George Houseman in his first long suit, own collection

1921 was the start of our family, the year three of our grandparents were born. George Houseman, aka Grandad, was the second of the four to arrive.

Grandad is the one of the four I knew the least – he died when I was twelve and was ill for a several years before then. This is an amazing opportunity for me to find out more about the man he was and tell his tale. It is still, though, my version of his story.

Naming conventions

In this blog George is George until 1975 when his first grandchild (me) was born at which point he becomes Grandad. Mary, his wife, becomes Grandma at the same time.

Birth & childhood

George Houseman was born on 24 June 1921 at Fairfield Farm, Darley. He was the youngest child of Mary Abigail (nee Clapham) & George Houseman following on from Mary (b. 13 June 1907), Thomas (b. 3 August 1908), William (b. 21 October 1910), Hilda (b. 9 February 1915) and Annie (b. 10 December 1918)

George, with his parents and sister Annie, own collection

George senior was already 52 when his son was born. He was a respected member of the community, a rural district councillor and a leader of the Birkhill Methodist Church. I am sure the young George loved and respected his older father, but there would likely have been a lot of formality in the relationship. I like to think his mother, Mary Abigail, fourteen years younger than George senior, might have been the one to cosset the baby of the family.

Darley was a small, interlinked community of c. 500 or so people at the time of George’s birth. There are 70 people listed in the Kelly’s 1893 directory as trading in Darley and to date I can link at least one in five into my family tree through blood or marriage, mostly, but not entirely, through George. (I have an ambition to connect quite a few more). This type of community clearly suited George. Whilst he would have had little choice about attending Darley School and Birkhill Road Sunday School, the Darley Silver Band, Darley Cricket Club (where he was to play for thirty five years) and the lifelong support of Darley village life attested to a love & connection to this beautiful Yorkshire village.

George, with his mother, ready for school, own collection

With two older brothers George would have known he was expected to make his own way. So when George senior died on 25 January 1937, it is perhaps no surprise that his will was split as follows: “after her death to transfer to the said Thomas Houseman one half part or share of my Farming stock and effects for his own absolute use and benefit and in their own absolute and uncontrolled discretion to realise the remainder of my said property and effects and pay two-seventh part or share to the said Thomas Houseman another two-seventh part or share to the said Mary Houseman and divide the remainder between my Daughters Hilda Houseman, Annie Houseman and my son George Houseman.” The will went onto explain that William had already received his share.

The wonderful currency convertor at the national archives tells me the estate was worth about £200,000 – for an established tenant hill farmer that sounds about right. Translating, Thomas, the eldest brother, essentially received the bulk of the inheritance (protecting the family farming business) and young George the equivalent of perhaps £10 – £15,000 or so. Although given Mary Abigail survived her husband by a further 33 years, George may not have received even this amount for some considerable time.

Instead, the sixteen-year-old continued to live with his mother and older brother at Fairfield Farm. Thomas, thirteen years his senior, adopting much of the role a father might have provided.

Courting & marriage

It was in September 1938, at Nidderdale show, an important date in the local social calendar, that George first really “spoke” to Mary. The pair must have known of each other – George’s brother Thomas was “a bit friendly for a short time” with Mary’s older sister, Muriel, but this was something different. Young George had driven his mother to the show. She was tired and wanted to go home and asked her son-in-law, Jim Marshall, to call George. His reply came quick “If you want our George to come home when he is talking to yon lass, ya mun go an tell im ya self.” George quickly became a regular visitor to Prospect Farm, Mary’s home.

War proved little deterrent. George was given indefinite deferment of calling up by way of farming being a reserved occupation although he did join the home guard. Vehicles were only allowed to be used for business purposes. This was easily solved – a little black calf likely almost knew its own way between Fairfield & Prospect as it was carried to be “sold” and returned “unsold” whenever George wanted to meet Mary. The pair would visit relations, attend whist drives and dance to raise money for the soldier’s comfort funds.

George & Mary had got engaged shortly after they both turned twenty-one, but without a farm tenancy to take on, marriage had to wait. George & his brother Thomas had looked at several options but none proved to be suitable.

Wedding of Annie Houseman and Sam Sykes, 1944. George is stood on the right, his brother, Thomas (acting in place of the father of the bride) beside him and his mother, Mary Abigail, sitting in front, own collection

Then in 1944, Annie became the last of George’s siblings to marry leaving just George & his mother at Fairfield Farm. Thomas & his wife Lily had been living at Heck Gill, a smallholding adjoining the main family farm. The family agreed to do a switch with Thomas, Lily and their growing family moving back to Fairfield leaving Heck Gill free for George and his new wife.

On 12 May 1945, George & Mary were married at Norwood Bottom Chapel followed by a honeymoon in Blackpool.

A move to Prospect Farm

Prospect Farm, own collection

George & Mary moved into Heck Gill, but this wasn’t to last long. Later that summer George and his brother Thomas got talking to Mary’s father, Jesse, at the auction mart in Otley. Jesse was getting older and had no sons to take over the farm. Would George consider moving to Prospect Farm? It was an opportunity not to be missed and George was soon living with his in-laws.

George’s national identity card, showing the moves, in quick succession, from Fairfield Farm to Heck Gill and then onto Prospect Farm

The farm was typical for it’s time in this region. There were cows, sheep, horses and hens. George worked hard and investing in improving the business. First came water troughs in the cow sheds, then a milking machine in the parlour. By 1947, George’s name was on the tenancy and in 1948 a car was acquired, followed by a Fordson tractor in 1949. It was in 1949 that Mary’s parents moved from Prospect Farm to the Bungalow on Lindley Bridge. The land was ploughed and reseeded improving the amount of hay that could be harvested and George worked to improve the stock, almost, but not quite, acquiring pedigree herd status. This was to be the story of Prospect Farm for as long as it has been in my family.


George & Mary’s first child, George Christopher, was born on 25 February 1946. Joy was swiftly turned to sadness when George Christopher died just two days later.  Fortunately, the doctor’s advised that the couple’s grief would be helped by having another baby and four further children followed: Christine Mary (b. 13 June 1947), George Christopher (my father) (b. 21 August 1950), John Nicholas (b. 22 November 1951) and Alec Richard (b. 13 March 1955).

George, Mary and their children c. 1960ish, own collection

Injuries and accident

Country life continued – with the whole family actively involved in the community and the farm. Major Horton-Fawkes set up Farnley Estate Young Farmer’s Club in 1956 and George became one of the club’s founders, an advisor and supporter for many years.

George Houseman with Darley Cricket Club. George is third from the left on the back row. Own collection.

However, country life is not without its dangers. I am not sure whether George was more accident prone than most or just that these were the stories Mary liked to record. Here’s a small selection:

George liked to go and play cricket on a Saturday, he joined Farnley Estate club just after the war. Then changed to Darley because they were in a league and it was a bit more competitive and he knew all the lads over there very well but he had a few injuries he had to bear including a broken thumb, broken finger and broken ankle. He also had a bad fall at home and broke his thighbone. He was in hospital quite a long time because fluid set in and it had to be drawn off before they could set it. A few years later he broke an ankle out on the moor among the sheep. He also got his big toe end taken off under a silage chopper. And he hurt his back dipping sheep and was laid on traction in hospital about six weeks then had to learn to walk again. I think that it was October [1953] when he broke his thigh”.

The middle years

The years 1968 to 1970 must also have been tough for George as he lost his two older brothers and mother over a short period. On the other hand, his own children were growing and the farm was thriving, helped, no doubt by having four “workers” (those same children) on site. George started thinking about how to provide for those children’s futures. He had previously purchased Hill Top Cottage, just at the bottom of the lane from Prospect Farm which proved to be convenient when Christopher became the first child to marry in 1973. Convenient in that Christopher had to start hay making the day after a very short honeymoon! Then in August 1975, I arrived on the scene and George & Mary morphed into Grandad & Grandma, with four more grandchildren, my siblings, to follow in quick succession. In 1980 the family acquired another tenancy at Blubberhouses which, after much hard work, was to become home to Nicholas when he in turn got married.

Declining health

George Houseman with his then five grandchildren replaying our Sunday School prizegiving, December 1986 – own collection.

Sadly my memories of Grandad are mainly of a sick man walking with a frame or confined to bed. Grandad was busy walling in June 1983 when he started to feel dizzy. A flurry of tests at Leeds Infirmary followed until the doctors confirmed that he had Cerebellar Ataxia, a rare condition in adults, and there would be nothing they could do. Grandad slowly lost his balance and co-ordination, his speech slurred and he and grew weaker and weaker with frequent infections leading to stays in hospital. The early death of his son, my Dad, in 1984 would surely not have helped. Finally, on 21 December 1987, George died, aged just 66.

His funeral was held at Norwood Bottom Chapel on a cold, miserable, Christmas Eve and was buried at Farnley Church. My final “true” memory is of when the coffin dropped as one of the ropes broke as they were laying him to rest.

Writing and researching this story has been a way to create new memories – of the teenager who courted my Grandma, the farmer who sought constantly to develop his land and business, the father who cared for his children, the coronet player and cricketer, in other words of the real George Houseman, may he rest in peace.

George Houseman, obituary. Newspaper unknown. Own collection.


Is Grandma related to Grandad? – the story of how two of my Grandparents are related.

Two and a half days – the story of Grandad & Grandma’s first born child.

Darley Silver Band – a Houseman musical tradition – featuring Grandad in his band uniform.

Two families, one community – a 1950s gathering of all four grandparents

The naming of our grandparents

Cricket – a Houseman obsession – featuring Grandad in action

My first long cloth – the story of the photo from the top of this page


Grandad’s parents (my great grandparents)

Mary Abigail Clapham (1882 – 1970) & George Houseman (1868 – 1937)

Head to the Darley Silver Band blog – as George senior and his brother feature here too.

George Houseman’s obituary on the Primitive Methodist’s site – a transcript of a beautiful obituary with added photos.

Grandad’s grandparents (my great great grandparents)

Mary Ann Wilkinson (1850 – 1930) & Samuel Clapham (1854 – 1939)

Mary Downs (1836 – 1906) & Thomas Houseman (1834 – 1908)

Grandad’s great grandparents (my great great great grandparents)

Jane Howson (1827 – 1883) & Isaac Wilkinson (1826 – 1905)

Jane Howson & Isaac Wilkinson – a short biography

Frances Morrell & Thomas Robinson – a short biography of Jane’s maternal grandparents. End of the line.

Martha Handley (1830 – 1921) & William Clapham (1829 – 1893)

Martha Handley & William Clapham – a short biography

Martha & William’s daughter, Maria, was a suffragette.

Elizabeth Furniss (1817 – 1911) & George Downs (1808 – 1868)

Elizabeth Furniss & George Downs – a short biography

Sarah Stansfield (1804 – 1885) & John Houseman (1805 – 1884)

Sarah Stansfield & John Houseman – a short biography

Margaret Grange (1728 – 1816) & George Houseman (1727 – 1815) – a founding family – the story of Grandma & Grandad’s shared ancestors and grandparents of Robert Houseman

The document of a crime that could have been by our ancestor George Houseman (born 1689, my 6x great grandfather, father to George Houseman (1727 – 1815))

It is just possible that through Grandad & Sarah Stansfield, we “could” be related to royalty.