Unlocking Maria Reynard’s family photo album

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

I inherited the beautiful leather-bound album from my Grandma, Mary Houseman. She is turn had inherited it from her mother, Hilda Mary Scott. Beyond that, I knew almost nothing of the pictures within. How old was it? Who had put it together? Who were the photos of? Whilst the clasp itself was broken, the people inside were strangers, their connection to our family locked away, with the key lost forever.

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

What better thing for someone living alone in lockdown 1.0 than to work away at that lock? I carefully extracted and scanned the photos, scribbled down possible family trees, studied the later pictures of Hilda Mary’s siblings, aunts, uncles & cousins and dived into the world of Victorian photography. Some ideas emerged, I started making educated guesses but was uncertain and didn’t feel I was really doing the album justice.

Then up popped professional dress historian, portrait specialist and photo detective Jayne Shrimpton on Who Do You Think You Are? and I realised it was time to turn to an expert. It took a few more months but finally I was sitting in Jane’s beautiful Lewes garden on a hot, sunny July day slowly unlocking the album’s secrets. Who knew that leg-o-mutton sleeves could date a photo to within three years? Or that a red line around a photo meant it was twenty years older than others on the same page? Several “educated guesses” proved to be out by a decade or two but my earlier research combined perfectly with Jayne’s dress expertise to put many names to faces.

Now, finally, Maria’s album can be unlocked and shared without doubts. The album opens with her husband John Scott likely with his father Charles not long before Charles died. Next are two portraits of Maria aged 21 and 40. Turning the page we see Maria & John’s infant children possibly including the only photo of a son, Charles, who died just three years old, followed by Maria’s siblings and their partners. And so it continues.  

There is still a lot more work to do to identify all the people in this album and whilst it’s likely there will always be gaps, I am hopeful that by sharing this story others may spot their ancestors.

Maria was born in Ellerbeck on 16 December 1861 the second child of Mary Ann Gill & William Reynard. The Reynard family moved to Topcliffe when Maria was about five. Maria married John Scott, the son of Elizabeth Webster & Charles Scott, in 1885. The Gill family were from Norwood, the Reynards from Hampsthwaite, the Websters from Boroughbridge and the Scotts from Minskip. Maria & John had eight children. Two sons died as children leaving just William Richard (b. 1889) to carry on the Scott name. Hilda Mary (b. 1891) (my great grandmother) married Jesse Houseman, Laura (b. 1895) married John Taylor Houseman (Jesse’s nephew), Gertrude (b. 1899) married William Clarke, Clarice (b. 1900) married Malcolm Pennock and Marjorie (b. 1906) married Harold Millington Shutes. If this album was a wedding gift, I am sure it won’t have been the only one.

With much gratitude to my great, great grandmother, Maria Reynard, for creating this album, to Hilda Mary Scott & Mary Houseman for keeping it safe and to Jayne Shrimpton for helping me unlock its contents!

An almost Yorkshire story – the podcast version

Writing this blog is principally about bringing our ancestors to life in an engaging and accessible way with the hope that their stories get shared and remembered now and in the future. That’s my primary goal, but it’s not my only one. It’s also about me learning to be a better writer, storyteller & communicator. So when Tina offered me the chance to record a podcast interview for waffle-free family stories, I took it.

We talk about her grandmother’s role in getting her hooked on family trees, how she’s giving life to the women in her story, the horrible accident that led to one child shooting another, and right at the end, she gives you THE BEST conversation ice-breaker you’ll ever know.

In between all that chat, she talks about the tools and techniques she uses to get as close to the real story as possible, and how she plugs the gaps”

I’d say that our family history really is all about wonderful women and that I haven’t quite lost my Yorkshire accent! Avid readers of this blog may notice the odd mix-up I had with names but don’t let that distract from the storytelling.

Here are the links to where you can find out more about the women (and men) I talk about.

How I started

Mary Ann Gill

Elizabeth Furniss & George Downs

Elsie Moody including the photo I used to resemble

Elizabeth Dean and the Butterworth connection

Widow paupers including “Wid Swinden”

The Wellocks

Walter Scott, the boy who was shot by his friend

With much gratitude to Tina Konstant, for giving me space on her podcast, and also to Natalie Pithers, who runs the Curious Descendents Club which is how I met Tina & is also where I am learning to write better 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.