Richard Thompson was a 22-year-old Dewsbury lad in 1861 with an unusual occupation. He was a brothel keeper’s assistant.
Brothels were legal 150 years ago and this one was in Whitworth Road has long been demolished. The neighbours in this working class neighbourhood were labourers, cord winders, rag sorters and a nurse. They are all listed in the Census of that year.
The house was run by Mary A Firth, aged 34, who had four young women working for her aged between 19 and 26. At least the working girls were not younger. One of the scandals of the time was that children as young as 12 were prostitutes. Brothels became illegal after 1885 under legislation that also raised the age of consent from 13 to 16.
This odd slice of local life was discovered by Lynne Schofield, of Crosland Moor, who is course tutor of family history classes at Batley.
Digging into the roots of your family tree can be a rewarding and interesting experience. Lynne can claim to have a WAG — Wife and Girlfriend — of a famous footballer in her history. Although her great aunt Lizzie Parking never had the success of today’s WAGs, such as Abbey Clancy.
Lizzie, from Ireland, married John Ben Parkin, a well-known Huddersfield Rugby Union player, in 1895 at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church.
Lynne says: “By 1898, she had three children and had been deserted by her rugby-playing husband. He refused to pay maintenance and she turned to drink. She was frequently in and out of prison for various offences: theft of a pair of clogs, brawling in the street, obscene language, damage to property and assault.”
A 34-year-old journalist displayed a sense of humour when he submitted a form for the 1911 Census. James Little, who had a wife and two children, added: “Incidentally, we have an Airedale terrier. Name: Roger; total number of children: something over 100; occupation: watchdog.”
Names have often been changed and mangled in documentation because of the carelessness and bad handwriting of officials. One family named Gouldstone became Gluldstone, presumably because some petty penpusher couldn’t be bothered getting it right, even though it was obviously so wrong.
“My own experience at the hands of the transcribers was when my Uncle Willie became Auntie Millie,” says Lynne.
In 100 years time someone might find that I’ve become Denis Killscolumns. Just as long as I’m not listed as a brothel keeper’s assistant.
Lynne’s family history classes are held at St Mary’s Parochial Hall, Merton Street, Batley and start on October 9. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07721 517667 for further details.