Aug 012017

See also: George Archer and the Bantams

My Grandad, George Archer, was a very short and slightly built man, only about 5 feet tall. When war broke out in 1914, he was 19 years old but he was too short to sign up for the army, being below 5 ft 3 inches in height. He continued in the woollen manufacturing industry in Dewsbury, which made cloth for the Army, including blankets. After huge losses on the Somme battlefield, the Government introduced “bantam battalions” for shorter men and Grandad was now to join up. He was enlisted in the Army in Leeds in January 1917 and was placed in the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), 17th Service Battalion, 2nd Leeds (a Bantam Battalion See post George and the Bantams.), which was attached to the 106th Brigade, 35th Division. He was 21 years old and, after basic training in England, he was shipped out to France in June 1917, arriving just in time for the great offensive in Flanders, now called simply “Passchendaele”.

Grandad Archer

George Archer in West Yorkshire Uniform. He is shown carrying a short wooden stick. In the British Army, up to World War I, swagger sticks were carried by all ranks when off duty, as part of their walking out uniform. The stick was made from polished wood with a decorated metal head in the regimental pattern. The usual custom was for the private soldier or NCO to carry the stick tucked under his arm.

Grandad’s Brigade was placed in the 5th Army under General Sir Hubert Gough, an Irish-born Officer, Sandhurst trained. Gough had served in the 16th Lancers in the Boer War at the relief of Ladysmith and he still maintained an “over-confident belief in the value of cavalry attacks”. This was a modern war being fought with old-fashioned ideas.

The Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres) was fought between July 1917 and November 1917. The main stated aim was to break through Flanders to the coast, where German U-Boat pens were sited, so that they could be destroyed. Food supplies to Britain were continually being cut off by the U-Boats, who were attacking and sinking merchant shipping. Since Britain imported about two thirds of its food supplies, there was real concern that the Germans could starve them into submission if the war was extended another year.

Sir Douglas Haig, British Commander on the Western Front, also believed that German morale was low after their defeat at Messines and that advancing through Flanders would be a breeze, so he was very keen to go ahead, in spite of objection from Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Spurred on by the success at Messines, Haig decided to press on to capture Passchendaele Ridge. The Russian regime was suffering instability and if the Russians left the war, that would free up German troops to re-inforce the Western Front, so Haig believed that time was short and he ordered the Third Battle of Ypres to begin with a major artillary bombardment, as was the norm. The bombardment naturally alerted the Germans to the forthcoming major offensive and they were ready! The British and French advance began on 31st July, along an eleven mile front, making only small gains over the first days in the face of stronger than expected defence by the enemy and progress was soon halted  by the German 4th and 5th Armies. Casualties were high.

The 106th Brigade of the West Yorkshires, in which my Grandad was serving as an infantryman were, at this time, fighting alongside the Lancashire Fusiliers, Sherwood Forresters, Gloucesters and Scottish troops. Typically a Brigade would be at the front for four days, then be relieved for four days, in rotation and this seems to have been the pattern of his life…four days of advancing and being under fire, followed by four days of rest, when the soldiers must have dreaded and anticipated the likelihood of suffering mutilation or death the next time they were moved up to the front.

At the beginning of August, the soldiers’ misery was added to by the onset of rain. The earth had already been churned up by the artillery bombardment and was full of shell holes. Now my Grandad experienced the worst rains in 30 years (more than he had experienced his lifetime), which effectively changed the already marshy land into a mud-bath filled with dangerously deep holes, which could not properly be seen, especially in darkness. Tanks became stuck in the thick mud.  The shell holes, in which soldiers would previously take cover, were filled with water and rendered useless for cover. The flatness of the plain made cover impossible to find and soldiers were more able to be picked off by snipers and injured by shrapnel. Rifles were clogged up and men and horses drowned. The noise of battle was deafening.

Meanwhile, Haig blamed the lack of progress on Gough, rather then the weather, and moved Gough north, replacing him with Plumer. Gough had favoured a fast sweeping advance, but Plumer changed tactics in favour of small advances to positions that could be permanently held. The Battle of Menin Road Bridge, the Battle of Polygon Wood and the Battle of Broodseinde were fought between September and October 1917, the Allies taking hold of territory, bridge by bridge, road by road and farm by farm. Between October 9th and 12th, two battles were fought at Poelcappel and Passchendaele. German soldiers had been transferred from the Eastern front to bolster the defence there and now they used mustard gas on the advancing Allied troops.

Grandad would have seen men fall, injured or dead, heard the screams of the severely wounded…seen things that no man should ever see. Even when on a rest period, living conditions were unbearable. Makeshift tents, erected each night, were just simple bivvies, created by stretching canvas sheets tightly over a pole and pegging the sheets down. Each bivvie slept eight men. In some cases, pumps were used to try to remove water from trenches and dugouts but never were the soldiers able to be comfortable.

Disease was another threat. Lice were prevalent and men caught disease from them, known as “trench fever”, causing headaches, muscle aching and  high temperatures. Rats fed on the bodies of the dead and invaded the sleeping areas, biting the living and spreading more disease. In the continual unhealthy wet conditions, trench foot was common, an infection caused by continual exposure to wet conditions. Affected feet became numb, turned red or blue as a result of poor blood supply, and feet may have begun to have a decaying smell due to the early stages of necrosis. As the condition worsened, feet may have swollen. Advanced trench foot often involved blisters and open sores, which led to fungal infections.  If left untreated, trench foot results in gangrene, which can lead to amputation.

Added to the sights and terrifying sounds of battle, there was the smell…of mud mixed with rotting corpses, gas, open latrines, unwashed bodies and infection, which would together have made an unbearable stench.

Grandad must have thought he was in Hell. I believe YES, he WAS in Hell. The ordinary soldier was struggling on in the most challenging and desperate of conditions and danger but they were still not making much forward progress. Many soldiers must have become accustomed to the idea that they would never return home.

In late October, three further attempts were made on Passchendael Ridge and the town was eventually taken on November 6th. In an advance of a very few miles and over three months, the Allies lost 325,000 men and the Germans 260,000…over half a million young men lost for a few miles of muddy earth.

I don’t know if my Grandad made it to the capture of the town on November 6th. I know that he was wounded at Passchendaele and would have been evacuated for treatment, but not on which day. The history of the 35th Division (by Lt Col H M Davson) describes a bombardment by the Germans on 20th October 1917, resulting in a high number of casualties in the 106th brigade, which lost about 25% of its men either killed, missing or wounded. It is possible that is when Grandad was wounded too, but I may never know for certain.

Each Division had three Field Ambulance Units – these were mobile medical units who provided stretcher bearers and field ambulance stations. Grandad would have been sent to a dressing station and returned to his unit when deemed fit enough to serve. If he had been seriously wounded he would have been evacuated to a base hospital in France or “back to Blighty” to one of the Military Hospitals at home. I know that Grandad was wounded twice before the end of the war and I remember that one of his hands had restricted movement, possibly due to a tendon injury from shrapnel. However, we don’t know the extent of his injuries or how he was treated. He simply didn’t talk about it.

After Passchendaele, the number of casualties led to a manpower crisis and some Brigades had to be amalgamated at the end of November 1917 and early 1918. Re-organisation caused the 17th Service Battalion of the West Yorkshires (2nd Leeds) (a Bantam Battalion) to be amalgamated with the 15th Service Battalion of the West Yorkshires (1st Leeds) (the Leeds Pals) to become the new 15th/17th Battalion. In 1918, the West Yorkshires took part in actions at the First Battle of Bapaume, the Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Courtrai and the action of Tieghem.

Grandad’s second wounding was said to be at Ypres, presumably at the 1918 battle. He continued to serve until he was finally discharged in April 1919. His war record is lost with the many records that were destroyed in a fire in the 1940s, but his medal sheet survived and is shown here.

George Archer Medal Sheet

This tells us quite a lot:

The medal sheet shows George Archer, West Yorkshire Regiment, Regimental No. 60431, Rank of Private. We can see that he was Enlisted 5th January 1917 and Discharged 2nd April 1919. The cause of Discharge was “Para 392/xvi/KR”…that is paragraph 392 in the King’s Regulations, which indicates by the code (xvi), that he was now “No longer fit for further war service”. Initially, I assumed that this was because of one of the injuries that he received in the war. However, the “S” written into this box indicates he was unsuitable for further army service because of sickness, as it would have been a “W” there if he was discharged because of his wounds.

The reasons for the designation (xvi) being used was one of the following:

  1. A soldier with physical infirmity caused by wounds (where a “W” would be written in the “cause of discharge” box)…or…
  2. A soldier found to be medically unfit due to physical illness (with “S” written in the “cause of discharge” box). I imaging that this might include the effects of gas or trench foot, for example…or…
  3. Any man discharged for “insanity” or other diagnosed mental illness, which mostly would be shell-shock, sometimes called battle fatigue, combat stress, or what we may now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (this would also have had an “S” in “cause of discharge”).

So, it would seem that Grandad was suffering from either physical or mental illness by the end of the war.

The designation AO 29/19 in the “Cause of Discharge” further indicates that Grandad was awarded the Silver War Badge, which was awarded to officers and men who were honourably discharged or retired from the military forces as a result of sickness or injury caused by their war service.

“List 0/3585/2″ is a reference to the roll on which his Silver War Badge award is listed. Around the rim of the badge was inscribed “For King and Empire; Services Rendered”. The Silver War Badge became known as the “Services Rendered Badge”. Each badge was also engraved with a unique number on the reverse, not related to the recipient’s Service Number. Grandad would have received a certificate with the badge. The badge was made of sterling silver and was intended to be worn on the right lapel of a recipient’s civilian clothing to denote that the wearer had been honourably discharged from the service. Over a million wounded and sick soldiers were awarded silver badges on discharge and many ex-soldiers sold them in times of hardship in later years because of the value of the silver content.


Silver War Badge, awarded for “Services Rendered” to officers and men who had been honourably discharged on account of being wounded or ill.

His medals awarded were: the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, shown below.


Victory Medal and British War Medal

I asked my father what his Dad had told him about Passchendaele, but he said that he had never talked about it. When asked, all he would say was that “it was too bad to talk about” but he once offered the opinion that he believed “it was even worse than the Somme”.

I have wondered how the war affected my Grandad long term. I know that his great fear of rats haunted him all his life. Those men who had resilience and were lucky enough not to be severely wounded, somehow managed to endure and he was one of those who endured for almost two years of the most terrible of wars. I wonder how many times bad dreams and flashbacks invaded his mind. The extreme stress of  battle could and still can break even strong individuals. What was the illness recorded at his discharge that made him unsuitable for further service? How much of a toll had his time in Flanders taken on him?

In spite of hardship, those men who endured “soldiered on” to victory. Propaganda and patriotism must have played their part…the soldiers were fighting for their loved ones, they were fighting for their homes and for their freedom and they were fighting for King and Empire. They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for all of that…and for a dream that some day they could return to a normal life, in freedom and peace. Naive? or Stoical? Above all, Courageous. Most would have experienced intense fear when under fire and some would not cope. 80,000 British men were treated for shell shock after the war ended, but many more must have suffered in silence and it must have changed their lives.

So Grandad returned home in April of 1919 and on 10th January 1920 he married his sweetheart, Mary Ann Ellis, my Grandma.

Mary Ann Ellis, author’s grandmother, who married George on 10th January 1920.

He couldn’t have had a better wife…intelligent, practical and no nonsense, she would have been a great source of support. But trying to build a normal life could not have been easy. The birth of their first child, my Auntie Laura, in July 1920 must have also given him a sign that life could be positive and meaningful again. This little dainty, pretty blonde girl captured his heart. My Dad swears that he took many a punishment for Laura’s mischief when they were children. Well, of course he would!

Grandad was also pretty partial to his first grandchild! Below is Grandad with me at Blackpool in the 1950s. He always wore a buttonhole at weekends, which he made himself.

After the war, Grandad returned to work at Aldham’s Mill in Dewsbury, which continued to manufacture blankets. He remained there until his retirement at the age of 65. He died in Dewsbury, from pneumonia, aged 78, in January 1974, leaving a widow, five children, six grandchildren and one great-grand-child.

See also: George Archer and the Bantams

More reading at

© Christine Widdall

First published on 14th Feb 2014. Additional material added 1st Aug 2017.

May 032017
loom in mill

My new book, ” A Victorian Society” is now available to buy from Amazon UK, EU and USA (UK price is £15). It’s a strange feeling to have such a major work in print. I’ve published books before but nothing on this scale. Whilst the book is local history in content, it has a lot of information about Victorian society in general and the world of photography and photographic societies in particular, so I believe that it will be interesting to a wider range of readers than just those with an interest in Oldham.

The book includes biographies of many of Oldham’s prominent individuals in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Product details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1545379858
  • ISBN-13: 978-1545379851
  • Product Dimensions: 27.9×21.6 x1.9  cm (approx 11×8.5 inches)
Price £15 (including postage in UK)
See product  at this link.

victorian soc book

Description of “A Victorian Society”

“A Victorian Society” is a book about early photography and photographers, told against the backdrop of life in what was to become the most productive cotton spinning town in the world.

In 1867, when photography was still in its infancy, a group of photographers from Oldham and District met at the Hare and Hounds Inn, Yorkshire Street, and founded the Oldham Photographic Society and some of these men would provide the early photographic studios in the town. The photographic portrait had been accessible only to the wealthy but now it was beginning to be affordable by all but the poorest in society. One evening each week, the early photographers of Oldham met to share knowledge and to collect photographs in their album, which has mostly lain unseen in the society’s archives for over 100 years. “A Victorian Society” has more than 300 black and white photographs and illustrations, many of which are published here for the first time.

The book first traces the early days of photography through the lives of the pioneers, in France and Britain, whose work led to the creation of the permanent photographic image, paving the way for all professional and amateur photography.

After the Lancashire cotton famine, the late 1860s marked the beginning of the most exciting period of Oldham’s history. The author examines the rise of the town to become one of the most important cotton spinning and textile engineering towns in the world and follows its progress through phenomenal growth to eventual decline.

The Victorian age was the “Age of Invention” and the Oldham Photographic Society reflects that through the stories of its early members, many of whom rose to prominence in the world of photography, commerce and manufacturing, some of their businesses achieving national and international importance. Using genealogy sources and historic publications, the author researched the lives of many of the society’s Victorian members and brings them together in a social group not studied before. Their stories give a real insight into their origins, successes, rise to fortune, sometimes failures and personal tragedies.

The book concludes with a guide on how to date old photographs.

BUY “A Victorian Society”



Nov 072016

An Education in Three Generations

I was lucky in my education. I was born at a time when economic background didn’t matter – if you had ability and could pass the Grammar School entrance examination, you could access a good education and even go to University. It paved the way for the working classes to more easily climb the ladder of success and enter the professions. I was brought up in a “one up one down” terraced cottage with outside WC…but was quick and eager to learn. When I entered the grammar school at the age of 11, my father had already decided that I would have all the opportunities that he had missed and that I would stay there for the full seven years, even though the standard school leaving age was then 15 years. I was able to stay in school until 18 and take my “A” level exams. I completed studies in one of the Professions Allied to Medicine…and was later to gain a first class honours in my BSc degree course.

My father had not been so lucky. He passed the grammar school entrance exam in 1934, but his parents could not afford to buy his uniform or books. The 1918 Fisher Act had determined the standard leaving age for all as 14. Dad had to go to Elementary School, where he became Head Boy before leaving to take whatever job he could soon after his fourteenth birthday. After a difficult start at a pawnbroker’s shop, Dad eventually joined his father at Aldham’s Mill in Dewsbury, as a woollen spinner. Only World War II saved him from spending all his working days in the mill. Somehow, someone in the army recognised his inherent intelligence and his abilities with figures and he was plucked from the ranks to serve in the Military Government in Hamburg after the war until he was de-mobbed…not bad for a boy with little formal education and zero qualifications. So he left the Army with references which would soon enable him to gain employment with the Yorkshire Woollen District Transport Company. There, in spite of having no formal qualifications, he raised himself, by hard work, to become head of their cash office and Treasurer for the local _igp5326branch of NALGO (National Association of Local Government Officers)…but he always regretted not being able to take up a grammar school education.

A generation earlier, in 1900, the UK Board of Education had wanted all children to stay on at school until the age of 14, but they still allowed many to leave at 13 or even 12 to start manual labouring jobs, when the school would release them. At the start of the 20th century, those most likely to leave school early were not the least able, but the most able, those who achieved the ‘leaving standard’ earlier than other students. They left school early so that their wages could supplement low parental incomes. So, Grandad left school at the age of 12 and went straight into the mill and became a spinner, where he remained, apart from WWI service, for the rest of his working life. His father, my great-grandfather, born in 1875, was one of the first generation of children for whom the state took responsibility for their education…which wasn’t free, except for the poorest children, and was compulsory from the age of 5 to 10.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many churches, among them Methodist Chapels, sought to care for the needs of the congregation, including the elementary education of children. Methodists started up schools wherever they went and examinations of children in the Sunday School had become a standard part of their practice by the early 20th century. Often the examination was done in the presence of the congregation and the successful children were presented with certificates. My paternal grandmother was a bright child too. Today, I was looking at her prize book, gained in 1911, when she was 13.  It was awarded by the United Methodist Churches and was for passing the Connexional Young People’s Examination. The fact that my Grandmother received a book in addition to or instead of a certificate, may have meant that she was singled out among the best students…I hope so. She kept her presentation book, “A Peep behind the Scenes” by Mrs O.F. Walton, all her life. It was the only book that she had and so it must have been very special to her…and she loved reading all her life too. Grandma didn’t read the classics, but she did love a good romance, the sort of “Mills and Boon” of her age, I suppose. There was a place in Dewsbury Market Hall, where second hand books could be bought and later returned for a 50% refund…thus Grandma and I used to go to the market once a week to select new books in exchange for old and I became an avid reader too.

One of the pleasures of tracing family history is to look at the lives of our ancestors in the context of the timeline in which they lived. In my family, through looking at three generations, we can see a typical rise of a new “middle class”, simply through access to an education.

Feb 192016

Researching Brick Walls

I have been engaged in my family history research for over ten years and have come across a number of brick walls…ancestors for whom I can find little meaningful evidence. These days, my research is characterised by bouts of intense interest, interspersed with long periods of inactivity (that’s a tongue twister to start with). Today I have had a period of some activity, partly due to having been contacted by a lady from, who had asked me if I would be prepared to add a link to their family trees feature, which I have done (see Links page). In doing this and checking out that the link worked, I noticed that, for three days, most of the ancestry catalogue was free without subscription, so I set about looking up some of my “brick wall” entries in the hope of finding just a small lead…and I did find quite a few little tidbits of new information on a few of my brick wall ancestors…and one link set me off on a journey to explore Yorkshire’s Luddite past.

In all the years that I have been researching, I have found that all of my ancestors as far back as I can reach, come from the West Riding of Yorkshire within a roughly drawn triangle bounded by Halifax, Wakefield and Huddersfield. I have been proud to say that I am Yorkshire through and through…but then some time ago, I found that I needed to acknowledge one anomaly in this otherwise immaculate Yorkshire ancestry. One of the greatest puzzles of my family tree has been my third great-grandmother Martha Arnold, who married into the well-documented Sheard family of Mirfield.

Migration from Woolwich to Mirfield

My third great-grandfather Thomas Sheard and Martha Arnold were both born in 1802. Thomas was born in Mirfield and became a woodman by occupation. He and Martha married in 1825 and had at least seven children together. I am descended from their youngest child, Edwin, who was also a woodman. Census records show quite clearly that Martha was not born in Mirfield but in Woolwich. I found that she was baptised in the parish of Westminster, London. That I found very odd. Martha had four siblings born in London up to 1808. Sometime between 1808 and 1825, Martha was uprooted from London and firmly planted in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. I initially had no clue as to why this should be. There really had to be a very good reason for a family to move such a great distance in those times, when the most distance that the average working class person moved was into a nearby parish. The driving influence in the movement of most working class families in the early 19th century was for work, so movement from country to town may involve moving from working on the land to working in the mill. But why would someone move from the hub of activity, a busy naval and military town in London, to come to a small borough where woollen cloth manufacture was the tradition and times were hard?

In the middle of documenting all the birth, marriage and death records that we can find, it is easy to forget what was going on socially, militarily and economically at the beginning of the 19th Century – when England was in the thick of the industrial revolution and also fighting the Napoleonic wars. I have already come across family drama in the early years of that century, detailed in my article “A case of industrial espionage” when my 5th Great Grandfather on my father’s side was arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting his brother-in-law in creating drawings and models of textile machinery, with a view to taking them to France. Is it possible that I can find another family connection to that turbulent history?

I wondered if “Woolwich” was itself the clue. An acquaintance of mine, who was herself born in Woolwich, suggested that Martha’s father may have been a soldier…Woolwich was historically a great naval town and, in 1695, the Royal Laboratory was established, manufacturing explosives, fuses and shot. Later on garrisons of soldiers were there and 1716 to 1720 saw the formation of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the construction of its first barracks. The Royal Military Academy was founded at Woolwich in 1741. From 1795, both the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Corps of Royal Military Artificers were head-quartered at the Woolwich Arsenal. It didn’t take too long digging before I discovered that the Luddite rebellion occurred very shortly after this and that thousands of soldiers were sent up North to quell the rebellion. Could Martha’s father have been sent north with his regiment in order to put down the Luddite uprising? I suspect that I may never know, but it’s a decent theory in the absence of any other and it gave me the push that I needed to have a look at that period in Mirfield’s history. helped me to find Martha’s father, but unfortunately not his occupation. Was he a soldier, a merchant, a labourer?

Woollen Manufacture in West Yorkshire

Mirfield is at the centre of the Yorkshire Woollen District. Sheep farms covered the nearby hills and valleys. For centuries, many local families, including my ancestors, would have specialised in the different processes involved in the manufacture of woollen cloth via a system known as “Putting out”. A clothier delivered raw wool from farms to the cottages in the villages and hamlets. The wool was transported by pack horses along ancient routes. Each cottager and his family would spin the yarn into woollen thread or weave the thread into fabric on hand looms.

The fabric was then collected and delivered to other craftsmen to be fulled (scoured and milled) and then sent to a dressing shop to be finished before going to market. The dressing process was the only one not carried out in the cottages. It was carried out by craftsmen called “croppers”, who were highly skilled in raising the nap and finishing the fabric and the quality of finish that they achieved could increase the value of the cloth by up to a third. Skilled croppers were paid three times as much as labourers and so they had a relatively good lifestyle.

In the second half of the 18th century, the processes involved in converting the raw wool to finished cloth started to be undertaken under one roof…this was much more cost effective for the clothiers and helped to increase production. Cottage-based spinners and weavers were forced to stop working from home and walk to work in the new mechanised mills powered by coal. However, at first, the croppers were still earning good money, as the mill owners were still sending cloth to their dressing shops to be finished.

As the century changed from 18th to 19th, change also caught up with the croppers, as machines were now being devised to mechanise their jobs too. By the turn of the century, the first cropping frames, operated my mill wheels, were being installed and each machine could do the work of ten skilled croppers. Many croppers found themselves out of work or looking for much less well paid work.

At the same time, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and an American Trade Embargo, leading to higher taxation and aggravated by poor harvests, the price of corn was at an all-time high. In order to maintain profitability, the mill-owners cut the wages of the workers and introduced cropping frames into the workrooms. The rich got richer and the poor became destitute. Poverty among the mill workers in the lace industry in Nottingham led to violence erupting there, with gangs of workers breaking the machines, and it wasn’t long before the workers of Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire began to also engage in attacking the mills at night and breaking the new machines that they blamed for their poverty and starvation…but the greatest unrest was in Yorkshire.

Luddite Rebellion

Luddites were named after Ned Ludd, a Leicestershire born man who broke two stocking frames in 1779. They were mainly self-employed textile workers who feared the end of their trade brought about by employers installing labour saving technologies in mechanised mills around 1810-1816. In Kirklees, they were made up of croppers and other textile workers and their machine-breaking activity spread to Huddersfield and surrounding areas, including Halifax, in 1812. Although most of the Luddites came from the Huddersfield and Halifax areas, there is evidence that sympathisers from Mirfield had joined in. In retaliation for their actions, the government sent around 12,000 troops north from barracks such as those at Woolwich and I have read that more troops were engaged in opposing the Luddites than were fighting abroad at that time. At least 1000 troops were stationed in the Huddersfield area alone and many were helping mill-owners to protect their property from attack.

In April 1812, a large body of men, including the Huddersfield and Leeds Luddites, some armed with pistols, others with old swords and home-made weapons and sledgehammers, set out to attack William Cartwright’s Mill in Cleckheaton. Some had met at Dumb Steeple earlier in the day. Dumb Steeple was a monument at Cooper Bridge, Mirfield , which was a rallying point during troubles. The Huddersfield Luddites then joined up with the other groups until there were about 300 in the mob. Cartwright’s reinforcements of soldiers and local militia plus his foresight in strengthening the defenses of the mill, enabled him to hold off the Luddites. The soldiers fired into the crowd. Two Luddites were killed and many seriously injured. One soldier, who refused to fire on the crowds, was publicly flogged. Shortly afterwards, another mill owner, William Horsfall, was ambushed at Crosland, near Huddersfield, and murdered by Luddites. Martial Law was enforced for a time and the government of the day took decisive action, bringing in legislation to make machine-breaking punishable by death and making a concerted effort to round up the Luddites and their leaders.

Capture and Punishment

Eventually, by using a network of informers and spies, by torturing suspects and with the help of the soldiers, the authorities arrested more than a hundred men. When 64 Luddites stood in the dock at York in January 1813, 24 of them were young men from the Huddersfield area, all of them croppers, with an average age of 27. Some bore surnames that are familiar to me as they exist in my own family tree. Seventeen of these men were hanged and their bodies were dissected for medical science, in order that funerals could not be held, as they might give the excuse for more violence. Some of the men who avoided the capital punishment were transported to Australia and their families left destitute.

The remaining workforce, who eventually surrendered, were pardoned and some degree of stability returned. The uprising was largely over. In March 1813, most of the militia were withdrawn.

Within 20 years, the croppers’ trade had vanished, as more and improved machines were installed in the mills.

Martha Arnold

That brings me back to Martha Arnold’s father, who was probably named Jonathan. Was Jonathan a soldier from down south who was sent to the West Riding to quell the Luddite revolt? If so, how did it affect him? How did Martha end up in Mirfield?  Did Jonathan send for his family to settle with him up north after the troubles? How did Martha come to meet her husband to be, Thomas Sheard? I suppose I will never know the answer to any of those questions, but the speculation enabled me to engage with that period in my ancestors’ history, so I guess I come out of the experience with a little more knowledge about the Luddites and a lot more feeling for what it was like for my not too distant family, in the early part of the 19th Century, living in the Yorkshire Woollen District…what a struggle they must have had to keep their large families from starving and how lucky I am to have never experienced real hunger, destitution and violence like they did.

© Christine Widdall Feb 2016



Sep 052015
The Earlsheaton Hemingway family and its origins in Southowram, Halifax

My maternal grandmother, Lilian Maud, was born Hemingway. Our Hemingway ancestors, many of them textile workers and manufacturers, can be traced back from Soothill Parish (Earlsheaton and Chickenley), in Dewsbury, to the family’s earliest known residence at Walterclough in Southowram, Halifax in the 14th and 15th Century.


My Grandmother Lilian Maud Hemingway and her youngest brother Albert Percy Hemingway abt 1900

Lilian’s father, Herbert Hemingway, was born in 1846 in Barnsley. At this time, his father Robert Merton Hemingway, a textile engine maker and mechanical draughtsman, who had been born in Chickenley, moved temporarily to Barnsley, with his family, in order to further his profession.  Throughout most of their life, Robert and his wife Jane had lived in the parish of Soothill, in the village of Earlsheaton (adjacent to Chickenley), but three of their children were born in Barnsley. Jane and Robert returned from Barnsley to live at Chickenley Heath, then a hamlet, when Herbert, their seventh child, was a small boy and their daughter Rachel was baptised in Dewsbury in 1851. Later they moved to Hanging Heaton, near Gawthorpe in Soothill Nether parish.

Robert’s father Thomas Hemingway, my third great grandfather, and his wife Rachel Hutchinson, brought up their twelve children at Little Royd, Earlsheaton. Later they moved to Batley and Thomas was described, at his death in 1867, as a manufacturer and gentleman. Thomas was described as a clothier on his marriage certificate…and later as a manufacturer.  Thomas’s father, Benjamin, was a blanket manufacturer in Chickenley, a village adjoining Earlsheaton, so it is very likely that Thomas also made blankets. Blanket manufacture was the main produce in Dewsbury for generations and it was to become one of the main places that army blankets and military uniforms were manufactured during the First World War.

Map showing the Dewsbury parishes of Soothill and Soothill Nether, including the villages and hamlets of Earlsheaton, Chickenley, Chickenley Heath and Gawthorpe


Some Hamlets and Townships of Dewsbury  mentioned in this article:

“CHICKENLEY, a hamlet in the township of Soothill, and parish of Dewsbury, liberty of Wakefield, 1¼ mile SE. of Dewsbury.” Chickenley was a farming hamlet…between Dewsbury and Ossett.
“EARLSHEATON, in the township of Soothill, and parish of Dewsbury, Agbrigg-division of Agbrigg and Morley, liberty of Wakefield, 1 mile E. of Dewsbury, 4 from Wakefield.”
“GAWTHORPE, in the township of Ossett, and parish of Dewsbury, Agbrigg-division of Agbrigg and Morley, liberty of Wakefield, 2 miles E. of Dewsbury, 3½ from Wakefield, 8 from Leeds.” An old story is that when a maypole was built in the Gawthorpe area of Ossett in 1840, men from Chickenley came to tear it down. Famous for its maypole and World Coal carrying Championships
“HANGING HEATON, in the township of Soothill, and parish of Dewsbury, Agbrigg-division of Agbrigg and Morley, liberty of Wakefield, 1 mile N. of Dewsbury, 5 from Wakefield.” mentioned in the Domesday Book as the village of Etun…”Hanging” refers to the steep hillside hanging above lower ground. Heaton means “high farm”.
“DEWSBURY MOOR SIDE, a hamlet in the township and parish of Dewsbury, liberty of Wakefield, (the seat of Abraham Greenwood, Esq.) 1 mile W. of Dewsbury, 6 from Wakefield.”


Hemingway in Soothill (Earlsheaton and Chickenley)

Our Hemingway line can be traced back from Thomas (1786-1867, clothier of Little Royd) as follows:

  • Benjamin of Chickenley (1759-1839, clothier and blanket manufacturer). Wife Hannah Whitworth 1761-1841. In 1822 Baines Directory and Gazetteer/Directory for Chickenley, under Blanket Makers is Hemingway Benj.
  • Benjamin’s father is Henry (1720-1786), wife Dolly Preston (1725-1802).
  • Henry’s father is Thomas of Soothill (1679-1741), wife Grace Fearnley (1680-1748).
  • Thomas’s father is Richard of Littleroyd (1655-1720 Yeoman farmer and land owner), wife Susanna Padgett (1654-1726/7). Richard’s will was proved in 1721. He farmed closes of land owned by James Oates and held in his own name messuages, barns, stables, orchards and closes and parcels of land at the Sands, Earlsheaton and at Littleroyd Earlsheaton.
  • Richard’s father is Thomas of Earlsheaton (1604-1668), wife Alice Acrode (1622-). Will proved 1669 Thomas Hemingway [Extract] Pontefract DAB f21. This Will did not survive storage at the Borthwick Institute, but the Institute provided an abstract from the Probate Act Books.”On 29 April 1669 administration of the goods of Thomas Hemingway late of Earlsheaton, York diocese, deceased, was granted to Alice Speight alias Hemingway, widow and relict of the said deceased, sworn before Dr Broome, surrogate.”
  • Thomas’s father is Richard of Earlsheaton (1577-1643), wife Ffrauncis Archer (1582-1643). Moved to Earlsheaton from Southowram. Was Churchwarden of Dewsbury Parish Church, in 1632 (perhaps encouraged by his father-in-law, Thomas Archer, who also served as Churchwarden).

I have much of their birth marriage and death data and that of their children, which can be followed using the Name Index. Richard, born 1577, my ninth great grandfather and known as Richard Hemingway “of Earlsheaton”, is the direct connector with the family of Hemingways of Southowram.

1905 Map Showing Littleroyd on Low Road and St Peter’s Church, where some of the Hemingways attended and where I was married!
 Richard Hemingway of Earlsheaton and Southowram, born 1577 – Migration of the Hemingways from Southowram

The first indication of the origin of Richard Hemingway of Earlsheaton was found by researcher Cecily Sterry (who sadly died in 2012). Her research shows that Richard was the son of John Hemingway and Agnes Maud, of the Walterclough, Southowram. An Abraham Hemingway had settled in the next parish to Soothill, at Gawthorpe, and Cecily Sterry found that he was Richard’s older brother. Their parents John Hemingway and Agnes Maud lived at the Walterclough, Southowram and all their children were born there.

Richard and Abraham had inherited some property following thier father John’s death in 1587, when Richard, the youngest of nine children, was only ten years old. The will of John Hemyngway, of the Walterclough, was proved on the 15th December 1587, and he described himself as “yeoman”. His will gives directions for the payment of his debts and funeral expenses before going on to state:

“John Hemyngway of the Walterclough desires that his goods should be divided into three parts, of which his wife Anne is to have one part, one other third part he bequeathes to John, Arthure, and Anne, his children, to be divided equally amongst them. Grace, his daughter, is to have 6s. 8d. provided her husband — John Wilkinson– should release to the executors “all manner of demands to my goods”.

Also, the will proceeds, ” I will and devise to the said John Hemingway, Arthur, Michael, Abraham, Richard, Marie, and Anne, my children, all that messuage and tenement, houses, lands, etc. in Southowram, which I, the said testor, occupied in the life of Thomas Hemingway, my late father, deceased, and also, one close of land and pasture called ‘Jony Ridinge’ in Southowram, etc ., for the term of 21 years, at the yearly rent of 8s.

To Marie and Anne, my daughters, either of them a chist.”

All the children, together with the wife, were to be executors of the will, ” trusting them lovingly and freely to agree together”.

Richard (b 1577) moved to Earlsheaton from Southowram, possibly at the beginning of the 1600s, when in his twenties. He married Ffrauncis Archer in Dewsbury in 1604. (Ffrancis’s father, Thomas Archer, was my paternal 10th great-grandfather, one of many co-incidences in my family tree.)  Abraham, Richard’s closest brother in age, had settled in Gawthorpe, and he may have been one of the first Hemingways to settle in the Dewsbury area. Richard possibly moved to be near his brother, who was only two years older…imagine two young men looking for an opportunity in an area where textile manufacture was on the increase. The route that Richard and Abraham would have taken was via the ancient Halifax to Wakefield Pack-horse Route, which passed through Dewsbury, Earsheaton, Chickenley Heath and Gawthorpe; the distance would have been about 12 miles in a straight line between Halifax and Gawthorpe, a distance easily covered on horseback in a few hours in good weather. This route was later improved by the building of a Turnpike Rd and parts of the old route, called the “Magna Via” (great way) or “Wakefield gate” are still visible  at Beacon Hill Bank, outside Halifax and at places where the new Turnpike Rd took a detour and left the old stone paved route in place. One of the earliest references to the Via Magna was in 1497, when a piece of land in Southowram was defined by “the highway leading from Barrowclough in the north”. The route was even more ancient than this, being an extension of the Roman Road from Manchester to York…remains of the Roman road are visible on the Pennines, close to where I live, near the Castleshaw Roman Fort remains.

I have wondered why people would migrate from Halifax to Earlsheaton and Gawthorpe during the late 16th and early 17th century, when most folks in the West Riding stayed in the parish of their birth. Perhaps it was to set up a new business, to take possession of some land or to work with a family member who had already moved there, or even to marry! The Local population studies web page shows another factor which might have influenced a move. Between 1596 and 1600 there was a huge fall in the price of wheat and wool and that may have influenced young men to move to a new town to look for new opportunities. Martin Dearnley, another Hemingway researcher, has suggested an alternative…

“Richard had an eponymous younger cousin once removed, Richard of Dewsbury Moorside, who married Ann Acrode (20 June 1603). As young men, the two Richards moved from Southowram, near Halifax, to the Dewsbury area, possibly because the plague was rampant around Halifax at the time.”

We don’t know exactly why Richard moved, but we do know that he stayed in Earlsheaton and made his living there. Perhaps the fall in wool and corn prices meant that the income from his inheritance had fallen drastically. Perhaps, indeed, he was escaping the plague. He and Ffrauncis Archer had six children together, three boys and three girls, at least four of whom lived to adulthood. Richard died in Earlsheaton, aged about 66, in 1643, just a few months after his wife and cousin Richard of Dewsbury Moorside had also died. Co-incidentally, there was an outbreak of the plague in Dewsbury in 1643, so maybe it caught up with him in the end after all.

Whilst Richard’s exact descent from the 14th and 15th Century Hemingways of Walterclough is less easy to trace, due to the absence of formally recorded birth marriage and death data before 1537, the strong linking factor is the close of land and pasture called John Ridings Close, which was passed from fathers to sons and can be traced back to the will of another John Hemingway, estimated to have been born in the 1400s, probably my 13th great grandfather, who wrote his will in January 1526:

“John Hemyngwaye, of the parishe of Halifax. To be beried with in the churche yerde of Sancte John Baptiste of Halifax. Itm. my best beast for my mortuary as costome is. Also I will that Elene, my wif, haue all my landes duryng hir lyve. And after the decesse of my said wif I yeve unto Ric. Hemyngwaye, my sone, a closse called Jonee Ridynges during his lyve. Itm. to John Hemyngwaye iiij. stones of woll. Residue of all my goodes, not bequeathed then gyven, my dettes and funeral expenses paid and done, I gyve to the said Elene, my wif, Ric. Hemyngwaye, and James Hemyngwaye, my sones, whiche I make my executors. Thies wittenes, Richard Heley, John Stokes, Ric Hemmyngwaye.

Will proved on 8 February 1526, by Elen, relict, Ric., and James, sons. Source: Halifax Parish Wills (Reg.Test. ix 363)”

Richard of Earlsheaton’s Ancestry

With the help of Cecily Sperry’s’s original work, I have traced our own Hemingway line from Richard back to the 15th century:

  1. Rychard HEMYNGEWAYE (of Earlsheaton)  was born at the Walterclough in 1577, Yorkshire, England, and died 1643 in Dewsbury Parish, WRY, Yorkshire, England. He married Ffrauncis ARCHER 17 JUL 1604 in Dewsbury, WRY, Yorkshire, England. She was born WFT Est. 1563-1587, and died 1643 in Dewsbury Parish, WRY, Yorkshire, England
  2. John HEMYNGEWAYE  was born Est. 1535 in “of Walterclough”, and died NOV 1587 in Southowram, WRY, Yorkshire, England. He married Agnes\Anne MAWD 26 OCT 1557.
  3. Thomas HEMYNGEWAYE  was born Est. 1500-1505. His wife was Anne Longbottom.
  4. Richard HEMYNGEWAYE was born Est. 1465-1480.
  5. John HEMYNGWAYE of the Walterclough was born Est. 1440 in Halifax Parish, Yorkshire, England, and died 1526. He married ELEN who outlived him.
Southowram Poll tax rolls of 1379

Traces of the Hemingway family can be found in Southowram as early as the 14th Century and before that there were Hemyngways in nearby Hiprum (Hipperholme).

Hipperholme and Southowram appear to be the only places where the surname “Hemyngway” existed in early times.

The earliest record found so far of a Hemyngway in Southowram is in the Southowram Poll tax rolls of 1379, two men with their wives. There is no indication of kinship between these men, though, in such a small community, they must surely be related.

Willelmus de Hemyngway & uxor iiij.d.

Johannes de Hemyngway & uxor iiij.d.

(The iiij.d. refers to 4 pence tax levied from each man. There was one other Johannes de Hemyngway who was at Cleckheaton in 1379 but none at Hipperholme or anywhere else in Yorkshire as far as I have found so far.)

Note: There are many Johns in our branch of the family but hardly a William to be seen, so if I were to hazard a guess at which Hemyngway I am descended from, it would be Johannes de Hemyngway of Southowram. That’s just speculation and there is no direct evidence of course!

Other early Hemingway listings (with additional material found by Cecily Sterry and George Redmonds)

*1309 Thomas and Richard de Hemmyngway fined at Hiprum (Hipperholme) for allowing their beasts to stray.  Note: The inference from the “de” is that they owed their surname to a minor locality in the neighborhood of Hipperholme.

* 1358 William de Hemingway 4 acres in Hiprum (Hipperholme) to Robert Pinder. Wm Hemingway Senior 1 acre called Wilham Ryding to Wm de Hemingway Jnr.

* 1403 John de Hemingway Clifton,

*1419  Wm. Peresson, constable of Clifton, presented John Hemingway of Thornyals for not attending the turn, 4d.

* 1457 John Clytf and John Clay, both of Hyprom, brewed helpales. Ric, Smyth, Thos. Roide, and Henry Hemingway, all of Hiprom took turves from Shelf waste.

* 1456-1474 John Hemmyngway (Southowram) Yorkshire Deeds, 10 volumes.  A John Hem(m)yngway of Southowram witnessed several deeds and another John Hemingway was said to be of Thornhills in Hartshead parish.

* 1507 John Rideynge being dead, Ric. his son paid 9s. lieriot for a messuage and a bovate. Tunis, Oct. 20 and May 9. Juries, Ric, Dalton, Wm. Rookes, Ric. Lokwood, John Rookes, Ric. Longbothom, Gilbt. Saltonstall, John Batt, Thos. Priestley, John Rammesden, Ric. Northclyff, Ric. Aynelay, John Hanson de Woodhous, John Thorp, Ric. Jagger, Ric. Sunderland, Rob. Hemingway, Henry Sharp. Elizth. Bynnes, widow, conveyed 1 acre formerly waste to John Asshworth, Esq., and John Wilby. Ric. (?). John Rideing paid 9s. lieriot. Wm. Skoldcote conveyed edifice and lands in Hyperholm to himself and wife Johanna.

*1510 1518. -Robt. Haldworth clerk, (Vicar of Halifax afterwards, where he was murdered), took acres of waste in Hyprum, 4 being between Hyprum and Shelf highway and Brynescolebroke, 2 acres between said brook W., highway to Hypromwodd E., John Hemingway’s sprynge (plantation).

* 1545 Subsidy Rolls. The ten local Hemingways taxed in 1545 lived in Southowram (5), Northowram (3), Gomersal (1), and Sowerby (1), and the most prosperous of these were John Hemmyngwey of Southowram, with goods valued at £20, and John Hemyngwey of Northowram. However, at least one family had moved to Spofforth near Wetherby, a distance of some 24 miles, by this date.

* 1582. Rob. Boythes of Boythes towne and Elizth. his wife, surrendered (by John Boyth of Hipperholme,) a messuage, in Boythes to Nicholas. Kay. Robt. Hemingway of Walterclough took Overnewark in Northowram.

*1630. There were now 100 Hemyngways in Yorkshire and the distribution of the surname is predominantly in Southowram.  George Redmond (author) found that, although Southowram continued to be the family’s main stronghold, some families, notably clothiers, settled in the west in the Heptonstall area and one or two moved either north into Bradford or south into Huddersfield, but the migration downstream to Birstall, Mirfield, and Dewsbury was more significant and there were soon other major concentrations of the surname close to Selby (30 miles) and Wetherby (24 miles) and one or two Hemingways even settled in the commercial centers of York (36 miles) and Hull (60 miles). By this time a much wider variety of Christian names was in use, embracing Abraham and Edward (Southouwram), Henry, William and Thomas (Selby), James, Richard, and Robert (Halifax).

Walterclough Hall and The Brontë Connection
walterclough CW small

“Walterclough Hall, sometimes known as Water Clough Hall or Upper Walterclough, lies in the Walterclough Valley southeast of Halifax and northeast of the village of Southowram in the West Riding of Yorkshire, alongside the Red Beck. The Hall was originally built by the Hemingway family, first recorded there in 1379 and in residence until 1654. ” (Wikipedia). It was demolished in about 1979.

Note: Most of the information that I have gathered about Walterclough Hall is from other researchers. With thanks to Maurice Hemingway, Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion, Wikipedia, University of Pennsylvania  et al.  

The branches of the Hemingway family owned and lived at several adjoining homesteads in and adjacent to the Walterclough in Southowram. The original holding was divided into three, Upper, Lower and Little Walterclough and the earliest traceable owners are the Hemingways. As recorded in the”great” dispute of 1375 between the Cromwellbottom and Lacy families, John Hemyngway, son of William held 27 acres, John Hemyngway, son of Henry held 24 acres and William Hemyngway, son of William held 27 acres belonging to the Manor of Cromwellbottom. These were probably the three Walterclough homesteads. In the will of a Richard Hemingway, clothier, of the ‘New House’, (later called ‘Sunnybank’) situated on the other side of the clough, dated 1588, there is mentioned a Richard Hemingway of ‘Low Marche’ in Southowram. At York there is a will of Thomas Hemingway of Southowram, cornman, in 1571. Other Hemingways lived at Northodes, (later named Northroyd, and later still, Clayroyd,) a homestead adjacent to Walterclough.

Walterclough Hall itself was built in about 1379 and occupied by the branch of the Hemingway family from which I am directly descended. The building was extended over the centuries and additional upper stories and wings added. The Hemingways occupied the Hall for almost three hundred years, until 1654, when it was sold to a William Walker (1596–1676).

The Brontë connection with Walterclough Hall is well documented. William Walker’s second son, Abraham, who succeeded him at Walterclough hall, was drowned in a canal and the Hall passed to his son Richard, then to Richard’s son John (1699-1771). John farmed the land and became a prosperous woolen manufacturer, amassing some wealth during his working life. He and his wife Ruth had four sons of their own and adopted a nephew called Jack Sharp. After John retired and left the area, Jack Sharp was left in possession of the family business and of Walterclough Hall, though he was not legally the owner. When John Walker died, his heir, also John, who was at the time residing in York, wished to take up residence at Walterclough and gave his cousin Jack Sharp notice to quit the Hall. In anger and retaliation, Jack destroyed many of the Hall’s fixtures, furniture and heirlooms, mortgaged the estate and left the Hall with only two rooms furnished. Then he built his own property at Law Hill, very close to Walterclough, using the proceeds of his treachery. As if to taunt the Walkers further, Sharp then proceeded to engage one of John Walkers nephews to work in his own business and encouraged the boy’s downfall by involving him in excessive drinking and gambling.

Some years later, a Miss Patchett opened a Ladies’ Academy at Law Hill House and Emily Brontë taught there. Emily was unhappy at Law Hill and felt that she was being overworked, as she was used more as a governess than a teacher and consequently she only stayed six months. During that time, Emily would have heard of the infamy of the previous owner of Law Hill House and the story of the Walkers of Walterclough Hall. It is believed that the story of Jack Sharp and the Walkers gave her the inspiration for Heathcliffe and the Earnshaw family  in her novel “Wuthering Heights”. Walterclough hall itself does not closely resemble the description of the hall at Wuthering Heights but there are other old halls in the area which may have provided the inspiration for her setting.

Law Hill School
Law Hill School, Southowram

Law Hill School, photograph by Martin Evans. This file is made freely available under the Creative Commons License at Wikimedia.

The Demise of Walterclough Hall

By 1870, Walterclough Hall had become a young ladies boarding academy. Elizabeth Ann Gregory ran the academy with her sister, Emma and their brother, Charles.  In 1871, there were two governesses, a cook, and a housemaid, and, in 1881, a governess, a cook, a kitchen maid, and a housemaid. She may also have employed four children, paying them with an education, free board, and lodging. Today, the site of the former Hall is part of Walterclough Hall Farm of Walterclough Lane, Halifax, but the hall itself has largely disappeared. The demise of the hall is made clear in this quotation from a Calderdale historian,

” By 1913, when Arthur Comfort sketched the Hall, it was almost entirely unoccupied and in an advanced state of dilapidation with many broken windows and the interior in disarray. During World War II, the Hall’s windows were shattered by a bomb dropped nearby by a German bomber. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the only part of the Hall which remained standing was the facade onto the yard and the rooms immediately behind it, together with the attached single storey kitchen. These remnants were demolished in the late 1970s.”

The ruined Walterclough pictured on another web site.