Grandma’s locket

Grandma’s locket. Own photo.

Smaller than a modern five pence piece made of nothing more valuable than gilt and paste, Grandma’s locket could hardly be considered an heirloom. Until, that is, you unpack the stories.

Grandma’s locket. Own photo.

The locket tells of two wonderful times in my Grandma’s life.

Grandad’s picture matches the wedding photos leading me to think this was a wedding gift. As my uncle recently said, “she worshipped me father.” There’s Thomas in the background, brother Thomas, twelve years older, who acted as the father figure when my Grandad’s dad died but perhaps didn’t always act in my Grandad’s best interest when it conflicted with his own.

Grandma’s picture appears to be taken from the one below. She’s with Mary & Jim Marshall (George’s sister & brother-in-law) and likely one of George’s sisters. Neither Aunty Mary nor Aunty Hilda ever had children of their own and remained close to Grandma all her life.

Grandma & Grandad are on the right, Mary (Grandad’s sister) & Jim Marshall on the left & I believe it’s either Hilda or Annie (Grandad’s sisters) in the middle. Own collection.

Yet the patina of this locket holds far more of our family history than just two photos of special times.

Twelve times in my life (so far) people have broken into my home and stolen money, TVs, computers, rings and whatever else was worth selling at the time. In one particular house it became fairly standard to come home on a Friday night and find that the house had been broken into. I’ve learnt how to hide or wear the few pieces of jewellery that is either valuable or sentimentally important. I’ve learnt not to take it personally.

Twice though the burglars have taken an entire jewellery box.

The second time was (I hope) my last burglary. I lost the necklace my dead husband had bought me and the ring I’d bought myself after sneaking away with my sister from him & his friends to visit the diamond museum in Amsterdam. I lost the silver bracelet which held charms purchased to reflect twenty years of my life. I lost the paste necklace that was my go-to for posh black-tie events. I lost the little silver stamp holders that made me smile every time I posted a birthday card. I lost the poppy brooch my Mum had bought me because it was the flower for my month of birth. I lost the cheap plastic orange ring that was festival perfect. I even lost the box that my sister had carefully chosen to store all these “treasures.” It hurt.

The first time this happened it was my Mum who suffered. Six months after my dad died Mum arrived home to find our house had been broken into. They’d watched the house; they knew she took my sister to playschool on a Friday morning. They’d gone straight to her bedroom and ransacked one jewellery box, before someone disturbed them, and they ran taking the whole of the second box. So many memories embedded in inexpensive jewellrey that would likely just get thrown were gone. Unlike when it happened to me, Mum had never been burgled before. Whether you’ve experienced this type of crime or not, take a moment to think how it felt to lose so many memories so soon after losing the person to whom they related.

Grandma did the best she could. She took out her own jewellery box and encouraged my mum to take what she wanted. The tiny locket was amongst the things Mum chose. And in doing so this tiny locket became a family heirloom.

An addendum

One of the wonderful things about writing up & sharing these stories is they often lead to more family memories. Amongst the contents of Grandma’s jewellery box was a broken signet ring. Mum had it mended and inscribed with A for Ann. When my sister tried it on she declared it was A for Anna and it has remained on her hand for the last 30 years!

Is it A for Ann or A for Anna?

I am planning a series of stories about objects imbued with family heritage. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and was finally inspired to write by a workshop on the history of an item by Gudrun Laurent part of the wonderful Curious Descendants Club run by Natalie Pithers.

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

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

The year was 1707. Queen Anne was on the throne: Queen in her own right, her husband merely a consort. Britain was now just about a “thing” as the negotiations over The Scottish Union were to conclude the following year. We had survived the Glorious Revolution, the Nine Years War and were now fighting the War of Spanish Succession “to preserve the balance of power in Europe”. Despite the heavy land taxes (four shillings a pound) government borrowing increased leading to the formation of the Bank of England in 1694. England was polarising and, in the countryside, successful (tenant) farmers were beginning to dominate the rural economy leaving the less successful to drift downwards into the life of the landless labourer. Closer to home the medicinal powers of the Harrogate springs were starting to draw increasingly large numbers of people to test the purported curative powers.

1707 was also the year that Jeremiah Wilkinson “of Wooten” [likely Weeton] was recorded as being buried at Harewood on 8 December. Jeremiah could be our 9x great grandparent through his son, John, a product of his first marriage to a woman called Ellen rather than Grace Moore who our Jeremiah may have married at Harewood on 4 July 1671. Jeremiah is a rather typical example of the nearly 100 ancestors I can name who were alive in the year 1707. I know nothing more than can be gleaned from church records. This brief paragraph is the sum total of everything I know.

Imagine my excitement then when ancestry offered the hint of a record from the Yorkshire Quarter Sessions of a George Houseman of Winsley indicted on 7 October 1707 with a copy of the original document.

Houseman is not like Smith or Cooper. www.freebmd.org.uk currently shows records for just 2,639 births in England & Wales between 1837 and 1997(*) of which just under half were born in Yorkshire. The Housemans of Nidderdale database records 674 that are proven to directly connect to us and Hartwith cum Winsley was a township right in the centre of it all.

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

Which George Housemans were in contention? Own miro board.

I spent the evening on two trusted (but secondary) genealogical websites. It seems there are two potential contenders. A father’s cousin or a cousin’s nephew, in modern parlance a first cousin once removed

A. My ancestor, baptised on 14 May 1689 at Kirkby Malzeard, son of Thomas Houseman and Elin Carrick. This George married twice, first to Mary Jackson on 11 June 1710 at Kirkby Malzeard who was buried on 1 February 1722 at Ripley and second to Margaret Wilks in 1723 at Pateley Bridge. George’s only recorded children come from his second marriage. Three of his children were recorded as being on Winsley in 1685, 1687 and 1701 in their baptisms.

B. My ancestor’s father’s cousin baptised on 27 April 1661 at Hampsthwaite, married Anna Leuty on 21 January 1686 at Kirkby Malzeard. Two known children: Grace (baptised 1 May 1697 at Ripley) and Ann (baptised 29 November 1689 also at Ripley). One of his daughters, Grace, was recorded as being from Winsley when she was baptised in 1687 and this George was also recorded as being from Winsley when he was buried in Ripley in 1729.

(And as an aside for future the original John Houseman was apparently “slain in Mr. Wythes barn of Eastkeswick with thunder” – how hard was that not to drop into a rabbit hole).

I had no choice, I had to get the Latin translated and here we are:

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

Knaresborough October 7th 1707

George Houseman: And that George Houseman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, labourer, on the first day of June in the 6th year of the reign of lady Anne, by the grace of God now queen of Great Britain, etc, at Burton Leonard in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, extortionately, injuriously and unjustly exacted, received and had from a certain John Dickinson four shillings and six pence in ready cash, under colour and pretext of a fee due to a certain Robert Stephenson and John Hardcastle, special bailiffs for executing a certain execution upon the body of the aforesaid Dickinson, where in truth no such fee was due to them, to the serious damage of the aforesaid John Dickinson and against the peace of the said now lady queen, her crown and dignity, etc.

Witnesses: Thomas Fox, gentleman, John Dickinson.

Acknowledged: fine 6d.

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

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Knaresborough 5th October 1714

George Houseman: And that George Housman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, husbandman, on the first day of October in the first year of our lord George, by the grace of God now king of Great Britain, etc, at Winsley, aforesaid, in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, unlawfully and unjustly permitted and still permits his hedges and fences in a certain close of the same George called Fleak Bank to be in ruin and decay, to the serious damage of his neighbours, and against the peace of the said now lord king, his crown and dignity, etc.

Witness: Lawr[ence] Danson, gentleman.

Acknowledged: fine 1s.

So we have a labourer in 1707 who extorted money and a husbandman in 1714 who didn’t keep his hedges cut….

George A (my ancestor, the younger) was married for much of this period. George B (the older) had two daughters. Both have links to Winsley. Was it youthful exuberance (George A would have been aged 18 & 25 when the crimes happened) or an older man not knowing how to stay solvent in a changing world with only daughters to see him through (George B would have been 46 & 53)? My gut feel knowing George A left a legacy is that it was the other but who knows? And either way they are both part of my history and understanding of the world in 1707.

*On 28 April 2022, the Houseman count on www.freebmd.org.uk stands at 2,639, the Wellock count at just 1,239 – if I ever do a one name study, I will do two. These two family surnames are heavily concentrated around specific locations in Yorkshire. If you are a descendant of anyone bearing either of these surnames, there is a high chance we are related and a good chance I can prove how – please do get in touch!

The naming of our grandparents

My siblings & I have never quite agreed how to spell Grandpy (my mum’s dad). Is it Grandpy, Grampy or Granpy?

It seems, from recent consumer research into the names we Brits call our grandparents, that Grampy is now the more popular. Whilst I may have to concede Grampy is, in fact, a legitimate spelling, he’ll always remain Grandpy to me! Reading the research further I discovered that Grampy is particularly popular in Wales and the South West and my curiosity was piqued for Grandpy’s own great grandparents, Elizabeth Prout and Thomas Barrett, were born in Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire, respectively. Could the name have echoes of distant ancestors? And what other grandparent names have we used in our family?

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

I was the first grandchild on both sides, so Mum was able to decide what our grandparents would be called. She had a Nan & a Grandma herself so decided on Nana instead for her mum. Grandpy was not, sadly, a historic echo but rather chosen simply as a name which was different and more fun. (As an aside Nana’s sister, Hilda, became Gam, which I also love). Mum’s relationship with her in-laws was undoubtably more formal and she avoided calling her in-laws by any name until I was born when she could refer to them as Grandma and Grandad. My nieces and nephews know Mum as Gran (as Nana will always be Nana, and Nan felt far too old), Dad as Grandad Bob and Mum’s husband as Papa Joe (of Charlie and the Chocolate factory fame).

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

Mum’s grandparents were Nan & Grandad Booth (Marion Moody & Arthur Booth) and Grandma & Grandad Barrett (Mary Wellock & George Thomas Barrett). Grandpy, in turn, called his own Barrett grandparents Granma & Grandad Barrett (Jane Brooks and Henry Barrett), demonstrating conclusively that the name Grandpy did not pass from our Welsh forebears.  

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

Dad only really knew two of his grandparents. According to my uncle, my grandad’s mum (Mary Abigail Clapham) was Grandma and my grandma’s dad (Jesse Houseman) was Grandad. As there were only two grandparents, there was fortunately no need to add a surname. Fortunate as confusingly both would have been Houseman! Grandma always called her own parents Mother & Dad, perhaps reflecting their respective family status which is also seen in how she referred to her own grandparents. Her father’s parents were Grannie Houseman & Grandad Michael (Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman) and her maternal grandmother was simply Grandma (Maria Reynard) “a refined lady.” Strangely there is no note in Grandma’s memoires of her maternal grandfather, John Scott. He had died just before Grandma was born so she never knew him, yet her other grandfather, Michael, had died almost thirty years earlier and he was still warrented a mention.

With seven Grandads, a Grandpy and a Papa, four Grandmas, a Gran, a Granma, a Grannie, a Nan and a Nana in our family we seem to mirror the modern research. Whilst 68% of men are known as Grandad the women show more diversity with Nan coming in at 33%, Grandma 32% and Nana 24%. Once again, I am grateful to Mum for choosing a more unusual option as a name!

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

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

A favourite photo

From left to right: Pete Warren, Alec Houseman, George Christopher Houseman, aka Bob, aka Dad, Kevin Wilson & Nicholas Houseman. Own collection.

I’ve loved this photo of my Dad ever since I found it tucked within the little leather suitcase of family photos inherited from my Mum’s parents aka Nana & Grandpy.

It was likely taken at some point in the 1970s, Dad in his twenties, at his most handsome. Strong jawed, floppy haired with a calf-lick creating the wave at the front, beaming smile, beautiful Houseman eyes that we all inherited although unlike Dad most of ours were brown and a half open shirt.

Dad is relaxed and happy, surrounded by brothers and friends. Hanging out together in the pub, perhaps after a Young Farmers’ meeting.

My Uncle Richard, my Mum’s brother is missing. Richard was one of my Dad’s best friends and very much part of the Young Farmers’ crew. It’s possible Richard took the photo which might explain why it was in the leather suitcase. But it wasn’t part of a set, it was a single photo. The more likely explanation is that this was taken some time after my Uncle had died in 1972.

There aren’t many photos of my Dad. He wasn’t keen on them being taken. Indeed, there’s none of us five children together with our parents. For Dad was to be killed in December 1984, less than three months after my brother was born. That’s why a photo of him looking this way is so precious.

Someone, somewhere likely gave this photo to my Mum’s parents, a gift to remember their lost son-in-law. A treasure that has made its way to me.

A postscript. On sharing this blog with my Mum, her immediate response was “that’s the man I fell in love with.” A treasure indeed.

With much gratitude to my Dad, to the photo-taker (whoever they may be), my Nana & Grandpy, the photo-keepers who enabled this photo to come to me and nd also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, this week on favourite photo, encouraged me to publish this story.

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

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

So who were Margaret Grange and George Houseman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Beecroft’s will, 1835.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

The tank in the woods

The post landed with a loud thump. It was a package from my sister containing two old issues of “After the battle.” Why was my sister sending me thirty-year-old magazines on the machinery of war?

The tank in the woods, with my sisters & I. Own collection.

This picture above provides the connection. My sister had been walking the paths close to our childhood home and remembered the decrepit but much loved tank in the woods. “I was thinking about my connection to the area, and the land, and the top land, then the area round it, and we walked that way, and I was telling […..] about it. Then I was thinking it would be great if we could find the spot where it was.”

The tank in question was a Churchill Mk II. Once belonging to C Squadron, 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment and she had become bogged down on Stainburn Moor in 1941. In the 1950s the Forestry Commission planted the area with spruce trees and the tank must have slowly been forgotten by everyone but those who lived close by. People like us for whom the tank was like a piece of playground equipment in the middle of the woods.

After the battle – issue 35 – featuring our tank on the cover. Own collection.
After the battle – issue 46 – describing the tank recovery. Own collection.

When a local resident sent a picture into “After the battle” in 1982 our tank became a cover girl. Someone, somewhere decided she was worth saving and by 1984 the tank had been recovered and taken to the Museum of Army Transport in Beverley. When that Museum closed in 2003, she was moved to the Tank Museum in Dorset where she remains to this day. As the only Churchill Mk II in the country, she even has her own YouTube video. Tank Chats #112 | Churchill Mk I and II | The Tank Museum.

“Our” tank, on a family trip to the Museum of Army Transport. Own collection.

Today was a wonderful reminder of the many strange paths family research takes you down. With much gratitude to my sister Helen for researching this lovely snippet of our family’s history.  

A postscript

Paul Towers is my third cousin through Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman, my Grandma’s paternal grandparents. We now know we are relatives through at least two other branches and, as Paul grew up in Leathley, he also knew my Houseman Uncles from school. Yet it took a myheritage DNA match for us to connect as fellow family history geeks. In the last six months I’ve learnt how much his commitment to sharing family history has helped me with my own. Thanks to my sister’s own research I can start to return the favour because, as it turns out, Churchill tanks & Bovington tank museum link directly to his father, Bob.

Bob Towers at Bovington. Paul Towers photo.

I knew my dad had been in tanks during the war but he never, ever spoke about it. Then, the Washburn Heritage people got in touch for a story about locals who had served for their oral history project. I think it was this that opened him up. He knew he was in the twilight of his life and he told me he wanted to go to the Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset. I booked a local pub and we went down for a couple days. He took some of his photos and papers from the army for them to copy or keep. On meeting the curator he was extremely grateful. Dad had been in the 7th Royal Tank Regiment and the museum had no artefacts regarding them at all. The attached photo is him standing next to a Churchill similar to the one he was in. The following summer dad said he wanted to go again, so I booked the same pub, but this time I rang the museum and spoke to the curator. When we got there he was waiting for us, he gave dad a transcription of the 7RTR war diary and took us to the display where dad’s memorabilia was on show. I swear he was close to tears“. 

Who could have asked for a more perfect postscript to connect the past to the present?

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.