“The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales” by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby

Marie Hartley and Ella Pontefract, from frontispiece to ‘Yorkshire Heritage’ (1950). With dogs Hardy and Chris.


or “How The New Edition of This Book Beloved By Knitters, Came About….”

Today I thought I’d give an insight into how we put together the new edition of “The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales”, that classic, much-loved book on the history of Yorkshire knitting…

Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley produced six books together, mainly for London publishers J. M Dent & Sons; Ella as writer and Marie as illustrator.

Marie had trained as a wood engraver at the prestigious Slade art school. Ella was a folklorist. In the 1930s, the women went on a walking tour of the Dales and soon returned; living in a caravan, whilst they documented the changing way of life of the Dalespeople.

Marie later said:

“It was an open book, to us – and no-one else was writing it.”

In 1941, the women bought a tumbledown cottage in Askrigg. Their 1942 book, ‘Yorkshire Cottage’, documented its restoration. Ella and Marie brought out a new book every 18 months – 2 years. Ella’s writing style was haunting, beautiful, elegaic. We have no way of knowing how different ‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ might have been, had she lived to write it. Ella died unexpectedly in 1945 of chronic high blood pressure. The years that followed were to be Marie’s longest gap without publishing a book. Marie probably had to convince her publishers that she too, could write. Almost all her subsequent books would be co-written with Joan Ingilby. They worked together, at opposite ends of the same room, and wrote seamlessly.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ was commissioned around 1947 by Harry J Scott, legendary editor of ‘Dalesman’ magazine and friend of Marie. It was to be her first collaboration with Joan. The women were to write over 30 books on Yorkshire history and lore, together. They received the Yorkshire Archaeological Society’s Silver Medal in 1993 and the MBE in 1997.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ was originally meant to be 12,000 words but was 27,000 when the women posted it to Scott, in 1948. It then languished on Scott’s desk til finally seeing the light of day in 1951.  Post-War paper shortages were cited as the reason the book wasn’t published immediately. It was to be reprinted many times, and became one of Dalesman’s best loved titles.  Also one of the books most loved by knitters the world over. Many might be surprised to learn neither of the women were knitters.

Years ago, almost the only in print source about the history of knitting, was the Bishop of Leicester, Richard Rutt’s ‘The History of Hand-Knitting’.  (Batsford, 1987). Like many knitters of my generation, I loved this book and was intrigued by mention of a book about the history of Yorkshire hand-knitting, ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby.  It was in the days before the internet, so my only chance of finding it was to scour secondhand bookshops.

Even in Hay-On-Wye, ‘the town of books’, where I scored many a then-obscure (in the UK) Elizabeth Zimmermann book, I failed to find Misses Hartley and Ingilby’s book. Years went by. Every bookshop I ever went in, I looked for The Book. It took on a special significance; became my personal Holy Grail. Forever out of reach.

Then on a day trip to Haworth and the Yorkshire Moors… I struck lucky. I found The Book. It had been reprinted by Dalesman. And was in the Tourist Information Centre.

I still have that edition and it is probably my most well-read,  most dog eared book.  Pages fell out, I read it to pieces.  It could have been terrible, for all I knew, all those years I searched high and low for it. But it was brilliant.

Several years ago, I wrote to the current editor of Dalesman and discovered they had no plans to re-print it. And alongside Shannon Okey at Cooperative Press,  I contacted the lovely Yorkshire lady who currently holds the copyright and got permission to go ahead with a new edition.

We wanted to make it available to a whole new audience, but also make an edition that would contain something new and be worth buying for those folk like me, who over the years got one or two different editions. The text is a re-print of the classic First Edition.

I wrote a Foreword because I was aware of the incredible reputation of Miss H & Miss I as Yorkshire historians (they both were awarded the MBE in 1997  for their work preserving Yorkshire lore and history, and worked on a prolific 40 plus books).  ‘Old Hand-Knitters’ is maybe their most loved book. But the people who love it, many are unaware of the writers’ record as social historians, and I wanted to put it back where it belonged,  in the broader context of the county’s history. I was also aware many knitters would love to know more about the women. I wanted to put them in context – Yorkshire greats like their friend,  J.B.Priestley.

Marie's 1948 wood engraving of George Walton glove
Marie’s 1948 wood engraving of George Walton glove

We also added an extra Appendix of our own – with the background pattern and charts for the oldest extant dated Dales gloves, the George Walton gloves. I travelled to various places researching for the book.

At York Reference Library, I found back issues of Dalesman, with numerous interviews with the ladies,  over decades.

I also visited the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (Misses H & I received their Silver Medal in 1993, and the women deposited all their extant notes, including a sparse few for ‘The Old Hand-Knitters’, at their archive in Leeds. I made several trips to the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Marie’s personal collection of agricultural implements, knitting sticks etc was the foundation of their collection.

One day in the  Dales Countryside archive, I was sitting opposite a gentleman who had an accordion. I was concentrating hard, documenting a Dales glove. Every now and then, he’d play a few bars of a long lost Yorkshire folk song; he was finding music notation. The music was so haunting and beautiful and so I couldn’t help striking up a conversation with him about his research. It turned out he was also one of the founders of the museum and had been the women’s neighbour for years. He gave me a brilliant insight into their work.I couldn’t help wondering what were the odds of bumping into their next door neighbour, whilst researching their lives – quite a few miles away from where they had lived.

Another odyssey we went on in our quest to find Miss Hartley and Miss Ingilby, was a trip up to the Wordsworth Trust’s Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, Cumbria. What started as a casual enquiry about a pair of gloves Marie had sketched around 1947 or 8, turned into a valued friendship with the wonderful curator there, who let me examine the George Walton gloves and somehow this led to us making 1800 period costume, and spending a weekend knitting and spinning at Dove Cottage.

The G. Walton glove Marie illustrated.
The G. Walton glove Marie illustrated. Courtesy: The Wordsworth Trust

I documented the George Walton glove – not one of the later Mary Allen gloves, but an earlier and much more subtle and complex design. The left glove and right had variations. We enlisted the help of designers and glove experts Tom van Deijnen, tomofholland.com , and “Corvid” to work out the intricacies of the design I had documented, and between the three of us, we came up with a pattern for the gloves.

I could never have imagined, in the 1980s, when I started looking for an OOP copy of the book, one day I would be involved with its resurrection. Nor that, travelling across Yorkshire and Cumbria to put this edition together, I would make friends and acquaintances along the way.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ is available here. (Digital and hard copies).

And the George Walton pattern is also available as a download, via Amazon. Details on Ravelry page, here.

I will put up details of where hard copies can be got in the UK, when I have that info for yous.

Knitting needles from Marie's collection, now at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. Image credit: Belinda May.
Knitting needles from Marie’s collection, now at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. Image credit: Belinda May.

WW1 Ancestors

I’m always compelled by genealogy when it put stories and faces to names. And it being 100 years since WWI, I wanted to write something in memory of my two great-uncles who died in that War. One of them was the reason I got into genealogy in the first place. I was going to keep it simple and just post photos, maybe names and dates. But that seemed inadequate in the year that’s the hundredth anniversary of the start of WW1.

If you follow this, there are tips on how to trace your WWI relatives. As a lasting tribute to my own family’s lost loved ones might be someone else being able to find out about their’s.

William Boothman was my grandmother’s older brother. William was born in Leeds, oldest son to my great grandparents, Tom Boothman and Annie nee Hemingway, in 1897. He first appears on the 1901 Census, at 70 Bayswater Row, in the Potternewton district of Leeds. William (always called ‘Willie’ by the family) lived with his father, Tom, a 33 year old Milk Dealer born in Coulton (North Riding), and Annie, also 33, born in Hensall (East Riding). Like the vast majority of 1890s’ Loiners, they had come to the city from outside. William’s older sister, Nellie was 6 and born in Leeds. The first Leeds-born Boothman!

Tip: Check out your ancestors’ birthplaces on Genuki. It’s a free site and has great info about the places your family originated. Sometimes, it even has things like transcriptions of 19thC Trade Directories where you may find your ancestors but if not, will get a sense of place.

Software like ‘Family Tree Maker’ will take you to your ancestors’ addresses via Google Earth. It’s surprising how often houses still stand, over one hundred years on.. .

I find Census Returns using Ancestry.co.ukFindMyPast is another useful site. I stick with Ancestry as it has a broader spectrum of records and I find transcriptions to be accurate, on the whole. FindMyPast used to be easier than Ancestry to search just addresses and there are times when that can be really handy. But you can do that on Ancestry easily enough, now. Tip for using the Census on whichever site – I always have a good look at neighbours and neighbouring streets, as you can tell a lot about the context your ancestors lived in, from the neighbourhood.

Tom Boothman was later to have a couple of houses built, one of which became my grandparents’ home, and he also owned a fair bit of property – including the small terrace of stone cottages off Roman Avenue in Shadwell, where my dad was born. He also owned a large, Victorian house at the top of Roman Avenue which he rented to my other great grandad!  But 1901 was before he had built his business and we had not previously been aware they had lived at Bayswater Row. It was a working class street – neighbours were bricklayers, fitters, decorators and machinists. Most of the street were classed as “Worker” although several were listed as “Own Account” (ie: self-employed), one of which was Tom.

Only two households on this page of the Census had servants – Tom and Annie had a 16 year old Pontefract girl, Kathleen Brent as “Servant – Domestic”. By looking at the others on the street, and the context of a Census, you can learn a lot more about your ancestor, than just the bald facts. Years later, my grandparents – Tom and Annie’s youngest daughter and her husband, my grandad – were to take over the business. And I remember dad saying that grandma worked very hard in the business and she too, usually had a servant. This would not so much be in a ‘Downton Abbey’ kind of way but just a girl to do the everyday cooking and cleaning, to free up the woman of the family to actually work in the business. Even though ‘occupation’ was often left blank next to the names of tradesmen’s wives on Censuses, the reality was they worked. My grandmother – and presumably Annie before her – made cheese and butter for the dairy. Later, she learned to drive so she could help with deliveries.It always intrigues me how women’s lives are sometimes submerged in the  Censuses – occupations left blank; work unacknowledged.

One note of caution re. Censuses – Tom Boothman gave himself a new and different birth place for every census he is listed on (as did his parents before him – seems to be a tradition). As his father was a carrier, travelling between Lancashire and Yorkshire, Tom’s siblings were born in different places so looking at their birthplaces on Censuses gave me no clues, either. People did pull the wool over the Enumerator’s eyes and were self-reporting. 1901 is the last census that was filled in by the Enumerator, not the general populace.

Ancestry are digitising more and more parish records and it is always worth looking for your relative’s birth, marriages and death also. I was unable to find a baptism for William Boothman. But I knew Tom and Annie married in a Methodist church,

Nellie (left) and Lillie, post WW1
Nellie (left) and Lillie, post WW1

and Non-Conformist records are a bit patchier, in terms of what was kept and what has survived to be digitised or transcribed. Ancestry does have Non-Conformist records and if you can’t find your ancestor in the Church of England parish records, they are always worth a look. Another resource for Births, Marriages and Deaths is Free BMD which a quick Google can pull up. Ancestry also has FreeBMD. There is a William Boothman born in the last quarter of 1897, Vol 9b page 570. And he was born in Leeds.  That may well be my great uncle. Especially as when I run a Census search – he is the only William Boothman I can find in Leeds, born in 1897…  An example of how you can use one record to verify or shed light on, another. To be sure, I would have to send off for William’s birth certificate. It is a terrifying thought, to look at the pages of boys born around 1897 and realise how many of them must have ended up dead in France or Belgium, within twenty years or so of their birth. An entire generation of young men in Europe were obliterated. My grandfather was lucky to survive WWI and said that when he returned to Leeds, he was, quite literally the only young man of his age for streets around. And those streets had been densely populated, with back-to-back houses. I don’t know how typical my dad’s family were but of the three teenagers who went to War, only one returned.

William (standing) with Nellie (seated), my grandma Lillie and Leslie. Leeds, probably around 1915

Like so many men killed in WW1, William is only to be found on the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.

1911 found him living with the complete family; older sister Nellie, born 1895; my grandmother Lillie – born 1902 – and the youngest child of the family, Leslie, born 1908.  1911 is the first census that records the number  children born to a family,  who had died. Tom wrote “1” in that column. That’s a birth certificate we may have to search for as my dad had no idea his mother lost a sibling in infancy.

This time, Tom gave his ever-moveable birthplace as ‘Harding’. Tom filled in this return for himself (1911 is the first place you can find your ancestor’s signature; bottom right). This is the closest he gets to accuracy. He was born in a village called Arden, near Helmsley. ‘Harding’ may well be his own rendering of it as Yorkshire dialect often adds an ‘h’ in front of an initial ‘A’! Their address was now 116 Bankside Street; the house in Harehills Tom had built, moving his dairy business closer to the city centre, although they still continued to be supplied by milk from his father’s farm, near Roundhay Park. Had he lived, Willie would have taken over the family business. The result of a generation of young men being slaughtered was a change in the fortune of some women. Much is written about the changing role of women post WW2 but WW1 had an effect, too.  My grandmother was eventually to inherit the dairy and 116 Bankside St.

In 1911, William would have been 13 and probably about to start working in the business. Tom Boothman was well off by this time; but an ‘education’ would have been out of the question. Another William – my grandad – was eventually to run and then own, Boothman’s Dairy – and he was an unusually intelligent boy who won a scholarship to the best school in Leeds. His father refused to let him go – he’d have a family business to run, one day. What use was an ability to parse Latin verbs? My grandad, like Willie Boothman, also ran away aged only 14, to join the Army. His first action was as a bugle boy. On the First Day of the Somme. Underage for conscription, William ran away repeatedly to join the Army. Whenever he was brought home, he’d take off again.  I have the draft of a letter Tom wrote, to his regimental H.Q, demanding that William was sent home.  (I thought I had scanned this, but it appears not!) Conscription was at age 18 which meant Willie would not be able to join the Army legally until  late 1915. The fact he ran off more than once in the year before, shows how determined he was. It is the only piece of correspondence I have ever found, from any member of my family. Letters are a rare resource for the family historian – as they got sent. And often, read and then used as kindling.

116 Bankside St. Willie Boothman lived here 20 years before this picture was taken.

Ancestry will yield you a variety of Military records and probably has the best coverage for the genealogist. I found William Boothman on the ‘UK, WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls’ – these record the ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ medals everyone got. This gives his rank (Gunner), Regt (Royal Artillery) and Regimental Number (107649 – this would have been on his dog tag). Sometimes, to this day, dog tags are found with bodies. More often than not, they aren’t as ground was fought and re-fought over; blown up time and time again; sometimes behind enemy lines, sometimes not. In other words, even bodies in the ground were blown to smithereens. The record also tells me that he was previously a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery with the same service number.  My dad remembered anecdotally that Willie had run away to join the Army and been recalled for being underage on more than one occasion. It is thought that he was always a Gunner – we know he was in the X Battery of the trench mortars , a group of men called ‘the Suicide Squad’ as their chance of surviving even one action was almost zero. And he survived years. This was a dangerous battery to belong to, as trench mortars were loathed by both sides, and became prime targets.

William Boothman – spot the cigarette!

I’m lucky to have more than one photo of William. In the first it looks like he is a young 18, so allowed to join up officially. I take it this time was ‘legal’ as his brother and sisters appear in the photo with him. My grandma, the younger sister, was closest to him in the family. In the first picture, he looks pretty well a child. The second photo, he looks cynical, tough, middle aged. He’d be about 21.  You can see the cigarette jammed behind his ear. This second photo has been edged with an oval of wonky pin-pricks – presumably done by Willie himself, when he was bored in the trenches. Maybe he intended to tear it at the perforations. When they went over the top, men often handed their photos and other personal possessions, in for safe keeping. If they died, the belongings were sent home and cash might be divided between surviving friends. Not that William ‘went over the top’ the day he died, as it appears the Germans took the British by surprise that morning. But the story in the family was this photo was taken off his body. It is entirely possible as there is a big smear of something that looks like blood on it. It is one of my most treasured possessions. It came to my grandma, presumably, as the sibling closest to him. I can’t imagine how she must have felt every time she looked at it. There are no anecdotes about comrades coming to Bankside St with stories about what happened to William – but then, it’s entirely possible the entire Battery were wiped out as the artillery bombardment was so relentless, the day William died. RFA also had recruits from all over the UK, unlike the Pals Battalions, where they all came from the same few streets. William survived several years in  X Battery, before dying on 27th May, 1918. This was the first day of the Third Battle of the Aisne. That morning the Germans carried out a massive bombardment followed by a drop of poison gas. It looks likely most British casualties’ bodies ended up behind enemy lines which may explain why Willie’s body was never found. Around 127,000 men in Allied forces lost their lives over that week and 130,000 Germans.  29,000 of the Allied dead were British. Gunner William Boothman is commemorated on the memorial at Soissons Cathedral.

Reverse of William’s photo. Probably not his writing. An officer’s or friend’s?

Once you pull up one War record, Ancestry has a link to search for your ancestor across all WW1 records. The British Army Service (enlistment) Records had a link to a William Boothman from Leeds who enlisted but that turned out to be Willie’s uncle as his address was the Homestead Farm – our family farm at Roundhay, Leeds. The record is heavily charred (a lot of Army records were destroyed in the Blitz – looks like Willie’s uncle’s record survived; his didn’t). Be aware if you’re researching for the first time, there are gaps in the record for this reason. William’s name does appear in the ‘UK Soldiers Killed in The Great War’ list. If you know little about your ancestor, this may be useful as it gives the usual regiment/regimental number info but also Place of Birth. And Enlistment Place. This often varies as men – especially those joining underage – often went to a different town where nobody knew them,  to enlist. William enlisted in Leeds but of course, this might just be his final and legal enlistment…

The reason I got into genealogy was my great uncle, Norris Charles Lister. He was my grandad’s brother. Again, I don’t know how statistically typical it was, but each of my paternal grandparents lost a brother.

Emily and John Lister with Billie (left) and Norris. Probably 1916.

Norris was born in Leeds. On the 1901 Census he lives at 4 Bath Rd, Holbeck, Leeds with his wife, Emily (nee Stephenson) and sons Norris (1897) and Willie (1899). Willie was known as ‘Billie’ later on. He was my grandad. All four were born in Leeds. John was a Printer’s Machine Ruler, and a ‘Worker’ (employee). I only recently got this photo, and it was taken in bad light on my iPad so very blurry, but shows John, Emily, Norris (on the right)  and Billie. I suspect this may be Billie’s ‘joining up’ photo, as his uniform looks pristine – Norris’s doesn’t. They were in different regiments, so Billie may have joined up when Norris was on leave. Norris already had two stripes – their younger brother, Uncle Jack, once told us that he had been offered a commission not long before he died. He turned it down as he wanted to stay with his comrades. As the War progressed, and more and more of the ruling classes died – and young commissioned officers were famous for being easily picked off by snipers – working class men were more likely to be commissioned. Again, as oldest son of the family, had Norris lived he would have had the family business.

Despite John Lister’s fancy appearance in the photo, he was also a businessman. He had a small printing firm. Seeing WW1 on the horizon, it is said he bought up Leeds’ paper stocks then sold it back to other printers at an extortionate price. This was actually an imprisonable offence. John Lister brought his kids up to be strong and resourceful.  My grandad used to say his dad taught them to swim by chucking them in the deep end of the Leeds Olympic pool. John started life as a mechanic (as the 1901 Census shows) but suddenly, mysteriously, “had money”. His entire life, he told people his name was not Lister but he had randomly chosen that name aged 19. He said he was an orphan, dumped at an orphanage then brought up and later adopted by a family called Gillespie. My grandfather, Emily and his four brothers believed this their entire life. They knew his ‘foster sister’, Florrie Gillespie who backed him up in the story. In fact, the 1901 Census puts him on Bath Rd, Holbeck.

His mother, daughter of a Huddersfield mill-owner, Hannah Smith had married Tom Lister, a cropper at a wool mill, and John was a late child they had when middle aged. When John was a toddler, Tom Lister died. The widowed Hannah remarried a Birmingham born blacksmith, Charles Dealey. This is where it gets interesting.

On the 1901 Census, whilst John Lister is living with his two oldest sons and wife on Bath Road. Also on the 1901 Census, the mother he always claimed never existed – is living with her second husband at Bath Villa, on Bath Rd… We had always wondered why Norris’s middle name was Charles, when there were no Charles’s in the family… John called his firstborn son after his stepfather. Despite claiming he had no family.

Billie, just after WW1
Billie, just after WW1

My great grandmother Emily was adamant that she believed John’s story about being a foundling was true – so much so she went to a solicitor in the 1920s, to check she was legally married as Lister might not be John’s real name. In the 1911 Census, John and Emily were still at 4, Bath Rd. John mis-spelled Norris’s name as “Norriss”. John described himself as a “Bookbinding Paper Ruler and Manufacturing Station” [sic], and as an “Employer”. We know over the years his print shop was located at one point on Kirkgate, opposite Leeds Market (same road as the old Leeds Cloth Hall). Another time it was on Bond Square. Norris lived with my grandad, Billie, and also his brother Jack, and twins Clifford and Mary who were under one month old on Census night. John and Emily were to have one more son; Jeffrey.  Mary died aged ten. An obit published in the local papers mentioned Norris worked for his father’s business. Norris is listed in the WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls. He was in the 1st 5th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He is listed as Killed in Action on 9th October, 1917 and his name also appears in ‘All UK Soldiers Died in the Great War”.

Great-Uncle Norris.

In the 1980s, we visited the last surviving brother, Uncle Jack and he told us some really interesting things. Apparently, they were so close in age, Norris and my grandad, Billie, were like twins. When Norris joined up, Billie thought if he joined up too they’d at least be together. Only grandad found himself in the West Yorkshires and Norris was in the KOYLIs.

Like William Boothman, my grandad was underage when he ran away to War. He was 15.  Uncle Jack said his two older brothers were both very musical and played the viola. In later life my grandfather played the piano – he only had to hear a piece once and could play it note perfect, from memory. At the start of the War he was a bugle boy.

Jack also told us that when Norris came home on leave in 1917 – just a few weeks before he died – he was so yellow from the mustard gas that the family insisted on taking him to St James’ Hospital in Leeds. The worthies at ‘Jimmy’s’ took one look at him and accused him of ‘swinging the lead’ – trying to get a ‘Blighty wound’ – Jack said poor Norris was mortified as he was devoted to his men and determined to go back and had been forced by the family to go to hospital.

September 1917, fresh from the sensitive and caring medics of St James’, it is thought he passed through Etaples camp. Around the week of the infamous mutiny. (The British Army’s only known mutiny during WW1). It is thought that the Army could effectively ‘bury’ the events at Etaples, by making sure the men who witnessed it were at Passchendaele. (When Gove made his offensive remarks trying to do a bit of revisionism vis a vis ‘lions led by donkeys’, I was particularly disgusted. I’d imagine his ancestors were the bloated officers safely behind the lines).  Either way, Norris had told his family back in Leeds he was turning down the offered commission to stay with ‘his men’. And he was to die with them at the Battle of Poelcapelle.

After the War, my great grandmother, Emily was visited by some of Norris’s surviving comrades. They told her the story comrades often told grieving mothers: that Norris had died trying to pull a friend off the barbed wire in No Man’s Land. My dad used to say he was told about this many times (presumably by Emily herself) but once he was a soldier himself, in World War II, he could no longer believe it.  Norris’s body was never found, and after the War the War Graves Commission told the family Norris had been commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial. The family believed them. Well, you would. No-one had the money to go to Flanders, anyway.

Uncle Jack said that his mother left the kitchen light on at night, for the rest of her life – in case Norris was ‘missing in action’ and came home one day. She wanted the house to be welcoming. I think, as long as that light was burning, she felt her hope was alive. Like many loved ones of men killed in WW1 whose bodies were never identified, she must have felt that to accept that he was dead was a bit like writing him off.  Emily’s expression in the photo with her two soldier sons, is hauntingly sad. I can’t even imagine how she coped with Billie still being at War, or how Billie first heard his much loved brother was dead – presumably whilst he was still in a trench himself.

By 1917, grandad would have been 18 years old and had gone straight back to the Front the moment he could. Essentially my grandad had been soldiering three years, on and off, in the Front Line, when he was underage.

In the 1980s, I got interested in finding out more about my uncles who died in World War 1, and so the odyssey into genealogy began. As we researched Norris, it became apparent that his name was not on Tyne Cot Memorial (we found a transcription of the memorial at Birmingham Reference Library). We contacted the War Graves Commission and they put that right. For a while, his was the last name on the Memorial. More have come to light since.

A KOYLI officer’s log we read told us that he died along with his men – all of them, probably not long after the KOYLIs went over the top, that day. There probably were no surviving direct witnesses to come home and tell Emily about his heroic death on the wire as the men under his immediate care, as a Corporal, died alongside him. (Telling mothers their son was sniped was probably perceived as an act of kindness). I have no reason to doubt Jack’s memory of his mother being visited by comrades. They may have been survivors from his battalion; many of the KOYLIs  were from Leeds, after all. If not a Pals’ Battalion, exactly. Of the missing KOYLIs who died at Passchendaele, Norris was the only one omitted from the memorial. And the only one who it seems passed through Etaples. Which always struck me as suggestive.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website has a useful ‘Find War Dead’ data base you can search and from which you can download a certificate of commemoration for your relative.

Having Norris added to the Addenda Panel of the Tyne Cot memorial was my first achievement as a genealogist. We were pleased to go and visit Uncle Jack and tell him the news. He was very grateful. But it must also have been upsetting, knowing his parents and the entire family had gone to their graves believing he had been commemorated at Tyne Cot. In the 1990s, my dad went to Tyne Cot and discovered that Norris did have a grave – but was one of six ‘Unknown Soldiers’ – all six found together in a collapsed fox-hole, probably in 1921 when the War Graves Commission started sorting things out. They were known to be Norris and his comrades, but there was no way of knowing which man was which. The others’ names all appeared on the memorial. Dad was taken to the six graves known to be the KOYLIs who died that day. One day I hope to go there, too.

I always had a soft spot for Norris because, in the photos I have, he looks so much like my dad. Dad was born 9 years after Norris died and looked more like him than he looked like his dad.  I also found my grandad, the lone survivor of his generation who went to War, on the Ancestry WW1 Medal and Award Rolls. Which told me that at the end of the War, he was still a Private. He must have become a Corporal in the Territorial Army between the Wars as he was a Sergeant in WW2. The same record tells me he entered the Reserves in 1919. As did almost all his colleagues from the Leeds Rifles who are listed on the same page. I have grandad’s original dog tags. In the Medal Rolls, he had the usual ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ medals. But the Leeds Rifles had the rare honour of winning the Croix de Guerre and wore its insignia afterwards

Only surviving wedding photo Lillie and Billie, Leeds, 1925

Billie, my grandad, survived the War and married my grandmother, Lillie Boothman, in 1925.  He often said he had the pick of all the women in Leeds and could choose the most beautiful – because he was the only young man his age for streets around. My grandad eventually ran Boothman’s Dairy which in the 1930s became Lister’s Dairy. Dad said his father would have preferred to be a printer, but after the War, his doctor said the outdoor life of being a dairyman would be healthier for him.

My grandad, Billie, in WW2

On the day WW2 broke out, my grandad – who was in the Territorial Army and now a sergeant in the West Yorkshires – went to War a second time. His unit was in the Blitz doing fire watch, apparently then later amongst the first British troops to get to Belsen. (The West Yorkshires now a Leeds-based anti aircraft battalion of the Royal Artillery). So long as he lived, my grandfather refused ever to speak about what he saw in Belsen. He was a chain smoker – ever since the trenches. He died of lung cancer in 1971 so WW1 did kind of get him in the end.  I was a child in the 60s, and many of my school friends also had grandads who were WW1 veterans. We felt we grew up with it. Grandad once incurred mum’s wrath by teaching us the words to various ‘soldier songs’… Towards the end, Billie came home to die at our house, my parents looking after him as he literally stood up and walked out of hospital, refusing to die there. Right at the end he went into a coma, but it looked more like a prolonged nightmare – not the peaceful thing you’d imagine a coma to be. I was only nine but I was convinced my grandad was back in the trenches, in his mind. Or maybe – worse still – Belsen. When my dad returned from the War in 1947, now an experienced paratrooper himself, his dad didn’t talk about it with him.  It is rather incredible to think of this ordinary Leeds dairyman being at the First Day of the Somme, the Blitz and the Liberation of Belsen. But he was.

By Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders, Belgium. “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow”, via Wikimedia Commons

Tazzle Man Returns


From ‘Costume of Yorkshire’, 1814, Courtesy Yorkshire Ancestors


Today I’m re-visiting the subject of a recent blog post.

Killingbeck, Leeds gent George Walker (1781-1856), toured Yorkshire in 1813-14, recording the clothing of the ordinary man and woman for his book, ‘Costume of Yorkshire’.

Plate XXIII showed a teasel field, and was sketched/painted in the village where I grew up.  Many of Walker’s illustrations had inaccurate details in the background; a market cross where there never was one; churches with spires that should have had towers, etc. But he has got the Sherburn church and topography right. The teasel field workers were gathering the teasels into a makeshift hut, to dry them out before they’d be taken along the road to Leeds, 14 1/2 miles away (along the old Great North Road).

Yesterday, driving through the village we found a neglected patch of field, containing many teasels.  Bad phone camera picture but you can see the church in the background, and it is a similar orientation to Walker’s picture but slightly more distant from the church. Probably one or two fields along and further out of the village. (Click to enlarge).

Sherburn-in-Elmet, teasels growing wild, 201 years after 'The Teasel Field'.
Sherburn-in-Elmet, teasels growing wild, 201 years after ‘The Teasel Field’.

It’s amazing to think these teasels may be descendents of those grown in this area in Napoleonic times…

Incidentally, Walker doesn’t exaggerate the steepness of the hill behind the church. It looks less dramatic in my photo due to the distance and angle, but Walker got it right. The precise field where he sketched is an acre or two higher than where I stood with the camera, today.

My only relative in the village around Napoleonic times was a farmer/saddler, James Roodhouse. (Recently found on tax returns for ‘Huddlestone’, so he was either a tenant at Huddlestone Hall, or a farm there – fairly remote from the main village, but within sight of the church).  His sister was my great X 5 grandmother, Hannah Cleveland nee Roodhouse. The other Roodhouses farmed in both Wombwell and Cawood.

View of wild teasels, looking across field towards Little Woods.
View of Finkle Hill wild teasels, looking across field towards Little Woods.

The old saddlery was just next to the crossroads, at the start of Moor Lane; a five minute walk from where this picture was taken.  (Since writing this I have found the Roodhouses at Huddlestone, though, not in the vilage as such – September, 2017).

Sherburn is built on a crossroads with the four main roads being Kirkgate, Moor Lane, Finkle Hill and Low St.  I grew up on a lane just off Kirkgate, (pronounced the Yorkshire way, ‘Kerr-gate’), but this picture was taken up Finkle Hill, just out of the village.

This second photo shows the teasels in the field, looking not up towards the church but across to Little Wood. Just to give a sense of how many there are!  Apologies for the poor photo quality – I was using a phone camera and facing into the sun, so I couldn’t even see what I was shooting at the time!

It remains to be seen if these teasels are feasibly the kind used in the Leeds wool trade. According to Wikipedia:

The genus [dipsacus] includes about 15 species of tall herbaceous biennial plants (rarely short-lived perennial plants) growing to 1–2.5 metres (3.3–8.2 ft) tall.

But how to figure out what sort of teasels these are?  Also according to Wikipedia:

The Fuller’s Teasel (the cultivar group Dipsacus fullonum Sativus Group; syn. D. sativus) was formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.[7] It differs from the wild type in having stouter, somewhat recurved spines on the seed heads


Different teasels illustrated below. With its recurved spines, it looks likely the Sherburn teasel is dipsacus fullonum. (AKA “common teasel” or “fuller’s teasel”).

Walker wrote:


The Teasel, or Dipsacus sativus, is a plant much cultivated in the east part of the West Riding, though from the impoverishing nature of the crop, which requires two years to bring it to maturity, it is seldom approved by the proprietor of the soil. It is however an article of essential importance to the Clothier, who uses the crooked awns of the heads of this plant for raising the nap on the cloth. In the autumn of the second year the heads of the plant are cut off, carefully dried, and after being fixed upon long sticks, are conveyed away for sale. Temporary sheds are usually erected in the teasel fields for the work-people employed, who not unfrequently for very interesting groups.

The question is: are these dipsacus fullonum  garden escapes from 20thC flower arrangers, or escapes from the cultivars grown in these fields two hundred years ago?  It is not close to any houses (open fields all round) – so I suspect the latter – also as you can see, just the sheer number growing in the bit of fallow field, suggests they’re not a casual garden escape. Dipsacus grows easily from seed and would come back every year on an undisturbed bit of land; even if the land was cultivated for decades they might survive then re-invade from the verges (and this field borders the road so will always have had a verge). Walker called them ‘sativus’, but there seems to have always been some confusion around the nomenclature.

The specific name ‘fullonum’ and the common name ‘Fuller’s teasel’ both imply that this species was used in fulling, the process of shrinking and thickening the cloth after weaving (Ryder, 1993). Clapham et al. (1962) used the name D. fullonum ssp. sativus instead of D. sativus for the plant with stiff recurved spines that was long used in the textile industry.


http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/119605  describes some confusion over the nomenclature.

At the time Walker was writing, fullonum was seen as a sub-species of sativus.

By the time Walker was writing, teasels were used to raise the nap on cloth manually, as well as attached to machinery. Teasels were sometimes mounted on a cylinder used to dress cloth, called a gig mill. Although in Walker’s illustration of croppers, the teasels were mounted on small frames, used to raise the cloth by hand – which was commoner in Yorkshire and the likely fate of most of the teasels grown in Sherburn.  Lipson wrote:

… In the West Riding, where most kinds of machinery were introduced more easily than elsewhere… opposition was even more protracted than in the West Country. At the end of the eighteenth century the gig mill, although not unknown in Yorkshire, was still very exceptional, and the majority of cloths were dressed by hand on account of the hostility of the men… [A] Yorkshire manufacturer, Hirst, who wrote an account of his career as a clothier, declares that as late as 1810, ‘if a Yorkshire manufacturer went into a market with one from the West of England, and they both had a piece of cloth manufactured from the same wool, the latter would get a better price by nearly one-half.’ the West Country having machinery for finishing cloth which Yorkshire employers dared not introduce…’… When Hirst himself introduced gig mills, the journeymen croppers complained bitterly: ‘Their bitterness against me was so great at that time that I had to keep ten armed men every night to guard my premises. I never ventured out at night; and even when I went out at daytime, I always had a brace of loaded pistols in my pocket.’….

The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries, E. Lipson, 1921, 189-190

Who’d have imagined the common teasel could be so… political?

Below  are images of dipsacus sativus, fullonum, and one of the seed-heads from the Sherburn teasels. Are these survivors descendents from the Napoleonic era crop? Could that even be possible?  Today, I was only a couple of fields down from where Walker stood with his sketch book or easel in 1813. And there is a corner of that field that is forever West Riding  wool industry.

Dipsacus sativus – spines not recurved. Wiki Commons.



Sherburn teasel, November, 2014
Sherburn teasel, November, 2014. Recurved spines
Plate from ‘British Entomology VI’, John Curtis showing Dipsacus fullonum, 1829 Wiki Commons