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Monday, 19 February 2018

52 Ancestors: Week 8 - Heirlooms from My Mother.

Do  you,  like me,    gasp in amazement  at the heirlooms that have survived down generations of ordinary families, as shown on  TV's "Antique Roadshow" and "WDYTYA", or on blog postings.  I marvel in particular at diaries, christening robes,  and artist portraits.   

My heirlooms are less dramatic, but I am lucky to have  two family bibles from great grandfathers,  a presentation conductor’s baton and silver trowel (great grandfather),  World War One postcards (grandfather), letters (parents)  and a written personal memoir from my father, plus  a copper kettle (great grandmother), teacups (grandmother and mother) and craft items (mother and aunts).

For Week 8 of Amy Johnson Crow's year long prompt "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks." I am focusing on what could be called "Tomorrow's Heirlooms"   - a wonderful  legacy from my mother, Kathleen Weston , nee Danson (1908-1989)  whose motto could easily be summed up as "Happiness is Stitching".

 An Alice in Wonderland collage, stitched by my mother  for my daughter, 1973.

Mum  - Kathleen Danson was born in the small town of Poulton-le-Fylde, near Blackpool, daughter of William Danson and Alice English. At the age of 14, she was apprenticed to be a tailoress and was still making her own clothes in her 80's. For her going  into a fabric shop was like going into a jeweller's.   If she sat down, she was rarely without a needle in her hand.  She was a creator in patchwork, crochet, collage, knitting, embroidery, smocking,  dolls and dresses, with dabbles into  rug making, millinery, lampshade making and china painting.

She set up her own dress-making business from home.  She continued with this this after her marriage and throughout my childhood working initially  in the spare bedroom which was icy cold in winter and hot and stuffy in summer.  I used to love getting the  old Simplicity pattern books and cutting out figures for make believe schools etc.
An old business card that I only came across after my mother's death.

Mum  was a typical homemaker of the 1950's and 60's -- and beyond.  She was always making something - cushions changed their covers regularly, new patchwork quilts appeared on the beds and new curtains at the windows, worn sheets were turned, old bath towels were cut, and trimmed into hand towels, tray cloths and table cloths were embroidered 

My mother, Kathleen and Aunt Edith were both assiduous needlewomen.  I must admit I would be too afraid to use embroidered tablecloths and tray cloths,  fearing spills - and that would present another challenge for  my laundering skills!  

As a child, I was a "dolly girl" and my dolls were the best dressed in the street.  But I have one huge regret.  Mum went into hospital for a major operation  at the time of the Queen's  Coronation in 1853.   She made me a very special doll, dressed as the Queen with a long fur trimmed purple velvet train and embroidered beaded dress. I so wish now I had kept it as a family heirloom, but of course by the time I became a teenager, dolls went overboard and there is not even a photograph/ 

Around the age of 8, my own daughter had a collection of Cindy dolls - the British version of Barbie, I think - with a lovely wardrobe of clothes again made by  my mother.  Mum was in her mid 70's  and with fading eyesight, yet the small scale stitching on the clothes is so impressive. 

Other creations  she made for various handicraft competitions included rag dolls and  an  upside down Cinderella doll  - one way the patched dress, the other the ball dress. 




 Animals were a favourite choice. 



 This little robin came out at Christmas as part of the decorations.

Mum was very fond of costume dramas on TV and here is a collage she made.

Mum died at the age of 91  and was still making hr own clothes in her 80's as well as a patchwork quilt for the bed.   These heirlooms here, may not be all that old,  but they are precious to me and a potent visible reminders of my talented mother.


 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

In Case You Missed:
Week 6 -  My Favourite Name - Jennet 
 Week 7 - A Valentine from Flanders Field

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Sad Tale of a Valentine Day's Baby

 On 14th February 1888 Arthur Valentine Mason 
was born in Brooklyn, New York.   

He was the seventh child of John Mason and Alice Rawcliffe, sister of my great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe. The New York Passenger Lists online showed that John Mason sailed from Liverpool to the USA in 1886, to be joined a year later by his wife.

What had prompted the decision to leave their home and large extended family in the fishing town of Fleetwood, Lancashire to live in the teeming tenements of Brooklyn? 

 Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe

33 year old Alice travelled with  six children between the ages of 1 year and 11 years - Robert William, Jane Elizabeth, John Thomas, James Richard, Margaret Alice and George Rawcliffe - all family Christian names. She managed  with just two pieces of baggage!. What on earth was life like for them all on the voyage? 

Arthur Valentine was their first born on American soil but his life proved short, and he died 3rd April 1891, just after his third birthday.

But Arthur's name lived on in the family, with son Harold Arthur Victor born a month later on 8th May 1891.  More American born children followed - Lilian Eveline in 1894, Bessie Irene in 1896, and Florence Adelaide in 1898. 

John Mason with his youngest daughter Florence Adelaide, c.1906

Sadly Lilian and Bessie, too, did not survive infancy. Was the loss of three children in New York something to do with the crowded living conditions they encountered there?

The 1900 census for the City of New York, Brooklyn showed the large Mason household of ten living at 72 Hall Street,  in what was probably an apartment building with four other families at the same address. John was described as an insurance agent.

By the time of the 1920 Census, the family had moved across river to New Jersey, and their descendants remain there today. 

Standing:    Robert & Harry
 Middle: Thomas (John Thomas), Jenny (Jane Elizabeth), Mother Alice, Father John,  & James
Bottom :  Alice (Margaret Alice), Florence & George 

There is no date on tins photograph , but I would guess around 1920,  judging by the age of Florence.  

It is all thanks to the power of the Internet and then my blogging activity that I discovered the story of my American connections, with thanks to Bonny, my third cousin, granddaughter of Florence above.


Tuesday, 13 February 2018

52 Ancestors: Week 7 - A Valentine from the War Front

Valentines are the theme of Week 7 of Amy Johnson Crow's year long prompt "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks."

As we mark Valentine's Day, I like to look back on the cards my grandfather William Danson sent back home from the Battlefields of World War One to his wife Alice, at home with four young children in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  The first card   below was posted  in February 1918,    and I like to think was sent to Alice for Valentine’s Day.

 I never knew my grandmother who died when I was a baby.  Grandad was a taciturn countryman, who was working as a cattle man at the local auction mart when he was called up.  He was not given to flowery language, so the emotions expressed through these cards seemed out of character, but revealed his closeness to Alice.  In contrast the pencilled messages on the back were very prosaic. 

Field Post Office - Feb. 7th 1918
Dear Alice, received your letter allright.  I have landed back at the Batt. and am in the pink.  I have had a letter from Jerny [sister] and am glad they have  heard from Tom [brother].  Your loving husband, Billy   XXX


Field Post Office 29 April 1918
Dear Alice, just a line to let you know I am in the pink and hope all at home is the same. There is nothing that I want.  Will write again shortly.  Your loving Billy, xxxx

I don't know when the card below was sent, but again the love my grandparents shared shines through. 

Inside verse 

"Oh, Can you read the secret of my heart?

You surely must, dear Wife.

??? of myself, you are the better part, 

Companion for my life 

The secret is, wherever you may be, 

No power n earth can change my love for thee,

Your loving Billy XXXX

William and Alice, c.1916 


                           William and Alice, 1938 at my own parents' wedding 

Unfortunately Alice remains the major brick wall in my family history, as I have not even been able to trace her birth certificate to find out the name of her mother - but that is another complex story!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Thursday, 8 February 2018

52 Ancestors - Wk.6: Jennet - My Favourite Name

Week 6 in Amy Johnson Crow’s prompt “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” asks us for our Favourite Name.

I will admit to a touch of genea-envy for people whose ancestors have colourful,   distinctive Christian names.  In my family, names down the generations  are very  ordinary,  everyday English names  such as Anne, Jane, Margaret, Martha,  Ellen,  Mary, Barbara, and Sarah.

Standing out as a bit different is Maria - the name of my great grandmother who I profiled in Week 3. As a child, I thought it rather an exotic name with Spanish overtones. But then I read that in the 1850’s it was no. 15 on a list of popular Christian names - so, not unusual at all.

So my choice for this prompt is the name of JENNET. 

You never hear of it these days, but I think it is charming.  Google gives a range of origins for the name - Old English, Scottish, French and Hebrew, with  the meaning "God is Gracious". Lots of variations  are more familiar to us  - Janet, Jenny/Jennie, Jean/Jeannie, Jeanette, and Jane/Janie.


Jennet  features a number of times in my family history.

I first came across the Christian name  in the will of my g.g.g.g. grandfather John Danson (1736-1821),  which I obtained from Lancashire Record Office.

 "I also give and bequeath to my daughter Jennet, wife of John Bryning, my Corner Cupboard now standing in the parlour in my house and the Meal Chest in the room over the same".
I love the little detail in this statement, as it creates  such a picture of what was important in  John's household.

The will goes on to state:
"I also bequeath the sum of Eight Hundred Pounts equally and amongst all and every my Grandchildren, Richard, Thomas, Jennet, Margaret, Betty and John, sons and daughters of my daughter Jennet."
Jennet Danson's  baptism was traced to 28th January 1765 at St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lanacashire -  listed on www.lan-opc.org.uk.   

In 1786, aged 21,  Jennet married John Bryning, son of a  family prominent in the local community.  John's parents were  another John Bryning and another Jennet - Jennet Dewhurst.  

The interior of St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde,  with the Bryning family pew at the front of the gallery on the left - the Danson family down the generations were baptised, married and buried here.   It was the scene of  my parent's marriage and my own christening.   Both Danson and Bryning men served as church wardens.

The Bryning family boxed pew,   dated 1778, with the name John Bryning - Jennet Danson's father in law. can still be seen in the gallery/

Jennet Bryning, nee Danson was buried at St. Chad's 11th August 1847 at the age of 81.  

Her Christian name lived on in her daughter Jennet and her granddaughter Jennet Chadwick; also in the daughter of her son Richard.  In some census returns, though  their Christian name is listed as "Jenny". 


Jennet Rawcliffe  was one  of five surviving  daughters of Robert Rawcliffe and Jane Carr of Hambleton, near Fleetwood, Lancashire  with my great grandmother Maria the youngest.   Jennet is also the one I know least about.  In 1871,  she was a witness at her sister Jane's wedding to Thomas Riley, and two years later married Thomas's brother Richard. 

A daughter Jane and son Thomas were born, but the marriage was short lived.  By the time of the 1891 census, Jennet was a  widow,  with Richard having died  at the young age of 33. Jennet married again in 1896 a seaman Edward Alexander Braham. 


The name Jennet does not reappear again in the  family  of the Rawcliffe sisters.  Both  Anne and Jennet  had a daughter Jane;  Alice's daughter Jane is sometimes listed in census returns as Jenny  and my great grandmother Maria's only daughter  (after eight surviving sons) was christened Jennie. 

Jane/Jenny Mason, daughter of Alice Rawcliffe and John Mason

 Two portraits of my great aunt Jannie Danson, only daughter of Maria (Rawcliffe) Danson


The name Jennet seems to have died out in the family, as in the population generally.  In 1871 and 1900 it did not appear in the list of top 200 Christian names for England and Wales - Jane, Janet, Jennie, Jean and Jenny were all there - but not Jennet. 

Perhaps it is time to revive the name!


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Votes for Women Campaign in the Scottish Borders

100 years ago this week SOME women were, for the first time in Britain, given the vote - provided they were  aged over 30 and met a property requirement.   Only 40% of women in the country met this stipulation. The Representation of the People Act 1918  also extended the vote to ALL men over the age of 21.  

It took another  ten years before the Equal Franchise Act of 1928  gave women the same voting rights as men.

 A suffragette meeting, at Towerknowe, Hawick in the Scottish Borders, 1909.
Note - the number of men there.
Photograph by permission of Scottish Borders  Museum & Gallery Service
 from the Hawick Museum Collection.

The Campaign in the Scottish Borders
We tend to associate suffragette marches with London  and the cities, but the scene above   was in the small mill  town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders (population  in 1911 - 16,877),  where women were an integral part of industrial and economic life in the manufacture of tweed and knitwear.

The main source of documentary  information on early local suffragette activities in the Borders was "The Kelso Chronicle",  which was regarded as a bastion of reform. 

The earliest reference to women's suffrage in the Borders  was found  in a report published by the newspaper  in 1871, with  a public meeting held in Hawick in the Exchange Hall in 1873.  Although suffrage bills in 1870, 1886, and 1897 had been presented to Parliament,   all were  defeated.

The Role of Emmiline Pankhurst 
Many of the Border towns were aligned to the law-abiding National Union of Suffrage Societies.  However the 20th century saw a dramatic change in the campaign  with a new militant form of protest.   By  1903 Emmeline Pankhurst, believed that years of moderate speeches  about women's suffrage had yielded no progress and with her daughters Adela, Christabel and Sylvia,  she founded the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU)  dedicated to "deeds, not words".   The WSPU had a charismatic leader, who inspired an almost fanatical devotion to the cause.  It also adopted a public identification  with its colours - Violet, Forest Green and White (symbolising Votes for Women), which they used as ribbons, sashes and badges on  their white dresses.   
Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst  (LOC)
Emmeline Pankhurst  - http://foter.com/Suffragettes/

Emmeline Pankhurst in Hawick 
In February 1909 "The Hawick News" had a headline which read "Suffragette Invasion" - the occasion the campaign for the Border Burghs election. Emmeline Pankhurst addressed a crowded meeting in  Hawick Town Hall on 27th February 1909.  A piper marched around the platform  and the audience sang the local song "Votes for Women".

Rise, ye men of Border burghs.
Show yourself in your true colours
As you've done in days gone by
Stand by British Liberty
"Votes for Women" loudly defying
Stubborn foes you'll put to rout
Vote  and keep the Liberals out

"The Hawick Express" of February 26th 1909 reported that:
"The Suffragists are extremely busy in connection with the elections and have taken  a shop on the High Street as their headquarters,,,,,the window is smartly decorated with suffragette literature and pictures  and they are reported to be doing a roaring trade in the sale of "Votes for Women" badges".
Mrs Pankhurst returned to Hawick in August 1909 when she called on women to join a large demonstration in Edinburgh. 

Militant Protests in the  Scottish Borders 
In the Borders, more militant protests hit the headlines in April 1913 when the "The Kelso Chronicle" of April 1913 proclaimed   "Militant Suffragism coming Near Home". 
"There was considerable commotion in Kelso on Saturday morning when it became known that a couple of women, presumably suffragettes, had been caught red handed in an attempt to destroy by fire the new stand which had been erected in the paddock at the Racecourse.......The fire was subdued before any damage could be done and the suffragettes arrested......In the walk down to Kelso Police Station, the Ladies beguiled the time by giving lusty voice  to the suffragette song " March On. 
The women  were conveyed to Jedburgh and apprehended before the  Sheriff.   A big crowd collected in the vicinity of  the court room to catch a glimpse of the daring but mischeiveouly disposed females." 
The protesters  were committed to prison and taken by train to Edinburgh,  They  were found guilty as charged and sentenced to nine months imprisonment in Carleton Jail, Edinburgh.  However they were liberated within a week having gone on hunger strike.  The terms of their temporary release  stated that they must return after a stipulated number of days - an instance of the infamous "cat and mouse"  policy.

Emmeline Pankhurst died in 1928,  the year when women  were granted equal voting rights with men.  It was  the  part women played on the home front during  First World War that was widely regarded as the  major factor in the  change of attitude to their right to vote.

But Emmeline's  role  is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain - and the Scottish Borders played its  part. 

With grateful thanks to local historian Gordon Macdonald
for his research  on this topic in his work
" Universal Suffrage - A Borders Perspective"


Adapted from a post first published on my blog in March 2013

Friday, 2 February 2018

A Woman's Age in the Census - A Man's Point of View!

Having recently written a blog post on Census Discoveries, I just  had to feature this newspaper article of 1891  which looked,  very sceptically,  at the ages of women as given in census returns.     

The article  "A Woman and the Census" appeared in one of my local papers "The Kelso Chronicle"  of 15th April 1891, available on microfilm  at the Scottish Borders Archive Centre at the Heritage Hub, Hawick.  .

The item makes for entertaining reading - but was obviously written by a man!

A Woman and the Census
"As a rule, men do not mind their real age being known and therefore they can scarcely appreciate what an awful ordeal the recent Census was for certain members of the softer sex...........

Girls in their teens and married women do not mind it much.  Young servant girls overrate their ages, with a tendency in the opposite direction once they pass five and twenty...........

The women, however who are mostly averse to telling their ages are widows who hope to marry again, and maidens who have passed the first bloom of womenhood, who are, in fact, what is called in polite parlance "old young ladies".......

If their consciences are tough, when the Bogie Man, (that is the Census Man), comes round, they boldly lop off ten or fifteen years. 
If their consciences are tender - a rare occurrence - they will quit the neighbourhood where they are known and hide themselves in some big town.  
The worst of all these precautions is that they are of little use if the proverb be true that " a man is as old as the feels, but a women is as old as she looks".


Do you get confused by an ancestor's age and supposed year of birth in the various census  returns?    I suspect most of us have come across this in the course of our research. 

I use, as my definitive guide,  the documentary evidence of a birth record i.e. a birth certificate or,  if before 1837 (1855 in Scotland), a church baptism record - though  neither are infallible.   

In my own research. Andrew Brotherston, a blacksmith, his year of birth was assumed from the census records,  and his gravestone,  to be  1800-1803;   his birthplace Westruther in Berwickshire,  Scotland. 

However on ScotlandsPeople, his baptism  was traced  in the Westruther Old Parish Records  to 1796. 

"Andrew, son of William Brotherston, herd in Flass, was born 29th of August 1796 and baptised 18th instant." 
Andrew's  death certificate of 1867 identified his parents as William and Isabella - both Christian names which continued down the family through children and grandchildren, so I am confident I had the "right" document. 

So what date do you go by,  in deciding between different years of birth in the various records on your ancestor's lifetime?