It’s December, which means it’s less than four weeks to Christmas, and a little over that until the UK publication of The Blood Covenant.
Today, or very, very shortly, it will be available to read on NetGalley. If you’re a blogger or reviewer and registered with Severn House (my publisher), it going to be waiting for you.
Or you could pre-order the book and there’s a good chance you’ll have it by Christmas. Here has the best price, with free shipping.
Plenty can’t afford it. Ask your library to buy a copy. That way plenty of people will be able to read it.
It’s not a cosy read. But factory bosses working children 12-14 hours a day, and overseers brutally punishing them isn’t comfortable reading. This isn’t the Regency of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer. This is Regency Noir
Bringing them some justice…it’s bloody and hard. But worth the pain.
What would you do if they were your kids?
This is a book that means a lot to me. It’s stirred my anger in a way that little else has. If you read it, please leave a review.
Hard to believe that time barrels along so fast, and that The Blood Covenant will be out in just a few weeks, on the 30th of December. If you order it for Christmas, though, there’s a very fair chance it will arrive in time (just a hint and a nudge).
It’s a very angry book, about finding justice for those who’ve been abused. Those who don’t have the power to fright for themselves. For Simon Westow, it’s more than it job, it becomes something very person, and very, very dark. But not only him. Jane, too, is going to have to face demons she thought long since vanished.
Here’s an abridged extract from near the opening. A way to whet your appetite and have you clicking online to order, I hope. Remember, please, every time you buy from an independent bookshop, all the angels cheer. The cheapest price, with free postage, is here.
‘You testified to the commission that was in town three years ago, didn’t you?’ Dr Hey asked
‘Yes,’ Simon answered.
Oh, he’d talked to them. Men sent from London, part of an investigation around the country into child labour and abuse. Simon knew all about that; he still carried the scars on his body. As he spoke, seeing them sitting safe behind their polished table, he relived all the punishments and torture he received as a boy, at the mill, as an inmate of the workhouse. Year after year of it, from the time he was four until he turned thirteen, when he could take no more and walked away, knowing that even death would be better. Just the memory made the skin of his hands turn clammy and his heart beat faster. He’d talked. But he didn’t believe they’d ever really listened.
‘What made you think about that?’ Simon asked
‘A pair of deaths I had to examine recently.’ Hey pulled some papers from the inside pocket of his coat. ‘I made a few notes I wanted you to see. Read them and come to see me when you have chance.’
Back in the old stone house on Swinegate, Simon read as he ate supper, then spent the evening quietly brooding. For once he scarcely paid attention to Richard and Amos, the twins. Little else existed beyond the thoughts in his head.
‘What is it?’ Rosie asked after she’d put the boys to bed.
‘No need to worry. It’s nothing like that.’ Simon took a deep breath and told her. ‘He made a copy of what he’d written when he saw the children’s bodies. The older boy was ten. He’d lost two fingers on his left hand when he was younger. His body was covered in bruises, it looked like he’d been beaten with a stick or a strap. It was much the same with the younger one. He was just eight.’
‘Who did it?’ Rosie asked. Her fists were bunched, fingernails digging into her palms.
‘A mill overseer,’ he replied.
Simon shook his head. ‘He didn’t put that in there.’
Now he was out here, walking as he tried to stay ahead of his memories and pain.
The sky had cleared. It was colder now; his breath bloomed in front of his face. The remnants of rain dripped slowly from gutters. The stink of the manufactories had returned to fill the air.
Damn Hey. He’d released the past from its cage. Now it was out here, hounding him, snapping and snarling at his heels. All these years and still it wouldn’t leave him. But better for Simon to be doing something than be restless and wakeful at home.
He’d gone from Sheepscar across to Holbeck, along the river all the way to the ferry landing as he tried to exhaust his mind. He’d sensed Leeds grow silent around him as people gave up on the last dregs of night. He was tired, his legs ached and his feet were sore. But he knew he’d be out here for a long time yet. Bloody Hey.
Simon made his way past the warehouses on the Calls. Bone-weary, needing to sleep. But the images, the history, the pain kept raging through his head. He was just a few yards from the river, able to hear the water lapping and smell the low, thin perfume of decay.
A sound cut through, the creak of oars in their rowlocks. Late to be out, he thought. Maybe someone was stealing from the barges moored at the wharves. Never mind, he decided; it wasn’t his business. Not until someone paid him to retrieve what might be taken.
‘Grab him under the arms. Get him out of there.’
The night watch, taking care of some drunk who’d fallen in the river. It happened at least once a month. A man would grow fuddled, lose his way and walk into the water. Some jumped, dragged down by despair. A very few were lucky; they were pulled out and survived. Most drowned, found bobbing downstream when morning came.
‘He weighs a bloody ton.’
‘You don’t need to be gentle, he’s already dead. Just grab him. Oh Christ, his throat’s been cut. The constable’s going to want to see this one.’
Simon felt a chill rise through his body, colder than the night. The men were on Pitfall, only a few yards downriver from Leeds Bridge. Two of them, standing and stretching their backs. Between them, lying on the stones, a shape that had once been a man. Simon could make out the jacket and the trousers, soaked and stained by the water. The men from the watch turned at his footsteps, surprised to see another living soul out at this hour.
‘Can I see him?’
One of the men shook his head. ‘You don’t want to do that,’ he said. ‘The dead are never pretty, mister.’
‘I know,’ Simon told him. ‘I’ve seen my share.’
A short silence. In the glow from a pair of lanterns, he caught the two men glancing at each other. A penny for each of them helped make up their minds.
The light caught the corpse’s face. Simon knelt, brushing away some dirt and a piece of cloth that was caught in man’s hair. He lifted the chin. A straight, deep gash across the neck. Clean and quick. But definitely no accident. Murdered and tossed into the river. He hadn’t been dead long, either; it couldn’t be more than an hour or two. Nothing had nibbled at his eyes yet, the flesh still intact and fresh.
He didn’t recognize the face.
One of the men coughed.
‘There’s something else, sir.’ He raised the lantern. ‘You see? Down there.’
The right hand was missing. Severed at the wrist. It looked like a single, swift blow had gone through the bone. For the love of God. Before or after he was dead?
‘The constable will be wondering who you are, sir. He’s going to want to know about someone asking to see the body.’
‘Tell him it’s Simon Westow. The thief-taker. He knows me.’
This week, I’m afraid, I have a few links for you, along with a promise of an upcoming excerpt from The Blood Covenant, which comes out at the end of December. That will be next week.
But the links, well, there’s a lot of meat there. A little while ago the Leeds Library, Britain’s oldest subscription library, founded in 1768, interviewed me. It covers music, music journalism, researching history and Leeds in general. Very wide-ranging, and I bare all. Well, maybe. And you can find it right here.
As many of you may know, I love Leeds. Yeah, it’s not really a secret, is it? A couple of people say I bleed Leeds, or that if you open me up, it’s written through me, like a stick of Blackpool rock. A website posed me the interesting question, to name my five favourite books on old Leeds. It took plenty of thought, but I did come up with them. It’s right here, with my brief explanations.
Next week, November 4th, I’ll be appearing at the Constitutional in Farsley with the lovely Frances Brody, in an event put on by an excellent new indie bookshop, Truman Books. If you can, I hope you’ll come. Read about it here.
Finally, since I’m all links today, this is the cheapest place to pre-order The Blood Covenant (or Brass Lives), with free UK postage. And for the Kindle, click here.
In 2016 in Leeds, archaeological excavations at the site of what is now the luxury shopping centre of Victoria Gate uncovered 28 bodies in was once burial ground of the Ebenezer Chapel. Until 1797 it had been a place of worship for Baptists, then it was taken over the Methodists. The graveyard had been closed in 1848, and the building itself demolished in 1936.
That’s the background. But with the digging, the horror was about to begin. It’s what provided the inspiration for The Blood Covenant, the new Simon Westow book that’s due in December. History was unearthed and walked on to the page.
12 of those bodies were children and examination showed that nine of them had experienced diseases like rickets and anaemia. But there’s far more than that. They’d spent most of their short lives starving. Quite literally starving, in a rich, industrial city.
Dr Jane Richardson of the Archaelogical Services WYAS, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “What makes these stand out is not the fact that remains were found, but the malnutrition they show us. It was the most grim part of Leeds at the time, and malnutrition was so prevalent. You can only imagine what these children must have gone through.”
The lived in absolute poverty, according to academic Malin Holst: “We’ve analysed quite a few populations that were very poor, like in Rotherham, but these really stick out,” she said. “They lived in these hovels in the backyards of back-to-back housing, and you could only get to them through tunnels – which were so small even a coffin could [not] fit through. If you can imagine trying to get sewerage or rubbish out, or even just trying to see sunlight – impossible. Children as young as six would’ve been working 12 hours a day in factories, it was just horrible.”
Think about that. They were working, earning money. Everyone in the family would be labouring, bringing home a wage yet they had no choice but to live like that. One of the bodies belonged to a child aged between eight or ten. The growth was so stunted it looked to be three or four.
In 1834, after the cholera epidemic, Dr Robert Baker reported on various areas of Leeds to the Board of Health, pinpointing the worst places in Leeds. Of the area around the chapel, he wrote: “I have been in one of these damp cellars, without the slightest drainage, every drop of wet and every morsel of dirt and filth having to be carried up into the street; two corded frames for beds, overlaid with sacks for five persons; scarcely anything in the room else to sit on but a stool, or a few bricks; the floor in many places absolutely wet; a pig in the corner also; and in a street where filth of all kinds had accumulated for years.”
Never mind horror fiction. The facts are far worse. There were real children who lived short, terrible lives and died like that, breathing in the soot, barely seeing the sun.
The skeletons were examined on the TV programme The Bone Detectives. You can watch it here.
Reading about it, seeing the bones. That was the moment The Blood Covenant took shape. All too often, those children were abused by overseers in the mills and factories. That’s simply a documented fact.
Simon Westow had been a victim himself during his years in the workhouse and the factory. It had stayed with him, scarred him mentally and physically. When Dr Hey handed him notes he’d made about the bodies of two factory children from Ebenezer Street, it drew out his old ghosts.
‘He made a copy of what he’d written when he saw the children’s bodies. The older boy was ten. He’d lost two fingers on his left hand when he was younger. He was covered in bruises, it looked like he’d been beaten with a stick or a strap. It was much the same with the younger one. He was just eight.’
‘Who did it?’ his wife asked. Her fists were bunched, fingernails digging into her palms.
‘A mill overseer,’ he replied.
Simon shook his head. ‘He didn’t put that in there.’
Simon is going to give those children some justice. But it going to prove harder, and far deadlier, than he’d or his assistant Jane imagined.
The cheapest place to pre-order The Blood Covenant is here and UK postage is free. It’s published at the end of December.
Time seems to be zipping by. I suppose it always does, but the second half of 2021 seems to be flying by. Brass Lives came out in June, and it’s already time to look ahead. It’s actually not that long since I write this – well, not to me, at least. The fourth Simon Westow novel, The Blood Covenant.
This is the book I started to write before the first lockdown knocked the world off-kilter, and there was no place for anger for a while; only sorrow and compassion, with a very large dose of fear. That resulted in me writing a very different books, which will appear next year.
Then the details about the mismanagement of Covid started to appear, the number of lives that might have been saved, the friends who benefited from a lack of oversight of all manner of things. The anger roared back. I picked up this book again. It’s not the same piece I started. The fury is stronger. It’s a very personal book, for Simon (it takes him back to the abuse he faced in his young days), for Jane, and for me. No regrets about that.
The Blood Covenant is published in hardback in the UK just after Christmas and you can pre-order it now. The ebook will appear worldwide on Febraury 1, 2022, abnd the hardback in other parts of the world in March. The best price I’ve seen is here.
Yes, it’s filled with anger – reading it again, it burns off the page. But there is still some tenderness in there, and some justice. It’s brutal at times, but no apology for that. Here’s what it’s about:
Leeds. November, 1823. When a doctor from the infirmary tells thief-taker Simon Westow about the brutal deaths of two young boys at the hands of a mill overseer, Simon’s painful memories of his childhood reawaken. Unable to sleep, he goes for a walk – and stumbles upon the body of a young man being pulled from the river.
Simon and his assistant, Jane, are drawn into investigating the deaths, seeking a measure of justice for the powerless dead. But the pursuit of the truth takes them on a dangerous and deadly path. Can they overcome a powerful enemy who knows he stands above the law in Leeds – and the shadowy figure that stands behind him?
I think this is one of the very best things I’ve written. The heat is there in every word. It’s not genteel. It’s hardcore. It’s Leeds. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe I am. I hope you’ll give it a read and find out.
In 1894, something momentous happened. A change in the laws allowed all rate payers to vote in local elections. The rates were the equivalent of today’s council tax; everybody paid them. So, working-class, middle-class, male and – above all -female had a local voice, even it if would take more than twenty years before some women received the franchise nationally.
The change opened the way for more women to stand for election to some offices too. Rural and parish district councils, and also as poor law guardians, the people who were responsible for outdoor and indoor relief, that is, benefits, as we might call them, and admission to the workhouse and overseeing conditions there.
A few middle-class women had been elected as guardians (by men). To qualify, they needed to own property worth £15, but it was primarily a job for men. With the change, however, working-class women did run for the office, truly breaking boundaries.
The Leeds Mercury reported from the Conference of Women Workers stating that “A paper was read on “Women in Local Government”. “Owing to the removal of the marriage and rate-paying disqualifications, many women of leisure could now become Guardians, and bring to their work that practical knowledge of the care of the poor which almost every woman with heart and head possessed.
While women Guardians were in favour of severe discipline for able-bodied paupers, they would remove the stigma of pauperism from the innocent children by boarding them out. Workhouse children had not even a piece of string they could call their own. Women Guardians should advocate the employment of paid women inspectors for children and lunatics, and they would be able to look into matters quite beyond the province of men.
Women as Guardians had special qualifications. They brought practical experience to the work. Many of the Guardians were tradesmen and tried to promote the interests of a clique, while women sat supremely apart and judged the case on its own merits.
On a Board composed exclusively of men, they had spent an hour discussing the matter of buttons versus hooks-&-eyes, which the dressmaker eventually decided for herself.”
In my novel The Tin God, I have Annabelle Harper, a working-class woman from Sheepscar in Leeds, running to become a guardian. That’s fiction, but a woman named Eliza Ann Dickinson became a real pioneer. She was one of three working-class women seeking election. Mrs Woodcock, who lived on Beeston Road, not far from Hunslet workhouse, was elected, too. However, a female candidate from the Labour/Independent Labour Party was defeated in the Holbeck South Ward.
Eliza Ann Beardsall was born in Headingley on February 14, 1851.
Her father was a forgeman, and it seems the family moved to Hunslet.
In September 1873, at St. Jude’s church in Hunslet, she married James Dickinson, a miner.
The couple had four children, one of whom died. At some point, she worked at Temple Newsam house.
What prompted a miner’s wife to stand to become a poor law guardian? Her descendants don’t seem to know, but she was inolved in a miners’ strike, and very likely her husband was one of the miners, so she’d have experienced how families suffered.. However, the letter urging her to stand in 1894, and the election poster (with her name misspelled) are wonderful.
She won a position on the Hunslet board of guardians, and is pictured here with the other board members, notably all men. Mrs Dickinson was re-elected three years later, and for a third time in 1901.
In 1911, the daughter, Amelia Jane, and granddaughter were living with the couple.
James Dickinson died in a mining disaster in 1919, still working at the age of 68. The note mentions that Eliza had been a guardian for many years.
By 1922 she was on the electoral register, living on Coggle Street in the Rothwell Haigh ward. She died in 1930.
Outside her own family, hardly anyone knows about her. Yet Eliza Ann Dickinson was a remarkable woman, someone who represented ordinary people on the board of guardians. She would have understood poverty, unemployment, injuries from working; they’d all have been evident in her neighbours. That’s apparent from this 1901 census.
The board was, as the 1894 letter states, dominated by “moneybags.” Someone like Eliza Ann Dickinson was needed to assess relief and look after the workhouse. She deserves far more than to be forgotten.
I’m grateful to historian Vine Pemberton Joss for making me aware of Mrs. Dickinson, and to Denise Morgan and her family for giving me information and supplying all the documents and photographs.
Every so often, I come back to folk songs and folklore. And here were are again. Some of these have appeared in the blog before, but not all. For me, the folk songs and folklore are the bedrock of stories, a way to the heart of a community, a people. A chance to understand a place and the people who live there.
It’s a curious thing, but root around as much as you like, you won’t find a whole lot of folklore, be it, tales, songs, or music that’s strongly connected to Leeds. Lancashire, especially the greater Manchester area, has plenty of industrial folk songs, and there are some from West Yorkshire. But Leeds…you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Before 1800, Leeds was a small town, around 7,000 people in 1700 and 30,000 a century later; neither rural nor metropolis. But with the factories came the people, and over the next hundred years the population rose tenfold. However, they created little in the way of songs about the place that became home.
There are a number of broadside ballads, written and sold generally for specific events, and the distinction between them and ‘proper’ folk song has been endless debated. For the sake of argument, we’ll lump them all in.
Folk tales will be another time.
There are two tunes with Leeds roots, “Leeds Polka” and the “Kirkgate Hornpipe” (which occurs in a pair of variations). Frank Kidson, Leeds’ own Victorian song collector, claims it was known here as early as 1820. Here they are.
He also notes “The Holbeck Moor Cock Fight,” which turns up in his book Traditional Tunes. Yet even with a number of local informers, he came up with little that was specifically Leeds.
This light-hearted piece from Holroyd’s Collection of Yorkshire Ballads is about as specific as it’s possible to be – set around Temple Newsam.
A deep dig and a couple of conversations do reveal some more. Some Victorian songs mention Leeds in passing, like John White, which is largely the true tale of a soldier and his flogging – sadly a common occurrence then.
Similarly, Mr Simkins Lived At Leeds. The first line is the only mention of the place.
There are some more recent gens, though. In the 1960s, academic and folk musician Bob Pegg was able to collect songs around Leeds and came up with a wonderful pair. The first comes from a woman named Mrs Dawson. Interestingly, there’s no castigation of an pregnant, unmarried girl, which is not uncommon across the North.
The other is a very local version of the grand old ballad The Cruel Mother.
There was a lady lived in Leeds
Bloomin’ bloomin’ laddie-O
There was a lady lived in Leeds
Down by the greenwood side-o
She had a baby in her arms
She had a pen knife in her hand
She stuck it in his poor little heart
Then two big bobbies come a-knocking at the door
Are you the woman what killed the child?
Yes, I’m the woman what killed the child
So they took her to Armley Jail
They put a rope around her neck
And they hung her till she was dead!
“…she was dead” delivered in a strangulated voice
All verses follow the same pattern as the first, a single line repeated, with the lines of the refrain interleaved.
Bob also added to the canon with two very Leeds songs of his own, “The Chapeltown Hawk,” which even mentions the old, notorious Hayfield Hotel, which is now demolished. There’s still a generation of two that remember it.
That was the B-side of a 1978 single. The A-side, “The Werewolf Of Old Chapeltown” came out during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper and saw him pulled in for questioning. It was topical, which was also something to be found in many broadside ballads.
Ah yes, the broadside ballads. There are plenty more of those that mention Leeds, ranging from the frivolous to the political, to warnings or commemorations of events. Ballads had been printed and sold cheaply since Elizabethan times, although it was only with an increase in population that Leeds became a worthwhile subject. Ballads, especially ones with national appeal, were the pop songs of the times. Tragedies were always popular, as well as those where someone showed a good, trusting heart.
One common trope was the country bumpkin in the big town, and for Leeds, a ballad called “The Wensleydale Lad” is one of the best known. Is it ballad or song? I’m going to call it a ballad. Humorous, and in dialect, but the meaning is obvious.
One with a real Leeds association is “Mary, Maid Of The Inn,” even if most versions never mention the place. The ballad is derived from a poem of 1796 by Robert Southey, although its origins appear to be more distant, in a local folk tale that takes place in Kirkstall.
Mary supposedly works at an inn close to a ruined abbey. According to local historian Alan Jones, there were two contenders, one of which was the Hark to Rover, on Morris Lane, a stone’s throw from the abbey and supposedly built with sones from the abbey. If the name is familiar, the Victorian interior has been recreated in Abbey House museum. The other contender is the old, long-gone, Star and Garter, once a Kirkstall fixture.
There are a couple of versions of the tale, as there are with all good folk tales. Mike Harwood has done an excellent job of hunting down leads and assembling them into a paper well worth reading here.
Many of the darker ballads have a backstory, often from reality, like this tale of the Dark Arches.
Discovering the history it them far more resonance. Another time we’ll look at Leeds folk tales. Spoiler-there aren’t even as many as Leeds folk songs.
Many thanks to Bob Pegg for being so wonderfully helpful on this,
The North of England was home to many religious dissenters and sects, those who worshipped outside the established religions. Preachers toured, held revivals, spoke to whoever might listen and tried to covert others. Most of those doing the talking were men.
Ann Carr was very much an exception. In Leeds, as well as preach, she did a great deal to help the poor, to educate their children, and take them in. She lived and died among them. Her deeds matched her words.
She didn’t do it for fame or glory. She did it as a part of her religion, her belief. Charity truly did begin at home. Yet who in Leeds has heard of Ann Carr? She deserves better than that.
The Shaping of Faith
Ann Carr was born in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, the youngest of 12 children. Her father, Thomas, was a builder. Her mother, Rebecca, died when Ann was five, and she was raised by an aunt who became the family’s housekeeper.
When she was 18, the men she intended died suddenly, and Ann experienced what we’d call a breakdown for the three months. Finally, she attended a pray meeting, where ‘an aged Christian female came to her and said, “Ann, my dear, believe.”’
She did, and her life was changed. She became a Wesleyan Methodist, moving to the spontaneity of Primitive Methodism as she began travelling to preach to miners in Nottinghamshire. From there, she and two other female preachers, Sarah Eland and Martha Williams, were sent to Hull, where they opened the first Primitive Methodist chapel, and then on to Leeds in 1821, supposedly to support the work of preacher William Clowes. Ann had found the place that would be her home for the rest of her life.
The women made their home at Spitalfields, on the Bank (Richmond Hill as it is today), one of the poorest areas in Leeds. By 1822, however, chafing at the discipline imposed on them by the leadership of the church, Ann broke away and founded the Female Revivalist Society – the first religious revival society led by women.
Their home wasn’t big enough for their meetings, so Ann rented a much larger room in George’s Court, off George Street – ironically, where the upscale Victoria Gate shopping centre now stands. She (along with Martha Williams) lived there, they and began their social work among local people. It was a time when industrialisation was taking hold and people who’d been displaced by the Enclosure Acts in the countryside were pouring into town to seek work in the new manufactories. Leeds has no shortage of the desperate and destitute, and the Female Revivalist Society helped them.
By 1825, they’d moved to the Leylands, to Regent Street, where Ann had purchased land. On March 7 the first stone of Chapel House was laid. Ann would have that as her home and base for the remainder of her life. She, and her movement, were popular among the working-classes. She didn’t condescend to them. She was a part of them. In 1826, she expanded south of the river, with a chapel in Brewery Field. Holbeck, and a year later she opened a schoolroom on Jack Lane in Hunslet, as well as societies in Morley and Stanningley.
All of this took money. Neither Carr nor Williams came from wealthy family. They had to raise funds to keep going.
“Little did she imagine the fearful responsibility she was incurring and the trying difficulties in which she was involving herself,” Williams wrote in her Memoir of Ann Carr. “The tendency of these engagements was to secularize her mind, to paralyse her exertions, and to impair her usefulness. Much precious time…was…spent in going house to house , to solicit donations and subscriptions on behalf of these buildings, for the whole of which she alone was responsible.”
A total of £3339 was spent on buildings in Leeds, and preparing the deeds. Not long before Ann died, she still owed £2105 – almost £250,000 in today’s terms.
As well as trying to look after the poor, once she’d settled in Leeds, Ann brought her elderly father from Market Rasen to lived with her. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t covert him. Yet, in a scene that could almost be maudlin, he finally relented on his death bed.
Even with pressing money worries, Ann still managed plenty of preaching. She travelled outside Leeds quite often, and trained her horse to stop whenever it saw a group of men working, so she could preach and try to convert them.
Ann herself was described as “robust-looking, bold, courageous, and energetic, her preaching being characterized by zeal, correctness, and sincerity rather than by eloquence and culture.”
During the 1830s, with the rise of the Temperance Movement, saw Ann going further – back to work in Hull and as far as London. But she always returned to Leeds, helping the poor, educating children, and housing kids, prostitutes, those who didn’t have a home, at Chapel House.
When cholera raged in Leeds in 1832, according to the Memoir, “she refused no application, however desperate the case or unseasonable the hour. Often, in the stillness of midnight, the knock at her door has disturbed her sleep; when she has instantly arose, as quickly as possible dressed herself, flew to the house of contagion or death, pleased for the sufferer in all the agony of prayer, and urged him to apply to the skill and tenderness of the great Physician.”
In 1838, she and Martha Williams published a book of hymns. Whether it helped them raise much money to cover their debts isn’t known.
By 1839, Ann’s own strength was beginning to flag. A change of air was advised, and she left to spend time by the sea in Cleethorpes, then on to Market Rasen. The following year, her finances must have been precarious, as other denominations held a bazaar at Belgrave Chapel to raise funds for the Leylands Chapel.
That autumn, with a change of air again advised, she spent four weeks in Nottingham, but it didn’t help. At this stage, nothing could. There was no treatment for the cancer in Ann Carr’s body. She died at Chapel House on January 18, 1841 and was buried at Woodhouse cemetery on January 21. According to Martha Williams, “thousands assembled” to watch the funeral procession pass.
The Leeds Mercury gave her a reverent obituary, and the Leeds times wrote that “she was a person of the most benevolent habits and philanthropic disposition.”
Martha Williams was named as her executrix, and working with trustees attempted to pay the amounts owing on the properties. However, Ann had left instructions to sell some of the buildings if necessary, “so that the Leylands Chapel should be carried on, and perpetuated for the purpose for which it was erected.”
Sadly, without Ann, the money didn’t come in, and the followers drifted away. Within a few years all she’d built was history. The chapel became the Temperance Union and then St Bridget’s Roman Catholic church. It’s no longer standing.
However, apart from heading possibly the first female-run religious movement, Ann Carr also helped some of the poorest in Leeds with their everyday lives – and deaths. She did the very practical things of helping to feed them, house them, educate them. It was a duty to her, but more than that, part of her vocation as a preacher. She made a difference here.
You can read and download the Martha Williams Memoir free (and legally) here.
My thanks to Morticia for her enthusiasm for Ann Carr.
Jst a final note. My new book, Brass Lives, is out in harback in the UK. It’s available everywhere on ebook from August 1, and hardback in the US from early September. I’d love it if you bought a copy.
They say there are places where the fabric of time stretches so thin that you can reach though, maybe even walk through, into another age. There are times I feel that in Leeds, when I feel I can push the veil aside and touch other times.
Maybe it because something happened there, that something lives on, some faint echo; I don’t have the answer to that. Yet it seems very real.
Stand by the patch of green by St Mary’s Street off Mabgate. Its look like nothing now, trapped in a construction site. To the south there’s New York Road, all the bustle of roar of the modern world. But if you stand there, you can hear the mourning. It’s where Leeds buried many the victims of the 1832 cholera outbreak, in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church. Over 700 people died in the town, so many of them poor, drinking tainted water, living crowded together (340 people in 27 rooms in Boot and Shoe Yard alone).
The dead were buried quickly. There was little choice about that. few headstones or markers remain. No graves for families to visit. But there, on the edge of Quarry Hill, has always been a place for isolation.
When Leeds has its outbreak of plague in 1645, this was where they built the cabins to house the victims, to try and keep them away from the healthy. Quite possibly some are buried her. Well over a thousand perished.
Stand, and if there’s a break in the nearby traffic, listen. The voices are muffled, and distant. Maybe more of a feeling than anything distinct. But touch the air in that place and you cut through the centuries.
Not far away, around the Parish Church, the Minster as it’s styled now, there’s the deep sense of history. More than anywhere, inside the building, the Leeds Cross, cobbled together from five ancient crosses that stood outside a much earlier version of the building, in a time before the Norman Conquest, when Leeds has one ragged street – Kirkgate – fewer than 200 people lived here and Leeds was still Leodis.
Reach out, touch the stone. Feel the cuts, how time and weather has worn them away. Back then, the village stood on the boundary of kingdoms. Tiny, but important. These crosses were memorials, perhaps. Certainly a mix of Christian and pagan symbols, from a time when people still hedged their bets about gods. One that’s survived comes from the story of Wayland the Smith, one of the oldest and most powerful English tales (and pre-Christian). Put out your hand, rub it, and you can feel the man who stood there with his hammer and chisel, who worked the stone. You’re there with him, catapulted through the centuries. It’s a feeling to leave you silent.
One more, and not far to walk for this. Just along the Calls. It’s a street of apartments, offices and clubs fashioned from warehouses now. But once it would have been a track leading from the ford over the river towards the church. Not a street, nothing at all, really, worn down by feet and maybe the wheels of carts. It would have existed before Briggate.
Later, the river and canal became the highway for good, bareges loading and unloading, warehouses being built on the river’s edge. There were also sets of stairs down to the water, and the tale of a woman called Jenny White who walked into the Aire to drown herself when she discovered her man (lover? Husband?) was unfaithful.
In 1835, Heaton, in his description of the area, notes “a long flight of steps, dark and ugly, between the houses (the last being into the water, long known by the name of Jenny White’s hole.” From that, it might well have happened before Leeds became a town filled the factories.
Where on the Calls? There plenty of places, and all the river stairs have long since gone. Walk down behind all those buildings, towards Calls Wharf. You’re by the water, and you call almost hear the cries of men who worked there. Look at the river from the right angle and you can see Jenny’s ghost under the surface. It’s there. Still there. Always there.
Jenny White’s story survives as a folk tale. But truth becomes tale over time. She’s remembered. She’s a part of Leeds, like the bodies at St Mary’s, or the man who carved Wayland the Smith in the Cross. Look and you can see them.