A spice loaf & a wig

Photo of a Yorkshire spice loaf from Traditional Yorkshire recipes

For the first 23 years of her life, Mary Ann (my great, great, great grandmother) was the daughter of Richard Gill, tailor. In 1859 she married and became Mrs William Reynard, the blacksmith’s wife. These are typical of the identities ascribed to our ancestor mothers. We track the women through their fathers, their husbands and their children and then we pass by. What makes this story different was one short reference to a spice loaf, baked regularly by Mary Ann in her kitchen, a glimpse of a woman behind the men.

Mary Ann was born between 7 June & 13 July 1836, the sixth of Maria (nee Spence) and Richard Gill’s eleven children. We can assume she was baptised at Fewston church, like her siblings, although there is no record of this. Instead, her date of birth is derived from her age on later records.

The Gill family lived at Bland Hill in the village of Norwood close to the beautiful river Washburn in Yorkshire. It’s where I went to primary school, regularly passing R Gill & Sons, Joiners, without any inkling of our potential relationship.  

Richard was a tailor, likely sourcing linen, worsted or cotton from one of several mills sited along the river Washburn. The Gills were relatively prosperous. There was work enough for at least three of the sons to join the family business and a small farm to retire to. Richard was perhaps also a man very much aware of his social status even beyond death. Richard died in 1883 aged 76. His grave in Fewston churchyard is marked with a large granite obelisk instead of a simple slab of york stone like most of the others.  Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, when his grave was excavated in 2009/2010 as part of the building of the Washburn heritage centre, Richard was found to have been buried in his socks and wig, surely the sign of a man with pride.

The Reynard family lived on a farm in the nearby village of Hampsthwaite. William (born in 1833) was three years older than Mary Ann and it is quite possible they knew each other from an early age. As the second of three sons, William had little chance of inheriting the family farm and so, by the age of 18, he was working as farm servant at a large farm in Allerton. At some point over the next few years, he trained to be a blacksmith and moved to Osmotherly, over 40 miles away.  

Whether Mary Ann & William had stayed in touch over that period, or whether William bumped into a newly grown up Mary Ann on a trip back to see his family, it was at this point that the 27-year-old William felt sufficiently secure in his station to approach Richard Gill for Mary Ann’s hand. They married in Otley on 13 July 1859.

Children quickly followed. Sarah Ellen (1860), Maria, my great, great, grandmother (1861), and Annie (1865). Then a move to the village of Topcliffe, perhaps to take over a more prosperous blacksmiths business. Mary was born in 1867, Hannah in 1871, John William in 1873 and finally George Gill in 1879. They were a close family – I’ve inherited a great deal of warm correspondence between the children in later years although, sadly, none with or about their mother, Mary Ann. Maria’s family album contains many pictures of the family.

A daughter, a wife and a mother. Then I chanced upon “Topcliffe. A history by Mary Decima Watson” written in 1970 and here was my glimpse into Mary Ann herself.

It was a custom at the turn of the century for the tradesmen of the town to send out their accounts once per year. The joiners, the sadlers, the shoemakers and the village blacksmith. The farmers sold their livestock for the year, and would then settle their accounts with the tradesmen. The village blacksmith’s wife had her own special custom, she made a very nice spice loaf, so that when the farmers called to pay their accounts to Mr Reynard, the blacksmith, she would cut a piece of this loaf for the farmers, or anyone paying their accounts to eat while her husband attended to the business side.

An excellent baker, a custom-setter and, I like to think, a thoughtful and generous woman.

Sadly, Mary Ann died of influenza and jaundice on 2 April 1895, aged just 58. Dead, but not forgotten, thanks to that spice loaf.

Mary Ann was mother of Maria Reynard who was mother of Hilda Mary Scott who was mother of my maternal Grandma, Mary Houseman.

With much gratitude to my Mary Ann Gill for her spice loaf, my friend Andrea for the photo of the memorial, the Washburn heritage centre for their work on the graves at Fewston and thanks also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

The Wellocks, Toft Gate and the Great Depression of British Agriculture

The family of Mary & Richard Wellock.
Back row L to R: Thomas, Margaret, Walker, Elizabeth. Middle row L to R: David, Major, Front row L to R: Benjamin, Richard (father), Mary, Mary (mother), Richard

This is a story of a family (the Wellocks), their home (Toft Gate on the edge of Greenhow Hill near Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire) and the impact of a little studied economic era on one family’s lives (The Great Depression of British Agriculture).

Before we journey to Yorkshire & study the economics lets meet the family.

Mary (nee Walker) and Richard Wellock were my great, great grandparents. Here they are in my Mum’s favourite ancestor photo taken c. 1893 surrounded by their nine surviving children. My great grandmother, Mary, is the young girl in the middle of the photo with her hands on the legs of her parents. My great, great grandparents, Mary & Richard, look particularly stern and careworn. Their children, clearly in their best clothing, show no hint of a smile.

To understand this photo and learn more about the family we first need to know more about Toft Gate and the Great Agricultural Depression.

Looking out from Toft Gate, Greenhow

Toft Gate is one of those solid old stone Yorkshire Dales farmhouses that is still farmed to this day. You might visit the barn café on a beautiful spring day and idly ponder how wonderful it might be to live there. Until winter kicks in. At 1,300 feet above sea level, Greenhow Hill is “probably” the highest village in Yorkshire. Winters are cold and long with wind rattling over the moor. Work was hard with a fairly straight choice between farming and lead mining. Rudyard Kipling describes it thus:

“Greenhow Hill stands up ower Pately Brig. I reckon you’ve never heeard tell o’ Green-how Hill, but yon bit o’ bare stuff if there was nobbut a white road windin’ is like ut; strangely like. Moors an’ moors an’ moors, wi’ never a tree for shelter, an’ gray houses wi’ flagstone rooves, and pewits cryin’, an’ a windhover goin’ to and fro just like these kites. And cold! A wind that cuts you like a knife. You could tell Green-how Hill folk by the red-apple colour o’ their cheeks an’ nose tips, and their blue eyes, driven into pin-points by the wind. Miners mostly, burrowin’ for lead i’ th’ hillsides, followin’ the trail of th’ ore vein same as a field-rat”.

Nonetheless, Richard’s father, Thomas (my great, great, great grandfather) appears to have been of hardy stock. He took over the lease of the 150 acre farm in the early 1860s, moving in with his second wife, Isabella (nee Preston) and their children, Richard (b. 1844), Agnes (b. 1847), Benjamin Preston (b. 1852) and David (b. 1853).

By then Greenhow Hill was in economic decline. In part this was area specific. The mines, which had been in operation since Roman times, were now deep below the water table, making them far more expensive than newer large open pit operations abroad. One by one between the 1850s and 1890s the mines closed. Some miners shifted to farming, many moved away.   

The Great Depression of British Agriculture was much more widespread. Generally dated from 1873 to 1896 it impacted farmers across Britain. The great prairies in the US & Canada were being opened up. The rise in steamships made transportation of grain, meat, butter and cheese far cheaper, resulting in significant falls in price back in Britain. By 1894 – 1895, prices had reached their lowest levels in 150 years. The arable farms serving Britain’s largest cities suffered the most but it can’t have been without impact on Toft Gate.

Now we can come back to our Wellock family in the photo.  

Richard Wellock was born on 7 April 1844 at Halton Gill. He married Mary Walker (b. 17 April 1845 at Capon Hall, Malham Moor) on 29 May 1866 at St Michaels Church, Linton in Craven. At the time he was working as a farm servant in Bordley. Halton Gill, Malham Moor, Linton-in-Craven and Bordley may all be within twenty miles of each other but they are long distances to walk. Richard & Mary probably only met because Toft Gate produced insufficient income for father and son forcing Richard to look elsewhere for work.

Eleven children rapidly followed: Thomas (b. 1866), Richard (b. 1867), Elizabeth (b. 1870), Margaret (b. 1872), Walker (b. 1874), Richard (b. 1877), David (b. 1879), Major Preston (b. 1882), Benjamin (b. 1884), Mary, my great grandmother (b. 1886) and Hornby (b. 1888).

The first three children were born in Bewerley, Ripon & Litton. By 1871 the family were back with Thomas & Isabella at Toft Gate but described as “staying for a few weeks.” It is likely that Richard had been a farm worker over this time, striving to find either a long term position or his own farm to lease. Then a period of stability. The family moved into Hole Bottom, and then Blazefield both on Hardcastle Moor just a couple of miles away from Toft Gate. Richard was farming at Toft Gate again with his father.

Thomas died on 28 January 1885 and his estate passed to his wife, Isabella. Probate was described as excluding leaseholds and I am curious as to whether this was deliberate. In my family experience, leases were passed from father to son. Yet this was an age of agricultural depression where landlords were desperate for tenants. Whatever the circumstances, Richard, Mary and their family once again moved back into Toft Gate. At the age of 41 Richard finally held the lease of a farm.

Life wasn’t easy – we can see that from the photo in the clothing and the faces of a couple who weren’t yet 50. This is also, more importantly, a photo of a family in mourning. Hornby, the youngest child, succumbed to scarlatina/ scarlet fever in June 1893. Richard & Mary must have gathered the children together seeking a permanent record in case others, too, were lost.

I prefer, however, to see this photo as reflecting the closeness of a family and the start of a dynasty. Each of the remaining nine children lived long lives, reaching an average age of 74. All nine married and seven have surviving descendants, with a surprising frequency of Hornbys amongst them. The continued agricultural depression encouraged David & Major to emigrate to Canada where they rapidly settled in Saskatchewan. The family remained close, with both letters and people crossing the Atlantic for many years. (You can read more on the relationship between the siblings through Mary’s birthday book & a road trip to Estevan)

Mary (my great grandmother and the youngest child in the original photo) married George Thomas Barrett in 1917. They had two children, Henry Wellock Barrett (b. 1918) & Richard Walker Barrett, my Grandpy, (b. 1921) playing tribute to both of Mary’s parents. And later, in 1927, with Richard’s health failing and Mary (mother) having died, Mary & George moved back to Toft Gate. Richard died in 1931 and the family connection with Toft Gate ended when Mary, George & family moved out in 1934 bringing us to the end of this story.

Mary (nee Wellock) and George Thomas Barrett with their two children Henry Wellock (right) and Richard Walker, my Grandpy (left) likely taken shortly after they left Toft Gate.

With much gratitude to Mary & Richard Wellock who, in grief, brought their family together for this photo, to the Greenhow Hill local history group who’s book “Life on the Hill” added a lot of colour to this blog and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks encouraged me to publish this story.

The Butterworth identity – a namesake clue

Thomas Booth (b. 1870) is my great, great grandparent. He lived in Askwith, a small village near Otley in Yorkshire, farmed sheep, died of “farmers lung” in 1929 and was buried at Weston Church with his wife Sarah. He was father to Arthur Booth, who was father to Mary Booth, my maternal grandmother (known as Nana). This much my Nana shared with me over 30 years ago. Without reviewing any formal documentary evidence, I thought I knew his story. Yet I was missing a single critical piece of his identity which in turn enabled me to unlock the story of his illigitimate mother, Elizabeth Dean.

We are a family of amazing women so when I picked up family history research again, I chose to focus on the women. Thomas’s wife, Sarah Cooper, came with a tantalising snippet of a tale about a mother who married twice, the second time to an older man. Over time I was able to evidence this and came to know better the stories of both Sarah Cooper and her mother Hannah Demain.

I turned back to Thomas. In pursuit of Sarah, I had visited Thomas’s grave, ordered his marriage and death certificates, and studied censuses from his married life. In all of these he was listed as Thomas Booth. Then an odd bit of evidence. The 1871 census listed one Thomas B Booth and this in turn led me to a potential birth certificate. When it arrived plain old Thomas Booth transformed into the far more compelling Thomas Butterworth Booth and the opened up the Butterworth identity.

Back to the women. Thomas’s mother, Elizabeth Dean, was my original brick wall. Documentary evidence was sparse and didn’t add up to a coherent picture. She was illegitimate, so no father on the marriage certificate. She died quite young, and so I had just one census as a married woman. From what I knew she could have been born in 1844, 1845 or 1846 in “Lancaster” but was living in Wilsden in Yorkshire when she married – a domestic servant without obvious roots.

There were no matching Elizabeth Deans born in Lancaster and too many options across the whole of Lancashire & Yorkshire. Finally, I hit on an effective search strategy. In 1851 she was likely still to be living with her mother in Lancashire. Focusing on those without a father’s name listed narrowed it down to two options. “Betcy Dear” with a parent “Bellow” living in Tatham and born in Wray with Botton didn’t seem terribly promising information, but “stepdaughter” did. When I opened up the record to see that the head of the household was one Thomas Butterworth, I knew I’d cracked it and with it the origin of my Thomas Butterworth Booth’s name.

1851 census listing Betcy Dear, Bellow & Thomas Butterworth

I still don’t know exactly when Elizabeth Dean was born but I do know much more of her story and in turn much more about Thomas’s early life.

Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Isabella Dean born in Wray-with-Botton in the city of Lancaster district. A few years later, in 1850, Isabella married Thomas Butterworth, a quarry man and, somewhat less than nine months later, their legitimate daughter, Anne Butterworth, arrived. By 1861 Elizabeth had moved out of the family home and was working as a domestic servant in her aunt’s household. Isabella & Thomas had moved further south to Warley in Yorkshire likely in pursuit of work.  By 1866 Elizabeth, too, had moved to Yorkshire where she met & married Samuel Booth. Elizabeth & Samuel had two children, John, born in 1869 and Thomas Butterworth a year later and shortly thereafter took over the Booth family farm, March Cote, near Bingley. Elizabeth remained close to her sister during this time. Anne’s first child was named after her aunt Elizabeth, and her second, Marian, was born during a visit to Elizabeth in Bingley.

Sadly, being the wife of a small tenant farmer could be a hard one. Elizabeth’s son, John, died in 1876, aged just seven years old. Then Elizabeth herself succumbed to a combination of diabetes and pneumonia on 3 February 1880 aged around 36 years old. Later that same year, whether as a result of grief or the general agricultural depression of the time, Samuel sold his farm livestock and implements.

He’d been peering through the window when the man in the suit arrived. He’d seen his father’s face grow pale as the man talked, watched his body shrink in on itself. Now the boy sat stiffly opposite his father, toes straining to touch the floor, eyes fixed firmly forward. His father started to speak, to tell him something important, but the words just tumbled around in his brain making no sense“. (Author’s supposition).

This was the point that Thomas dropped the Butterworth identity bringing us back to the beginning of this blog.

With much gratitude to my Nana, Mary Booth, to Elizabeth Dean for naming her son Thomas Butterworth Booth and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, this week on namesakes, encouraged me to publish this story (www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/).

Is Grandma related to Grandad?

Or how a family legend turned out to be true.

My Grandma was a Houseman before she married a Houseman”. This used to be my answer to that dreaded icebreaker conversation “share something about yourself that we might not know.”

Once past the weird questions like “do you have webbed feet” the most frequent question was the one that was also the subject of many family musings “were they related before they married?” To which my answer had been, I didn’t think so, but I’d love to know for sure.

My Grandma, Mary Houseman (born in 1921), was a family historian before family history was a thing. She knew three generations worth of ancestors for both her & her husband (George Houseman, also born in 1921) and she could, and frequently did, tell me how I was related to almost everyone within the local area (essentially Washburn, Wharfedale & Nidderdale valleys north and west of Harrogate). In my childhood we documented the family history together on long pieces of wallpaper lining which I am grateful to still own but as far as we knew there were three separate Houseman families in the neighbourhood and I was related, separately, to two of them.

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and a man called Gary Houseman (no apparent relation) contacted my Grandma. Gary was one of those dedicated genealogists who takes the time to map out a single name, in this case, Houseman. Gary & Grandma had a lot of conversations – it was always his research, but I like to think Grandma helped.

This time instead of wallpaper it was a paper bag from “Vera fashions”, carefully cut down one edge and across the bottom to give a wide enough piece of paper. On that piece of paper was the answer to the family question – Mary & George Houseman were indeed related with the same 3 x great grandparents, one Margaret Grange (born c. 1728) & George Houseman (born c. 1727).

Of course, Grandma being Grandma it wasn’t all black & white. There were the additions in red to note grandparents, great grandparents and even great, great grandparents of people I grew up who were closer relations than Mary & George had ever been!

So yes, Grandma was related to Grandad, but a lot less closely than I now know some of my other ancestors to be (and no doubt your own too)…. but that’s another story!

Biographical detail

Margaret Grange (b. c. 1728) and George Houseman (b. c. 1727) had 8 children. Their oldest child, Thomas (b. c. 1760) marred Mary Akers and had 15 children. Their 13th child, Robert (b. c. 1806), married Elizabeth (Betty) Beecroft and had seven children. Their fourth child, Michael (b. 1842) married Amelia Bradbury and had eleven children. Their 9th child, Jesse (b. 1885) married Amelia Bradbury and had three girls, the youngest of whom was my Grandma, Mary Houseman.  

Margaret Grange & George Houseman’s 6th child, John (b. c. 1769) married Mary Steel and they had five children. Their youngest child, John (b. c. 1832), married Sarah Stansfield and had four children. Their second child, Thomas (b. c. 1834) married Mary Downs and they had five children. George (b. 1868) was their second child. He married Mary Abigail Clapham and they had six children, the youngest of whom was my Grandad, George.

With much gratitude to my Grandma, Mary Houseman, to Mary Grange & George Houseman born in the 1720s, to Gary Houseman and also to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks encouraged me to publish this story.