Alfred Dale was born in November 1858, most likely at the family home situated on Dennis Street in Walmgate, York. He was the sixth child of William, a composite, and Mary Dale, formerly Stead. Mary undertook the typical but still gruelling domestic work while William Dale worked as a printer compositor, arranging a movable type for printing. It was a skilled profession, and William would have had to be skilled at spelling alongside probably needing a basic understanding of grammar and punctuation. In addition, he likely worked under high-pressure conditions with the machines moving at high speeds and mistakes being very costly.
Alfred was baptised on 30 November 1858 at St. Deny’s Church in Walmgate. In 1861 the family lived at Butter’s Buildings, remaining in the Walmgate area, and by 1871, the family moved to 2 Hope Street in the same area. All nine Dale siblings had been born, six boys and three girls by that point. In that year’s census, Alfred is described as a scholar and, at some point before his marriage, would take up work as a glassblower, perhaps following the footsteps of his older brother Edward.
Alfred married Mary Jane Fell towards the end of 1879. Mary Jane’s family was a challenge to wrap my head around, but due to an illegitimate birth a few generations before Mary Jane, the family seems to switch between “Turner Fell” and “Fell Turner” as their surnames. It seems to settle out as Fell towards the end of the 19th century.
The 1881 Census gives us a picture of life for the newlyweds; they were living at 14 Willow Street, again around the Walmgate of York. Interestingly, Mary Jane is recorded as working as a combmaker’s labourer, probably working for her father, alongside Alfred’s work as a glassblower. Their first daughter, Frances Lily, was already three months old by this point, so it is interesting to note that Mary Jane remained working. Another daughter, Mary Jane, followed in 1882.
Sadly, Alfred’s father passed away on 26 August 1883, aged 62 years. His father’s loss represented his first significant loss, apart from the death of his Grandfather back in the 1860s. His father was buried in a public grave (10027) at York Cemetery in the afternoon at around 3:30 pm. Another loss followed in 1884 when his first son Edward was born. Unfortunately, he lived a mere five hours and died on 3 March 1885. I can’t be sure, but Edward may have been named after Alfred’s older brother, who he likely looked up to, perhaps making the loss sting that bit more.
The birth of his daughter Ada in 1886, ironically born on or around the same day as her brother Edward and then followed by the births of Albert Victor in 1888 and Florence Edith in 1890, cemented the end of his period of quite tragic loss. In 1891 the family lived in four rooms at 33 Duke of York Place in Walmgate. The birth of my Great Great Grandfather, Arthur Dale, followed in 1893 alongside the birth of the youngest child, George Alfred, in 1898. The family remained living at 33 Duke of York Place in 1901.
Things seemed to be looking up for Alfred. He had managed to replace a period of loss with the growth of his family. Things mightn’t have been easy, and fears for his job security might have started to bubble up towards the beginning of the 20th century, but regardless it is arguable he had managed to get through the worst and had a lot to look forward to in life.
Life is perhaps more cruel than we like to acknowledge, and this cruelness was seen when Alfred became ill with tongue cancer. He passed away aged only 47 years, at home, on 30 August 1906. He was buried at York Cemetery in a public grave, just like his father twenty three years earlier.
In Alfred’s memory, a kerb was erected on the grave, but it has since sunken. It seems almost to be the direct words of Mary Jane: “In Loving Memory of my beloved husband Alfred Dale, who died 30 August 1906”. Of course, we cannot put words into the mouths of others, whether they are dead or alive, but I, at least, believe that this shows the deep affection and love between the couple and only adds to the tragedy of his unnecessary and plainly cruel death.
I genuinely believe that Alfred was the man that “missed out”. Not only did he miss seeing all of his children growing up, but he also missed any real chance to get to know his grandchildren or see much of the dramatic changes of the 20th century. Furthermore, his son, George Alfred, served during the First World War and made the ultimate sacrifice in the spring of 1918. Sure, to some, it may seem a blessing that he missed the pain of the loss, but he never knew that his youngest boy would be capable of such courage and selflessness in serving his country.
And surely, after all the loss and hardships of his life, knowing that courage was his legacy would have only made everything worth it?