Wives & Widows: Women did make wills

Zoom talk by Anna Watson Thursday 3 June 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

Retired archivist Anna Watson presented her talk based on her long experience of probate records at Lancashire Archives. Her information is drawn from the Diocese of Chester from C17th to C19th. Whilst women made wills as early as C14th, historically, married women were only allowed to make a will if their husband gave permission.

Coverture is the condition of being a married woman. A feme covert (married woman) could not own property in her own name nor enter into a contract. A feme sole (unmarried/divorced woman) did have the right to own property and enter into contracts. Neither could a married woman be sued or sue. She was not permitted to obtain an education or keep any salary for herself without her husband’s permission. Her legal status was on a par with minors, criminals and the insane. An important clause in any will is a declaration of sound mind.

In a study of the Archdeaconry of Richmond (which takes up roughly one half of the Diocese of Chester) only 7.5 % of wills were made by women. The majority (5274) are made by widows, followed by 1190 by spinsters. A spinster could be either an unmarried woman or a widow who remained unmarried.

It was not until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 that married women were permitted to hold property in their own names. Some women entered into pre-marriage settlements whereby they might retain some power of ownership over their assets including the power to make bequests in a will.

Wills made by women can be most enlightening for the family historian with information regarding bequests to individuals and charitable donations, details of debtors to whom the women had loaned money and frequently their maiden names. Many women acted as witnesses to wills and some made Renunciations if they were unable to carry out their duties as Executors.

Anna rounded up her talk with the story of seamstress Sarah Hare who died in 1744 and included in her will her wish for a wax effigy to be made following her death, ‘I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before and fix’d up so near the place were my corps lyes as it can be with my name and time of Death put upon the case in any manner most desirable’.  This can still be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stowe Bardolph.

Recommended reading: Women and Property in Early Modern England by Amy Louise Erickson.

Saving Chapel Row from demolition by the Lyte Family

Zoom talk by: John Lyte

Notes by: Stephen Miller

John LYTE, chairman of a local Family History Group, and ancestral link with Henry Francis LYTE (composer of “Abide with Me”) thrilled the 12 attendees with his talk on “Saving Chapel Row”

John bought a derelict property in Briestfield (between Huddersfield and Wakefield) and over a period of several years restored it and researched the history of the property and those that resided there.

Briestfield is a medieval village, whose name derives from the coal fields which surround it. It was first mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1066, showing a value of £2. The name is formed from the word ‘Brere’, meaning a tongue of land between two rivers. In this case Howroyd Beck and Briestfield Beck.

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Victorians to Elizabethans: Tracing our English Ancestors from 1901-1952

Zoom talk by:  Janet Few

Notes by: Lynda Balmforth

Approximately 36 people joined our Zoom meeting in which Janet made us realise just how much information we were missing out on by not exploring the sources of the twentieth century. We tend to think that we know it already and it can be difficult to research with rules of closures, such as the 100 year rule for releasing a census, also we think of it as not ‘history’ but it is a vital part of our family history with the advantages of concentrating on a time period, a time of great change and therefore interest, especially with the subject of DNA and Janet then gave us an in depth list of twentieth century sources available today.

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Liverpool Cow Keepers

Zoom talk by Dave Joy Thursday 4 March 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

A rare treat featuring a fascinating account of social history delivered by a most entertaining speaker.

The early C19th Industrial Revolution led to a massive removal of people from the countryside into Britain’s towns and cities. Amongst these were a number of farming families who relocated from Yorkshire to Liverpool. This was in response to prevailing economic circumstances as milk producers found their market for fresh milk shifted from rural to urban areas. Mid C19th introduction of the rail network provided some solution to the problems of transporting milk from the countryside to towns and cities. Despite this city cow keepers prospered as milk did not travel well by train and by providing fresh milk locally these businesses were also able to cut out the ‘middle man’. 

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Threshfield Meeting Report 21st February 2021

Zoom presentation by Mr Chris Broom “Humour in Genealogy”

30 Attendees

This was our first Saturday afternoon meeting by Zoom. Usually our meeting at Threshfield, but about 29 members and non-members enjoyed linking up with Chris who lives in Suffolk to hear his amusing talk.

Chris had only taken an interest in genealogy about 10 years ago when his father, Trevor, towards the end of his life, felt he would like to know more about his family so Chris began to research and was surprised to take note of many amusing items he came across in different sources and decided he could put together an interesting talk about them.

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Lady Arbella Stuart – The Queen that never was

Zoom talk by David Templeman Thursday 4 Feb 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

David entertained a good number of members yesterday evening with his illustrated presentation about Lady Arbella (the name she was known by, rather than Arabella as she was later referred to).

Arbella was the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick and her story has largely been forgotten until recently. She had a greater claim to the throne of England than James 1 as she was born here but was most likely passed over by the Privy Councillors at Elizabeth I’s death simply because she was a woman. After two Queens, the Privy Council opted for a King rather than a third Queen.

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Raikeswood Prisoner of War Camp

Zoom presentation by Alan Robert

29 Attendees

Originally a training camp for Bradford Pals and other Regiments (January 1916). Huts were given names like “Buckingham Palace” and “One Step Nearer”, pathways were given familiar names like “Downing Street” and some were given derogatory names. The camp was built to hold 1200 people. When it later changed to a Prisoner of War Camp, at its height, it held 564 officers and 137 orderlies (686 Prisoners of War); total number of admissions was 989.

Alan gave thanks to Rob Freeman who created and provided animation for the talk. So special was the Skipton camp that some of the prisoners wrote a book of their memoirs ‘Kriegsgefangen in Skipton. 60 different officers contributed, illustrated by Doppelhopf. A copy of the book is available online. It is currently being translation by Leeds University.

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Getting Started with Parish Records

Zoom presentation by Sue Steel 7 January 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

A good number of members joined Chairman of Bradford Family History Society Sue Steel for her introduction to the eclectic sources of information available amongst Parish records.

Apart from the expected Parish registers containing births, marriages and deaths, some collections may provide insight into historical community activities and offer valuable information about our ancestors.

Parish records of births, marriages and deaths began in 1538 under the direction of Thomas Cromwell and until 1753 were all recorded in a single book. A separate book was then introduced for marriages followed by three separate books for baptisms, marriages and deaths in 1812. Not all life events were recorded as there was a tax to pay, although paupers were exempt from payment.

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Upstairs Downstairs

From Humble Beginnings to the American Dream

A Zoom presentation by Jackie Depelle Saturday 21 November

Notes from Susanne Young

Well, what a wonderful way to spend a gloomy November Saturday afternoon, listening to one of popular speaker Jackie Depelle’s case studies. Maureen Heseltine welcomed Jackie to our gathering of 40 plus Zoom attendees from near and far. Tracing the story of her husband’s great grandfather Richard Powley, Jackie’s presentation was filled with additional background information, illustrations and useful websites.

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Burley Meeting 6 Feb 20

The Airedale & Wharfedale Family History Society met 6 February in Burley for a talk by our President Stan Merridew on ‘How to get the best from our Website’. 

The Wharfedale & Keighley family history groups which recently merged into our current society both had fairly run-of-mill family history websites which had operated since the 1990s. Like many other family history websites these were mainly used for membership subscriptions and sales of publications. Following the merger our webmaster Steve Miller created a much-improved new website containing a wealth of useful information for family historians. However due to technical difficulties a second website has since been created (thanks to a great deal of hard work by Steve and Stan) which can be accessed at AWFHS.org. Members can log into the website using their membership number and will then be allocated a password.

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