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.

Are we a political family?

Growing up I didn’t consider us to be a political family. We didn’t join a party, deliver leaflets, or spend time debating the political issues of the day. We voted of course although those votes counted for very little in a first past the post system. Skipton & Ripon (where I first voted) is one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. Leeds North East (where I moved in 1997) has returned a strong labour majority for the last twenty-five years. Holborn & St Pancras (my current constituency) is another staunch labour stronghold. The MP in each case is chosen not by the electorate but by party members long before the election.

Our thinking has changed as we have grown older. Whilst Mum may still refuse to tell us how she actually voted, family lunches regularly stray into political debate and even Mum became an active campaigner during the EU referendum. It was at that point I decided to gift my youngest sister, Sharon, a rather unusual birthday present which I’ll come to later.

This week’s #52ancestor hint “voting” is the prompt I needed to bring together a few short stories of how our ancestors have long engaged in politics, demonstrating that we are much more of a political family that it might have once appeared.  

How the men in our family voted in the 1868 general election

Poll book for the election of two Knights of the Shire for the Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire on Saturday November 28th 1868.

The snappily named “Poll book for the election of two Knights of the Shire for the Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire on Saturday November 28th 1868” records the actual votes cast in the 1868 general election. It also provides clues as to the voters’ relative wealth. The Reform Act 1867 had significantly increased the number of enfranchised men. In the Shires this right had been extended to all male heads of household occupying property with a rateable value of at least £12. The poll book also splits the electorate into those who either owned property or paid more than £50 a year in rent and those who did not.

It was a narrow Conservative victory over the Liberals.

What of our ancestors? William Clapham, Thomas Wellock and Joseph Furniss occupied property with a rent of £50 or more and voted for the conservative candidates. Joseph Demaine, Richard Gill and Thomas Bradbury occupied smaller properties and voted for the liberal candidates. It’s a small sample so I’ll ignore the temptation to draw conclusions about the link between wealth & party. More critically John Howson, John Handley, George Brooks & Thomas Houseman were clearly missing from the voters list. All four headed up their households in 1868 and were likely disenfranchised due to poverty. Then there’s poor Matthew Wilkinson, who’s voting card was blank as he died less than a fortnight before the election. Not that his vote would have made a difference. To a man, Rigton voted for the conservative candidates.

Extract from the above Poll Book showing a blank entry for Matthew Wilkinson

Michael Houseman and the Harrogate Liberal party

Michael is my great, great grandfather (Grandma’s Grandfather). Born in 1842, Michael would have been old enough to vote in 1868 and there is a possible conservative candidate voting match in the poll book. Unfortunately, there was more than one Michael Houseman living in Darley at the time making it impossible to know if he is ours. Indeed, later evidence would point to the opposite, for Michael was an active member of the Harrogate Liberal Party in the late 1880s, the first member of our family for whom I can evidence a political party connection.

Report of a Harrogate Liberal Party meeting, Knaresborough Post, 23 April 1887. From the British Newspaper archive.

Michael was an elected official within the Liberal Party, the Divisional Association Delegate (Haverah Park). Which might sound impressive until you consult the census and see that there were just 71 people living in Haverah Park in 1891! There’s also little evidence of Michael contributing to the party meetings which were faithfully covered in detail by the Knaresborough Post. Perhaps Michael felt he should defer to those with more education or wealth or perhaps he felt he had nothing relevant to say about Irish Home Rule which dominated the discussions through this period. (It makes me sad to write this at a time when a hard border on the island of Ireland is back causing conflict). Still, it’s wonderful to find an ancestor who was actively involved in party politics more than 130 years ago.

Marie Greevz, our first political activist

A year or so ago, my sister Sharon suggested I needed to find a suffragette in the family. Ha, I said, we are not a political family. Then I stumbled on Marie Greevz, born Martha Clapham.

Martha Clapham aka Marie Greevz (front centre) outside Leeds town hall. From William Hudson’s collection

Martha was the daughter of the previously mentioned William Clapham (my great, great, great grandfather) and their politics couldn’t have been more different for Martha was a militant feminist and active suffragette. Unlike her generational peer, Michael, Martha spoke out in meetings, wrote letters to newspapers, marched on demonstrations and was elected as the first female president of the Leeds Philatelic Society. She was a political activist and a woman I am looking forward to learning much more about.

Sharon Slinger and an unusual birthday present

Sharon & Natasha on a climate march in 2015. Own photo.

My sister Sharon and I are both political campaigners in our different ways. After many years of debate, we have learnt to wholeheartedly support each other on most issues and to respect the right to have conflicting opinions where we don’t agree. We both care deeply about people, personal integrity, community, (in)equality and climate change. We both put the work in behind the scenes to make things happen and have both learned to be pragmatic where needed. If we’d grown up in a different family we may have both engaged in party politics from an early age. But we didn’t, so we didn’t.

We’ve often voted differently, and it took the EU referendum for me to absorb how close our politics really were. Which led to the unusual birthday present. I joined Sharon up to the Lib Dems. Most inspired birthday present ever. She dived right in. For we are a political family. Earlier this year Sharon became (as far as I know) the first in our family to stand for election as a city councillor (for Weetwood in Leeds). I had to watch wistfully from London, pride in my heart, as my entire family took to the streets in support of Sharon. Labour felt nervous enough to bring in the big guns. 2,207 votes was a pretty credible result, but sadly not enough to take the seat. This time.

In short, we are a political family

250 years ago, an act of parliament allowed the majority of our ancestor households to have at least one vote. 130 years ago an ancestor first joined a political party. 100 years ago a female relation demonstrated how women could be incredibly effective political campaigners. This year my sister has proved herself as a credible candidate in a hard-fought city council election. Our next generation may or may not decide to engage directly but they will at least know that they are from a political family and they have every right to step forward should they so wish to do so.

With much gratitude to all those of my ancestors who voted and especially to Michael Houseman, Martha Clapham & Sharon Slinger who taught me that we are a political family. Also to Amy Johnson Crow for the 52 ancestors hint.

Martha Handley (1830 – 1921) & William Clapham (1829 – 1893)

Martha Handley, from Justin Clapham’s collection

This is part of a series of brief biographies of earlier ancestors.

On Monday, 1 March 1920, Martha would have been celebrating her 90th birthday. It had been a fair February that year so perhaps Martha sat on her front doorstep of Blaeberry Croft cosily wrapped in her woollen shawl and headscarf with her faithful dog by her side. How might she be reflecting on those past ninety years?

Martha had lived her whole life in North Rigton, a compact Yorkshire village situated towards the top of a hill. It’s a popular place these days, just a few miles to Harrogate, close to Weeton station giving easy access to Leeds and beyond, with an excellent primary school and a welcoming pub.

The Square & Compass today, own photo

During Martha’s childhood it would have felt very different. Yes, the Square & Compass served ale of course, to the men of the village, but it also acted as the place where inquests and other village meetings were held. The church wasn’t built until 1911 . A methodist chapel had been built in 1816 but was replaced in 1932. Farming was hard and winters bleak. Harrogate and Leeds would have felt another country.

Early twentieth century postcard of North Rigton, from

Martha was the youngest of five girls and, for a period of time, very much the baby of the family until joined by her illegitimate niece, Matilda. Her older sisters ranged in age from five to sixteen and when she was born in 1830 Martha’s parents, Sarah Halliday & John Handley, likely despaired at the arrival of yet another girl. John was a gamewatcher and farmed a few acres, a precarious existence which relied on sons for labour in their youth and the “pension” for parents in their old age.

Baptism record of William Clapham at Kirkby Overblow, 1829, showing parents as Henry & Hannah Clapham. Note: there was a second William Clapham baptised at a similar time, but 1841 census & William’s marriage record ties to this one.

Then there was William. Likely also a baby of the family as his parents, Hannah Hardcastle and Henry Clapham were aged around 45 and 60 when he was born on 12 March 1829. The Claphams were tenant farmers also living in North Rigton where their family had lived for many generations.

William & Martha were close neighbours, listed on adjoining pages in the 1841 census, and on 4 November 1850, with William having both become the head of household following the death of his father and attained the age of twenty-one, the pair were married at Kirkby Overblow church.

Marriage certificate of Martha Handley & William Clapham,. Kirkby Overblow, 1850

Martha’s reflections likely moved on to her married life and that of her family. Nine children arrived in quick succession all surviving to adulthood. Samuel, the eldest, born in 1854, married to a local woman, with four children all already married, ten grandchildren and more to come. Martha might even have had a letter in her hand from Samuel’s son, William, who had emigrated to Canada a few years ago. Joseph, her baby, born in 1871, had got married in Hartlepool, but had thankfully chosen to come back to nearby Fairview Farm, so Martha would have regularly seen his six children. Samuel & Joseph were doing just fine.

It was the middle children Martha worried about. Henry (b. 1856), Hannah (b. 1858), William (b. 1861), Abigail (b. 1866) and Mary Grace (b. 1870) had all remained unwed. Henry had died in 1902, but the others were all still living close by. They supported each other with the sisters acting as housekeepers for the brothers and Mary Grace still living at home with Martha, but was that a life? And of course Sarah (b. 1859) – did she marry, die or disappear after 1881? I haven’t been able to trace her, but Martha would have known.

Then there was Martha or Marie as she now liked to call herself. Born in 1863, she’d always thought differently. As a young country girl she used to tramp the 12 miles to attend the meetings of Charles Bradlaugh.” Marie was married to John Greevz Fisher and living in Leeds. Her five children, Auberon Herbert, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Constance Naden, Spencer Darwin and Hypatia Ingersoll were named after anarchists and radical philosophers. Marie was a militant feminist and active suffragette and deserves her own story but right now, sat on her Rigton doorstep, Martha must have wondered how on earth she’d come to raise such a daughter.

The time for sadness would come later, when, perhaps one of Martha’s children would take her on the short trip to Kirkby Overblow church. After more than forty years of marriage, William had died on 13 December 1893 and was buried where the couple married, in Kirkby Overblow together with their son, Henry. That would be the time for sadness and in the meantime, Martha could be happy with her ninety years, surrounded by her family in the village she was born. Martha was to die the following year on 29 March 1921 and was buried with her husband at Kirkby Overblow.

Martha Handley, from Justin Clapham collection

With much gratitude to Martha Handley & William Clapham, my great, great, great grandparents through my paternal Grandad, for bringing up such a wonderful family.

A brief addendum

Sarah didn’t, as it turns out, disappear. She married Richard Hallewell, moved to Armley and had two children, Mary Ellen & Richard Bertram. Indeed, Mary Ellen was staying with her grandparents at the time of the 1891 census which is a reminder to double check all the available evidence. Sarah was widowed sometime between 1909 and 1911 and ultimately moved back to the area.

In 1909, Mary Ellen married one William Houseman and moved to Felliscliffe looping right back into our family. It possible the two would have met when her cousin and my great grandmother Mary Abigail Clapham married George Houseman in 1906. William & George were both second cousins through William’s father, John Houseman, and third cousins through his mother, Ann Houseman. Incidentally this also makes William as closely related to Jesse Houseman, my Grandma’s father as it does to George, my Grandad’s father.

A diagram helping to illustrate the connectedness between cousins Mary Abigail & Mary Ellen’s husbands.

Although I have now identified Mary Ellen she was still absent from Martha’s 90th celebrations as she had sadly died the previous year.