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

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

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.

Nancy Serjeanston (1839 – 1891)

Rural Yorkshire is anything but silent. The birds arrive first, singing out as dawn approaches, then the cattle join in lowing gently ready to be milked. In winter the wind howls down the moors and if living on a village street there would be the creak of waggon wheels and welcoming words when passing a neighbour. For Nancy, though, there was only silence.

Extract from the 1861 census for Rilston showing the Wellock household including Nancy Serjeanston.

Nancy piqued my interest. I was rounding out the census details for Thomas and Isabella (nee Preston) Wellock by adding in all household members even the supposedly unrelated ones in case there was a connection I had missed. In these parts of Yorkshire, the so-called servants were often nieces, nephews or cousins. I wondered what “kept by subscription” meant?

Then I realised that the Nancy with the illegible name in the 1871 and 1881 Wellock family censuses was the same person and right at the end of the forms was the gold. “Deaf and dumb from birth.”

It appears that Nancy was “adopted” by my 3x great grandparents Thomas and Isabella Wellock and continued to live with the Wellocks for the remainder of her adult life. To begin with she was supported through parish contributions, but I can only presume from later records that she came to be considered part of the family.

I imagined that Nancy’s parents must have died when she was a child, but that was not to prove the case. Nancy (born in 1838) was the first of five girls both to Alice Litton and William Serjeanston of Skeld Gate, an area on the edge of Rylstone. Whilst Alice had died in 1854, William lived into his 80s. The feeling I had that these weren’t good parents was compounded by the 1851 and 1861 censuses. In 1851, eleven-year-old sister Mary was living with her uncle Silvester and in 1861 (by which time Nancy was living with the Wellocks) sister Alice was living with a different Uncle (and went on to marry his son, her cousin), sister Ann had died, and now it was sister Grace was working for Silvester’s son, William. But when faced with nothing but unrelenting rural poverty and a daughter who was deaf and dumb it is not fair to judge.

Nancy was in fact fortunate to be born when she was, for attitudes towards deaf children were changing. The first public school for deaf children had been established in Bermondsey in 1792 and in 1809, the first book of sign language for hearing children “Invited Alphabet: Or, an address of A to B” had been published by RR.

the school “mission” taken from The History of The Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf 1829 – 1979 by Anthony J Boyce sourced from

The Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf, Doncaster, became the sixth such school in existence when it was founded by the Rev. William Carr Fenton 1829. The first headmaster, Charles Baker, was to lead the school for 45 years and became hugely influential in the development of education for deaf children. This included, in 1834, persuading the Earl of Harewood to endeavour to include provision for the education of deaf children in the 1834 “Poor Law Amendment Act.” The Earl was not fully successful but did manage to get a clause included to allow Boards of Guardians to contribute towards the maintenance of the blind and the deaf.

This was Nancy Serjeanston came to be one of Charles Baker’s many pupils for a period including the 1851 census.

The school focused primarily on teaching the children to read and write, supplemented by signing. There was much less effort expending teaching deaf children to speak. Whilst Nancy’s whole world must have opened up at this point in her life the lack of speech would have remained an impediment for many people at that time could not read (including Thomas Wellock at the time of his marriage).

It appears that Nancy was not as successful as other pupils in finding independent employment after school as she was kept by subscription on her return. The only document to list her as having an occupation was the 1881 census where she was noted as being a domestic servant. But what is written about women is never the full story. As part of the Wellock farming household, Nancy would have had to work as hard as the rest of the family.

The 1880s weren’t a happy time for the Wellock family. Benjamin Preston, son of Thomas & Isabella died aged just 32 in a tragic accident in 1883 leaving a widow (Mary) and five children under the age of ten. Benjamin’s widow, Mary, moved to back to Wilsill near her own family and by 1891 Nancy had joined her. This may have been immediately after Benjamin died but I like to think it was after Nancy had nursed the elderly Thomas & Isabella who died in 1885 & 1886 respectively returning the love and support, the couple had given her. Nancy continued to live with Mary until her death from chronic pneumonia on 27 December 1891.

Nancy’s death certificate. Her death was registered by Mary (Bell) Wellock with whom she was living at the time.

Nancy has not been easy to research. Within the censuses her surname is variously recorded as Sergeanston, Serjeanston, Sangeson, Sorgson and Scrpanlton and only in the first, in 1841, is she living with her own family. Without direct descendants of her own, no-one is really looking that hard for her. It is only thanks to her long association with my own ancestors, Isabella & Thomas, who took her into their household, that I found and pulled on the tiny thread “kept by subscription.” Those with physical disabilities often feel invisible and it is a pleasure to write this short blog in the hope that it helps bring Nancy out of silence.

The death of a farmer

It was late one evening in early December when the farmer left his local pub. He’d been there a little while and a pint or two had been consumed. Living next door to his parents, he worked hard to make sure their shared farm was profitable enough to support three generations. He earned the odd evening for himself. Married at the age of 22, he was now in his early thirties and his thoughts turned to his growing family. The four girls were wonderful of course, but a farmer needs a son and heir to run the farm and continue the name. A legacy. The arrival of his fifth child, a boy, earlier that year, made him beam with delight.

The farmer was not to see his son grow up, nor even see him celebrate his first birthday. For the man was to die that very night in a tragic accident just a short distance from home, declared dead the following day.

Those of you who know our family will by now be thinking of my Dad to whom all of the facts in the above tale apply. He’d been with friends in the Sun Inn at Norwood on Sunday, 9 December 1984 and was being driven home by a (completely sober) friend when a man (who had “only” had a pint in each of the four pubs he and his friends had visited that evening) drove straight into their car. Dad was pronounced dead in the early hours of the following morning. My brother, the only boy in a family of five, was just three months old.

Newspaper article describing the inquest of Benjamin Wellock, Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald, Saturday, December 8th 1883. From

I was truly spooked when I read the newspaper article above for it was written one hundred and one years before my father died. This is in fact the story of my great, great, great Uncle, Benjamin Preston Wellock, son of my 3x great grandparents, Isabella (Preston) and Thomas Wellock.

Benjamin headed off to the Miner’s Arms in Greenhow Hill around 3pm on Monday, 3 December 1883. (In my Dad’s case it was Sunday, 9 December 1984) to see the landlord about a calf. As he hadn’t left the pub until around 10pm that evening, I rather assumed he’d had a pint or two as it was a rather longer stay than might have been required to negotiate a livestock purchase.

Ever the hardworking farmer, Benjamin stopped to feed the few cattle housed in their barn at Partridge Garth. He had climbed the ladder into the hayloft when a beam broke beneath him throwing Benjamin nine feet down onto the hard barn floor. Whether his was death was instant or he survived a few hours is not known for his father was not to find him until early the following morning.

Photo of a similar hayloft courtesy of one of my oldest friends, Georgina Beecroft.

The family survived. Mary, his wife, lived to the ripe old age of 84 outliving Annie (who died sometime before 1930), Isabella (who died in 1929) and Agnes (who died in 1890) and Benjamin had at least seventeen grandchildren although not all were to survive infancy. Then there was his son and heir. Just eight months old when his father died, John was to emigrate to Canada, around the same time as his cousins, David & Major. Unlike his cousins, he then crossed the border into Washington state and with him he took his father’s legacy, a son named Benjamin Preston Wellock.

As for us. We didn’t just survive, we thrived and whilst there is no George Christopher Houseman, Dad lives on in all of us.

William Henry Barrett & military service exemptions

William Henry Barrett, 1894 – 1924. Own collection.

It is a family “truth” that, as farmers, we were exempt from military service in both WW1 and WW2. The “truth” of this statement is more complex than it first seems. Whilst none of my direct ancestors fought in either war, several siblings and cousins did including my great, great uncle, William Henry Barrett.

The truth that many farmers didn’t end up on the front line is illustrated through this letter dated 21 May 1946 in relation to George Houseman, my father’s father (Grandad), who had “indefinite deferment of calling up granted to him by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.” The letter was sent to his employer, Jesse Houseman, who also happened to be his father-in-law…….

Letter confirming deferment of military service for George Houseman. Own collection.

Farming was a reserved occupation but only once you had reached the age of 25. On my Mum’s side, my Grandpy was eighteen when war broke out, his brother, Henry, twenty-one so both of age to fight. The story passed down is that my great grandfather (George Thomas) sent one of his sons to work elsewhere to avoid them being drafted. We’d always understood it to be my Uncle Henry (the oldest brother) who worked elsewhere but it’s my Grandpy that I can’t find on the 1939 register. Whoever it was, both Grandpy and his brother joined the Home Front in 1941 and did their part in serving the country. This approach was well supported by the local estate manager as the only person from the local community who was drafted to the front was one who had, apparently, fallen out with his father.

But why was George Thomas so keen to keep his sons from the front? This is where William Henry comes in. William Henry was the third and last child of Jane Brooks & Henry Barrett. He was born on 5 December 1894, seven years after his brother, my great grandfather, George Thomas, and fourteen years after his sister, Mary Elizabeth. In photos he very much looks like the cosseted (perhaps unexpected) baby of the family and most definitely on the puny side.

Jane Brooks, Henry Barrett and their three (oldest to youngest) children Mary Elizabeth, George Thomas and William Henry. Own collection.

When war broke out in 1914 many in the locality volunteered to serve. The records of those serving in the 6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding regiment are helpfully captured in the wonderfully evocative book “Craven’s part in the Great War” which opens with the following: “A humble but sincere expression…of the gallant, heroic and self-sacrificing spirit shown by the sons of Craven in resisting the unscrupulous, malignant and pre-arranged design of Germany and her dupes to crush the British Empire and the civilised countries associated with her.” The authors being “confident that the volume will be treasured as an honoured heirloom in every family who representative has done his share in freeing our beloved Empire from the slavery of German hatred and military aggression.” Sadly, this “honoured heirloom” has failed to make it into my hands.

Pvte W. H. Barrett, 2/6th battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment. Own collection.

William’s service record seems to be one of the many destroyed in the blitz. What we do know is that, by 1915, Private W. H Barrett (regiment number 267160) was serving in the 2/6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington (West Riding) Regiment, later transferring to the Labour Corps (regiment number 420996). In some senses it seems that William may have been lucky, the 2/6th battalion was a home services “second line” unit and did not serve at the front until 1917 by which time William may well have transferred to the Labour Corps. His service seems to be neither distinguished nor undistinguished, just one of the many young men that went to war and came back, seemingly physically unharmed (as evidenced by WW1 pension records).

Memorial plaque, Greenhow Hill

When William’s father, Henry, died in April 1924 his will included a specific bequest of farm stock and implements “in acknowledgement of his service for his country in the late war” presumably setting William up to take over the family farm at Throstle Nest.

Sadly, William only lived a few more weeks. He died on 20 May 1924 of tuberculosis, aged just 29. Unmarried and childless, William is buried with his parents in Pateley Bridge cemetery.

William’s death certificate

Something that will never be known is how many soldiers, given living in unhygienic close quarters, often cold and wet, exhausted from continuous combat and lack of sleep, and not always well fed, were infected with tuberculosis or went from a healed primary infection to an active secondary infection while in military service.

We can’t know whether William caught tuberculosis whilst on active duty and yet his family may have suspected this as being the reason. Perhaps William’s last legacy was to ensure his nephews weren’t put in the same situation when WW2 broke out just a few short years later.

With much gratitude to William Henry Barrett for his service and for his legacy which kept my Grandpy safe from war, to the long long trail for helping me make sense of the regiments and to all those who served. Also, to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.

Read more about WW1 & Greenhow Hill in what a birthday date book taught me about WW1 – the first of two stories from Mary Wellock’s birthday date book