Of Ida’s husband Rowland (senior) I know much less. Many families like to have their own creation stories. “we are descended from Russian aristocracy”, or “One of our family was in charge of security at the Field of the Cloth of Gold conference between Henry VIII and the Frenchy king Francis in 1520” which may or may not be true for my family (in this case depending on every birth down one family line being fully legitimate for the last five hundred years!).
The big story for my father’s paternal line was that they were said to have come across from Ireland during the potato famine. This was my dads inspiration for singing along to Irish rebel songs on the Dansett record player, after two generous glasses of rum in between dinner and the chair nap on a Sunday afternoon. The Yorkshire vowels would morph into music hall Irish. Dad, some of this may be true but it probably happened at least a hundred years earlier in the mid 18th century. The great originator that we referred to an the “original Irishman” was a John Kitchen, a hairdresser from Mersey Street in Liverpool who married a Scottish woman in 1838 whose family may have come from North West Ireland.. All this depends upon this man later changing trades from hair to stone cutting, as that’s what’s recorded on his son’s marriage certificate. I give that a seventy percent probability of being true after devoting many hours of my life to researching it. The hair/ stone dresser’s father or grandfather probably came from North West Ireland. That’s based upon me paying a hundred dollars to scrape a cotton bud around my gums and posting it off for a DNA test.
I know that the stone cutter found himself in the village of Woolton on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1847 because that’s where his son Edward was born in that year. If he was working with stone rather than hair at that time it is likely that he had something to do with the quarry in the village which was to give local residents the Beatles their original name a hundred year plus down the line. Maybe he’s a neighbour of Eleanor Rigby who is in St Peters Church yard there.
Edward his son and Rowland Juniors grandfather did a lot of moving about, and I don’t know why. He first of all disappears from the record until 1877 where he is living across the street from Wigan Pier and working as a brick maker. He is getting married to a Louisa Fletcher whose parents had somehow decided it was a good move to get rid of the hardware store in Stockport, Cheshire and set up shop in a front room of their house in Wigan serving some of the poorest people, living in the most squalid conditions in the country. All their children became miners or cotton mill workers within a mile of their house except one, Isaac Fletcher who escaped to London and was knocked down and killed by a tram in Wandsworth in 1913. A cyclist had tried to ride through a two foot gap between a moving tram and a bus .Isaac was clipped by him as he stepped off one of the vehicles and was pushed under the tram. The coroner called the cyclists actions “a fool’s trick” but maybe Isaac was not watching where he was going
It’s fairly easy from this point to trace Louisa and Edward’s zig-zag trek across the country through the birth certificates of their nine children. If they had followed the twenty first century celebrity fashion of naming offspring after the place in which they were conceived the children would have had a good scatter of names although some would have had to use satellite districts as middle names. Skelmesdale (1878 and 1881), Southport (1881), Leeds but four different locations (1884/ 85/ 88/89/91) and finally Yeadon (1893). Even in that last location Edward and Louisa ran up at least four addresses before 1911 when he died. When I dragged my family around twenty addresses on three continents in fifteen years Edwards grandson, my father said that was no way to accumulate anything. I replied in my soft headed hippy way, “That’s the whole idea”. Dad went apoplectic.
Edward or Louisa or both had very itchy feet. Putting aside Edwards invisible years between 1847 and 1878 he lived in at least ten different houses with his wife. Maybe his job dictated his lifestyle in some way but it seems unlikely. He moved on from Brick making trade to that of a insurance salesman on commission when he left Wigan and did something like that for the rest of his life. This does not match up to the happy gypsy pedlar that my dad told us about but the itinerant habit comes through. Motivations can be hard to discern at a distance in time. We expect people to make rational choices based on best interest decisions. Edward certainly chose some peculiar places to go on his Dick Wittington insurance salesman journey.
His first stop was one stop down the line from one of the train stations at Wigan. This was Skelmesdale, which had been described three years previously in the medical journal. ‘Lancet of February 1874.
A COLLIERY VILLAGE
“Skelmersdale is a colliery village having a population of 4000, lying between Wigan and Ormskirk. An inquiry has been recently held there by the Local Government Board on a Memorial for the adoption of the Local Government Act in the place. The statements taken made in evidence as to the condition of the village show that, even among colliery villages, Skelmersdale must have a pre-eminence in filth.
The houses, many of the most miserable construction, almost buried amidst the filth of their inhabitants; the privies so foul as to repel even those most familiarised with them; the drainage accumulated in horrible puddles, fed also by the liquid abominations of pigstyes and middensteads. The approach to one group of houses is described as “very narrow and ankle-deep in mud,” and the reporter adds of this group:- “There are large accumulations of night-soil and manure from pigstyes, the drainage from which I saw running over the surface and lodging within a few feet of the back doors of the houses.
The tenants have great difficulty in getting rid of the night-soil, ashes, etc., as the farmers will only fetch them when it suits their convenience. There are four wells in connexion with this property. In all cases they are close to cesspools (one being within four feet), privies, pigstyes, or large heaps of ashes, etc.
The water, of course, is wholly unfit for use. I was told that during dry weather rain water was so precious that it has to be taken into the house to prevent it from being stolen.” An outbreak of diphtheria was in progress at the time of the inquiry.
Of all the places in all the world to set up shop selling insurance Edward does not seem to have made the best choice. Maybe he had not got around to reading the February issue of the Lancet.
He fairly quickly moved on to Southport which was fifteen miles away at the coast. This at first site seems to have been a better choice. Southport was an expanding leisure resort. A more upmarket place for the populations of Manchester, Wigan and Liverpool. A real boom town.
Edward and Louisa were four miles north of the action though living with the shrimpers at Marsh side and selling them insurance. The area was reclaimed land newly created behind sea embankments. The homes there were mostly ‘shankers cottages’ as they were known. Simple structures, which now hide behind modern pebbledash skins.. Scrolling through the census for that year their neighbours have predominantly salty occupations. Edward the insurance salesman is sandwiched in between shrimp fishermen and shrimp Sheller’s. Louisa is doing a sideline in Wet Nursing.
Maybe I’m being unfair to Edward. He worked; certainly in later years for one of the big national insurance companies that were built on tapping into the needs of working families for a safety net at times of crisis such as death or illness. These were penny policies whose premiums were collected at the doorstep as the earner came home on payday. Maybe there was a pecking order in all of this and some regional Don sent you off to earn your insurance spurs in the less promising communities first.
This does not really explain what happens next though. By 1884, the family had performed a full backwards somersault and placed themselves eighty miles away at the opposite side of the country at Wortley which was the archetypal urban industrial slum area in Leeds. Maybe it was at the instruction of his employers but this seems a bit too 21st century for an insurance subs collector in the last quarter of the 19th century. Why do people leave the exotic shrimping community near sunny Southport and go an area of high density housing for the urban proletariat in west Leeds. There would have been no shortage of people saving up for their funerals I suppose but there were plenty of industrial townships nearer at hand. Why go to Leeds? I have no idea. I can understand that such a place would have provided him with a large number of customers in a small area, but why not for example Manchester. Maybe there was some family crisis or an especially attractive proposition from the insurance people.
Fourth door down from the right. One of the four houses Louisa and Edward lived at during their years in south west Leeds. This one is at Wortley.
Ten people lived in this house and others around Wortley. His neighbours were mostly XXXXX
By 1893 Edward and Louisa had moved the tribe to Yeadon which is less than ten miles out of Wortley and Leeds. Here they had one more child and four more houses before 1912 when Edward died.
On the plus side Yeadon was not Wortley. It was the archetypal woollen textile mill town where maybe eight of ten people worked directly in the industry or in jobs which were reliant upon it. The population of a few thousand were for the most part settled second or third generation migrants from the dales. The cultural glue was membership of unions, Methodist Chapels, am-dram societies and sports clubs. Most of all there was not a point in the town where you were more than five minutes walk from open country. Poverty certainly existed but little of the absolute squalor that was seen in city industrial districts.
What directed Edward and Louisa to Yeadon? I’ve spent many hours searching for possible local family connections with-out the remotest success. Whatever the force was behind the hand which placed the pin, it probably resulted in a better than average future for their family,
The neighbours were mostly textile workers, but the finely layered hierarchy of nineteenth century mills they belonged amongst the time served, more skilled workers. The few pence differential raised them above absolute subsistence. This would probably allow for some form of saving and at a push penny insurance.
The ages of the nine surviving children ranged from one to seventeen. It must have been a busy house.
I have the basics of birth, marriage and death for most of these children. For the women I have little more. That’s waiting for another time, when I can unravel marriage registers and discover what surname they carried passed marriage. These women where my fathers aunts though and would have been a presence throughout his childhood (NEED TO REASEARCH THEM)
I know a little more about the three boys, but only because their life arch took in the First World Ward. The youngest of these brothers was Isaac who was born in Wortley in 1889. He married in 1911 and had at least once child also named Isaac.
The First World War Memorial from Park Methodist Chapel in Yeadon. The inscription reads “The following members of this congregation and Sunday School served in the Great War 1914-1919”. The two outer panels on either side list those who served and survived. The central space gives the names of those who died. Isaac Kitchen is at the head of the second column in the central box. Eddie and Rowland (senior) are in the second panel from the right. There were at least two churches and three chapels in the town, and this was by far the smallest.
Isaac senior joined up alongside his two brothers in 1914. He served ultimately as a corporal in two Yorkshire regiments probably as a signaller. He was killed on the western front two months before the end of the war. His son Isaac junior went on to serve in the second world war in the far east where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and very badly treated.
He married immediately after the war. In the 1970’s he was the landlord of the Odd fellow’s pub (sometimes known as The Rag) in Yeadon. His experiences with the Japanese had scarred him. On arriving back in England he had weighed only four stones and was barely alive. Twenty five years later he was obsessively careful not to waste food and was prone to black dog days. In the late 1970’s my wife was working with a Korean man selling loft insulation in Yeadon. At the end of the night they stopped off at The Odd fellows to complete their paperwork. Isaac believing the man to be Japanese through him out. Isaac’s relationship with his nephew, my father was not close. He possibly resented that he had been a conscientious objector at the time when he was living through hell in a prison camp. Also at the back of his mind would have been the death of his own father in the first world war..
The next brother was Edward, born two years after Isaac in 1887. During the war he served as a private in a machine gun corps attached to the West Yorkshire Regiment. This was a notoriously dangerous role so he did well to survive the war. Another relative of mine was killed in a matter of weeks performing the same duties. Eddie married in 1920 at the relatively late age for the time of thirty but of course this was because of the five year interlude of the war. Everything happened half a decade later.
I’m always surprised that I don’t know more about uncle Eddie as he was known, because he was given the bad boy tag. Whenever my elder brother Ian got into trouble, which he often did he would be told that “Ya tek after Eddie, he was a sod”. I hope that I am not libelling him with the following stories . It’s very possible that the stories are the scraped together condensate of bags of hot air Or bits have been bolted on in family tradition from other near-do- wells.
Edward, a textile worker was involved in a strike. This is most likely to have been the ‘Old Dog Mill strike’ which happened in 1909. This was a bitter dispute which culminated in mounted police being drafted into the village These officers famously charged down strikers on a cobbled hill with the perfectively descriptive name of The Steep’. The pre first world war decade saw some very bitter industrial d disputes in the local mills. In 1913 a lockout by an association of mill owners seeking to force a wage cut led to hunger marches to the coast through the textile districts. There was numerous other less high profile confrontations. Alternatively it may have been the General Strike in 1926 but this is less likely. Following the collapse of whatever strike it was the workforce was assembled in ranks. The owner or manager walked down the lines, picking out the men who had played prominent roles and sacked them on the spot. Eddie was amongst them. It may have been following this or at some time during the strike that he took to housebreaking. The police eventually came to arrest him at home. The family lore is that he hid on the roof and then pelted them with roof slates. This was the story about Eddie that earned him the tile, I mean He title of ‘right sod’. Is it true? My guess would be that it the events have a 80% probability score but they may not have happened at the same time and in that order!. Eddie died relatively young at age sixty one in 1948.
The eldest of the three brothers was Rowland senior, father of our Rowland Kitchen. He was born in Wortley in 1885 and so would have been about seven or eight years old when the family moved to Yeadon. In the 1901 census he is described as a ‘boot finisher’. In later years he worked as a cotton dyers labourer at Greenbottom dye works in Yeadon. This man was my grandfather but up until 2005 I knew nothing about him other than that he dropped dead walking to work whilst suffering from Pneumonia, and that he had Tuberculosis which he shared with his son.
In July of 2005 I was doing my once a month visit from Norfolk to my mother in Yeadon. This always involved half hacking back the garden growth and cutting the grass on the three sides of the house. Mum saw the front garden as the shop window. If it became unkempt people would think that she was not coping. There had been says of rain and the clay soil was laden with water, but I was only there for two days so the work had to get done.
Whilst dragging the petrol mower across the sodden ground I got to thinking about my paternal aunt Iris who it dawned on me was the only person left who remembered my father as a child or had memories of his father Rowland Senior.
Ida and Rowland Kitchen (senior)
Despite having no clean clothes and my shoes being caked in clay mud I decided to visit her immediately. I got on the phone and explained first to Harry her husband and then to her that I was writing a family history and would like to call in and tap into her memories. This had been the first time that I had spoken with her in about thirty five years. The last time she saw me I was a school boy.. I jumped in my car with a sheet of paper and a pencil and drove the one mile to her house. Now at age eighty one she and her husband lived in an old peoples bungalow close to Yeadon dam
Iris was full of life in her twenties. Dancing was the big joy of her life and she had been very light on her feet. The person who operates the sadistic irony machine decided it would be perfect to give her galloping Rheumatoid arthritis. With shocking speed it turned her feet into twisted, painful and useless objects. To give her some function the forward part of each foot was amputated before she was thirty years old. As a child my contact with her and Harry was regular. All the memories though have a pain tag attached to them. A woman in her forties bent and wincing with pain. Holding onto the furniture to get around the room.
I must have looked a bit odd arriving at the front door of the bungalow. Harry let me in and apart from suggesting that I remove my shoes made no fuss. Iris was propped up on a couch. She could get around the house using all the aids and disability paraphernalia. Harry was still driving and so she could get out but everything came with a pain price.
Before I forget Iris died on the 25th July 2005, which was within a couple of weeks of the discussion that followed. I was back at work and felt that whatever silly thing I was doing at the time meant that I could not get away to go to the funeral. My mother was mentally frail by then but retained some memory of the news of Iris’s death when I told her. I know that she had spent the first year of her married life and motherhood sharing a house with Iris and her mother. There had been a lot of friction and mum had felt uneasy when in any part of the house other than the bedroom as her presence seemed to be resented. The new marriage came very close to breaking down. There was some major row about an electric bill and a demand that she sell the babies cot to pay for it. Mum had often said that Iris had not been very nice.
Indeed there was a passing acknowledgment of this in the conversation that I had with Iris. Not an “I’m sorry for what I did”. That was unnecessary. Just a mention of ‘unpleasantness’ and a look in my eye, and then move on.
There was no one to take my mother to Iris’s funeral. There was a half baked plan that between us my brother and I would get her there but it did not get beyond the discussion stage. The way my mother tells it on the day Harry, Iris’s husband just turned up at the door and said “are you coming”. He waited whilst she got changed and drove her to the crematorium in his car. Throughout the service and in the reception afterwards he looked out for her Then took her home and made sure she was okay. All of this on a day when he must have had a great deal else on his mind.
Back on the day that did the interview in muddy gardening gear, the discussion was mostly about the two Rowland’s, my father and his dad. Iris was the only person alive who could speak about my father as a child and young man, and at all about his father.
The only stories that I had up till that point related to how he died. It was 1943 and he was fifty eight years old. Essentially the standard, accepted version was that he had died because of his adherence to the work ethic. Tuberculosis and consumption (the bodily wasting associated with the infection) was killing him. He was determined to keep his job and so he somehow got himself the half mile to Greenbottom Mill where he was employed as a cotton dyers labourer, by holding onto a fence while he coughed up copious amounts of bacilli laden, clotted blood. He was said to have died one day at the mill after making the march of death down Henshaw Lane. Iris smiled at that and said “yes and no”. It was not quite so heroic with fifty shades of Soviet realism. Yes he coughed, yes he produced blood (but who didn’t!) and yes he died at work. The more immediate cause though was smoking sixty a day, just like her and having pneumonia and no money to pay for treatment. He had gone to work because he was scared to stay at home and face the bullying of his wife, Ida. Iris told all of this with a laugh and a rasping cough.
I did not say this but felt the heroic, work ethic affirming, death march story still stood albeit with the gods of irony having a giggle in the corner.
The second thing I knew about Rowland (senior) was his impediments. In his case those affecting speech and hearing. Possibly these are part of the reason why he submitted Ida’s terror tactics or maybe its totally irrelevant. . Generations of men (and women) have grown up with little hearing or none. Faced with the truth of ‘adapt or die’ they have had to invent a life for themselves which worked, day after day. I am not minimising the loneliness, and horror that sometimes accompanied this process. Just paying tribute to them.
The deafness does seem to have been congenital or present from an early age. Working in textile mills alongside noisy machinery could cause hearing damage but this was probably not the main issue for Rowland senior. The speech difficulties (most likely lisp and stammer) were possibly secondary to the deafness but it is far more likely that it was some separate genetic cause. At least one male in each of the last four generations of our paternal line has had this problem. Rowland Junior was a great checker of the length and attachment of tongue fraenulum, believes the cause to lay there.
Ultimately these problems very possibly saved his life. Iris told me about a day when all three brothers Rowland senior, Eddie and Isaac signed up for the trip to the western front in 1914. Rowland was diverted to a Labour Corps attached to the Kings own Scottish Borderers, to dig trenches and similar. Men with disabilities of one kind or another were assigned to such tasks as well as the more able. His ‘unimpaired’ brother Isaac ended up at the sharp end of the army and was killed.
Rowland Kitchen (Senior) First World War Service Card
The penultimate bit of Rowland senior that I know about is when he got married. Ida, the future wife had, had an illegitimate child Kathleen in 1909 when she was nineteen years old. She continued living at home with her parents and does not seem to be in a relationship.
If you ask a hundred citizens if people had illegitimate children before 1914, most would say “no, it never happened. Children only got born in marriage cept for those who lived in the East End of London and were taken care of by the Salvation Army” or were interned in an institution for fallen women and their children adopted by nice middle class people”.
I don’t know how we all got to believe such a myth. Digging around in my family history (I’ve got to know four hundred of them in a butterfly collecting kind of way) the block of time between marriage and birth of first child can be micro-thin. A joke I remember sums its up nice.
Question. What is the most common form of marriage proposal in Britain?
Answer: Your what ???
Men of my father’s generation strongly suspected that there was a nationwide conspiracy between mothers and daughters. The knowledge was passed on down the female line. It was all about timing. Getting pregnant just at the right point in a relationship when the men were all loved up, and ensuring that the “chap did the right thing.” Father’s would talk to sons about this in a knowing way and mention barbers shops and “being careful”. Before I forget, my father, when I was ten years old gave me a lecture on the importance of ‘Child bearing hips’. As we walked around Yeadon on a Sunday morning he commented on each passing woman. “She’s got them, she hasn’t”. I wonder what he must have been thinking of giving this talk to anybody. I was very confused. God knows what would have happened if Id got the barber shop spiel instead.
Anyway back to Ida it looks as if she got the timing thing all wrong and did not get the man. Very possibly though it may have been the alternative explanation, the traditional mixture of ignorance, shyness and emotional blackmail. In any event she only married five years later and I suppose Rowland senior was unlikely to have been the father of Ida’s child. Nothing much happened apart from the first world war and then Rowland junior came along is February 1920.
The temptation is to think that Rowland senior was not much of a catch. Congenitally, deaf with a speech impediment. Ida needed to get a husband and he was available and willing to take on someone else’s child. I’ve no idea but human motivation is rarely as clear cut as that, and people find their own synergies.
He was a very good man I’m told. Kept his family, and was decent and kind to his wife and three children Kathleen, Rowland and Iris. A member of the Dyers Club in Yeadon and one time five year trench digger across Western Europe where he must have seen untold horrors and possibly picked up TB. Maybe the wartime experiences of him and his brothers helped to shape Rowland juniors decision to register as a Conscientious Objector when the next war came along
Iris was three years younger that Rowland junior. One of the last things she told me during the muddy clothes interview was how frail her brother was as a child. She remembers being told by her mother to get out of a pram so that he could ride instead; He was tired and could not walk any more. Maybe the TB which was almost certainly in his immediate family was weakening him. Something must have caused it to go dormant but it may help to explain his obsession with physical fitness in his teens and later life.
Iris was only able to give me a few hard facts about Rowland senior and the early life of his son, but she did give the sense of the world that he lived in and who inhabited it.
The place was the small textile town of Yeadon in between the war. That extraordinary horror was just a stone’s throw away in time and memory. The exact location was a street of semi-detached two bed roomed houses, called Brooklands Crescent which are still on the side of a hill below the town centre. Their building may have somehow been linked to the end of the war, possibly a scheme to help returning soldiers get into decent houses (‘Home’s for Heroes’). I don’t know but they were not a bad place to live. They had somehow got a step up.
16 Brooklands Crescent in Yeadon. The family home of Ida and Rowland Kitchen (senior) between the early 1920’s and 1943. The extension and porch are modern additions.
The family Ida and Rowland (senior) and siblings Kathleen, Rowland and Iris lived in this the place from the early 1920’s until the mid 1940’s when the children married. Rowland senior died there in 1943 but Ida remained in the house until what we used to call senility meant that it was no longer possible in the mid 1960’s. Uncle Eddie, the ‘roof tile thrower’ lived just a stones throw away across the street. The three children lived and died within half a mile of the spot. Grandmother Louisa lived half a mile away in another direction just next to a new Methodist chapel which was a mainstay of her life. Grandmother Cora was living in semi exile from her only child Ida somewhere in Yeadon and watching out for the family through tea shop windows it seems (I hope it was better than that). The person who was not there, like a gap in a row of teeth was Isaac who had been extracted by the first world war.
This was the place that my father, the Rowland (junior) grew up in. I will get back to him in a while
THE FOLLOWING WBSITE IS DEVOTED TO THE LOCAL HISTORY OF THE AREA. PLEASE TAKE A LOOK IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BROWSE(100’S !) OF PHOTO’S OF THE PLACES MENTIONED IN THIS BLOG. http://www.aireboroughhistoricalsociety.co.uk/