Betty Totton: The Lost Grandmother

One hundred forty-eight years ago, on 12 April 1874, probably at home, the tenth child of Benjamin and Hannah Smith was born. It was a girl, the couple’s fourth and final daughter, and she was named Betty, probably after her father’s sister. Unfortunately, out of four girls, two had passed away in their infancy, and I suspect that both Benjamin and Hannah had slight worries for Betty’s health in light of this.

Betty’s ancestry was quite complex, with young death, dissenting religion and illegitimacy greatly defining it. Her ancestry also represented profound change in local and national history, following the gradual industrial revolution and political and religious changes throughout the 17th to early to mid 19th centuries.

Croppers in the early 19th Century

Following her ancestor’s footsteps, she grew up in the Kew Hill area, a region bordering Blackley and Longwood in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. Her father seemed to work in a variety of cloth related jobs, following most men in his wider area. In 1861 he worked in the quite skilled job of a cloth dresser (or cropper) as did many of his ancestors, but as new technologies developed, croppers found work harder and harder to find. This perhaps explains Benjamin working as a cloth miller a few years before Betty’s birth and then as a cloth fuller for most of her childhood.

The instability surrounding Benjamin’s work perhaps only furthered both his and Hannah’s worries. By 1881 they had a family of ten to provide for, and if Benjamin lost his regular income, the entire family would be threatened. They had to make Benjamin’s wage stretch far, especially before Betty’s older brothers went to work – likely after leaving school aged thirteen – and it is hard not to understate the worry that must have haunted the family.

Another aspect of Betty’s childhood, apart from the worry and threat of starvation, is the sheer size of the household. Fair enough, the number of children couples had was typically much greater than the modern-day but also sadly was infant mortality. I find the fact that Betty grew up with her parents and also nine other siblings, making a household of twelve people, as absolutely striking, especially because the 1891 census describes the Smith household as living in just two rooms. There were no specific instructions relayed to enumerators regarding what counted as a room. Still, even if we were to consider the fact that the number may have been understated – the family must have been absolutely cramped.

The size of the Smith family

Although things had been difficult for the Smith family, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. They laughed, cried, smiled and got up to mischief just as much as anybody nowadays. We actually have an interesting insight into this as Betty’s older brother Brearley and some other local young lads were fined for “gaming at toss for money” in an open shed on Kew Hill. It is noted that a fair few of those present managed to run off, and I suspect there could have been one or two more Smiths in and amongst them. Nevertheless, the laughter, shouting and lecturing that followed all indicate that although times and conditions were hard and, in many ways, horrific, people still lived their lives like we do this day.

Richard Totton

Betty’s choice of husband, Richard Totton, was quite interesting due to his history – his family was typical, and his occupation was fine too – but in the mid-1890s, he had had a little bit of trouble with the law. He was caught doing some probably illegal poaching with his brother and some friends and only just narrowly avoided being sent to jail. Regardless, his name and the fact he basically laughed in a police officer’s face when been accused of the crime was plastered all over the news in West Yorkshire.

Ultimately this didn’t deter Betty, who married him in November 1897 at the local Baptist chapel in Blackley. After their marriage, they didn’t move too far from their respective families, living on Lindley Moor in 1901, and Richard took up work as a coal miner. It wasn’t too long until on a Friday evening, at around half past five in May 1898, that the couple’s first child, a boy called George, was born. After 1901 and at the latest by 1904, the family had moved from the areas Richard and Betty grew up in to the Hightown Heights area of Liversedge.

The couple’s next child was Wilfred, born in 1907, but why was there a nine-year gap between him and George? We cannot be sure of the exact reason, but perhaps both Richard and Betty wanted to settle properly before having more kids. On the other hand, the cramped nature of Betty’s childhood with nine siblings made her hesitant about having a big family? Or was it simply down to fate? Either way, it is impossible to know the exact reasoning, but it is important to acknowledge it.

The Totton and Smith families, circa 1918?

There were a few baptisms in between, but apart from that, nothing major happened until the birth of the couple’s first daughter Lucille in the early hours of 13 February 1911. The family not long after appeared on the 1911 census, where Richard worked as a Deputy in a Coal Mine, and George Totton worked in a mill part-time alongside his education. Betty stayed at home looking after the infant Wilf and Lucille.

Sadly, taking after her two aunts who died in infancy, Lucille died aged only fifteen months in May 1912. Her tragic passing was due to a form of tuberculosis, which she bravely fought against for an impressive two months. She was buried in a plot at Liversedge Cemetery in the following few days. Lucille’s death was tragic and cruel and likely inflicted unimaginable pain and grief upon the Totton household.

My Great Grandmother Doris

In June 1914, my Great Grandmother, Doris, was born. Her birth likely came as a blessing to all the family, allowing them time to grieve Lucille but also then to move on in her name.

By 1920, the family moved into the quite impressive Highfield House in Hartshead and in the Tax Records of the same year, it is clear this was quite the jump for the family. Firstly, the record indicates not only did they have such a lovely house but also the fact that it came with some land and stables but also the fact it had a rent of £18, not a small amount of money at the time.

Even more intriguingly is the fact that both Richard and George Totton were “out of work” in 1921. They both worked in the Hartshead/Clifton pit of the Low Moor Coal and Steel Company as a getter/hewer and trammer, respectively. I suspect that this was down to ongoing industrial disputes, but it is still important to note. Betty remains at home, performing “home duties” whilst Wilf works part-time, and Doris is going to school on a full-time basis.

Area surrounding Highfield House and Park View

George Totton married in 1923, and not too long after, in about 1927, the Totton family moved into one of the less impressive but still comfortable Park View terrace houses. Three years later, Wilf married his wife Minnie, and they moved not too far away to Hartshead and later Roberttown. The same applied to George Totton, who moved out not long after his marriage to Walker’s Terrace nearby. Betty became a grandmother in the aforementioned period also, first came Edith and then Jack in the mid-20s, followed by Barbara in 1931.

Perhaps down to age or even the Great Depression that was now engulfing the world, Richard took up work as a Highway Labourer for the West Riding County Council. Betty had gone from a family of twelve in her early years to now living with just her daughter and husband in the lovely village of Hartshead.

Betty and Doris

Not so long after turning sixty, on 10 May 1934, Betty passed away due to pernicious anaemia, which during the 1930s was almost always fatal. Treatment was tough, and Betty bravely put up with the worst until the end.

She was buried with Lucille two days later, on 12 May 1934. The plot remained unmarked until 24 February 2022, around eighty-eight years later, when the whole family played their part in making sure that both her and Lucille were remembered properly.

Marked finally

Betty will always remain special to me for a variety of reasons. The main one is simply the fact that I see her as such a warm, grandmotherly soul, especially through her pictures. The existence of so many pictures alongside so many other unique family heirlooms and facts also drew me into the Totton family and Betty’s story. Her story is unique but also of its time, and I am so privileged to tell it – alongside Ernest Hall, she is easily one of my “favourite” ancestors.

Why we need to save Spen.

I am writing this perhaps a tad late, but as the deadline to object looms tomorrow at midnight, I felt that the best way I could raise some awareness of what I think is quite an important issue is by posting something on my blog. 

The Spen Coat of Arms located on the recently refurbished Cleckheaton Library gates.

Firstly, I do not wish to be political; I simply believe that this issue is one that must be tackled. 

The Boundary Commission unveiled new proposals nationwide last summer, which on a local level butchers the current Batley and Spen constituency into an irregular oblong of leftover areas. The proposed zombified constituency will span through two councils and cut through the heart of local communities and make no sense on a practical and historical level.

The original ”Spen Valley constituency was created after the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 and existed with a fair few boundary changes in between, up until 1950. For that period of 65 years, not only was the constituency held by John Simon, who held all great offices of state apart from the Premiership, but it also was host to an upset Labour victory in a contested fiercely 1919 by-election, indicative of the momentum behind the rising Labour Party.

John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon – He served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout his long career.

The naming of the seatback in 1885 was also quite interesting as it resulted in quite a significant spat between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The constituency was originally going to be named “Birstall” after the ancient parish that covered the area. However, this was contested by Liberal Bradford MP Alfred Illingworth, who argued the area should be called “Spen Valley”. In many ways, at the time, the term “Spen Valley” was an artificial construct, as Illingworth would later admit, but he thought that the term would prevent jealousy between the local towns and also would be a more central name.

The Earl of Feversham strongly opposed Illingworth’s amendment arguing that the local population didn’t support or identify with the term “Spen Valley” and wanted the ancient parish’s name to be used. The Earl even further commented that the new term was “only remarkable for being the receptacle of all the sewage from Birstall”. President of the Local Government Board, Sir Charles Dilke, countered with the fact that although the term was artificial, it had the support of the local boards of Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Liversedge, which made up the majority of the proposed constituency. Finally, after the debate, the Commons voted 65 to 46 in favour of the seat using the Spen Valley. Afterwards, the Lords gave way much to Earl Feversham’sFeversham’s disgust.

Does this look like a good idea?

On a more practical level, is it right to have a constituency that spans two local authorities? Is it practical to have a Member of Parliament, an individual meant to represent all of us, split between a narrow strip of communities that have next to nothing in common?

And finally, and the point I wish to stress the most, is it right to lose a name that has stood for 137 years? I believe not.

What can we do then? Well, there is a multitude of things we can do, but the most important is submitting comments and objections to the Boundary Commission on their website.

The next part I have stolen from our MP Kim Leadbeater’s newsletter, but I couldn’t put them better myself.

“The key objections clearly are

  • Heckmondwike has strong ties to Batley
  • Removing the bulk of Heckmondwike would cut links between the west and east of the constituency, along the A638 (Halifax Road / High Street) in particular
  • Hipperholme and Lightcliffe have no ties to the constituency
  • Batley and Spen should remain wholly in Kirklees and not take in part of Calderdale”

It is also a good idea to highlight that the name Spen Valley, Spen or Spenborough has remained part of a parliamentary constituency since 1885 or 137 years. That represents five generations of my Batley Hall family. How many generations of your family have lived under this name?

I understand there is a pandemic and countless devastating conflicts and wars across the globe, but many people will think this isn’t actually the most pressing issue. But losing our local identity would be genuinely devastating, and I worry the sense of community we underestimate could begin to slip away.

This is why I really believe we should all try our best to reinforce the common identity we share in our local area. The Spen Valley is a historic place, once home to the Industrial Revolution, which permanently changed the area and our world. We once housed mills, factories and mines that were world-renowned. There are plenty of opportunities and hope for the future if we work together, and the first step starts by preserving our area’s name.

‘Spen Valley’ on the sign at the new ‘Spen Baths’ – indicative of a bright future?

According to the late Thomas William Thompson, the Spen Valley was inhabited by “brave, fearless people” – let us not lose that identity now.

Eliza Jackson: Survival, Luck and Loss

I must preface this by saying that many aspects of Eliza’s life (especially her childhood) are unclear, and I cannot guarantee that as time goes on, things won’t change. There is lots of conflicting evidence that has been hard to wade through. Nevertheless, all research undertaken was to the best standard I can aspire to and backed up with DNA evidence.

As I said, Eliza’s early life is a little murky; however, she was probably born on 1 April 1852 to James and Sarah Jackson. The family resided on Grey Street (now Hunslet Road), and Eliza was raised in likely grim conditions. Her father worked as a dyer in a textile mill as their local Leeds, and also more generally Northern England, began to industrialise at an unprecedented rate. However, this progress didn’t necessarily flow down to the average worker who faced a hard and harsh existence labouring for their survival.

Growing up, it was a house of boys but also loss – at birth, she had a living brother and a sister. Sadly her eldest brother passed away a year before she was born. In the next decade or so, up until 1864, the Jackson family grew quickly, and Eliza had four new brothers and a sister. Tragically death struck repeatedly and mercilessly for the next decade of Eliza’s life.

First came the death of her brother George who died aged only eight months. He ironically shared the first name of Eliza’s eldest brother, who passed away in 1851 and was buried at Beckett Street Cemetery. This place would become too familiar to young Eliza in the coming years.

Beckett Street Cemetery – Taken from Flickr

December 1866 – two deaths within just a week or so shook the Jackson household. First came Eliza’s younger sister Caroline who passed away aged nine, Eliza’s younger brother James then passed away soon after, aged twelve. I don’t have death certificates to confirm their causes of death, but I think it is likely that perhaps disease plagued the household that month. They were both buried at the familiar Beckett Street Cemetery – Caroline on 7 December, James on 18 December.

Despite the fact that infant mortality rates were much higher, and the loss of children was much more common, the impact of these deaths upon the Jackson household and both James and Sarah cannot and must not be underestimated. We will never know how they coped or precisely what they felt, but I can only imagine that their feelings of loss and grief were profound and only more was to follow.

By 1870, aged about fifty, James Jackson, a husband and father of five living children, was dead. Again, I don’t have a death certificate with the exact cause, but we know he passed away on 2 July 1870 and was buried a few days later at Beckett Street Cemetery. I should stress that the family were not buried together in a plot – the family couldn’t afford that – instead, they were all buried in separate public plots across the cemetery.

Leeds Times – 7 July 1870 – James Jackson’s death notice

Now Eliza had lost her father and a vast chunk of her siblings, and she was only aged about nineteen. Losing a father is devastating, of course, but an overlooked aspect, perhaps from our modern eyes, is the loss of the family’s breadwinner. How was Sarah going to provide for her kids now? The threat of the dreaded workhouse loomed.
I suppose there was a blessing in the form that all members of the household, barring William, the youngest lad, were recorded as working in the 1871 census, including both Eliza and Sarah. This wasn’t great at all as conditions, as I said, were horrible, but they were surviving and banding together in the face of loss and grief – what an unbreakable bond must have been formed.

Grim conditions in Victorian Leeds – Taken from https://chrisnickson.co.uk/

In 1871 Eliza worked as a Tobacco Spinner, a rather interesting sounding occupation – what did that entail? Well, the Dictionary of Old Occupations defines the job as being an individual who made and sold tobacco products, e.g. cigars, snuff, etc., on the premises. It is unclear whether Eliza was making or selling the products or perhaps even doing both, but it was likely a tough job. Unfortunately, I did not find many sources on the working conditions of the job. Still, I came across a few limited and perhaps even outdated photos that imply the work was quite physical and clearly would have been grim for Eliza to undertake.

Eliza’s big sister, Mary, married Henry Redshaw in 1871, and although she seemed to have everything to look forward to, she would be dead mere months after her first wedding anniversary. Loss had struck the family again – Eliza was the only sister left.

Two years later, in October 1874, at Mirfield Parish Church, Eliza finally stuck some good luck and got married to Frank Butcher, a cloth dresser who faced a similarly traumatic childhood. His mother passed away when he was only about five or so, and his family split and migrated all the way from Frome to Leeds. His father worked away, and eventually, both Frank and his father ended up living in Ravensthorpe by 1874, so did Eliza, according to her marriage certificate.

Frank and Eliza’s marriage record

How both Frank and Eliza exactly met is very unclear, but I suspect the Leeds connection played a prominent role in it.

After their autumnal wedding at such a beautiful and near ancient church, they moved to Mirfield and its surrounding areas and lived on Crossley Lane by 1881. Eliza’s childhood of loss seemed a distant memory as, by that period, she had given birth to two healthy boys and two healthy girls.

More children would follow – three girls and one boy.

Emily in later life

The second to last child was called Emily, and was born on 3 May 1887 and was baptised not long after on 6 July 1887 at St. Saviour’s Church in Ravensthorpe. The family had moved to Dearnley Street in Ravensthorpe by this point, and little Emily was also probably born there. She is so important because she was my Great Great Grandmother, and her picture proudly stands staring back at me as I write.

Finally, in 1891, the Butcher family seemed complete. Miraculously, all children born alive had survived, and it looked like both Frank and Eliza had finally broken the cycle of viscous loss that had plagued their childhood. After all, within less than a decade, it was going to be a new century and surely watching their children and soon to be born grandchildren in it was something to look forward to.

Eliza didn’t reach the new century.

Her death was perhaps unnecessarily tragic and is even upsetting to me – her Great Great Great Grandson – born just over a century after it. Her exact cause of death was Placenta Presia Post-Partum, which is related to pregnancy in simple terms. It is unclear if this meant she died in childbirth itself, but no living child is recorded as being born.

Hanging Heaton Church – where she would be buried in 1893

She died on 13 October 1893, which was ironically a Friday. She was buried a few days later in an unmarked grave at Hanging Heaton Churchyard, in the same Churchyard as Emily and her husband. Frank, her husband, was probably buried in the same plot as her – in the end, at least they got to rest together.

In the end, Eliza didn’t break that cycle that cursed her childhood, but it was soon broken by her daughter Emily. However, we shouldn’t focus just on her tragic ending, as her story of grit, courage and survival in the face of so much loss and the plain cruelness of life is truly inspiring. It is a story that 170 years after her birth should always be remembered in its entirety. I aspire to take her grit and courage into my own life, and I am convinced that her daughter, my Great Great Grandmother, Emily, also inherited it.

One hundred and seventy years to the day of her birth, Eliza’s short life but important legacy remains strong.

Marking Betty and Lucille’s grave

My Great Great Grandmother Betty Totton passed away nearly eighty-eight years ago, but only a few weeks ago, I was able to directly influence her legacy and help her story be remembered for generations to come. It wasn’t the most impressive thing that I did, but I was able to (with the help of many others) mark her grave and allow her to be remembered properly after all these years.

Betty with my Great Grandmother Doris, probably outside their house in Hartshead

Why Betty? Well, answering that question is not an easy feat as, after all, I have sixteen Great Great Grandparents, all of who had remarkable lives in a plethora of different ways. I suppose Betty’s life was one of the easier ones to learn about from the get-go as although she was brought up on the Huddersfield/Elland border region of Kew Hill; she lived most of her married life in local areas such as Hartshead and Clifton. We have plenty of lovely photos of her and the wider Totton family, and the research into her life was also relatively easy as there were lots of sources available. I also felt a great connection to her as I saw her as a grandmotherly figure, which hit hard as she didn’t meet most of her future grandchildren. It is also worth mentioning that the plot at Liversedge Cemetery where Betty was eventually buried was also the place of rest of her daughter Lucille, who died during infancy. Therefore, finding and ultimately marking the plot became even more poignant.

Another important aspect of the story we haven’t discussed so far is that back in July 2020, none of this applied to me, well apart from liking and connecting to Betty. I didn’t know where she was buried, nor did I have any idea where Lucille was buried. Towards the end of the month, I think around 19 July 2020, was when I first volunteered at the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery after finding the group on Facebook. I didn’t go prepared, not even bringing any gloves, but sooner or later, I became a regular volunteer at the group.

After speaking to Tina, the group’s brilliant founder, she recommended contacting the Cemetery Office to find out more about where Betty and possibly Lucille was buried. So, sooner or later, I rang up the office, and after a relatively quick search, they were able to provide me with plot details alongside some helpful maps. Furthermore, they also very kindly marked the plot as someone was up at the site the next day.

The Totton grave on 20 August 2020

The plot was literally grass, and there was no real indication that anyone was buried underneath it. Nevertheless, over the next month or so, it became apparent that were was a feeling in the family that we should mark the plot in whatever way possible. After consulting with Tina again, she gave me some great advice, and I contacted the council again. After my conversation with the cemetery office, it became apparent that the process of marking and gaining ownership of Betty’s grave was going to be more complicated than first expected.

The first problem came because the grave owner was Betty’s deceased husband, Richard Totton, who died in 1945. Clearly, it was impossible to transfer ownership from Richard himself. Furthermore, as my grandfather was the son of Betty’s youngest daughter, it ostensibly appeared to be even more complicated than first anticipated. However, after studying the rules and regulations of plot ownership in Kirklees Council and having these explained to me by a wonderful worker from the Cemeteries Office, I realised that my grandfather was first in line in being able to claim ownership. This was a stroke of luck and would make the process a lot easier.

The plot owner

The fact that it took so long to get to the solicitors was down to various uncontrollable factors. First, there was the October 2020 lockdown and then much more prominent January 2021 lockdown, then there were my GCSE exams or equivalent exams as the main ones were cancelled due to COVID. It may seem somewhat draconian to claim ownership of a family plot, as you have to go to the solicitors and sign a legal declaration, and a very formal one at that, but it does make sense from a legal point of view.

In early August 2021, the appointment was finally made to see the solicitors at an excellent firm in Mirfield and sooner or later, the declaration was posted off. Within a few days, the Cemeteries Office returned with confirmation that the family plot was now back in the hands of the living family. It was quite a sobering moment, to an extent, as Betty and Lucille were no longer forgotten.

Form ready to be posted

My own procrastination and life generally got in the way now as we began to consider how we would like to mark the grave. There were the cemetery rules and regulations from Kirklees Council, which we had to follow, but we had to decide upon which way we wanted to follow them. There is a true variety of factors to consider when you finally get to the stage of choosing a monument – you have to consider cost, size, scope and trying to be as truthful as possible to the person whose grave you are marking.

In about October, we went through the list of approved masons by Kirklees Council and finally came across the stonemason we wished to use. There was an irony to this as it was located near Edgerton Cemetery in Huddersfield, the resting place of many of Betty’s family and the wider Totton family’s ancestry. We were lucky enough to contact a lovely lady from the stonemasons who helped us through the process, and sooner or later, the order was placed by early November.

Betty’s plot in October 2021

Christmas and New Year passed, and as we approached early February, I was notified that the stone was ready to collect. This was great news, and I looked forward to picking it up. However, down to a few reasons, we had to wait a small while until we could pick it up, and on Tuesday 22 February, we finally made the journey to Huddersfield and collected Betty and Lucille’s stone.

The Journey back to the Cemetery

I mentioned that once Betty’s grave was back in the family’s hands, it was a sobering moment, but seeing the name Totton engraved upon the stone truly trumped that moment. It was genuinely spine-chilling to realise that we now had directly impacted the legacy of Betty and Lucille Totton. Now the grave was to be marked, and they were no longer just another pair of forgotten souls in an unmarked grave.

Placing the stone was another interesting moment. We didn’t come adequately prepared and had to make use of a variety of rather interesting tools to ensure it was placed safely and accurately in the plot. Once we were happy with it, some beautifully chosen tulips by my grandparents were placed into the vase. Finally, after nearly 88 years, the lifetime of so many, Betty and Lucille’s grave was now marked as it always should have been.

Finally marked after eighty-eight years

It was a long process, down to a variety of factors. If I were to give any advice to anyone who wished to undertake a similar process, I would beg you to do the research upfront and not just wing it as I effectively did. Find out what your local council needs, and be prepared to be disappointed, especially if it is an older relative who may have more children/descendants. Churchyards may be more flexible, and although this was the above board method in ensuring that the council does not ‘mince’ or remove your monument, you can always just mark the grave, and I suppose there’s a high chance no one will notice.

Regardless it truly was a privilege in being able to mark Betty and Lucille’s plot. They both deserve to be remembered properly and no longer have to rely upon glass jars or old wooden crosses in being able to be seen. There is nothing necessarily wrong with having an unmarked grave; many of my ancestors rest in unmarked ones. Nonetheless, it seemed wrong not doing something for Betty as I genuinely do connect to her and she is quite literally buried up the road. Furthermore, she’s also not even necessarily that much of a distant relative, being my grandfather’s grandmother.

Great Great Grandmother and Great Great Grandson

All in all, I hope that she’s proud of the fact her plot is marked after nearly eighty-eight years.

Emily Butcher: The Survivor

There is an irony to life, chiefly visible to those that look back, and I suspect that Frank Butcher didn’t want the loss he experienced in 1854 to be repeated again. No child should have their mother ripped away from them, especially not by a cruel disease like cancer. To watch the woman you so profoundly rely on slip away. How did it affect your father? Would it make him closer to you being able to step up to the mark, or would it make him distant, unable to process a rather sudden or perhaps more drawn out loss? The family group would be irreversibly affected, regardless of circumstances.

Frank’s mother’s death certificate

I wonder if Frank worried about this when he married Eliza Jackson in 1874? Or each time a new child was born? The couple ended up having three lads and five girls, the second youngest of the lot was born in May 1887 and was named Emily. She would later become my Great Great Grandmother.

But as mentioned before, there is an irony to life, and when Emily was aged six, a similar age to her dad, who was about five when his mother passed, she lost her mother to the effects of childbirth. Eliza’s cause of death was recorded as ‘placenta praevia’, which perhaps would indicate she was pregnant at around the time of death, but no record seems to suggest so, and I am certainly not an expert.

St. Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton where both Frank and Eliza Butcher are buried

Regardless her childhood was affected irreversibly, and her family changed forever. To what extent and in what ways is debatable. Frank never remarried and passed away in 1906, aged 57. He died out of what was once known as ‘Bright’s Disease, and his passing wouldn’t have been nice to experience, but his son Percy was present at the death, so he wasn’t alone. What caused his death is unclear, but there is a chance he may have turned to alcohol when Eliza passed or perhaps he was simply unlucky and inherited it genetically.

Emily now was without a mother or father, but she still very much had a family. She likely lived with her sister Annie after her father’s death. I cannot be exactly sure, but in 1911 the other remaining Butcher siblings lived with her and her husband, Walter Hall. He is quite important as he was the son of William Henry and Eliza Ann Hall and brother of Ernest James Hall, Emily’s future husband.

Ernest James Hall, circa 1910

It is likely the latest date they could have met would have been Walter and Annie’s marriage in 1901. It doesn’t really matter how they met as they married in 1908 at Batley Parish Church and moved into the local Providence Street to raise their family. First came my Great Grandfather Percy in 1908, then Evelyn in 1910, and then Marion in 1913. What could go wrong for the young couple? Their lives had just begun.

Emily with Evelyn, circa 1910

War is merciless, and at some point after the birth of their daughter Phyllis in July 1915, Ernest went off to fight in the First World War. I dread to think what Emily felt watching her husband leave her; I suspect she was proud but also profoundly worried and petrified. How did she cope watching her children wave goodbye to their father? It is unthinkable.

Ernest survived the war and was ostensibly unscathed, barring a slight injury to his eyesight. Unfortunately, this wasn’t entirely true. The trauma of the war deeply affected Ernest, and he became what was known at the time as ‘Shell Shocked’.

There wasn’t a great dealing of understanding of the condition at the time, and men were just expected to return to life as normal. Imagine trying to settle back into life after fighting a brutal war, and you couldn’t find work as unemployment was rampant, whilst also being shunned as “personally weak” for suffering mentally. The treatment of these veterans by the establishment was disgusting, but my personal feelings on the matter are irrelevant, and for Ernest and Emily’s case, life went albeit different.

Proud? (Portrait taken circa 1915)

I do not know to what extent and exactly how Ernest’s trauma affected him, but it did. Was it nightmares? Near perpetual anxiety and bouts of shaking? Was he okay one moment only to opposite the next? Furthermore, it is absolutely unknown as to how Emily felt about this and how she dealt with it. Nonetheless, as a couple, they continued in life.

They moved to 99 Whitely Street, Daw Green (in the modern Westtown area), Dewsbury by 1920 and in 1921, Ernest was working as a Fettler at Alexandra Mills in Batley. More kids followed, and by 1927 the Hall family was finally complete. Emily arguably had kept the family together and likely provided Ernest with enough support to keep him going.

She raised quite a glamorous daughter in Phyllis and also a daughter who was good at acting/singing in Evelyn. Evelyn acted in some plays and was very enthusiastic about it, even being ‘spotted’ by an individual who wanted her to come to London. However, Emily told her no and that she had to go work in the mill to earn some money.

Evelyn Hall on her wedding day with her parents Emily and Ernest, 1939

By 1939 two daughters and a son had left home, and the family had moved to 32 Commonside, Hanging Heaton, and I suspect both Ernest and Emily felt powerless as they watched another generation sent off to war. Their son Frank served in the Royal Navy, and their son Jack also likely served.

It is hard to imagine Emily waving to her children, just as she had done to her husband a mere twenty-five years or so ago, as they went off to serve their country.

Throughout the war, Emily’s first grandchildren were born, all boys. Phyllis had Brian, my Great Grandad Percy, who likely stayed at home due to his reserved occupation, had John in 1942, followed by my Grandad Richard in 1944. Despite so much conflict, hardship and strife, another generation had been born.

The next generation?
Left to right: John Hall, Edith Annie Hall, Percy Hall, my GG, Richard Hall,my grandad

Another grandson recounts only ever meeting Ernest once, and even then, he went to the other room away from everybody. Obviously, even then, nearly three decades after his war service, Ernest was still affected by his trauma, and Emily also was by default.

She soon became ill with cancer and on 6 June 1948 passed away aged 61. Her daughter Marion registered her death and was present at her death as I would like to think most of her family, and at least both Marion and Ernest. She was buried three days later at the local St. Paul’s Churchyard at Hanging Heaton. She wouldn’t remain separated from Ernest for too long as he passed away suddenly of a heart attack about eighteen months later.

Both of them were finally able to rest together in peace.

Grave of Ernest and Emily after I had marked it

I wanted to find their grave for a long time and failed to do so until August 2021. The grave has sunk with time, just like both Ernest and Emily’s memory – fading slowly away. Both their legacies are complicated, with one of their daughters remarking that her father should have never had kids. Perhaps that was true to an extent, but both Ernest and especially Emily are awe-inspiring figures. Both clearly had guts and were able to endure and stick together to make sure that, no matter what, in spite of everything, both themselves and their family would survive.

Rainy selfie

To say they died nearly sixty years before I was born, they both mean a lot to me. Both their stories are remarkable but so ordinary, and I hope that as one of the many carrying their ‘Hall’ name, I can live up to their grit and courage.

Rest easy, Ernest and Emily.

A Long Line of Georges: Facing Conflict

Sometimes, when I walk the dog or cut the pizzas at work, I will come up with ideas for the blog. It was around last Monday as I write this when I considered looking at the long line of Georges, basically looking at how the name was probably passed down the family for at least nearly three hundred years. From Newcastle to York to Batley and then finally Liversedge. I wanted to dive into how the name stood up in times of conflict and suffered through generations of strife and loss.

Jumping forwards to Thursday now, I got up early (well, early for the school holidays) at around nine and took the dog out for a walk. It was strange weather that day, ranging from snow to sun to hail. It had just started the snowing part when I checked BBC news and realised that Putin had done the unthinkable and plunged Europe back into war. I have no shame in saying I felt physically sick.

George Alfred Dale

George Alfred Dale, my Great Grandad’s uncle, is someone who I deeply look up to and, in the strangest of ways, love. He was the first lad that I came across in my family tree that made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War. There was a fair bit of information on him, and also, luckily, there was an ace photo of him uploaded onto Ancestry. I wrote my second Hidden Branch Blog post on his life, and he is also mentioned in my Remembrance Day post. Furthermore, I recently wrote a second biography of him, really weaving in some more personal thoughts and feelings and submitted it to my School’s creative writing competition.

G. A. Dale enlisted underaged, and the horrors he must have seen are unthinkable. Villages, towns, homes destroyed, men mutilated or killed on a daily. As a lad of my age, he saw the worst of humanity – death, destruction, and cruelty in its most naked form. We will never his exact own thoughts and experiences, but it is genuinely unthinkable what his generation experienced, only to be repeated by the next one.

My Great Grandad George R. Dale

My Great Grandfather, George Ronald Dale, was a kind man that I unfortunately never got to meet. I have quite literally never heard a bad word said about him. He worked most of his years at Batley Park, but due to the fascist terror spreading across Europe and during the late 30s and early 40s, he ended up serving just like his uncle George.

He joined up in March 1941, just after turning twenty, and served with the Royal Signals, eventually serving across France and the Netherlands. He worked his way up to the rank of Corporal and was also very physically fit, helping run a fitness camp in Ossett at some point during his service. He was a little older than his uncle but again likely saw the worst of humanity as he helped liberate Europe from its Nazi tranny.

Whether they were a woman, man or child, everyone made sacrifices and took part in the war effort, and this was clear as crustal when it came to my Great Grandad George’s marriage. He married Shirley Hopkinson, another kind and loving soul, at Birstall Parish Church in 1944. George’s brother Harry was his best man and also served in the Royal Navy. I guess the war shadowed even the supposed happiest day of his life to an extent. I can only think of the dread that those left at home must have felt every morning waiting to hear in case the worst had happened. Imagine also looking forward to your wedding and your future with your sweetheart while fighting a war.

It is almost unthinkable.

George and Shirley Dale’s marriage notice

But there I was, almost glued to Twitter, the BBC News website or Facebook, watching the human tragedy unfold. I do not wish to be political, but it is as clear as day that the war which is unfolding is all things said above; cruel, unnecessary and the worst of humankind. Whether they be a soldier or civilian, each fallen person is another soul lost to war.

It seems ironic and poignant that I wanted to discuss this. Still, regardless of what happens across the world, this legacy of loss associated with the name George in my family has hopefully faded away. The wars experienced by my great grandfather and his uncle made strong, courageous men willing to give everything for those they loved in the face of the worst. It is truly inspiring to me to be related and directly connect to those two men.

I will leave you with a simple statement from the memorial book at Dewsbury crematorium after my Great Grandfather’s death in 1987. Although written for my great grandfather, words that very much apply to his uncle George.

“Courageous in Life and Death. Gentle, Kind, and much loved”.

The Crimes of Fanny Fell

Fanny Fell was an ordinary working-class York lass, her husband worked as a comb maker, and by 1872 the couple had six children. They were raising their family on King Street. The area was dominated by the famous Clifford’s Tower and the imposing Victorian Prison. The great irony in this is that unbeknownst to Fanny, she was going to spend nearly seven years of her life in its confines.

The Fell family on the 1871 Census

Not much is known regarding the specifics of her first crime, but we know she entered custody on 21 November 1872 and was charged on two counts of larceny (the theft of personal property) for stealing some beef and a pair of trousers. She was charged with six months of hard labour and was locked away in the very local York prison. Her daughter Rose was barely a year old and now had her mother ripped away from her.

The beautiful but imposing Clifford’s Tower (2018) via the Wikimedia Commons

Victorian prisons were harsh, inhospitable places with strict regimes imposed upon their inmates. In my research, I haven’t come across any specifics regarding York prison at the time, but there was generally a difference in how men and women were treated. There was a real push for women to reform their character by reclaiming their “true domestic hearts”, which was achieved by controlling every little aspect of a female prisoners’ life.

Six months of dreary domestic labour, religious instruction, and degrading moral supervision dragged on, and Fanny finally re-entered free society as a marked woman. Sadly, due to the sexist attitudes of the time, she will have likely been notorious. This notoriety may have led to a breakdown in some of her relationships and made it difficult to find any work at all. Luckily, Alfred, her loyal husband, seemed to stick with her. Although we can’t say the specifics of how both Fanny and Alfred felt about their relationship at this time, it seemed to be quite strong, indicative of true, near unbreakable love.

Female prisoners working a fire pump via the Wikimedia Commons

Another aspect found in my wider research of Victorian female prisoners was that although during the period there were fewer women were convicted than men, it was more likely they would re-offend. Perhaps this was down to the aforenoted factors which led to a downward spiral. Despite having unusual support from her husband, Fanny followed the pattern and was once again convicted of larceny in February 1878. She had stolen some wool and two skirts and was locked away for nine more months.

After being released later that year, Alfred and Fanny may have decided they needed a change and, therefore, by 1881 moved to London. Thanks to research done by a cousin, the conditions where the family moved to (Nisbet Street in Hackney) were appalling. The houses were built in the 1870s upon a strip of gardens and had a squalor, cramped and plainly awful conditions. At the time, this may have been seen as alright, but there is no justification for the living conditions people suffered through. It was simply immoral and unacceptable.

Nisbet Street and some context via user @soxgnasher on Twitter

I’m a Yorkshireman through and through, however, so I don’t want to focus on this move to London too much. Instead, I frame it as a detour as the family were back in York by 1882.

In late September 1882, Fanny rose early on a Saturday morning and visited William Hansell’s shop to price a pair of boots. Whilst in the process, she walked off from the general dealer’s store but was soon caught redhanded and brought back to the shop. The reporting of the theft liked to emphasise the fact that she let the stolen boots fall to the floor when she returned to the shop, but I don’t understand what they expect of her? She certainly wasn’t going to be happy that she was caught. However, her feelings were irrelevant, and she was sentenced to another three month’s hard labour.

She was set free early in the New Year but would return to the prison not even eight months later when she was caught stealing again. This time, she stole a stuff skirt from Ernest Haythorne’s shop. She was actually in the process of carrying the skirt away when Ernest’s brother caught her and handed her to the police. There was much scoffing and disdain when Fanny stated that “drink did it”. Ignoring the scoffing, this comment gives us a unique into her mind. She was obviously suffering because of her crimes which were caused to an extent by alcohol. The notoriety and grim life she lived through likely led to more drinking and then crimes. A vicious cycle of despair – Fanny’s worst enemy was herself.

She spent another twelve months doing hard labour and stopped offending (or wasn’t caught) for two or three years. This time, in 1887, she went to John Jackson’s shop and asked if she could look at a hat in the afternoon, and when leaving, she grabbed a brush hanging from the door. This was witnessed by a lady called Mary Burley, and soon after, P.C. Mason apprehended her. She admitted the theft and was once again sent to prison, albeit for a longer sentence of 18 months and one year’s police supervision was also attached to the sentence.

1890 rolled around, and Fanny likely turned sixty; both Fanny and Alfred were getting older and had a fair few grandchildren. However, this didn’t stop Fanny’s compulsion to drink and steal, and she was once again sent down for a year’s hard labour with an increased two year’s period of police supervision. I term it a compulsion down to another quote from Fanny’s mouth that “she couldn’t help it” after she was handed to the police once caught.

John Close, Lord Mayor of York in 1893

Three years later, in April 1893, Fanny was once again before the Lord Mayor, accused of stealing a cloth jacket from the door of George Merriman’s shop. Once accused, the police searched her house and found the jacket situated between the bed and mattress. In an almost heartbreaking way, at least to me, Fanny asked the police officers, “Will you do the best you can for me?” and further stated, “I am sorry I took it”. Undoubtedly Fanny was probably only sorry because she was caught, but I find it admirable that she never tended to deny her guilt. She was always able to face up to her actions. She was once again sent to York prison.

She left prison on 5 May 1894 after serving her twelve months of hard labour. She had spent her final months of this term of imprisonment throughout a severe winter. I wonder how Fanny felt when her lightly pillpocked (marked by smallpox) skin felt the air of the city again, or how she felt when seeing her family again through her hazel eyes. Did she smile when she saw Alfred, showing the few teeth she was missing? Was she welcomed at the gates or left to walk home alone? If so, was she easy to spot walking down to the family home on Laurence Street by the distinctive situated above her lip on the right-hand side of her face?

Her final recorded crime occurred in 1895 when she was around sixty-five; she stole a shawl from a local shop. Just as she made her exit, a shop assistant noticed it was missing and ran out into the street, where they found it wedged between the apron that Fanny was wearing. It feels incredibly monotonous to repeat the fact that she was sent down for a year’s hard labour. But, intriguingly, the jury actually recommended that she was granted some mercy in the sentencing due to the fact she was of an “advanced age”.

We haven’t spoken much about Alfred regrettably, but her conviction led to a poignant piece of reporting. We have Alfred’s direct testimony declaring that Fanny “was a good wife when sober” – perhaps adding further credence that her stealing was a compulsion brought on by alcohol. The fact that was Alfred was dead within less than two months adds more weight to his testimony. He clearly loved his wife and was willing to defend her after a life of absolute turmoil.

The loss must have been significant to Fanny but what must have been worse to her was the fact that she probably didn’t get to be with him when he passed away on 16 November 1895. He was buried in a public grave (18875) at York Cemetery not long after his passing – it is unclear if Fanny was able to attend. It is clear that Fanny regretted her crimes, but what must have stung more was that she probably missed her husband’s funeral for the sake of a shawl.

York Cemetery in Autumn, by Johnson Cameraface on Flickr

By 1901 she had moved onto North Street, Castlegate and her twenty-year-old granddaughter, Mary Jane Fell, lived with her. She worked as a laundress whilst Fanny, now about seventy, stayed at home. A few years later, she passed away on 26 June 1906 and was buried in a different public grave (19402) to her husband. A sad irony is that they were divided by bars in life and also divided in death.

At first, I didn’t know how to feel about Fanny’s life and found it hard to reconcile her actions. However, over time and after undertaking more detailed research, I have developed a surprising fondness for her story. She may have been a criminal, but she was only a petty one at that and one who always seemed to be caught. I accept that she was causing damages to others by stealing things, but they were replaceable. Her husband’s funeral, raising your children and cherishing your grandchildren were things Fanny stopped herself from doing/attending. As I alluded to before, Fanny was indeed her own worst enemy, and I hope that in death but also the final years of her life, she finally found some peace.

Mary Jane and Alfred Dale, my 3 x Great Grandparents. Mary Jane is Fanny and Alfred’s daughter.

It might be controversial to some, but I can proudly claim Fanny Fell as my Great Great Great Great Grandmother.

Eliza Ann Day: A Remarkable Life

Batley was changing fast, growing from a small village where everybody knew everybody to a booming town enriched by the industrial revolution in the space of about forty years. However, the wealth didn’t trickle down to everyone, and society split into two distinct classes; the haves and the have nots. Eliza Ann Day was born into this changing society.

Born on 10 April 1847 in Batley Carr, her birth likely caused some controversy as her mother, Sarah Ann Day, was unmarried. Illegitimacy was typically looked down upon, and many infants faced cruel fates at the hands of baby farmers, but Eliza was lucky.

Eliza’s birth certificate

Lucky as her mother, Sarah wedded James Rayner, a widowed farmer from the nearby Osset, on 5 June 1848 at Dewsbury Parish Church. He was about thirteen or so years older and came from an interesting background. Firstly, his parents never married but had about nine children together. Secondly, as mentioned before, he was a widower, but I have struggled to find out what happened to his first wife. He was living with his mother in 1841, so I think it is likely she sadly passed away prematurely.

This was significant for Eliza because it represented some stability in her life. Her dad was a farmer and brought home a regular income. I refer to James as Eliza’s father for a few reasons but mainly that there is a strong case that she was his biological daughter. He came from an unorthodox background himself, and there is some flimsy but firm DNA evidence suggesting so. Regardless, from this point onwards, James Rayner became her father.

Growing up, Eliza lived in Gawthorpe, which wasn’t too far from where she was born and would live in later life. It was likely a tough and gruelling childhood, as was typical of the time. James brought stability but not comfort, simply providing an escape from near-death or extreme poverty. Sarah and James had some children, so Eliza didn’t grow up alone, but she was the eldest child and perhaps stuck out a bit. In the 1851 and 1861 Censuses, she is the only one in the household not to bear the name Rayner.

Batley Parish Church

Eliza married William Henry Hall at Batley Parish Church on 27 January 1866. He was a Batley lad who lost his father when he was only little and came from a similarly difficult childhood. It wasn’t long after this marriage that their son Jeremiah, named after William’s father, was born. However, this happy start to their marriage was tinged due to Jeremiah’s passing before he was even three months old. This was followed by the birth and death of a daughter who wasn’t even named. I have given her the name of Betty.

However, happiness did develop for the couple when Margent Ann Hall was born on 28 February 1869, and she was their first child to survive infancy.

The couple likely lived with William’s mother Harriet after their marriage, and by 1871 they remained living with her. William’s brother lived not so far away, so it was a close-knit family. Their second son Joseph Hall was born in March 1871, and a fair few more children would follow.

Harriet was a strong woman who suffered through a lot in her life. By 1877 she was an old woman, and she passed away aged 66. William Henry Hall registered her death and was present at it. I can’t speak for him, but as tradition follows, Hall men tend to be close to their mothers and considering his youth, I think he was. This might explain his turn to alcoholism, I can never be sure, but it seems to me that this is the most likely moment for his habit. Perhaps he already was an alcoholic by this point; we will never know for sure.

Harriet’s plot at Batley Cemetery

What we can be sure about is that he was notorious for his alcoholism. He was arrested and either imprisoned or fined countless times, and Eliza likely paid for it. We do not know what kind of drunk William was, he might have been alright, and there was never any talk of violence or abuse, but you can never be sure. I think he was a man who struggled, and that wouldn’t be atypical of the family. Still, his struggles deeply affected those around him as their stability, security and happiness were put at risk.

His second youngest son Lewis refused to drink, and his in-laws disapproved of the match due to his father’s reputation. The family always seemed to move about, living at Spring Gardens, Beaumont Street, Taylor Street, and Cobden Street. These addresses were all spotted around Batley and could indicate a chaotic family life.

The area of Batley where Eliza and William lived in later life

Eliza lost her father in about May 1884. I don’t know her feelings towards him, but I hope that he provided her with the stability she needed, and it didn’t matter to her if he was her biological father or not. Fortunately, this loss was followed by the birth of my Great Great Grandfather Ernest James Hall on 11 February 1885, who would be the last child she gave birth to.

Her family was complete but still victim to her husband’s drunkenness. It isn’t easy to imagine what Eliza felt; I’d like to think she did love William and that she didn’t get with him just because he was the only one that would take her. I want to believe she had a great sense of self-worth and became a victim of her husband’s addiction. It doesn’t matter what the answers are, though, because she was clearly a strong woman and one I take pride in descending from.

Hanging Heaton Church where Eliza’s mother was buried

1903 and 1904, two deaths of high importance occurred.

Firstly in 1903, Sarah, Eliza’s mother, passed away. It is ironic that we haven’t discussed her much, perhaps indicative that she was another “Jane” lost to time, but this was a significant loss to Eliza. I don’t know her exact feelings towards her, but their survival in the early days wasn’t certain, possibly forming a powerful bond between them.

In 1904, William fell ill, suffering from Thyroid Cancer. He died within three months on 10 September 1904 at the Batley Cottage Hospital. Eliza registered the death, and it is unclear if she was present the exact moment he passed away, but she was clearly in attendance. He was buried at Batley Cemetery a few days later, and even a short death notice was published in the local paper.

William Henry Hall’s death notice

She remarried in 1909 to a widower called George Bennett, and by 1911 they lived on Bradford Road, Dewsbury. Things had seemingly improved for Eliza, who was now in her mid-sixties. Sadly, however, things became more complicated.

The First World War broke out.

At least two of her sons (Lewis and Ernest) served in the war, and their brother Joseph’s son Walter also enlisted. He made the ultimate sacrifice and died in 1918. She had to wave goodbye to at least two children and likely many more grandchildren as she approached her seventies, an impressive age at the time. She couldn’t be sure she would ever see them again.

As fate would have it, she would never see peacetime again passing away of bronchitis at the age of 70. Her son Ernest was injured in the summer of that year, so she likely saw him then, but it is unclear whether she saw any other serving kids or grandkids before her passing.

She was buried in the same plot as William Henry Hall alongside some of their grandchildren who died as infants. The plot is unmarked, and I was lucky enough to mark it with a small plaque in the summer of 2021. Unfortunately, it was soon “minced” over by the council lawnmowers, but as the legal process would be a massive headache, I will likely never be able to mark their grave.

Irrespective of that, Eliza remains marked in my heart. She was a remarkable woman who survived through a lot and against all odds. Lamentably, she was lost to time, not for any particular reason, but she was, and I hope I can do her some justice by writing this biography.

We will never know her true feelings about the events of her life, but deep down, I hope she is proud of me and my family, who are carrying the Hall name onwards as much as I am proud of her.

Taken back in July 2021, the closest I will ever get to a photo with Eliza

Coincidental Comrades: George and William Roe

Defined by Collins Dictionary as a friendship between several people doing the same work or sharing the same difficulties or dangers, comradeship is easily created during times of conflict and war. Unquestionably, this allows men from wildly different backgrounds to become as close as brothers in a matter of weeks, as did William and George Roe during the First World War.

George Roe was born in mid-February 1897, the youngest of nine children, with two sadly dying in infancy. His father was George Roe, a mill worker, and his mother was Hannah Maria Roe, who undertook the typical but trying domestic duties. His family lived in the White Lee area of Heckmondwike. He was baptised into the Methodist Free Church near White Lee on 30 May 1897, aged 15 weeks.

George was educated at Healey Council School and then later St. James’ School. Despite his humble background, he was awarded an apprenticeship in the tailoring department of the Heckmondwike Co-operative Society and was held in high esteem there. Furthermore, he was a regular attendee of the White Lee United Methodist Church and its Sunday School.

In late June 1914, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and the spiralling web of alliances across Europe soon led to the outbreak of the Great War.

George Roe

George was called up and enlisted promptly afterwards. He was posted to the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment’s 9th Battalion. He had been involved with the Batley Ambulance Corps before his enlistment.

He was soon sent to train in Blyth and Whitley Bay and became acquainted with a William Roe of Oakworth. The two lads were not related but had lots in common; they were both the same age, both worked for a co-operative society, both were called to the colours on the same day. Perhaps down to these similarities, they both became incredibly close over their period of training.

William Roe

Just before Christmas 1916, when the two lads were sent to France, they were both made Lance-Corporals and began the horrors of active service together.

Both lads were close to each other and had become true friends and comrades. The horrors and dangers of the war only furthered the connections they both shared, and they became coincidental comrades.

War is cruel, and despite their luck in both being unscathed after being buried by the same shell, a different shell killed both George and William instantly on 17 January 1917.

They made the ultimate sacrifice for their country with a gallant and noble attitude and, through all the horrors, forged an unbreakable bond that not even death could break. Despite my focus upon the more locally based George Roe, it is clear that both William and George’s legacies are strong, and both men deserve to be remembered equally.

George Roe from the Bradford Daily Telegraph

Winging it: #MyGenealogyStory

Daniel, from Daniel’s Genealogy and also a Hidden Branch colleague alongside the wonderful Mish Holman, has set the genealogy community a challenge to tell their genealogy story.

Daniel’s tweet

My genealogy story isn’t that profound nor does it have a particularly impressive backstory. I have always been vaguely interested in my family history but I didn’t really have the means to pursue it. I know that this may seem a little against the whole ‘#GenealogyForAll’ movement but I was too young to pursue it as I didn’t wish to sit down researching for hours, didn’t have the knowledge or much self-confidence to learn nor did I have the financial means. I was only eight years old!

However, my Grandad Richard, my dad’s dad, remained a mystery throughout my childhood. He was rarely discussed; once I became a little older, I was told that he sadly took his own life. My dad was only nine years old when he died, so didn’t remember a great deal about him. I remember being relatively young, perhaps six to nine years old, in the car with my dad driving up Lady Ann Road in Soothill just thinking and imagining who / what the Halls were like during the Victorian era. I obviously didn’t imagine that my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Hall, who was born in 1842 and died in 1904, nicely just about encompassing the Victorian era, was a rampant alcoholic!

It seemed weird that the family name would even have meaning. I even remember walking to French or Form in about Year Eight, call it late 2017 to mid-2018ish, and considering dropping the name Hall because it ‘meant nothing’ and taking my mother’s maiden name Richardson. But, of course, the great irony in doing that is that I would have dropped a surname that had nearly half a millennium’s history for one that elusive Great Grandfather Fred probably made up.

What ‘meant nothing’

Let’s jump forward a bit now. Despite my cringe-worthy attempts at a tree when I was about eight and a half-hearted attempt at a school project in late Year Seven (2017), I hadn’t probably begun my Genealogy story. However, that changed one late Friday night, just as Covid was becoming a significant issue, on Friday 13 March 2020. That Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky one!

I was, for unknown reasons, scrolling through my old Virgin Media email address and came across an advert from Ancestry, probably related to my old account. I had recently begun taking photos of graves as part of the DofE skills section and became deeply interested in all the possible stories they could represent. Therefore once I had seen the advert, I decided to create an account and start a free trial.

I put in my dad and mum’s details and then my living grandparents’ details. I then put ‘Richard Hall’, died ‘about 1982’ and low and behold, the mysterious and unknown figure of my paternal grandfather came somewhat into focus. Well, at least his grave up at Morley Cemetery did.

I was hooked from then on.

Messages to my mate at the time, moments after I found Grandad Richard’s grave.

The defining feature of my whole journey since the somewhat cursed March 2020 is the connections I have made. Sure, I found my major interests in history but also developed my passion for writing and words but meeting all the wonderful people I have since then has truly been life-changing. Not just finding family through blood, but family in all different definitions the word has. I already know I have made life-long connections with people I would have never met or known about.

Thank god for that advert, eh?

I don’t know what the future will bring. I hope it will be good, but God knows, at this point but I’m just thankful for what I have got. After all, I have just winged it all up until this point.