Tough times, but a response equal to the strength of the leather she used when a young boot machine hand starting out at work in adult life turning out new boots at one of the many local factories in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Born into the soles of a family of crime and challenging poverty, my great grandmother Harriet Ann Noad (1880-1957) was to face great adversity once married, looking to establish her own family in early twentieth century Leeds. The death of a daughter at the age of just five years old, swiftly followed just ten months later by the death of her husband in the global flu pandemic of 1918 aged just 41 years old.
Harriet Ann (my Dad’s Mum’s Mum) was left to raise five young daughters alone. She must have been a pretty tough, resourceful character, having experienced so much, and straddled so many distinct eras in her life. Of all the ancestors I’ve met stumbling through the generations, Harriet Ann Noad is probably the one I’ve always felt most deserving of remembering or honouring by, at the very least, the lighting of a candle – the theme for this week’s post. Respect most genuinely is due for her heroic reply to what life had to throw at her – tough as old boots and new!
To distil her story, Harriet Ann Noad was born in Leeds on 22 September, 1880, and died there on 15 August, 1957. In her younger days, she was a boot machine hand, and worked in the shoemaking and textile trades like others in the family. She married George Backhouse (1877-1918) on 21 October, 1905 in the church of St. Agnes and St. Stephen, Burmantofts, Leeds on Stoney Rock Lane. At the time, George was a bricklayer, but soon became a cinder stacker at the Leeds City Gas Works. In the 1911 Census, the family unit had established itself at 5, Stoney Rock Grove – part of the spread of back-to-back terraced housing which spread out towards Harehills, before it was levelled later in the century to be replaced by tower blocks.
The couple had six daughters. Lilian (born 1906, died 1999); May (born 1907, died 1993); Gladys, my Nan (born 1910, died 1997); Evelyn (born 1912, died 1918); Dorothy (born 1914, died 1987) and Violet (born 1918, died 2001).
Tragedy was not far away. Just two months after youngest daughter Violet was born, Harriet Ann’s husband George died in the global flu pandemic of 1918. About a quarter of million people died in the UK, and some 50 million worldwide. Some ten months earlier at the beginning of that year, their fourth born daughter Evelyn had also died. She was just five years old. Both were buried at nearby Beckett Street Cemetery.
Harriet Ann was a widow, a single parent raising five daughters on her own. By the 1921 Census, they were all living at 9, Nippet Grove. The two eldest daughters (Lilian, aged 15 years and 5 months, and May, aged 13 years and 11 months) were out working as textiles machinists at Buckley’s Clothing, a textiles manufacturer on Greek Street in the city centre of Leeds. Gladys, my Nan (10 years and 10 months), Dorothy (7 years and 2 months) and Violet (2 years and 9 months) were too young to be sent out to work even for those times! What a struggle those days must have been, but what an amazing household of strong women.
The following year, Harriet Ann was hit by still another blow. Her Mum, Bridget Ann Dudley Corcran died on 21 April, 1922 at the age of 81 years old. She had too faced a similarly challenging life, widowed twice, and working well into her seventies as a ‘knocker-up’.
By the time of the 1939 Register, Dorothy and Violet were still living at home with their Mum, now at 4, Nippet Place. While Harriet Ann was doing unpaid domestic duties, Dorothy was a trouser machinist, and Violet a coat machinist. My Nan Gladys had flown the nest after marrying Spencer Simpson (1934) and apparently was not a stranger to these textles machines that the rest of her family worked with – she once knocked me up a pair of dungarees when I was a toddler later in the 1970s! Gladys already had three children by 1939 and would go on to have eleven in total, Both elder sisters May and Lilian had also married by this point and established their own homes. May married Harry Chapman (1931) and Lillian married Charles Henry Seal (1930). Dorothy went on to marry Sidney Whitaker (1947) and Violet married Horace Rodgers (1942).
Raising five daughters on her own had been no mean feat for Harriet Ann. Her own family background had been chaotic to say the least. Her horizons had never been beyond the Burmantofts neighbourhood. She had lived at 16 Cromwell Street while growing up in the 1881 Census, the 1891 Census, and the 1901 Census. As well as being obviously poverty stricken, particular elements in the immediate family had turned to crime. Her father Joseph had served three years penal servitude for stabbing with intent to do grievous bodily harm (see week 7). Her brother Arthur served much of his adult life behind bars for a string of petty crimes, before settling down to life as a rag and bottle gatherer. (I will return to his story in future weeks). In one way or another, boot-making had been a common thread lacing a number of her brothers and sisters.
Against this backdrop of poverty, loss and aggravation from her own family, Harriet Ann lived through the reigns of six monarchs from her birth in 1880 to her death in 1958. These were Victoria (1837-1901); Edward VII (1901-1910); George V (1910-1936); Edward VIII (1936); George VI (1936-1952); and Elizabeth II (1952-2022), and she lived through the two World Wars. I still can’t quite make that penny drop.
Once she had married, Harriet Ann seemed to have moved a fair number of times, but never really straying very far from the same kind of houses in the same neighbourhood in Burmantofts, which at face value seems odd. I’ve heard it suggested that, since they would have been renting, it was not abnormal for this kind of thing to happen. As soon as news spread of a better property becoming available in the same or nearby street, it was not unusual for a tenant to try to secure it, and then move immediately – for example, simply because the property was south facing (and might secure more sunlight during the day), or if the property had better amenities. In her time, Harriet Ann lived in at least 5 properties – 16 Cromwell Street; 14 Alan Street (shown on her marriage certificate); 5 Stoney Rock Grove; 9 Nippet Grove and 4 Nippet Place. Most of the area was flattened by the 1960s/70s and replaced, mainly by tower blocks.
By my reckoning, Harriet Ann Noad was a remarkable woman, and when I next get the opportunity to visit West Yorkshire I will light a candle for her, either in St Agnes Church, Burmantofts which she used for her marriage, and for her children’s baptisms, or at either Leeds Minster or Bradford Cathedral which I have been surprised at how often the family have made use of, for special occasions on both Dad’s Mum’s side of the family, and Dad’s Dad’s side too.
George Backhouse (husband), Gladys Backhouse (daughter), Spencer Simpson (son-in-law), Bridget Ann Dudley Corcran (mother) and Arthur Noad (brother) are all yet to feature in future weeks. Joseph Noad (her father) has already appeared in a previous post.
Thank you for taking the time to read my #52Ancestors posts. If you feel you can correct anything I have shared, have anything to add or query, please do not hesitate to get in touch. See you next week for another post.
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