Friday, 15 May 2015

Kate Dobson -- a stranger in a photograph

I haven't 'investigated' any photos for ages, so at the weekend I dipped into the drawerful of old photos that I got from my Mum and picked one more or less at random -- this is it, above. It was the second one I looked at and I stuck with it because it had a name written on the back.
The name was Kate Dobson and there was a date, October 1877.
     I should say that these photos weren't particularly valued by my Mum. When I was sorting out her house, they were in the damp stone outhouse in the garden, in rotting cardboard boxes and covered in black smuts. I think they must have been inside something she bought at an auction, a writing box, perhaps, and she wasn't that interested in them but kept them anyway. But they weren't family photos, just random images from who knows where. Mum lived in Richmond, Yorkshire.
     So the idea was to find out, if possible, who Kate Dobson was. In the photo, Kate looked as though she was in her early thirties, I thought, so I searched on the Ancestry website for Kate Dobsons living in or near to Darlington (where the photo was taken) and born around 1845. It didn't take too long to identify her as Kate Mary Ann Dobson, born in late 1853. That makes her actually only twenty-four in the photo. I think she looks a little careworn for her age, don't you?
 I knew I had found the right Kate Dobson because she had filled in the 1911 census return as head of household and her handwriting was identical to that on the photo.
     What else could I find out about Kate Dobson? She was christened Kate, rather than Catherine, which seems relatively unusual. Her full name, as you can see, was Kate Mary Ann Dobson. She was born in Leyburn in Wensleydale, a lovely little Dales town not far from Richmond.
We used to go quite often when I was little, to Tennant's auction house, which is still going strong and is very highly regarded. Also, my singing group (Bel Canto) went to compete in the Wensleydale Festival music competition which was held there.
     Kate's paternal grandfather was Matthew Dobson, a 'landed proprietor' born in 1774 and resident of Grange Hall, Heighington, near Darlington, where his family had lived since at least 1628. Grange Hall was registered as a non-conformist place of worship in February 1780 so the family were almost certainly non-conformists. In August 1810 Matthew married Martha Stapylton, a native of Leyburn, and they moved to Grove House, in Grove Square, just off the main marketplace. That house was built in 1757 and is still there today. It's a bed & breakfast place now. Matthew and Martha had eight children and Matthew doesn't seem to have had to work, probably living instead from the income from his 'land and houses'.
The way into Leyburn marketplace from Grove Square around the end of the 19th century
      Their eldest son was Ralph Stapylton Dobson (born 1813) and he established himself as a wine and spirit merchant in Leyburn. He married a local girl, Mary Ann Fryer, in late 1844 and they had seven children, of whom Kate was the fourth. The wine and spirit shop must have been very successful because the family moved from one house to another, over the years, starting at 'Railway Villa' and ending up in 'Brentwood House', right in the marketplace, and he was able to afford to send his sons away to Bishopton Close school near Ripon. Two of Ralph's three sons ended up taking over the business. Ralph often served as a juryman at the Assizes, along with other respectable citizens.
     But there was a major falling out between Ralph and his siblings over their inheritance from their mother. The Yorkshire Post carried a long and detailed account of a court case heard in Lincoln's Inn in December 1868. It's so complicated that I can't understand it properly but it comes down to Ralph being accused of stealing his mother's will (and, possibly, destroying it?), so that he could inherit half of her property rather than having to take only a one-sixth share. He was accused of being 'a villain and a perjurer' by the lawyer representing two of his sisters. He said, in court, that 'up to the present time he had lived respected in the neighbourhood in which he was born [...] and he was now charged with a deliberate fraud upon his aged mother, with a view to injure his sisters and deprive them of their just rights. If, therefore, the jury decided against him, he would go forth from the court a disgraced, ruined, perjured man.' Unfortunately it took the jury just fifteen minutes to decide against him.
     Kate Dobson was fifteen when this calamity struck the family, and who knows what effect it had on her. Both she and the youngest child of the family, Maria Margaret (born 1859) remained unmarried and they seem to have become inseparable. They continued to live at home for many years until, eventually, in the 1891 census (when Kate was 38) the two sisters had moved to Richmond (my home town) and were lodging at Clyde House at the top of Frenchgate. Kate was earning a little money as a music teacher and Maria was listed as a 'fancy wool worker'. I'm not sure how much money there was in that. Their next door neighbour was a widow, Jane Whitelock, who was 81 in 1891 and seems to have been supporting two daughters and two granddaughters on the income from running a lodging house. Perhaps this inspired the two sisters for, by the next census, in 1901, they had set themselves up as lodging house keepers at 30 Maison Dieu, Richmond, right opposite the house I grew up in.
30 Maison Dieu, Richmond, Yorkshire
I don't think it can have been terribly profitable because, ten years later, when Kate was in her late fifties, they had moved again, to 22 Windsor Terrace in Darlington, which, being near the railway line (as far as I can work out -- it's gone now) was something of a come down. They only had one boarder. No further censuses are open to scrutiny, so I haven't been able to track them any further.
     Kate and her sister Maria are buried together in Darlington West cemetery. Kate died in 1933 and Maria in 1936, both spinsters. When I discovered that they shared the same gravestone, I felt sad that they had only had each other for most of their adult lives and also in death.
     That's all I've been able to discover about Kate Mary Ann Dobson -- oh, apart from the fact that Kate trained as a first aider in 1891. If anyone is researching her as part of their family tree, they're welcome to copy her photo. As they lived opposite the house I grew up in (and, actually, that tall red-brick house partly visible in the photo above was my great-grandmother's house where my mum spent most of her childhood), Kate and Maria feel like neighbours now. I had no idea when I pulled Kate's photo at random out of the drawer that she would have lived so nearby.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Language of the Silent World

On my Instagram feed I recently posted an image from an Edwardian booklet on British Sign Language, 'The Language of the Silent World'. This was first published in 1914 and the last edition was printed in 1929. Until it was superseded in 1938 by a new pamphlet published by the National Institute for the Deaf, this was the mostly widely available source of information on sign language.

It's interesting for the choice of words given and also for the way they are signed, which in some cases may show a sign that was a good 'cultural fit' at the beginning of the twentieth century but which may now have been altered (for example, the sign for 'punish' seems to be based on caning, as rainbowhomevintage noted on Instagram). But a lot of the signs are still the same, commentors said -- I don't have any knowledge about this myself.
     I think it's very strange that the last page of the book is a set of animal shadows as this seems to make very light of anyone who relies on sign language to communicate. I don't think you would find those in a sign language book today.
 One of the big questions I have about sign language is how the grammar works? Evidently there are nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, but how do they combine reliably to make complex sentences, how do tenses come across, and different constructions such as conditionals or commands? Perhaps someone will add a comment or two below.
unfortunate placing of wormhole...

     As there was quite a bit of interest in the booklet, I've scanned all the pages for anyone that's interested. My copy has some bookworm holes in it! So if you notice some strange little holes, that's what they are.