Truth be told I know less about my father’s childhood that I do of John Yeadon who lived one hundred and fifty years earlier. I know of four stories and three were told about him by someone else. I learnt about two of the episodes in a conversation with dad’s sister Iris just before she died. Did he not talk about his upbringing or was It something which I paid no attention to.
The stories told by Iris concerned his early childhood. One of her first memories is being asked to get out of a push chair and let her much older brother get in because he was exhausted. She understandably felt resentful of this. Iris remembers her brother as being sickly and easily tired. There was an XXX year difference in age between Iris and Rowland but it was him who had to be taken care. Why would this be? In middle age he had to go for a routine chest x-ray in order to get life assurance. He was told that there was Tuberculosis scarring on his lungs His father had died of consumption during the war so it’s fair to assume that he grew up in the 1930’s a house where he was exposed to the infection.
The second of Iris’s stories concerns an errand that her brother was sent on. His mother wrote a shopping list for him to take to the grocers. When he did not return in a reasonable time they set off to investigate. He was standing outside of the shop afraid to go in. Like his father he had a stammer and was deaf. Reading out the grocery list to the shop keeper was daunting and he was caught between the fear of doing that and returning home empty handed.
The third story was taught by my mother Kathleen and was given by her for his resentment of teachers and those who had formal education. Sometime before the age of ten he had fallen off a wall and broken a leg. Whether it was a complicated fracture or it was just how things were done, but he was absent from school for six months as a consequence. As I write this it also comes to mind that his TB might have been a factor here. He claimed that his teachers had not kept tabs on the situation and things had drifted. In any event he missed some crucial time and when he eventually returned had fallen well behind. He was therefore in the stream that was set to leave school at the earlier opportunity which would have be around the age of thirteen.
The forth story comes from him and was told to me as a moral lesson on the dangers of smoking. His first job on leaving school was in a green-grocer at the bottom of what was known as ‘The Steep’ in Yeadon. He was a delivery boy but had some access to the till. Smoking was expensive so he did some till dipping to fund this new habit. He was soon caught and was shown the door. Incidentally I too shoplifted from the same building forty years later when I worked there as a paper boy. By 1970 it was a newsagents and I was lifting bubble gum and football cards, and not cigarettes. That came later. I got away with it but the consequence for him was the need to get a job, any job. The solution with family help was Banksfield Dye works where he worked as a Dyers labourer for the next forty years.
That’s all the stories I know, or at least can remember about his childhood. If we were to construct his childhood just from these four stories all we would have was a sickly, shy, stammering, school avoidant, till dipping thief. Extraterrestrials sending an unmanned (unaliened) mission to earth, if it landed in the Pacific Ocean would decide that this world was all water with fish at the bottom of it. “Job done. Nothing of interest here”. I supposed here the motto here is, be careful what stories get told about you, they became your history.
I suppose the obvious question here is why I know so little about his him before he met my mother at around the age of 27. I suppose there are three possible explanations. Childhood was an unpleasant experience best left undiscussed. Second option it was plain boring and there was nothing to say which might remotely be interesting. Third, why would anyone talk about their childhood? Everyone had one so what would be the point. My gut feeling goes wish this. There has been a shift in our culture over the last fifty years towards self reflection. I honestly believe that he just did not think about it much. One indication of a possible exception to this was his anxiety about any signs that showed that his children had inherited problems to do with speech or hearing. I do believe that the problems in these areas had been distressing and had helped to shape who he was for better or worse. My mother says that he would try to lift the tongue of each of us to see how long the fraenulum tie to the mouth was, believing that a short one was the cause of his speech impediment. Similarly anxiety about my learning difficulties as a child resulted in hearing tests and more general concerns that there was something wrong with me. A kind of inherited blight that shifted form.
So in many ways I know more about a man who was born in 1764, than I do about my father who was born in 1920. John Yeadon is exceptional in two ways, that he felt his childhood was significant and he produced a written record which somehow survived two centuries.
In the absence of stories we can fall back on facts. If you are making a cake you first identify the ingredients and I suppose we can do this in Rowland case by first looking at the families of the four people who were his grandparents.
His maternal grandfather was a man named Thomas Wilkinson who was a Tailor with a drink problem. His family had lived in that area for at least two hundred years. A succession of Peter Wilkinson’s had operated water Mills in the area and then set up a timber mill. They had been important in setting up a Methodist Church at Summerbridge, and I’ve seen reports in old newspapers of family members providing the entertainment at chapel soirees. Entrepreneurs, aspirational middle class, religious and very respectable. The family timber business still stands aside the river at Smmerbridge but is now under different ownership.
.My mother felt that genetics accounted for everything. Physical and mental characteristics are passed on, sometimes missing a generation but always coming back. Personalities, especially the ‘bad-bugger’ ones are inherited. I suspect that this law may have been operating here. Whilst most of the family were on their way to prosperity and Methodist Valhalla the branch directly leading to my father went into a bumpy patch. I suspect it was the combination of tailoring and alcoholism which got Thomas’s father Samuel into the workhouse at Pateley Bridge, after a short sojourn with a much younger music teacher in nearby Otley. Thomas first married a woman called Rachel, moved to Yeadon where she died at aged thirty four. She left him with young six children to raise. Why did Thomas and Rachel move to Yeadon within two years of their marriage? A bigger more prosperous town might seem to be the more obvious choice for somebody who makes his living by producing and selling clothes. It now looks irrational but maybe there are factors that I am not aware of.
It took him five years to marry again after losing Rachel. In June 1889 he married Cora Marshall, and three months later my father’s mother Ida was born. She was aged 38 and marrying for the first time, he was 40. Maybe she had been living with Thomas for a while. Cora was the granddaughter of John Yeadon
All I know about Cora is contained in three stories that I heard from my aunt Iris. Her husband died of alcohol poisoning on the day of a daughter’s wedding. The groom’s father had unwisely set up a free bar which Thomas drowned in. Cora apparently said it was the best news she had heard in a long time.
Her husband’s heavy drinking had been a problem for some time. Tailor shops would not employ him in a regular job because of unreliability. At the time of his death he was being ‘paid by the piece’ at a sewing room in neighbouring Guiseley.
Finally her daughter Ida would not let Cora to see her three grandchildren. Iris describes the family coming out of a cinema on Yeadon High Street sometime during the late 1920’s. Cora was spotted hiding in a tea room opposite. She was trying to hide, presumably to see the children
Ida had her first child, Kathleen as a single mother in 1909 when she was around nineteen years old. She married Rowland Kitchen (senior) the father of her later two children in 1914. In the same year he signed up whilst under the influence of alcohol and group think for a five year trench digging holiday with the Labour Corps in France and Belgium. He was said to have cried all the way to the assembly point at Leeds on the train but it was too late as he had signed the forms. Ida’s next child was my father Rowland (Junior) who was born in February 1920.
My personal memories of Ida are from the mid 1960’s when she was an old woman sliding into Dementia. One memory is a strange fusion of a chocolate brown rag carpet, domino box with a picture of glowing coals on the lid and discussion about which of her children should bring Ida to live with them. A mental welfare office was trying to persuade the family that Ida would best be nursed at home. In our case this would have meant Ida taking over the front room in a house with three children. The second memory on from that was visiting Ida with my father in what was called a Psycho geriatric ward at High Royds mental hospital at Menston in between Leeds and Bradford. I was around ten years old and she confused me for a nurse. Housed in a long, open ward where the beds came close to touching each other. There could have been fifty women there. The first look was like a medieval vision of purgatory . People curled up like foetuses in high railed cots, poor old creatures pacing and re-enacting a loop of life from fifty years ago. Women who had once had a life screaming whilst be being rolled back and forth across a rubber sheeted mattress by nurses who were removing urine soaked clothing. ‘Sans Everything’ was the title of a book of the time, about these hidden worlds and the lives lived in them. When Ida eventually died after years of this her wedding ring went missing. My father believed that it was stolen by the staff. I think he was probably right.
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