The Faux Foundling

One for the genealogists today so you might want to look away now if you’re not into this stuff!

This is a blog post I have tried to start, many times. And given up on. Due to its complexity. So here it is – finally –  the  lengthy (sorry) story of how we finally broke through the biggest brick wall in my family tree. It has a bit of a twist in the tail, as you’ll see. And involves the kind of coincidence that even Dickens would think was stretching plot credibility a bit… Yet it happened.

I started genealogy back in the 1980s, when we lived in our first house; a small one-bedroomed terrace, in Bartley Green, Birmingham.

Our row of houses had the distinction of once being the smallest district of Birmingham – that lone terrace  and a nearby farm, brickworks and inn had once been called ‘California’.  It had been on the very edges of Birmingham. Older people along the row still called it “California”.  But it had been subsumed into the larger postal district of Bartley Green by the time we lived there.

We lived in the end house at California, for almost ten years.

Our house was maybe built around the 1880s or 90s,  on the site of some long demolished nailmakers’ cottages. It was a hard house for the council to let as a bad conversion meant it only had one bedroom, so it was no use for a family. We jumped at it when offered as otherwise all we’d have got was a high-rise flat and so we couldn’t believe our luck, being a (then) childless couple and getting a whole house! It was also three storeys at the back, and two at the front. The staircase down to the kitchen was concrete and locals soon told us our kitchen had been the terrace’s fish and chip shop.

We lived in the end house, by the chapel. We loved it not only as our first home, but because it had a huge garden and was right on the edge of the city, so surrounded by country park, and beyond that, reservoirs and woods.

We were so close to the edge of Harborne, that some people thought California was in Harborne. It had been Warwickshire before the new county boundaries made it ‘West Midlands’ but on 19thC censuses, it had been Staffordshire; the heart of the Midlands’ nail, chain and needle-making industry. Bang on the border, in other words.

Whilst living there, I got involved in genealogy. In the days before the internet, and I quickly realised I didn’t have the money to travel backwards and forwards to Yorkshire, where pretty well all my family history was sitting in archives (or, in those days, at Somerset House). But one thing was obvious. I was never going to be able to trace my real surname, or find out fully who I really was, anyway.

My great grandfather, John Lister, had told everyone that he was a foundling, dumped at birth at a Leeds orphanage. Later, he said, he was sent to a baby farm then fostered by a family, the Gillespies. Their daughter, Florrie, a couple of years younger than him, was a lifelong friend – so close to him that long after he died, she was the only person to continue to take flowers to his grave.

John brought up his five sons telling them they had no known grandparents and they had a surname that didn’t even belong to them. In parts of the West Riding, being called ‘Lister’ you might as well be called ‘Smith’. I heard that line myself more than once and wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t originate with my great grandad, John. “John Lister” might as well be “John Smith” round here.

John also told the story that when he reached 19 years old, he decided to visit “a rich mill-owner” and claim he was his illegitimate relative. All anyone knew was, he left home a penniless mechanic in the printing industry and returned with money. Everyone assumed he must have pulled his con on the Listers of Bradford.

Whilst I lived in Brum, I searched the indices of the birth certificates held at the Reference Library and could find no John Lister registered in the year he claimed to have been born, or several years either side. Which backed up his story he was a foundling. I still haven’t got his birth certificate all these years on!

In the age of the internet, we got on Ancestry and searched the 1881 and 1891 Censuses with a fine toothcomb, and still there was not a child of the right age, in Leeds, called ‘John Lister’. We knew John was a notorious con-man. But his story that he was a foundling, first in an orphanage, then a baby farm, then adopted by the Gillespies, seemed to stack up. Although in the relevant censuses, he wasn’t in the Gillespies’ house on Census night.

Emily and John with sons Billie and Norris

The other reason we believed John’s tale of being a foundling, so untraceable, was that my great grandmother, Emily Lister nee Stephenson, told dad  she had gone to a solicitor, in the 1920s, to check if she was even legally married. Because she was worried that if ‘Lister’ wasn’t John’s real name, maybe her marriage was null and void. The solicitor reassured her, apparently.

A few years back, we sent for John and Emily’s marriage certificate. John, this man who said he had no known parents, (and convinced Emily he had none?) said his father was “Thomas Lister” and his father’s occupation was “Press Setter”. Knowing my great grandad was a printer, I wrongly assumed that was something to do with printing.

By the 1920s, John was living in a large Victorian house in Shadwell, owned by my other great grandfather, Tom Boothman.  My grandfather was the second son of five boys (John and Emily also had  a daughter, Mary, twin of one of the boys, who died aged 10).

A couple of John’s sayings were recalled by my dad. One was “A gentleman never works for a living”. Apparently, when he felt War was coming, he bought up Leeds’ entire stock of paper then slowly sold it back to the other printers for an extortionate amount.

By some point in the 1920s, Emily and John were estranged. The story is, John died of a heart attack in 1931,  at his mistress’s house. Which would be entirely in character. Whether Emily’s visit to the solicitor coincided with all this hitting the fan or not, I am not sure.

I have a perfume bottle made of Venetian glass and was always told it was one of a pair and whoever descends from John’s mistress, has the other one!  So if your grandma/great grandma lived in Shadwell or Leeds in the 1920s, and you have a pretty green Venetian glass perfume bottle covered in hand-painted flowers… do get in touch! We might be related.  Apparently I am related to a lot of people in Leeds, via John.

Anyway, when I lived in Birmingham’s California, in the 1980s, I did my first bit of genealogy – tracing John’s eldest son, Norris, killed in WW1, and discovering he was not on the Tyne Cot memorial – where his family had been told he was commemorated. Lots of correspondence with the War Graves Commission and the upshot was, Cpl Norris Charles Lister was, for a time, the last name on the memorial.

My grandad was long dead, but one of John Lister’s five sons, and Norriss’s brother, was still alive: my Uncle Jack. We went to see Jack showing him the photos of the memorial, someone from the War Graves Commission kindly took for us. And told him we were now interested in genealogy and could he tell us all he knew about his dad, John, so we could see if we could figure out who we really were, what our real surname was. We were hoping he might remember which orphanage John claimed to have been left at.

There was a whole elaborate story my grandad, Billie, had told me of John being visited once a year on his birthday by a grand lady “in a coach and four” who’d give him books. Jack was by now in his 80s but very sharp and intelligent, like grandad. He also recalled the coach and four story.

He went on to say that Billie had zero interest in his family history and had never wanted to find out the truth or shown the slightest bit of interest in what our name really was.  Jack, however, was curious to find out more about John Lister. Jack said he had found something out but was sworn to secrecy and could never tell anyone what he knew, but it was something to do with the name ‘Gillyflower’ and… Ireland; a grand Irish lady, in fact.  He also made some remark, whilst laughing, so I assumed he was feeding us a red herring, about ‘Might as well be called Smith round here, as Lister’ – saying words to the effect that John probably picked Lister as his new surname because it would in effect, make him untraceable.

Every lead was a dead end.  We were left with some anomalies, as time went on. How could Emily think her husband had no family if, on her wedding day, she must have heard him tell the registrar his ‘father”s name and occupation?   Why, if he was brought up by Florrie’s family, the Gillespies and called Gillespie til he was 19, was he not living with them on any Census?

Florrie and Emily knew eachother. Florrie was the only person – allegedly – who had known John as a child, and before he married Emily.

Florrie Gillespie was close to John and kept his secrets well. He kept her secrets even better, as I was to find out.

Billie and Florrie, Maryport, some time post-War

And she kept them so well I would have continued to be a genealogist who couldn’t trace her paternal line at all, past a couple of generations if it hadn’t been for a chance break-through.

We kept returning to this brick wall, periodically, but couldn’t get any further with it. It seemed I’d never really know who I was.

Then the 1911 Census came out.  We decided to go to look for Florrie again – I could find John Lister by the 1901 Census, although nothing for his childhood.  We weren’t expecting to find anything new.  John was long married with children and now easy to locate as using the name Lister. Florrie had never married.

In 1911, Florrie was living in Ellenborough, Cumberland, a boarder with a couple called the Jardines, aged 34, a District Nurse (as we knew) but… her name was down as… “Florence Lister Gillespie”. What?  She was a Lister?

This sent me back in time in the censuses – knowing a surname as a middle name is usually the mother’s maiden name. So Florence’s mum was related to John Lister? Or someone called Lister… I knew I’d have to track down Florrie’s mum to stand a chance of finding out who her ‘adoptive son’, John, was.

Florence was born in 1877, apparently the daughter of John Gillespie, a tailor (born Scotland) and Elizabeth Ellen (sometimes ‘Helen’)  Lister.  Elizabeth was born in 1857, in Huddersfield, to Tom Lister and his wife, Hannah Smith. Tom was…  a Press Setter (cropper in the wool industry) and Hannah’s father was a Fancy Woollen Manufacturer (mill owner) in Longwood, Huddersfield.  This was the Tom Lister, ‘Press Setter’ of the marriage certificate – we’d assumed him to be fictional, knowing what a fantasist John was. And that ‘press’ was to do with printing.  And John’s grandfather? A mill owner. Might as well be called Smith as Lister in the West Riding? Well, we were called both!  Some elements of truth in all the lies.

I had found my great great grandparents. And the name I had been told my entire life, was not really my name, did indeed belong to me. Turns out the Listers were in the wool trade, an old Halifax family; moving to Huddersfield in Regency times, and later to Leeds. So far all the Halifax Listers I have traced have been wool weavers, croppers (Press setters!) and a wool merchant.

Florrie’s mother, Elizabeth, was a Lister; her brother was John’s father.  I’d never bothered to get Florrie’s birth certificate because I’d assumed as ‘adoptive’ family, there was no blood link so the Gillespies were of no interest.

Although there was a fly in the ointment, as on the 1881 Census, a three year old “Florence Lister” is recorded as “niece” to John and Elizabeth Gillespie… not daughter. Later, she is recorded as “daughter”.  Yes, I will have to get the birth certificate!

I don’t understand what made me not consider tracing Elizabeth Gillespie, or start figuring out who she was. The answer was in front of us the whole time.

John’s parentage is pretty clear – Tom and Hannah Lister. Florrie, on the other hand – when she first appeared on a census was Elizabeth Gillespie’s ‘niece’. John Gillespie married Elizabeth Lister in Leeds on June 7th, 1877. This would make it just about possible that Florence was their child. Free BMD lists a Florence Lister whose birth was registered in Leeds in the same quarter that John and Elizabeth married. So it is also possible, the most likely scenario in fact, that Florrie was John and Elizabeth’s illegitimate baby, born just before they married, hence having the legal surname Lister. All the subterfuge obscuring not only John’s birth, but Florrie’s. Maybe all along, the whole elaborate tale was a strange, gentlemanly facade designed to protect Florrie from the stigma of illegitimacy. Certainly the shame of illegitimacy seems to have lingered even if your parents did subsequently marry.

Tom and Hannah Lister moved from Huddersfield to Leeds and continued having children well into middle age; I traced their Leeds-born children via baptism records, across several of Leeds’ poorer parishes; child after child, dying in infancy. One of these ‘late’ children, and the only survivor, was my great grandad, John. We have not been able to find his baptism record – maybe he was never christened. The Listers seem to have been Non Conformists in Halifax and Huddersfield but reverted to Church of England, in Leeds.

Elizabeth was 20 years older than John, so maybe did look after him for much of his childhood. Florrie was an only child so possibly did grow up in the company of her cousin. She knew, all her adult life, precisely who John was – that he was a Lister, that he was her cousin – yet backed him up with his story that he was a foundling with no name. This remains the biggest mystery of all to me. My dad died before we broke through this last brick wall – I wonder what he’d have made of it? When John died, Florrie alone took flowers to his grave, whenever she could. She remained loyal to him, to the end.

John Lister had told the truth on his wedding certificate yet lied to his wife and children.  So why was he unfindable in the censuses of his childhood?

When John was about three,  his dad,Tom Lister, died. Hannah remarried. A man from Birmingham, called Charles Deeley. Deeley was varuiously recorded through censuses as a chainmaker, foundry worker and blacksmith. Census enumerators maybe struggled with Deeley’s Brummie accent as he was mistranscribed as ‘Daley’ after marriage to Hannah and his little stepson, my great grandad, was not in an orphanage or baby farm or even with his ‘adopted’ family the Gillespies – but right there in Holbeck at home with his mother and stepfather. Hidden in plain sight and on the Censuses all along as ‘John Daley’. I could have stared at that on a census forever, of course, and had no way of knowing that little John Daley was actually John Lister. Growing up, his name must have been his stepfather’s and at 19 when he took the name Lister after visiting a wealthy millowner – he may well have been in Huddersfield visiting his own family, the Smiths or the Dawsons, who were mill-owners – Dawsons having one of the most successful dyeworks in the world – and returned to Leeds using his birth name. He had probably never been John Gillespie. He had been John Deeley. And there were elements of truth in the tall tale. Maybe the Dawsons or Smiths paid him off to get rid of him… And that is how he reappeared in Leeds with a “new” surname and a wad of money, as he went from being a printer’s mechanic to a printer in his own right.

There was no coach and four, or Irish grand lady.

Unaccountably, on the 1901 Census John and Emily and their burgeoning young family live maybe one street away from Hannah and Charles Deeley. My grandfather is on that Census, in that house and yet had no idea he even had grandparents.  Stranger still, John gave his first-born ‘Charles’ as a middle name. Charles is not a family name – not used once – amongst the Listers, Smiths, Crabtrees, Dawsons or other immediate family of John Lister. Nor is it a name used in Emily’s family.  Why did John name his eldest son after the stepfather whose existence he denied?

But the final chapter of this whole story is the most strange.

Curious about who Charles Deeley, my great grandfather’s stepfather, I went to look for him. He appeared to be a blacksmith, working in a large Holbeck foundry.According to censuses, he was born around 1850, in Birmingham and across different censuses gave slightly different birth places – county boundaries across Birmingham changed at different points and, of course, many 19thC folk were unsure of their precise birthplace, if their parents died young and they were shunted around a lot. Charles had worked from a childhood; been born to a single mother, had an incredibly tough life where he seems to have been moved around from pillar to post. But I managed to find him as an infant, in the 1851 Census son of Ann Deeley, a nailmaker. In the lone row of cottages they called…. California.

In the end house.

“Upto My Saddle In Luddite Blood”

202 years ago this month, the show trial of a handful of Luddites ended, and men were hung at York Castle after a ‘Special Commission’ at York Assizes. They built the scaffold unusually high, so the crowd of thousands could see the men die, like a farmer hangs a few crows pour encourager les autres.

On January 8th 1813, Longroyd Bridge croppers George Mellor, William Thorpe and Thomas Smith were hung for the alleged murder of mill-owner, William Horsfall.  Mellor was said to be the West Riding’s ‘King Ludd’. Only 23, he was literate, intelligent, charismatic – a born leader. Evidence has recently come to light that the ‘Guilty’ verdict was decided by the government, weeks ahead of time.

The three men’s bodies were dissected at the County Hospital in York, to obviate the possibility of martyrs’ graves.  Patrick Bronte is said to have quietly, at night, officiated over the burials of  Luddites killed during the Rawfolds raid, in an unmarked grave, when he was vicar at Hartshead.

Reporters noted the York crowd watched the hangings in baleful silence. Maybe they knew it was more about preventing Yorkshire folk of all trades from ‘combination’ (developing trade unions) than it was about the death of Horsfall. Horsfall’s own funeral had necessarily been a low key affair at Huddersfield parish church.

On January 16th, fourteen more men were hung for the attack on Rawfolds Mill and stealing arms – when I read court accounts in the newspapers, it struck me that many had brought credible witnesses to court who gave them solid alibis. So it is not even clear if all the hanged men were even Luddites at all. The hanged men were: John Ogden, Nathan Hoyle, Joseph Crowther, John Hill, John Walker, Jonathan Dean, Thomas Brook, William Hartley, John Swallow, John Batley, Joseph Fisher, James Haigh, James Hey (or ‘Haigh’) and Job Hey. Some of those surnames may be familiar to anyone with West Riding ancestry.

Horsfall of Marsden near Huddersfield, had indulged in a spectacular piece of what can only be described as  trolling. He had boasted he was going to install new shearing frames even if it meant he had to ride upto his saddle in (the workers’)  blood. Riding back from Huddersfield market, across moorland, Horsfall was shot.

We know the Horsfalls stayed in the wool trade in one capacity or another, as a Horsfall descendent donated this rare example of a knitted Welsh Wig to St Fagan’s Museum, documented and pattern by the marvellous Sally Pointer.

Throughout 1812,government agents had infiltrated the Luddite movement. Westminster dispatched spies to participate in “twissing in”, the secret initiation ceremony where Luddites were “twisted” (like threads spun into yarn) into service. Laws were rapidly passed so even uttering the words of the twissing in ceremony was a capital offence.  Far from lobbing a few stones, the Luddites were organised like a military operation, and armed themselves by raiding remote farm-houses for firearms, which they then drilled with on moorland, so they could attack the mills and break the machines that took away their livelihoods.  They raided in disguise, blackening their faces for camouflage at night. Many were well read, autodidacts not the backwards-looking, destructive neanderthals of myth but politicised, skilled craftsmen (Craftspeople were always, historically, hard for those in power to pull into line – many were early supporters of the Parliamentarians in the Civil War, for example).  In the West Riding, weavers and croppers were notoriously Non Conformists and free thinkers.

Croppers, or ‘shearmen’, had for some time had an effective proto-trade union but the 1802 Combination Act threatened this, making trade unionism illegal.

My great x 3 grandfather, Thomas Lister, was a wool weaver, born in 1791 from a long line of weavers, clothiers and wool merchants in Halifax, Yorkshire.  Many clothiers were one-man operations; weaving and then selling their pieces at Piece Hall.  Often a weaver aspired for at least one of his sons to become a cropper as they earned more than the weavers and then they could finish cloth and make it higher value, in-house. On family trees, you often see the line of oldest sons down a few generations going: weaver, cropper, weaver, cropper…

Thomas’s son, Tom (my great-great grandfather) was to become a cropper but his career was post mechanisation of the process. Thomas Lister the elder was the same age as some of the arrested Luddites and he moved to Longroyd Bridge in Huddersfield, somewhere between 1811 and the early 1820s. Both Halifax and Huddersfield were at the epicentre of the Luddite movement – a government agent described a twissing in ceremony witnessed in a Halifax pub. As weavers/croppers, actually at Longroyd Bridge – where the Luddite ‘ring-leaders’ were based – it is more than possible my ancestors were caught up in the conflict, either in Halifax or Huddersfield. I have always hoped they were!

In late 1812, before the York show trial, over a hundred ‘Luddites’ were arrested and imprisoned at York Castle. I have yet to trace the men on the prison calendar, but when I do, would not be remotely surprised to find a Lister in there, somewhere. Another great x 3 grandad from this time is Tom Smith, a Longwood (Huddersfield) clothier. Sadly with just about the most common name in England at these dates, that makes it hard for me to find out whether my Tom Smith (born 1799, and lived for many decades after this time) was related in any way to the Huddersfield Thomas Smith who hung alongside Mellor. Like the hanged men, both my Smith and Lister ancestors were Non-Conformists – baptists and methodists.  The second batch of hanged Luddites sang a methodist hymn on their way to the scaffold.

Croppers (sometimes called shearers or cloth dressers) were usually seen as the most skilled of all craftsmen in the wool trade; they raised and cropped the nap on finished cloth. One nick of the shears and the entire piece, representing hundreds of hours of work, was ruined. When a cropper finished, he added great value to the finished cloth. So, croppers were the highest paid textile workers. An apprentice cropper would have to work heavy shears which was agony til a ‘hoof’ (callous) developed on his hands. This took time.  They also had to develop incredible upper body strength and stamina as well as skill. They had a reputation as hard drinkers and men not to be messed with. I’ve written elsewhere about my relatives, the Huddersfield aniline dyers, the Dawsons, who were active in setting up Mechanics’ Institutes in the West Riding, to educate the working classes. But even before the Mechanics’ Institutes, many in the textile industry were educating themselves.

Our old (biased, wealthy) friend, George Walker, writing in 1813 about croppers said:

“… The majority are idle and dissolute…”

[Costumes of Yorkshire, 1814]

Which is interesting as the twissing in oath actually requires that the new member is “sober and faithful” in all his dealings with fellow Luddites. I suspect what people outside the industry saw, looking in a workshop, were the shearmen drinking a quantity of ale or small beer – safer than water, and standard to most British labourers in the nineteenth century. (Woolcombers had to work in a heated space so, like blacksiths, may well have drunk even more!)

Conflict was inevitable when crude machinery was developed – the gig mill and shearing frame which saved employers’ labour costs: “… a machine managed by one man and two boys doing the work of eighteen men and six boys…” (Lipson, p.189).  Early shearing frames were not even very good at cropping. But employers persisted with them for obvious reasons.

So the irresistible force hit the immovable object as the suppressed – and now soon to be unemployed – workers, clashed with the struggling employers. Mills like Rawfolds were heavily defended by armed soldiers. As the Peterloo Massacre showed, early nineteenth century governments were never slow to fire on their own (disenfranchised) citizens, if it suited their aims.

The textile industry drove the development of capitalism, more than anything, in the new, industrialised world and these men were amongst the first and the most dramatic casualties.

Government had ended their ability to combine together and fight for better wages, or better working conditions. What else were they supposed to do?

The whole episode was during the Peninsular War and yet there were more soldiers in Yorkshire, than on the Peninsular. In 1812, there were a thousand soldiers stationed in Huddersfield. A city of only ten thousand people…  In other words, there was a very determined effort by the powerful, to smash the rebellion before it got out of hand. In 1812, the law was changed so that the penalty for breaking a machine was death: it had previously been transportation.

They didn’t rage against all machines – just those that took away a craftsman’s skill forever and replaced it with something that was not improving the quality of the cloth at all.

I am proud my ancestors were weavers/croppers at the height of Luddism and in the eye of the storm.

The concerted effort to stamp out this workers’ movement, was effective. After the show trials, some of those still held at York Castle were transported. Others were quietly let free.

The Luddites were effectively crushed by the state yet I’d suggest they accomplished something incredible. They planted the seeds which, a generation later, were to become the Trade Union movement. If their voice was silenced brutally by the government, it re-emerged later in a groundswell of opinion that ultimately led to universal suffrage and rights for millions of people in the earliest industrialised society on the face of this planet.

Twissing In Oath:

“I, [insert name], of my own free will and accord do hereby promise and swear that I will never reveal any of the names of any one of this secret Committee, under the penalty of being sent out of this world by the first Brother that may meet me. I furthermore do swear, that I will pursue with unceasing vengeance any Traitors or Traitor, should there any arise, should he fly to the verge of  [left blank, possibly “Hell”]. I furthermore do swear that I will be sober and faithful, in all my dealings with all my Brothers, and if ever I decline them, my name to be blotted out from the list of Society and never to be remembered, but with contempt and abhorrence, so help me God to keep this our Oath inviolate.”

If you would like to attend a (free) workshop on Tracing Your Textile Mill Ancestors, come and see us at Armley Mills (Leeds Industrial Museum) on June 6th.

I’ll be there with our Living History Yorkshire Luddites group giving a workshop on how to find your textile industry ancestors, and what their jobs actually were! I’ll post details nearer the time.

Resources: On the trail of the Luddites, Lesley Hall and Nick Kiplng, Pennine Heritage Network, 1984

The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries, E.Lipson, A & C Black, 1921

http://ludditebicentenary.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.luddites200.org.uk/theLuddites.html

http://mirfield-2ndlook.info/Luddites/Luddites_7/luddites_7.html

Pop Goes The Weasel

‘Costumes of Yorkshire’, George Walker, 1814

 

‘Yarnmaker’ No 18 is just out, and with it a piece I did about Great Wheels .

 

On a Ravelry thread in the Yarnmaker Group this week, someone referred to this picture, (above) and asked what the elderly lady was doing. The answer is… that is a click  or clock reel. AKA “weasel”. This style of reel in fact seems to have been differentiated with the name “weasel”.
Mabel Ross defined a “click reel” as:

A reel which includes a mechanical means of indicating by an audible ‘click’ that a certain number of turns of the reel have been made. This facilitates the correct and speedy measurement of handspun yarn.

[Encyclopedia of Handspinning, Mabel Ross, Batsford, 1988]
(Incidentally, that woman looks to be spinning worsted from the fold. See the fibre on the wheel’s bed? Doesn’t look like rolags..?)
Here’s a picture we took of a IMG_0648weasel in the bowels of Halifax’s Bankfield Museum.  Clever the way gears are used to speed up the process (I wonder if Mr Minor, inventor of the Minor’s Head that accelerated the Great Wheel, saw a weasel and got his idea?)
Clothiers and manufacturers expected hand-spinners to provide them yarn in predictable lengths – the industry standard for a hank of worsted being 560 yards. A weasel would speed up the process and provide uniform hanks.
In the 1780s, Catharine Cappe set up the York Spinning School for girls, a charity school. The wool spinning teacher she engaged was a woman from Halifax, who knew her stuff (quite literally). When this West Riding teacher left her, she had a hard time replacing her with a teacher as competent. The Wool Room Superintendent had to:
“…superintend the wool-spinning; to see that it reaches the proper counts; that every pound is marked with the girl’s name who spun it; that it is reeled right; that the Mistress keeps her spinning closet in order, and spinning book with accuracy, to correspond with the manufacturer; keep all the accounts; receive the money earned by spinning;.. and to see every pound of yarn weighed before it is returned to the manufacturer…”[From: “An Account of Two Charity Schools For the Education of Girls: And of A Female Friendly Society in York. Interspersed With reflections on Charity Schools and Friendly Societies in General”, Catharine Cappe, York,1800]
From this we can see that “reeling right” was a priority. In an household, the elderly and children would be pressed into service for jobs like wool carding and reeling.
I think it’s entirely possible that the cryptic nursery rhyme, that expounds the fleeting nature of money, how easy it is to spend – might be referring to the weasel being ‘popped’ into the pawn shop at the start of a week:
“Half a pound of tupenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel!”

 I will leave you with another image we took in the bowels of the Bankfield – you can also find it in Yarnmaker 18. These lovely leaves were carved on the underside of a Great Wheel bench (a wheel from Wales). No-one was ever intended to see them, or even know they were there, except for maybe the spinner. And even when this wheel was on display, years ago, it must have kept its Folk Art secret.

Underside of a Welsh Great Wheel, Bankfield. Credit: Caro Heyworth
Underside of a Welsh Great Wheel, Bankfield. Credit: Caro Heyworth

“You’re Doing It (Even More) Wrong!” or How The Great Wheel Survived

Woman At Spinning Wheel, The source of this file is http://www.llgc.org.uk. National Library of Wales. NB: Looks like this image has been reversed!

I’ve hesitated about writing this post. In the same way I hesitate about commenting on YouTube videos that claim to be showing a certain spinning technique – and aren’t.

But great wheels are one of my ‘things’. And I couldn’t bear to see inaccuracies stand as ‘facts’.

So in the spirit of preserving this craft (only a handful of British spinners can great wheel spin)… and after some thought, I decided I’d like to examine the historical ‘facts’ about great wheels, found on a blog.  For no other reason than the internet can perpetuate some extreme inaccuracies, and opinions stated as ‘fact’ can confuse the unwary.

Just as there is Bad Science in the world, there is Bad History. History not backed up by sources, or hard facts. What we’d like to believe was logical or right for the past, as most re-enactors/living historians know, is not what we should believe.

NB: To ‘get’ this post you need to know that there were two types of spinning wheel. The first, invented in medieval times, was ‘the great wheel’ – a simple spindle mounted sideways, driven by a huge wheel. This was faster than the older method of spinning with a hand-spindle. Then, around the 16thC, the flyer wheel – a smaller wheel the spinner could sit at. The wheel was now driven by a treadle, freeing both hands for the spinner to work. It also evolved a ‘flyer’ – the wool now automatically wound on a bobbin. These two types of wheel continued to co-exist but evidence suggests the great wheel never died out because it was faster and more efficient at spinning some yarns. Meanwhile, the little flyer wheel was better for spinning flax because you need two hands for that and it is slower than spinning wool.

One reason I want to do this is that sometimes ‘bad history’ can lead us to the motherlode. By teasing apart misconceptions, we can get to the truth. And I guess what I really want to do here, is to go on about great wheels and why this medieval invention did something wonderful  and unaccountable – surviving first the flyer wheel’s introduction, and later, machine spinning. As the great wheel co-existed with both – the flyer wheel for hundreds of years and the spinning mule by decades. I’m always amazed, reading about the history of spinning, we aren’t more taken by this particular miracle. So, to The Blog. Let’s see what we can learn.

Apparently, according to The Blog, there are a “significant number” of flyer wheels with “accelerators”.

Are there? Where? What do you mean by ‘accelerator’? I’ve seen more ‘old’ spinning wheels than I can shake a stick at. But never seen one with an ‘accelerator’, let alone ‘significant numbers’ with accelerators. I’m not even sure what is meant here, by ‘accelerator’.

When there were large numbers of professional spinners and hand spinning was a competitive industry, they knew about accelerators to allow them to spin faster.

Did they? Where’s the proof? Why don’t they exist in museums or on the old wheels many of us own? How do you know what people in the past ‘knew’?  And if they knew this – why don’t we see any evidence of them doing this?

The romantic, rather fetching, concept of ‘professional spinners’ betrays a lack of understanding of how the system worked. If you’re talking about the UK, anyway.

Spinners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in the West Riding at least, did more than just spin. At halfpence per pound spun and, at best, a pound spun per day – there was little incentive to become Britain’s Next Top Spinster.

Great Wheel hub and spokes
Great Wheel hub and spokes

Spinners’ wages were so low, they would often decamp to the fields – being an agricultural labourer, generally the poorest of the poor, was still better paid than spinning.  Clothiers, or their agents, might travel considerable distances to find their spinners.  Writing in the 1850s, John James interviewed an elderly Otley (Yorkshire) clothier who recalled employing spinners as far afield as Cheshire and North Derbyshire. William Jennings, an “aged manufacturer” recalled finding his handspinners “twenty or thirty miles distant” (James, p.325). In the age of handspinning,  spinners were hard to find, and in demand. Yet being ‘in demand’ in a capitalist system, does not always translate into being ‘well paid’. Spinning was not a skilled job or a ‘mystery’ and you didn’t have to pay a years’ wages for three years for an apprenticeship to learn it. So it was undervalued. The late 18thC even saw spinners’ wages dropping, at times and there were points, throughout history, where the later spinner was paid precisely the same per day as the medieval spinner had been.

Clothiers accepted sub-standard yarn – and wove with it. Spinners were not paid extra for excellence. There was little or no incentive to be the ‘best’ spinner for a clothier. To think it was ‘competitive’ is very romantic. But untrue.

Sometimes the clothiers employed shopkeepers or farmers, local to their spinners, as agents, to distribute the wool and gather up the spun yarn. Sometimes, spinners themselves would act as agents, to earn more money.  Spinners were not ‘professionals’ working in cottages with roses round the door with a wonderful work ethic and a determination to spin perfect yarn. It was very much a last ditch ‘job’ – witnessed by the large number of charity schools from Tudor times onwards, who made the poorest children into spinners, at least to make them ‘useful’.  Heaton, the foremost textile historian who wrote the definitive book on the Yorkshire woollen and worsted industries, says:

The work was largely carried off by the female members of the family or by the children… Around the spinning wheel has centred the Arcadian conception of eighteenth-century bliss; but like most  popular opinions of the charms of ‘the good old times’, it must be taken with a great deal of caution….

(pp.335-7)

He describes families fitting in the spinning around other household chores, and daily life.  Worse still, the use of child labour meant the product was never perfect or uniform:

… The employment of children was a cause of imperfect workmanship, and the clothier had to pay for the tuition of his future work people in uneven and badly spun threads. Also, it was well nigh impossible to secure uniformity of yarn…

Rough and ready original repair on a great wheel's rim.
Rough and ready original repair on a great wheel’s rim.

In various sources, clothiers are always bemoaning the quality of handspun (see book list below). Most warp chains were made from a random mix of the work of at least ten spinners. The concept of there having been any one perfect, wonderful, ‘professional’ spinner providing an entire warp or weft for any one clothier, is ridiculous.

In  ‘Reminiscences of an Octogenarian’ by Hall, printed in John James, a clothier said of spinners:

some spun to 16 hanks per pound,  others to 24 hanks. When the manufacturer got his yarn back it had to be sorted, and the hard yarn used for warp, the soft for weft. ( 339)

Does this sound like “a competitive industry”?

16 hanks per pound would be one 560 yard hank of 1 ounce weight.  This is coarsely spun yarn. Not the superfines mentioned in the blog as standard. 24s would be pretty fat yarn, too!

Not even out of paragraph 1 of The Blog, and yet another incorrect ‘fact’:

…they knew about accelerators … They did not put them on great wheels.

The Minor’s Head is a figment of our collective imaginations, then..? As someone who has owned and used one, I must have been imagining it for the past 20 years.  So was the doyenne of spinning, Mabel Ross, who wrote in her ‘Encyclopedia of Handspinning’:

MINOR’S HEAD  A developed form of the spinning head of the great wheel, incorporating a simple gearing which increases the speed at which the yarn can be twisted… invented in America by Amos Minor about 1810…

I think you’ll find they did put them on great wheels.  The Blogger appears to believe accelerators were made for flyer wheels. The original patent may be lost, but anyone who has seen or used one, knows it can only attach to a spindle wheel.

Minor's Head, image courtesy "Lynne-marie", from Ravelry 'Spindle Wheels' group.
Minor’s Head, image courtesy “Lynne-marie”, from Ravelry ‘Spindle Wheels’ group.

Minor’s Heads were put on great wheels in their thousands.  In the US. Britain is a different story. By 1810, handspinning was in its death throes in the UK. Cotton had been spun by machinery for decades, but it was not widely adopted for worsted spinning til the 1790s. Bradford only got its first mill to machine spin worsted as late as 1800. Spinning wheels – specifically great wheels – were still very, very common on farms and in houses all over Britain. But once the mills had perfected the process, the wheels fell slowly silent.

In 1813, Seacroft toff George Walker was touring Yorkshire, recording the clothing of ordinary people for ‘The Costume of Yorkshire’ (1814). One working woman’s costume he documented was a ‘woman spinning’. Walker wrote:

Since the general use of machinery for…manufacture, the spinning by a wheel…has been very much laid aside. It is however still in some degree necessary, particularly for the warp of woollen stuffs, in which a strong hard twisted thread is required…

The wheel Walker illustrated? A great wheel, of course. Which contradicts our Blogger’s assertion that warps must have been spun at very high speed only on flyer wheels:

When you must spin a great deal of fine worsted, it [a doctored flyer] is the tool of choice.

It may well, but just because you can do it on a heavily doctored Ashford Traditional, doesn’t mean that MUST be how everyone did it in the past. And as we shall see, contemporaries believed the great wheel made a superior worsted warp thread as well as a superior lightly twisted woollen weft.

Like other sources (See Heaton and James), Walker quotes the spinners’  “low wages of about one halfpenny per pound weight”.

The constant mention of low wages for spinners also militates against our Blogger’s determination to prove that flyer wheels were the only way wool was spun for warps. Spinners bought their own machines, and had them at home not in manufactories. J.Geraint Jenkins wrote: “… Spinning was carried out on a great wheel, the value of which  in the late eighteenth century varied between 1 shilling and 6 pence and 5 shillings…”  Flax (flyer) wheels were more expensive, and seen as the province of the flax spinner or a toy for the middle class or wealthy.

In ‘Wool Manufacture of Halifax’, R Patterson described the standard type of spinning wheel used in the West Riding, around the end of the eighteenth century and typical amount spun:

… This was the great wheel, or the one-thread wheel… a spinster could spin about 5lbs of fine yarn or 7lbs of medium yarn per week. This meant continuous work for twelve hours per day, including Sundays…

Our Blogger asserts:

Great wheels were the Medieval technology of choice.  The Renascence tool was the flyer, and the flyer was faster and more compact.  Certainly great wheels were cheaper and deeply bedding in myth and romance, but as a tool for a professional spinner was the tool of choice.  No great wheel can keep up with a flyer/bobbin wheel properly designed for the grist; not spinning worsted or woolen.

Ah. Where to start with this lot?  Let’s look at what people who were contemporary to both great and flyer wheels being in use had to say. Our Blogger would have us believe the great wheel was  on its way to becoming defunct after ‘The Renascence”. But the sources tell a different story.

Traditionally, great wheels were seen as producing a superior woollen thread; flyer wheels more suitable for flax spinning, ‘hobby’ spinning of grand ladies who wanted a pretty wheel, or worsted spinning. Later, as we can see from George Walker’s words, the great wheel was also seen as spinning a superior worsted. Maybe because you can stand still once you’ve drafted back and keep putting as many twists per inch as you like into great wheel spun yarn. You can control the twist in ways flyer wheel spinners can only dream of.

The great wheel was also called  ‘the one-thread wheel’ ,amongst many other names. This distinguishing it from the double drive band of the flyer wheel.

A sixteenth century writer said:

‘ Spinnings of wooll are of three sortes, viz either upon the great wheele which is called woolen yarne…or upon the small wheele, which is called Garnsey or Jarsey yarne, bicause that manner of spynning was first practiced in the Isle of Garnsey… or upon the rock, which is called worsted yarne… Jarsey and Worsted yarnes be made of combed wooll…. Jarsey yarne maketh warpe for the finest stuffes…’

[Thomas Caesar, 1596, quoted in ‘Textiles and Materials of the Common Man and Woman 1580-1660’, Edited by Stuart Peachey, 2001, p8].

In 1875, Edward Baines remarked in his ‘Account of the Woollen Manufacture of England’:

“…Woollen [yarns] were spun on the big wheel, worsteds on the…flyer…”

One contemporary eighteenth century commentator didn’t reckon flyer wheels even came into it:

‘In my memory,’ stated the writer of a treatise on Silk, Wool, Worsted, Cotton and Thread (1779), ‘wool was spun on the long wheel only..’

[From ‘The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries’, E Lipson, 1921]

‘The long wheel’ was a common name for the great wheel. Great wheels – not flyer wheels – remained firmly the weapon of choice in the West Riding, powerhouse of world wool production – right into the early nineteenth century; long outliving flyer wheels as a ‘serious’ tool in the industry and even co-existing with machine spinning for decades, before finally being subsumed.

J.Geraint Jenkins describes how, in Wales, the hand spindle co-existed with the great wheel into the nineteenth century. No mention of the flyer wheel:

Until the end of the eighteenth century, these methods of hand spinning [ie: spindle and great wheel] were the only ones known to the inhabitants of Wales, indeed hand spinning was widely practiced long after the widespread adoption of Jennies, jacks and mules. Even the poorest cottages could afford a spinning wheel; for example, in eighteenth-century Montgomeryshire ‘great’ wheels, could be bought from local carpenters for as little as 5 shillings. One did not need a special machinery manufacturer to make them, so that wheels were readily available in all parts of the country….(56)

‘Woman Spinning’. From ‘Costume of Yorkshire’. George Walker, 1814.

Heaton also makes no mention of flyer wheels supplying the mighty behemoth that was the West Riding wool trade, whatsoever. He too believed only the great wheel was used:

“Spinning was done on the old distaff or on the single-thread spinning wheel. The former was still retained to some extent in east Anglia, but in the west riding it had entirely disappeared, and the spinning wheel was a common feature in the equipment of almost every Yorkshire home.”  (335)

R.Patterson, writing of the wool trade round Halifax, stated that “the one-thread wheel” was the wheel used.  Can all these authorities be ‘wrong’? John James, who spoke directly to many elderly survivors of the wool industry in the late eighteenth century, still alive when he wrote, goes even further, saying that the great wheel was faster for worsted (Blogger better take a seat and fan himself)  and even describes a spinning method that modern spinners would recognise as the semi-worsted ‘spinning from the fold’  (ie: they were spinning worsted on the great wheel, with no distaff which is backed up by the pictorial evidence):

The main advantage of the one-thread wheel evidently arose from its capability of producing a larger quantity of yarn. Spinning by this rude implement (still to be seen in very many farm houses in the north of England,) is thus described… But in the worsted business there was a peculiarity in yarn spun by this wheel which gave it a great advantage over mill spun yarn, namely, the thread was spun from the middle part of the sliver, thus drawing the wool out even and fine. The best spinners would, on this wheel, spin fine qualities of wool to as high counts as fifties, that is where they required fifty hanks, each five hundred and sixty yards in length, to a pound of yarn… (James, 337).

This gives us parameters for the fineness of yarn, as well. From the low of 16s, (Bradford Count) quoted above, to the ‘high’ of mid 50s (generally the finest British wool was spun til the widespread introduction of merino from Germany and elsewhere in post Napoleonic times). ie: spinners were not spinning the frogs’ eyelashes our Blogger is so fond of – but realistically, spinning to count or far below it (fatter grist). Welsh spinners spinning ‘Abb’ yarn, would spin incredibly fat yarn.

In other words – when spinning wheels were producing yarn for industry, the preferred wheel for all woollen yarns and often, a semi worsted warp – was the great wheel.

Sources don’t omit to mention the flyer wheel. What they do, is mention it as a wheel suitable for flax spinning, or for children or fine ladies, ‘playing’ at spinning. In ‘The Idler’, in 1758, no less than Samuel Johnson wrote a piece purporting to be from an upper class gent, bemoaning his wife’s failure to educate their daughters with the ‘three Rs’. Instead, she preferred to teach them practical things and bought them three tiny, ornamental flax wheels to spin huckaback for the servants’ table cloth:

I remonstrated, that with larger wheels they might despatch in an hour what must now cost them a day; but she told me, with irresistable authority … that when these wheels are set upon a table, with mats under them, they will turn without noise and will keep the girls upright; that great wheels are not fit for gentlewomen, and that with these, small as they are, she does not doubt that the three girls, if they are kept close, will spin every year as much cloth as would cost five pounds if one were to buy it.”  [15]

James dismissed the flyer wheel as almost a footnote to the great wheel, implying it was one for the hobby spinners:

Another spinning machine was also in use at the commencement  of the eighteenth century, and received the name of the small or Saxon wheel.  Though a more perfect apparatus than that last-mentioned, yet except in particular instances , it could only be applied to the spinning of flax. .. spinning by it formed the favourite occupation of the lady spinsters of Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  (337)

Our Blogger triumphantly concludes:

Expertise in the flyer has been lost.  A flyer will do a lot more than most spinners are aware.

Tell that to every single authority on the history of the wool and worsted industries. And the eighteenth century spinners and clothiers too, whilst you’re at it. As they all seemed to think of the flyer wheel as (i) a flax wheel or (ii) a toy.

For more info, check out the excellent Longdraw and Spindle Wheel Group pages on Ravelry. Some Minor’s Heads can be seen if you scroll down, here:

http://www.ravelry.com/groups/spindle-wheels/pages/Great-Wheel-Basics

Also, check out The Guild of Longdraw Spinners.

An elegant great wheel. By Jacob.jose (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading

Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, Patricia Baines, Batsford, 1977

Textile History and Economic History,  (Essay collection) Chapter One. D.C.Coleman,  Manchester University Press, 1973

The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries, Herbert Heaton, Oxford, 1965

History of the Worsted Manufacture in England from Earliest Times, J. James, London, 1857

The Welsh Woollen Industry, J. Geraint Jenkins,  The National Museum of Wales, Welsh Folk Museum, Cardiff, 1969

The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries, E Lipson, A & C Black, 1921

Wool Manufacture in Halifax, R Patterson, ‘Journal of the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers’, Vol 2, Nos 24 and 25, 1958

Textiles and Materials of the Common Man and Woman 1580-1660, Edited by Stuart Peachey,  2001

Encyclopedia of Handspinning, Mabel Ross, Batsford, 1988

Costumes of Yorkshire, George Walker, 1814

Magenta Divine

Sample from the Pattern book of Sam Hill, 18thC Soyland clothier. From Calderdale Council’s site.

They say “blood will out”, and so it seems to have proved.

We broke the last brick wall in my family tree a few months back. Names included:  Lister, Smith, Dawson and Crabtree;  a long line of wool weavers, clothiers, and mill-owners in Longwood, near Huddersfield, and in Halifax.  My surname should have been the clue – “Lister”, meaning “dyer” is a West Riding wool trade name, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Except, I was brought up with the story that my great grandfather, John Lister, was a Leeds foundling who randomly chose the name “Lister” when he was nineteen. In fact, his father, Tom Lister,  a “press setter” (cropper in the woollen mills), died when John was very young. His mother Hannah Lister nee Smith,  re-married – her second husband was a Birmingham-born blacksmith, Charles Deeley. On Censuses, John appeared with his step-father’s surname, sometimes misspelled as “Daley”, to compound the confusion, so we had been unable to find a “John Lister” of the right age, at the right place. Which, in turn, made us assume he was not lying about being born a foundling with a different name.

It appears he was brought up partly by Hannah and Deeley and partly by his much older sister, Elizabeth Helen Gillespie, nee Lister. He was not with the Gillespies on any Census night but years later told family they brought him up (although he also told people they were randomers who fostered him – not relatives).

Knowing this, research led me to my wool trade ancestors – the entire paternal line of my paternal grandfather were in the West Riding wool trade, as far back as we can trace, at the moment. The Listers were Halifax weavers/small clothiers.  Alternate generations, the eldest sons seem to have been croppers. Croppers were the elite of the wool trade; their job so skilled it added huge value to the cloth. They were the men put out of work by the frame cropping machines in 1812. Halifax and Huddersfield croppers were the backbone of the Luddite movement. It is possible the Listers were on one side of the Luddite struggle; whilst the more prosperous Smiths and Dawsons were on the other.

I know, from records, my grt grandfather x 5,  Ely Crabtree was a weaver, as well. But have yet to find out much about the Crabtrees.

A woollen weaver might call himself a clothier if he completed roughly one piece a week and took it to the Cloth Hall. According to ulnage rules, we know most woollen pieces were over twenty yards in length; varying according to spec.

Many small clothiers were also small farmers, with a few acres. The Smiths and Dawsons appear to have been clothiers, then manufacturers, on a grander scale. In the 19thC, my great grandad X 4, Thomas Smith went into business with a clothier neighbour called Hanson, and they manufactured “Fancy Woollens”. At an earlier date, his father seemed to have been trading with a clothier family called the Dawsons – indeed  Tom’s wife was one Betty Dawson, also from Longwood.  Tom and Betty were Non-Conformists, like many in the West Riding, and are buried at Salendine Nook Baptist church.

Some clothiers kept records of their output and from these records, we know that they might weave anything between four and nine yards or so a day – when they had time to weave. This might add up to thirty or more pieces per year, given there were times in the year when weaving was not a priority; farm-work was.    (Incidentally, warps were usually sized outdoors, from pegs in walls and seems to have gone on outside whatever the weather).

These larger scale clothiers/mill-owners like the Smiths and Dawsons would manufacture some pieces for themselves but also buy pieces from smaller weavers.

Reading “Some Aspects of the 18thC Woollen & Worsted Trade in Halifax”, Ed. Frank Atkinson, Halifax Museums, 1956, I stumbled on this reference to familiar names. In the Day Book of John Sutcliffe, clothier, 1791:

Sold Messrs Dawson & Smith

1 Dble Russel  @ 62 shillings

Ditto  @ 72 shillings

1 Sat.quild lasting  @ 63 shillings

Ditto  @ 75 shillings….

I can’t say for sure the Dawson & Smith that Sutcliffe transacted with were my great x 5 grandfathers – but it seems more than possible.

According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary:

Russell. A ribbed or corded fabric formerly in use”.

And according to the Glossary in the Atkinson Book:

Lasting: Kind of durable cloth”.  (As in “everlasting”). I’m guessing this was likely to be woollen, as this is what these weavers were generally working with. “Quild” may be “quilted”, or it could refer to some kind of surface patterning? I am not sure.

These are pieces bought by Dawson and Smith from Sutcliffe; Sutcliffe, in turn, commissioned various weavers to make them; procured the wool, had combers comb it, hand-spinners to spin it and supplemented that by buying machine spun yarn as well.

Lastings and russells were made from a combed warp and weft. “Stuff” was fabric made from combed warp and weft, and “cloth” when it was from carded fibres. According to E.Lipson in “The History of the English Woollen & Worsted Industries” (1921).  Interestingly, another ancestor, Halifax wool weaver William Lister, is described in one parish record as “stuff maker”. Combed wool was premium value and quality and used in some of the high-end pieces, but sometimes just made a good warp. But by no means always : many cloths had a carded warp, which might scare modern handweavers but seems to have been done.

For at least two generations the Dawsons and Smiths specialised in weaving various forms of combed or carded wool into “Fancy Woollens”, although some family members, like David Dawson, seem to have branched out into the dye-house.

Also in the village of Longwood along with the Smiths, were Dawson cousins; some clothiers, some small farmers, butchers, and inn-keepers.

I have not been able to pin this down yet, but a preliminary search makes me think my great grandmother X 4 Betty’s cousin, was the  Longwood dyer, David Dawson.

Next time my kids moan about the smell from my dye-pots, I will tell them about David Dawson’s son, Dan. Because it’s all in the genes, you know….

DSCF2870Dan was about twenty years old, in 1860, and started messing around in the kitchen at home, trying to perfect his idea for making a chemical dye. Most hand-spinners, weavers and dyers have heard of William Perkins, the pioneer of aniline dyeing, who took the world by storm with his synthetic mauve dye.  In the scintillatingly titled ‘Chemistry, Society & Environment’, By Colin Archibald Russell  (Royal Society of Chemistry), on Google Books, I found this titillating glimpse into one of my relative’s kitchens:

By 1863-1864, not more than five artificial dyes were available, namely Mauve, Aniline Blue, Magenta, Imperial Violet and Phosphine.  Modest weights were produced at the beginning.  Production often started in household equipment, as with Dan Dawson, who dried Magenta in a domestic oven ca. 1860 (Specks of Magenta appearing on  bread for weeks afterwards)…

I have been dyeing for over thirty years but never used synthetic dyes. One of the things that makes me vain and proud is getting a good, true red from madder – a fine and subtle art, and not straightforward – as opposed to the dirty brick red it likes to dye wool. An hundred years before I was born, Dan Dawson was also in search of a good red, in his home kitchen. Finding something about that sends chills down my genealogical spine!

This also means that, whilst I could write you a book on natural dyeing in maybe a fortnight I have always known nothing and cared less about synthetic dyes, and feel embarrassed to have been so dismissive of them!

A little Google fu, so far shows me some fascinating insights. In any history of synthetic dyeing, the early names to conjure with are William Perkins, and two German dyers, Heinrich Caro and August Wilhelm von Hofman.   In a footnote, to ‘Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms’, by Johann Peter Murmann, (Google Books)  Dan pops up again, when the author is discussing the close relationship between German and English pioneers of dyeing:

A good example is Dan Dawson. After founding a dye firm in Great Britain, Dawson, at age thirty-eight, decided to let his brothers run the business while he went to the University of Berlin in 1874, to study with Hofman…

Dan’s firm went from strength to strength as he worked on new processes, and developed different colours, moving beyond his original experiments with Magenta, to Soluble Blue, Chrysoidine and Bismarck Brown. These latter clearly showing Hofman’s influence. He also seems to have received patents for various processes for fixing (mordanting) the new dyes on cotton fibre – always a trickier process than wool, as dyers here will know.

His factory became known as Colne Vale Dyeworks, and was in Milnsbridge, Huddersfield.  By the 1880s, Dan Dawson’s sons were setting up dye factories in Philadelphia although were bankrupted by a hike in import taxation on some of their raw materials.  The Huddersfield dyeworks continued, though. His relative, my great uncle X 4, Dawson Smith, had emigrated to America in 1860 where he fought with distinction for the Union, ran woollen mills in Indiana, and eventually re-trained as a lawyer and become the County Attorney. It seems these wool trade Longwood Smith and Dawson lads ran between two countries; some settling in America, with their cutting edge expertise and some returning to Yorkshire. In later years, Dan travelled extensively in Europe. My great grandmother X 2, Hannah Smith, seems to have married cropper Tom Lister, and made it as far as Leeds and that was it; despite eventually having two brothers in the US, and several cousins and nephews. It may be from hearing tales of the “rich” mill and dyework owning relatives that my great grandad formulated the story he was in later years to tell his wife and his six children – that he was a foundling who randomly settled on the name “Lister” after visiting mill-owners.  Although the story as he told it was that they were not relatives, just people he was scamming. Most good liars have an element of truth in there to lend their stories some realism, and after three generations were confused by John’s tale, we have at last found the truth.

As a printer, he worked with colours (my father longed to train as a lithographer, remembering childhood visits to the printing shop). Magenta is rather important in printing. Maybe some of those colours John Lister used, were related to the synthetic dyes his family developed?  People always wondered where he got the capital to start his business, and maybe – just maybe – there is an element of truth in the story about the expedition to con a mill-owner. Even if estranged from his mother, John may have met his Smith and Dawson relations at some time in childhood.

Myself, I will stick with my natural dyes but maybe from now on, have more appreciation for those chemical ones, as well.

White Cloth, Mixed Cloth, and High Horses

The Mixed (Coloured) Cloth Hall, George Walker, 1814.

Writing of Leeds’ White and Mixed Cloth Halls, in 1814, Seacroft man George Walker said:

“They are both open every Tuesday and Saturday morning for one hour; in which very limited time all the business is transacted. The cloth is arranged on low wooden stands; the manufacturer behind it, and the merchant or buyer passes in front. As the bargains are made in a half whisper, strangers are much surprised with the silence which prevails in such a crowd.”

At first, Leeds had just a White Cloth Hall but as other West Riding towns started to vie with it for the trade, it built a bigger and better White Cloth Hall and then a Mixed Cloth Hall, too.

“By 1758, however, the [wool]  trade had outgrown that old‑fashioned mart, and, accordingly, a commodious building, now known as the Mixed Cloth Hall, was set up a little to the west of Trinity Church. This structure, thought preposterously large at the time… formed a quadrangle three hundred and sixty‑four feet long, and a hundred and ninety‑two feet broad, with an inner court measuring three hundred and thirty feet, by ninety‑six. It was accessible by seven doors, was lighted by a hundred and sixty‑seven windows, and was large enough, it was reckoned, to hold 109,200 l.‘s worth of cloth at a time. Within seventeen years from its opening, it was found necessary to build another meeting‑place. The White Cloth Hall, be­tween Briggate and Saint Peter’s Church, was completed in 1775; and within a few years, nine similar structures were opened in all the trading towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire…”

[H. R. Fox Bourne. English Merchants: Memoirs in Illustration of the Progress of English Commerce, 1866, II, 217‑18, 219; in J. T. Ward, ed., The Factory Syste

m, Vol. I, Birth and Growth (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1970), pp.37-38].

Leeds' coat of arms
Leeds’ coat of arms

Yesterday I was in Leeds for the day so thought I’d go on about this important ‘wool’ city and its history.  For some of the day, I was in the Local History Library, researching a Napoleonic mill owner’s diary. For the rest of the day, we visited the Art Gallery, Museum, and Royal Armouries and got some great pics.

Like everyone who grew up in my village in the 1960s, I was born at St James’ Hospital, in Leeds. So technically, am a ‘Loiner’ like my father, grandfather and great grandfather. Even if I only “lived” there til I was ten days old!

Croppers, from ‘Costumes of Yorkshire’, George Walker, 1814

My family, the Listers, were alternately wool weavers/clothiers and croppers right down to my great grandad who broke with tradition and became a printer.

Recently mentioned this to a curator of a West Riding Museum, when we were documenting some Great Wheels in his reserve collection, and he commented “They were the elite of the West Riding wool trade” (the croppers). The croppers  were so skilled at finishing the woven cloth, their work added a great deal of value to the cloth’s price.  My great great grandad, Tom Lister, came to Leeds from Huddersfield. He was a cropper, his father a weaver from Halifax who came to Huddersfield around 1816, just a handful of years after the Luddite croppers had been active in Huddersfield and Halifax.  So far as I can trace, this lot go back and back in Halifax, as wool weavers/croppers. This had been the biggest brick wall in our family history, and we only finally broke through it in December, 2012, so I am still coming to terms with the fact my wool love is in the blood!

Somewhere round about 1971, we had a student teacher come to teach us for part of a term. She came in one day having looked up the meanings of all our names. When she got to me, I was intrigued to hear my first name meant “weaver of cloth” and my surname, by coincidence, “dyer of cloth”.  Lister is a name thought to originate in medieval Leeds, so it seems my West Riding weavers went full circle, returning to Leeds in the mid 19thC.

Decoration from County Arcade
Decoration from County Arcade

I can do the Leeds  equivalent of “I remember when it was all fields round here” – as the glassed over shopping area in the Victoria Quarter, next to County Arcade, I can remember when that was still a road and can remember being driven down it! I have always loved Leeds’ arcades, and long been fascinated by this particular gilt mosaic on the dome of the County Arcade. All of this along the usual grand civic lines of Industry, Labour, Prosperity, etc.

arcade (2)
County Arcade

Leeds must have the most stunning late Victorian and Edwardian civic architecture, in the country. Endless classical and progressive themes explored on various buildings, around Briggate and beyond. And this is just one of many references to the wool industry; romanticised and slightly illogical as it is. The spinner appears to have some kind of distaff but no discernible spindle.  By the time this mosaic was made, hand spindles had fallen out of folk memory, in England and the spinning jenny had enjoyed a good hundred years or so pre-eminence. My own Halifax hand-weavers came to Leeds to work in vast, mechanised mills. That was the way of it.

robinNothing to do with spinning whatsoever, but Thornton’s Arcade holds many happy memories, for me. As a child, I would go into Leeds on the bus with my mum and many is the time she’d race across town from the bus station, to get to Thornton’s Arcade as the clock struck the hour. Apparently, it is called ‘The Ivanhoe Clock’ but we always knew it as ‘the Robin Hood Clock’. The clock was made by William Potts and Sons of Leeds and shows Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, Frair Tuck (in the skimpiest monk’s habit ever) and someone called, remarkably, Gurth the Swineherd all characters from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’. Leeds seems to have had a love affair with Sir Walter, as his head is one of the literary greats depicted in bas relief in the magnificent Tiled Hall, at the Art Gallery.

martAnother place that holds great memories is Leeds City Market. My grandfather – the one whose grandfather was the cropper – walked into the city centre most days and went to the market. I never go in there but I think of him. Leeds’ symbol is the owl, of course, and also sheep pop up on various coats of arms and insignia around the city, given the city’s proud woollen industry history. But the third most common bit of Leeds iconography is the dragon. The market’s wrought iron dragons are the first thing I think about, when I think about Leeds.

My grandfather was incredibly active and fit for a man in his seventies; and was on his boat on the Ouse near York when he wasn’t walking rapidly through the streets of central Leeds. The time we spent on the river with him, is part of the reason I got interested in the inland ganseys.

Next, we were on to the Royal Armouries, by the Aire and Calder canal’s wharf – another relic of Leeds’ once mighty industry. The canal jcanaloins with the Leeds & Liverpool around this point, as well. Those of you awaiting ‘River Ganseys’ should know we have documented a number of gansey motifs from the canals. These boats carried all kinds of freight and were the arterial routes that held the life-blood of the West Riding’s commerce. Now of course, only a handful remain, mainly as pleasure boats of one kind or another.  Of course, canal boats weren’t the only form of transport for the wool packs.

On our travels yesterday, we wandered through Leeds’ new shopping centre, Trinity.

Here we found the stunning fifty foot high, two tonne sculpture, ‘Equus Altus’, (‘high horse’), by artist Andy Scott.  Andy wanted to show Leeds’ wool heritage, and how the pack-horse was “the HGV of its time”.  Another line of my Leeds ancestors came to the city, also mid 19thC, from the Dales, where they had reared working horses; fell ponies and pack horses amongst them.  Yesterday, I passed an hour or two in Leeds Library trancribing parts of the diary of a Bramley mill owner, who wrote, about visiting Leeds Cloth Hall in January 1808:

“5th  January.  John , Josh & Father at Leeds, a soft morning but very slippery. A Bad Market for Cloth but a good many Merchants in the Cloth Hall. One Waggon and four horses might have pulled all the Cloth that has been bought today, or any market day lately…”

Equus Altus, by Andy Scott
Equus Altus, by Andy Scott

Although our wool trade – once the greatest in the world – is long gone, its place in our hearts will never be erased, and ‘Equus Altus’ is keeping our heritage alive in one way, as today’s textile craftsfolk do, in another.

All photos except final one, credit: Nathaniel Hunt

Dad outside home, Harehills, Leeds, 1930s

“Those infatuated creatures calling themselves Luddites”

Luddite in cunning disguise, May 1812

“A tribute to the merit of Captain Raynes, of the Stirlingshire militia,  was paid on the 4th … as an acknowledgement of … his indefatigable and unabated zeal in bringing to justice a number of those infatuated creatures calling themselves Luddites.”

[Caledonian Mercury, Monday, November 30th, 1812].

In 1812, Yorkshire became the fulcrum of a revolutionary struggle, centred on the textile industry. Cropping frames were a new machine, developed to finish the nap of woven cloth. “Clumsy device though it was,  the cropping-frame, tended by one man, could do the work of ten skilled hand-croppers.” [Phyllis Bentley, ‘The Pennine Weaver’, 1971].

Recently, we broke through the biggest brick wall in my family tree – an eighth of it had always been missing, as my paternal Great Grandfather’s birth proved impossible to trace, until recently. And to my absolute joy, we discovered my Lister and Smith ancestors. The Listers were Halifax then Huddersfield then Leeds- wool weavers and  cloth dressers (croppers). The earliest we have got back to so far, one William Lister, described in 1791 Halifax parish records as “Stuffmaker” (stuff was a cheap form of woven woollen fabric).  The Smiths of Longwood, near Huddersfield, were described as clothiers, “fancy woollen manuafacturers” and Thomas Smith, in old age, became a “Wool-sorter”.   Which kind of explains my thirty year odyssey into woolsorting and the big loom in my living room!  (Been warped up with some wool since before Christmas, but that’s another story).

Thomas Lister, born 1791 in Halifax, appeared in Huddersfield sometime in adulthood.  In 1812, Huddersfield was the epicentre of the Yorkshire Luddite Movement.  Thomas was to become a woollen weaver, like his father before him but his son, Tom – my great great grandad – would be a “cloth dresser”. Many of the Luddites were cloth dressers.

1812 was as close as the UK came to its own French Revolution. The Napoleonic Wars affected export trade, and as a result, manufacturers felt obliged to cut corners, and shift their manufactories across to the new technology. One frame put nine men out of work. William Horsfall, manufacturer at Ottiwells Mills, Marsden, was determined to bring the frames into his mill. He said he’d ride through a river of blood to do it, if necessary.

Cloth dressers (also called ‘croppers’)  faced starvation for themselves and their families, if put out of work.  Croppers were the most skilled and highly paid of the textile workers.  Only two years later, in ‘Costumes of Yorkshire’, Seacroft gent George Walker wrote:

“These men are usually denominated Croppers, from their cropping the wool off the cloth, the nicest and most difficult part of their employment… The Cloth-dressers are a numerous body in the West Riding of Yorkshire, many of them natives, and many from Ireland and the west of England. An able workman will earn great wages, and if industrious and steady, is certain to make his way in the world; but it is to be lamented that comparatively few are found of this description. The majority are idle and dissolute, owing perhaps to the laborious nature of their occupation, which too often induces habits of drunkenness, and partly to their working in numbers together, a circumstance always injurious to morals. To the unsteady conduct of the Croppers, by which in times of urgent business much loss and inconvenience were suffered by their employers, and from the great improvements lately made in mechanics, may be attributed the invention of gig mills and shearing frames. This machinery effects with certainty and dispatch almost every operation of cloth-dressing, with very trifling manual assistance. The establishment of these mills excited considerable alarm amongst the Croppers, and was the alleged cause of the late unhappy disturbances. By the active vigilance of the magistrates, the prompt execution of some of the ringleaders, and the well-timed lenity shewn to others, tranquillity is now restored, and there no longer appears any disposition to outrage and even dissatisfaction. ”

Back in 1811, Midlanders had smashed stocking frames that would put them out of work. Their leader, a shadowy figure who may or may not have been real, was “Ned Ludd”. Machine-breakers were called “Luddites”. And by early 1812, Huddersfield had its own “King Ludd” – one George Mellor, a cropper. Mellor, Benjamin Walker, Thomas Smith and William Thorpe, were amongst the prime movers of the Longroyd Bridge Luddites.

Luddites met in remote moorland inns and swore an oath never to betray eachother, modelling themselves on a Brotherhood, or something along the lines of a Masonic lodge. One Luddite transcribed the Oath:

“I, AB, of my own free will and accord do hereby promise and swear that I will never reveal any of the names of any one of this secret Committee, under the penalty of being sent out of this world by the first Brother that may meet me. I furthermore do swear, that I will pursue with unceasing vengeance any Traitors or Traitor, should there any arise, should he fly to the verge of  [left blank, possibly “Hell”]. I furthermore do swear that I will be sober and faithful, in all my dealings with all my Brothers, and if ever I decline them, my name to be blotted out from the list of Society and never to be remembered, but with contempt and abhorrence, so help me God to keep this our Oath inviolate.”

Taking the oath was called being “twisted in”, or “twissed in” – a reference to hand-spinning; twisting the separate fibres in to create a strong whole yarn. I have no way of knowing whether my great x 3 grandfather, Thomas Lister, ever got “twisted in”, or not. One thing is for sure – he was in Huddersfield by 1819 when daughter his Grace was born. Grace’s baptism was registered in the Non Conformist records for Kirklees, her parents down as “Thomas Lister clothier, Hill-Houses, Huddersfield Parish, by Elizabeth daughter of Ely Crabtree of Halifax.”  Thomas is often down as “wool weaver” or just “weaver”.  The last Census I found him in was 1861 where he was still at Hill Houses, Huddersfield, now living with his eldest daughter, Grace Milnes (“Yarn Reeler”)  and her husband, a Chelsea Pensioner called John Milnes. I descend from Thomas’s son, Tom Lister, born Huddersfield 1829, and – unusually for the date –  baptised as “Tom” not “Thomas”.  He married Hannah Smith, in 1856. Hannah was the daughter of a larger scale clothier from Longwood, outside Huddersfield; Thomas Smith.

The Smiths were clothiers, later “Fancy Wool Manufacturers” at Longwood, and may well have been on the other side of the Luddite fence in 1812. The Smiths, like the Listers in the early 19thC, were Non Conformists but in 1856, Tom Lister and Hannah Smith married at St Peter’s church, Huddersfield although subsequent children, Grace, Ellen, Tom and Sam, were baptised at a Zion New Connexion chapel. Tom is down as “Dresser” and there, Thomas Lister is “weaver” and Thomas Smith is “clothier”. In 1812, being a clothier in the Huddersfield area was a very dangerous occupation. Luddites were taking pot shots at clothiers, or waylaying them on the way to the cloth hall, and shredding their bolts of cloth.

1812. Frame-breaking

In 1812, the Luddites raided  remote farmhouses for firearms.  Soldiers were drafted in. At one point in 1812, there were over 400 soldiers billeted in Huddersfield alone  and 12,000 in the district – it was said there were more soldiers in Yorkshire, than fighting on the Peninsular. It was a similar kind of guerilla warfare, too – the Luddites being born and bred in the area, knew the terrain well and could vanish into the night when the red-coats appeared… Newspapers describe them blackening or masking their faces and even wearing women’s clothing when they went out, at night, with smiths’ hammers to break the machinery.

In April, Rawfolds Mill was the scene of a raid that turned into a pitched battle; an abortive exercise for the Luddites who retreated with two dead, and many injured.  In the days that followed, Luddites felt more powerless and desperate than ever. Manufacturer Mr Horsfall, who had boasted he would install the new technology whatever the human cost, passed by the cropping shop where “King Ludd” Mellor worked. Thomas Smith, Mellor, William Thorpe and Benjamin Walker loaded their pistols at Wood’s cropping workshop: Walker and Smith setting off after Mellor and Thorpe.  Smith seems to have been reluctant, and at the trial,  the Jury were to ask for leniency for him.  In vain. Smith expressed a wish to stop the others, using persuasion –  but felt he couldn’t refuse to go, or he’d have been shot, himself. When they got to the plantation (Regency word for ‘small wood’), Smith separated off from Walker, trying to talk the other two into leaving off and shortly after returned to tell Walker they had said if they failed to take down Horsfall, they’d use the rest of their shots on Walker and Smith.  All four fired on Horsfall and then melted into nearby Dungeon Wood, and the countryside beyond.  Instead of helping Horsfall, those around were alleged to have jeered at him, and not made any attempt to capture the perpetrators. One witness, on horseback, was asked by Horsfall to ride back on the road and find and tell his brother. Horsfall’s body was carried to a pub, the Warren-house, a few hundred yards away.

38 hours later, Horsfall died of wounds sustained. Three of the shots that hit him had not been life-threatening, but a fourth shot went into his stomach and exited through a thigh, and infection set in. Horsfall was buried quickly, with no advance notice -presumably  as the funeral might have sparked a riot – in Huddersfield Parish Church. The Huddersfield Constable put up a reward of £2000 for information leading to a conviction. The Luddites’ days were numbered.

“The Derby Mercury” of July 19th, 1812, noted that two Bow Street officers had successfully infiltrated the Luddites, being “twisted in”, so being able to name the ringleaders and uncover an arms cache. On July 18th, the powers that were, swooped and made the majority of the fifty arrests they were hoping to make; later, others were added. These men were sent to York Castle, to await trial. In the case of William Mellor, the law was slightly less rigorous – charging him with murder on the word of Walker. Mellor’s address is given, in various newspapers, as “Longwood Bridge” but by the time he was executed, it was more correctly rendered as “Longroyd Bridge”.  Within days of Horsfall’s murder, the Prime Minister was assassinated, by a disaffected linen merchant.  I have Andro Linklater’s  “Why Spencer Percival Had To Die” on audiobook, and it is a fantastic book – big recommend for an insight into the only assassination of a British Prime Minister in office, and also fascinating for anyone interested in textile history, as his murderer was a disaffected would-be importer of linen.

In October, 1812, of the 43 felons committed to York Castle, a whacking 33 were Luddites, on various charges. The prison cells must have been teeming.

Phyllis Bentley wrote: “…Once the chain of secrecy was broken, many Luddites gave themselves up, surrendered their arms and were pardoned – they described this process as ‘being untwissed’…” [51].

Within weeks, Mellor and the rest were picked up, as Benjamin Walker, his eye on the £2000, turned King’s Evidence.

My own, unrelated clothier – another Thomas Smith, lived at Dod Lee Green in Longwood, a few miles West of Huddersfield. He went into business with the area’s best known mill owners, John Hanson, carrying out business as a Woollen Manufacturer. In 1854, he decided to go it alone, processing woollen waste but quickly went bankrupt and ended up a warehouseman for a fellow mill owner, later a Wool-Sorter. The Smiths and Hansons were mill-owners through a period of rapid change; constantly updating technology, and by the middle of the Century, facing competition from abroad.

It would be likely that the Listers may well have sided with the Luddites – the Smiths, on the other hand, would have benefited from the machinery and lower labour costs. Feelings ran high throughout the summer of 1812; imagined informants being “mobbed” and the West Riding still crawling with militia, posted to guard various scribbling mills and other manufactories.

In autumn, 1812, it must have come rather close to home for the Smiths; two Kirkburton men were arrested for firing on the guards at a nearby mill. John Smith (appears to be no relation, or not a close one) and David Moorhouse. They were charged with burglary – as were a number of the Luddites whose involvement with specific raids could not be proven, but were found to have stolen fire-arms.

Even with “the ring-leaders” behind bars, unrest continued.

“During the past week four Luddites have passed through Leeds on their way to York Castle. On Saturday… four villains attacked the house of MR JOSEPH HURST; of Lepton, clothier, one of whom fired at Mr Hurst’s son,  and the ball grazed the top of his head, passing through his hat.”

[The Morning Post, Friday, October 30th, 1812]

November 1812 newspapers put the number of Luddites imprisoned in York Castle, at a vague “between 40 to 50”.

The Derby Mercury meanwhile reported that many “deluded” Yorkshiremen had gone into hiding, to evade capture, “thus sacrificing everything that should be most dear to them in life”.

In January, 1813, 200 years ago, the trial of the West Riding Luddites went ahead.  George Mellor,  William Thorp and Thomas Smith – all of whom worked for Woods’ cropping shed at Longroyd Bridge and described as “cloth dressers” by the press – were tried with the murder of William Horsfall, Marsden manufacturer.  All three offered alibis, which were rejected and they were found Guilty after a trial that lasted 12 hours and hung, then dissected at York County hospital.

It was remarked by the press they were contrite.  ” They were good-looking young men, the eldest being only 23″

[The Hull Packet and Original Weekly Commercial, Literary and General Advertiser, Tuesday, January 12th, 1813].

This puts Thomas Smith as being born between about 1790-1793. All we know about his origins is that he was from Huddersfield. Whether he was related to my Longwood Smiths or not, I’ll never know. My own Thomas Smith was younger, born 1799.

Some of the York Castle accused were acquitted, after the Judge decided they had acted “under the influence” of others. This was a politic move. To show conspicuous “lenity”, and hopefully quell the mob. Although the Judge did remark that should there be any trouble, he’d have then re-arrested and tried.

On the 23rd, the following men were executed in the morning:

John Hill, Joseph Crowther, Nathan Hoyle, Jonathan Dean, John Ogden, Thomas Brooke and John Walker. A newspaper wrote: “The above prisoners behaved in the most penitent and contrite manner we have ever witnessed…”

In the afternoon, John Batley, John Swallow, Joseph Fisher, William Hartley, James Haigh, James Hey, and Job Hey were executed. All the men were reported to be contrite and faced death calmly. They all had wives and some had children. This was the largest number of men ever to be hung in one day, at York.

Others were charged with administering an illegal oath, including John Baines the elder, John Baines the younger, William Blakebrough, George Duckworth, Charles Milnes and Zachary Baines. Two of Tom Lister’s sisters married men called Milnes. I wonder….

Of these men, only Zachary was found Not Guilty. It is likely these were the men who administered the twisting in oath to the Bow Street runners.

Informant Benjamin Walker was imprisoned briefly then allowed to go free, and returned to Huddersfield where, according to Phyllis Bentley, he was shunned for the rest of his life. My own weaver, Thomas Lister continued to live at Hill Houses in Huddersfield, until old age. His son, Tom, married twice. His first wife, Mary McMillan, died very soon after they married and in 1856, fresh from his distilling adventures, he married Hannah Smith, the Longwood wool mill owner’s daughter, and shortly afterwards, they moved to Leeds.

My great grandad, John Lister, was born in Leeds in 1872 at 7 Carlton Terrace, the house where Tom Lister lived when he came from Huddersfield. Incredibly, there is a photo of it (first house in foreground) on Leodis.  Four more generations of the family were also to be born in Leeds – including myself.  Tom died there in 1880, aged only fifty. Tom Lister’s widow, Hannah remarried – a Birmingham chainmaker, living in Leeds. He became a blacksmith making steam ploughs in Holbeck. My great grandad, John, was brought up by mum Hannah and stepdad, the Brummie, Charles Deeley (born 1848). In the 1891 Census, my great grandad was down as “John Daley” (enumerator had misunderstood step-dad’s Brummie accent?), and he simply wasn’t showing when we searched for a “John Lister” born 1872, in the 1881 Census. As an adult, John dropped “Deeley” and reverted to his birth name, Lister. Which is why he seemed to suddenly appear as an adult, in the 1891 Census.  I now have that eighth of my tree we thought we’d never find. And to find it is weavers, clothiers and cloth dressers, is the icing on the cake.

Event this Saturday by York Alternative History, to commemorate the 17 hung.

 

Images Courtesy Wiki Commons unless otherwise stated.

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