The Mourning Brooch by Jean Renwick

Zoom Meeting 21 April

Notes by Susanne Young

Last year Jean published her book The Mourning Brooch, the first of a planned series, following years of diligent family history research. Without giving too much of the story away, for those who have not yet read the book, Jean described how she researched and wrote her family history novel.

The mourning brooch in question (black enamel & gold surrounding a lattice work pattern of grey and dark hair) was bequeathed to Jean by her late God mother Dorothy Walker (1920 – 1989) together with some old photos and a canteen of cutlery. The inscription upon the back of the brooch reads ‘Obit. Mrs Addy 3 Jan 1849 age 39’ but Jean had no idea to whom this referred. Her curiosity piqued Jean initially located Elizabeth Addy (nee Hall) in the 1841 census in Bentley near Doncaster. Elizabeth was married to farmer Joseph Addy and the couple subsequently had two daughters Mary Ann b.1843 and Frances b.1848.

The cutlery was inscribed as presented to Mr (Edward) Walker on the occasion of his marriage 6 August 1903. Edward, Dorothy’s father was Butler at Knowsley Hall (country seat of the Earl of Derby near Liverpool) and he and his wife Lily (nee Mellows) rented a cottage on the outskirts of the Estate. Their marriage certificate gave Lily’s father as farmer Joseph Mellows who was related to the Addy family and hence the link between Elizabeth Addy and Jean’s God mother was established.

By this time however, Jean realised there was so much more to this family story and she formed the idea of writing a family saga. With the aid of meticulous and detailed real-life character time-lines and a general time-line of relevant historical events Jean constructed her narrative and wrote her first chapter in 2016 beginning her story in 1839. In the absence of family photographs, Jean selected various portrait images to help her imagine the people she was writing about.

Elizabeth’s two daughters led quite different lives and Jean’s research uncovered a scandalous divorce case in newspaper archives concerning Mr & Mrs Willey of Dudley Hill near East Bierley (Mary Ann married into the Willey family – wealthy Bradford wool merchants). Jean’s internet research put her in touch with a fellow researcher based in the US who helped with information regarding the Willey and Edwards families (Samuel Edwards married Hannah Mary Willey). Jean also visited numerous locations associated with her research and was delighted to eventually identify the Addy’s farm in Bentley. She visited Moor House Farm, East Bierley once owned by John Willey and was invited by the current occupant to look around the house in Manningham where Mary Ann once lived. At All Saints, Arksey Jean experienced where the Addy family worshipped and located the graves of Joseph & Elizabeth. All these experiences helped enrich her writing.

Jean’s account of her research for the writing of her book, based almost entirely on real people, events and places, was most interesting and well received by members – I have already ordered my own copy through Amazon.

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