A brief biography of Frances Morrell (c. 1771 – 1854) & Thomas Robinson (c. 1771 – 1848)

St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough, 2023. Own photo.

What lovelier question could there be to ask a family historian on her birthday weekend than “What churchyard do you want to visit today?” “Kirkby Hill” I responded promptly, as I’d long wanted to go and find the gravestone of my great, great Uncle Walter, who was killed by a shotgun at the age of seven. “Along the way we could call in and see the Roman mosaics at Aldborough?”. We found the gravestone in question, bumped into my Aunty Sue in the Oxfam in Boroughbridge (which led to a whole new set of discoveries), visited the mosaics and found ourselves unexpectedly enjoying tea and cakes on the village green of Aldborough. I left Mum and Joe chatting with strangers on the next door table and wondered off to mooch around the old church. A perfect day.

Aldborough (“old town”) feels like somewhere time stopped. Trade had long since moved to its upstart neighbour, Boroughbridge (when the Roman’s built a bridge there). By the 1700s, it had become a rotten borough, controlled by the local landowner, with parliamentary seats available for a price, more lucrative than investing in the village itself. St Andrew’s Church, though, remained the centre of a significant parish, including Boroughbridge, as late as 1866. The church was rebuilt around 1330 after being destroyed by Scottish raiders, with a chancel and tower built in the fifteenth century. The stained-glass windows were a much later addition, but it looks, and feels, largely as it would have at the end of the eighteenth century.

Largely as it did, I discovered later that week, when my 5xG Grandparents, Frances (Morell) and Thomas Robinson were married there on 25 August 1796, two hundred and twenty-seven years and four days before I walked through the same heavy oak doors.

Thomas was an agricultural labourer and although this is a potentially iterant profession, the family appear to have settled in Boroughbridge where children arrived at regular intervals to be baptised at St Andrew’s: George (11 June 1797), Thomas (27 October 1799), Mary (my ancestor) (17 December 1802), Sarah (10 February 1805) and finally William (21 March 1812).

Unlike with many other of my lines, this was not to be the start of a generational connection to Boroughbridge, for the children scattered. George moved to Marton cum Grafton where he followed in his father’s footsteps taking up agricultural labouring work, Thomas moved to Colne, Lancashire, although returned to marry Mary Dickinson in 1821 and, potentially, became a soot merchant. Mary moved to Leeds and then, following her marriage to John Howson, to North Rigton. Sarah did marry a local man, George Johnson, in 1829, but he appears to have died before they had any children, as she too, moved to Leeds where she married John Kerton in 1838. Of William there is, as yet, no sign.

THE Shelves for Bread to be distributed to the Poor of Aldborough every Sunday from the Bounty of Mark Smithson Esq

St Andrew’s holds a potential clue, a Georgian bread shelf, indicating the necessity of charity for the parish poor. Work, at least work which paid sufficiently well to support a family, was likely in short supply. The growing towns and cities of the industrial north provided a solution.

1841 census for Boroughbridge showing the Robinson household including their granddaughter, Jane Howson, the national archives via ancestry.

I’ve often wondered how, or even whether, illiterate families from the nineteenth century stayed in touch once children moved. This was too early for the train, so travel would have been expensive and time consuming, and if the parents couldn’t read, and the child couldn’t write, what was the point of a letter? In this case, it seems they must have done, for in the 1841 census, Thomas (68) and “Fanny” (56) had visitors, John Robinson (8) and Jane Howson (14), two grandchildren sent to live with and support their elderly grandparents. I am grateful they were not alone, and even more grateful that it was my 3xG Grandmother, Jane, who was there because it was her presence, together with the birthplace of her mother, Mary, which had led me to identify Frances and Thomas in the first place.

Thomas Robinson’s death certificate. Note age and place of death. General Registry Office.

Not that grandchildren took away the need to work. By his seventies, Thomas would have been struggling to find employment, yet still he laboured. For on the 16 August 1848, he died, of a palsy fit, in Spring Field in Hutton Conyers. In his death certificate, an illiterate co-worker gave Thomas’s age as sixty-six. In his burial record, at Aldborough two days later, his more likely age of seventy-seven was listed. It was harvest time, when any physically able ag lab should be able to find work and yet Thomas was working nearly eight miles from home and, it appears, had felt it necessary to knock a decade off his age in order to secure the position.

Frances struggled on alone in Boroughbridge, which is where we find her in 1851, aged 76, her occupation listed simply as “poor” perhaps struggling to make the weekly service at St Andrew’s in order to claim some bread for the week. Eventually though, she must have moved in with her son George, for it was in his home in Marton cum Grafton where she died, aged 83, of nothing more specific than “old age” on 19 July 1854. I like to hope that she is buried back at St Andrew’s, with Thomas and where her records start, but her burial remains untraced.

Despite records surviving from the 1770s in Aldborough, there are no obvious baptisms. Morrell should have been a traceable family, especially as George also married a Mary Morrell, but I have found nothing that fits. Thomas was an agricultural labourer and, with only the 1841 census to go on, could have been born anywhere in Yorkshire. Illiterate, it is no surprise that the ages given in the various records are not entirely consistent. So, I’ve called it. They are not a brick wall but can be celebrated and written about as an end of the line, being as far back as I am expecting to trace. With much gratitude to my 5xG Grandparents, Frances Morell, Thomas Robinson and their granddaughter Jane Howson for being together on 6 June 1841 and to my Mum’s husband who suggested a spontaneous trip to Aldborough which supported the writing of this story.

Icelandic volcanoes, snow and poverty in eighteenth century Arncliffe

Snow on Greenhow Hill – March 2023. If this is your photo, please let me know so I can credit you!

We’ve been sharing snowy pictures on the family whatsapp this week – one of my sister’s even shared a picture of some drifts which had formed at Greenhow Hill – a sign that some element of these stories is being absorbed. There was a bit of grumbling about school closures and disrupted travel plans but mostly it was delight in the white wonderland outside the window.

We, however, have solid, insulated, centrally heated homes, warm clothes and, even if tomatoes are scare, a functioning food system. Our 18th century ancestors had none of these things. The poorest amongst them were living in shabbily built huts where the cold wind whistled through both open spaces for light and gaps in the walls, roofs and doors. Clothing was limited and threadbare, food dependent on what a daily wage would provide. Winters, a daily struggle to survive.

It might well have been snowing when Sarah (Dickinson) & John Windsor married at St Oswald’s in Arncliffe on 15 January 1771 but there would have been comfort in hearing the old bell, already 400 years old, pealing out loud and clear down Skirfare valley. In their first few years of married life Sarah & John made regular, happy, trips to the church to see their children christened. Mary (our 4x great grandmother) was the first to arrive, baptised on 23 February 1773. She was followed by Jane (ch. 24 July 1774), Issabella (ch. 7 July 1776), John (ch. 9 November 1777) and Sarah (ch. 7 May 1780). Sadly Sarah survived only a few weeks and was buried on 10 June 1780. Still four children out of five surviving infancy was pretty good odds in the late eighteen century.

St Oswald’s church, Arncliffe, courtesy of an ex-colleague Steve Roecliffe.

In the church baptism records John is listed as John Junior, recognising another, older, John Windsor who was also producing children at this time. However, it also tells us that John Junior did not have another distinguishing factor such as a trade or a farm tenancy. The family’s ability to survive would have depended on both John & Sarah working every day that work was available.

When baby William was baptised on 6 July 1783, news of the violent eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland may not even have reached Arncliffe. Arncliffe was a bit of a backwater – it was still using the Gregorian calendar to record baptisms and burials thirty years after we officially adopted the Julian one. The sulphur dioxide gas smothered Europe, blocking ports and increasing deaths amongst outdoor workers. It was disastrous for Iceland, some 20 – 25% of the population were to die as a result of both the immediate explosions and the following famine.  But in Arncliffe, far from the sea and protected by hills? The understanding of a volcanic winter is a new one.

Temperatures dropped by an average of 1OC and the winter of 1783 – 1784 was especially severe. In the UK alone it is estimated to have caused an additional 8,000 deaths. Based on Sarah & John’s experience, and that of the parish of Arncliffe as a whole, it seems this number could be significantly understated.

Extract from “The Registers of the Ancient Parish of Arncliffe including those of Halton Gill and Hubberholme 1663 – 1812” transcribed and edited by William Arthur Shuffrey M. A. 1910 for 1783/4.

Burials in Arncliffe for the year 1783 (meaning 25 March 1783 to 24 March 1784) were approximately double those in the preceding five years. Amongst them were John (bu. 10 January 1783/4, aged six), William (bu. 16 January 1783/4, not yet one) and Jane (bu. 21 January 1783/4, aged eight), all children of John Windsor, now described as “a poor man.”

When families faced starvation in the eighteenth century, food for was prioritised for the workers to ensure they could keep earning. John, as the adult male, would have been first, Sarah, as an adult female, second. Mary, the eldest child, would have been eleven and she too, would have been contributing financially, and, presumably, fed. Assuming all three were out looking for any available work that would have left eight year old Sarah in charge of three shivering, starving children. Records don’t show whether it was starvation or sickness which killed the three children in just two weeks, but I am sure it was Laki.

After that long, cold winter life improved for the Windsors, at least as far as the next generation were concerned. Sarah & John had three more children: James (ch. 13 November 1784). Barnabas (ch. 23 July 1786) and finally Betty (ch. 21 October 1792) who was likely younger than her niece Jenny, Mary’s oldest child. Whilst I haven’t yet been able to trace what happened to Isabella & Betty, James & Barnabas both moved to Leeds, learnt trades, had families and lived long lives. Mary married Richard (2) Wellock and became part of my Wellock story. Together they re-established the Wellock family link to High Garnshaw and went on to have around fifty grandchildren including our own great great grandfather Richard Wellock. I am the legacy of the hard choices which Sarah & John faced during that bleak winter of 1783 and I am grateful for them.

Our gamekeeping heritage

Hornby Castle in its 19th century glory. From Morris’s “Country Seats” (1880).

Finally, we reach the last in this series of 3xg grandparents biographies, that of Elizabeth Prout (1822 – 1875) & Thomas Barrett (1820 – 1890), Grandpy’s great grandparents through his father’s father, Henry. Born outside of Yorkshire, to parents with no previous connection to the county they are the couple I think of as being responsible for the almost in “An almost Yorkshire family”. Not that I hold that against them, but is has left me with an almost unanswerable question – why did a woman from Wales and a man from Gloucestershire choose to build their life together in Yorkshire?

It doesn’t help that I am unable to find half the birth certificates for this apparently well-researched family. Nor a reliable marriage certificate. Yet the censuses and other documents all consistently record the same detailed information, down to which property the children were born at. In the end I have decided to focus this blog on what I do know and explore their earlier lives in the future.

Thomas was born c. 1820 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire and Elizabeth c. 1822 in Amroth, Llanelli, Pembrokeshire. By the time Thomas died, in 1890, he had just completed fifty years of service as a gamekeeper for the Dukes of Leeds (the 7th duke succeeded in 1838, the 9th in 1872) and at some date before 1845 must have moved to Hornby Castle, near Bedale, Yorkshire, where the couple were to spend the remainder of their lives. The connection with the estate has to be the best guess as to how the couple met. 

Intriguingly, Elizabeth wasn’t the only Prout sister to end up in Yorkshire as Mary, too, married a man from Bedale. I do wonder if Elizabeth had spotted an opportunity for her to work in the big house. Another reason for me to try and find those estate records. 

In the nineteenth century, Hornby Castle was simply stunning worthy of being made the main seat of residence for the Dukes of Leeds. It contained all the usual trappings of a major stately home including a detached Banqueting House, no less than three icehouses, an eagle aviary and landscaped parkland as good as any designed by Capability Brown.

Mum & I in front of Hornby Castle. Summer 2021. We did knock at a couple of the doors to see if we could take a peek inside, but sadly non-one was at home. Own photo

It’s now a shadow of its former self. In 1930, the 11th duke was forced to sell the property after a “no-holds barred baccarat game” in Monte Carlo, more fool him. The house was due to be demolished with the rubble to be used to build roads. Fortunately, one of those tasked with stripping the property thought better, and a proportion was saved. The tower, inner courtyard and a few other remaining parts are now split into several smaller properties.

Holy Bible with dates of birth of the Barrett children. Mum’s collection. Strangely one son, James, born 1858, seems to be missing.

The 1845 date, with which I can start this couples’ story, comes from the birth of their first child, Reuben, who was born at Barn House in nearby Ainderby Miers. Eleven more children followed: Margaret Ann (b. 1847), Thomas Philip (b. 1849), John (b. 1850), Charles (b. 1852), Elizabeth (b. 1854), Henry (b. 1856) (our ancestor), James (b. 1858), James (b. 1860), Richard (b. 1864), Mary (b. 1864) & William (b. 1865).

1861 census listing children’s birthplace as Barn House, parish of Hornby. I am very thankful that the enumerator, Mr Francis Jameson, took his job so seriously. Reuben, the couple’s first child, appears on the previous page, a live-in servant at the big house. His birthplace is listed the same.

Through the wonderfully detailed censuses we can tell that the family moved to West Appleton at some point between Richard & Mary’s births (4 July 1862 and 2 April 1864).

The 1871 enumerator, Mr Edward Fisher, wasn’t quite as particular in his facts though as his predecessor. For in this census another “daughter” Isabel has appeared on the census. Isabel turned out to be a granddaughter, the illegitimate child of Margaret Ann. Margaret went on to marry and have two more legitimate children, taking her Isabel with her. Alice was not so fortunate. You might have thought the family would have learnt from this necessary deceit, but no, for four years later, Elizabeth, the second Barrett daughter, also had a child, Alice (b. 1872), out of wedlock. Something about being a female servant on a large estate perhaps. Sadly, Elizabeth died in childbirth and Alice too, died young at the relatively young age of twenty-one.

Elizabeth (the daughter) & Alice (the granddaughter) were not alone in dying young for this was not a long-lived clan: The Richmond & Ripon Chronicle was awash with notices for the Barrett children. The two James’s both died in infancy, which would be fairly typical, but then, in what must have been an annus horriblis in 1871/1872, John, Charles and Elizabeth all died as teenagers. Richard & Mary too died relatively young. They outlived both parents only because they were amongst the last to be born for both were barely thirty when they died.

Elizabeth herself was just 53 when she died on 24 September 1875.

Thomas remarried, another Elizabeth, a widow, on 20 December 1876. This second Elizabeth was born in Moffatt, Dumfriesshire neatly bringing Great Britain’s three nations together in one family.

There may well have been a good reason for Thomas to choose another outsider as his second wife for gamekeepers occupied a somewhat controversial position in the Victorian countryside. On the one hand they were one of the more respected senior servants on the estate and developed a deep knowledge of the local countryside. On the other they were the upholders of fiercely contested laws preventing public access to land and to game, regularly required to catch and prosecute poachers who were often their neighbours. Many gamekeepers felt a swift hiding was more effective than bringing the offenders to court, but Thomas seems to be quite a regular at the local petty sessions.

Nor was Thomas always on the right side of the law. The following, lengthy, report details a game trespass claim made against Thomas and his son Reuben. Ultimately the magistrates decided that “as the tenant of the farm had allowed the Duke of Leeds to shoot over the land for a number of years without using the right of letting the shooting himself, and as he had stated that he had a perfect right to the shooting, he not having signed any agreement, they would dismiss the case.” Phew.

The Knaresborough Post article, Saturday, 27 November 1880.

The above article also illustrates the strong tradition of gamekeeping being handed down from father to son. Reuben, the eldest, was ultimately to take over his father’s position at Hornby Castle. Henry, our ancestor, moved to work for the Yorke family on their Bewerley Estate at Middlesmoor. Like any profession, the younger training starts, the more skilled an individual could become and in, what was a twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week occupation, children with a gamekeeper for a father had a tremendous head start.

And it was a skilled profession. Gamekeepers had to master a variety of countryside skills to raise the game and keep it safe from poachers and vermin. Each gamekeeper developed his own means of doing so and these tips and recipes would be passed on from father to son. I think that’s what this receipt is. It was found in my great uncle Henry Barrett’s papers, but it clearly written in his father, my great grandfather, George Thomas Barrett’s, handwriting. I’d love to think that he, in turn, had inherited from his grandfather, Thomas.

A receipt to draw vermin, believed to be in George Thomas Barrett’s handwriting. Own collection.

5 drops of Roses, 5 drops of Rhodium, 10 drops of Anyseeds [Aniseed], 10 drops of Carayway [Caraway] Seeds

For drawing Cat dog or anything you like. Keep closed corked.

Gamekeepers, the least violent ones at least, also had to be skilled at handling a wide range of people, from local labourers caught poaching to the highest toffs in the land during major shoots. Thomas, I feel, had this cracked. For after he died, on 7 June 1890, after fifty years of service, his well-attended funeral, was considered of sufficient worth as to have been reported on in detail in none other than the York Herald.

“Funeral of Mr Thomas Barrett, of Hornby Castle – On Tuesday afternoon the remains of Mr T Barrett were interred in the Hornby Churchyard amidst every token of respect. Mr Barrett had just completed a service of 50 years, having been head gamekeeper to the Duke of Leeds the largest portion of that time. Several beautiful wreaths were sent by Mr S T Jones, steward on the Dukes Estate, Mr Nichol, head gardener, Mrs Waters, the housekeeper, and Mr Hutchinson and Mr Hallam of Leeds and others. A very large number of tenants and workspeople on the estate as well as tradespeople and relatives and friends paid their last tribute of respect. The service at the grave and in the church was most impressively read by the Rev D Moore, vicar of Hornby””. (York Herald on 14 June 1890)

The gravestone of Thomas Barrett in Hornby Church. Note the lack of any mention of his wives. Own photo. Thus, this series of biographies of our great, great, great grandparents come to an end. Although this not the end of the tales!

Thus, this series of biographies of our great, great, great grandparents come to an end. Although this not the end of the tales as each one has left me with something new to research.

With much gratitude to all my great, great, great grandparents who have provided me with such a rich range of material through which to get to know them just a little bit better.

Life on the canals – a biography of Elizabeth Schofield (1832 – 1911) & Thomas Moody (1833 – 1901)

Sunday Night, Knostop cut, Leeds by James Atkinson Grimshaw. 1893 (c) Bridgeman images via www.artuk.org. Painting owned by Leeds City Art Gallery.

Many years ago I bought a print of this painting. It’s Leeds, not Mirfield and painted a little late (1893) for our story but so evocative of industrial Yorkshire.

Unusually amongst our ancestors, Elizabeth Schofield & Thomas Moody’s lives did not focus on a single farm, house or even a village for their family was not built on land, but rather around water, specifically the Calder & Hebble Navigation. The journey along the canal from Mirfield to Horbury Bridge via Thornhill Lees is under seven miles. It takes a couple of hours to travel it by narrowboat and yet this short stretch of waterway spans Elizabeth & Thomas’s lives.

The canal also helped to obscure their beginnings, particularly those of Elizabeth. Watermen had a tendency not to complete census forms whilst on the move, which was often if they were to make a living. Elizabeth remains unaccounted for in the 1841 census (and I am uncertain about that of 1851) and Thomas in those for 1851 & 1871. Several of their children’s baptisms and burials remain missing and Elizabeth’s father, William, is currently without both parents and a date of death. Nonetheless I now feel sufficiently confident in the evidence to be able to tell the story of Elizabeth & Thomas, my 3xG grandparents through their son, Ernest William, father of Marion, Nana’s mother.

Elizabeth was born first, baptised on 9 December 1832, the likely first child of Margaret Robshaw & William Scho[le]field. The family were living at Ledgard Bridge at the time, quite possibly on the barge itself. At some point between the birth of Elizabeth’s siblings William (1834) & Sarah (1839), the family appear to have relocated to Thornhill Lees although the whole family was on the move and unrecorded on the night of the 1841 census.

Elizabeth is difficult to pin down in the 1851 census, but after eliminating all the other Elizabeth Scho[le]fields born in Mirfield the only one left is a visitor of a widow called Susan Wooler or Woller in Cleckheaton. If this is indeed our Elizabeth, there’s a potential familial & religious connection for further research and it also tells us she was working in a woollen mill a trade her sisters were also to follow.

Baptism record of Thomas Moody, 15 August 1833, Hopton Independent [Congregational] Chapel, Mirfield.

Thomas was also an eldest child, born on 30 June 1833 in the village of Horton. His parents, Elizabeth Lee & George Moody, went on to have six more children, all of whom survived into adulthood.  The Moody family were staunch Presbyterians and maintained an ongoing link with Hopton Independent Chapel where Thomas was baptised.

George Moody, Thomas’s father, was a woodsman and built up a successful timber business. His youngest son, William Henry, or Harry ran a joinery and undertaking business in Upper Hopton building on his father’s trade. His next youngest son, John, also, in a way, entered his father’s trade, apparently of stealing three loads of timber in 1899 and sentenced to 21 days imprisonment in HMP Wakefield (although I should note that there were other John Moodys in the area at the time).

Why, then, did Thomas take to the canals? It is rare, in my experience, for eldest sons not to follow their father’s trade. The charitable explanation is that George had set his son up in logistics as a useful compliment to the timber trade, but I just don’t buy that. In my view Thomas’s career choice was either the cause of a father/son falling out or a result of one as there is no evidence that Thomas had anything to do with Moodys of Hopton in later life, no marriage witnesses nor visitors on census returns, no presbyterian religion and certainly no evidence of financial support.

Thomas is nowhere to been found in 1851, so on a barge I would guess.

Elizabeth & Thomas were married at St Michael’s & All Angels at Thornhill on 7 September 1856. At the time both were living on Lees Moor which aligns with the 1861 census above. Children quickly followed, Mercy just a couple of months after they married, Jane in 1858, Emma in 1861, George in 1863 and Lee in 1866. Lots of little helpers.

1861 census for Thomas & Elizabeth Moody along with their two daughters, Mercy & Jane. Elizabeth’s father, William Schofield, is living two doors away.
Map from 1881 – 1913, www.archiuk.org showing the approximate location of where the boats were moored in 1861 based on the enumerator route described as starting at “Aldams Head on the south of Webster Hill.” There are several mills within easy walking distance where Elizabeth & her sisters may have worked.

In the mid-1800s a canal boat would absorb the whole family. Men, women and children worked them and those same men, women & children lived in them. When transporting a load, the seventeen-hour days would have required all those able to lead the horse, steer the tiller and unload the cargo. Those who were too young to manage the heavy work would be keeping a close watch over their younger, toddler, siblings to make sure they didn’t get in the way of the work or even fall overboard. Living accommodation was cramped and squalid with limited facilities to wash or even to cook. Educational opportunities were non-existent and although Thomas was literate, none of the older Moody children were. Canal boat people were often misrepresented by outsiders, a community in need of civilisation.

Family inside a canal boat cabin. Unknown source.

Disease was rife on the canals: it was even suspected that cholera flowed down the channels from cities out to smaller towns. When ten-year-old Mercy & six-year-old Emma died within four weeks of each other in the summer of 1867, it was time for the Moodies to make a change to their way of life. The family moved to Horbury Bridge and into an onshore home. Four more children followed: Mercy in 1869, Tom in 1872, William in 1874 and then finally, twenty years after her first child, Elizabeth gave birth to her last, Ernest William, in 1876 whose middle name gave away her next to last child, William, had not survived infancy.

George and Lee both followed their father onto the waterways and Jane, too, married a waterman but the younger boys, Tom & Ernest went into millwork. By the time they were of age the golden era of the canals was being supplanted by rail for valuable goods at least. Designed as they were, the canals still retained a critical role for transporting coal and other heavy goods direct from mine to factory gate. Perhaps though, their choice of career was influenced by what happened to their elder brother Lee. I’ve not been able to find out any details but by 1901 Lee, aged 34, was blind.

Working in a mill seems also to have helped the boys’ marriage prospects as both Tom & Ernest married whereas George & Lee did not. Mercy too, was to remain a spinster, seemingly destined to stay at home to look after her aging parents and blind brother.

Thomas died in March 1901 aged 67 and Elizabeth in December 1911, aged 79. With their burial in Thornhill churchyard our direct connection to the water came to an end although not our connection to Horbury for Ernest had stayed in Horbury when he married, as did his daughter, my Aunty Edie, whom we used to visit when I was a child. It was not until she died in 1984 that we lost our final connection to the Calder & Hebble Navigation.

Ernest Moody’s entry in Mary Booth’s autograph book from Sunny Dene in Horbury, August 27th 1939. Own collection.

With much gratitude to all those who worked on our canals transporting goods to enable industry and who were often misunderstood. Thanks too, to Elizabeth Schofield & Thomas Moody for providing me with an excuse to gain a deeper understanding of these lives.

Elizabeth Webster (1832 – 1903) & Charles Scott (1834 – 1897)

The Reynard-Scotts were the smartest of our Victorian great great grandparents. The Reynards were one of the first couples I wrote about intrigued by stories of a spice loaf and a wig so it seems apt for the Scotts to be one of the last, bookending tales of mining, farms and grinding poverty with two stories of the Victorian middle-class.

Elizabeth Webster & Charles Scott are my 3xgreat grandparents, Grandma’s mother’s father’s parents and for this tale we are moving into what is now North Yorkshire, to the village of Minksip just south of Boroughbridge.

Last year, for my birthday, Mum took me to the Wild Swan pub for dinner. It’s one of her favourite “local” pubs, local being defined as anything within a twenty-mile radius so long as it’s not in a town. The food and the company were wonderful and the trip had the added benefit of being able to wander down the village high street trying to work out exactly which home had belonged to Elizabeth & Charles.

A model of the White Swan pub, Minskip, now known as the Wild Swan. Own photo.

Minskip is one of those immaculate North Yorkshire villages with solid brick-built houses and well-tended gardens strung along a main road. The location is key to that well-heeled vibe. Harrogate, York and even Leeds are all within reasonable commuting distance for those with a car. Without a car, you are much more limited. I did discover the existence of a once daily bus which would take me from Mum’s direct to Minskip but none which would bring me back!

Minskip’s location was just as important to its economic prosperity in the early to mid-1800s for the Great North Road ran close by and stagecoaches were in their heyday. The White Swan coaching inn opened for business in 1832 bringing an increased number of travellers (and their coins) to the village. This wasn’t to last as within three decades trains had decimated the stagecoach trade, but by then the Scott family were already established.

Elizabeth Webster was born the same year as the pub was opened in the village of Kirby Hill, about three miles north of Minskip, just the other side of Boroughbridge. She was the daughter of Ann (Williamson) & John Webster, a cordwainer. Elizabeth’s exact birth date was unknown, but she was baptised at All Saints church, in Kirby Hill on 6 May 1832 and a birth date in mid-April would fit with most documentation.

Charles Scott was born in Boroughbridge a couple of years later, the second child of Jane (Drury) and Thomas Scott. Jane is another of those wives hidden by lack of records and propensity for the widowers in my family to choose a second wife with the same name as the first. For a long time, I thought Charles’s mother had died in 1872 until another person’s research alerted me to the death of a Jane Scott on 18 June 1838. As is also the way with the widowers in my family, Thomas didn’t hang around, remarrying the following year, to a woman named Jane Kendrew……

Like John Webster, Thomas Scott was also cordwainer. I imagine a mini guild of cordwainers in Boroughbridge, a rural remnant of The Company of Cordwainers of the City of York which had been disbanded in 1808. In addition to the Websters & Scotts there was also the Barker family of Dishforth. Dishforth is another small village in the vicinity of Boroughbridge, now mainly associated with the airfield. It also happened to be where Thomas Scott had been born and where he sent his son Charles to be apprenticed to one Francis Barker. The heads of all three households were small business owners and likely met regularly over a pint of ale to critique the latest shoe fashions, complain about the price of leather, and even share business opportunities during peak periods. Like any good fraternity, I expect they also drawn to each other at larger social gatherings such as the Barnaby horse fair bringing their families with them, meaning Elizabeth & Charles would likely have known each other as children.

So it was, on 3 May 1856 that the Webster and Scott families were united in marriage. By this time Charles had completed his apprenticeship and Elizabeth was earning her own money as a dressmaker giving them the means to set up home together. More pertinently, Elizabeth was in the early stages of pregnancy….

Thomas Scott had left the area by this point and was living with a nephew, John (son of his brother William), close to Bradford. This explains the birthplace of Mary, Elizabeth & Charles’s first child, although it is not clear whether this was a short family visit, the place where the couple first set up home together, or a deliberate attempt to disguise a child conceived out of wedlock by moving out of the local area. Scott is simply too common a surname for me to be able to follow this up.

A postcard of Minskip c.1900 from the facebook page Boroughbridge then & now.

By the end of 1860 (before the birth of their second child, Arthur), Elizabeth & Charles had moved to Minskip where they were to spend the remainder of their lives. Charles’s occupation was given as a cordwainer in both the 1861 & 1871 censuses. More unusually, Elizabeth continued to have her occupation listed too, as a dressmaker in 1861 and a milliner in 1871. These complimentary trades could have helped the Scotts attract a more fashionable elite. Certainly, their third child, John (my great, great grandfather) cut a fashionable air in his youth.

John Scott (right, standing) taken c.1890. The seated man could be his father, Thomas. Although Thomas would only have been in his late fifties by this point, many of Grandma’s relations sported white hair from an early age. From the Maria Reynard family album. Own collection.

Elizabeth & Charles had two more children, Alfred Herbert & Annie. Mary married a farm labourer, Joseph Dobson and moved to Easingwold. Arthur trained as a joiner, before eventually becoming a farmer and milk dealer in Menston. John, trained as a bricklayer, and then worked as a grocer before moving into farming in Topcliffe, eventually putting those bricklaying skills to good use by building his own home there. Alfred, trained as a joiner and ended up in Harrogate. Annie did not marry, but became a butter factor in her own right, leaving an estate worth £188 when she died in 1903, a decent sum for a single woman.

What the children’s occupations tell me is that this is a family who understood the value of being skilled in a trade and were also astute at business, knowing when to switch to alternative ways of making money. In this they were following their father’s example. By 1881, Charles had switched career to become a fruiterer. Later that decade he also became a landlord. At a major property sale in 1889 he “secured two cottages, with outbuildings and gardens, occupied by Mrs Taylor, for £160,” a major outlay for the time.

But not everything was as rosy as business, for at some point in the mid-1880s, Elizabeth became a “hemiplegic.” Whilst most commonly caused by a stroke, it can also be the result of some other brain trauma, an accident or a tumour. This would have been devastating for an intelligent, active woman such as Elizabeth. For the next seventeen years, until she died from heart failure on 28 June 1903, Elizabeth would have been reliant on others. I’m guessing this was when Charles invested in a horse & some sort of carriage, adding carrier to his portfolio career.  Her granddaughters (Mary’s children) took on the domestic work.

Still, paralysed as she was, Elizabeth outlasted her husband by six years. For, like his son and two grandsons after him, Charles fell afoul of a random tragic accident.

The met office monthly weather report for March 1897. From the met office archive.

On the 24 March 1897, yet another spring storm hit northern England. The met office report for the month focused rather more on the south of England and on Scotland, but did note that “elsewhere, however, the conditions remained very unsettled, with frequent, and in some cases heavy falls of rain.” Local newspapers help to provide a better picture of the day’s weather. Whilst the Knaresborough Post chose to focus on a local football match writing that “This match took place at Ashville in very stormy weather. Trinity, who won the toss, elected in the teeth of a perfect gale,” the Hull Daily News took a wider view reporting on the overturning of a tramcar in Bradford (no serious injuries), and the loss of at least one member of a dredger crew off the west coast. This was serious weather.

Charles and his daughter Annie braved the storm. Wednesday was and still is market day in Knaresborough. There were goods to transport and butter to be sold. Charles Mackintosh had long since patented his waterproof raincoat providing protection from the rain if not the cold on the six-mile journey into town. However, the market was uncovered and by the end of the morning the pair would have been chilled to the bone. I really hope they had chosen to partake of a cooked dinner before they set off home in the early afternoon.

There again, it would have been better if they hadn’t, for just as they were passing Mrs Collins’ house on the high street, a tile flew from the roof and struck Charles on the head, “scattering his brains” (to quote The Knaresborough Post, in its rather graphic description of events). Charles was killed immediately, a death subsequently found to be accidental, but I can imagine Mrs Collins was careful to keep her roof properly maintained from then on. I cannot begin to imagine the impact on Annie.

A report of Charles Scott’s death in the Knaresborough Post, 27 March 1897 downloaded from www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

It’s rather a sad and abrupt end to this tale, so let us finish back in the White or Wild Swan with a toast the couple who rode the Victorian wave of prosperity and, of all my 3xg grandparents most effectively set their five children up to continue that journey. RIP Elizabeth & Charles.

Mary Holmes (1826 – 1876) & George Brooks (1829 – 1901)

The children of Mary Holmes & George Brooks. Unknown origin. Shared by William Brooks’ descendent, Adrian Rhodes.

More than once I have misjudged our ancestors. “Rogue” Robert Walker is perhaps the most blatant, but when I re-read my early attempts to capture George Brooks’ story, I realised I was in danger of misjudging him too. It reminded me that George’s declining career and the hoicking of his family from the fresh air of rural Bewerley into the slums of Bingley was due to poverty and circumstances beyond his control, not laziness and certainly not from choice.

I do not know who to credit with sharing the above document, but I am grateful that they did. It shows George’s son, William, entering what I believe to be the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows in 1881. William was seeking to join a fraternal order set up to protect and care for its members. This must surely be a hardworking family, taking proactive steps to care for themselves and others. William is not George of course, but in 1881 he was still living with his father. Joining the Oddfellows must have been done with his consent and perhaps blessing.

This then is the rewritten story of Mary Holmes and George Brooks, our 3xgreat grandparents, through Grandpy’s father’s mother, Jane Brooks.

George was born on 8 March 1829 in Bewerley. His father, William Brooks, was already 43 when his last child was born and died when George was just fourteen. His mother, Anne Grange, was ten years younger than her husband, but she too, died, before George had ended his teenage years. George had an older sister, Ann, by this time married with her own family. His eldest brother, Harker, had died as an infant which left just one brother, also Harker, and ten years George’s senior. Harker promptly chose to emigrate to Australia with his young family and George was left alone.

(As an aside, Harker was a useful name to help track back this family – it helped confirm both George’s grandfather, Harker Brooks, and his great grandmother, Mary Harker).

George was not to be on his own for long. On 25 July 1850, George, having just come of age, married Mary Holmes, a local woman, a year his senior.

Mary was born in Bewerley on 24 February 1828, the fourth of six children of Jane Wilkes and Christopher Holmes. Like Harker, she too had had a deceased elder sibling after whom she was named. Fortunately, two elder siblings, Joseph & Ellen, and a younger brother, John, were all to survive childhood, with the youngest, William, dying in infancy. Jane & Christopher, too, appeared healthy with Christopher still recording his occupation as a stonemason well into his seventies. Unlike George, Mary was surrounded by family.

Registration of the birth of Mary Holmes by the minister of the Salem Independent chapel in Pateley Bridge. From an ancestry collection.

Importantly for my interpretation of this family, Mary & her siblings births had been registered at the Salem Independent Congregational Chapel in Pateley Bridge. There is a strong thread of non-conformist worship across our family, and I tend to associate this with a certain level of industry and temperance. It feels much more of an active choice. I wonder, though, why George’s sister Ann, had also been baptised in the Salem Chapel, but neither George nor his brothers were. Perhaps this form of worship had not been to the Brooks taste.

Mary & George settled into their new home in Bewerley. George, like his father-in-law, worked as a stonemason, Mary reared their children. I think Mary had the harder task. Jane (my great, great grandmother) was the first to arrive on 30 March 1851, a honeymoon baby. Eight more children arrived, one girl, Ann, followed by seven boys, regular as clockwork, every two years. They were a healthy bunch too. Only one, John Holmes, died in childhood (aged five).

Then at some point between the 2 April 1871 (the census) and 20 Jun 1872 (John Holmes’s death) something happened to cause the family to move to North Street, Bingley. My best guess is that this was down to opportunities for work.

George was a stonemason. Whilst pre 17th century this was considered to be a skilled profession it had broadened somewhat by the 1800s to include quarrying and basic building and construction. The evidence in George’s life suggests to me he was more likely to fall into the latter category. Quarrying for stone & lime was an important industry in Bewerley, but the area had been in slow decline over the period from 1850 to 1890 as the lead mines closed leading to pressure on other occupations. With several growing children who also needed to find work, Bingley, with its factories, may have seemed an attractive option.

It proved the be a poor choice. The aforementioned John Holmes died shortly after the move. Then Mary herself succumbed to tuberculosis on 15 February 1876, a disease far more prevalent in towns. It also marked the start of the decline in George’s own career, from stonemason to mason’s labourer (1879 marriage) to unemployed stonemason (1901 census). The latter stage was entirely predictable, for who would employ a 72-year-old to undertake work that required physical strength?

With Mary dead, and the girls gone (Jane had long since left home to work as a live-in domestic and Ann had married in 1877) George was left with a houseful of boys. By 1879 Harker, too, had possibly left home, but that still left William, George, Joseph, Christopher and Thomas. Just like so many widowers in my family, George had a solution. On 3 August 1879 he remarried, to a spinster named Ellen Emmott, a 42-year-old domestic servant. Too old in 1879 to have children of her own, Ellen would have been a wonderful asset for a household consisting only of males.

As regular readers know, one of the aims of my research is to ensure that women’s lives are recorded and with no children of her own, Ellen is at risk of being forgotten. So indulge me whilst I take a short diversion into Ellen’s own story.  

Ellen was the illegitimate daughter of Isabella Mitton born on 17 January 1837 in Addingham. It wasn’t until 28 October 1839 that Isabella married John Emmott, so he clearly wasn’t the father, and the documentation seems to suggest he never treated her as his own. John was a blacksmith, prosperous enough to leave a, still legible, York stone memorial in Addingham churchyard. His gravestone also records the death of Isabella and of their first child, Alice, born in 1841. By 1851 Ellen had left mother’s growing family and went to work as a domestic servant. At the age of 42, she married George and essentially acted as his (unpaid) housekeeper and they descended together into slums until George’s death in 1901. It seems that none of the Brooks’ brothers thought to invite her into their own homes when their father died, but she did find peace. She was taken in by her two unmarried half sisters, Ann & Phoebe (eleven and seventeen years younger than her), who were housekeepers at a boarding house at Arnside, Morcombe Bay. Phoebe, the second of the two sisters to die, left an estate of £2,400 in 1930, so the sisters were in a good place to support her Ellen until her death in 1913. I am happy to think that she lived out her last days in peace with her sisters.

Crossflats, postcard taken from https://www.facebook.com/groups/bingleymemorylanephotos. Foster Street has been demolished, but was in the area to the South East of the junction between Canal Road and Keighley Road.

Of course, Ellen’s story has essentially given away the end of our tale. George junior died aged twenty-one in 1880 and then one by one the Brooks’ brothers left home. Thomas, the youngest, was last to leave. By 1901 George & Ellen lived alone, having moved to Foster Street in Crossflats, until on 4 September, at the age of 72, George died. He was reunited in burial with Mary and his sons, John Holmes & George in Bingley cemetery.

With much gratitude to a man named Adrian Rhodes, a descendent of Mary & George through their son, William Brooks, for sharing various documents about William on ancestry including the one which I shared at the start of this blog. Thanks to Nigel Brooks for his dedicated work on the Brooks family line which makes cross checking my work so much easier. My thanks too, go to Mary Holmes & George Brooks for reminding me to take equal care of all my ancestors.

She married twice, the second time to an older man

Back in the 1980s I quizzed Nana about her ancestors, and this was the only story she had about any of her great grandparents. No names, no dates, no locations. Just one fascinating line.

Fast forward thirty plus years. I’d done a bit more research by then and knew I was looking for a couple with the surname Cooper (whilst a fairly common occupational surname I am grateful that it isn’t as prevalent as Smith!). The pandemic shut us all into our homes, and I got serious about family history.  Where else to start but to find out more about the woman who “married twice, the second time to an older man.” Her story did not disappoint and along the way, she also became the ancestor on which I honed my genealogy research skills which combined made her one of my favourite ancestors and you can hear me talk to her story in these two podcasts waffle free family stories and journeys into genealogy).

So let me introduce you to Hannah Demaine, my great, great, great grandmother through my Nana father’s mother, Sarah (Cooper). Hannah was born in Otley on 6 May 1837 the eighth of nine children born to Sarah (Swire) & Joseph Demaine. Joseph was an iterant agricultural labourer for much of his life and at the time the family were living on Bondgate. These days it’s a lovely little terraced street of shops including the delicious Bondgate Bakery but at the time it would have been dirty and crowded.

Hannah was illiterate. Schooling was not yet mandatory, and cost likely prohibited any of the children from attending. Certainly, William the eldest son never learnt to write so it wasn’t just the girls who missed out. As the only daughter still left at home by 1841, Hannah would have been helping her mother with the washing, cooking, and cleaning from an early age.

By time of her marriage in 1861, Hannah was living in Farfield on the outskirts of Addingham. For 55 years or more, Joseph, Hannah’s father, had toiled for others, but finally he had secured a farm and became his own boss supported in 1861 by his youngest son, Amos, and later by his eldest son, William.

Addingham was primarily a textile town and had gone through a period of severe decline as this work became increasingly mechanised affecting at least two of her brothers (George & Albert) who had worked as a woolsorter and woolcomber respectively.

“John Cunliffe, cloth manufacturer, and John Cockshott, glazier and wool-stapler, leased land on the side of the Wharfe and built a spinning mill in [Addingham] 1788 -1789. It enabled yarn to be spun more quickly than by hand and so increased the production of cloth. A weir was constructed on the river and a wheel installed to provide the power. It was the first successful worsted mill in the world. The first piece of worsted yarn to be seen in Bradford market was made by John Cunliffe at Low Mill. In a sense, it was the birthplace of the Bradford Worsted Trade. At the same time, others were looking at cotton and there were a number of small calico manufacturers who probably employed people with jennies to spin for them. High Mill, Town Head Mill and Fentimans (later a sawmill) were built shortly afterwards, all for spinning and the handloom weavers were kept pretty busy. There were many small workshops, and many weavers cottages built three stories high – two for domestic use and the top floors to house the looms, with inter-connecting doors along the row (e.g. in Stockinger Lane). There were other, similar, cottages with the top floors used for warehouses with cranes and pulleys over the large outside doors.

In 1831-41 there was a decline in the population and the census returns state that this was owing to the closure of Low Mill. In the 1851 census, so many houses at Low Mill were empty that it must have remained closed until after that time. By 1861 handloom weavers had practically disappeared. Samuel Cunliffe Lister re-opened Low Mill, putting Addingham back in its prosperous position” (from www.addingham.info/story-addingham-village/)

The Lowcock family from Addingham were also engaged in a combination of agriculture and textile work. Whilst Edward, the head of the household, was technically a farmer, he had only 13 acres of land and supplemented his income by weaving worsted on a hand loom. Timothy, too, Edward’s son, seemed to take what work he could with his occupation being variously listed as hand loom weaver, labourer and farmer. And so it was that Hannah met Timothy.

Parish register entry for Hannah Demaine’s first marriage to Timothy Lowcock in 1861.

There’s very little to show of Hannah’s first marriage to Timothy Lowcock. Married on 1 January 1861 at St Peter’s in Addingham, Timothy was recorded as living with his parents in the 1861 census. Hannah is missing. I have reluctantly concluded that the Timothy’s 29-year-old sister, Hannah, who had brought her illegitimate child back home to live his grandparents has caused the enumerator to exclude our Hannah from being counted. Such are trials of researching our female ancestors.

As for living happily ever after, well “ever”, in Hannah’s case, was very short-lived. Timothy died of consumption on 21 December 1861, something he’d been diagnosed with for twelve months. Was Hannah aware of this when she married him? And, more importantly, was this it? Married and widowed within a year. Hannah moved back to live with her parents.  

Timothy Lowcock’s death certificate from 1861

Hannah may have taken more than a new surname from this first marriage. The Lowcocks appeared to be staunch Wesleyan Methodists. Timothy, his parents, his sister Hannah and her son William and his wife and child are all memorialised on one stone in the Addingham Methodist Church cemetery. Neither the Demaines nor the Coopers appeared to have Methodist associations, yet Hannah’s second marriage took place in Otley’s Wesleyan chapel. I can only think that she adopted the Lowcock family’s religion. 

Moving back in with her parents was also to positively shape the second half of Hannah’s life. For Joseph was to switch farms for one in Askwith.  Hannah moved not into the tiny terrace in Otley, but onto a 50-acre farm in Askwith.

It was in Askwith that Hannah met “the older man,” John Cooper. John was born in Farnley in 1820. His father, Francis, was variously described as a joiner, carpenter and then gamekeeper. Francis & his wife, Sarah (Stubbs) had at least ten children and the dangers of childbirth should have meant Sarah was the first to die. But, no, it was Francis who died at the relatively young age of 39 in 1825, leaving Sarah with a young family to support.  Sarah must have had some fun for a half-sibling, Harriet, appeared on the scene in 1828. Henry (the eldest son) took care of his mother, but the rest of the family scattered to make their own way in the world. Thankfully for us, John’s sister Ann had married a farmer in Askwith which meant a place for John to work and was also where he met the young widow, Harriet.

Certificate from Hannah’s second marriage to John Cooper in 1873.

On 2 August 1873, 36-year-old Hannah married 52-year-old John. Two children swiftly followed, Sarah (our ancestor) in 1875 and Mary Ann in 1876.

I really hope this marriage wasn’t all about the farm, but John undoubtably benefited from an elderly father-in-law with only a middle-aged unmarried son at home. After Joseph died, William & John continued to run the farm together until John died in June 1893 aged 72. Then, when daughter Sarah married Thomas Booth in 1895, he moved in too. Hannah continued to live with her daughter until 1914 when she died, aged 77, from “malignant disease of the stomach and exhaustion”. Hannah, my favourite ancestor, is buried at Weston Church.

With much gratitude to Nana for gifting me an intriguing line about her great grandmother and to Hannah herself for being one of my wonderful widow ancestors.

Mary Hinchcliffe (1846 – 1919) & George Bentley (1841 – 1907)

I searched for George Bentley’s birth certificate for a long time. Born c. 1841/1842, his birth should have been registered. His siblings were. Until it clocked. George parents (Rachel Hall & John Bentley) had not married until the second half of 1842. George Bentley wasn’t born George Bentley he was born George Hall.

Birth certificate of George Hall, otherwise known as George Bentley.

Whilst contraceptive methods in the 1800s were somewhat unreliable, the Bentley family appeared to have no knowledge of them: two of George’s sisters had illegitimate children and his maternal aunt, Mary Hall, had not one, but four. The Hinchcliffes were not that different. Mary Hinchcliffe’s mother, Martha (Deighton) was illegitimate, and Martha’s mother’s mother, Mary (Milnes) had also had an illegitimate son.

It was not wilfulness and lack of morals but rather poverty and lack of education which led illegitimacy to increase to around 7% in the 1840s (when about a third of women were pregnant at marriage). George’s start in life, together with that of Elizabeth Dean, makes this generation of our family statistically average. What feels more skewed is that all the illegitimacies which occurred in our family are ancestors of my Nana. Partly this is down to poverty, but this line is also the one least connected with agriculture. I can’t help thinking farmers must have had more idea of how to prevent conception than a coalminer or factory worker.

So let us meet Mary Hinchcliffe & George Bentley, parents of Nana’s maternal grandmother, Annie Bentley and the youngest of our 3xg grandparents.

George Hall was born on 7 October 1841 in the village of Midgley within the township of Shitlington, to the west of Wakefield (now, unsurprisingly, having dropped the “h” to become Sitlington). Whether or not John Bentley was the biological father is largely mute as George always considered himself to be John’s son and from now on, so will I. John was a coal miner and, by 1861, so was George and had likely been so for some time for his twelve year old brother, Alfred, was already working as a hurrier.

Mary Hinchcliffe was born on 16 November 1846, in Barugh, near Barnsley. Mary was the first of at least nine children born to Martha Deighton & Silvester Hinchcliffe. Silvester too laboured in the coal mines and his oldest surviving son, John, was also working in the mines by the age of twelve.

A hurrier and two thrusters heaving a corf full of coal as depicted in the 1853 book The White Slaves of England by J Cobden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary & George were married at Wakefield registry office on 22 October 1867. At first glance the different locations of their births and marriage didn’t add up. However, the marriage certificate contained a clue with both listing their address as East Moor being the site of Park Hill Colliery. The couple had clearly both moved there for the mine – the main mine shaft was being sunk in 1863 providing new opportunities for local miners.  

With all that lack of contraceptive knowledge it is no surprise that Mary & George went on to have a large family, twelve in all, nine alive, according to the 1911 census, although I have only managed to identify eleven: John (b. 1868), Elizabeth Ann (b. 1870), Joshua (b. 1872), Henry “Harry” (b. 1874), Annie (b. 1876), Charles Hall (b. 1879), Abigail (b. 1882), Ada (b. 1884), Florence (b. 1886), Ernest (b. 1882) and Emma (b. 1893).

Whilst the couple’s first son, John, was born in Gawber (close to Mary’s birthplace) in 1868, he was christened in Thornhill (the parish church for Sitlington at the time) later that same year which suggests they had moved back to where George’s parents lived. The family stayed in or close to Netherton (a village within the township of Sitlington) and by 1882, Mary & George had settled Little London, about 4 miles south of Netherton, Wakefield. Little London consists of six (now ex) coal board houses and was to become for the Bentleys as Toft Gate & High Garnshaw were to the Wellocks, a multi-generational home, so I will write more about Little London in a future blog.

Little London, near Netherton. The Bentley house was probably the nearest one. Own photo.

There is little more to tell of their lives. Their remaining children (mostly) married and left home. George continued to work in the mines whilst Mary ran the household until they died, George aged 66 in 1907 and Mary aged 73 in 1919. Both are buried at St Michaels & All Angels at Thornhill, their grave seemingly unmarked. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Isabella Preston (1814 – 1886) & Thomas Wellock (1810 – 1885)

“Isabella” Thomas cried out and, not for the first time, the woman laid by his side wondered whether he called, not for her, but for his first wife.

Why did so many of my male ancestors choose to marry two women with the same name? Whether it was a subconscious act, a natural affinity due to the love of a first spouse or pure coincidence it often serves to further obscure the second wife from view. It would make more sense if the name were Mary (41,397, or roughly 17%, of all girls born in 1840, had a name that started with Mary), Elizabeth (11%), Sarah (9%) or Ann (8% including Anne & Annie) but Isabella? There were only 1,881 of those.

Fortunately for me Thomas Wellock’s first wife, Isabella Ward, was one of only two brick walls amongst my great, great, great grandparents. (The other, Elizabeth Dean, was illegitimate, married far from her home town and died after only one census making her much more difficult, although ultimately possible, to trace). Continuing to search for any clue as to her parents might be, I re-checked my research against a much wider range of websites and, thanks to Wharfegen, discovered the existence of Isabella Preston, Thomas’s second wife and my great, great, great grandmother.

Our Isabella was born c. 1814 (baptised on 11 September 1814) in Stainforth, which sits within the parish of Horton in Ribblesdale, the daughter of Agnes Sidgewick & John Preston. She was christened at Horton in Ribblesdale on 11 September 1814, the youngest of at least five children – Agnes & John were 41 & 43 at the time of her birth. Agnes & John were farm servants, agricultural labourers, and survived on the slenderest of margins.

I know little about Isabella’s early life or that of her siblings. Unusually the girls are the only ones I’ve been able to trace post their initial arrival into the world. The eldest, Dorothy (born in 1798) died, aged just sixteen. The youngest, Margaret, seems to have left more of a mark. Whilst she was married & widowed prior to civil records, she was the one who registered the deaths of both parents and must have nursed both in their final days. Then, after acting as housekeeper for her brother-in-law, Isaac Garnett, she went on to help him run the Queen’s Arms in Litton, possibly taking over when Isaac died.

Thomas’s upbringing was less precarious. Born in 1810, the ninth of eleven children of Mary Windsor & Richard Wellock. His father farmed 40 acres at High Garnshaw in Linton – not wealthy by any stretch, but comfortable enough and whilst Thomas did not inherit this particularly farm tenancy his upbringing was his apprenticeship for future.

Thomas and his first wife, Isabella (Ward) were married on 2 June 1836 in Consitone. Two children quickly followed. A little too quickly in the case of Jeffrey who was born either late in 1836 or early in 1837 in Starbotton and then Helen followed in nearby Calton in late 1837/early 1838. By the time of the 1841, the couple were both living in Gargrave although not in the same property. I would guess that Thomas, as an agricultural labourer, was living on a farm and Isabella was living in the village with their two children possibly as a result of Isabella’s health, for she was to die of consumption, aged just 26 on 10 June 1842 (by which time the family appear to have moved to Arncliffe).

Whilst the villages of Conistone, Starbotton, Calton, Gargrave and Arncliffe are all broadly in the same area, they different addresses suggest that Thomas was moving around struggling to secure a stable appointment.

1841 census from Conistone showing Isabella Preston, her parents Agnes & John as well as George Wellock, brother to Thomas. From ancestry.

They also constitute an intriguing link to our Isabella. For in 1841, our Isabella, is living in Conistone with her father who is described as an invalid. Her mother, aged 68, was still working, living a couple of doors away. Isabella’s sister, Margaret, was living in Arncliffe which was where Isabella’s parents had started life before moving to nearby Conistone. Could the two Isabellas have been friends? Also, on the same page in the 1841 census as the Preston family was a 40-year-old farmer, George Wellock, brother to none other than our Thomas. Conceivably, Thomas could have started working in Conistone and met both Isabellas there, choosing to marry the younger first and returning for the older later.  Or alternatively, Isabella and her sister may have returned to Arncliffe to live with her sister Margaret, after Isabella’s father, John, died.

For Thomas didn’t wait around and just over a year after the first Isabella died, on 25 November 1843 at St Oswald’s in Arncliffe (again) our 3xg grandparents were married. Their first child, Richard (our ancestor), was born in Halton Gill in 1844 but their second child, Agnes, (born on 10 October 1846) was baptised in Burnsall and signalled the start of a new chapter for the Wellock family.

The different birthplaces of Richard & Agnes allow us to date Thomas’s appointment as farm manager for Captain Henry Blake of Manor Farm, Rylstone to between 7 April 1844 and 10 October 1846. This was to be an important appointment. Benjamin Wellock (Thomas & Isabella’s grandson through their son, Richard) wrote the following in his family memoirs. “After his [Thomas] marriage to a woman named Isabella Preston, he continued in farm work as a married man at Rylstone, his employer being one Captain Blake, an aristocratic gentleman farmer at that time. I have a photograph of Captain Blake and my grandfather holding a cow, taken at Rylstone in 1858.” Just this month, I randomly typed Wellock into The Museum of English Rural Life’s search engine and up popped an entry “Thomas Wellock and Captain Blake at Rylstone, Skipton, Yorkshire, with letter.” Bless him, great, great Uncle Benjamin had submitted the photo for publication in the Farmers Weekly as part of a series called Country Cavalcade ensuring it’s longevity. It becomes only the second 3x great grandparent for whom I have a picture. I only wish I knew who had inherited the original.

The family most probably moved into Manor Cottage. Built in the mid-17th century, Manor Cottage is a large solid house, believed to be the original manor before Manor Farm was built. This is possibly why, in addition to Thomas & Isabella’s growing family, it was also home to several boarders including, in 1861, a young woman named Nancy Serjeanston. Nancy, deaf & dumb from birth was to continue to live with the Wellock family until her death in 1891. Two more children were to arrive whilst the family lived at Rylstone, Benjamin Preston in 1851 and David in 1853.

Rylstone was to be home for over 15 years until, in 1861, Thomas took over the lease of Toft Gate, a 150 acre farm at Greenhow Hill where Thomas & Isabella were to live out their lives.

Prize winning chickens at the third annual Christmas Show in Pateley Bridge – Richmond & Ripon chronicle, 30 December 1882, downloaded from www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

They were well respected members of the community with Thomas being elected as the Bewerley representative on the local board of Guardians of the Poor. But it was the prizes for best chickens at the local agricultural show with a special gold medal prize for Thomas’s Cochin Chinas which made me smile – rearing chickens and entering shows being a family tradition that has continued down the generations.

Their time at Toft Gate wasn’t without heartache. Thomas & Isabella’s youngest son, David, suffered from a congenital heart defect and died aged just 17 in 1871. Their grandson, Richard died, aged four, in 1872. Richard (son of Richard) had lived with his grandparents for a period of time in 1871 and the family still lived close by.

A decade later, on 3 December 1883, came the accidental death of their son, Benjamin Preston, leaving a widow and five children. Benjamin was farming with his father at the time. I feel that this tragedy may have caused Thomas & Isabella’s final declined. For just over a year later, on 28 January 1885, Thomas died, aged 75, of pneumonia. Isabella followed just over a year later on 1 May 1886, aged 72 of “senility”. They are buried together in St Mary’s churchyard, Greenhow Hill.

Thomas Wellock’s death notice – Knaresborough Post, 31 January 1885, from www.britishnespaperarchive.co.uk

There is one final part to Thomas & Isabella’s story which the couple could not have known at the time they died and that is one of emigration. At least six of their shared grandchildren and one of their great-grandchildren were to emigrate (mainly to Canada but one went to Australia and one to the US). This in turn became part of the reason I was so interested in family history and ultimately led to this blog being written!

Isabella & Thomas are my 3xg grandparents through their son, Richard, father of Mary, mother of Grandpy. With much gratitude to this couple, for somehow instilling a sense of adventure in their children, to Benjamin Wellock for ensuring Thomas’s photo was published in the farmers weekly back in 1952 thus ensuring its survival and to the Rylstone History Project for their wonderful mapping of the buildings (and inhabitants) of Rylstone.

Elizabeth Hornby (1823 – 1858) and “Rogue” Robert Walker (1823 – 1873)

In all the history of our Yorkshire born ancestors only two have chosen to leave “God’s Own County”. The first was Isabella Dean who crossed the border into Lancashire, had an illegitimate daughter Elizabeth (Nana’s great grandmother), married and then promptly crossed back into Yorkshire. The second was Robert Walker.

I thought of him as being a bit of a rogue. Three wives is, well, either careless or greedy. And honestly who would want to leave Yorkshire for the environs of London? (Says the woman whose postcode starts NW1).

If anything, it was Robert’s wife, Elizabeth Hornby, who had left the mark on our family as at least three grandchildren and two great grandchildren were given her maiden name as their first: Ellen Hornby Parker (b. 1882), Hornby Wellock (b. 1888), Hornby Walker (b. 1892), Hornby Moor (b. 1899) and lastly Hornby Wellock born in Canada in 1905.

Yet settling down to review the documentary evidence, I was presented with a very different story. For Robert was a man (& a boy) who’s life was beset by tragedy and emigration yet time and again he picked himself up and carried on.

So, who were Robert Walker & Elizabeth Hornby?

Robert was born in Hebden in 1823, the fifth of ten children of Anne Pratt (1793 – 1855) & Thomas Walker (1793 – 1835), nine of whom were boys and, all of whom (bar the twins, Thomas & Elizabeth born in 1826) survived infancy. Thomas & his growing brood must have felt confident. They were descended (through Thomas’s mother) from the Hebdens, Bollands & Inmans, families who had run liveable farming tenancies in the area for centuries and with an expanding free workforce, his main worry was most likely that of securing decent tenancies for his sons when they came of age. Indeed the Walker brothers had all been schooled in an age when schooling was a sign of relative affluence in the village.

1844 tithe map of Hebden from www.hebdenhistory.uk. The highlighted plots were those occupied by James Walker and, therefore I assumed also by his father, Thomas before him and his brother Robert after. Own picture.
A close up from the 1844 tithe map of Hebden from www.hebdenhistory.uk showing the village. Again, the highlighted properties are those occupied by James. Own collection.

A note to help with the rest of the article, the ten Walker siblings were: John (1815 – 1868), James (1817 – 1848), Richard (1820 – 1843), William (1822 – 1863), Robert (1823 – 1873), Thomas (1826 – 1826?), Elizabeth (1826 – 1830), Thomas (1829 – 1842), Edward (1831 – aft. 1910) and Joseph (1835 – 1927).

Then on 6 December 1835 life changed.

At the comparatively young age of 42 and just three days after the birth of his youngest son Joseph, Robert’s father, Thomas Walker, died. Frustratingly it was just before all the best records kick in, so I have no way of knowing what happened although B. J Harker provides a potential clue in his book Rambles in Upper Wharfedale “Previous to the year 1862, Hebden was very subject to typhus fever, and other epidemic diseases, through want of drainage and a proper supply of water”. This was to become a theme for the Walker family.

Life for the twelve-year-old Robert & his brothers would never be the same.

John (Robert’s eldest brother) took the opportunity to emigrate to the US leaving eighteen-year-old brother James to head up the household, together with his mother Anne (at least until 1840 when she took the only truly sensible option for a middle-aged widow at the time and married local widower, William Waddilove).

By 1841, two of the boys, Richard & Robert, had left the family farm. Richard was probably the “17-year-old” manual labourer working for the Pettys in Scosthrop, Kirkby Malham. Of Robert we can be more certain as he went to work for his maternal grandfather, James Pratt, at West Side House, Malham Moor. James ran a farm of 290 acres with two of his sons, James & William, William’s new wife, Margery Hornby, and a female servant Elizabeth Simpson (possibly also a relative). Robert would have known he had no chance of inheriting the tenancy, but for a fatherless sixteen-year-old this was a much better deal than his brother’s.

Map from archiuk.org showing the relative locations of West Side House and Capon Hall in Malham Moor. Scosthrop, where Richard could be found in 1841, is just off the south side of this map

Malham is a beautiful place – the tarn & the cove attract thousands of visitors (including my sister last year). But the moor? It’s a remote place. A sprinking of stone farmhouses can be found hunkered down in slight hollows in an attempt to escape the worst of the weather. No chance of meeting a match. Unless of course your uncle’s new wife had a younger sister, Elizabeth, living a mile down the road at Capon Hall. And if Elizabeth & Margery had only one sibling, a sister, Ellen, there had to be a shot at inheriting that tenancy? (see my sister is also my aunt)

So it was that on 23 December 1844, Elizabeth Hornby & Robert Walker were married at St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham witnessed by Elizabeth’s older sister Ellen & Robert’s cousin John.

As Robert moved in with his wife & her family it’s time to talk about Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the youngest of the three daughters of Mary Coates & John Hornby. John had been born in Giggleswick & Mary in Gisburn and they’d moved to Capon Hall at some point between the birth of their first daughter, Ellen, in 1816 and their second daughter, Margery, in 1819. The Capon Hall tenancy was about 200 acres of desolate moorland. Glorious when the sun was shining, harsh when the wind and snow blew through in winter.

Capon Hall, Malham Moor, taken from a property listing in 2022

The first two of Robert & Elizabeth’s children were born at Capon Hall: Mary (my great, great grandmother) in 1845 and Thomas in 1847.

Birth certificate of Mary Walker in 1845 showing her birthplace of Capon Hall.

Their third child, John, born in 1849, was baptised back in Hebden.

So, what had happened? Well, the 1840s hadn’t been good to the Walker brothers. Thomas had died first, of measles, aged 13 in 1842. Richard died the following year, aged 23, this time the cause of death was consumption. When this same highly infectious disease killed James on 5 July 1848, a vacancy for head of Walker household appeared. Would it be 27-year-old William or 24-year-old Robert who took up the role?

Had William & his new wife had already booked the transatlantic tickets that would deposit them in New York on 6 November 1848? Where they seduced by tales of gold from their older brother John or scared away from Hebden by the infectious diseases which seemed to plague the family? Or had the two remaining older brothers sat down and amicably discussed the decision between them? I certainly hope it wasn’t a hostile takeover by Robert forcing William’s emigration.

These movements also paved the way for a much more joyous occasion – the marriage of Elizabeth’s eldest sister, Ellen, to the younger James Howarth. I can’t be sure if this was before or after the girls’ father, John Hornby, died on 12 March 1850 but no doubt both father and husband had the future of the Capon Hall tenancy in mind.

The Old School House, Publisher: Walter Scott, Bradford. Code: 21030. Date: 1930s? From the collection of Peter Hodge. From www.hebdenhistory.uk. Believed to be the home of the Walker family from the 1830s to the mid 1860s before it became the School House and then the Old School House by which name it is known today. The windows look towards Church Lane.

By 1851, Robert & Elizabeth were established in Hebden. Robert farmed 60 acres and worked as a butter factor too. Three more children, James (b. 1852), Ann (b. 1853) and Elizabeth (b. 1856) followed. The growing family was surely the prompt for the two remaining Walker brothers, Edward & Joseph, to follow John & William across the Atlantic leaving Robert the sole remaining Walker brother in Hebden.

All was going well until June 1858 when the couple’s seventh baby, named Robert for his father, was born. Peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen, is commonly caused by a hole in the bowel or a burst appendix. It is more rarely a complication of childbirth but the quick succession of birth and the onset of the condition which was to cause Elizabeth’s death two weeks later would suggest these were connected. She is buried, without a marker, in St Wilfred’s church in nearby Burnsall. Baby Robert was to follow just nine months later spending just the same amount of time inside Elizabeth’s womb as out of it. I hope he lies by his mother’s side.

What was a successful man in his thirties with seven children going to do? Well marry of course!

Hannah Fawcett Whitaker was twenty-nine, illegitimate, living between relatives, with no apparent occupation. Love at first sight or a practical solution for both? Robert & Hannah married on 15 November 1859 at St Michael’s and All Angels and Linton, fifteen months after Elizabeth died. Baby Edward arrived around a year later. By 1861, the family should have been prospering, Robert having doubled the size of his farm to 116 acres. He was, or was about to become, church warden for St Peter’s handily located just a couple of minutes from the farm and was respected enough to be asked to judge the butter classes in local agricultural shows.

Robert Walker as the butter judge at Netherdale [Nidderdale] Agricultural Show. Article from the Leeds Mercury, 19 October 1850 accessed via www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

But early death seemed to stalk the Walkers of Hebden. Robert’s daughter, Ann, died from diphtheria, aged just eight on 2 October 1861 and his son Thomas, who had reached the age (fourteen) at which he might almost be considered a man, followed just two months later. Then the birth of a son on 23 January 1863 almost immediately caused Hannah’s death from a uterine haemorrhage and nor did the second baby Robert survive beyond the night.

If all that wasn’t enough, Robert, in his capacity as churchwarden, was taken to court in November of the same year in a “case of unusual character, being the first that has even been tried by this [Sheriff’s County] court” (Yorkshire Gazette, 21 November 1863). The moorland enclosures in Hebden in 1857 had been contentious as had been the distribution of various charitable funds for the poor. So much so, that the charity commission had stepped in to change those who were entitled to their receipt.

Yorkshire gazette, 21 November 1863 – the “case of an unusual character” which may have been the final straw for Robert. From the British Newspaper Archive.

I believe it was at this point Robert felt Hebden just didn’t want him. He’d buried two wives and four children three siblings in less than six years. His remaining brothers had all emigrated and now village politics seemed to be against him so in 1864 Robert left Hebden for good.

What else to do but hotfoot it down to Hampshire? I really couldn’t believe this marriage – Walker is too common a name – but the later evidence fully stacks up. On 16 June 1868, when Robert is apparently living in Long Ditton, Surrey, he married one Harriett Jones at Ellisfield church on 16 June 1868. (Yup, Walker marries a Jones….)

By 1871 they were living on Wellington Road, Heston, somewhere between Flowerpot Cottage and Berkhams farm & dairy. I am guessing that latter address had more to do with the location as Robert was either a Coisman or Cowman and grocer during this period. That butter factoring knowledge is proved useful (although what exactly butter factoring and butter classes are will have to wait as I have a whole blog on butter to write).

Robert seems to have had little if any contact with any of his surviving children. His youngest child, Edward, had died in 1866 at the Anchor Inn, home of his great aunt Sarah and he doesn’t appear in any of the family records I have inherited. Indeed his grandson, Benjamin Wellock, brother to my great grandmother, who as the last surviving family member wrote some family history down in 1960, remembered only that his  grandfather’s name was James…..

Living down South wass evidently not any better for his health than Hebden and he died, aged 49, on 22 April 1873 of typhus, the disease he perhaps fled to escape and was buried at St Leonard’s church in Heston. Our one and only ancestor buried in London. It would take me just over an hour (and five changes) to get there. It takes me two hours on one train to get back to Yorkshire.

Was he Rogue Robert? Maybe. But in the mid-1800s men had the pick of wives and maybe he was forced to be responsible, to take over the farm after his father died and his elder brothers died or emigrated. Hebden was undoubtably fractious in the early 1860s and it had not been happy place for the Walkers. Robert has left me wanting to find out more, especially in relation to the last decade of his life. Perhaps this blog is just the start of reinstating Robert back into his rightful place in our family history.

Robert Walker’s death certificate in the County of Middlesex, 1873

I could not have written this blog without the wealth of wonderful resources at https://hebdenhistory.uk/ invaluable to those of with ancestors from the village. Thanks to must go to https://curiousdescendants.co.uk/ who provide endless encouragement and guidance to “storify” these bios. Finally I must beg forgiveness of Rogue Robert, our one ancestor who moved out of Yorkshire and whom I underestimated for so long.