Jane Howson (1826 – 1833) & Isaac Wilkinson (1826 – 1905)

This is part of a series of biographies of early ancestors.

Dressed in her mother’s “for best, dear” muslin, Jane stepped cautiously through the church gate. The baby was fast asleep in her arms. Her father, John, was just a couple of steps behind. The pair paused and looked at the congregation milling about in front of the church. It appeared to be mainly the smarter folks from Kirkby Overblow village. It was the last day of August and Jane was pretty certain that their Rigton neighbours would be hard at work harvesting, not able to spare the time to walk the three miles to church. “Come on” John urged, doffing his cap as he stepped forward. The pair crossed the threshold into the cool interior and nervously approached the vicar. “We are John & Jane Howson from Rigton and we’ve come t’ get the babe baptised.” Not a lie of course, but hiding a truth, that John was the grandfather, not father, of the boy his daughter held. “Welcome” said the vicar, “John, you say” not quite recognising the man “we’ll call you to the font during the service.” Jane & John took a seat in a pew to the furthest side of the church. The baby slept soundly in her arms through hymn, prayer, hymn, prayer, hymn, sermon, prayer… right up until the point where the vicar poured cold water from the font on his forehead when he woke with a loud scream. “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost we baptise you John Thomas and welcome you into the church community.” And just like that it was done, the bastard baby was baptised and recorded in the parish record as John Thomas, son of John & Jane Howson, Rigton.

Two documents made Jane’s life much harder to research than some. The first was the baptism record referred to above. The second was an 1891 census listing one Jane Wilkinson, wife of Isaac, living in North Rigton somewhat at odds with a gravestone showing her as having died in 1883. I had a lot of fun trying to put this story together….

The first accurate survey of Leeds was published by Netlam and Giles in 1815. It clearly shows the different types of development at each end of the Headrow…[including] the narrow streets, and crowded terraces of back-to–back houses of the east end. https://secretlibraryleeds.net/2015/09/25/the-headrow-coffee-change-loss/

Jane was born in Leeds around 1826, the only child of Mary Robinson & John Howson. Whilst Mary had been born in Boroughbridge & John in North Rigton, both were living in Leeds at the time of their marriage in 1826. Given that the 1841 census lists John & Mary as living on Lowerhead Row (the eastern part of The Headrow and close to Kirkgate Market) and John’s occupation as “butter dealer” it is reasonably safe to assume this is the general area where Jane was born & brought up. Jane herself was staying with her maternal grandparents in Boroughbridge in 1841.

Birth certificate of John Thomas Howson.

Everything changed for Jane on 6 August 1845 when her son, John Thomas, was born at Rigton, apparently fatherless. Had the whole family returned to Rigton before Jane became pregnant? Had they returned from Leeds knowing she was? Or had Jane returned from Boroughbridge in disgrace to join her parents or grandparents just before the baby was born? Then there is the baptism record for one John Howson at All Saints, Kirkby Overblow on 31 August 1845 listing two parents as John & Jane Howson from Rigton. This record has led a lot of people to assume there was a brother, John, married to another Jane, also having a son called John in 1845. I can find no other evidence that such a brother, wife or child existed which led me to imagining the above sleight of hand.

Isaac’s earlier years are much more straightforward. Born in Rigton the only son of Ann Thomas & Matthew Wilkinson. Isaac was baptised at Kirkby Overblow on 23 October 1826 and in 1841 was living with his paternal grandfather and uncle, still in North Rigton.

The couple were married on 24 September 1847 at Otley registry office, the existence of John Thomas potentially the reason for not getting married at Kirkby Overblow. (Either that, or the church had discovered Jane’s earlier deception!). A son, James, was born in 1849, and a daughter, Mary Ann (our great, great grandmother), was born in 1850. The couple lived with or next door to Jane’s parents in the centre of North Rigton village for the remainder of their lives.

Rigton Hill, 1906, from www.northrigton.org. The Wilkinson family likely lived in one of the houses on the left.

Meanwhile the railways were coming. The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Act received Royal Assent on 21 July 1845 with construction starting on 20 October 1845.  The section from Weeton to Wormald Green opened on 1 September 1848 and from Weeton onto Leeds on 9 July 1849.

Weeton station is just over a mile from North Rigton and Isaac started working on the railways, as a repairer (1851), platelayer (1861 & 1871) or labourer (1881) leaving only to become a full-time farmer after the death of his father-in-law in 1883. In due course John Thomas became an “engine tenter” (overseeing an engine’s operations) and James an engine driver leaving just Mary Ann to marry a local farmer.

Jane Howson’s gravestone at Kirkby Overblow. Photo from www.gravestonephotos.com

Jane died at the age of 56 or 57 on 12 April 1883 from bronchitis and pneumonia not long after her father and only a couple of years after her mother. Having lived so close to their grandparents, the children must have been devastated and, unusually for a woman, Jane has her own beautiful headstone “in affectionate remembrance” at Kirkby Overblow complete with a poem:

“My wearied limbs are at rest.

Suffering and pain with me are o’er

I meet my friends whom God hath blest

In heaven where we shall part no more”

But if Jane died in 1883, why does the census list one Isaac & Jane Wilkinson as living in North Rigton in 1891? If there’s one complication in family history research that trips me up more than any other it’s forgetting that my male ancestors seemed to like marrying two women with the same first name. Maybe it’s so they don’t get mixed up. Isaac was one such culprit marrying Jane Woodhead (previously Lancaster) at Wetherby registry office on 26 April 1890. Sadly the marriage didn’t last long. Jane died just four years later. Unlike our Jane, she doesn’t appear to have merited her own headstone.

Rose Cottages, Rigton Hill. Isaac likely lived in the closest one. Own photo.

By 1901 the 75-year-old Isaac will still living on Rigton Hill, now with his granddaughter Mary Abigail (Mary Ann’s daughter & Grandad’s mother). He died four years later on 6 July 1905 from “syncope [fainting] caused by the shock of an accidental fall on the thirtieth day of June last.” An inquest was held, but I’ve been unable to locate any records.

Estate notice published in The Yorkshire Post on 29 July 1905

There’s one final part to the story. Whilst Isaac seems to have ignored both his daughter, Mary Ann, and Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Abigail, when he wrote his will, he did chose to recognise both his son, James, and his wife’s illegitimate child, John Thomas, equally. One half of £164 – 4 – 0 may not have been a particularly large sum (it’s worth less than £13,000 in today’s money) but clearly demonstrates that Isaac thought of John Thomas as his own.

Extract from Isaac Wilkinson’s will, written in 1901, proven in 1905.

With much gratitude to Jane Howson & Isaac Wilkinson, my great, great, great grandparents for helping me hone my research skills. Jane and Isaac are the parents of Mary Ann Wilkinson who is the mother of Mary Abigail Clapham who is the mother of my Grandad.