between the 1850s and 1890s the mines closed. Some miners shifted to farming, many moved away.   

The Great Depression of British Agriculture was much more widespread. Generally dated from 1873 to 1896 it impacted farmers across Britain. The great prairies in the US & Canada were being opened up. The rise in steamships made transportation of grain, meat, butter and cheese far cheaper, resulting in significant falls in price back in Britain. By 1894 – 1895, prices had reached their lowest levels in 150 years. The arable farms serving Britain’s largest cities suffered the most but it can’t have been without impact on Toft Gate.

Now we can come back to our Wellock family in the photo.  

Richard Wellock was born on 7 April 1844 at Halton Gill. He married Mary Walker (b. 17 April 1845 at Capon Hall, Malham Moor) on 29 May 1866 at St Michaels Church, Linton in Craven. At the time he was working as a farm servant in Bordley. Halton Gill, Malham Moor, Linton-in-Craven and Bordley may all be within twenty miles of each other but they are long distances to walk. Richard & Mary probably only met because Toft Gate produced insufficient income for father and son forcing Richard to look elsewhere for work.

Eleven children rapidly followed: Thomas (b. 1866), Richard (b. 1867), Elizabeth (b. 1870), Margaret (b. 1872), Walker (b. 1874), Richard (b. 1877), David (b. 1879), Major Preston (b. 1882), Benjamin (b. 1884), Mary, my great grandmother (b. 1886) and Hornby (b. 1888).

The first three children were born in Bewerley, Ripon & Litton. By 1871 the family were back with Thomas & Isabella at Toft Gate but described as “staying for a few weeks.” It is likely that Richard had been a farm worker over this time, striving to find either a long term position or his own farm to lease. Then a period of stability. The family moved into Hole Bottom, and then Blazefield both on Hardcastle Moor just a couple of miles away from Toft Gate. Richard was farming at Toft Gate again with his father.

Thomas died on 28 January 1885 and his estate passed to his wife, Isabella. Probate was described as excluding leaseholds and I am curious as to whether this was deliberate. In my family experience, leases were passed from father to son. Yet this was an age of agricultural depression where landlords were desperate for tenants. Whatever the circumstances, Richard, Mary and their family once again moved back into Toft Gate. At the age of 41 Richard finally held the lease of a farm.

Life wasn’t easy – we can see that from the photo in the clothing and the faces of a couple who weren’t yet 50. This is also, more importantly, a photo of a family in mourning. Hornby, the youngest child, succumbed to scarlatina/ scarlet fever in June 1893. Richard & Mary must have gathered the children together seeking a permanent record in case others, too, were lost.

I prefer, however, to see this photo as reflecting the closeness of a family and the start of a dynasty. Each of the remaining nine children lived long lives, reaching an average age of 74. All nine married and seven have surviving descendants, with a surprising frequency of Hornbys amongst them. The continued agricultural depression encouraged David & Major to emigrate to Canada where they rapidly settled in Saskatchewan. The family remained close, with both letters and people crossing the Atlantic for many years. (You can read more on the relationship between the siblings through Mary’s birthday book & a road trip to Estevan)

Mary (my great grandmother and the youngest child in the original photo) married George Thomas Barrett in 1917. They had two children, Henry Wellock Barrett (b. 1918) & Richard Walker Barrett, my Grandpy, (b. 1921) playing tribute to both of Mary’s parents. And later, in 1927, with Richard’s health failing and Mary (mother) having died, Mary & George moved back to Toft Gate. Richard died in 1931 and the family connection with Toft Gate ended when Mary, George & family moved out in 1934 bringing us to the end of this story.

Mary (nee Wellock) and George Thomas Barrett with their two children Henry Wellock (right) and Richard Walker, my Grandpy (left) likely taken shortly after they left Toft Gate.

With much gratitude to Mary & Richard Wellock who, in grief, brought their family together for this photo, to the Greenhow Hill local history group who’s book “Life on the Hill” added a lot of colour to this blog and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks encouraged me to publish this story.

The Butterworth identity – a namesake clue

Thomas Booth (b. 1870) is my great, great grandparent. He lived in Askwith, a small village near Otley in Yorkshire, farmed sheep, died of “farmers lung” in 1929 and was buried at Weston Church with his wife Sarah. He was father to Arthur Booth, who was father to Mary Booth, my maternal grandmother (known as Nana). This much my Nana shared with me over 30 years ago. Without reviewing any formal documentary evidence, I thought I knew his story. Yet I was missing a single critical piece of his identity which in turn enabled me to unlock the story of his illigitimate mother, Elizabeth Dean.

We are a family of amazing women so when I picked up family history research again, I chose to focus on the women. Thomas’s wife, Sarah Cooper, came with a tantalising snippet of a tale about a mother who married twice, the second time to an older man. Over time I was able to evidence this and came to know better the stories of both Sarah Cooper and her mother Hannah Demain.

I turned back to Thomas. In pursuit of Sarah, I had visited Thomas’s grave, ordered his marriage and death certificates, and studied censuses from his married life. In all of these he was listed as Thomas Booth. Then an odd bit of evidence. The 1871 census listed one Thomas B Booth and this in turn led me to a potential birth certificate. When it arrived plain old Thomas Booth transformed into the far more compelling Thomas Butterworth Booth and the opened up the Butterworth identity.

Back to the women. Thomas’s mother, Elizabeth Dean, was my original brick wall. Documentary evidence was sparse and didn’t add up to a coherent picture. She was illegitimate, so no father on the marriage certificate. She died quite young, and so I had just one census as a married woman. From what I knew she could have been born in 1844, 1845 or 1846 in “Lancaster” but was living in Wilsden in Yorkshire when she married – a domestic servant without obvious roots.

There were no matching Elizabeth Deans born in Lancaster and too many options across the whole of Lancashire & Yorkshire. Finally, I hit on an effective search strategy. In 1851 she was likely still to be living with her mother in Lancashire. Focusing on those without a father’s name listed narrowed it down to two options. “Betcy Dear” with a parent “Bellow” living in Tatham and born in Wray with Botton didn’t seem terribly promising information, but “stepdaughter” did. When I opened up the record to see that the head of the household was one Thomas Butterworth, I knew I’d cracked it and with it the origin of my Thomas Butterworth Booth’s name.

1851 census listing Betcy Dear, Bellow & Thomas Butterworth

I still don’t know exactly when Elizabeth Dean was born but I do know much more of her story and in turn much more about Thomas’s early life.

Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Isabella Dean born in Wray-with-Botton in the city of Lancaster district. A few years later, in 1850, Isabella married Thomas Butterworth, a quarry man and, somewhat less than nine months later, their legitimate daughter, Anne Butterworth, arrived. By 1861 Elizabeth had moved out of the family home and was working as a domestic servant in her aunt’s household. Isabella & Thomas had moved further south to Warley in Yorkshire likely in pursuit of work.  By 1866 Elizabeth, too, had moved to Yorkshire where she met & married Samuel Booth. Elizabeth & Samuel had two children, John, born in 1869 and Thomas Butterworth a year later and shortly thereafter took over the Booth family farm, March Cote, near Bingley. Elizabeth remained close to her sister during this time. Anne’s first child was named after her aunt Elizabeth, and her second, Marian, was born during a visit to Elizabeth in Bingley.

Sadly, being the wife of a small tenant farmer could be a hard one. Elizabeth’s son, John, died in 1876, aged just seven years old. Then Elizabeth herself succumbed to a combination of diabetes and pneumonia on 3 February 1880 aged around 36 years old. Later that same year, whether as a result of grief or the general agricultural depression of the time, Samuel sold his farm livestock and implements.

He’d been peering through the window when the man in the suit arrived. He’d seen his father’s face grow pale as the man talked, watched his body shrink in on itself. Now the boy sat stiffly opposite his father, toes straining to touch the floor, eyes fixed firmly forward. His father started to speak, to tell him something important, but the words just tumbled around in his brain making no sense“. (Author’s supposition).

This was the point that Thomas dropped the Butterworth identity bringing us back to the beginning of this blog.

With much gratitude to my Nana, Mary Booth, to Elizabeth Dean for naming her son Thomas Butterworth Booth and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, this week on namesakes, encouraged me to publish this story (

Is Grandma related to Grandad?

Or how a family legend turned out to be true.

My Grandma was a Houseman before she married a Houseman”. This used to be my answer to that dreaded icebreaker conversation “share something about yourself that we might not know.”

Once past the weird questions like “do you have webbed feet” the most frequent question was the one that was also the subject of many family musings “were they related before they married?” To which my answer had been, I didn’t think so, but I’d love to know for sure.

My Grandma, Mary Houseman (born in 1921), was a family historian before family history was a thing. She knew three generations worth of ancestors for both her & her husband (George Houseman, also born in 1921) and she could, and frequently did, tell me how I was related to almost everyone within the local area (essentially Washburn, Wharfedale & Nidderdale valleys north and west of Harrogate). In my childhood we documented the family history together on long pieces of wallpaper lining which I am grateful to still own but as far as we knew there were three separate Houseman families in the neighbourhood and I was related, separately, to two of them.

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and a man called Gary Houseman (no apparent relation) contacted my Grandma. Gary was one of those dedicated genealogists who takes the time to map out a single name, in this case, Houseman. Gary & Grandma had a lot of conversations – it was always his research, but I like to think Grandma helped.

This time instead of wallpaper it was a paper bag from “Vera fashions”, carefully cut down one edge and across the bottom to give a wide enough piece of paper. On that piece of paper was the answer to the family question – Mary & George Houseman were indeed related with the same 3 x great grandparents, one Margaret Grange (born c. 1728) & George Houseman (born c. 1727).

Of course, Grandma being Grandma it wasn’t all black & white. There were the additions in red to note grandparents, great grandparents and even great, great grandparents of people I grew up who were closer relations than Mary & George had ever been!

So yes, Grandma was related to Grandad, but a lot less closely than I now know some of my other ancestors to be (and no doubt your own too)…. but that’s another story!

Biographical detail

Margaret Grange (b. c. 1728) and George Houseman (b. c. 1727) had 8 children. Their oldest child, Thomas (b. c. 1760) marred Mary Akers and had 15 children. Their 13th child, Robert (b. c. 1806), married Elizabeth (Betty) Beecroft and had seven children. Their fourth child, Michael (b. 1842) married Amelia Bradbury and had eleven children. Their 9th child, Jesse (b. 1885) married Amelia Bradbury and had three girls, the youngest of whom was my Grandma, Mary Houseman.  

Margaret Grange & George Houseman’s 6th child, John (b. c. 1769) married Mary Steel and they had five children. Their youngest child, John (b. c. 1832), married Sarah Stansfield and had four children. Their second child, Thomas (b. c. 1834) married Mary Downs and they had five children. George (b. 1868) was their second child. He married Mary Abigail Clapham and they had six children, the youngest of whom was my Grandad, George.

With much gratitude to my Grandma, Mary Houseman, to Mary Grange & George Houseman born in the 1720s, to Gary Houseman and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks encouraged me to publish this story.