Category Archives: Yorkshire

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

My Living DNA results have proved a bit of a curate’s egg. Good in parts, but leaving me with major question marks in others. 

I’m 100 per cent from Great Britain and Ireland, which correlates with my research so far. I’m also predominantly of Yorkshire ancestry; more precisely South Yorshire which, as defined by Living DNA, roughly comprises the South and West Yorkshire counties. Park that piece of information. 

Given what I know, my next largest component is unsurprisingly Ireland at 9.2 per cent. My research so far shows this is all County Mayo, so my 4th ethnicity component of 6.2 per cent southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland is not a shocker either, with its proximity to Mayo. But that’s where it ends.

My family history research does not match my LivingDNA results in some fairly significant areas. My ancestral origins research doesn’t go back the estimated 10 generations the LivingDNA results capture. But my research shows North East England ancestry,  from the Durham and Northumberland areas: one set of 4x great grandparents were born in those counties (Ann Jackson in Northumberland and Robert Burnett in Durham). The evidence is backed up in several record sources, most crucially a documented, bitter, removal order dispute.

Yet my LivingDNA standard result, the one which links to the test’s best-guess reference population ancestry sources, does not show any ancestry in their designated Northumbria area. This roughly equates to the Northumberland/Tyne and Wear/Durham/Scottish Borders/Fife areas. Neither does Northumbria feature in my complete result, the one where the test attempts to allocate the unassigned 7.7 per cent of my genetic make-up to regions where it look most similar. 

Perhaps Ann and Robert’s parents (my 5x great grandparents, John Jackson/Elizabeth Hayes and Stephen Burnett & his one-handed gypsy mistress Charlotte) all migrated and settled in that area from elsewhere – possibly Scotland. Despite me not yet having any ancestors from north of the border, my standard result has identified percentages from three of the Scottish areas (albeit one of those is the aforementioned Scotland/Northern Ireland region). 

The other conundrum is the absence of any North Yorkshire trace in the standard test, basically the North and East Ridings. The explanation may simply lie in proximity to county boundaries and 1974 boundary changes. I have relatively recent (if you call 18th century recent) ancestry around the Sherburn-in-Elmet, Saxton-in-Elmet, Brayton and Hemingbrough areas. These all fall within what is now North Yorkshire. However, prior to 1974 the first three were in the West Riding. Hemingbrough was in the East Riding, but it is only five miles, as the crow flies, to Brayton. So they could conceivably fall within the LivingDNA South Yorkshire zone. My complete results do pick up a trace 1.2 per cent North Yorkshire ancestry. 

Other surprises? Well the shock for this white rose Yorkshire lass is she has genetic components from the dark side of the Pennines, possibly (whisper it) the red rose county. Though, in the absence so far of any North West roots, I’m claiming that any such ancestors must be from the Cheshire/Merseyside/Staffordshire and not Lancashire parts. We’ll see what further family history research down the line turns up. 

I also have Welsh DNA – 5 per cent in total from North and South Wales. And then there’s the 3.8 per cent Devon and 3 per cent Cornwall. So THAT’s why I’m addicted to Poldark!  And I’ve a remarkable absence of southern-ness.

How does my LivingDNA ethnicity result compare with my Ancestry and Family Tree DNA ones?  Family Tree DNA places me as 97 per cent European, of which 71 per cent is British Isles.My Ancestry test is 100 per cent European. Of this 52 per cent is Great Britain and 44 per cent Ireland. In terms of their Genetic Communities, I fall within two of the nine regions assigned to the UK and Ireland as follows:

  • the Irish North Connacht category (very likely) which ties in neatly with my County Mayo ancestry; and
  • English in Yorkshire and Pennines (very likely) which again fits with my research.


The confusion here is the Genetic Communities of my parents are slightly at odds with me, as shown below.

And mum, given her dad is from County Mayo, may be disappointed with her “likely” Irish North Connacht outcome.At a simplistic level, it’s easy to ask should not all the results be the same? After all, there’s only one genetic me (hurray!) But delving deeper, the difference is not unexpected. The companies have different reference groups, time measures and, possibly, a different emphasis on the ethnicity element of their tests as opposed to the DNA matching side. LivingDNA is much more of a deep dive into 21 British/Irish genetic groupings (80 worldwide ones), rather than the broad-brush overview given by Family Tree DNA and, to a lesser extent, Ancestry’s nine UK/Ireland regions.

Finally, for those DNA experts, my LivingDNA Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has me in Haplogroup U4, Subclade: U4b1b1. U4 is found in low frequencies across much of Europe and Asia, more commonly in populations near the Ural Mountains and Volga River in Siberia. According to LivingDNA U4 is “an old group, which helps to explain the relatively low frequencies in populations today. It is now thought that haplogroup U4 was involved in migrations into Europe from the Middle East that occurred before the end of the last ice age”. 

So, to sum up, my test leaves me with much more work to do to build my tree to try to prove these new elements to my ethnic make-up. But it also gives me some new migration theories to work with.

Sources:

Advertisements

A Short Life Remembered: Death by Dentition

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It is another child discovered as a direct result of the General Register Office (GRO) birth and death index search facilities introduced in 2016. I’ve not found any baptism details for this child. She was born and died in between censuses. Her burial gives no family details. So tracing her relied on civil registration and mother’s maiden name in the new search options. 

What I find most shocking about this child is the cause of death, which is put down to an ordinary, if painful and occasionally distressing, right of passage for babies and toddlers today. 

Ann Jennings was born on 12 February 1869 at Carlinghow Lane, Batley. The daughter of coal miner Herod Jennings and his wife Ann Hallas, she had 10 older siblings. All were still living by the time of Ann’s birth. This was no mean feat in an era of high infant mortality, when the most seemingly trivial illness or incident could extinguish life. Poverty, locality, environment, housing, sanitation, medical care, public health and class all played a part. The 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) illustrates the perilous nature of early years survival. Looking at the under 5 age-group, between 1838-1871 out of every 1,000 girls, 62.7 died. The corresponding figure for boys was 72.6. In the five years 1866-1870 the figures were 63.4 and 73. And looking only at 1870, 64.4 per 1,000 girls under 5 and 75.0 of boys died. 

Ann Jennings was one of the girls in 1870. She died on 15 January 1870 at Spring Mill Yard. Cause of death was dentition. In other words teething. This seemed incredible, that something so innocuous resulted in death.  

Yes, it can be an unpleasant time. I remember my daughter’s intermittent episodes of irritability, sleeplessness, drooling, flushed cheeks and raised temperatures. Calpol and Bonjela became medicine cupboard staples during this period. Teething rings, some special cooling ones, were added to her array of toys. But that’s as far as it went. I never realised it could be a cause of death. So I investigated further – and became more astounded at how common it was.

A bit of background first. As with many childhood development milestones there are no hard and fast dates for the emergence of that first set of baby teeth. It normally starts at around the six to nine months stage, with each of the 20 teeth taking about eight days to emerge. The whole process lasts for around two years.

Back to the Annual Report of the Registrar General. This time I looked at the 33rd report covering the 1870 statistics, the year of Ann’s death. In the West Riding of Yorkshire 232 female deaths and 287 male deaths were attributed to teething. In total 4,183 deaths registered in England had teething as the cause.

In 1783 Frenchman Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes wrote “A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It”. In it he claimed teething “….may often be be found the cause of death of a great number of infants”. The view was still prevalent almost a century later. According to the 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General, looking at 1872 statistics: “Teething is one of the first marked steps in development after birth, and by inducing convulsions and other irritative reflex diseases, it is chargeable with a certain number of deaths”.

The conclusion reached by medical professionals of the time was because the teething coincided process with the ages of high mortality, it was actually responsible for infant illness and death. According to accepted medical wisdom teething led to a number of afflictions and displayed a variety of symptoms including convulsions, diarrhoea, bronchitis, croup, vomiting, neck abscesses, insanity and meningitis. The teething phase was perceived as fraught with risk, a process to be dreaded.

Added to misdiagnosis, teething treatments could in themselves prove fatal. Even today there are stories of homeopathic teething tablets causing death. Back in the 19th century treatments ranged from dangerous to downright barbaric, with some treatments a combination of the two.   

What could you do to make the passage of teeth through gum easier? Well, the obvious answer was to lance the gum, making a deep incision to facilitate the emergence of the offending tooth. This in a pre-anaesthetic, pre-sterilisation era carried it’s own risks. Leeches applied to the gums provided another solution.

Gum Lancing for Teething – “Cassell’s Household Guide”

And what could you do to relieve the pain, reduce excitement, regulate the bowels and induce sleep in the restless teething babe? Newspapers were full of the answers, with adverts for soothing remedies which parents, fearful of the dangers of dentition, were induced to purchase. In this unregulated, uncontrolled period of medicine druggists and pharmacists made their own propriety and patented concoctions with no details of ingredients. But these included opium, cocaine, mercury, morphine and alcohol, with rubbing whisky in gums of teething children even touted in more recent times. All of these could lead to addiction and death. The risk was not unknown. Cassell’s Household Guide of 1884 for instance acknowledged the danger of giving narcotics to children – but reassured parents that it was acceptable if such remedies were recognised as teething powders. So by trying to do the right thing and following advice, parents were in fact endangering their babies.

“Dewsbury Reporter” advert, 9 November 1872

In fact in 1869 a 9-month old girl from Gravesend, Catherine Sarah Cobham, was poisoned as a result of a chemist dispensing strychnine instead of powdered sugar as a teething remedy. Incredible too that sugar was touted for teething – presumably leading to tooth decay later if the baby survived! 

So who knows if Ann really did die as a result of teething. Was it actually a case of misdiagnosis, or even a teething remedy gone wrong. We will never know. So she is just another statistic, amongst thousands of others, whose death was attributed to dentition. Her funeral took place on 17 January 1870 at Batley Parish Church. 

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are: 

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death entries for Ann Jennings
  • 33rd Annual Report of the Registrar General (1870) 
  • 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) 
  • 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1872) 
  • A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It” by Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes (1783) – Google Books 
  • Cassell’s Household Guide to Every Department of Practical Life: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy Vol 1” (1884) – Internet Archive 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 9 November 1872 
  • Treatments for Children: Teething – https://www.rpharms.com/museum-pdfs/g-teethingtreatments.pdf
  • Parish Register – Batley (All Saints) Parish Church  

 

Grim Times for an 18th Century Coal Mining Family 

The most common occupation in my family tree is “coal miner”. Unsurprising given my paternal and maternal West Riding roots. As a result I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the history of coal mining: the social and political aspects as well as the general occupation and its development through time.

This research could form the basis of many posts. The aspect I’m focusing on this time is the perilous nature of the work. “Poldark” brought this to mind. Different type of mining, but the death of Francis highlighted the dangers of underground work in the late 18th century and made me think once again about my coal mining forefathers. However grim I think my job is, I only have to think about my ancestors, men, women and children, who worked down the coal mine to realise how lucky I am. 

Even in more recent times coal mining was a hazardous, unhealthy occupation. But in terms of my 18th and 19th century family history, these were days before today’s stringent health and safety regulations. Indeed in the early days of my ancestors the working was totally unregulated. 

The cramped, damp conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and inflammation of the joints. Many suffered from loss of appetite, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and liver troubles. Most colliers became asthmatic by the time they reached 30, and many had tuberculosis. And all this would have led to days off sick without income to support the family. 

Then there were the accidents. No-one knows how many deaths there were in the first half of the 19th century, let alone earlier. An unreliable estimate in 1834-5 of the number of lives lost in coal mines in the previous 25 years gave the number of deaths in the West Riding as 346 and the evidence is the high proportion were children. According to the appendices of the Mines Inspectors Report’s 1850-1914 some 70,700 miners died or sustained injures in the mines of Great Britain from 1850 to 1908. However even this is not reliable, because the number of non-fatal accidents taking place between 1850-1881 is unknown. It was no-ones job to collect the information. 

It is true that miners themselves took risks, failing to set timber supports, propping air doors open and working with candles when it was dangerous to do so even after the invention of the Davy lamp. But colliery officials and managers also cut corners and costs leading to dangerous conditions, for example failing to replace candles with lamps, not supplying sufficient timbers, not ensuring adequate ventilation, using defective colliery shafts which were not bricked or boarded and contained no guide rods, as well as drawing uncaged corves (the small tubs/baskets for carrying hewn coal from the pit face) direct from the pits which resulted in falls of coal and people down the shaft. It was not until 1872 that every mine manager was required to hold a certificate of competence. 

Whilst explosions exacted a heavy toll and made headlines, it was the individual deaths and injuries sustained over weeks, months and years by falls of coal and roof which were responsible for most accidents, fatal or otherwise. 

One of the earliest mining ancestors I’ve traced is my 6x great grandfather Joseph Womack, born in around 1738. And his is the earliest family mining fatality. 

Joseph married Grace Hartley on 11 February 1760 in the parish church of St Mary’s Whitkirk. It is the oldest medieval church in Leeds and a church probably existed on the site at the time of the Domesday Book. The name “Whitkirk” or “Whitechurch” is first recorded in the 12th Century in a charter of Henry de Lacey, founder of Kirkstall Abbey, confirming the land of Newsam, Colton and the “Witechurche” to the Knights Templars. The present building dates from 1448-9 but underwent substantial restoration in 1856. So it is essentially the building in which my 6x great grandparents married. 

Whitkirk Parish Church

The man known as the father of civil engineering, John Smeaton, is buried just behind the main altar. Perhaps Smeaton’s most famous work is the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse, completed in 1759 just the year before Joseph and Grace’s marriage. His other works included the Forth & Clyde Canal, Ramsgate Harbour, Perth Bridge, over 60 mills and more than 10 steam engines. 

Joseph signed the register in a wonderfully neat hand. It’s always a thrill when I see the signatures of my ancestors. And especially those who worked in manual jobs not associated with literacy.  

The marriage entry indicated Joseph and Grace were both residents of the parish. The location was pinpointed to Halton with the baptism of their first child, Joseph, on 22 October 1760. This location was confirmed in each of their subsequent children’s baptismal entries. Halton was about three miles east of Leeds in Temple Newsam township with Whitkirk parish. 

Another son, Richard, was baptised on 27 June 1762 followed by their first daughter Mary, my 5x great grandmother, on 12 February 1765. Four other Womack children’s baptisms are subsequently recorded – William on 21 January 1770; Henry on 24 September 1772; Thomas on 6 August 1775; and Grace on 14 February 1779. This final baptism is more detailed, giving Grace’s date of birth as 31 December 1778 and stating that her father, Joseph, worked as a collier. 

The Womacks, Joseph and his sons, were a coal mining family working at the local Seacroft colliery. Joseph and his eldest sons Joseph and Richard were there one day in May 1781 when tragedy struck in the form of an explosion. The events reached papers nationally as well as locally. The coverage is typified by this paragraph in the “Leeds Intelligencer” of Tuesday 22 May 1781. According to the newspaper the explosion took place on a Thursday, which would make it 17 May. However this may be inaccurate. I will return to this later. Typically for the time no names are given. 

In the era before the 1815 invention of the Davy Lamp, candles were the only form of light in the mine. But the risk of explosions with naked flames from these candles igniting methane gas was high, even in well ventilated pits. Firedamp was the name given to an inflammable gas, whose chief component was methane. This was released from the seam and roof during working. And on this fateful May day the Womack father and sons were caught in its ignition. 
We turn to the Whitkirk burial register for the details of how this newspaper snippet linked to the Womacks. The register gives the following burial details on 18 May 1781: 

Joseph Womack collier slain by the firedamp at Seacroft also his son Richard Womack who was slain at the same time. The father was aged 43 the son 19 years”  

Slightly later era, but illustration of a pit top after an explosion

Joseph (junior) was one of those hurt in the incident. This is shown by an entry in the same register, dated 2 June 1781: sadly another burial. It is Joseph’s. He lingered for several days before succumbing to his injuries, described as “bruises”. The entry states that his injuries were the result of the same incident in which his father and brother were killed.

Besides being emotionally devastating for the family, with the death of two members on the same day and a third receiving injuries in the same incident leading to his protracted death two weeks later, it would have been economically crippling. The three main breadwinners wiped out in a single stroke. Grace was left to bring up several children – the eldest 16 years old, the youngest just two. 

Less than two years after the death of his father and brothers Thomas died, aged eight, as a result of a fever. This is a notoriously vague catch-all description for the period indicating, yet again, that in these times the precise source of illnesses were often not known but which clearly suggests some kind of infection. There are no other clues or hints. Checking the burial register for the period around Thomas’ death reveals nothing, for example an epidemic or outbreak of common illnesses in the area. He was buried on 25 April 1783 in the parish. 

Surprisingly the family do not appear in the list of recipients receiving parish dole money. Neither are they mentioned in the parish churchwardens and overseers accounts or vestry minutes, but there is very little poor law related material in these specific Whitkirk documents. It is very possible that they were supported by the parish via this mechanism, but these records have not survived, or else I’ve not yet discovered them in my visit to the Leeds branch of West Yorkshire Archives.  

But the two information sources, newspaper and parish register, give an indication of the devastating effect a pit explosion could have on a family at a time when fathers, brothers and sons (and prior to the 1842 Mines Act women plus girls and boys under 10) worked side by side underground. 

A sad footnote to this post concerns the anonymity of those killed. In addition to Joseph senior and Richard, there were two others who lost their lives in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as reported in the “Leeds Intelligencer” 0f 22 May. Given the date of the article, Joseph junior couldn’t have been one. Their names didn’t appear in any reports I found. I do wonder who they were though, these people who worked and died with my ancestors.

There is nothing to indicate any other Whitkirk burials of the period applied to these victims. Parishes adjoining Whitkirk were Leeds, Swillington, Rothwell and Barwick in Elmet.  Leeds St Peter’s parish church provides a cause of death for all burial entries for the period. Sadly I drew a blank in this search. Likewise for Swillington St Mary’s and Holy Trinity at Rothwell. However, Barwick in Elmet All Saints register records the burial on 17 May 1781 of 33 year old Christopher Dickinson from Lowmoor. He died on 16 May 1781, “kild in Seacroft coalpitts“. So was this the same incident? If so it indicates the inaccuracy of the newspaper date which implied a 17 May accident date. 

Providing the newspaper got the numbers right, the other individual remains a mystery. The only possibility so far is a cryptic and inconclusive 17 May 1781 entry in the nearby parish of Garforth St Mary’s “Thos son of Mathew Limbord colier aged 23 years” No cause of death. And really it’s not clear if it was Thomas or his father who worked as a collier.

The “UK Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950” doesn’t offer a solution either. This was on the now obsolete “Coal Mining History and Resource Centre” website, which I wrote about in my previous post. As indicated in that post, the index is now available on Ancestry.co.uk – but this accident is not recorded. I may never know who the fourth person was. And it makes me think how many other mining deaths are similarly lost.

 Sources:

  • St Mary’s Whitkirk Parish Register and records 
  • Leeds Intelligencer” 
  • National Coal Mining Museum: http://www.ncm.org.uk
  • The North of England Mining Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers: http://www.mininginstitute.org.uk
  • The Durham Mining Museum: http://www.dmm.org.uk
  • Voices from the Dark – Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines” – Fiona Lake and Rosemary Preece 
  • “Working Conditions in Collieries around Huddersfield 1800-1870” – Alan Brooke 
  • My Ancestor was a Coalminer” – David Tonks 
  • British Coalminers in the 19th Century” – John Benson 
  • The Yorkshire Miners: A History – Volume I” – Frank Machin 
  • The history of the Yorkshire Miners 1881-1918” – Carolyn Baylies 
  • Tracing your Coalmining Ancestors” – Brian A Elliott 

Murderous Assaults with Poker & Rope: The (Un)Fortunate William Gavan

This is a tale of my 2x great grandfather William Gavan, a victim of crime but perhaps himself a wrong-doer? Two recent record releases, one on Ancestry UK and the other on FindMyPast, have supplemented earlier findings. One has possibly revealed a twist on this earlier research. 

William Gavan hailed from County Mayo, moving to England at around the time of the Great Famine of the late 1840s. He was certainly in Kidderminster by the 1851 census. It was in the town’s Roman Catholic chapel that he married County Mayo-born Bridget Knavesay in 1852. They moved to Batley in around 1860 with their young family, Honor, Margaret, Sarah and John. Eldest son James died sometime prior to the move, and Honor’s death followed in 1869. The couple had four further children – Mary, Thomas, Bridget (my great grandmother). Their youngest, William, was born in 1872. 

In the absence of any baptism record, William’s year of birth ranges anywhere between 1821-1832 depending on source. 

The story begins in April 1870. This was the first mention I found of William in Batley’s only town paper at the time, the “Batley Reporter”. I discovered the entry by pure chance whilst doing a library newspaper search for something totally unrelated. The headline captured my imagination: “Murderous Assault with a Poker“. It conjured up visions of the reputed cause of death of Edward II whose tomb I saw at Gloucester Cathedral. This story proved to be far less gruesome, but on a personal level far more interesting. As I read on I realised the victim was my 2x great grandfather William Gavan. 

On Saturday 9 April, at around 9.30pm, William was drinking with a friend, James Brannan, in John Farrar’s establishment, the “Ringers’ Arms” on New Street, Batley. The beerhouse was gain-hand for William, as he lived on the same street. Thomas Cain, a New Street neighbour, sat opposite William. Thomas, a much younger Irish man in his early 20s, lived with his mother.  

“Ringers Arms” sign, a few decades later – image courtesy of Batley Community Archive

 Initially conversation was friendly. At some point though Thomas made some remark, about William beating his wife. William responded by telling Thomas to go home and mind his mother. This seemingly innocuous response triggered a dramatic reaction. Thomas grabbed a poker and struck William on the head, a blow so violent as to render him unconscious and draw a copious flow of blood. William was taken home and the Doctor, William Bayldon, summoned. 

He found William slumped in a chair, faint through blood loss which had saturated his hair, covered his face and even soaked into the chair. The almost two inch long wound, on the left of his head, extended through the whole thickness of his scalp and resulted in an arterial rupture of a branch of the left temple artery.  

Police Sergeant Lund apprehended Thomas in his home at around 4am in the morning of 10 April. When charged with the assault he declared “I did hit him once with the poker, and I hope the b______ will die, if I thought he would not, I would have given him another blow”. So a fairly clear admission. 

William was confined to bed for five days after the assault, necessitating the deferral of the case against Thomas. Finally able to give evidence, William appeared at Batley Borough Court on 18 April. He must have cut a dramatic figure with bandaged head, remaining seated throughout the process. Dr Bayldon said the wound had not healed and would probably require treatment for a further fortnight. So a pretty impressive injury. Equally theatrical was the dramatic production of the offending poker during the case.  

The assault was of such a serious nature Batley Borough Court decided to refer the case to the Quarter Sessions at Bradford. The “Batley Reporter” had a one liner reporting the outcome on 21 May 1870: “Nine Months – Thomas Cain, unlawfully and maliciously wounding William Gavin [sic], at Batley” 

This is where the new records in Ancestry.co.uk come in. A recent addition is the West Riding Quarter Session records, 1637-1914. They are searchable by the name of the person indicted, but not by victim or witnesses. Luckily, through newspapers, I knew the name of William’s assailant. The indictment book gives detail of the full charge against Thomas Cain – in essence that he unlawfully made an assault on William and unlawfully beat, wound and ill-treated and did other wrongs to him. It also provides the names of the witnesses. The case was heard on 19 May 1870 and Thomas pleaded guilty. The wording is very formulaic and repetitive and doesn’t really add many details – for that the newspaper report is best. But it does provide another layer of detail, and a search of these records could help identify hitherto unknown charges against ancestors. 

By the time of the 1871 census Thomas was back home from the Wakefield House of Correction and once more living with his mother in New Street. The Gavan family had upped sticks and left the street on which they’d lived since their arrival in Batley. They now resided at Spring Gardens. I do wonder if the re-location owed something to the return of William’s attacker. I don’t expect many would want to remain living in the immediate vicinity of their poker-wielding assailant. 

But at the back of my mind was the wife-beating allegation Thomas made against William, which precipitated events that April 1870 night. Was there any substance in the claim? Was William ever hauled in front of the Magistrates to answer accusations? Did he beat Bridget? No charges on this count showed in the Quarter Session records, but any case wasn’t bound to get to that level. It may most likely have been dealt locally in the Petty Sessions.  

I never got round to further perusing the local newspapers for the period to see if William featured again. In the absence of any other information it was too formidable undertaking; neither did I check at West Yorkshire Archives for any lists of those appearing before Batley Borough Court.  

Here FindMyPast’s newspaper collection came to the rescue. It pays to keep checking because newspapers are added regularly. I was overjoyed to discover the addition of the “Dewsbury Reporter”. Not quite as good as having the “Batley Reporter” or the later Batley town paper, the “Batley News”. But not to be overlooked, because Batley stories feature in this neighbouring town’s paper. Also, it’s fair to point out, on FindMyPast there is a limited run for the Dewsbury paper. So far, it covers editions from its inception in 1869 until 1884. But it is part of the period of my ancestors lived in the town. So definitely worth a speculative search one evening. Hopefully the coverage will expand over time.

I really had to play around to overcome OCR errors as well as the dreaded surname variants for Gavan. It was worth the effort. Whilst there may be more to find, I unearthed some absolute corkers. And not confined to the occasional drunk and riotous episode either. 

Reports for the Gavan family included a rather interesting one dated 6 September 1873. In short William was summoned to appear at Batley Borough Court on Monday 1 September to answer a charge preferred against him by his wife, Bridget, of threatening to take her life. When the case was called she refused to say anything against her husband until Inspector Wetherill said he would lock the pair of them up. This loosened Bridget’s tongue. Apart from anything else, she had young children to consider. Youngest child William was only one.

She and William quarrelled on the 29 August. During the row he threatened kill her, something she took seriously. Afraid he would do her grievous bodily harm she reported him. William was bound over to keep the peace for six months. So perhaps there may have been something in what Thomas Cain alleged over three years earlier. Maybe Thomas was indeed upset at the way William treated his wife. And the hot-headed youth acted whilst in his cups. 

The next gem involved Bridget. On Wednesday 2 June 1875 it was her turn to appear in the Borough Court. I love the phraseology and images conjured up by the newspaper report, so much so I’m reproducing it in its entirety: 

Bridget Gavan was charged with assaulting Mary Winn, wife of Peter Winn, Spring Gardens, on the 20th May. Mr Hudson appeared for the complainant, and stated that the complainant’s husband was a coal agent, and sold coals in the neighbourhood, and collected money in small instalments. On Saturday last he called at the house of the defendant for some money, but instead of receiving the money he received a very warm reception from the defendant’s tongue, which induced him to leave the house and go away about his business. After visiting several other places, he went again and saw the defendant, who struck him, and scratched him in the face. He went home and told his wife, who naturally was not very well pleased with it, and on Monday she happened to meet with the defendant at a friend’s house, and asked her why she had insulted her husband. The defendant used some very naughty words, and afterwards she followed complainant to her house, seized her by the hair of the head, and a scrimmage took place to the detriment of both parties; and then it was that the complainant took out a summons for assault, and the summons was served on Monday. The summons was taken by the defendant, and in a very indecent manner was thrown by her into the complainant’s house, and she also broke a window. Evidence having been given by Peter Winn and the complainant, the defendant said the complainant struck her first with a brush. The Bench thought there had been some provocation on both sides, and only inflicted a fine of 2s 6d and costs”. 

I do wonder what constituted “very naughty words” and the mind boggles at how a summons could be taken in an “indecent manner”.  And why did Bridget react like this? Had Peter Winn overcharged her? Was he trying to collect money already paid? Was the coal he supplied of inferior quality? The dispute between the Winns and Bridget must have been the talk of Spring Gardens! I wonder if the Gavan’s used a different coal agent subsequently? 

But the residents of Spring Gardens were to be treated with another far more dramatic domestic disturbance in the Gavan household a little over a year later, stoking their gossip fires in a way far beyond the coal dispute. 

This jewel in the crown of my finds was accompanied by yet another “murderous assault” headline. Once more William had the role of victim. This time his attacker was his son-in-law, John Hannan. Again a much younger man in his 20’s.

John married the eldest surviving Gavan daughter, Margaret, at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley on 21 September 1875, shortly after Margaret’s 20th birthday. The newly-weds lived at Spring Gardens in the household of Margaret’s parents. 

Less than 12 months after their wedding John, who was well-known to the authorities, appeared in Batley Borough Court facing charges of being drunk and riotous at Spring Gardens, assaulting Inspector Inman and assaulting William. His previous convictions included unlawfully wounding, larceny and attempted breach of the peace in connection with a prize fight. So an array of offences. 

His latest brush with the law followed drink-fuelled events on the evening of Saturday 1 July 1876. At 9pm that evening several women besieged Batley Police Office to report William lay seriously injured, probably dying, following an attack by John. 

Inspector Inman went to the house to find William with his head on a pillow, surrounded by more women. When Inspector Inman asked John what he’d been doing, John’s responded “What are you doing, you b____”. As the Inspector attempted to take John to the police station, John got hold of him by the thigh, threw him on his back and made his escape, assisted by several of the women. These allegedly included William’s daughter, 19 year old Sarah Gavan. She vehemently denied this, claiming she was away at that particular point in proceedings. 

In the meantime Dr Bayldon attended William, the same physician as was called following the 1870 attack. Again mirroring the earlier attack, William had several facial cuts, including a two inch one down to the bone. Bizarrely he also had a rope tied around his neck.  

Crime Scenes – Batley

 Fortunately William’s injuries were less serious than initially thought. Able to appear in court, without undue delay this time, he asked the Bench to “go easy” on his son-in-law. Upon being told that the matter was far too serious, William claimed not to remember anything about the night, when he “had had a sup of drink himself”. He believed John had tied a rope around his neck, but he had no feeling as John had rendered him insensible. Whether this memory loss was legitimate or a way of protecting John is open to question. I know where my suspicion lies. And the Mayor did remark to William “And yet you want to be very kind to him”. 

In his defence John claimed both he and William were drunk. He was attempting to get his father-in-law in the house and to bed. He’d pushed William causing him to fall and receive his injuries. He denied all knowledge of the rope around William’s neck. 

Sarah Gavan’s answers proved equally unsatisfactory and vague. John brought her father home and the pair participated in some “acting”, one trying to get twopence out of the other’s hand. She accounted for the rope around her father’s neck as part of this horseplay. John tried unsuccessfully to get her father to bed and she left them to it.  

It seems that concluded the evidence. John pleaded guilty to the drunk and riotous charge, and to the assault on William. For each of these offences he was fined 10s and costs, or 14 days. To the assault on Inspector Inman, he pleaded not guilty. However the Bench convicted him, imposing a one month prison sentence. No fine option for this offence. 

So a very fruitful search, adding more colour to the characters of my paternal ancestors. What struck me was how neatly the incidents linked, the symmetry between them – neighbourhood quarrels; family fall-outs; hot-headedness; Dr Bayldon’s visits to patch William up; and too much booze.

I am now in the process of a series of visits to the Wakefield branch of West Yorkshire Archives to see if the Batley Borough Court records point to any further potential ancestral misdemeanours. The list of complainants, defendants and dates will make a newspaper search more manageable. And, even in these early stages, there are plenty more newspaper searches to go at as a result.  

However, it’s something of a race against time, given the planned closure of Wakefield on 13 May until early 2017. My impending surgery could in effect mean I may have to wait until next year to finish. I do have a number of archive visits booked, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Sources: 

  • Ancestry.co.uk:  West Riding Quarter Sessions 19 May 1870 & HO 27 – Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales 
  • Batley Community Archive – “Ringers Arms” sign
  • Batley Reporter” – 16 & 23 April 1870 and 21 May 1870
  • Census: 1851-1881 
  • GRO Marriage Certificate: William Gavan & Bridget Knavesay 
  • Parish Register: St Mary of the Angels, Batley 
  • FindMyPast: 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 6 September 1873, 17 October 1874, 5 June 1875 and 8 July 1876 & HO 140 – Home Office Calendar of Prisoners 

The Fateful Effects of Intemperance: Knife Crime & Premature Death

In “Attempted Murder in Halton” I wrote about the nasty confrontation which occured in 1842 between my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his eldest son William. This resulted in the detention of Francis, accused of stabbing his son in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

I was reminded once more of Francis whilst doing my Cause of Death Pedigree Charts. He died on 5 April 1857 in Leeds Infirmary.  

Described as a farmer, his death certificate states he died as a result of “Disease of the Brain”. I think farmer was used in its loosest terms. The 1847 Tithe Map of Temple Newsam shows Francis renting a cottage and garden in Halton from Joseph Asquith. The cottage was the equivalent of 1 perch and the garden 15 perches. A perch equates to 1/160th of an acre. The cottage and garden were not adjacent and the area was surrounded by mainly grassland with some patches of cultivated land. So he did have a little land to cultivate, but not a farm. And I can’t see things changing at the time of his death.

Starting off as a butcher, essentially throughout most of his adult life Francis worked as a general labourer. He, and some relations, seemed to have set up together as hay dealers in the 1820s, but this petered out. Other sources at the time of his death described him as labourer, and putting it together with all other documented sources for his occupation I’m inclined to question the death certificate information.  

The death certificate also inaccurately gives his age at death as 71. Wrong – he was 67 years old. 

Francis’ funeral took place at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 7 April.  

Whitkirk Parish Church

 I did wonder about his cause of death and why it occurred in Leeds Infirmary. Also his death was registered by the Coroner, Mr Blackburn. So what had happened?  

Further investigations left me stunned. 

With hindsight the drunken argument with his son 15 years earlier provided a clue. Things though hadn’t always been so bleak for Francis. When I first started researching him I felt optimistic that he and his wife Grace Pennington (in early documents her family name appears as Penitent) would have a fairly good life. They married by licence at St Mary’s Whitkirk on 25 September 1811. This, I hoped, was an indication of a more comfortably off background, where life wouldn’t be quite such a struggle. 

Initially they settled in Francis’ home parish of Sherburn in Elmet. This is where their first two children were baptised, Mary (1812) and William (1814). And it is where William was buried in 1815.  

By the time their next child was born the family were back in Halton, from where the Pennington family hailed. This baby was also named William. He of the 1842 stabbing incident. And his baptism was not without controversy either.  

The parish register entry at St Mary’s Whitkirk, records William’s baptism on 14 July 1816. However his surname is down as Pennington, and the entry states he was the illegitimate son of Grace. This was an extremely serious error. If left uncorrected the stigma could have significant consequences in terms of the family’s perception amongst their neighbours as well as for William’s future inheritance rights. At a time before general registration and birth certificates, the entry in the parish register was crucial providing legal proof of the antecedents of an individual, so the error could have grave implications. It came to light weeks later and the register does contain a corrigendum, a reflection of the legal importance of baptism entries. 

It is not clear exactly how the error was discovered, but the correction does contain hints and it is clear that Francis took swift action to put the record straight. The fact that the couple’s marriage took place within the parish and appeared in the marriage register would have simplified a resolution of matters. 

A note in the parish register states that on 1 September 1816, when William was brought to church having being privately baptised on 14 July, the original entry was discovered to be erroneous, Grace being lawfully married. It points out that the correct entry should read that William was the son of Francis and Grace Hill of Halton and that Francis worked as a butcher. Both the vicar and Francis signed the amendment. Perhaps the private nature of the baptism is a clue – William may have been ill at birth and the baptism rushed, possibly not in church, without Francis’ attendance.  

Francis and Grace had four further children: Joseph (1821), John (1822), Francis (1824) and Sarah (1827).

Back to events in April 1857 and his cause of death. One headline in the 11 April edition of the “Leeds Times” summed it up: “Frightful Death Of An Intemperate Man”. On the same day the “Leeds Intelligencer” reported under the banner “Deaths from Drunkenness” 

The multiple use of the word “death” shows this wasn’t an isolated incident. Alcohol-related deaths featured regularly in the Victorian newspapers. The 1830 Beerhouse Act (amended 1834 and 1840) was designed to curb the consumption of gin and steer working people towards the lesser evil of beer drinking. The Temperance Movement of the time supported the change. They were primarily an anti-spirit movement in the early 19th century, who regarded beer as more wholesome alternative.  

However the Acts led to the rapid expansion of beer drinking establishments. Drunkenness from beer drinking was added to that from gin drinking, and the Temperance Movement switched to being one of teetotalism. Newspapers were filled with tales and warnings of the evil of intemperance, its effects and impact on the moral, social and industrial fabric of Victorian society. 

 Francis’ life, and death, should be seen in the context of this background.

At midnight on Thursday 2 April, Francis was discovered in a state of helpless intoxication, lying in mud, on York Road. He was taken to the police station and from there to Leeds Infirmary. He died in the hospital on Sunday 5 April, just over two days after his prone body was stumbled upon. 

The inquest took place on 6 April. It appears from the unnamed witness that Francis was a regular and well-known drinker in the area – the number of Halton beerhouses, inns and taverns would have provided ample opportunity for socialising of an evening. York Road was less than a mile north of where Francis lived. How long he lay in the dark, wet, unlit road before his discovery is not mentioned in the reports. Neither is the person who found him named, but presumably the fact that he was taken to the police station and not to his home may indicate it was not a friend searching for Francis.  

In accordance with the evidence presented by Mr R.G. Hardwick, house surgeon to the Infirmary, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “Died from disease of the brain; but whether it was induced by lying in the wet, or some other cause, there was no evidence to show”. 

Once again the family were centre-stage for the wrong reasons. The events surrounding Francis’ death would have been the topic for much tittle-tattle in the local community, only adding to the family’s anguish. Maybe older residents remembered the earlier incident of 1842, and all this too was dredged up by Halton gossips, much to the embarrassment of the family. Perhaps the mental afflictions of Grace’s aunt were also poured out by these same scandalmongers. 

Francis’ widow Grace died in 1873. In the years after Francis’ death she features regularly in the Whitkirk parish charities’ records, receiving money from four separate parish charities. And in the 1871 census, age 80, she still worked as a herb gatherer, an indication of the tough financial circumstances of her old age. But her life wasn’t always thus. I will return to another twist in her story at a later date. And that twist may also shed further light on the 1842 stabbing.

Sources:

  • Illustration of Whitkirk Parish Church by J.A. Symington from Morkill & Platt’s “Records of the Parish of Whitkirk” 1892. Copyright expired and in the public domain
  • Death Certificate for Francis Hill
  • Whitkirk Parish Records – parish register & charities’ records
  • Leeds Times” & “Leeds Intelligencer” – 11 April 1857 -FindMyPast newspapers
  • Tracks in Time, the Leeds Tithe Map Project: http://www.tracksintime.wyjs.org.uk

A Short Life Remembered: Margaret Hill

Immersing myself in the lives of my ancestors inevitably means dealing with their deaths. Lots of them. Because I invest so much time in my research, that connection with my ancestors goes way beyond the simple bloodline link. Learning about their lives and struggles, I develop an emotional attachment. Discovering their deaths, which were occasionally under traumatic circumstances, can stop me in my tracks. And whilst not quite moving me to tears it can bring a lump to my throat. I’m not sure if this is a common feeling amongst other family history researchers.

The deaths of children can be particularly difficult. They never had a chance to make a mark, achieve their potential, fulfil their parent’s hopes and dreams, marry and have families of their own. But for family history research, many would be forgotten for ever. One of my first blog posts, A Census In-Betweener, was one such example. It remembered the all too fleeting existence of Thomas Gavan, my great grandmother Bridget Gavan’s eldest child. Towards the end of the year another post focused on the tragic accident in which Oliver Rhodes died. He was the son of my great grandparents Jonathan Rhodes and Edith Aveyard.

Victorian Headstone for a Child – Photo Jane Roberts

This year I intend to write a series of blog posts commemorating more of the briefer lives of those in my family tree. This is the first. It marks the short life of Bridget Gavan’s youngest child, Margaret Hill. But for the 1911 census I would never have known about her existence. It was news too to other family members, something I find difficult to comprehend. After all it wasn’t that long ago.

In this post, as well as describing what little is known of her short life, I will try to give a flavour of the times in which she lived.

In 1897 Bridget Gavan married coal miner John Herbert (Jack) Hill. Jack was a widower, Bridget an unmarried mother of two girls, though it is possible Jack was the father of the younger of the two, Agnes.

Jack and Bridget went on to have seven further children. Margaret, their final child, was born on 29 August 1910 in the family’s home at 16 New Street, Hanging Heaton. The family now totalled nine children ranging from newly-born Margaret to eldest Annie, who celebrated her 17th birthday the day before Margaret’s arrival.

The 1911 census shows the complete family unit. It is notable for Jack and Bridget’s judicious tinkering with names and dates. Interestingly they claimed to have been married for 17 years, which conveniently corresponded with the age of Bridget’s eldest daughter Annie who is listed as “Annie Hill”, not Gavan. Daughter Agnes, also born outside of wedlock, is similarly listed as Hill and not Gavan. All nine children are claimed as “children born alive to present marriage”. There is also the usual flexibility around adult ages to minimise the gap between Jack and Bridget’s ages (she was born in 1869).

In terms of events during Margaret’s short life, 22 June 1911 marked the coronation of the new King, George V, and his wife Queen Mary. A cause for celebration with parades, parties, decorations and a bonfire to mark the occasion. And in December that year the Liberal Government introduced a National Insurance Act. It meant for that workers would have cover against sickness and unemployment. So there was perhaps some optimism as the things seemed to be on the up for families like Jack and Bridget’s.  But this may have been tempered as a result of industrial action the following year, and its affects on family income.

Miners were notoriously militant with frequent strikes. The records of the Yorkshire Miners Association (YMA) show in the latter part of the 19th century and early into the 20th Soothill Wood, the pit where Jack worked, was one of the more non-militant and politically moderate pits. Nevertheless, although being characterised in district ballot votes as non-militant it was conversely, even then, regarded as particularly “strike prone”.

Just a glimpse through newspapers show for instance strikes were threatened in 1892 over amongst other things distribution of corves. A short strike took place in 1894 over reduction of wages. Outside this period, a lengthy strike took place in 1906 affecting not just Soothill, but wider throughout Yorkshire. And in 1912 there was a national strike, lasting five weeks, the objective being a national minimum wage.

The national strike began in February, Britain in the grip of yet another severe winter with temperatures plummeting and thousands dying of hypothermia. Heavy snow fall had affected Yorkshire at the end of January. A strike was the last thing Britain needed at this particular time. As a result of the action more than a million people were out of work.

Although the outcome was not as profitable as the miners wanted, hewers in the Batley area, such as Jack, were guaranteed a minimum daily wage of 6s 8d, subject to clauses around for example age and attendance, although some employers did try to flout this.

Then another 1912 Soothill strike in early July resulted in 72 men being summoned to appear in court that month  – just a small fraction of the hundreds involved.

A newspaper report in 1918 stated the wages of a Soothill Wood Colliery averaged of £2 13s a week. But this needs to be seen in context of the economy at the time. Since the beginning of the war to 1916 there was an estimated 45 per cent reduction in the purchasing power of foodstuffs. Soothill Wood is more accurately described as a low to average pit in terms of wage level during the period 1894-1918.

So although the Hill family were not in the poorest category, life would still be a struggle full of difficult spending choices to make. Balancing how much to spend on rent against food and other essentials such as coal (although this would be cheaper than the norm given Jack’s job), lamp oil, gas, wood, candles, matches, soda and soap (a particular high usage item for a mining family), blacking and transport costs. And if you went for cheaper rents, these houses would be smaller, damper and darker resulting in higher expenditure on fuel and lighting, not to mention being more detrimental healthwise.

The family would weigh the affordability of burial insurance against the risks of not having it. As we saw in the story of Thomas Gavan, Bridget was minded to take out insurance, but was this still the case with a much larger family?

Then there was clothing and boots. Could they afford to put aside weekly in a clothing or boot club, or were they faced with the hit of paying it all upfront as and when needed? The school log book for St Mary’s, the school the Hill family went to, has accounts of children not being sent to school for lack of boots during this period.

And then there would be budgeting for emergencies such as medicine and doctor’s bills.

As for food, for the working class it was bland and monotonous, the emphasis being on staving off hunger rather than nutrition. Men, the breadwinners, had the most. They needed to be fit and strong to go out to work, especially for a manual job such as Jack’s. The principal article of diet in this period was bread which was cheap and convenient. It was followed some way behind by potatoes, meat and fish. Meat was principally bought for the men, with the main expenditure being on Sunday dinner when the entire household would be at home. Cold cuts from Sunday would be eaten on Monday, eked out longer if possible. When potatoes did not feature, the replacement would be suet pudding with golden syrup. There would be the occasional egg, and tiny amounts of tea, dripping, butter, jam, sugar and greens.

Milk, although crucial for children in particular, was costly. There were also issues of storage to consider in these years before refrigeration. A pint of milk a day for an infant or child would equate to around 1s 2d a week when the food for a whole family may have to be supplied out of 9s a week after all other household expenses were taken into account. As a result women nursed their babies as long as possible, often until they were about one year old. After that often the only milk children got was tinned evaporated milk, this despite it not being recommended for infants. This tinned product was used in tea, and sometimes also used as a spread on bread. Where boiled milk was given to babies and infants it was often thickened with bread and biscuits in an attempt to bulk it out. In 1916 the local Coroner censured such a practice in the inquest of the baby son of a fellow Batley St Mary’s parishioner. But the reason why infants did not get milk was the same reason they lacked good housing and clothing – it came down to cost and family finances. In short the diet where there were several children in a family, such as the Hills, would be chosen for its cheapness and for its filling, stodgy qualities.

All of these considerations may have played a part to some extent in Margaret’s death.

On a national scale one event dominated 1912. British confidence was shaken in the spring when news reached home of the unthinkable, the sinking of the “Titanic” on 15 April, with the loss of more than 1,500 lives. Headlines screamed out from billboards and newspapers – day upon day of grim news. Deaths included those of bandleader and Dewsbury resident Wallace Hartley, with tales of how the band played on adding to the whole pathos surrounding the event.

There were perhaps some particular highlights to the Hill’s year though. On 10 July 1912 following much preparation and accompanied by great excitement King George V and Queen Mary visited Batley. A three minute ceremony in the market square was attended by around 4,000 school children hoping to catch a glimpse of their monarch. However, it ended in disappointed children and much indignation on the part of parents and teachers when many failed to see the Royal couple, such were the crowds and the swiftness of the event. Margaret was too young, but some of her siblings may have taken part and returned home dispondant.

It is also doubtful whether the event took Jack’s mind off the Soothill Wood Colliery strike which culminated in those July court cases.

On a more personal family level one event dominated the year – the marriage of Bridget’s daughter Annie to Lawrence Carney on 30 November 1912.

So things ticked over until 4 August 1914, when a life-changing announcement was made which would affect many families nationwide: Britain declared war on Germany. There now followed a period of intense hardship and sorrow for many families including the Hills, now living at 2 Yard, 2 Victoria Street in the town’s Carlinghow area. But that was still to come.

With the war in its infancy and family members, such as Lawrence, now serving in the military, tragedy closer to home struck the family. On 9 October Margaret, died age four, as a result of tuberculous (TB) meningitis. She was one of only nine people in Batley Borough to die of this illness in that year.

TB meningitis typically affected children under ten years of age. It was especially associated with improper feeding, malnutrition, poor hygiene or childhood illnesses such as measles and whooping cough. Caused by tuberculosis bacteria invading the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, it usually began with vague, non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, listlessness, loss of appetite and headache. The afflicted child became peevish and irritable. Vomiting and constipation followed along with a dislike of lights and sound. As the headache intensified the child would scream with a peculiar cry and display classic neck stiffness. As the disease progressed seizures occurred, the child lapsed into a coma and eventually died. Horrifically Margaret suffered these symptoms and decline over a period of three weeks.

1914 Mourning Dress Advert

Apart from the tragedy, such an event was crippling financially to already hard pressed families. A child’s funeral alone could cost upwards of £2, including a death certificate, funeral costs, flowers, gravediggers, hearse attendants, a woman to lay the body out, and a black tie for the father. Most families took out burial insurance. This cost on average each week 1d per child, 2d for a mother and 3d for a father, though some overcautious women paid more. So for the Hill family, with their flock of children, this would amount to a weekly sum of just over 1s. But even with insurance a burial plot may not have been affordable.

Batley Cemetery – Photo Jane Roberts

This proved the case for the Hill family.

Margaret was buried on 12 October in a common grave in Batley cemetery, echoing the fate of her eldest half-brother Thomas Gavan.

Sources:

  • Batley News
  • Batley Reporter & Guardian
  • Batley Cemetery Burial Records
  • Batley Medical Officer of Health Reports
  • GRO certificates – Birth and Death certificates for  Margaret Hill
  • The History of the Yorkshire Miners 1881-1918” – Carolyn Baylies
  • The History of Batley 1800-1974” – Malcolm Haigh
  • Round About A Pound A Week” – Maud Pember Reeves
  • St Mary of the Angels School Log Book
  • FindMyPast – 1911 Census

 

I Left it too Late: Batley’s Greenhill Mills Destroyed

Thank goodness no-one died, but even so I am feeling quite emotional about this. On 14 January a massive fire ripped through Greenhill Mills, Grange Road, Batley razing it to the ground.  

Apart for the sadness for those who will have lost their jobs, it was a place very much associated with an ancestor, Jesse Hill, who died in WW1: the ancestor I have spent most time researching. 

That connection has now gone, wiped out in a matter of hours. 

The firm Jesse Hill worked for, Wrigley & Parker, went into liquidation in the late 1920’s and the mill was sold. But it was still the same building. 

The mill was only down the road from me. I kept meaning to photograph it but I never got round to it. And I never made the effort to see inside, walk on the wood floors, touch the stonework. I know that sounds odd, perhaps it’s a family historian thing. 

Unlike many other places connected with my family history, because it was on my doorstop I didn’t have to make a special trip. It was there, I’d do it one day, no rush. A Victorian structure, still being used. It wasn’t like it would disappear overnight…..or so I thought.  

Following the inferno of 14 January, that’s exactly what happened.   

Not sparing the time to take that handful of photographs to record Jesse Hill’s workplace is something I now very much regret. As is never seeing the interior. It’s example of how we take for granted our local and family history.  

So a lesson learned the hard way. Don’t put off the chance to visit a family history connected location; don’t put off talking to family to record memories. Because one day you’ll wake up and realise that chance has gone. 

This is the only photo I took – too late.  

The remains of Greenhill Mills

 
Neither does Jesse Hill’s Spurr Street home exist. 

Spurr Street, Batley

January Sale: Huddersfield & District Family History Society Publications

A proper January sale for me. Not clothes or household goods. But Parish Register index booklets.

Many of my ancestors are from the area of West Yorkshire covered by the Huddersfield & District Family History Society (FHS). So naturally this is one of the societies I’m a member of. This month they are reducing the price of their Register Transcription booklets to £1.00 and CDs to £5.00. Here is their Publication Page link.

img_0310

A Selection of my HDFHS Index Booklets

Although the Ancestry West Riding Parish Register collection is wonderful, and nothing can beat a visit to the local Archives, I must admit to a strong attachment to these index booklets and the hard work of all the FHS transcribers they represent. So in part this post is a shout out for all the fantastic work they do.

Yes, I do check my ancestral finds against the Registers for the rare, but inevitable, transcription error. And I do enjoy  looking through the Registers. But I still love the physical comfort and solidity of a book(let), not to mention the eye-relief especially when browsing generally.

And despite the big push by genealogy companies and the impression they sometimes give, not everything is available on the Internet…including some of the Parishes covered by these indexes.

I’m fortunate to live in the same area of many of my ancestors, so I can easily visit West Yorkshire Archives, local studies libraries and the excellent local libraries, including the one in my hometown of Batley. Others do not have this luxury. These indexes are excellent finding aids and another gateway to the Registers, providing a complementary, alternative source of information.

So whilst my husband was out at work on New Year’s Day, I spent part of it perusing the several hundred booklets produced by the FHS, checking against my list of previous purchases, and placing my (large) order.

My Bizarre Christmas-Associated Family Name: AKA There’s more to Family History than DNA

In “Shrapnel and Shelletta[1] I wrote about war-associated baby names. This is a more seasonal post about a particular Christmas-associated family name.

When naming a baby at Christmas-time, which names conjure up this magical time of year? Which can be considered as festive and beautiful as this special period? Holly, Ivy, Joy, Noel/le, Merry, Nick or Rudolph might spring to mind. Perhaps Caspar, Gabriel, Emmanuel, Balthasar and Gloria? Or maybe the Holy Family names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

In contrast, which name would make you recoil with shock and horror? Which name would you think “No way! How inappropriate! What on earth are they thinking of?”

Probably near the top of the list would be the one associated with my family tree.  For on 24 December 1826 at Kirkheaton’s St John the Baptist Parish Church (oh, the irony of date and church name)[2] the baptism of Herod Jennings took place.

Saint-Sulpice-de-Favières_vitrail1_837 Herod

Magi before Herod the Great, Wikimedia Creative Commons License, G Freihalter

Herod was born on 3 November 1826, one of five children of coal miner George Jennings and his wife Sarah Ellis. They married in October 1818 at St Mary’s, Mirfield and by the time of Herod’s baptism had settled in Hopton, a hamlet in that township, midway between Mirfield and Kirkheaton.

Herod’s siblings included the equally wonderfully named Israel (baptised 20 June 1824) and Lot (born 8 March 1830), so some fabulous biblical associations there too. The other family names of James (baptised 24 September 1820) and Ann (baptised 20 October 1822, buried 7 July 1823) seem disappointingly ordinary in comparison.

Sarah died in 1832, age 36 leaving George to bring up his four surviving children. James married Sarah Pickles on 25 December 1839, another example of Christmastime events in this branch of the Jennings family![3]So, by the time of the 1841 census, it was just George and his two sons, Israel and Herod, along with a female servant Jemima Gibson living in the Upper Moor, Hopton household. Youngest child Lot was along the road at Jack Royd, with the Peace family. This may have been a permanent arrangement given the family situation.

By the time of this census young Herod already worked down the mine, a job which ultimately would possibly contribute to his death.

On 7 October 1850 he married Ann Hallas at St Mary’s, Mirfield. Both Herod and Ann lived at Woods Row, Hopton. Ann was slightly older than Herod, being born in 1824. By the time of their wedding, she was already the unmarried mother of two. Her son, Henry, was born in 1843; and my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth’s birth occurred in November 1850, 11 months prior to Ann’s marriage to Herod.

This then is my family connection to Herod: His marriage to my 3x great grandmother. And it is one of the mysteries I still hope the DNA testing of mum and me will solve. Was Herod the father of Elizabeth? She was certainly brought up to think so, with all the censuses prior to her marriage recording her surname as Jennings, whereas her brother Henry went under his correct Hallas surname. And when registering the birth of her son Jonathan, there is a slip when Elizabeth starts entering her maiden name as “Jen”. This is subsequently scored through and correctly written as “Hallas”.

It appears Henry too was minded to look upon Herod as his father-figure. At his baptism at St Peter’s, Hartshead in June 1857 he appears in the register as Henry Jennings, not Hallas. When he married Hannah Hainsworth at Leeds All Saints on 24 December 1866, his marriage certificate records his father’s name as “Herod Hallas”. And in 1870 he named his eldest son Herod. Although by no means a common name, a glance at the GRO indexes shows it did appear occasionally, along with its alternative forms of Herodius and the feminine Herodia. The fact Henry gave his son this unusual name seems to indicate a measure of affection for the man who brought him up. Finally, at the time of the 1871 census Herod, son William and nephew Charles were boarding in the Leeds home of Henry.

So, whether or not there is a DNA link, he is still a major figure in my family tree. And for me this brings home the fact that there is more to family, and family history research, than DNA links alone!

Herod and Ann had nine other children: Ellen (born April 1851), Louisa (born January 1853), Harriet (born November 1854), Mary (born May 1858), William (born 1860), Eliza (born April 1862), Rose (born 1864), Violet (born 1866) and James (born 1871).

The family moved frequently, presumably due to Herod’s work as a coal miner. They are recorded at various locations in the area, many within walking distance of where I live. These included Mirfield, Battyeford, Hopton, Hartshead, Roberttown, White Lee and Batley.

Outside of work Herod had a keen interest in quoits, arranging and taking part in park challenge games especially around local Feast times. This game was particularly popular with miners and mining communities in Victorian times, with the metal rings being made of waste metal from mine forges. Challenge matches were also a way to raise funds, for example for sick and injured miners.

Herod died age 52, at Cross Bank, Batley as a result of asthma and bronchitis, which presumably owed something to his mining occupation. Working in cramped, filthy, air-polluted, damp, sometimes wet conditions from an early age, this was a hazardous and unhealthy occupation. The conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and joint inflammation. Most colliers had lung associated problems, with many becoming asthmatic whilst still relatively young. So Herod’s cause of death, from a lung-related illness, is unsurprising.

Ironically Herod’s date of death occurred on 5 January 1878, a day we associate with the Christmas period, falling before 12th night. And in the Western Christian tradition the 6 January is the Epiphany, marking the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This brings us once more to the King Herod connection, at Herod Jennings’ death as well as his baptism.

This is what Matthew’s gospel says about those events at the first Christmas:

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Go find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’  Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way. 

After they had left, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod……Herod was furious when he realised he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men”.[4]

Herod was buried in Batley Cemetery on 7 January 1878.

I have a great deal of affection for Herod, whether or not there is a direct family blood-tie. The fact he took on one, possibly two children when he married Ann; and they in turn acknowledged him as a father, which speaks volumes for him. I can relate to the location links. And I can totally sympathise with his asthma suffering.

This is my final family history blog post of 2015, and an apt one given the time of year. Thanks ever so much for reading them. As someone new to blogging your support, encouragement and feedback has meant so much over the past eight months.

Merry Christmas everyone – wishing you all peace, health and happiness for 2016!

Sources:

[1] Shrapnel and Shelletta: Baby Names and their Links to War, Remembrance and Commemoration | PastToPresentGenealogy https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/shrapnel-and-shelletta-baby-names-and-their-links-to-war-remembrance-and-commemoration/
[2] Herod the Great was responsible for trying to elicit the three wise men to reveal the  whereabouts of Jesus and, when this failed, subsequently ordering the killing of all infant boys under the age two and under, the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist killed.
[3] It was not uncommon for working-class people to have wedding ceremonies on Christmas Day. It was, after all, a holiday so they had time off work.
[4] The Jerusalem Bible, Popular Edition 1974 – Matthew 2: 7-17

Festive Adverts and Shopping in Batley: A 1915 Christmas – Part 3: Food for Man and Beast

In the final part of my seasonal shopping blog I look at Batley’s food and drink shops, as featured in the local press during the weeks leading to Christmas 1915. These shops catered for festive meals in households across Batley. But many also provided a taste of home for those serving overseas.

Mr Geo. Brown, a popular Branch Avenue caterer and confectioner was one such business. He supplied amazing quantities of chocolates, biscuits, fancy cakes and larger currant cakes to men in khaki and navy blue.  Of his cakes, going to soldiers, the Batley News eulogised “and won’t they welcome the toothsome and nourishing comestibles that they are so fond of in peace times”! He also sold boxes, crackers, stockings and a variety of decorative tins and jars filled with sweets, chocolates and toys. And what would Christmas be without its Christmas cake? I find Brown’s 8 December Xmas show opening date a notable difference to Christmas shopping today, when festive goods start appearing on the shelves months earlier.

Brown confectioner 18 Dec 1915

Meat shops were plentiful. Mr John Fox’s establishment at 39, Wellington Street had an array of Norfolk turkeys, Yorkshire geese, pheasants, game, rabbit and poultry. His products included oysters, fish, potted meats, even apples and oranges. His shop was described as “like a picture of Christmas as it should be”.

Fox

Jesse Roberts’ pork butchers was located almost at the Hick Lane corner of Commercial Street. His polony, a tasty delicacy, was relished both at home and abroad with hundredweights of it sent to those serving King and Country. The newspaper said patriotically “it has come as a real reminder of the tea-table at home, for many of the local KOYLIs on war service”.  The demand for that Christmas staple, the stand pie, from those serving overseas caused a shortage at Mr Roberts’ depot in mid-December. His shop also sold bacon, mincemeat and even tomato sauce!

Roberts

Another pork butcher was Mr John Batty. His spotlessly clean shop was located at 52, Wellington Street. He too sold bacon, cooked hams and those stand pies so sought after by soldiers and sailors and those keeping the home fires burning. Potted meats, sausages, polonies, tongue and mincemeat also helped “give the Christmas bill of fare a most acceptable variety”.

Batty

Alfred Milnes owned butchers shops at Town Street, Batley Carr and Mill Lane, Hanging Heaton. He also had a Saturday Dewsbury market stall. A veteran judge of beef and one of the district’s most popular butchers, he was the beef go-to man.  Prime mutton was another of his fortes and his beef sausages were noted as “amongst the most reliable commodities of their kind”.

Milnes

Mr J C Ridsdale, provision dealer, wine and spirit merchant, dispatched large quantities of figs, raisins, plum puddings and biscuits from his Market Place store to soldiers and sailors.  Whilst admitting that the price of some products, such as raisins, were dearer than in previous years their superb quality repaid the price. Prize cheese and smoked Wiltshire bacon also featured amongst his wares. As did table delicacies ranging from jellies and biscuits to bottled fruits and sweets; from muscatel, almonds and mincemeat to champagne and cigars. And his shop was the only local agency for Gilbey’s wines and spirits.

Ridsdale's 18 Dec 1915

On the subject of drinks and cigars, Mrs Chadwick’s Crown Hotel on Commercial Street boasted a fine stock with sherry cask matured spirits and whiskies including brands from some of the world’s most famous distilleries. Buyers though we’re reminded of the curtailed hours due to the new Liquor Control Order.

Crown Hotel

Sam Wilson’s establishments, one at the Market Place corner of Upper Commercial Street and the other near the Tram Terminus at the Bradford and Station Road junction, provided another sign of the times. A popular local tobacconist, “every local worshipper of the Lady Nicotine” knew his shops. He stocked a wide price range and flavour of cigarettes, boxes of cigars and blends of tobacco. He also had a wonderful array of pipes, “a rare stock of beauties, just right for using or giving when the Christmas spirit is greatly developed in men”.

Wilson cigars 18 Dec 1915

And finally not to be forgotten at Christmas was the horse. This was still a society heavily reliant on horse power, both on the land and in terms of transporting goods locally. Henry Rhodes, corn merchant, located at Station Road was “excellently situated for supplying the quadrupeds with as good a Christmas dinner as anyone could wish”.

Henry Rhodes

I hope this series of posts has given a flavour of a 1915 Christmas. Although a century ago it is still recognisable as the Christmas we celebrate today. And although these shops have long since disappeared, forced out by supermarkets such as Tesco’s,  I can relate the locations to my ancestors lives and picture them doing their Christmas shopping in the multiplicity of individual retailers lining the thriving town’s teeming streets.

My two earlier post can be found at:

Part 1: https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/festive-adverts-and-shopping-in-batley-a-1915-christmas-part-1-the-home-beautiful

Part 2: https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/festive-adverts-and-shopping-in-batley-a-1915-christmas-part-2-gifts-galore-for-man-woman-and-child