To begin, apologies for a long post. But as you read, I think you’ll understand the necessity.
The other night I delved back, hunting my ancestors. I’d done it a few years ago, but most of the information had vanished – probably in a box somewhere in the garage. Still, with nothing on television, and some time to kill, it seemed like fun to trace that line through history.
Somewhere in the first 40 years of the 19th century, Isaac Nickson arrived in Leeds. He’d been born in 1792 in Malton, North Yorkshire, and married Jane Caulter on June 2, 1813. He brought a pair of sons along with him, Isaac and George. According to the 1841 census (the first one undertaken), Isaac Nickson Sr. was living in Garland Fold, just by Timble Bridge. His 16 year-old-son William was with him and a 15-year-old daughter, Mary. By this time, Isaac Jr and George shared a house on Gower Street in the Leylands. Isaac was 25, George 20. Hey made their living as painters – for which, read Jack of all trades – and both were married.
George had wed Mary Caroline Hewson on April 22, 1839, in Leeds Parish Church. She was born in 1821 and would live until 1897. He’d die on December 30, 1866.
By 1851 they’d moved to the bottom of Meanwood Road, in Sheepscar. George was still listed as a painter and paper hanger, and by now they had three children, John William, who was nine, Jane, aged five, and Hannah, three (in 1861 Isaac and his wife were on Wade Street, more or less where the Merrion Centre now stands, with his wife. No children mentioned).
Skip forward to the 1871 census. A Caroline M. Nickson is listed at 200 North Street in Holbeck. She’s the head of the house, which chimes with George dying a few years before. However, she’s also a painter a decorator, with a cryptic (7 men and boys) after the job. She took over the firm? Maybe. Living with her are her sons, John William and Robert, as well as daughters Caroline (12) and another son, Richard (9).
The 1861 census shows a William Nickson, old Isaac’s son a painter just like his older brothers, ahe 36 living on Elm Street, in the Bank area of Leeds with his wife Charlotte and his daughter Martha (they don’t show up on the 1851 census). He’s 36, The three of them are still address a decade later. By now Martha is 15 and listed as a flax screwer.
In 1881 they’re still at 13, Elm St. Martha isn’t mentioned, but there’s a son call John William, born in 1864 and making a living as a repairer and heeler of boots. There’s also Mary Rushworth. She’s five and listed as granddaughter. Martha’s child – she married Benjamin Rushworth on Christmas Day, 1873.
John William would marry Elizabeth Mona (or Marie) Nickson. In 1901 he was 37 and still a boot repairer, living on Ellerby Road, near East End Park. The couple had five children, Willie (16) a grocer’s assistant, Nellie (15), Maud (14) – both girls listed as tailoresses – John William, Jr (4) and Harold Ewart, then 9.
10 years later and they’d barely moved 200 yards. Still living in the Bank, on East Park Rd. John William, Sr. is still a painter. Willie is still a grocer’s assistant. John William, Jr. is a clothier ticket, and Harold Ewart is a miller – he worked in a flour mill.
But by 1914, Harold was living on Garton Road and was a tailor’s cutter. It was still just a stone’s throw from his parents. He’d obviously been courting, because on June 1, he marries Elizabeth Laycock, the daughter of a publican oat 103, South Accommodation Rd in Hunslet. It’s a Baptist ceremony.
It’s also a necessary one, because five months later, on November 2, my father, Raymond Ewart would be born. She was in the family way at the ceremony. My father grew up in Hunslet. Still close to the Bank area, but on the south side of the river, and a definite step up. The family must have moved there, a definite step up from where Harold had been.
So why am I telling you all this? Perhaps because a strange feeling began to creep over me as I researched. My fiction and my family were colliding.
In my new book Gods of Gold, the main character, Tom Harper, grows up in the Leylands, not even two minutes away from Gower Street, where Isaac and George Nickson lived for a while. His fiancée, Annabelle, grew up on the Bank, round the corner from John William Nickson and his brood; they might well have known each other. And she’d go on to run the Victoria, at the bottom of Roundhay Road in Sheepscar. When George Nickson lived on Meanwood Road, it would almost have been his local, albeit before Annabelle’s time.
They were all working-class people. Poor. I doubt a single one of them owned the roof over their heads. They probably all struggled from day to day.
Suddenly I began to wonder if those ancestors of mine, and their relations, hadn’t been tugging at my sleeve when I was writing the book. ‘No, have him born there.’ ‘She should come from there.’ ‘Have a scene set there, I’ll tell you what it looked like.’ Or perhaps it’s some atavistic memory.
There’s even link of sorts to Richard Nottingham. At the first census, old Isaac Nickson was living in Garland Fold, by Timble Bridge. That’s yards from where I sited Richard’s house.
I don’t know. But it’s strange, and even a little creepy. It tells me that my roots run deep here. Sometime I’ll dig deeper into those 19th century ancestors. I’m just not sure I’m ready for it yet…