This is the story (or at least a partial one) of a man I have never met, even though some of his blood must surely run in my veins. No-one now living has met him, as the last person known to have done so died last year. To all intents and purposes he is lost to history, the only evidence that he existed at all lies in the sparse official records of censuses and other bureaucratic papers, meriting a single line to confirm his details. I know nothing of his character or personality except brief glimpses where his actions shed light on presumed motives, and although it is tempting to flesh him out by imagination, I know I must resist.
Somewhere in this house is half a locket with a very small picture inside, supposed to be a photograph of Lambert Boddy, my maternal great great grandfather – son, husband, father, immigrant, widower.
This is some of his story.
He was born at Baildon in Yorkshire, on the 21st of January 1865, the first child of John and Susannah (nee Pickard), who had wed at the Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist 18 months previously. The fledgling family live in Providence Row, which by some miracle still exists, a rambling narrow lane off the main thoroughfare of Northgate, overlooking the former mill pond of the worsted mill which loomed up opposite. The small terraced stone cottages now are beautifully kept, and somewhat smartened up, but it’s still not too difficult to imagine the scene in the 19th century.
John Boddy was working as a warehouseman in order to support his growing family, perhaps at the mill which was practically on his doorstep. On New Years’ Day 1867, a daughter was born, who they name Sarah. She will have her own story to tell later on, but there will be no more children surviving beyond infancy – little Fred will die at the tender age of 8 months in 1873, and a daughter born in May 1875 will lack even the dignity of a name in the records, harshly referred to only as “female”.
Sadly Susannah herself was to die later that year aged only 31, leaving John with two small children to care for, both still too young to go to work even by the accepted standards of the day. With what might be considered unseemly haste, he married another lady named Susannah less than two months after his first wife was buried ; this new Susannah was a worsted weaver, possibly at the same mill. What effect this new person standing in their mother’s place so suddenly might have had on Lambert and Sarah, still only ten and eight years old, can only be guessed at. In the years to come they will be joined by two new half-sisters, Jane and Emma, with baby John Arthur completing the family in 1888.
Lambert was growing up, and looking beyond the valleys and mills for a different life, one not ordered by the noise of machinery and factory schedules. Having worked in the mills in the warehouse, he knew it was not what he wanted, he felt trapped by the demands of industry, so with considerable courage he decided to look further afield; very much further afield indeed, and at the age of 19 boarded the Steamship Belgravia, bound for Sydney, Australia, via London, Plymouth and Cape Town. Describing himself as a “gardener”, he became an immigrant bound for the other side of the world, and set off on an 8 week sea voyage.
The arrival of the ship in May 1884 was a newsworthy item in the Sydney Morning Herald, which printed a lengthy article praising the newly arrived immigrants as being of “a superior class…young and hale”.
It appears that life on board for the 874 passengers was at least as pleasant as could be managed, despite one or two spells of bad weather, with a lively sense of community which produced not only a choir but a “band of instrumentalists”, a school of 80 scholars, concerts, temperance meetings, and on one memorable occasion, a Baby Show. Lambert must have felt a curious mixture of excitement and trepidation as he first set foot on a new continent, in the harbour of Neutral Bay.
He was to stay here for three years before returning to the UK, for reasons which can only be guessed at, perhaps lack of opportunities or even homesickness. Once home again in Baildon, Lambert turned his back on mill work, and took up a job as a postman, which profession he will mostly keep to for the years to come.
His eye was caught one day by pretty Lavinia Jackson, a weaver, whose parents kept a small shop on Hollins Road, in the shadow of several huge mills along Thornton Road. Her family were country people from the picturesque village of Thornton-le-dale, but times were hard for villagers, so her parents exchanged the country for the town, and agriculture for industry, in hope of improving their situation.
Lambert and Lavinia tied the knot at the Cathedral Church of St Peter in Bradford on the 25th of January 1890, after what must have been a somewhat brief and businesslike ceremony, as records reveal that 12 other couples also wed that blustery Saturday. There was a sadness about the day, in spite of the happy occasion; Lambert’s sister Sarah signed the register as a witness, in a shaky hand, obviously with some difficulty. Less than a month later she would be dead, collapsing at work with peritonitis, with her father John by her side.
The newlyweds moved to 7 Baildon Road, where in April the following year, Lavinia gave birth to a son who they named John Jackson, keeping alive the family tradition of using the mother’s maiden name. Lambert’s unusual name had been handed down from his grandmother’s maiden name in this way.
They moved to Barrett Street, Shipley, a street which no longer exists, but appears to have been a serviceable enough typical back to back terrace, with a small front yard. Lambert was still working as a postman, John Jackson was at school, and in July 1897 Lavinia gave birth to a baby girl, Annie Lavinia. For just a couple of weeks, all seemed well with the new family, but Lavinia fell prey to post puerperal infection, untreatable at the time, and became dangerously ill. Matters came to a terrible conclusion on the 18th of August, when she died from sepsis and convulsions, leaving behind a stunned and heartbroken Lambert with two motherless children to care for.
Mother-in-Law Frances, usually known as Fanny, moved in to help out. By the time November came round, they were sufficiently organised, although no doubt still grieving deeply, to arrange the baptism of baby Annie Lavinia at St. Paul’s Church a couple of streets away. To add insult to injury, the clerk misspelled her name in the register as “Annie Lavania”, whether through carelessness, haste or ignorance cannot be known.
Lavinia was buried at St. John the Evangelist at Baildon on August 20th 1897, aged only 28, in the same churchyard that held Lambert’s mother and siblings. In years to come Lambert himself and a baby son yet to be born will join them.
Life must have been difficult and lonely in the years around the turn of the century, and in time he met a young widow by the name of Helen.
According to some hand-me-down oral history, there was no love lost between stepmother and stepdaughter, and it is curious to discover the constant house moves the family made throughout the first decade of the century ; often to streets nearby in Shipley, sometimes even returning to the same house.
By 1905, Lambert seemed to be thinking about the journey he made to Australia, way back in 1884, commemorating its significance in his life by not only renaming the little cottage in Providence Row as “Sydneyville”, but also giving a son born in that year the name of Sydney Lambert Boddy. Sadly little Sydney was to die aged just 17 months the following year. It is unclear whether Lambert and Helen were married at this point, but a new daughter made her appearance in February 1907. She was, confusingly, given exactly the same name as her mother.
By 1911, the family had moved away to Leith, a town to the north east of Edinburgh, where they are to stay for at least the next three years. An Italian restaurant with a modern frontage now occupies their address at 48 Bridge Street, but the back elevation reveals part of the original building on a sloping street.
1914 sees them back in Bradford for the wedding of John Jackson Boddy to Edith Grainger in September.
Every family has its secrets. Some may not be considered remarkable in any way nowadays, but were thought at the time to have such potential for damage and hurt that they were locked away, not to be spoken of. Yet as with everything else, time eventually erodes their significance, as the people they affected die and old rumours and stories become forgotten. The lifetimes of concealment and denial fade away, remembered only as half truths and Chinese whispers, and each succeeding generation forgets a little more.
It’s not done deliberately or callously, it’s just how life works, a continual process of building up and wearing down, wearing out : discarding the old stories of people who died long before we were born. After all, what purpose could they serve nowadays, except idle curiosity?
Sometimes these old secrets are not buried, but dressed up in a more socially acceptable version of events so as not to invite scorn or shame, and the altered account becomes the new truth. For some reason, some of these old stories drift into the forefront of one’s thoughts, and ask to be explained, or at least given an honest assessment.
Many years ago, I was told of a tragic accident which befell a member of my grandparent’s generation ; out of respect for the lady herself and also family confidentiality I will refer to her as Jean, although that is not her real name.
Jean was a child of the Edwardian era, born in a small terraced house in one of the six pottery towns which make up Stoke on Trent. The curved silhouettes of coal-fired bottle ovens were prominent on the skyline, and the city was shrouded in heavy black wreaths of pollution every day apart from the two weeks in summer known as the Potters’ Fortnight, when the potteries would close and clear skies briefly reappear. A large proportion of the predominantly working class population were employed in the potbanks, so it is no surprise that Jean found employment as a gilder. Gilding requires not only deftness, concentration and accuracy, but also a steady hand and an artistic eye. Most pottery workers, a large proportion of whom were women, were paid at piece-work rates, so Jean would have had to learn how to work quickly in order to maximise her income.
Seated at her workbench, she would have had her gilder’s shell to one side, a glass container containing a mixture of powdered gold and mercury known as “bright gold” or “best gold”, on which she would rest her finely pointed brush (referred to as a “pencil” in this industry) The ware she decorated would be fired and subsequently burnished to bring the ornamentation up to a fine high gleam, destined for elegant tea tables and fine houses.
Hour after hour, day upon day she worked at this task, watching the hours of her life tick slowly by as each cup or saucer, plate or dish passed through her careful hands. Perhaps she dreamed of leaving home, of finding love and bringing up her own family, but at the age of 36, Jean was still single and living at home with her elderly parents. Perhaps she was content to do so, or perhaps she felt unhappy at being “left on the shelf”, with time running out.
In 1943, she became a bride, and perhaps she briefly hoped that it wasn’t too late after all, but nothing more is known of her life until one Spring day in 1952, when events took a dramatic and unexpected turn.
The story, as I heard it from my parents’ generation, told of a terrible accident involving an unattended gas flame which blew out, filling the room with poisonous fumes of carbon monoxide and leading to to an early and tragic demise for Jean. There are details of domestic trivia which highlight the very ordinariness of the scenario ; she was boiling eggs for her husband’s tea on his return from the pit-head baths – no, wait, it was a kettle on the stove – actually she was polishing cutlery at the kitchen table, and was found with the shining blades and tines scattered all around her feet, quite dead in her chair. What an awful thing to happen, what a tragedy, and her only being forty nine ; a sad and unforeseeable accident, everyone said, and they carried on saying it for the next sixty-odd years.
They carried on saying it because the truth was much less easier to accept, and it reflected badly on various people, even in a perverse way, on Jean herself, the victim. The stories of boiling eggs and polishing spoons were made up to sugar coat the painful reality.
She had been a very ill woman, in dire need of medical attention, and on that May day in 1952, she decided that she could bear her situation no longer. At the very end of her tether, in a desperate attempt to put an end to the severe abdominal pain that literally drove her to distraction, Jean took her own life in a gas filled kitchen, at the age of forty nine.
Suicide had a moral stigma attached to it, and was even legally considered a crime until 1961. The appropriateness of this seems almost beyond comprehension nowadays, that a suicidally depressed person might also be thought of as some kind of criminal. There may have been sympathy, but little by way of understanding what may have driven her to do such a thing. The coroner described her mind as being "temporarily unbalanced by abdominal pains”, which begs the question of why wasn't her husband, at the very least, looking after her? her family? her friends? neighbours? doctors? Although her last act was her own decision, I can’t help feeling she was let down by those she knew.
There is, of course, nothing to be gained by apportioning blame, even if it were in any way provable. Those around her sought to absolve themselves from their lack of care by concocting a tragic domestic fairy tale, with Jean as the helpless victim of circumstance.
It doesn’t mean that it is the truth. Distressing as her story is, it deserves to be told honestly, whatever light it might shed on others.
The Story Of Frances
This is the story of my maternal great-great grandmother, Frances Hunton as she was born, Fanny Jackson as she became ; a woman born at the very dawn of the Victorian era, who was to live through great changes throughout the years of her life.
Frances was born in 1837 in Thornton le Dale, a picture perfect village in North Yorkshire, set on a crossroads with thoroughfares leading to Whitby, Scarborough, Pickering and Malton. A small stream still winds alongside the busy road of Maltongate, requiring some householders to build simple footbridges over it, and inconveniencing several others when it occasionally rises too high. The houses are for the most part a mixture of grey stone cottages, modest brick built houses, with the occasional rather grander Georgian or Victorian dwellings. There are inns and small shops and businesses, and it is not too difficult to imagine how it must have looked during the nineteenth century.
Whitbygate leads gently uphill out of the village, and is lined with the same pleasing variety of buildings, although behind the Buck Inn the land gives way to agricultural buildings and farmland, and it is here that in 1841 a small family have settled. Agricultural labourer George Hunton, 40 years of age, lives with his wife Margaret and their 3 children, namely Mary (12), William (8) and little Frances (5). George is originally from Rievaulx some 20 miles to the west, famed for the imposing ruins of its 12th century Cistercian Abbey.
Moving forward some 10 years to 1851, the Huntons are still residing on Whitbygate, although of the children, only 14 year old Frances remains at home, and she will soon be required to find employment as a domestic servant. It is possible that she may have gone to work at a large property in Kirby Wiske some 30 miles away, part of a retinue of six servants apparently required to attend to the needs of a family of just four adults, and she would in a future census describe herself as a “former domestic servant”.
In the intervening years, George Hunton’s prospects must have improved somewhat, as by this date he has progressed from labouring to being a “farmer of 18 ½ acres”. There is also a little extra income from lodger Ann Smithson, a pensioner.
On February 12th 1861, Frances (or rather Fanny, as she now wishes to be known) marries Thomas Foster Jackson, the son of a widower from the other end of the village, who works as a carter. Thomas sometimes uses his middle name for preference. The ceremony takes place at St. Hilda’s, Ellerburne, a beautiful and ancient low stone chapel some way out of the village, and afterwards the newlyweds move into 48 Maltongate, at Thomas’ end of the village, together with his elder brother John. In years to come, John will accompany them on their move from country to town, suggesting a strong bond between the brothers.
Between 1861 and 1871, conditions may well have changed for the worse in Thornton, perhaps the increasing mechanisation of agriculture has had a negative impact on work prospects, or possibly Thomas and Fanny have heard about new opportunities and better wages to be had in the rapidly expanding textile industry of Bradford, some 60 miles to the south. They decide to make the move, together with their small daughter Mary (born 1863) and brother John Jackson, and by 1871 they are living in a small terraced house on Thornton Road, more or less surrounded by immense mill buildings. Thomas is still able to find work as a cart driver, while Fanny’s days are are taken up with caring for a growing family, with not only 8 year old Mary, but also Lavinia aged 2, and 10 month old John Willie.
Sadly Little John Willie will not outlive his childhood, but he will not be forgotten by the family, least of all by sister Mary, who will name her first born son after him. Mary will go on to experience her own episodes of sadness, as of the 8 children she will give birth to, only 5 will survive ; but there will be pride too, as the second John Willie will become part of the local constabulary, standing almost 6 feet tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, and see active service during the Great War in a machine gun regiment. To his mother’s no doubt immense relief, he survives the horrors of the trenches and returns home safely to take up his former employment as a Police Constable, eventually rising to the rank of Sergeant, with a fine house near Halifax.
John Jackson, who has moved with the family, has found work as a waste sorter in a nearby mill.
The sense of shock and displacement that accompanied their journey from the countryside to an overcrowded and heavily industrialised city must have been considerable. Apart from the noise and pollution emanating from nearby mills, the presence of a huge dyeworks within a stones’ throw of their front door must have made the atmosphere even more unpleasant.
By the time 1881 comes around, it looks as if circumstances may have improved somewhat for all concerned, as in addition to Thomas still working as a cart driver, Fanny is now providing a dressmaking service from home, and both Mary (18) and little sister Lavinia (12) have found jobs at a mill, Mary a worsted weaver on the fast paced power looms, and Lavinia a spinner, minding a heavy and fast moving spinning machine and looking out for broken threads. There are almost no safety precautions in their workplace, and both must be alert at all times, even though exhausting 12 hour shifts are by no means unusual. Mistakes are punished by fines from their already low wages. John has now had a change of employment, although still within the mill, as he is now a twister.
The accompanying increase in family income has probably led to a slight improvement in home circumstances, as a decision is made to open a small grocers shop at the corner of Thornton Road and Hollings Road, just up from where they now live. It is no longer standing, but the property on the opposite corner is probably something similar. A very small image of it can be made out on an image of Brick Lane Mills (see picture), and by 1891 Thomas’ days out on the road in all weathers have definitely come to an end when he proudly describes himself as a “Master Grocer” on the census of that year. Business must have been brisk, as the shop stood in an ideal trading position, with its frontage on one of the main thoroughfares into Bradford, with proximity to nearby large mills , primarily Brick Lane and Whetley, and their many employees.
Thomas and Fanny alone are in charge of the shop by now, as both Mary and Lavinia have married and left the family home : Mary has married quarryman David Kendall in a ceremony hastily arranged for the usual reasons, and has gone to live in Thornton in Bradford, near her husband’s workplace, while Lavinia has married Lambert Boddy, a postman from Baildon, where they live near her in-laws. It must be surmised that John Jackson has either died or moved away some time before 1891.
Sadly Thomas dies in 1893, and what becomes of the shop, or indeed Fanny, is currently unclear. All that can be known for certain is that by 1901 she is living as a housekeeper with her widowed son-in-law Lambert, and his two small children, John Jackson (8) and Annie Lavinia (3), over in Shipley.
Lavinia has died from an infection just 3 weeks after baby Annie Lavinia was born.
It is, for the present time at least, not known what has happened to Fanny after this point : Lambert was to remarry and have another family, and lived for some time in Leith, Edinburgh. At 64 years of age, it is not impossible that Fanny remarried and consequently changed her name, but I can find no record of her either in the 1911 census, or death records.
The little girl Annie Lavinia, will marry in 1929, and eventually become my maternal grandmother.