Rolling Back The Years – Part Two

This is the one I like, the 1901 census form for my fathers family mainly because when I worked with him he’d often sit down at lunchtimes and talk about his fathers family and how they lived in Sheepscar an extremely busy and cosmopolitan district of Leeds during those times when my grandfather was a boy, some of those stories were unbelievable, like the time the cat fell in the brewing vat and no-one noticed until they drained it two weeks later – but thats for another time.

Today the district of Sheepscar is the central motorway and a complicated one way system of wide routes designed to simply get cars through the area into the city centre as quickly as possible, little remains of the community that lived there in 1901, new industrial estates have replaced the hundreds of streets of back-to-back terraced houses and small businesses that existed back then, our family census entry spans two pages of the 1901 returns and so we have a good idea of what the community looked like back then – lets say it was cosmopolitan, it reflected Leeds’s growing population of 109 years ago with a mix of foreign artisans and tailoring workers.

My fathers family lived on Whitelock Street in a large public house named The White Stag Inn, the road and the pub still exist today albeit the pub has recently closed and is now boarded up and the road is a modern industrial estate of anonymous warehouses. Back in 1901 my Great-Grandfather George was registered as the Publican (self employed) and according to family folklore he was unusual in that he owned the property and was not just a manager, and again according to the tales my father told they actually brewed beer in the cellar of the pub, hence the tale of the family cat that drowned in the brew one week, they still sold the beer though.

In 1901 George was 47 years old, his wife Mary 46 and clearly the pub trade was sufficient to keep them in one of the largest private residences in the area as well as supporting a family of ten offspring, on the date of the census their sons and daughters were listed as Minetta (25), Norah (23), Robert (21), Polly (19), George (17), William (15), Percy (13), Leonard (6), Elsie (4) and Dorothy (9 mnth), quite a production line.

The three eldest girls do not have employment and you’d imagine that they were occupied full time in helping their mother with the brood, Robert the eldest son is an auctioneer which is interesting because my father had a cousin who died in the 1980s, Gay (rumoured) George who rose to be a director of one of Leeds’ most prominent auctioneer and estate agent, I’m assuming that Gay George was the son of Robert the auctioneer – it was Gay George who bequeathed to my father (and then to me) a grandfather clock that my own grandfather had made, how it found its way to Gay Georges house in the first place I don’t know – it was also Gay George that I grew to know for the last year of his life after we had moved back to Leeds, I used to visit his agency once a month to pay the mortgage and he introduced himself after he noticed that our initial and surname were the same, I had to bite my tongue to stop myself calling him Gay George every time we met for it was very useful to be related to a director of the agency that handles your mortgage.

George (17) – the son of the publican George, pay attention there are lots of Georges in our family – was listed as a plasterers apprentice and the rest of the offspring as students, so George senior and The White Stag were supporting a family of twelve with just two of the children in work – like I said, its a big pub.

By the way, its Percy (13) who is my fathers father, my grandfather, more of him later.

The contents of the two pages of the census that I have a copy of tell a much bigger story of the district though, keep in mind that in 1901 Leeds was already a major centre for clothing production in England, West Yorkshire produced some of the finest cloth in the world at that time and it was made up into clothing in Leeds in hundreds of tailoring businesses small and large, Leeds was the location of the largest tailoring factory in the world at one point – the reknown Burtons.

Its a well worn stereotype but a truism also that Leeds’ tailoring businesses attracted a large Jewish community into the city,(it still has a very active Jewish business community today) among the most famous being Michael Marks, founder of Marks & Spencer and Arnold Ziff of Stylo Barrett shoe fame – the street in Sheepscar that is of interest to us probably reflects this heritage too.

For instance 38 Whitelock Street was the home of The Hyman family, the head listed as a tailoring machinist of Polish nationality but also noted as a Russian subject, at number 40 were the Browns, husband and wife of German origin, husband not working, wife was a Tailor-House Worker. Number 42 contained The Silverstons from Poland (Russian subject) the head of the house Morris being a Tailor-Machinist, eldest son Alfred (16) a Press Printer and daughter Annie (14) a Tailor-Canvasser (whatever that involved).

Number 44, the Frieze family from Russia, father Alto being a self employed Traveller-Clothing Salesman, then jumping across the street at number 1 we have a bakery shop owned by a family from Cambridge, how bizarre, and next door to that our family pub The White Stag, next door to the pub is an interesting connection, the Browns, single parent family consisting of their 62 year old mother, three sons and a daughter all now grown up, the daughter does not work (of course) but two of the sons are employed as self employed engravers and watchmakers – interesting because a few more years down the line watchmaking is the trade that my grandfather Percy would take up, he is 13 at this time and maybe he is taking tips from his grown up neighbours ?

Moving along the street we seem to have a row of terraced houses containing an eclectic mix of Leeds born and Russian born inhabitants employed in a wide variety of jobs, tailoring being a common thread (see what I did there) but shop assistants, bricklayers, boot repairers & shoemakers a coachman and a teacher all appear – number 17 appears to be a business of bootmakers as everyone in that house has that trade.

So there we have it, a busy, cosmopolitan and eclectic street of houses and businesses, a snapshot of life in what would have been an industrious area just on the fringe of the city centre and there sit my fathers family, huge and resplendent in their large three storey public house, probably the centre of social life in that district and you can only imagine what the conversation must have been like on a busy night in there with the many different eastern european dialects mingling in the several public rooms downstairs.

And there is a twist to the story, for being a property and business owner and with so many children to inherit you’d imagine that George (the elder) would have a problem deciding who to leave his goods and chattels to when facing his own demise wouldn’t you ?

You’ll have to wait until Monday to find out what he did…

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