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 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.

What the 1921 census told me that I didn’t know

I’ve been cautious about the 1921 census. £3.50 for each page. Half the price of a GRO certificate, double that of a will. And unlike both of those I know that it will be available within a standard subscription at some point in the future. (I am still considering taking out a premium subscription for findmypast – had they made this clear a couple of years ago I was ready to transfer my allegiance from ancestry, but since then I’ve invested even more in building my family tree on that platform, so it’ll be even more of an effort to transfer over).

I also had to manage my own expectations about what I would find. It wasn’t a helpful year for our family. Grandpy was a few months old, but none of my other grandparents had been born. Grandad arrived just five days later and Grandma the following month. Nana’s parents were not yet even married. All my great grandparents were around, but I knew where they were. Four of my great great grandparents would be missing, being four of the least well researched. I am grateful that the general strike which postponed this census did not affect the possibility of seeing the last of my great, great, great grandparents in the census as Martha (Handley) Clapham died on 29 March 1921. In other words, this census, unlike previous censuses, only really covered three generations about whom I already knew quite a lot.

I narrowed my purchases down to just the ten relating to direct ancestors alive at the time. One grandparent, eight great grandparents and twelve great great grandparents. Twenty one in total which is kind of apt.

Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

Grandpy (Richard Walker Barrett) was always going to be the first person I searched for. And yes, it was super cute to see him recorded for posterity aged just three months. It also allowed me to tick off his parents Mary (Wellock) and George Thomas Barrett. But I already knew they had lived at Scalebar Farm in Gargrave when Grandpy was born and it wasn’t either Toft Gate, Greenhow Hill nor Upper West End Farm, Stainburn the two farms with which this family is most closely associated. I didn’t know that Uncle Henry had been born at Greenhow Hill which gives me a possible date for when they might have taken on the tenancy of Scalebar, but the rest of the data on this page is all well documented elsewhere.

Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

1921 census from findmypast including Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

Possibly the least interesting was that relating to my Wellock great great grandparents. I could have filled in this entire form myself.

Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

Whilst there was nothing new to be learnt about Grandpy’s Barrett grandparents, Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett, it was lovely to see a reference to William Henry Barrett. William served his country during WW1. It was only a couple of years ago that I learnt of his existence for he died from tuberculosis in 1924 and may have disappeared were it not for census records.

Then there are visitors. Amy, a niece of Henry’s went on to marry her fellow visitor, Henry M Chambers, thirty-four years her senior, but not until 1930, by which time, Henry was 74 and Amy had been his domestic help for at least twenty years. Amy suddenly made it onto my list of sibling & cousin stories to explore.

Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest Moody

1921 census from findmypast including Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest William Moody.

Unlike our other grandparents, Nana wasn’t even a twinkle in 1921. Her parents weren’t even to marry for another four years.

The Moody family (Nana’s maternal side) was the second census I looked for, mainly to check out the lodger. There’s a family rumour that the youngest son, George, may not have been Ernest’s and whilst I have a different interpretation it was rather satisfying to find the same Tom Atkinson, who was with the family in 1911, still living with the family on Lodge Terrace. George was born in between the two censuses so if a lodger was the father, then this was certainly he.

Edith Moody at work. Colourised using myheritage. Own collection.

More excitingly still (and that which I consider to be “the” finding of the 1921 census) was the listing of Aunty Edie’s occupation and workplace as blanket weaver for Clayton Brothers, Coxley, Netherton. Finally, I was able to put some context to the photo I had inherited. These were factory girls.

Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

1921 census from findmypast including Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

On to Nana’s father’s family, the Booths. Whilst there is very little here which I didn’t know, it was good to have further confirmation of certain details such as Sarah’s birthplace where I had previously considered different options. However, Arthur’s workplace on a nearby farm is new and something worth doing further work around. Scales Farm clearly couldn’t support the whole family. I have an intriguing photo of Arthur as a young man together with a group of men of varying ages. As much as I would love this to be of Arthur, Thomas & other relatives, it is just as likely to relate to his 1921 employer.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman, Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Figure 52: 1921 census from findmypast including Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman

Switching sides to my Dad’s parents.

I perhaps shouldn’t have such low expectations of Grandad’s family given that it is through Grandad that I have found both a proven link to women’s suffrage through Martha Clapham (aka Maria Greevz) and a rather more spurious link to royalty but the 1921 census did nothing to help change my opinion. If only Grandad had been born five days earlier.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman (Grandad’s parents) are to be found at Fairfield Farm with their children. George was the oldest of my great grandparents by some fifteen years, so it is no surprise that both his parents had died more than a decade earlier. Mary Abigail was the next youngest and her parents Mary Ann (Wilkinson) and Samuel Clapham are both to be found farming at North Rigton.

1921 census from findmypast including Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

Grandma was born just over a month after the census was taken. I do rather smile at her mother, the rather smart Hilda Mary, being caught on paper at eight months pregnant – I feel certain she would never have allowed herself to be photographed at this stage. But rather more importantly are the birthplaces of Grandma’s older sisters, Muriel (born in Thirsk, home of Hilda’s parents) & Jessie (born in Birstwith) plus the actual recorded address (Park Head, Norwood). There’s potentially more movement in Hilda & Jesse’s early married years than Grandma either knew or properly recorded.

Maria (Reynard) Scott

Figure 55: 1921 census from findmypast including Maria (Reynard) Scott

Of all my great, great grandparents, Maria (Reynard) & John Scott were the only pair who came close to being upper middle class. Remember this was the generation who were born twenty years into Queen Victoria’s reign, class mattered, and Maria epitomised this age. It is from her I have inherited the classic middle-class Victorian photo album (for which I am very grateful!). Hilda, her daughter, though always smart, was also quoted, by my Grandma, to have “married down”. Here, in 1921, we see Maria in her element. She’s my only female ancestor to head a household in this census, proudly describing herself as “head” and “farmer” and her son as only “farm manager” working for “Mrs Scott.” Her husband, John, had been dead for a year and there was no sense of handing over control here.   

This census also neatly links in the Housemans. Whilst I already know that Maria’s daughter, Laura, married her sister’s husband’s uncle, future generations may not and the 1921 neatly demonstrates a sister who is also an aunt.

Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

I am pretty certain that Grandma inherited her matriarchal tendencies from both her Grandmothers but Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman’s appearance in the 1921 census completely cloaks this.

I end this tour with the most unfairly represented of all my ancestors in the 1921 census. Amelia was rightly recorded as retired and living with her daughter and son-in-law, at Lime Street in Harrogate, where she was to live for the remainder of her life. The census says nothing of the thirty years following her husband’s death during which she continued to run the family farm both alone and in partnership with one or more of her sons. It is also silent of her fight against the 1920 rent increases which ultimately forced her to retire and left her, as a woman, disenfranchised in the 1922 election, the first in which women could vote.  

Are the 1921 censuses worth the money? I can only speak to someone who knew a lot about her twenty-one ancestors who were living at the time.  Two (Maria (Reynard) Scott & Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman) reinforced the impression I have held, that the women in our family have always been matriarchs. Two (Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman and Arthur Booth) will lead me to better map the places my ancestors lived and worked). One (that of Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett containing Amy Barrett) leads me to an intriguing story, albeit of a cousin, and one (that of the Moodys) was pure gold – helping both confirm the lodger of family legend and explain an intriguing photo.  

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers who runs the Curious Descendants for setting twenty-one as today’s challenge.

The naming of our grandparents

My siblings & I have never quite agreed how to spell Grandpy (my mum’s dad). Is it Grandpy, Grampy or Granpy?

It seems, from recent consumer research into the names we Brits call our grandparents, that Grampy is now the more popular. Whilst I may have to concede Grampy is, in fact, a legitimate spelling, he’ll always remain Grandpy to me! Reading the research further I discovered that Grampy is particularly popular in Wales and the South West and my curiosity was piqued for Grandpy’s own great grandparents, Elizabeth Prout and Thomas Barrett, were born in Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire, respectively. Could the name have echoes of distant ancestors? And what other grandparent names have we used in our family?

My sister Anna’s christening in 1979 taken in the garden at Hill Top Cottage, Lindley. From right to left, back row: Grandpy & Grandad, middle row: Mum, Grandma & Nana, front row: me, Helen & Anna. Own collection.

I was the first grandchild on both sides, so Mum was able to decide what our grandparents would be called. She had a Nan & a Grandma herself so decided on Nana instead for her mum. Grandpy was not, sadly, a historic echo but rather chosen simply as a name which was different and more fun. (As an aside Nana’s sister, Hilda, became Gam, which I also love). Mum’s relationship with her in-laws was undoubtably more formal and she avoided calling her in-laws by any name until I was born when she could refer to them as Grandma and Grandad. My nieces and nephews know Mum as Gran (as Nana will always be Nana, and Nan felt far too old), Dad as Grandad Bob and Mum’s husband as Papa Joe (of Charlie and the Chocolate factory fame).

An extract from Mary Wellock’s date book showing use of “Granma Barrett” to describe Jane Brooks. Own collection.

Mum’s grandparents were Nan & Grandad Booth (Marion Moody & Arthur Booth) and Grandma & Grandad Barrett (Mary Wellock & George Thomas Barrett). Grandpy, in turn, called his own Barrett grandparents Granma & Grandad Barrett (Jane Brooks and Henry Barrett), demonstrating conclusively that the name Grandpy did not pass from our Welsh forebears.  

An extract from Grandma’s memoires “The Changing Years” referencing Grannie Houseman and Grandad Michael. Own collection.

Dad only really knew two of his grandparents. According to my uncle, my grandad’s mum (Mary Abigail Clapham) was Grandma and my grandma’s dad (Jesse Houseman) was Grandad. As there were only two grandparents, there was fortunately no need to add a surname. Fortunate as confusingly both would have been Houseman! Grandma always called her own parents Mother & Dad, perhaps reflecting their respective family status which is also seen in how she referred to her own grandparents. Her father’s parents were Grannie Houseman & Grandad Michael (Amelia Bradbury & Michael Houseman) and her maternal grandmother was simply Grandma (Maria Reynard) “a refined lady.” Strangely there is no note in Grandma’s memoires of her maternal grandfather, John Scott. He had died just before Grandma was born so she never knew him, yet her other grandfather, Michael, had died almost thirty years earlier and he was still warrented a mention.

With seven Grandads, a Grandpy and a Papa, four Grandmas, a Gran, a Granma, a Grannie, a Nan and a Nana in our family we seem to mirror the modern research. Whilst 68% of men are known as Grandad the women show more diversity with Nan coming in at 33%, Grandma 32% and Nana 24%. Once again, I am grateful to Mum for choosing a more unusual option as a name!

With much gratitude to my grandparents for all their love and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Infographic presenting the main research findings on what we call our grandparents, from the original press release.