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.

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.

A ruby wedding

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

We are simultaneously both a large family and a small one. With four siblings and five nieces and nephews, a family gathering is rarely smaller than fifteen and normally much larger. Yet we have but one cousin, who is more than a decade younger than I. For many years my siblings & I were the only grandchildren. My grandparents were grandparents, not quasi parents, but I think this goes a long way to explaining why we were close.

On my Mum’s side this was even more apparent. Mum had just one brother, Richard, and after he died in his early twenties, Mum became a de-facto only child.

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

That’s why when Nana & Grandpy celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary we were centre of the action. Anna is sat next to Nana, Helen just opposite them both. Mum appears to be the youngest adult as we sit surrounded by Nana & Grandpy’s oldest friends. There’s Aunty Hilda (my Nana’s sister), Uncle Henry & Aunty Marian (my Grandpy’s brother & his wife), Dot & Dennis Beecroft (who hosted my Mum so she could get married at Leathley church), Edna & Hugh Ryder (grandparents of one of my oldest friends) and Rosemary Briggs (nee Booth) (Nana’s cousin and bridesmaid). Lunch was at the Smiths Arms in Beckwithshaw. Soup appears to have been on the menu & no doubt a roast. There was cake at home afterwards, not in the cold, rarely used, best room, but in the warm, homely, everyday room.

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

In the end it is not Nana & Grandpy’s faces I see in these photos, but a forty year relationship, a close-knit group of friends and a deep and abiding love for my mother, my siblings & I. With gratitude to my Nana & Grandpy for being such wonderful grandparents and to Natalie Pithers for her mini-challenge “paper – ruby – wood” which prompted this blog.

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

There’s snow and then there’s Yorkshire snow

468a Harrogate Road, Leeds, 8 February 2009. Own collection. The snow was much reduced by the time I returned home

2 January 2009 (Monday)

It’s been really, really snowy today. Setting off from Leeds was fine, bus & train running to time. London was a different matter. I arrived at work about a quarter to eleven – I was the only senior finance team member in! Times like this don’t happen very often in our lives and its worth just sitting back & enjoying the snow (& the now).”

In 2009 I was commuting from Yorkshire to London each week and totally bemused that London seemed to have ground to a halt that week. In Yorkshire hill farming territory, stormy weather means snow. Here is the story of three memorable Yorkshire winters illustrated beautifully in three of my grandparents’ own words.

The extracts in this blog are taken from: letters sent between Mary Booth (Nana) & Walker Barrett (Grandpy) in 1947, Mary Houseman (Grandma)’s memoir “The Changing Years” and my transcript of an oral history interview with Walker Barrett, recorded c. 2011 as part of the Washburn Heritage Centre’s archive.

1933 – “up in’t telegraph wires”

 25 & 26 February 1933 saw one of the worst blizzards to ever hit the British Isles. It snowed continuously for 48 hours and there were fourteen foot drifts on Yorkshire’s moors and dales. In 1933, Walker Barrett was living in Greenhow Hill, a particularly exposed Yorkshire village.

A lot of snow, 1933, snow were up in’t telegraph wires…..All that snow come right over the house top. Our cattle…. there weren’t water bowls in them days, they went out to the water trough. There was a snow tunnel…..trough well designed, cos it was turned off in’t house ….went underground and came up underneath t’trough, you see. Well designed cos they didn’t freeze up.”

Mary Houseman tells a similar story.  

I’m sure that winters were more severe then. Many times the roads were blocked solid for thirty days and we could not get out anywhere. We had to dig a path to get across the yard and often all the windows, taps and water would be frozen up. I once remember having to carry it all in buckets from the tank in the stock garth twice a day to water all the cows. When we started making milk we took it in cans to Norwood Edge with the horse and a homemade sledge. Some of it just stood there for days, the milk wagon couldn’t even get there. We carried hay on our back to feed the sheep. I have never worn trousers and my skirt got wet through trailing on top of snow drifts

1947 – “It took us all day digging through high drifts just to get across the yard into the buildings

Mary Houseman was still living at Prospect Farm, Lindley

The winter of 1947 will be remembered a long time or should I say early Spring. At the end of February came the worst snow in living memory. Day after day it continued. Each morning when we wanted to get out of the back door we had to dig it. It took us all day digging through high drifts just to get across the yard into the buildings. We were able to milk but nothing to put it in so it was just put down the drain….It was almost impossible to get to the sheep. We hadn’t a tellyphone [sp] so we were cut off from everything and everybody for a long time but we had plenty to eat and coal to burn. When the storm did stop three of our men and some of Baxter’s used to go and dig the lane out by hand as no tractors then. The snow was frozen so hard that we walked on top of it right across to Stainburn one Sunday. We could not see any walls just the treetops stuck out. The sun shone through the day and it froze hard at night like the countries where they ski. When it did start to thaw it was waist deep in slush. When the roads did eventually get a way through they were still a foot deep in ice and bad to travel on. The poor sheep were in a sorry state. Some lost their sight it was called snow blindness. We did eventually get them near home by walking in a line on the hard path where Dad went everyday to take hay. Some could not stand so they had to be carried in a sack. We gave them milk to drink to give them a bit of nourishment and slowly they got a bit stronger. I don’t remember loosing any but a lot of sheep on the moors were snown under the drifts and never found until the snow had gone. Food for cattle and people was dropped from the air for some farmers in isolated areas…..The road over the moor was impassable for weeks. Gangs of men with shovels and spades came to cut through the drifts. I hope we never have a snow like that again”.

Walker Barrett, now at Stainburn, continues.

We lost a lot of sheep, we did that year. But 47 snow. There were just eight weeks tilt milk wagon coming into the yard. It came in on’t Sunday when it started snowing that Sunday morning and it was just eight weeks on’t Monday before the milk wagon came into the yard

We used to sledge it down’t fields with horse & sledge and come out down at bottom of Leathley bank

He [Henry Barrett, Walker’s brother] was at Lindley….Although when we were blocked in at Stainburn he could go out every day. Cos he used to bring van and pick our milk up off road and take it down to his place to pick up

What Walker didn’t talk about in his interview is the impact it had on his & Mary Booth’s courtship. Their letters give a sense of how long the snow kept the two young lovers apart.

Extract of a letter from Mary Booth to Walker Barrett postmarked 5 February 1947. Own collection.

From Mary to Walker, postmarked 5 February 1947 “You did right not to come last night dear as the roads are bad around here…..I was watching the weather most of the afternoon then I finally decided that it was not fit for you to come about teatime….do come up any night dear when it is fit but please don’t risk it when the roads are bad.

From Walker to Mary, written 5 February 1947 “Well dear I am trying to write you a few lines but when’t will be posted I don’t know, we have had no post since Monday & the post doesn’t look like reaching here this week. Did you expect me on Sunday, I was sore disappointed, but it really was not safe to come, I could have got to Askwith but not back to Stainburn then I would have had to sleep with you dear. The roads around here are bad don’t think the Wolseley will be out this week. We shall have to cut the lane right from the yard bottom nearly to Ridleys & then it is blocked from the lane ends nearly to Housemans but there are 12 Germans started at the bottom end”.

From Mary to Walker, postmarked 9 February 1947 “The post man had to walk part of the way from Otley as it had drifted it again. When I saw him coming here I didn’t dare hope for one from you. As I’d been longing to hear from you all the week….. You sound to be well blocked in down at Stainburn. We’d heard from one or two folk how bad it was. It’s not much good digging as the wind fills it up again with more snow. We managed to get down to Otley on Friday but from Askwith to Otley there’s only way for single traffic so we just trust to luck that we don’t meet anything coming the other way….. But please dear don’t start to bike up as it’s too far in this weather and the roads are very rough.”

From Walker to Mary, likely February 1947, “We are pretty well cut off only open to the Bank top yet & it’s blowing it in again & snowing like blazes. I’m well & truly fed up, but I’ll pop in one of these nights. I intended coming tonight. I think we have got above our fair share of this snow up here many places the drifts are 6 & 14 ft. the Bank was full. I go through the back of Clifford & down the Bank with the milk…… our car will be lucky if it’s out for next weekend. I have never seen it since last Saturday night. I’ll have to dig it out & warm it up tomorrow & see what a car looks like”.

From Walker to Mary, 16 March 1947 “I am not so bad but fed up with the weather. Tt looks as if it will be Tuesday or possibly Wed before we manage to get the car out. Only Bernard cutting from here…..”

1979 – “special day”

Snow at Lindley in 1979. Own collection.

For Mary Houseman the winter of 1979 was far more memorable for the birth of a granddaughter than for the strikes which were causing such difficulties for the rest of the country.

1979 started with snow and ice through most of January and February we put electric fires in the parlour to keep it from freezing up and some days the milkman could not get up for the milk and January 23rd was another special day in our family. Ann got another baby girl, after a few anxious days wondering if we would all be snown in. It was a third daughter, but they chose Anna Marie for her name, a bit more up to date than just Mary. They were both well and soon back home to the ice and snow.

So next time there’s a sudden snowstorm that causes mild inconvenience, sit back & enjoy the snow (& the now).

With love and thanks to my maternal grandparents Mary Booth & Walker Barrett for saving their letters of thwarted visits and to Walker Barrett & Mary Houseman for sharing their memoires in oral & written form.

What a birthday date book taught me about WW1

Mary (Pollie) Wellock. Own collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, car, YFC: Dad in three words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Henry Barrett & military service exemptions

William Henry Barrett, 1894 – 1924. Own collection.

It is a family “truth” that, as farmers, we were exempt from military service in both WW1 and WW2. The “truth” of this statement is more complex than it first seems. Whilst none of my direct ancestors fought in either war, several siblings and cousins did including my great, great uncle, William Henry Barrett.

The truth that many farmers didn’t end up on the front line is illustrated through this letter dated 21 May 1946 in relation to George Houseman, my father’s father (Grandad), who had “indefinite deferment of calling up granted to him by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.” The letter was sent to his employer, Jesse Houseman, who also happened to be his father-in-law…….

Letter confirming deferment of military service for George Houseman. Own collection.

Farming was a reserved occupation but only once you had reached the age of 25. On my Mum’s side, my Grandpy was eighteen when war broke out, his brother, Henry, twenty-one so both of age to fight. The story passed down is that my great grandfather (George Thomas) sent one of his sons to work elsewhere to avoid them being drafted. We’d always understood it to be my Uncle Henry (the oldest brother) who worked elsewhere but it’s my Grandpy that I can’t find on the 1939 register. Whoever it was, both Grandpy and his brother joined the Home Front in 1941 and did their part in serving the country. This approach was well supported by the local estate manager as the only person from the local community who was drafted to the front was one who had, apparently, fallen out with his father.

But why was George Thomas so keen to keep his sons from the front? This is where William Henry comes in. William Henry was the third and last child of Jane Brooks & Henry Barrett. He was born on 5 December 1894, seven years after his brother, my great grandfather, George Thomas, and fourteen years after his sister, Mary Elizabeth. In photos he very much looks like the cosseted (perhaps unexpected) baby of the family and most definitely on the puny side.

Jane Brooks, Henry Barrett and their three (oldest to youngest) children Mary Elizabeth, George Thomas and William Henry. Own collection.

When war broke out in 1914 many in the locality volunteered to serve. The records of those serving in the 6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding regiment are helpfully captured in the wonderfully evocative book “Craven’s part in the Great War” which opens with the following: “A humble but sincere expression…of the gallant, heroic and self-sacrificing spirit shown by the sons of Craven in resisting the unscrupulous, malignant and pre-arranged design of Germany and her dupes to crush the British Empire and the civilised countries associated with her.” The authors being “confident that the volume will be treasured as an honoured heirloom in every family who representative has done his share in freeing our beloved Empire from the slavery of German hatred and military aggression.” Sadly, this “honoured heirloom” has failed to make it into my hands.

Pvte W. H. Barrett, 2/6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment. Own collection.

William’s service record seems to be one of the many destroyed in the blitz. What we do know is that, by 1915, Private W. H Barrett (regiment number 267160) was serving in the 2/6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment, later transferring to the Labour Corps (regiment number 420996). In some senses it seems that William may have been lucky, the 2/6th battalion was a home services “second line” unit and did not serve at the front until 1917 by which time William may well have transferred to the Labour Corps. His service seems to be neither distinguished nor undistinguished, just one of the many young men that went to war and came back, seemingly physically unharmed (as evidenced by WW1 pension records).

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

When William’s father, Henry, died in April 1924 his will included a specific bequest of farm stock and implements “in acknowledgement of his service for his country in the late war” presumably setting William up to take over the family farm at Throstle Nest.

Sadly, William only lived a few more weeks. He died on 20 May 1924 of tuberculosis, aged just 29. Unmarried and childless, William is buried with his parents in Pateley Bridge cemetery.

William’s death certificate

Something that will never be known is how many soldiers, given living in unhygienic close quarters, often cold and wet, exhausted from continuous combat and lack of sleep, and not always well fed, were infected with tuberculosis or went from a healed primary infection to an active secondary infection while in military service.

We can’t know whether William caught tuberculosis whilst on active duty and yet his family may have suspected this as being the reason. Perhaps William’s last legacy was to ensure his nephews weren’t put in the same situation when WW2 broke out just a few short years later.

With much gratitude to William Henry Barrett for his service and for his legacy which kept my Grandpy safe from war, to the long long trail for helping me make sense of the regiments and to all those who served. Also, to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Read more about WW1 & Greenhow Hill in what a birthday date book taught me about WW1 – the first of two stories from Mary Wellock’s birthday date book

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.