William Dale: From Nothing to Something

William Dale was born into death, poverty, and a society that intentionally or unintentionally limited his dreams, but regardless, he managed to create a legacy spanning generations. His birth which took place on 8 February 1787 in York, England, likely pained those around him with worry and anger but blessed them also with love and joy.

St Michael le Belfrey in May 2021

To understand this, we must begin with William’s parents, John Dale, a Chaise Driver, and Ann Hinchcliffe, who married on 24 February 1783 at St Michael le Belfrey, a church in the City of York where Guy Fawkes was baptised in 1570. They lived in the Petergate area of York, at one point being recorded as living at Little Blake Street.

Now, the worry surrounding William’s birth likely originated, quite ironically, with John and Ann’s first daughter’s birth in 1783. They called her Sarah, and she would sadly pass away due to catching smallpox, aged about two. Around the time of her death, likely on the same day, their second daughter, also named Sarah as quite a poignant tribute to her late sister, was born. She would die aged less than six months in February 1786 due to the whooping cough.

In a period of just under three years, John and Ann Dale had lost all their children to two cruel and merciless ailments.

A later transcript of William’s baptism

William’s birth then was a period of worry but joy, and after a while, I would like to think the worry settled as William survived and would soon be joined by a sister, namely Ann, who was born in October 1789. Ann survived too, and ostensibly it appeared that both John and Ann, although not without worry, could begin to raise a family now, but alas, fate had other ideas.

As I said, William was born into death, and although he hadn’t personally experienced loss as of yet, being born after the passing of his sisters, their deaths likely marked his childhood in some way. Consequently, the death of his father, aged only 34, in November 1796, only added to this idea. He died of consumption, or tuberculosis, and was buried in the churchyard at St. Mary’s Church in York.

For Ann especially, this death was a disaster – not only had she lost her husband, but she had also lost the breadwinner. How was she to survive? She had two mouths to feed, never mind her own.

Unfortunately, consumption would strike again as it killed William’s mother, Ann, around six months after his father in May 1797. Aged just ten – he was now orphaned.

St Mary’s Church via Wikimedia

From this point, up until 1811, I have absolutely no idea what happens to William or his sister Ann. In fact, in Ann’s case, I do not know what happens to her after this stage at all. I would think they were sent to an Aunt or Uncle and stuck together, but I have no evidence for any possibility.

What I do know is that on 12 February 1811, William Dale became a Freeman of the City of York. This was by birthright owing to his late father John’s membership. Furthermore, on 30 March 1812, at St. John’s Church in York, William married Mary Perry, daughter of John. William is recorded as living in the parish of St Martins-Cooney Street and has by this point taken up the trade of a hairdresser.

William’s Freeman Claim

Now, the fact he managed to get a trade is fascinating too. Not just considering the fact he was orphaned, but the fact I haven’t come across an apprenticeship record for him. He literally just appears, at least from my perspective, to pick up the scissors and get on with the job, which is very admirable if true. Even if he did get some help in getting his trade, he must have been talented and a hard worker to even get the help in the first place.

In total, both William and Mary had two boys and four girls over the course of their marriage. The two boys – John and William, my 4 x Great Grandfather – are the ones I have spent the most focus upon, but I don’t wish to discredit nor overlook his daughters either. In a surprising twist of fate, it appears that not a single living child of theirs passed away, which was undoubtedly a change of fortunes from his childhood.

Like father, like sons and daughters – death would also tragically mark William’s children’s childhoods. William’s wife, Mary, passed away, aged only about 41, in November 1831, of unknown causes. She was buried in the churchyard of All Saints’ Church, Pavement, York – a point to keep in mind.

All Saint’s Pavement in May 2021

Keeping to the spirit of his youth, William didn’t let this death sink him.

As newspaper reporting became more widespread over this period, we can begin to understand the truly remarkable man William was to a more significant extent.

Firstly, a point I probably should have raised earlier, but by 1819, William Dale had moved to Jubbergate, York, where he likely ran his own hairdresser’s shop. I do not know definitively that he ran his own business until the 1830s, but it probably appears so. In 1838, he was listed in a list of voters objecting to a specific proposal, showing that he was willing to get political. Furthermore, he was also listed as a freeholder – owning his own property – something remarkable for a ten-year-old orphan in the late 1790s.

By 1841, my 4 x Great Grandfather William had moved out to undertake his apprenticeship as a printer. His brother John entered the business with his father around this period as a hairdresser, and it became known as “William Dale and Sons” from this point. His daughters remained at home, also working as weavers and dressmakers to help supplement the family income. Another interesting point to note is that William also donated not an insignificant amount of money to York prison in this period, so he clearly wasn’t without money which was again quite impressive.

A postcard depicting Jubbergate in the late 1800s to early 1900s

However, this wasn’t to last forever, and after what was described as a short but severe illness, William Dale passed away, aged fifty-five, in 1842, at Jubbergate, likely in his home. His cause of death was recorded as inflammation of the bowels, and it was also noted that a John Dale, likely his son, was with him as he passed away. His death notice states that he bore his illness with great patience and resignation, a fitting way, I think, for how he lived.

He lived a life of tragedy, but he didn’t allow it to define him, instead building a legacy that propelled his son John, named likely in part after his grandfather, William’s own father, to become the Swordbearer of the City of York and live a truly successful and remarkable life.

Without William’s labour, grit and determination, none of this would have happened, and in fact, I wouldn’t have written any of these words if he had given up on life. Clearly, he was fortunate and may have even had advantages unavailable to others, but he had a dream and allowed it to take place and indeed left his mark on the world.

Inside the Church

He was buried at All Saints Pavement’s churchyard, most likely with his wife, and I was lucky enough to visit this church just over a year ago, in late May 2021. It was a sunny, warm day, and I walked into the church itself alone with my thoughts when suddenly the organ started playing a beautiful melody. I sat down on a pew alone and mused to myself that about 180 years ago, the funeral service of William Dale took place here and now, all these years and eight generations later, I had come back to remember him.

As I walked out, I was left with a single thought – what a legacy, eh?

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