For me family history is more than a series of names and dates. I want to try paint a picture of my ancestors lives, their wider family network, the times in which they lived and the communities which shaped them. For many, records are the only way to build up this picture. For others their lives are still within living memory, either first hand or indirectly through others.
Edith Aveyard is my maternal great grandmother and the reason for my one-name study choice. I never met her, but through many hours talking to mum I do feel I have some sense of her character which goes beyond the records.
Born in East Ardsley in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 20 March 1879 she was one of the nine children of Wesleyan Methodist Abraham Aveyard and his wife Sarah Jane (née Broadhead). Her siblings included Peter (1873), Thomas Henry (1875), Bertha (1887), Amos Hartley (born 1881, died 1884), Paulina/Pauline (circa 1884), Eliza (1885), Caroline (1887) and John (1889). Abraham, a coal miner, spent several short spells between 1894 and 1908 in Wakefield Prison for debt.
Family census and various birth, baptism, death and burial records show that by March 1884 the family moved from East Ardsley to Morley. Sometime between May 1887 and March 1889 they shifted to Drighlington but by the mid-1890s they were back in Morley. All were coal-mining areas, so provided employment opportunities for Abraham and his eldest sons.
Edith married coal miner Jonathan Rhodes at Woodkirk Parish Church on 14 August 1897. They were both 18 years old. Edith did not sign her name in the register. Mum recalls that she could never write – yet she could read a horse-racing card well enough in the newspapers to enable her to put on a bet!
It was a marriage which did not meet with the approval of Jonathan’s parents, William Burnley Rhodes and Elizabeth. Mum has the impression they thought they were a ‘cut above’ Edith’s Aveyard family. Perhaps Edith’s father’s periods in jail were central to this belief. However, the marriage was one of necessity as Edith gave birth to a daughter, Alice, less than four months after the wedding.
The couple settled into married life and their home at Healey Croft Terrace, East Ardsley, near-neighbours of Edith’s brother Thomas Henry Aveyard. It was here the couple’s other children were born: Ethel (1899), Oliver (circa 1902), William Henry Bastow (circa 1903) and Pauline (1905).
But life was not without its difficulties. Jonathan was not a well man. A diabetic in the pre-insulin era, he was carrying out the physically demanding job of a coal hewer. And then tragedy hit. First youngest son William died at the Healey Croft Terrace home, on 4 June 1907, struck down by meningitis when only four-years-old. He was buried in the churchyard at East Ardsley St Michael’s two day’s later. Then, shortly after moving to Morley, the couple’s other son 8-year-old Oliver was killed on 8 October 1910 after being knocked down by a motor car on Britannia Road. It’s an incident which I wrote about here. He was buried alongside his brother on 11 October 1910.
By 1916 the family had left Morley and were living in Hanging Heaton. Daughter Alice married Willie Boynes in the Sunday school at Hanging Heaton on 16 April 1916. The school had been given a special licence to hold marriages by the Bishop of Wakefield.
The somewhat unusual venue was because the parish church of St Paul’s Church at Hanging Heaton was gutted by fire after a lightning strike in the early hours of 17 February 1916. Initially, given this was the midst of the Great War, the crowd watching the destruction of this landmark church, speculated that the cause was ‘German incendrianism.’
The Million Act church of St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, was built originally between 1823-1825 as part of the church building programme sanctioned in the wake of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. It was on a dominant hillside position, and the flames were visible for miles around. The High Street home of the Rhodes family was a matter of a few hundred metres away.
The fire was spotted at 4.10 am by Sam Pleasants. But, with only one telephone available in the vicinity of Hanging Heaton, summoning help was not straightforward. The Dewsbury Brigade received a call at 4.23am and, according to the Rev. W.E. Cleworth, they were working with the hose on the blaze before 5am (Batley News, 19 February 1916). The Dewsbury Reporter of the same date also stated:
Great praise was bestowed upon Dewsbury Fire Brigade for the very prompt manner in which they responded to the call and the general adaptability they displayed.
The Batley News report went onto say the Batley Brigade did not receive a request to assist until 5.15 am. This delay was criticised as being detrimental to efforts to save the church. The Leeds Mercury of 18 February in its report mentions the Dewsbury Brigade was speedily on the spot, but states Batley’s arrival was delayed for some time at the toll-bar gate at Grange Road. No mention of the problems being down to contacting them.
Later published accounts state that both the Batley and Dewsbury Fire Brigades were delayed in attending the conflagration. These too do not mention the lateness in getting the call through to Batley. Rather they say precisely because of the church’s steep hillside position, the horse-drawn engine from Batley could not access via the direct route up the hill. Instead it had to go via Grange Road where the Toll Keeper, when he eventually was roused from bed, argued about the toll for fire engines. The Dewsbury Brigade were held up because they could not enter the area without the permission of the delayed Batley Brigade. And when they were both finally in position, at the same time, initially they had no water.
Whatever happened with the Fire Brigades, the main point is the flames, fanned by a strong wind, took hold and the church was beyond saving. Its rebuilding was not authorised until 1920, and it was finally rededicated on 17 November 1923.
The vulnerability of the building to lightning strikes was highlighted just prior to the rededication. Building work completed, on Saturday 7 July 1923 it was once more struck by lightning. The top of one of the pinnacles was completely shattered, and a small fire broke out. Fortunately residents witnessed the event and acted swiftly. The blaze was quickly extinguished with buckets of water. This particular storm caused death and destruction across Yorkshire.
On a broader family history note, amongst the things salvaged from the 1916 inferno were the parish registers! One of the ‘rescuers’ of these precious documents was the verger, who also lived on High Street.
Despite the destruction, sightseers who flocked to view the ruins were allowed to enter the devastated building just over a week later. The Batley News of 26 February 1916 described:
…streams of humanity that flowed to the scene of the fire-wreckage was like unto the multitudes on the days of Lee Fair, [the country’s oldest chartered fair which dates from at least the early 12th century and is held at West Ardsley] a big football match or a big festival.
It is hard to imagine Edith and her family not being amongst these streams, given their proximity to the church. It was there nearest place of worship too, Edith clearly not adhering to her father’s Wesleyanism. She married in the Established Church, and her children were baptised in it.
In 1919 middle daughter Ethel married James Delaney, a Batley Catholic of Irish descent. Serving as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, and latterly as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, he was discharged from the Army in October 1918 no longer fit for service. He died in the East Lancashire Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home at Park Lane, Kersal on 27 January 1928. One relative seems to think Ethel, who had nursed her husband, was so low in the aftermath of her husband’s death she could see no point in living. It was Edith who prevented her carrying through with her threat. I’ve found no evidence to back this up as yet. Perhaps I never will.
Once Ethel married, the only daughter remaining at home was Pauline. They were still in Hanging Heaton, but now at 20, Kirkgate. On 6 March 1921 she was by her father’s sickbed whilst her mother, Edith, briefly nipped out. It was whilst she was away that Jonathan died. His funeral took place at East Ardsley St Michael’s where he was laid to rest with his young sons on 9 March 1921.
Edith re-married on 25 February 1922. He husband was 38-year-old motor driver William Henry Ellis, a bachelor. Mum knew him as uncle a Bill. St Paul’s Hanging Heaton was not yet rebuilt, so the wedding took place in the Church Hall which had replaced the Sunday School as the building licensed to conduct services.
By 1939 bus driver Bill and Edith had moved to Upper Camroyd Street in the centre of Dewsbury. The location suited her perfectly. A stone’s throw from the huge market, and with access to a full array of shops, it was also near the pub where she could pop across to get a pitcher of beer to take home. Subsequently Edith moved a couple of streets away from Upper Camroyd Street to one of a pair of cottages in Battye Street.
It was the same town in which married daughter Pauline now lived with husband John, so mum has plenty memories about her broad Yorkshire-speaking grandma.
A diminutive woman, mum remembers her as being ‘a bit to a tartar‘ who would stand no nonsense from her grandchildren. She recalls a couple of examples. Her grandma had a horsehair settee. Mum, as a child in her short skirt, remembers sitting on it and the fibres pricking into her legs. Despite the discomfort she would sit rigid, as no way would her grandma allow any fidgeting. On another occasion Edith came to look after her grandchildren whilst Pauline and husband John were away. The children were not allowed to open any drawers in their own house!
Yet she was always more lenient with mum’s eldest brother, Jack. And when one of mum’s sisters married, she offered to partition her bedroom down the middle with a curtain so she could live there with her new husband. The offer was declined.
Mum’s other memories include when she first started work. Her job straight from school was at Luke Howgate’s in Dewsbury. The firm still exists today. It manufactures for the funeral trade and mum worked on simple soft furnishings for coffin interiors. She would pop in from work for a Friday fish and chips lunch with her grandma and uncle Bill. Edith was thrilled with her granddaughter’s new job and would ask endless questions about it, whilst imparting her considerable knowledge of the funeral trade. She spoke from personal experience. Besides informally helping bring babies into the world, she also was called upon to lay out the dead in the neighbourhood. She even had her own personal laying out drawer ready for her own death – and her grandchildren were not allowed to open this either!
Uncle Bill died in 1956. Edith died at Staincliffe hospital on 24 October 1957 as a result of cerebral arterio sclerosis and old age. She was buried alongside her first husband, Jonathan, and sons William and Oliver in the unmarked East Ardsley grave.
Her Battye Street home as long since gone. The cottages were demolished. On the very spot where they stood is the Chapel of Rest for George Brooke’s, Funeral Directors. It somehow seems fitting.
- GRO Birth, Marriage & Death certificates – various;
- Yorkshire Baptisms, Marriages & Burials via Ancestry.com Church of England Parish Register Collection. Original data at West Yorkshire Archives;
- Abraham Aveyard, HMP Wakefield Records, via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Prison Records, 1801-1914 [database on-line]. Original data at West Yorkshire Prison Records. Reference C118: Wakefield Prison. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, England;
- Censuses 1881 to 1911 accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast;
- 1939 Register accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast;
- Newspapers as indicated;
- Pauline Hill’s recollections – conversations with Jane Roberts, February 2019;
- St Paul’s Hanging Heaton website: http://www.stpaulch.co.uk/;
- OS Maps – National Library of Scotland;
- East Ardsley St Michael’s MI booklet – Morley Family History Group;
- James Delaney, WO 363 War Office Soldiers’ Documents, First World War ‘Burnt’ Documents accessed via FindMyPast. Originals at The National Archives, Reference WO 363/D972.