George Stead: Peace in Death

My name is George.

I was named after my Great Grandfather, the lovely George R. Dale, who died many years before I was born. He served during the Second World War, then worked as a Gardner at Batley Park for most of his life. He was most likely named after his uncle, George Alfred Dale, who served during the Great War and would bear the ultimate sacrifice on 31 March 1918, aged barely 20, in a lonely hospital in Rouen. George Alfred Dale was himself likely named after his maternal Grandfather and my 5 x Great Grandfather, George Stead, whose fascinating and moving story began all the way back in 1787.

St Andrew’s Church, Newcastle (via

It specifically began on 18 January 1787, when he was born in Newcastle, the second son of William Stead. His mother was called Catherine, who was the daughter of local Collier George Smith. In contrast, George’s father was not a local man, as he was from the great and historic City of York and, for whatever reason, had ended up in 1780s Newcastle. Nevertheless, he somehow met Catherine, and they married in 1785 at St Andrew’s Church in what was Newcastle Town Centre. In the same year, they had a boy, their first child, William. Both boys were baptised at St Andrew’s Church, George, specifically on 1 April 1787.

William Stead was, by trade, a wheelwright, a person who makes/repairs wheels. The trade was arguably quite transferable and was likely in demand in most towns. Owing to this and William’s York roots, it is perhaps not a surprise that by 1791, the young family had left Newcastle and returned to York. Unfortunately, I know little about the family’s position before or after their move, nor precisely the reasons behind it. Was it a pull towards York because of William’s family links or better opportunities? Perhaps they were pushed away from Newcastle?

Work of a Wheelwright (via Wikimedia Commons)

The earliest record of the move was William and Catherine’s third son’s baptism, whom they named John. He was baptised at St Margaret’s Church in Walmgate on 29 May 1791 and was born two days prior. The family now resided in Walmgate and would continue to do so for some years. After John’s birth came Thomas in 1793, Sarah in 1795, Margaret in 1797 and Matthew in 1799.

Only a few months before Matthew’s birth came the quite tragic death of Thomas Stead. He was possibly named after his paternal Grandfather, who was at that point still living. Thomas died, aged just six years, on 20 May 1799 and was buried two days later at St Margaret’s Church in Walmgate. Less than a year later came another death, that of young Sarah, who was just four years old. She died on 6 March 1800 and was also buried in the same churchyard as her brother two days after her death.

Clearly, the losses would have significantly affected the family. Many people perhaps unfairly dismiss infant mortality as commonplace in the past, but each unnecessary and cruel loss will have affected anyone considerably, just as it would today. What makes these deaths even more tragic is that many of the York Parish Registers were Dade registers at the time, so we can obtain the causes of death for both Thomas and Sarah. They died of what appears to be most likely ‘wearing’. Other possibilities seem to be ‘weaving’ or ‘weaning’, but at ages four and six, it is unlikely to be the latter. The actual definition of ‘wearing’ is something that is mentally or physically tiring. Perhaps then, it was a decaying ailment that appeared to slowly wear the two children out.

St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate

More children followed with the birth of Thomas in March 1802 and then Sarah in April 1804. Perhaps named quite poignantly after their late siblings. The Stead family by 1804 consisted of 10 children in total, with two who died as children sadly.

In late 1798, just before the deaths of Thomas and Sarah rocked the family, the eldest child, William, obtained an apprenticeship in basket making, being indentured to Richard Robinson for a period of seven years. George also followed his elder brother into this trade, being indentured to the same gentleman for the same period of time in 1802, just three years after his brother.

Of course, I don’t know the exact family dynamic, but one cannot help feeling that there was a strong bond between George and William Stead, the two eldest brothers born in Newcastle. Did George follow his brother’s steps because he was inspired by him, or was it down to less romantic reasons, perhaps along the lines of his father thinking it was the best for him?

George Stead’s Apprenticeship Record

Either way, tragedy struck the Stead family with William’s death of an unrecorded aliment on 13 August 1807. He was just 22 years old and had not yet married. He was buried two days later in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, just like his younger siblings. Of course, I do not aim to speak for how this affected the family, and the lack of information behind the death does not help put it in context. Was it quick, or did they watch him suffer? How did it affect George if he was close to his older brother? He was still indentured as an Apprentice; did he get to see William before he passed away?

Life continued either way, now with George as the eldest Stead sibling. He completed his apprenticeship, which finished in October 1809 and applied to become a Freeman of the City of York on 10 October 1809. He was residing in the Parish of St Crux at the time of his application and was admitted on 28 November that same year. As a result, we have a relatively rare sight from his freeman claim, namely his signature.

Just a few months after finishing his apprenticeship and becoming a Freeman of the City, George Stead married Mary Robinson at St Crux’s Church on 29 July 1810. Banns were read on the 8, 15 and 22 of July beforehand. She was a spinster who resided in the parish, as did George. Unfortunately, I know little about Mary, barring her birth being circa 1788. Still, I feel it is likely a possibility she could have been connected to the mysterious Richard Robinson, who was George’s master in his apprenticeship.

The honeymoon period was tainted by the death of George’s mother, Catherine, on 30 December 1810, aged just 46. Her official cause of death was reportedly “decline”. However, just about nine months after the death came a new generation as George Stead’s first child was born on 24 September 1811. He was named William, likely after his Grandfather and late Uncle. Was the new family to break with the losses of the old?

Frankly, they were not. I cannot find a burial record for William, but George and Mary had another boy called William in 1813, so their firstborn had likely passed away. By the second son’s birth, they had moved onto Fossgate and would remain there for some years. I am unsure what exactly happened to the second son, William, as George would many years later have another child called William, so again there is the possibility he also passed away. Next came two twin daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, who were baptised on 29 April 1817. Mary was buried on 4 May 1817, and Elizabeth was buried on 11 May 1817. Words can’t quite describe all these tragic losses. Then came another, at just 30 or so, the woman who George married a mere eight years or so ago, Mary, died in October 1818.

George had literally now lost nearly everyone.

All Saint’s Church

A tragic ending however can birth a new beginning, and George Stead married Jane Lolley, my 5 x Great Grandmother, at All Saint’s Pavement Church on 31 January 1821. The Church is quite special to me for a few reasons, the main being the strong ancestral connection I have to it, and I have visited it many times when visiting York. Their first child, my 4 x Great Grandmother, Mary Stead, was baptised at St Crux’s Church on 20 December 1821. A sister followed, in early 1824, named Elizabeth. Like her late elder half-sister, she sadly died aged 14 months in April 1825. Then just a few years later, in July 1827, Jane herself passed away aged 33.

In late 1829, William, George’s father, the stalwart figure throughout George’s life of loss, passed away aged 63. As his funeral took place, and as his father’s body was interred at St Denys, Walmgate, one can only imagine what George felt. He had survived at least three siblings, including his elder brother, both parents, two wives and possibly four or five children. He was aged just 42 or so. What more could he possibly take?

St. Deny’s Church (via Wikimedia Commons)

George wasn’t alone – he had Mary, his young daughter. Their life for the next decade or so is quite fuzzy simply due to a lack of records. In 1838 this ends as George Stead gets married for the third time. He was still at work as a Basket Maker, as he had been for the last 51 years of his life. He resided on Regent Street, and possibly his daughter Mary also lived with him. His marriage was to Elizabeth Nolton, aged 32 or so, and occurred at St Lawrence’s Church on 21 July 1838.

The cloud of mist returns as George’s movements immediately after his marriage are quite unclear. The couple welcomed their first child in 1839, and he was called William. His baptism record in June of that year first records the couple residing at Pilgrim Street. Then came Ann in early 1841. She died only an infant, in the September quarter of the same year. However, she is recorded as living with her mother in that year’s census at the Pilgrim Street address. George Stead, his 20-year-old daughter and youngest boy, William, are not recorded living with Elizabeth and Ann, nor can their record be found at the time of writing.

The loss of little Ann was perhaps an unwelcome reminder of his past, but more children followed – Margaret in 1842, George in 1844, and Elizabeth Ann in 1846. It is worth noting that by the birth of Elizabeth Ann, George was nearing 60 years of age. At the time of his birth, back in 1787, life expectancy was around 39 years, and by the 1840s had only changed marginally. Sure, it was skewed a little by high infant mortality rates, but George was clearly living somewhat on borrowed time. However, from what can be seen of George’s life so far, it is clear he wasn’t one to give up easily.

Pilgrim Street circa 1956

In 1851, aged about 65, he is recorded as residing at 9 Pilgrim Street. He still continues in his trade as a basket maker, and it appears that his son William, aged 11, also followed him into it. His younger children also remain living with him and Elizabeth. Mary, his daughter, born in the 1820s, married my 4 x Great Grandfather, William Dale, son of the well-respected hairdresser William Dale, in 1844 and so now had moved out if she had not already. Their marriage was witnessed by two Robinsons – any connection to George’s old Apprentice Master?

Sadly, not much is known, up until 1861. Again, even then, it is just the year’s census confirming that George and his family remained living on Pilgrim Street. Elizabeth Ann Stead is no longer living with the family, but there is no indication she had passed away by that point. William worked as a Whitesmith, George junior, a confectioner and Margaret worked as a dressmaker. George senior’s longevity, aged 73, was remarkable compared to society generally and also his family’s experiences.

Longevity is not immortality, however.

George Stead became ill in about 1864 with cancer, specifically, the quite horrific-sounding Cancer of the Rectum. Especially considering medical knowledge and capabilities at the time and George’s social class, it is perhaps a miracle but also a curse that he managed to live with for two years. Is this possibility indicative of his fighting character lasting up until the end?

However, this time, the fight was in vain as George passed away, aged an incredibly impressive 79 years, on 12 June 1866, at the family home of 9 Pilgrim Street, Clifton, York. He outlived countless siblings, children and other family members but likely many friends and acquaintances. In addition, he could claim connections to two of the great towns of the north, York and Newcastle. Ultimately, despite relentless loss and hardship, he survived and fought up until his last breath.

George Stead’s Death Certificate

This perseverance did not die with George in 1866. His eldest daughter Mary lived until she was 86 and died in 1908. Her son, Alfred, fought throughout his shorter life but kept the name George alive by naming his youngest son George Alfred. As I have previously mentioned, George Alfred Dale brought the fighting spirit to France and Flanders and gave up everything for King and Country. His Nephew, my Great Grandfather, George R. Dale, also held the fighting spirit in France during the Second World War and then channelled it into kindness. Then we come to me, and I will not be the judge of my own character. However, it is a great privilege to carry the blood and name of George Stead and all those mentioned in this paragraph.

George R. Dale, my Great Grandfather

79 years of loss and labour ended in 1866 but is remembered in November 2022, nearing 213 years since he became a Freeman of the City of York and began his adult life. His unmarked public grave, hidden by that of a Lord Mayor’s, in York Cemetery, was also visited again 57,028 days after his death, when I was able, on Yorkshire Day 2022, to truly remember and reflect upon his remarkable life.

In memory of my remarkable Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather, George Stead.

I hope that you found some peace in death.

Heckmondwike in 1881

Sketched by E. D. Brook in 1874

A simple, modest book, tucked away nice and safely in the corner of Cleckheaton Libary’s excellent local studies section, can give a profound and interesting account of Heckmondwike in its prime – an up-and-coming town on its way to make history.

Also sketched by E. D. Brook in 1874

The aforementioned book is the 1881-1882 Heckmondwike Local Board Handbook. It clearly has a purpose and intended audience (generally the middle classes) and was not designed entirely to be a historical document. Focusing on Heckmondwike’s local governance and public services, it certainly will not illustrate the horrors of Victorian poverty or delve into the highlights of the same period’s prosperity. Still, it provides a different perspective of our town’s overlooked history.

A Little Context

The handbook provides some interesting data that can provide a little context for Heckmondwike’s situation in 1881.

The Township of Heckmondwike covered 697 acres 1r. 3p. and in the 1881 Census had a population of 9326. I was in two minds about whether to include the chart from below as it certainly isn’t a scientific population pyramid. The data was near impossible to read, and I think about 100 odd people are missing off the chart. Still, it is quite a good indication of how society was structured in Heckmondwike in 1881, but please treat it with caution!

A very poor and inaccurate Population Pyramid of Heckmondwike in 1881. Treat it more of a general overview of how society was structured.

The following graph also gives an overview of how society had grown over time from the 1801 census. This data was taken directly from the handbook and cross-referenced with other sources.

Popualtion data from the Censuses for Heckmondwike between 1801 and 1881

The population rose from around 1,742 people in 340 inhabited houses in 1801 to 9,326 in 1881, with there being 1679 inhabited houses in 1871. There were 2,141 ratepayers in 1880. The most extensive period of percentage growth was between 1851 and 1861, with a 39.7% growth in population.

Just take a moment to consider the fact that the town, over a period of just ten years, had a population that surpassed a third of the population of ten years ago. It is unimaginable.

Who and what was in charge then?

Despite what you might think, local governance is quite an interesting historical topic, especially in the Spen area. There is no need to go into much detail, but after an inquiry in 1852, Heckmondwike was the first area of the Spen Valley to adopt the Local Government Act, forming a local board in 1853.

The Local Board had many tasks from day dot, and its creation arguably was one of the most important events in Heckmondwike’s history. If anything, it allowed the prosperous men of the day to begin societal reforms and develop public services, some of which remain to this very day.

Frank Peel, famous Local Historian and key figure of the history he wrote, especially in Heckmondwike.

The following men sat as members of the Local Board in 1881: J. Leadbeater, Frank Peel (author of SVPP), John Stansfield, Benjamin Firth, Edward Armitage, J. Tattersfield Jnr., Samuel Wood, John Wood, Joss Walshaw, George Keighley, Alfred Crabtree and John Kelley.

In terms of individuals in relation to the Poor Law (loosely the welfare state of the day but by no means anything at all like our Welfare State) – J. B. Oates and William Wood Bousfield were the Overseers of the Poor, with Herbert Armitage being an Assistant Overseer. Joshua Leadbeater and Matthew Firth acted as guardians, whilst John A. Erskine Stuart was the Poor Law Medical Officer of the Heckmondwike Township.

A key individual for local family historians, the Registrar of Births and Deaths, was a Mr. John Robinson of the nearby Littletown, Liversedge. Thomas Taylor of Wood Street, Wakefield, was not far removed from Robinson’s role being the local Coroner.

Thomas Freeman Firth

The town was lucky to have a magistrate in its bounds, namely the illustrious Thomas Freeman Firth, one of fourteen magistrates for the Dewsbury Division of the West Riding.

The Town’s Chief Constable in 1881 was John Crowther, who had first picked up the role in 1876.

What about Parliament?

Parliamentary reform was quite literally just about to happen at the time, so consequently, the landmark Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 had not yet passed, meaning the familiar Spen Valley or equivalent constituency did not yet exist. Instead, Heckmondwike had two Members of Parliament, being part of the West Riding’s Eastern Division. The members were two liberals – Andrew Fairbairn and Sir. J. W. Ramsden.

Talking about electoral reform, the numbers of those who were able to vote is quite telling. For example, in Heckmondwike, a town of over nine thousand individuals in 1881, only 407 men were eligible to vote. That represents just over a mere 4% of the total population – there was democracy for some, but not for the many.

Planning to go out at Night?

Heckmondwike had gas street lighting from March 1844 onwards, and the following table lists the times street lighting would commence and would be extinguished.

DateTo commence lighting atAll to be extinguished by
Aug 15 to 317.30 pm4.30 am
Sep 1 to 157.30 pm4.30 am
Sep 15 to 307.51 pm5 am
Oct 1 to 156.30 pm6 am
Oct 15 to 315.45 pm6 am
Nov 1 to 154.45 pm6.30 am
Nov 15 to 304.15 pm7 am
Dec 1 to 154.15 pm7.15 am
Dec 15 to 314 pm7.15 am
Jan 1 to 154.30 pm7.15 am
Jan 15 to 315 pm7 am
Feb 1 to 155.30 pm6.30 am
Feb 15 to 286 pm6.30 am
Mar 1 to 156.15 pm6 am
Mar 15 to 316.45 pm5.30 am
Apr 1 to 157 pm5 am
Apr 15 to 307.15 pm4.30 am
May 1 to 157.30 pm4 am
“Time for Lighting and Extinguishing the Public Lamps, 1881-1882”

It should be noted that on the night of the full moon and two nights before and after, special instructions were issued from the Market Office at 3.30 pm daily regarding the timings.

What about Religion?

The old West Riding of Yorkshire has been described as the heart of religious dissent, and Heckmondwike, and the wider Spen Valley, certainly didn’t buck this trend. The figures below speak for themselves.

Places of WorshipWill Seat.No. of Sun. Scholars on the books
Upper Chapel1300520
George Street Chapel1050410
Westgate Chapel1000338
Wesleyan Chapel810213
St. James’ Church (CofE)600432
Primitive Methodist370258
United Free Methodist Church450269
Moravian Chapel300160
Roman Catholic30040
Christian Brethern100
“Religious Accommodation of the Town, 1881”

There is a note stating that at St. James’ Church, 324 “sittings” were free and unappropriated.

Education and School Boards?

Heckmondwike’s old Town School, demolished in the 1870s.

Heckmondwike was a pioneer of education in the Spen Valley, constructing a now long demolished Town School in 1809 by public subscription. There should be no surprise then that the groundbreaking 1870 Elementary Education Act, commonly referred to as Forster’s Education Act, was quite quickly adopted by the Heckmondwike Local Board. After an intense period of public debate, it was decided in favour of establishing a school board which came into existence after a hotly contested election in 1871.

The board managed the day-to-day of Heckmondwike’s education and paved the way forwards for education in the town. However, its triennial elections brought up many divides locally between those in favour of the bible being read at schools and those not.

The Seal of Heckmondwike School Board

In 1881 there was no fierce debate on the Board, as the Non-Bible readers (generally religious dissenters) had won a complete sweep of the seven seats on the Board in the 1880 election. The members were George Burnley (the Chairman), Alfred Crabtree, Thomas Redfearn, Mark Howard, Samuel Wood, Charles John Atkinson and Benjamin Firth.

In 1881, the Board met every third Thursday of the month, at 6 pm. The Clerk was a Mr. W. Walker and the Attendance Officer was a Mr. R Parkin. Furthermore, in April 1881, the Board was granted a precept of £1,300. Below is a table which shows the accommodation of schools in Heckmondwike in 1881 that were passed by the Education Department as “efficient”.

SchoolsBoysMixed (or Girls)InfantsTotal
St. James’ National Schools29450354
Upper Schools (Board)28268350
Roman Catholic Schools151110261
Battye Street Schools (Board)200200175575
Central Infant School (Board)150150
“Day School Accommodation of the Town, 1881”

Societies and “Public Institutions”?

Now, the Handbook describes the following as “Public Institutions”, but I feel like that description only fits a few. Perhaps treat this then as the extra-curricular section, where we can prove to an extent that us Spen Vallyers (a term never used before and hopefully never again) have never shied away from community led groups!

The following list is only a summary:

  • Chamber of Commerce. Established 1873. Meetings every second Tuesday of the month.
  • Naturalists’ Society. Established 7 Sep 1861. Meetings held every fourth Saturday at 8pm.
  • Local Naturalists’ Association. Estavlished at Heckmondwike in 1879. Monthly “rambles and meetings” from April to September.
  • Juvenile Naturalists’ Society. Established 7 Sep 1877. Meetings every fourth Thursday at 7pm.
  • Working Men’s Club. Established 1868.
  • Mechanics’ Institute. Established Sep 1873.
  • Literary Club and Institute.
  • Antiquarian Society. Established 1880. Meetings held every first Monday of the month at 8 pm. Special note that famous local historian Frank Peel was Vice President for Heckmondwike.
  • Choral Society. “Instituted, A.D. 1859”.

Road Works?

Perhaps seeming a little too current, the Heckmondwike Local Board performed roadworks on a variety of different roads in the township. The following list of the lengths of roads repaired by the Board was maybe included as a little boast – who knows – but provides some interesting reading.

Also, I wonder if this may also shed some light on when certain roads were named.

Oldfield Lane194
Railway Street392
Market Street246
Walkely Lane980
Pinfold Hill (Road made across, 22 Mar 1858)64
Jeremy Lane1,075
High Street1,000
Out of High Street onto Oldfield Lane20
High Street, Branch into Batley79
Kilpinhill Roads563
Chapel Lane (Adopted 18 Mar 1861)404
Albion Street (Adopted 5 Sep 1860)268
Cemetery Road (Adopted 4 Nov 1861)742
Brighton Street (Adopted 3 Jan 1870)500
Dale Lane (Repaired as Highway, 13 Dec 1858)800
Low Lane, Little Green (Ditto – Dale Lane)395
Leeds Old Turnpike Road (Trust expired, 1 Nov 1871)1,055
Leeds New Turnpike Road (Trust expired, 1 Nov 1871)1,323
Holme Lane (Gomersal Road)314
Regent Street (Adopted 1 Dec 1874)171
Cooke Lane (Adopted 3 Apr 1878)319
Oak Street (Adopted 1 Apr 1878111
Beck Lane (Adopted 24 Oct 1878)260
Total Yards ….12,272
“Length of Roads Repaired by the Heckmondwike Local Board”

1 Written exactly as it appears in the 1881-1882 handbook


  • The 1881-1882 Heckmondwike Board’s Handbook – located at Cleckheaton Library
  • Photos obtained at Heckmondwike Library
  • Frank Peel’s Spen Valley Past and Present
  • Local reporting from the Batley News and Reporter, Leeds Mercury, Cleckheaton Advertiser
  • Histpop for Census Data
  • Fifty Year’s Journalistic Experiences and Chronicles of a Typical Industrial Area
  • Wikimedia Commons

Two years volunteering in a Cemetery?

When I tell people that I volunteer at Liversedge Cemetery and also Morley, I typically get similar responses – raised eyebrows and a look of confusion. That is not unjustified as it can, at first glance, seem strange to someone who doesn’t understand what we do and why we do it. I would like to dispel some of these thoughts and perceptions I have encountered and try, if it is possible, to explain to you why volunteering has been so positive to myself whilst also illustrating how critical voluntary work is in any form in protecting our collective local heritage.

Liversedge Cemetery in May 2021

Off the bat, you certainly don’t have to be a taphophile (a person who is interested in cemeteries and gravestones), interested in the history of death, nor do you have to be a macabre or gothic person. Some, including myself, are genealogists and interested in all forms of history – local or otherwise – but even that isn’t necessary. Nor do you even have to have family buried in the cemetery. At the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery, for example, we have a range array of people who either fit some of the prior points but others who volunteer for other reasons. Some like to get out and get some fresh air, and others enjoy gardening and a nice chat, but we all collectively have one goal in mind – giving back to our community and keeping our cemetery tidy.

I decided to join the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery group for quite a simple reason. It was rumoured that my Grandad’s Grandma, or my Great Great Grandmother, was buried at the cemetery, and I thought it would be great to meet some people who may be able to assist in finding her plot. I also felt that it was right for me to do some volunteering in exchange for any information or assistance and would generally be a net positive for everybody. What I didn’t expect was that I would still be going up every other Sunday two years later!

In February 2022, we were able to mark Betty’s unmarked grave after about 88 years,

Being a little self-indulgent here but volunteering at the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery has been a roundly positive experience for me. I have met many different people of all different backgrounds and ages and made many friendships that wouldn’t have ever come to fruition if it wasn’t for the group. Partly by setting my One Place Study of Liversedge Cemetery, but also by meeting people at the tidy-ups, I have become even more informed about our local history. It has also been from the unique perspective of people from a range of different backgrounds, occupations and social classes. I am also now quite a good strimmer and weeder and have more gardening skills than before, but I certainly haven’t inherited the green fingers yet! I also have been able to give back to my local community and can say that I have made a difference. Regular volunteers or not, anybody who has worked with the group at Liversedge Cemetery has also made a difference.

As part of my One Place Study and also my EPQ project at school, I wrote a book on all known graves at Liversedge Cemetery that have soldiers buried in them or commemorated on them. This isn’t a usual thing volunteering at Friends of Cemetery groups, don’t get me wrong, but without my time up at the cemetery volunteering and the regular Remembrance Day events we hold, the book wouldn’t have likely happened.

Myself with a copy of my book at Cleckheaton Library in March 2022

Some would argue that it is the council’s obligation to look after and tidy our cemeteries. Sure this is true, but we have to consider that our local authorities are now quite large. Kirklees, my local authority, for example, is by area the third largest metropolitan district in England, behind Doncaster and Leeds. The council has to look after fourteen cemeteries in this area, and I am sure you can see why people feel like our cemeteries are neglected. It is not that the council is of fault necessarily, but they simply cannot fulfil the work to the standards prior to the 1970s local government reorganisation. This is where organisations such as the friends of Liversedge Cemetery are so vital because we can step in and do what is necessary to keep the cemetery as tidy and as beautiful as can be. The problem with this, of course, is that we are volunteers and not paid to do this.

If we want our areas to look beautiful, to feel cared for and want to protect the heritage of the said areas, it is necessary to create organisations and volunteer. Nobody will do the work for us. I personally do not care to throw the blame at anybody – I simply want to make things happen.

I would recommend if you’re on the edge of wanting to volunteer in any similar organisations, or even the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery itself, that you give it a go. What is the worst that could happen? If it’s not for you, simply do not go again! But, on the other hand, you may enjoy it, you may also enjoy the company it brings, and it could become quite a regular thing for you to do.

Some of our volunteers at Liversedge, including our local MP, Kim Leadbeater

Mary Jane Fell: Courage and Perseverance

My ancestry has many stories of true tragedy, unimaginable loss and difficult and, to some extent, traumatic childhoods. But there are also remarkable stories of love, survival, and unimaginable perseverance. Sometimes, these stories come hand in hand, and my Great Great Great Grandmother, Mary Jane Fell’s story is perhaps the epitome.

The Woman in Question – Mary Jane Fell in later life

Mary Jane Fell was born into what is quite a complex and quite fascinating family. Depending upon the day, she was either Mary Jane ‘Fell’ or ‘Turner’ or even both. This is owing to the illegitimate birth of her grandfather but then his mother’s quick marriage to his biological father. What about her mother’s unclear origins before her move to York? And what about the fact mother changes her maiden name record to record, either being a ‘Ward’ or ‘Wedgewood’?

As these questions remain unanswered or have quite perplexing answers, let us focus on what we know. Mary Jane was baptised on 12 October 1856 at the now-demolished St Maurice, Monkgate. Her father was Alfred Fell, a comb maker and Freeman of the City and her mother was called Fanny. The couple married a few years previously and had already had one child, Alfred, before the birth of Mary Jane.

The Church where Mary Jane was baptised before it was rebuilt in 1876 – via Secret York (

On this 1856 baptism record, the family is recorded as living on Lord Mayor’s Walk and, by 1861, had moved to Mason’s Buildings, Coppergate. Another brother, James, had joined the family by that point, and two more would follow over the next decade – John and Frederick. By 1871 the family had moved again to 9 King Street, Castlegate. These addresses may ostensibly appear to be dotted all over the city, but the last two are relatively close to each other and even moving from Lord Mayor’s Walk wasn’t the end of the world for young Mary Jane. In 1872 or so, the family welcomed its youngest and final member – Rose.

There was a problem about to materialise for young Mary Jane, her father and her siblings – her mother’s drinking habits and loose fingers.

Fanny spent nearly seven years in the confines of York Prison over the next twenty years or so. Years she should have raised her youngest daughter Rose, grown old with Alfred and simply just lived life. I am not claiming that life would have been easy, but certainly easier than the life spent in York Castle. The first conviction occurred in 1872, and from snippets of information, it is apparent that she tended to steal things after drinking but was ‘a good wife’ according to her husband when she was sober.

York Prison next to Clifford’s Tower via (

This is clearly relevant to Mary Jane’s story, but it is worth discussing why. Firstly, there was the unfortunate fact that her mother had become a ‘notorious’ character well-known for her offences. Holding that burden as her daughter in Victorian society must have been a lot to deal with. Furthermore, Mary Jane was about 16 or so when her mother was first sent down and will likely have had lots of responsibility thrust upon her very quickly. Her sister Rose was still very young and needed looking after her. Additionally, who was to do the housework? Poor Mary Jane not only had to deal with the temporary loss of her mother but also her mother’s workload.

It is not all doom or gloom, however.

She fell lucky and married Alfred Dale in the final quarter of 1879. Alfred’s family was somewhat more prestigious. He was the son of a Printer, nephew of John Dale, the Sword Bearer of York, and grandson of the well-known late hairdresser William Dale. Yet, Alfred’s occupation was not as glamorous as he was a glassblower, but prestige isn’t that important.

What mattered was the birth of the newly wedded couple’s first child, a daughter called Frances Lily, in 1880. By 1881 they had moved to 14 Willow Street, Walmgate, and that year’s census also reveals some unique circumstances about Mary Jane’s day-to-day life – the fact she worked – specifically as a comb maker’s labourer. There is a link here to her father and his occupation, but I find it unlikely that Mary Jane would have been working for him directly. Both Alfred and Fanny (with some of their younger kids) had made a temporary move to Hackney in London by 1881 and would be back in less than a year.

Frances Lily Dale in much later life

More children followed Mary Jane in 1882 and Edward in 1885. Edward sadly passed away, aged only five hours, and it is unimaginable what pain Mary Jane and Alfred must have felt in grieving for their child. Perhaps comforting to some extent was the births of more children – Ada in 1886, Albert Victor in 1888 and Florence Edith in 1890.

By 1890, the family still lived in Walmgate but now at 33 Duke of York Place. Nothing much had changed in the family apart from the loss of Edward and its continuing growth. Mary Jane’s life was perhaps as stable as it had ever been; despite her mother continuing to be imprisoned, she had her beloved husband and plenty of children to fall back upon.

Sadly, despite this newfound stability, she wasn’t protected from reality as her father Alfred Fell died in 1895 and was buried at York Cemetery a few days after his passing in an unmarked public grave (18875). What probably made the loss sting, even more, was that her mother was imprisoned for trying to steal a shawl, so I find it unlikely she would have been present at the funeral. Alfred never gave up on Fanny and always came to her defence and was willing to admit her faults, which makes the prior fact even more painful.

Hope Street in York around 1889, Long Close Lane (Duke of York Place) was the next street. 

By 1901, the final Dale children had been born – Arthur in 1893 and George Alfred in 1898. That year’s census showed that the family remained living at 33 Duke of York Place but indicated that they lived in four rooms. Furthermore, Alfred Dale is recorded as working as a glassblower for bottles and the two eldest sisters (barring Frances Lily, who had left home), Mary Jane and Ada, as working confectionary makers. Life wasn’t easy for the family, but they were getting along with it and doing their bit to help.

Despite the stability of 1901, Mary Jane was to face her two most considerable losses yet.

First came the loss of her mother on 26 June 1905, which was likely a tough loss to deal with. Perhaps there was a feeling that her parents were reunited again by death, and her mother was no longer beset by her life’s problems on this earth. A few days after her death and perhaps some contemplation by those that knew her, Fanny Fell was buried in a different public grave (19402) to her husband, a sad irony reflecting that they were divided by bars in life and also divided in death.

What followed was worse, however – Alfred Dale became ill with tongue cancer and died, aged just 47, at home on 30 August 1906. His death, only from the description on his death certificate, appears to have been unpleasant, and it must have been excruciatingly distressing for Mary Jane to deal with. The death, however, was only just the beginning of her problems. How was she to feed five or so children? How would she keep her house? What work was available for her, a nearly fifty-year-old widow?

The Final Resting Place of Alfred Dale

As Alfred was buried on 1 August 1906 in a public grave at York Cemetery like her parents, perhaps some of these questions subsided. However, we have a unique way to see Mary Jane’s feelings for her late husband, mainly via a kerb erected on his grave. Disappointedly it has since sunken, but its inscription appears to be words of Mary Jane herself: “In Loving Memory of my beloved husband Alfred Dale, who died 30 August 1906”. The fact he even had a marker on his grave is quite unique and testimony to his memory and life as well as those around him.

Linking back to the problems Mary Jane faced now she was a widow, she finally concluded that the family were to pack up and go to the prosperous Heavy Wollen area. There would be plenty of work available in the mills, and if everything went well, the family could cope easier with its added pressures now the main breadwinner was dead. I think they likely moved via train and can only imagine how they all felt as they boarded the train at York Railway Station and said goodbye to their home.

Leeds Road, Dewsbury – via the Dewsbury Reporter

The gamble appeared to work well, and by 1908 the family lived at 4 Leeds Road, Dewsbury. We know this as Mary Jane (or Jenny as her marriage certificate refers to her) gets married to a 44-year-old Bachelor, George Marshall. He lived nearby at 8 Leeds Road and worked with the Coke Ovens as a labourer.

By 1911 the family, now consisting of the three youngest boys (Albert Victor, Arthur and George Alfred) and Mary Jane and George Marshall, ended up living at 40 Primrose Hill, Soothill. This began a long tradition of Dale residency on Primrose Hill that lasted up until the mid-1960s. Arthur was a labourer at a woollen mill, while George Marshall and Albert Victor Dale worked in a Coke Plant. Arguably, Mary Jane had returned to the stability of before, and this was not an easy feat to achieve. It was truly indicative of a robust and decisive character that loved her family deeply.

1914 came around, and everything changed.

The war affected every aspect of life, especially as it dragged on in its later years. Cuts and austerity measures were necessary, and propaganda and war news was plastered all over the local newspapers. Goods may have been harder to come by, and prices may have also altered. Not only this but Mary Jane’s youngest, George Alfred Dale, was serving in the war.

Mary Jane’s youngest, George Alfred Dale

It appears that he joined up pretty much at the start of the war and took the liberty, like many others, of rounding up his age in order to serve. He was a Private in the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) 2/5th Battalion which was originally formed as a home service unit. George travelled the whole country before he arrived in France in early 1917 and served in a variety of battles, including the Battle of Bullecourt (May 1917), The Cambrai Operations (November 1917) and the first stages of the First Battles of the Somme (1918).

Quite tragically, he was wounded in combat on 28 March 1918 and was sent to a hospital in Rouen the following day. He gallantly fought his injuries until 31 March 1918, when he passed away at age 20.

Mary Jane had lost her youngest boy.

Remembering George Alfred Dale and his bravery

George Alfred Dale wrote and signed an informal will on 12 May 1917, where he left his entire estate to his mother. Perhaps I read too much into it, but I always find it quite moving that he left all his estate to his mother, maybe a final nod to how much Mary Jane had done for him and his family.

We know a lot about Mary Jane’s further experience of 1918, and it doesn’t appear to have treated her well. Her son’s death had deeply affected her as she was described as ‘fretting a lot’ over his death. I resent that term because it almost trivialises her grief. Regardless, she was described as able to function and “carry out her work” despite the loss.

Adding to an already emotionally exhaustive year, she even caught influenza in November 1918 but luckily recovered.

Her death is one we know quite a great deal about owing to the inquest into it.

25 Jan 1917 – Dewsbury District News

Her husband described Mary Jane as being a ‘stout’ lady who was sometimes short of breath. The previously mentioned period of influenza in November 1918 didn’t help Mary Jane. Still, she appeared to be in alright health after it, with her daughter-in-law Hannah (who also happens to be my Great Great Grandmother) stating that “she seemed the same to me”.

On Monday 20 January 1919, Mary Jane had a light supper, removed herself to bed at about 8.45 and was in her normal state. However, this all changed when she awakened her husband at about 3 am, complaining of chest pains. George Marshall then made his wife a cup of tea, and she managed to drink about half of it. George remained downstairs, and Mary Jane later came downstairs at around 4.30 and collapsed onto the hearthrug.

Hannah and Arthur Dale, my Great Great Grandparents, in the 1950s

George placed his wife in a chair and quickly rushed for his stepson’s wife, Hannah, and they both put Mary Jane back to bed. Quite heartbreakingly, Mary Jane remarked, “I am going to die” when put back to bed, and George Marshall replied to his wife, saying, “Don’t talk like that”.

George then rushed for a doctor while Hannah remained with her mother-in-law. She made Mary Jane’s bed after her mother-in-law told her she wasn’t well. Mary Jane reportedly continued to complain of pain in the chest and was “fighting” for breath.

George managed to return just in time, and at about 5.30 am Mary Jane passed away, aged 62 or so, on 21 January 1919. 

An inquest found she died of heart failure caused by the fatty degeneration of the heart. She was buried at Batley Cemetery in the following days.

Batley Cemetery – July 2021

I would say that Mary Jane Fell, or Dale, or Marshall led a remarkable life. It had many ups and downs – every win was paired with an equal loss and vice versa. She fought hard from her mother’s first conviction right up until the end and those final pivotal hours. She moved her family across Yorkshire as a widow and lost a son soon after birth and one to war. She had also managed to find love again and, most importantly, guaranteed her and her family’s survival.

There is not too much else to say, just what a woman and a legacy.

I aspire to have an ounce of her courage and perseverance and can proudly claim her as my Great Great Great Grandmother.

Anthony Metcalfe: Miner, Dog Owner and Survivor

In order to know someone’s life story, you do not need to know everything, and Anthony Metcalfe’s story, my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, proves this concept. We know a great deal about his character via a telling account of his demise and a few other key events of his life and can tell his life story despite some apparent gaps.

Therefore, to begin, despite not knowing too much, let us confront what we do know – Anthony’s date and place of birth are wildly inconsistent. For example, his documented years of birth range from around 1822 to 1824. Alongside this, he reports, on censuses ranging from 1851 to 1881, that he was born in Birstall once, Bradford and on two of them Wensleydale. In 1846, he lived in and around Bradford, so he lived there at some point and lived in Birstall for most of his life. Because these places of birth came from census data, and we don’t know precisely who the informant was, this could explain them away.

Marriage Record

Either way, the first documented record of Anthony Metcalfe’s existence is his marriage to Mercy Ainsworth on 23 February 1846 at Bradford Parish Church. Anthony is described as 21-year-old Batchelor Collier, who resides in the village of Allerton, which is close to Bradford. He seems to take after his father, who is also recorded as being called Anthony and also recorded as working as a Collier. Mercy, his wife, lived in Manningham, and as we will later find out, it appears that he moved to live in her area after their marriage.

Their marriage is quite an interesting one – chiefly down to Mercy’s young death at the hands of unknown causes in the April quarter of 1846. Sadly it didn’t last long, but I feel a few questions could be asked regarding its length – when the couple married, was Mercy already unwell? Was it rushed, perhaps due to an illness? Or was it just another Victorian tragedy that unfolded down to the toughness of the era’s life?

What was once Bradford Parish Church

Anthony remarried at the end of 1846, specifically on Boxing Day, 26 December 1846, at the same Church. He had moved to Manningham, but nothing much else changes barring a new witness on the marriage record – a William Metcalfe, perhaps a brother or cousin? His new wife was called Sarah Blackburn and also had a similar mysterious background.

The early years of their marriage were quite inconsistent, in the sense that they took quite a while to settle down and seemed to quite regularly move around. They remained in Bradford for a year or two, with their first born child, William, been born in the October quarter of 1847 but didn’t stay for long.

Perhaps in order to seek out more stable work or better conditions and pay, Anthony and his young family moved to the village of Wingate in Durham by the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in January 1849. The Colliery there had opened in 1839 by Lord Howden and Partners, and on the 1851 Census, Anthony and his family are recorded as living at the Colliery itself, alongside a lodger. However, this detour into living and working in Wingate didn’t last long, as by the birth of the couple’s next child, John, in 1853, the couple had likely moved back to Bradford and its surrounding areas.

The area surrounding Wingate during the 1850s

In the next two years, ahead of the birth of another son named Smith in 1855, the family settled in Birstall, and the period of inconsistency finally came to an end. His birth was followed by a brother Joseph in 1856 and two sisters – Annie and Harriet, my Great Great Great Grandmother – in 1858 and 1860, respectively. The family resided in Howden Clough in 1861 and remained in the same area in 1871. However, that year’s census does give us an address – specifically “Brasscastle”, which I take to mean an area of Howden Clough, which was near to the Brass Castle Colliery. This makes sense as many neighbours work down the pits on both censuses, and it fits in with Anthony’s past.

There are two more quite intriguing things to note about the family in 1871. Firstly, Elizabeth got married to Daniel Simms in the first quarter of the year, and he had moved into the Metcalfe home shortly afterwards. Clearly, this added an extra mouth to feed but also a little more income, so I assume he was welcomed into the household. It was very kind of Anthony to allow them to adjust to married life and begin to start building their own family. It is not only the human members of the Metcalfe household that were highlighted in this period, as it is noted in the Dewsbury Reporter that Anthony was charged for allowing his dog to “be at large” without a muzzle, I assume, and he was fined a total of 5 shillings. It was not enough to ruin the families’ finances, but still money they would have preferred to have!

Death notice of Sarah, Anthony’s wife

Death again struck Anthony’s life with the death of his wife Sarah on 5 April 1879 when she was just aged 48. She was buried at Birstall Parish Church four days later, on 8 April 1879. I will never know Anthony’s feelings towards his wife and her untimely death, but I do know that a death notice was published in the Batley Reporter and Guardian for her. This isn’t unprecedented and doesn’t necessarily mean much, but we must not forget Anthony was a working-class coal miner. It mightn’t have bankrupted him, but he clearly cared enough about his wife to invest some of his genuinely hard-earned money into remembering her. To me, at least, this shows a devotion to his wife and her memory, and I hope it also indicates a relationship of respect.

Two years or so after this, on the 1881 Census, Anthony is recorded as still residing at “Brasscastle” but in very, very different circumstances. He had gone from living in a household of seven to living on his own. He no longer had a wife to look after him nor extra income from his older kids or the antics of his younger children messing and playing around. Everyone had grown up or died, and although his family remained living near, Anthony was alone. According to the census, he was also out of work. I am unsure when Brass Castle Colliery shut as there is little online information, so perhaps he was simply between jobs? Also, Anthony became ill with bouts of diarrhoea in the mid-1880s, so perhaps illness also factored into this fact?

Can you spot Brass Castle?

1885 is also an interesting time for Anthony, for he is involved with the police. He has committed no crime as he was a mere witness, but his blood had – specifically his grandson William Simms. 10-year-old William visited his grandfather on 18 August and presented a bell that he claimed he and a 14-year-old Alfred Dale had found in a corn field. As it would turn out, after a visit to his house by the police, Anthony was gifted something stolen by the two lads from the Volunteer Inn. They had stolen a clock, a spell, a lamp and two table bells and hidden them near the Howden Clough Rifle Range and a field on Windmill Lane. The lads were apprehended and owing to their age and the fact it was their first offence, each were fined 10 shillings and costs, or 14 days. Obviously, I doubt Anthony would have been happy with this, but it shows us that he saw some of his grandchildren and that he had a relationship with them.

Reporting from the Dewsbury Chronicle

I did miss out on a key event that happened to Anthony in 1882, namely his remarriage again to a widow named Mary Grayshon. This remarriage represented a chance to live a life not lonely, and Anthony was in many ways quite lucky to get this second chance, but it wasn’t to last too long.

Anthony went to work on 11 February 1887 like any other day. It must have been an early start as he met a colleague, Solomon Wallace, of Low Lane, Birstall, at about 6:15 am. The pair worked at the Howden Clough Pit of the West Yorkshire Colliery Company – Solomon worked on the east side of the pit, and Anthony worked by himself in a nearby bank. They both got on with their respective work, and Solomon causally saw Anthony a few times before hearing the roof falling and a loud crash. He instantly called out for Anthony and heard the reply, “o’ come here”. Solomon rushed towards him, and owing to a slip that could not be seen, a large rock had fallen onto Anthony’s leg. The hurried had arrived to see what had happened soon after, and Solomon sent him for help. Eventually, after what probably seemed a painfully long wait, Anthony was set free.

The Batley Cottage Hospital opened in 1883

He was rushed to the Cottage Hospital as it appeared his leg was broken in two places, and he was admitted between 11 am and 12 pm. Mary Ann Boulton, the widowed Resident Nurse, described Anthony’s leg as having a compound fracture of the right leg but that no bone was protruding from it. He was badly bruised from his shoulder to his right arm, which quickly healed, but the legs sloughed (skin falling off) from the knee to the ankle for about three weeks.

As mentioned before, he had regular bouts of diarrhoea, and these appeared to come back once the sloughing had healed. These bouts quite dismally led to Anthony developing gangrene of the bowels, which led to his demise. Boulton described Anthony as ‘gradually’ sinking before his death, perhaps indicating how painful it was for him. Conceivably mercifully, in a way, he died, aged approximately 63, on 15 April 1887, at around 8:50 am. He was buried at Birstall Parish Church’s Churchyard on 18 April 1887.

There is an irony to the fact we know so much about his demise but so little about his birth, but what we do know paints a picture of a man who lived lots. Despite the limitations of his class and the tough, brutal conditions of the society he lived in, he managed to survive until the end. He also survived two marriages and raised seven children, saw different parts of his country and left enough records of his soul and actions for his Great Great Great Great Grandson around 135 years after his death to proudly claim him as his own.

Bridget Cook: Bravery Lost to Time

Sadly, historically, women have been overlooked and sometimes intentionally dismissed and ignored, especially working-class women. In the field of genealogy, I suppose there is less of a chance of this discrimination, at least to an extent, as there is always a desire to trace back as much as physically possible, but when maiden names are unable to be found, and women are simply recorded as ‘Mrs. John Smith’, it can become near impossible to trace their stories. So they become ignored or misrepresented, and I find this to be such a shame.

With this point in mind, it would be easy to dismiss Bridget Cook, my Great Great Great Grandmother, as being John’s wife, George’s daughter, or Charles’ widow. However, this overlooks her story that, despite being lost to time temporarily due to some of the reasons mentioned above, truly exemplifies a woman driven by determination, grit and a quest for survival in a cruel and uncaring world.

The street Bridget would spend most of her life

Bridget was likely born in 1849, most likely in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland. She was the daughter of George Cook and his wife Judith McMahon, both Irish immigrants who originated from County Louth. They married almost certainly in the 1840s, before the birth of their first daughter in 1842, and had a few children in Ireland before moving across to Monkwearmouth by Bridget’s birth in 1849. Bridget’s place and approximate year of birth remain consistent throughout her life, which is quite surprising, but I have not been able to find any GRO registration relating to her birth. There is a multitude of reasons that could lay behind this and are irrelevant to her life story, but I thought it was worth mentioning still.

One half of the Cook Household on the 1851 Census

Growing up, Bridget had it tough, and nothing can illustrate this in a better way than the way her family was living in 1851, as there were eleven people residing in the Cook Household – including Bridget herself – on that year’s census. The family included Bridget’s parents and siblings, but she also lived with some lodgers – specifically George’s brother, some of her father’s cousins and two other unrelated men. Furthermore, there were another five people from another family residing in the same building, making 16 individuals.

Another indication of just how tough Bridget’s childhood was where the family lived throughout the entirety of it – Fighting Cock Yard, near John Street. The same doesn’t sound inspiring, nor do the much later reports that crime was rife, including prostitution, clearly showing just how destitute and desperate its inhabitants were. Despite this, siblings followed – Mary Jane in 1856, George in 1858 and Julia in 1863. Julia was lucky to survive past her infancy, but sadly, both George and Mary Jane were not, dying when they were just over a year or a few months old.

St. Benet’s R.C. Church, Sunderland

By 1861, George’s earlier mentioned brother had finally moved out and got married. He lived with his children, mother, and wife on that year’s census but also an eighteen-year-old lodger, Charles McIlroy. He is key to Bridget’s story as they both got married in less than a decade. Specifically at St. Benet’s Roman Catholic Church in the second quarter of 1869. Her marriage to McIlroy ostensibly started reasonably well – she gave birth to a boy named Charles (perhaps after his father) exactly a year later. However, this was not to last.

Charles McIlroy was dead by the time of the 1871 Census, and I am clueless as to exactly when or how he died. Was it tragically before the birth of his son, leading to him becoming his son’s namesake, or did he get to see his little boy be born? I am unsure, as I said before, but I will always pray to myself that he did get to see him. Another significant loss struck in this period as Bridget’s mother, Judith, passed away in late Jan or early Feb 1870, aged only about 50, and was buried at the local Mere Knolls Cemetery on 3 February 1870. Aged only 21 or so, Bridget had seen the loss of two siblings, her mother and also her husband – this would rightly break so many people but not Bridget.

Fighting Cock Yard circa 1860

I think that Bridget was a woman of incredible courage and determination and was certainly not stupid, and her actions after the death of her husband and mother display this. She took on a leadership role, being recorded as the Head of the Household of 13 Fighting Cock Yard on the 1871 Census – residing with her son, some siblings, father and new stepmother. She was willing to work both domestically but also to make a living, gladly recording the fact she was working as a labourer in pottery. She didn’t let the many losses she was facing destroy her, she had every right to, but she and her family would also end up dead with her late husband and mother. Society and life were cruel, and if Bridget didn’t work, she would fall into the hardest of times, and she clearly wasn’t willing to accept that.

Her courage and ability to take charge of her own destiny at the pivotal moment allowed her to remarry and eventually pick herself up from her losses. She did this in late 1872 to a man named James Conley, who lived nearby on John Street. From this marriage, my Great Great Grandmother, Catherine Conley, was born in 1873, followed by George in 1875. There was an interruption to Catherine’s period of relative peace as she lost a son, namely James, who died aged about 19 months in 1878. Things looked up again as she gave birth to a healthy boy, Peter, in 1879, and then a girl, Mary Ann, in 1882.

By 1881, Bridget had finally left Fighting Cock Yard, residing at 38 Brook Street, with some other families alongside her husband, sister Julia and children. Sadly, her father had died some years earlier, in 1877, and Bridget had lost another key figure in her life. It is perhaps less tragic in nature as George Cook was advanced in his age, dying aged 60 or so, but still, despite leaving Fighting Cock Yard, she couldn’t avoid another bout of deaths.

Bridget’s eldest son’s death certificate

Before she encountered another loss, she had two more children – John in 1885 and Julia in 1887. This subsequent loss was in spite of all her labouring and bravery, her eldest son Charles McIlroy, who had effectively been adopted into the Conley family, passed away on 26 April 1890 at the Conley family home of 18 Stobart Street due to complications from tuberculosis. Poignantly, James Conley registers his stepson’s death, showing that he was still willing to claim him even in death.

It all ended suddenly for Bridget, not so long after the birth of another daughter, Martha, in early January 1891. Years of toil, bravery and a burning desire to survive for the sake of her family all faded away due to the cruelty of tuberculosis. Like her son a year earlier, the disease killed Bridget on 13 January 1891 at home at 18 Stobart Street. Luckily, her husband, James, was present at her death.

Bridget’s death certificate

Due to the fact her grandson, my Great Grandfather, was orphaned and difficulties surrounding finding her maiden name, Bridget’s story was at least temporarily lost to time. It was only recently uncovered in its true form, one of immense determination and bravery. This was in the face of a brutal society, appalling living and working conditions and countless unimaginable losses – Bridget Cook defied all odds and managed to keep her family and children alive for generations to come. Her story is genuinely inspiring to me, and I look to employ her spirit and memory as I progress through life.

For, if she had given up without much of a fight, would I be sat down writing her story 131 years after she passed away?

Mere Knolls Cemetery – Bridget’s final resting place

Harriet Keighley: The Widow

Born into a turbulent childhood shrouded in mystery, Harriet Keighley found herself lucky when she married Jeremiah Hall in 1830. But, struck by Jeremiah’s loss only fifteen years later, she started a widowhood that would last over twice the length of her marriage and have profound consequences for the generations of Halls ahead.

Harriet’s parents were Samuel Keighley and Grace Fearnley, who married at Birstall Parish Church in 1797, both residents of Heckmondwike. In terms of occupation, Samuel took after his father Jonas and worked as a clothier, a pretty broad term for individuals working in the cloth trade or even individuals who made or sold clothing.

Upper Independent Chapel in Heckmondwike via the Kirklees Image Archive (

The couple’s first recorded child, Nancy, was born in 1801 and was baptised at the Heckmondwike Old Independent Chapel shortly after her birth. The same applied to Mary, who followed in 1804. Both baptism records indicate the family now was living on Dewsbury Moor. Elizabeth was born in 1806 but was baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church, as was her sister Ellen in 1808.

Harriet did not buck the trend, and after her birth which was likely not too long before her baptism, she was baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church on 21 November 1810. Her only brothers followed – Antony in 1813 and Samuel in 1816, both baptised at Dewsbury Parish Church. Interestingly, by the time of Samuel’s baptism, the family had moved to Batley.

Dewsbury Minister

I do not mean to bore, regurgitating facts, places and dates, but it is clear that Samuel and Grace were flexible people, regularly switching Religious Denominations and moving around. This seems to be more apparent at the beginning of the couple’s marriage, so it perhaps affected Harriet’s childhood in a more mitigated way. Still, it is pretty clear that she lacked some stability in her childhood.

Now, after Samuel’s baptism in 1816, for whatever reason, we hit a deep and barren void as I have no recorded evidence of what happened to Harriet’s siblings or her parents past that point. It has been a while since I have touched them, so perhaps this is an excellent reason to have another search, but anything could have happened to them as far as we are concerned.

Batley Parish Church

Aged about 19 or so, on 8 September 1830, at Batley Parish Church, Harriet married Jeremiah Hall, a local Clothier. They married into a changing world where things were changing at a greater pace now than ever as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Batley began to develop into a prosperous and industrial town.

The couple’s first child was a boy named Joseph, who was baptised at Batley in 1831, followed by a sister named Grace in 1832. Quite tragically, Grace passed away, aged only one year, in April 1833 and was buried in her local Parish Churchyard on the 22nd of that month.

Family life continued, and despite the fact the loss of their only daughter must have stung very profoundly, both Harriet and Jeremiah had their son Joesph’s mouth to feed. He was joined by a brother named Jeremiah, after his father, in 1836, and also a sister, Grace Ann, in 1838, named likely after her late sister Grace and paternal grandmother Ann. Another girl, Margaret, was born and baptised in 1839.

William Henry Hall’s baptism at Batley Parish Church

Like most other people, Harriet first appeared on a census in 1841, where she was living with her husband and children in “New Batley”, which appears to be close to what is now Upper Commercial Street, Batley. The year after the census return, on 13 February 1842, William Henry Hall, my Great Great Great Grandfather, Jeremiah and Harriet’s final child together, was born in Batley, most likely at home. William’s baptism took place the following year at Batley Parish Church, just like the rest of his siblings, on 15 January 1843.

Just two years after William’s baptism, when he was aged just 3, and Harriet herself was aged only about 34 years, Jeremiah succumbed to phthisis, an archaic term for tuberculosis, aged only 41, at home, on 14 May 1845. He was buried at Batley Parish Church, where both his father and daughter Grace were also buried, on 18 May 1845.

I do not, and most likely will never, know the family dynamics of the household of Jeremiah and Harriet, nor do I know if they were a happy family, but I would at least like to think so. Jeremiah’s death had severe consequences for the family, many of them profoundly negative, but he seems never to be forgotten despite those factors. For example, I know that many of their children honoured Jeremiah by naming many of his grandchildren after him. Another point of this loyalty to his memory is perhaps the fact that Harriet never remarried. Was this down to loyalty to her late husband or just circumstances? We will likely never know either way.

As said before, the death of Jeremiah did have profound consequences for his family, who now faced a more tough and brutal reality. I am in no way saying that the Hall family had it easy when Jeremiah was alive – they were a working-class family in 1840s Batley. However, now they had lost the support of the breadwinner, and Harriet was, despite the help of the Hall and Keighley families, alone. Nevertheless, she didn’t let this new, more brutal reality deter her and took little to no time adjusting to it.

Harriet and family on the 1851 Census

On the 1851 census, her occupation is recorded as a rag sorter, and two of her eldest children worked in the mill. Now, a rag-sorter has a vague definition – she could have been sorting rags in a mill or even just collecting and sorting old bits of clothing. Regardless, Harriet now had double the work – running a house and earning a living – and it is possible that each day seemed to be more brutal and more protracted as time went on. Nevertheless, the strength she likely showed during this period is unquestionably remarkable, and I personally am deeply proud of her.

In 1861 things may have begun to calm down for Harriet, at least to an extent, because all her children, barring her son Jeremiah, remained at home and all worked in a variety of woollen based occupations. She is still recorded as working herself, but perhaps some of the pressure began to lift, which was quite apt as she began to grow older. Of course, she wouldn’t ever get the retirement of the modern era, but even just having a simpler existence, with less pressure, would have likely been quite welcome.

A map circa 1910 of the area where Harriet and her family lived

By 1871, Harriet did get this break, at least to some extent, as most of her children had either got employed or married and moved out. Interestingly, my Great Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Hall, was the exception and remained living with his mother on New Street, alongside his wife and children. His wife Eliza is recorded as taking up the role of housekeeper, while William is a plucker, and Harriet takes up the more sophisticated role of a shopkeeper. Her son Jeremiah lived next door, and her brother-in-law Joseph Hall lived only a few doors away. Harriet now worked in a different role, and likely faced less pressure at home – a blessing of her arduous labour pursuing her family’s survival.

By 1877, Harriet had moved to Cross Bank in Batley, and it is likely that William and his family also remained living with her or at least nearby. I am unsure of the exact reason he may have stayed with her – perhaps financial reasons contributed or even a desire to look after her as she aged? Maybe he felt indebted to her for his survival in his youth? But, again, it could have just been circumstance and could have had next to no real deep meaning behind it – we just do not know.

Harriet’s death certificate

In 1870, Harriet had turned 60, and as the average life expectancy was around 70, if you managed to get past 40, she entered her final years. Unfortunately, she became ill with what was later recorded as chronic bronchitis around the early Autumn of 1876, and after about three months of illness, she began to deteriorate. She saw Christmas and the New Year but eventually, on 8 January 1877, her years of labour caught up with her, and she passed away in the presence of her youngest son, William Henry Hall.

She was buried not far from where she lived at Batley Cemetery on 10 January 1877. Her grave is unsurprisingly unmarked and is located in Section A of the cemetery, specifically plot 235. She is also interred with her daughter Grace Ann, who died around a year after her, and a grandson named Walter, who died years previously.

Section A, Plot 235

After her death, William Henry Hall’s alcoholism becomes more apparent, with a variety of arrests, fines and prison sentences. We do not know where it originated from, but I have always felt that his mother’s death contributed towards worsening it. Was she the influence that kept him in check? Perhaps the loss created the alcoholism? We can never be sure either way, but her survival led to William’s life and problems, which in turn led to my Great Great Grandfather Ernest James Hall’s issues, although the First World War was the main contributor to his. This again affected the next generation and so forth. I think this shows how significant Harriet’s death was, not just to her children but how it could still be perceived to be relevant today, about 145 years later.

Did Harriet’s courage aid her grandson, Ernest James Hall, when he served during the First World War?

As a human, Harriet was a survivor who survived so much strife, brutal labour, and loss but still managed to raise the next generation of her family alone. She singlehandedly had the gumption, drive and ability to survive and persevere. Her husband was ripped from her by a horrific illness, let’s not forget that, and she may have received some help along the way, but she was able to keep his memory alive by raising his children and allowing them to carry his name forward. To be honest, Jeremiah is still being talked about 177 years after his death, so she definitely succeeded in that regard.

Harriet will always be special to me, for her story is just so unique and special, and I take great pride in being able to call her my Great Great Great Great Grandmother.

The legacy of Harriet – From left to right, Ernest James Hall (1885-1949), Percy Hall (1908-1976), Richard Hall (1944-1982), Christopher Hall, George Mason Hall.

John Richardson: A Life of Scandal

When my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, John Richardson, was born in 1832, it would be unbeknownst to all what a scandalous life he was about to lead. One that is even still quite uncomfortable to discuss just under 150 years after it ended. Failed marriages, bigamy, illness and abandonment define what was still an incredibly interesting and unique journey to an untimely end, aged just 47.

John Richardson’s story, however, began around just under 70 miles from where it ended, in County Durham, specifically the village of Neasham, which is located nearby to Darlington. He was the eldest son of Robert Richardson, a shoemaker, and Ann Wennington, who had married a few years prior to his birth in 1829. He was baptised at the Parish Church nearby to Neasham, located in Hurworth, on 26 February 1832, the same place as where his parents married. Furthermore, the parish register notes his date of birth as 29 January 1832, which is the only record we have of his birth date, but it is important to note that this date can sometimes be unreliable.

Map showing Neasham in the 1890s

Clearly, as the couple’s eldest child, barring an early death, he would have some siblings to grow up with but also be a role model towards. These children came at wildly inconsistent rates down to what could be a multitude of reasons, but regardless, by 1855, when he was aged about twenty-three, his parent’s final child, a lad named Joseph, was born. In total, including John, they had eight children who survived infancy – 5 boys and 4 girls.

Despite the fact his family was growing, John didn’t remain in Neasham for long after he came of age. In fact, the last recorded time he was living with his family and in his place of birth was the 1851 census, where he is recorded as working as a joiner. Furthermore, it is noted that John is a journeyman, indicating that he may have also spent time away learning his trade as an apprentice, or at the very least illustrating his skills. Perhaps with his new skills and his trade, he set off into an ever-changing world with ambitions to build his own life and future.

Extract of their marriage certificate showing the hand of both John Richardson and Emma Exley

With this in mind, the fact within just over a year or so, he had moved to the up-and-coming West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury doesn’t seem too surprising. However, what is undoubtedly interesting is that in June 1852, within a year or so of his move, he married the 17-year-old Emma Exley. The couple settled into married life and welcomed their first child, John William, in 1854, followed by James in 1856.

In 1861, the family of four was residing on King Street, Batley Carr and John unsurprisingly worked as a joiner. Also, in what I feel to be somewhat of a poignant gesture towards John’s younger brother and father, their third lad born in 1864 was named Christopher Robert Richardson.

John’s brother, Christopher Robert Richardson, many years after the events of John’s life, aged about 90

However, despite all seeming well, the scandalous nature of John’s life was about to begin, for John left his wife and three boys in about 1864.

We will never know the exact motivation as to why John leaves his wife. From my perspective, the marriage seemed to be rushed and strange; Emma seemed too young and considering that John was also still a young lad that had just moved nearly 70 miles, how did the couple even meet? Was their period of courtship long enough? Was the marriage “rushed” with John regretting his decision? Emma’s family was more middle class, with her father being an employer, so perhaps John saw his marriage as a means to advance himself and was ignorant of any long-term consequences? Ignoring all of these more philosophical questions, which we realistically cannot answer easily, I believe that there is a trigger that caused him to leave his family – another woman.

Put in simple terms, my Great Great Great Grandfather, Samuel Walker Richardson, was born in December 1865, John’s first son to Lydia Walker, the above “other” woman. We do not know when they met exactly but using logic, they both must have known each other since the beginning of the year, and as it was around that year that John is later reported as leaving Emma, I think it is fair to come to the conclusion that this was the trigger. It is also worth noting by 1871 after the births of a few new kids to her – namely Tom, Harry and Jane – John is recorded as living with Lydia on Mill Lane, Hanging Heaton as her lodger.

The Baptisms of two of Lydia and John’s children – Jane and Tom – at St Thomas’ Church, Batley

John was in court around the same time period in 1871, specifically May, when he was summoned by the Dewsbury Poor Law Union at Dewsbury Borough Court for leaving his wife and children dependent upon the common fund of the Poor Law Union. The court notes that John typically paid weekly maintenance fees to Emma, but since he was recently taken ill, he could not do so. He was allowed to settle with the Receiving Officer outside of court, and the case was closed.

Arguably the most scandalous action of John’s life was when both he and Lydia moved to Wellington Street, Leeds, for a short period in late 1874, where they were married bigamously. They must have determined Leeds to be large enough to keep some anonymity as they were committing a crime but wasn’t too far removed from Batley and Dewsbury, where they would eventually live again. Banns were read between 25 October and 8 November, before their marriage on 21 November.

The marriage that shouldn’t have legally happened

Both John and Lydia had another son, in about 1872, named Fred, and then Mary Ann in 1875 and had moved back to Batley by the point of her birth. Despite now getting their relationship confirmed in front of god and effectively already existing as a married couple, John was once again summoned for neglecting to pay Emma’s maintenance and once again leaving her at the mercy of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union. He admitted in May 1876 before the Dewsbury Borough Court as being “away’, perhaps linking back to the time spent in Leeds. He was sentenced to three month’s hard labour unless he managed to settle with the Board of Guardians out of court, which he appeared to do. Interestingly, the newspaper report notes that he is “living with another woman” and that he has a sizeable number of kids with her. From this, it was likely well known that they were together, both John and Lydia, so the fact that they were able to get away with marrying bigamously is quite impressive.

It was touched upon in the May 1871 case that John had been taken ill, and ignoring if that was an excuse made for the court or a genuine fact, it foreshadowed what was to happen to John. Specifically, by August 1879, he becomes ill again – fatally ill. Tuberculosis is what kills him, aged 47, on 13 August 1879 at his home with Lydia on Ambler Street, Batley Carr.

Part of John Richardson’s death certificate – not the greatest copy in the world.

Funnily enough, Emma registers his death and is noted as being “in attendance”. This doesn’t illustrate anything significant, as she may have just felt it was right to fulfil her final duties as his wife and mother of his children, or they have reconciled even just a little towards the end. John was buried at Dewsbury Cemetery on 16 August 1879 in a grave that Emma bought and was later buried in herself. Again, the more romantic point might be a reconciliation between the two on his death bed. Yet, I honestly feel that Emma bought the plot over Lydia as, despite the bigamous marriage, Emma was John’s legal wife. Perhaps Emma didn’t even choose to be buried with John. She may have been buried there because it was the easiest for her family members.

There isn’t an easy way to conclude John’s tale as it is one that was cut short, and many pieces are missing from it, unlikely to have ever been recorded by any official records. His thoughts and feelings were especially crucial to his story, and as we don’t know them 150 years on, we should be mindful of that when discussing his actions and intentions. It is essential to discuss regardless as it beautifully exemplifies the fact that not everything is as simple as it appears. Despite what we may think of the past, people have always been people, easily all been able to make similar mistakes and decisions as we are in the modern world. John Richardson’s story isn’t one I gladly shout from the rooftops, but without him and the fact he left his wife, I wouldn’t be here today, so I feel it would be wrong of me to ignore it. After all, he led an incredibly interesting and unique journey through life irrespective of his flaws and scandalous nature.

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?

My Lessons from Auschwitz

In March, I was privileged to participate in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ online programme. I wish to share some of the key lessons and stories I have learnt and also explore why it is so important as someone who has absolutely no apparent connection to the Holocaust that it is important we all remember and learn from it.

Photo from my visit to Auschwitz-BirkenauAuschwitz-BirkenauAuschwitz-Birkenau in late 2019

As we discuss the Holocaust, it is vital to be clear with definitions.

The Holocaust: Defined by the Holocaust Educational Trust as the murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War.

Antisemitism: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines antisemitism as a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards both Jewish and non-Jewish individuals, their property and both religious and community institutions. It can take place in both rhetorical and physical forms.

Genocide: According to the United Nations, genocide can be a variety of actions which are intended to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Clearly, with those clear definitions from trustworthy sources, we can start to interpret the Holocaust. I would like to zero in on the definition of the Holocaust itself by the Holocaust Educational Trust. I believe it exemplifies many points that challenged or at least expanded my own personal knowledge of the Holocaust.

‘Murder’ in the Holocaust was not limited to just the gas chambers as perhaps the wider public’s perception may be but covers a wide array of different deaths equally as important. For example, many victims died of disease, exhaustion or starvation in the camps as they were used for labour in the cruellest and most inhuman conditions throughout the war. Furthermore, many individuals died away from Concentration Camps in different places throughout the period of Nazi rule.

The phrase ‘approximately six million Jewish men, women and children’ contains a vital statistic of the scale of the Holocaust but is quite impersonal and ultimately incomprehensible. However, one way we can try to interpret this number is through the Book of Names located at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which lists 4.2 million names and any known details of the Holocaust’s victims. Unfortunately, there are just under two million names missing – as no records remain of their stories – but there is hope as blank space is left to hopefully record each missing person’s story.

The Book of Names – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We should also refrain from simply considering statistics and consider that all people involved (victims but also perpetrators and collaborators) were individuals. I was lucky enough to hear the testimony of Manfred Goldberg BEM, a holocaust survivor and educator, who truly brought home this point. Each person had their own story and motivations, and to truly understand the Holocaust, and we must consider this.

Finally, I wish to explain why this is relevant to everybody today, especially people like me who may not have an obvious connection to the Holocaust. Antisemitism hasn’t stopped – the Community Security Trust recorded 1668 antisemitic incidents across the United Kingdom in 2020 – and is increasing; therefore, we must learn to fight hate by educating ourselves and others. We must not limit this education to just antisemitism, as all forms of hate, whether it be islamophobia, racism, homophobia etc.. must be challenged. The remaining survivors of the Holocaust are now beginning to pass away sadly, so educating ourselves also becomes even more critical as we must ensure that we can all collectively continue their work.