Andy, Jenny & Bob too

A letter from “Aunty” to Andy, Jenny & Bob too – Friday, 26 September

A letter full of love and affection, mushrooms & blackberry jam. There’s a new baby (Jenny), a date, if not a year, and mention of another relative, Andy’s Aunty Hilda, plus there’s an address at the top of the letter. A heady cocktail. Anyone who is even vaguely interested in family history would want to know more about Aunty & Uncle Charlie, Andy, Bob & Baby Jenny and would believe, that with all those names and other details, they should be able to identify the protagonists.

It’s a beautiful letter and one that never fails to make me smile when I read it, for I am Baby Jenny.

Which is fortunate as if I hadn’t known Baby Jenny was me, I would have found it almost impossible to work out who was who. It would have been relatively easy to use the address to work out that “Aunty & Uncle Charlie” were Edith “Edie” (Moody) & Charles Hardy for they lived at Elmwood Grove for many years. But “Aunty” stands for Great Aunt, and “Aunty Hilda” is in fact the Edie’s niece. Then there are the trio to whom the letter is addressed. “Andy” is Elizabeth Ann, known both as Ann & Liz, I have been known as Natasha, rather than Jenny, since I was six months old and “Bob” (my Dad) was born George Christopher. Collectively, my Mum, Dad & I, have adopted names designed for maximum confusion if you are researching at a distance.

So I’ve scribbled relevant names (in pencil) on the letter and written this brief blog to preserve a message of love between generations for the next.  

And yes, there may be a brief cultural reference in the phrasing of the title. Any guesses?

21st birthday pearls

Aunty Christine’s 21st birthday pearls. Own photo.

Mum specifically warned Dad (Bob) against buying pearls for her 21st. It was the 1970s. Being a talented dressmaker she could make her own fashionable clothes and pearls, well, they didn’t excite a modern young woman. The Housemans were far more traditional in their taste and more general approach to life. Early intervention was warranted.

When Bob handed her a smart red leather case her thoughts would have run first to silver, possibly even to gold. Until she lifted the lid. I feel certain that there was a necessary re-arrangement of her face as she hoped to look grateful for something she specifically did not want. Bob on the other hand would have been struggling to disguise a smirk as would his sister, Christine.

I wonder how long he made Mum struggle before revealing that these pearls belonged to his sister, her own 21st birthday present, and from which she had only willing parted from for the duration of the joke? It was worth it. The joke has lasted for fifty years. I don’t actually know what the real present was!

Aunty Christine at her own 21st in 1968 proudly wearing her new pearls. Own collection.

Ann or Liz?

Stainburn School featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 30 November 1959. Own collection.

Some people know Mum as Ann, others as Liz. Mum’s quite happy to be called either; the only time she grumbles is when someone spells Ann with an “e.” The story as to why almost perfectly captures Mum’s early life. 

The young Ann Barrett was a shy girl brought up by parents who were always deferential to those in authority. Fortunately, the local primary school in Stainburn was tiny, just seven pupils and one of those was Ann’s big brother, Richard, who could look out for his little sister. Faced with a diverse selection of ages and abilities Miss Littlewood used nature walks and local history projects to engage the children and ensure they all developed the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Ann thrived.

In the last year of primary school came the eleven plus exams to sort the children between the rather imposing and ancient Prince Henry’s Grammar and Otley Secondary Modern, built to contain teenagers who were felt unlikely to pass GCEs. Richard had cheerfully headed off to the latter where he quickly established friendships which were to outlive him. However, young Ann was bright and Miss Littlewood’s teaching effective. Suddenly she was faced with prospect of a new school without her big brother there to protect her.

Having transitioned from a school with twenty-six pupils to a school with sixteen hundred I have some sense of how intimidated my Mum must have felt. And, although Harrogate Grammar was a comprehensive by that time, it had retained the buildings and traditions from an earlier age. I knew just one person in my year, and she had been placed in a different class. I, too, was on my own. It was daunting.

Had Ann ever seen that many people in one place before? The noise must have been deafening to the quiet child brought up on a remote farm in the countryside. Having finally found the right classroom Ann was ready for her first ever class register. The form teacher called out for Elizabeth Barrett and Ann may have looked around at first to see who else had the same surname until it dawned on her that the teacher was referring to her. For our Ann’s first name was Elizabeth. And that was the start. Too shy to correct the teacher it was by Elizabeth that she was known as by her fellow students.

Deference to teachers was to prove a positive force In Mum’s life when, a few years later, another teacher asked: “Which A-levels are you taking?” and then a couple of years after that “What universities are you applying to?” For Ann or indeed Liz had not thought of A-levels and certainly would never have considered studying for a degree in Mathematics at the University of Manchester.

After university Mum started work at Midland Bank in Otley and of course many of her customers and colleagues knew her as Liz, so Liz stuck. Yet family and friends from home continued to call her Ann. It’s such a strong divide that it’s easy to know when and where Mum met certain of her friends from the name she is called.

Something of that dual nature was gifted to me. Named Jenny Natasha and called Jenny for the first six months of my life, I still get confused when the doctor calls for Jenny Clayton. But I am not the shy eleven-year-old country girl facing her stern schoolteacher in the grown-up school….

Postscript: after sharing this blog with Mum I discovered the only reason she was called Ann in the first place was because big brother Richard, who was just two when his sister was born, struggled to pronounce Elizabeth. Faced with the prospect of a third name “Lilibert,” Nana & Grandpy wisely chose Ann instead!

My first long cloth

I can’t say I knew my Grandad as a person. I was thirteen when he died, after several years of debilitating illness and my memories are built around the sick room bed in the front room. Even now what I have learnt is very much filtered through my Grandma’s and I am only just beginning to understand how much that may have distorted what I think I know.

Which is why this photo is special, for written on the back are the words “my first long cloth.” Dapper, I think, the three-piece suit of dark cloth fits well. George has his hands in his pockets, shoes you can see a reflection in and a flower on his lapel. Even his hair shines in the light.

The contrast with the earlier photo on the left couldn’t be starker. Here George wears an ill-fitting dark grey jack, navy shorts, chocolate-coloured socks and are they clogs on his feet? It’s no wonder the “do I have to” glaze and semi clench fists of the boy have been transformed into the confident, nonchalant stance of the youth.  

They must be from a wedding, but who’s?

The photo on the right provides a clue for George has written on the back “new for Mary’s wedding 19/12/37.” (Here’s a man who liked his style, although not his dates as sister Mary married in 1936).

George was born in 1921 and his brother William married in 1935, his brother Thomas in 1938. His sister Hilda married in 1939, by which point the youth was almost a man. William’s it must be and the 28 November 1935 the date where George put on his first smart trousers.  

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers and the Curious Descendents Club for sending us prompts for #NaNoWriMo.

The marriage of Hilda Houseman and Arthur Fawcett. George is stood on the right, his sister Annie the bridesmaind next to him. Colourised with myheritage. Own collection.

Jesse Houseman “With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley”

Article about the recording of “With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley.” Jesse Houseman is standing in the top right. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 11 August 1955. Downloaded from the British Newspaper Archives.

Grandma’s memoirs contain only the briefest of entries about her Dad, Jesse Houseman’s, radio appearance in 1955.

By this time Dad had lived on his own for a year. I used to bake him a pie. Muriel, Jessie also took him something and did his washing. He was on a programme with Wilfred Pickles”.

So brief in fact that I paid it no attention. Until, in a newspaper archives search for “Jesse Houseman” and “cricket” I stumbled across a little gem. Nothing to do with cricket. Instead, it’s a photo of Jesse, talking to Wilfred Pickles prior to the recording of a show about the Washburn Valley.

As an aside, Wilfred Pickles, an actor, radio presenter and proud Yorkshire man, was the very first BBC broadcaster to speak in an accent other than received pronunciation in 1941. Developed as a strategy to prevent Germany from so easily imitating our newscasters, the cheery “Good Neet” with which Wilfred ended his midnight news broadcasts endured him to many northern listeners.

There must have been great excitement in “the most beautiful valley I have ever seen” (Wilfred Pickle’s words) and it is a measure of the esteem in which Jesse was held that he was one of the nine people chosen to participate in “Children’s Hour: With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley” broadcast on BBC Home Service North at 5pm, Saturday, 22 August 1955.

Appearing with Jesse were Richard Grange, Brenda Dibb, Alfred Pope, Alan Bailey, Alf Evans, Mrs Armitage, Will Dolphin & Walter Flesher. It would have been wonderful to hear my great grandfather’s voice but sadly I’ve not yet been able to track down a recording of the programme. One day, perhaps, this briefest of blogs might attract the attention of someone researching a dusty old box of home recorded radio. It would be an amazing resource for the Washburn Heritage Centre too. For now, I’m just delighted to have found a little more context to Grandma’s memoirs.

Radio Times issue 1657, listing programme, from bbc programme index

A ruby wedding

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. From left to right, back row – Nana, Helen, Grandpy, Mum, me – front row – Sharon, Anna, David. June 1988. In the garden of Upper West End Farm, Stainburn. Own collection.

We are simultaneously both a large family and a small one. With four siblings and five nieces and nephews, a family gathering is rarely smaller than fifteen and normally much larger. Yet we have but one cousin, who is more than a decade younger than I. For many years my siblings & I were the only grandchildren. My grandparents were grandparents, not quasi parents, but I think this goes a long way to explaining why we were close.

On my Mum’s side this was even more apparent. Mum had just one brother, Richard, and after he died in his early twenties, Mum became a de-facto only child.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. From the left: Aunty Hilda, Grandpy, Nana, Anna, Hugh & Edna Ryder. Opposite Nana is Helen, to her right are Dennis & Dot Beecroft and to her left Uncle Henry & Aunty Marian. June 1988. At the Smiths Arms, Beckwithshaw. Own collection.

That’s why when Nana & Grandpy celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary we were centre of the action. Anna is sat next to Nana, Helen just opposite them both. Mum appears to be the youngest adult as we sit surrounded by Nana & Grandpy’s oldest friends. There’s Aunty Hilda (my Nana’s sister), Uncle Henry & Aunty Marian (my Grandpy’s brother & his wife), Dot & Dennis Beecroft (who hosted my Mum so she could get married at Leathley church), Edna & Hugh Ryder (grandparents of one of my oldest friends) and Rosemary Briggs (nee Booth) (Nana’s cousin and bridesmaid). Lunch was at the Smiths Arms in Beckwithshaw. Soup appears to have been on the menu & no doubt a roast. There was cake at home afterwards, not in the cold, rarely used, best room, but in the warm, homely, everyday room.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. Cutting the cake back at home, Upper West End Farm, Stainburn. June 1988. Own collection.

In the end it is not Nana & Grandpy’s faces I see in these photos, but a forty year relationship, a close-knit group of friends and a deep and abiding love for my mother, my siblings & I. With gratitude to my Nana & Grandpy for being such wonderful grandparents and to Natalie Pithers for her mini-challenge “paper – ruby – wood” which prompted this blog.

Nana & Grandpy’s ruby wedding. With Rosemary Briggs (nee Booth), Nana’s bridesmaid & cousin. In the carpark of the Smiths Arms. June 1988. Own collection.

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.

What a birthday date book taught me about WW1

Mary (Pollie) Wellock. Own collection.

I grew up thinking our family had escaped largely unscathed through both WW1 and WW2. Farming was a reserved occupation and none of our ancestors had fought in either of these two horrific wars. Slowly but surely my thinking has changed. First there was my great, great Uncle, William Henry Barrett who fought in WW1 and died of tuberculosis six years after the war ended, possibly a disease caught whilst serving. Then there were two cousins, Harry Clough & Frank White, relatives of my great grandmother, Hilda Mary Scott, both killed in battle. These are the ones I have so far written a story about, but there are others too, cousins & half cousins that I have come across in my research.

Still, it felt like these were isolated incidents. We are farmers & miners. We weren’t required to fight. That was until I started to transcribe my great grandmother (Mary Wellock)’s birthday date book a couple of weeks ago. Mary or Pollie as she liked to be known was my Grandpy’s mother, born in 1886. One of eleven children in a close family I was quickly able to identify the majority of the entries. Pollie had had eight brothers but by 1914, three were likely too old to serve, two had emigrated to Canada and two had died as children, so it was probably easy enough to protect Benjamin who, as he had no children, might just have come under pressure to volunteer, or even been conscripted had he not been a farmer.

I moved on to identifying Pollie’s friends and it was then I realised that one memorial in the remote Yorkshire village of Greenhow Hill, which Pollie called home, was the unlock for many of the people she had recorded as friends. Take a moment to study the names in this photo. (I make no apologies for this being the second time I have shared it on this blog).

Memorial plaque, Greenhow Hill

Busfield, Newbould, Swales, Barrett, King & Moor all appear in Mary’s date book. The Whitehead family connects very closely to the Busfields. Mary was close enough to the Swales family to list the birthdays of three siblings Edith Ellen, Ethel & James. James fought and came back, their two brothers Herbert & Leonard were not so lucky, both dying in 1916. Over half the names listed on Greenhow Hill’s memorial can be easily and closely connected to Pollie’s friends identified through this one date book.

James Swales’ birthday as recorded in Pollie Wellock’s birthday date book. His sisters Edith Ellen & Ethel also appear. James fought in WW1 together with his brothers Herbert & Leonard who both died in 1916. Own photo.

Was there a sweetheart amongst the fallen? I tend to think not as Pollie was already 28 and unmarried when war started. If it was a local boy she loved she would have been wed by then. Instead, I’d like to speculate that William Henry’s connection to Greenhow Hill was how she came to meet his brother, George Thomas and that their shared experience of friends & brothers at war led them to connect.

This was a remote farming village where many households worked in protected occupations. No matter how insulated we thought our ancestors were from the war they were not.

With much gratitude to Mary (Pollie) Wellock, who had such a fascinating birthday date book, to her daughter-in-law, Mary Booth, my Nana, who kept it safe for me and above all to those who fought and those who remembered them.

There’s a later blog exploring the rest of the birthday book here

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.