Coping through – commemorating the craft of dry stone wallers

Dry stone wall near Howarth, Yorkshire © Adèle Emm

Another eclectic post. Sorry!  I had the most fabulous day in Yorkshire yesterday: sun, sky and dry stone walls, the iconic feature ooop in t’north...   Who would have thought there were so many styles of walls  all built without mortar?

Such walls, often constructed hundreds of years ago, were constructed to contain  sheep – England, of course,  amassed vast amounts of money through the wool trade but subsistence farmers up in such inhospitable terrain had little money;  they needed to protect what livestock they had.  Drovers’ roads were walled to prevent sheep straying onto another man’s lands. These walls provide shelter for ewes and their lambs when the weather – as so frequently does up here – suddenly turns nasty.  The walls also act as firebreaks (wooden fencing is merely more tinder, fire fodder for flames) and, when Lyme Park has just lost acres of vegetation just this week, Ilkley Moor is still burning at the time of writing and Saddleworth Moor  similarly and disastrously affected last year, such firebreaks are indispensable.

The golden age of professional dry stone wallers was the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when fields were expanded to  encompass  larger mechanised agricultural machinery developed, by necessity, during the population explosion of the industrial revolution.  Today,  few people want this job.  It’s generally poorly paid, hard physical work often under  appalling weather conditions.   Dry stone labourers were itinerant,  travelling through remote areas lodging when and where they could.   Take 70 year old Lancashire born William Angus.   In the 1851 census, living with his family at 38 Craven Street, Bradford, Yorkshire, he was enumerated as dry stone waller. The visible work of such men is a testament to their skill although their names are forgotten.   Marvel at their results.

Dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire, clearly showing copestones at the top and throughstones in the middle. © Adèle Emm

Let’s name some  more Yorkshire dry stone wallers as enumerated in the 1851 census.

  • William Brook, 55, living at 32 Rantnor Street, Bradford; born Settle, Yorkshire
  • James Schofield, 54, at Waterstalls in Todmorden, Yorkshire, born Lancashire
  • John Howarth, 29, of Frenches, Saddleworth, born Bolton, Lancashire
  • Yorkshire born John, 54, and son Thomas Sunderland, 23, living at 12 Delph Terrace, Leeds

They are forgotten no more…

yet another dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire.  © Adèle Emm


For more information about dry stone walling, visit the Dry Stone Walling Association or the National Trust which has volunteering schemes.

Passing through…

The Cockaynes lived here in 1939

A few months ago, I wrote of a young man who lived in my house in 1911 and died aged 17 in World War 1.  This year marks the centenary of the start of WW2 so it seemed fitting to look into the life of someone else who lived in my road but in September 1939.  Preferably a happier story!

War was declared on the 3rd September and on the 29th, a register taken of everyone in the country exempting those already in military service. There were two purposes; to issue National Identity cards and subsequent ration books.  In 1948, three years after the war ended, the number on the ID card became their National Health Service number.  However,  records were amended right into the 1950s; so, should a woman marry, her new name was superscribed over her maiden name – really useful for family historians.    Access to the 1939 Register is via subscription sites Ancestry and FindMyPast.

In 1939, the residents in my leafy suburban Stockport street included a retired umbrella factory manager (it’s always raining in the North West), a retired head postmaster and a barrister at law.  Considering the proximity of the local station, it’s not surprising several commercial travellers also resided here and in neighbouring roads. Three minutes’ walk and the rail network could transport them countrywide.  Several households had live-in servants, somewhat of a feat considering how difficult it was to retain them after the social upheaval of WW1.

As befitting the start of a war, there were two ARPs (Air Raid Precautions i.e. wardens) in the road; one full time and the other working in ‘control’ in Manchester.  It’s the story of the full-time ARP I’m writing about today.  Just another ordinary chap from an ordinary family in an ordinary suburban street.    Or was he?

The head of the Cockayne family was Thomas Strafford  (also recorded as Stafford and Stratford) Cockayne, the aforementioned retired head postmaster.  He lived in an Edwardian semi with wife Christine and their 32 year old unmarried son Leslie, a solicitor’s clerk, our ARP.

Checking daddy in the 1881 census, 14 year old Thomas lived with his parents, lowly lodgers in Stockport Road, Gorton, a far earthier working class area than their 1939 home.  Thomas’ father was a master tailor born in Glossop, Derbyshire, employing three men and a boy.  A decade earlier and this family, with 4 year old Thomas in tow, lived in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester – even grittier than Gorton.   His father, a jobbing tailor, provided for wife, several children, his wife’s mother and her sister.  Digging into the archives a little more, Thomas’ grandfather was a silk weaver.  Now these were highly skilled craftsmen but by the middle of 19th century industrialisation, their livelihood was increasingly threatened.

In 1901, Thomas was living with his in-laws and their unmarried daughters two roads from his future 1939 home.  He describes himself as a ‘civil servant,’  a world away  from the son of a tailor albeit a master.   Upwardly mobile, he’d married the daughter of a print agent.  Eight years later, and he is living in his own house, 11 Harley Street, Victoria Park, Manchester, a swish address though less so today.   He’s a government overseer and son Leslie is two years old.   The 1911 census records them still there;   he and his wife had had two children but only Leslie survived.   Was Thomas aspiring to relocate to that leafy suburb where he’d lived just ten years earlier?

Fast forward to Thomas’ death in November 1952.  He died in Shaw Heath in the former workhouse now hospital,  his home address the same as in 1939, and he bequeaths over £2,799 to solicitor son Leslie.  What a success!  A jobbing tailor’s son rises to a high level job in the Post Office, one of the most prestigious employers of the day.

I can’t find records of Leslie marrying but he dies in Stockport Infirmary in 1963 having lived in the same house since the start of the WW2.  He left over £2,852.

I’ve long believed  that we don’t own our house.  We just pass through.  This sentiment is endorsed in the second BBC series of the fabulous A House Through Time  presented by David Olusoga.  My Edwardian street is testament to this.

Selling Grandma!

I have long been accused of this peccadillo. And why not?  I’m sure neither of them would mind…

I recently received an email out of the blue from an umpty umpth cousin descended via the Mapley branch of my family tree. Needless to say, I‘d never heard of him!  Mapley is quite an obscure and rare surname; it’s not even listed in my copy of the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames although Mabberely, Mabley and variations are.    In 1891, according to, 84 families with this surname lived in Buckinghamshire and made up 57% of UK Mapleys – including my mob.

My newly-acquired cousin is directly descended from my great grandma’s sister, Nell.  Nell married Andrew Frederick Mapley (known as Fred) who owned a baker’s in Newport Pagnell High Street a few doors down from his father-in-law’s rival bakery.

Now I know about this family because my grandfather grew up at the Mapley bakery following his father’s untimely death aged 28 (TB).   My granddad wasn’t particularly fond of Auntie Nell but his cousins were like brothers and sisters, and I met some with my grandfather.

I’ve written about Fred before (Family Tree Magazine, Christmas 2017).  He mysteriously disappeared in late 1912; just didn’t arrive home one evening.  The following April, his body, virtually unidentifiable except for his clothing, washed up in the River Ouse.  Was he pushed, did he slip, did he jump? No option is palatable. The first thing my new cousin told me was that the family believed Fred had committed suicide because his business was in debt.  I’ve seen the death certificate and the coroner, as befitted attitudes then, was diffident about apportioning such a damning verdict. The entry concluded, ‘No evidence as to how body got into water.’

Back to selling grandma….    or should it be grandpa?

A photo of the bakery belonging to both my and my new cousin’s great-something-grandfather, is on the front cover of one of my books.  It was at this bakery that my granddad’s Auntie Nell grew up, presumably over the shop.  Also on the front cover is Harry Mapley, one of her sons who died aged 27.

And now, thanks to my cousin Dean, I have a photo of Auntie Nell and Uncle Fred. Curiously, my granddad never mentioned him.  I put it down to the Victorian sense of shame tainting even a hint of suicide.    I shan’t be selling this photo.  It’s not mine to sell….

But I have put some family on the front cover of my next book . Naughty me….

I had a little bird, It’s name was Enza, I opened the window, and in-flu-enza

This little ditty was a skipping song chanted  by children during 1918 and 1919.

Although WWI ended on the 11th November 1918, deaths continued into the following year and beyond.   Why?  Firstly, there was the second wave of Spanish Flu (some historians believe the first wave shortened WWI by several months if not years) the virulence of which killed up to 50 million globally  – nobody knows the accurate figure.  And secondly, many young men who returned injured from the front died a protracted death from wounds. However today I’m writing about Spanish Flu.

This virulent pandemic seriously misrepresents Spain. It got its name when the virus migrated from France to Spain where, without the censorship of war, it was more widely reported.

Because of the different policies, some areas were particularly badly hit; Leicester and Coventry suffered high casualties – one in four deaths in 1918 were from influenza – but Manchester (over 2000 deaths in 1918 rising to 3143 by 1919) got off relatively lightly.  Here, James Niven, Manchester’s Medical Officer of Health, realising the virus attacked the lungs, recommended personal sanitation and isolation if ill.  He suggested closing dance halls, theatres and schools but his exhortations to avoid crowded places were ignored during celebrations for Armistice Day and Manchester deaths peaked in late 1918 and early 1919.     Overall 228,000 people in Britain were to die a particularly gruelling death for both patient and those nursing them.

Unlike other epidemics, victims were generally younger and fitter; the majority of afflicted were aged between 20 and 45.  It attacked all classes not just the poor and was a particularly upsetting death starting with ‘la grippe’ before quickly developing into pneumonia or, more distressingly, heliotrope cyanosis when the skin turned lavender, mahogany coloured spots appeared on cheekbones and ears (indicating a shortage of oxygen) and a person who was well in the morning suffocated and could be dead by dinnertime.

How do you know if an ancestor was a casualty of the Spanish Flu?    Few doctors wrote influenza on a death certificate.  The key clue is the timing – 1918 and early 1919.  If an ancestor died during this period  aged under, say, 50 and you read pneumonia or septicaemia on the death certificate, they probably died of Spanish flu.  And yes, I have spotted it on death certificates in my family….

Rags, rugs and recyling

I can’t resist showing off my latest project; the rag rug as shown here.  It only took me ten

rag rug © Adèle Emm

years to finish. Mind you, for nine of those years, it was stashed under the sofa in my study due to my running out of rags and stamina.

Rag rugs were a practical solution to flag floors in an age when every penny was the buffer between survival and the workhouse.   These unique works of art protected toes against icy floors and cheered up homes with few comforts and fewer luxuries.

Made out of any old rags, cotton, wool and whatever was to hand, the whole  family contributed to their manufacture; tearing up rags and knotting them into the hessian, jute or potato sacks which formed the backing. They were virtually indestructible, easily washed and easily replaced. All it took was a little effort and, with few other diversions available to working class families during the nineteenth century, plenty of time.

Originally, paper was made from rags.  Rag and bone merchants made their living sorting rags and selling them on.  Clothing had an economic value and was sold second/third hand. Once too shabby even for the destitute, rags were destined  to be ground down and processed into paper at a paper factory.    ‘Good Mrs Brown’ in Charles Dickens’ novel Dombey and Son (1848) made her living as a rag woman (the colloquial term for a female rag merchant was bunter). Her room was described thus: ‘there was a great heap of rags lying on the floor; a heap of bones, and a heap of sifted dust or cinders; but there was no furniture at all , and the walls and ceilings were quite black’.

Rags had to be dry before they could be sold.  White rags made more money fetching between 2-3d a lb with coloured rags at about 2d a lb.  Grease extracted from rags (the mind boggles!) went into making soap.

There was tax to be paid on newspaper.   in 1815, the government raised the Stamp Duty (the official name for the tax) to 4d which meant the average cost for one newspaper was 6-7d (there were 12 old pence in a shilling) a huge amount for the working class to trump up – so they didn’t.  After the Peterloo Massacre, 1819 (see my previous blog), the Stamp Duty was extended to include leaflets and pamphlets thus, the government hoped, suppressing ‘seditious’ anti-government proselytisation.  The Stamp Tax was repealed in 1855.

Towards the end of Victoria’s reign, paper was more commonly made from wood pulp  and the price of rags slumped.  With rags more readily available, rag rugs became more common beside the bed, in the kitchen, in front of the fire. When they got really dirty, they were thrown out; they had, after all, cost virtually nothing.

The National Trust occasionally runs rag rug making workshops.


Washday Blues

Whitecap Washer Wringer from Beatty Bros. Turn of the century. © Adèle Emm

Borax, cuckoo-pint (arum), urine, soda, animal fats and wood ash!  This toxic list of ingredients is why great grandmama’s hands were constantly red, sore and chapped. Why? From the weekly wash.

Women on the brink of the shame and ignominy of entering the workhouse might have taken in other people’s washing.  Each halfpenny perhaps postponed another day from becoming a pauper.   So how, I wonder, did they manage to pay for fuel the heat the washtub water, candles to light their dark cottage or cellar (condensation from the steam oozing down the walls!) and soap towhich, as my old physics teacher insisted, makes ‘water wetter.’   And the essentials of a washtub, dolly (posser in some dialects), washboard and mangle?  How could she afford them?

Answer; many women didn’t.  For those on the brink of penury, she might specialise in the laundry – heavy duty fabrics only; such women certainly weren’t trusted with fine linen or silks.  Others, who, in a previous wealthier existence had a mangle, took in wet clothes, manoeuvred through the mangle and handed them back for drying.  Some ironed  whilst others starched.    Whatever they did, hands were raw.

The social history of washerwomen and laundresses is the topic of my next lecture.  There are still a few places left at the Society of Genealogists, London, on Wednesday 13th February.  For further details and to book your place click here.


Happy New Year

Edmund Dawson, Peterloo victim. Commemorative light in Manchester Town Hall annexe

Firstly, apologies for the gap in blogs; life got in the way.  And life consisted of?   Christmas and New Year of course.  Plus proof reading and indexing my latest book due for publication in May this year interspersed with a lengthy and ongoing grapple with an article about the Peterloo Massacre due for an August publication, the bicentenary of that appalling atrocity.

The Peterloo Massacre took place in the centre of Manchester (not then a city) on the 16 August 1818.  What started out as an open air meeting ended with the slaughter of a number of men, women and children. To this day, nobody actually knows how many. Why not?  It has been a contentious issue for 200 years….   The then establishment justified their actions, initially citing a death toll of 5, claiming these people had attended an illegal meeting.   To use a modern expression; it was collateral damage…

Recently checking out an armful of books in Manchester Central Library, I was approached by a distinguished gentleman who, commenting on my choice of literature, introduced himself as a history professor at Manchester University. As he left, he said, ‘You need to question why Peterloo was suppressed for over forty years.’

It’s been suppressed for longer than that.   Manchester born and bred Mike Leigh, director of the recent film Peterloo, had never heard of it when he was growing up!   However, various agencies have been pushing for its recognition as amongst the worst infringements of human rights in England  A commemorative sculpture is being erected near the site of the massacre and the annex at Manchester Town Hall has red lights built into the floor recognising the names of those known to have been killed.

Harry Turner, boy soldier, World War 1 Casualty

Yesterday, I discovered that a boy who lived in my house in the 1911 census died 13 August 1915.  In 1911, 13 year old schoolboy Harry Turner was living with his parents and cousin.  Four years later, he was a casualty of the World War One Gallipoli offensive.   He was 17.

Harry was in the 2nd/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, regimental number 553, so was responsible for dressing wounds.  Whilst on the way to Gallipoli for the second wave assault, his troopship, HMS Royal Edward was torpedoed and he drowned in the Aegean Sea.

I’d always understood boys under eighteen were not permitted to fight so Harry must have slipped through as he was a pre-war territorial soldier. Certainly in 1914, the legal limit was 19 for armed services overseas.   A BBC webpage explains how so many underage boys joined the army –  a large number were accepted i 1915.

When Harry died, his next of kin was his mother Emma.  The 1911 census recorded Harry Turner’s parents had had another child who’d died before the census was taken so there is clearly no one left today to mourn this boy.  He is commemorated on the Helles Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in current day Turkey. His body was never found.

Three older boys from the other end of my street all survived to receive their victory medals…

More can be read about Harry at 


Port Sunlight war memorial for employees of Port Sunlight soap and munitions factory © Adèle Emm

On the eve of the centenary commemorations of Armistice Day 1918, I am returning to the rarity of women’s names inscribed on WW1 memorials (August 2018).  I was recently at Port Sunlight in the Wirral, a model town built  for workers at Lord Lever’s soap factory which, during both world wars, also made munitions. A by-product of soap manufacture is glycerine, used in bomb making… As is my wont, I checked names on the war memorial and was astonished to see a number of women’s names engraved around the base: Mary A Jones sharing a tablet with Florence McGrath; Mary C Harrison and Muriel Jennings on another; Olive M Ellis; Doreen Smart; Florence Williamson; Florence R Robins and Beryl J Sennett.  Nine in all although I may have missed some.

Who were they and why were they on this war memorial?  They were civilian casualties of World War 2 who had been employed at the Lever soap/munitions factory.  Their names were engraved on the war memorial from 1948.

They had all died in the Liverpool and Merseyside Blitz.  Because of the proliferation of docks and factories around Liverpool  and the River Mersey (which included the Wirral and Birkenhead) Liverpool and its suburbs were ruthlessly targeted especially between August 1940 and January 1942.   when over  4,000 people in the area including 2,736 in Liverpool, 454 in Birkenhead and 424 in Bootle were killed.   Seven nights in May 1941 were the most devastating.

Here follows more information about the female names on the war memorial. The most shocking is their age and, in some cases, how many died with them.  On the nights of 12 and 13 March 1941, over 174 people were killed in the Wallasey area including:-

Olive May Ellis

  • Olive May Ellis was 22 when she died in the blitz on 12 March 1941 at 16 Well Lane. In 1939, she was living with her family in Birkenhead with her father, an Air Raid Warden and drains tester, working for the council. Olive is recorded as pursuing ‘unpaid domestic duties’ presumably helping mum with the housework.   Also killed that same night at the same address were the Robins family…

    Florence Robinson and Beryl Sennett

  • Soap packer Florence Ruby Robins, born 1924, lived with her parents in Birkenhead. Three members of her family, parents John Henry (51), mother Elsie (48), and Florence’s older brother John Henry jnr (23, a member of the Home Guard) died on 12 March 1941 at 16 Well Lane. She was 16.
  • Muriel Jennings died aged 17. Printing machinist at a soap works in 1939 (aka Port Sunlight factory), she lived with her parents and siblings at 22 Medway Road, Birkenhead. On 12 March 1941 she and her entire family (eight people altogether) were wiped out in the house next door to the Ellis’ and Robins at 14 Well Lane.  Ranging in age from 49 (her father Charles, a member of the Civil Defence Service), the youngest person to die was a sister aged 7.
  • Mary Alice Jones was 41 when she died on the 17th October 1940 at Pool Bank, Birkenhead. Her father, 65 year old John James Jones and her mother Alice (also 65) were also killed.  Mary and her father both worked at the soap/glycerine factory in 1939 and his name isalso recorded on Port Sunlight war memorial.  Mary Carr Harrison died on the 24 July 1941, aged 29, at 17 Holt Hill, Birkenhead. This was also her address in 1939 when she was a housewife living with husband Frank, Frank, a bus cleaner for the Corporation Transport bus service.   For her name to be on the Port Sunlight war memorial, she must have got a job at the soap factory later on in the war.
  • Florence McGrath is amongst the eldest women on this war memorial. She was born in 1897 and died 1 June 1941 in the ambulance on the way to hospital from Telegraph Hill, Heswall. Unmarried, she worked as a ‘shorthand writer at a soap and glycerine factory’ in 1939.

    Mary A Jones and Florence McGrath


  • Beryl Jean Sennett was 17 at her death on 25 June 1941. Ancestry (subscription) has a photo of her in school uniform. Her ‘sudden death’ (under the name Betty) is reported in the personal columns of the Liverpool Post on Saturday 28 June 1941. She and her mother died at 46 Southdale Road, Rock Ferry. In 1939, ‘soap worker’ Beryl is living with her parents (including her mother who was to die with her), an ‘incapacitated’ older brother James and younger brother, schoolboy Ernest.

    Doreen Smart

  • Doreen Smart and her mother Ruby died at Rowson Street, Wallasey on 21 December 1940. She was 19. More than 119 people were to die in Wallasey between 6.30pm on 20th December and the 21st For some photos of that night’s devastation see.   The names of Doreen and her mother are also recorded on Wallasey war memorial alongside the names of 324 other residents who died in the blitz.
  • Also killed the same day, 21 December 1940, was Florence Alice Williamson aged 19. She, alongside several others, was sheltering from falling bombs at the Ritz Cinema in Claughton Road, Birkenhead.

The above information was obtained from the 1939 register via Ancestry and Civilian Casualty list for WW2 – also on Ancestry.

Other websites you might find useful are;

Liverpool Museums Munitions Factories and the blitz 

War Memorials Online

Port Sunlight is at  




Trump Street is trumped

Trump Street (640x201)Indeed!  And the origins?  A quick Google reveals that 18th century Trump Street was Trumpadere Street and one gentleman who lived there was a William Trompeor , a trumpet maker supplying horns for local watchmen.

Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.

But where is the boy, who looks after the sheep?
He’s under a haystack, fast asleep.
Will you wake him? No, not I,
For if I do, he’s sure to cry.                                            sprang to mind

For those of you with a less whimsical turn of mind, the original City of London was rebuilt following the disastrous Great Fire of London 1666 (see my previous blog).  In 1720, Trump Street may have been known as Duke Street.  The City was devastated again in World War 2, and largely rebuilt. Trump Street included.

Trump Street leads into Russia Row….