Friday, June 26, 2009

The Clayton Cousins

It's Friday and therefore it must be Family History Day. The theme for today is The Clayton Cousins. So let's start with some context : the three cousins who lived in Clayton near Bradford were Ada, Ellen and Clara Beanland and the picture above shows them in about 1904. They were the children of Arthur Beanland (1866-1944) - my mothers' Uncle Arthur - and his second wife, Emma Binns (1861-1929). Arthur B was born in Keighley but at the time of this photograph, he was living in Clayton and, by the time of the 1911 census, the family were living at 9, Pasture Side, Clayton. In 1911, the eldest of the girls (Ada on the right in the picture above) was working as a worsted spinner.
So here we have these three girls born around the turn of the century (Ada in 1897, Ellen in 1899, and Clara in 1901), the daughters of a mill mechanic and his wife, growing up with the century : a century which would see more concentrated social and economic changes than any previous period of human history. The years of their childhood must have been years of massive hope and expectation - the British Empire was at its zenith, Bradford was still the centre of the world's wool industry, the first motor cars were bumping their way along Clayton High Street and the newspapers would have been full of man's early attempts at flight. What future would these girls have in front of them? What adventures, what loves, what lives?
The answer is strangely muted. All three lived into adulthood : Ada was the last to die and that was in the 1970s. She is the only one I remember, the other two sisters died whilst I was still a child. Cousin Ada attended our wedding in 1973 but all I remember was a little old lady with a funny hat and very little to say.
Not one of the three sisters ever married and they lived throughout their lives together in a small terraced house in Clayton. When Ada eventually died I remember going with my mother to the house and discovering plain rooms devoid of any personal effects and the walls of the kitchen and staircase white-washed. I believe all three sisters were members of the Plymouth Brethren sect and regular attenders at their chapel. They had a reputation within the family of plain living and parsimony.
But what was the story of their lives? What led them down the strange path they took? Were there no loves, were there no dreams? They had no children and I suppose that I am the last of the family to remember them. It is therefore unlikely that I will ever know anything more than the bare words on the census forms. If I want to know the story of their lives, it looks like I will have to make it up.

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