Honley Civic Society AGM Talk, Emily Frances Siddon. St Mary’s Church Honley – 10th May 2023
There is a saying which you will no doubt be familiar with – “If these walls could talk”. There is much that has been said in this church in the 180 years since it was built. Several thousand weekly services, many hundreds of weddings and funerals, dedication services. The plaques on the walls speak for themselves of the people of Honley that meant something to society, usually of their contribution to our local community. Some of these are well known even in the 21st century.
Of course there are plaques to the Brooke families, the EastWindowbehind me was given in memory of Thomas Brooke. Memorial tablets to William and Hannah Brooke and Charles Drawbridge. Everyone knows Mary Jagger, along with her husband Samuel who takes precedent, either because he was a man or that he predeceased her. On the south wall we can find George Jessop and his three sons, who are more relevant to our story.
One of the more modest plaques is to our subject tonight –
Miss Emily Frances Siddon.
Just 100 years ago, on Thursday 31st May 1923, the church was packed. Every pew was occupied with the great and the good of the district. On a bier, just beside where I am standing was the simple oak coffin of Emily. The vicar, Rev Arthur Kerr, gave a fulsome eulogy and eight members of the Huddersfield Board of Guardians moved forward to raise the coffin on to their shoulders. The organist, Herbert Lunn, played the last notes of the departure hymn on the Connacher organ, a gift from William Brooke and his daughter Sarah.
Honley Band struck up outside as the pall bearers passed Miss Siddon’s few remaining relatives including her cousin, Rev Thomas Espin, a well known astronomer, and Frances Burrough, her niece. They were followed by Mary Jagger her husband and daughter, some of the remaining Brooke family and past vicars who had known Emily as a church member.
Outside in Church Street, the children of the National School stood surprisingly silent as the entourage walked slowly towards to graveyard at Green Cliffe. There the coffin was lowered into the Jessop grave alongside Emily’s cousin Thomas.
Emily Frances Siddon was born on 16th April, 1844 at Pleasely, a mining and mill village then in Nottinghamshire.
Her father Samuel was a cotton mill owner and squire but it was her mother Sarah Ann who had the links to Honley. She was the daughter of John Jessop of Healey House. Her father died a year after her birth, leaving her mother to look after an older sister Mary and brother Samuel. They were not without means having five servants and a governess at West Bank, the family home in the 1850s
Emily’s mother died in 1862 at the age of 43, when Emily Frances was just 17. As was customary being under 21, Emily Frances went to live with a near relative, her uncle George Jessop and his three sons, who lived in Honley.
George who followed his father in business, Richard a lawyer and Captain Thomas Jessop of the Royal Scots Greys. George senior was a drysalter (dealing in dyes) and lived in 16 Church Street (now the sports clinic). He was successful in business and built a larger house for himself and family, Honley House. Two of his sons died young and George died in 1868, aged 72, leaving Emily with only her cousin Thomas as a near relative and he was away in the army. By the late-1860s, she was living alone at Honley House with her cousin Thomas living in London. Emily Frances brought with her family’s interest in workhouses.
Her first entry into public life was in Honley and representing Honley ratepayers on the Local Board – the early equivalent of a local councillor. She was put forward for a position to represent the village on the Huddersfield Board of Guardians in April 1882. The Board looked after all the workhouses in the Huddersfield area, including that at Honley. It was first situated roughly where West Avenue is but it closed in the 1860s and was replaced by another much larger at Deanhouse. She was reluctant to have her name put forward when a deputation of ratepayers asked her to stand for election as a Guardian, who were responsible for the operation of the Poor Laws.
She left the matter in abeyance and went abroad and then “in some remote corner of Europe” received a telegram to say that one of her relatives had withdrawn her name. However, the withdrawal needed her signature. She wired back giving directions to let the matter stand and returned later to Huddersfield to find herself a rather controversial figure. Her appointment was reported all over the world and even an Australian newspaper recorded that she was one of only 27 women to hold such a post in England.
She went on to become vice-chair of the Huddersfield Board of Guardians on three occasions to 1919 and held the chair from 1913 to 1917.
Emily Frances was most notable for her concern for pauper children and was instrumental in their removal from the workhouse system and the creation of separate Children’s Homes. The Huddersfield Board was one of the first in the country to do so. Emily became the honorary superintendent of those homes and held a unique position as a Guardian, as she was also virtually an officer under the then Local Government Board. In 1908 she was presented with a life-size self-portrait, an illuminate address and a pearl and diamond pendant.
In response she said,
I think it may fairly be claimed that women’s work has come to be recognised as an important and valued factor in promoting the welfare of the community. I am the gainer today, inasmuch as my long term of service as a Guardian has marked me out as on object by which to show appreciation of such services. I do not, of course, claim any credit for my work as a Guardian. The part I have taken in helping to administer the Poor-law in this union has been a pleasure to me; I think it has been a hobby.
She was one of the witnesses who gave evidence before the Royal Commission on the Poor-law of 1905 and 1906. For many years she was one of the three representatives of Yorkshire on the committee of the Central Poor-law Conference and she was also a member of the Council of the Poor-law Unions Association.
She was a believer in women’s suffrage and supported local bodies, but did not approve of the direct and violent actions of the Suffragettes, many of whom came from the Huddersfield area. Her good works must have taken most of her time as she was also a governor of Almondbury Grammar School with one of the houses named after her (another was named Brooke). She was a governor of the Huddersfield Technical College.
In fact the list of her committee work is lengthy –
- She was a member of the Board of the Royal Infirmary,
- was oneof the founders of the Charity Organisation Society,
- a member of the committee of the Guild of Help,
- of the Deaf and Dumb Institute, a member of the committee of the Victoria Sick Poor Nurses’ Association,
- vice-president and also president of the Huddersfield Society for the Care of Friendless Girls.
- She was also interested in friendly societies work and was a member of the Order of Foresters.
- For many years she was a member of the Executive of the Yorkshire Association for the Care of the Feeble-minded.
- She was particularly interested in the fight against tuberculosis and in 1905 attended the International Congress in Paris as a member of the Huddersfield Board of Guardians.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Emily Frances at once devoted herself to the various forms of war work.
- She helped in the recruiting campaigns and later in organising and supporting many local organisations for the supply of comforts for the service men and the care of the wounded at home.
- She was one of the initiators of an arrangement by which the wives and families of service men received immediate financial assistance pending Government action for allowances.
- She had been supporter and administrator of hospitals and turned her experience to the organisation of the local war hospital.
- Under her chairmanship, the Board of Guardians placed a large hospital block at the disposal of the authorities, with provision for more than 200 beds.
- She gave assistance in the local settlement of the Belgian refugees and she was president of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association.
- vice-president of the War Pensions Committee.
- vice-president of the Women’s Society for Helping Soldiers and Sailors, member of the Huddersfield War relief committee.
- president of the Honley Auxiliary Hospital
- member of the Crosland Moor Hospital Committee.
Her war services were officially recognised in July, 1918, when she was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. In October 1920, her name was added to the roll of the Justices of Peace for the borough and so she became Huddersfield’s first woman magistrate.
Her attention never left her home village and she remained was actively interested in the affairs of Honley. She helped in the work of the Honley Nursing Association and in all work connected with the Honley Parish Church.
She was formerly a manager of the National schools and any event involving the children usually resulted in a visit to Honey House and a presentation of oranges. She was a fluent speaker and had (it was said) a rather wicked sense of humour. She enjoyed debate and often had a ready quip as a response to some serious remark. As she once confessed, “I have a great aptitude for enjoyment,” and at one time she found great pleasure in travelling.
She had visited many places on the Continent as well as Egypt and the north coast of Africa. She once expressed the view “Travel is the best education any woman can have.” Mary Jagger, Honley’s historian commented in 1914 that “Miss Siddon has a keen sense of humour. With almost child’s frank merriment, hearty laugh, and breezy manner, she can crack a joke with anyone”.
Miss Siddon is a born leader. When she was elected a Guardian a new element was introduced to the common work of the Union, which required mental capacity clear-headed judgement and much self-reliance to convince male members of woman’s capability. They did not think that there could be added spheres of usefulness for capable women which meant not home obligations any less but humanity more.
-In later life, Miss Siddon had heart trouble and bronchitis. On 28th May, 1923, the Huddersfield Examiner reported that Miss Siddon was ill. The next day there was a report of her continued illness, but it was already too late as she had passed away overnight. It was said that the death of her close friend Mrs Agnes Darby Parr the previous week had affected her greatly.
He niece paid for the brass plaque to be erected in St Mary’s.
Probate was granted in London the following August to her nephew, Reverend Thomas Henry Espinelle Compton Espin, Emily Frances’s cousin. Her estate was just short of £25,000. Reverend Espin was a noted astronomer as well as a priest and has a crater on the moon named after him. Emily Francis was a popular grande dame in Honley, so much so that more than one baby was named after her.
We tend to seek anniversaries as an excuse to celebrate lives passed and I felt that Emily Frances Siddon was such a significant figure in our village history that we should acknowledge her. Copies of the book The Surprising Miss Siddon are still available. Details here.
Finding Banks: a Honley house, a family business and a lost community, the bonus track
Had we been living in normal times, by which I mean proper normal, not ‘new normal’ or any other supposed definition of ‘normal’, I would have been able to give a short talk at a Honley Civic Society meeting to coincide with the publication of the book, Finding Banks: a Honley house, a family business and a lost community.
With meetings temporarily suspended or, perhaps even worse, the prospect of speaking to a room full of people wearing face masks, such a presentation is not currently possible. The changed circumstances therefore prompted consideration of an alternative means of communication to mark, and perhaps further promote, the new publication.
It occurred to me that when I buy a DVD I am drawn to the special features that may be included on it. These often give an insight into the making of the film or programme, with personal stories from those who are involved. They give an opportunity to peek behind the scenes, often giving depth to the main feature and introducing perspectives that we might otherwise be unaware of.
This short piece has been written specifically for the HCS website as a ‘special feature’ or – in musical terms, the ‘bonus track’. Its purpose is to complement rather than duplicate the contents of the book.
That I have not only written a book but had it published astonishes me as I am not an academic person. During my career in social care, I did what was necessary at specific times to improve my prospects but my focus was always on practical skills and on communicating with people who really didn’t care what qualifications I might have. In 2009, a change of job had brought me into contact with new colleagues who had not only embraced academia but who apparently even enjoyed its challenges; this prompted a somewhat doubtful step towards the Open University. By the end of 2013 I had achieved a Diploma of Higher Education in Social Sciences, via a Certificate in Business Studies, gaining a number of ‘distinctions’ on the way! The biggest lesson learned was that sometimes you really don’t know what you can do until you try – which brings me back to the book.
It is a little embarrassing to acknowledge it but Finding Banks came about by accident. A clear out of old financial papers might, a few years earlier, have seen the whole lot tossed carelessly into the green bin, but by early 2018 awareness of the potential for identity theft meant a more considered approach to their destruction. This led to the opening of a sealed package of papers that had lain in a box in the cellar since being returned to us after the mortgage on our house had ended a decade earlier.
Amongst the papers I expected to find were some that I had not. There were a couple of records relating to past ownership of our house but most notable amongst the slightly ragged documents was a faded copy of a contract relating to its sale in 1903. With hindsight, this find was just the first of a series of what may be considered as ‘happy accidents’.
Some reasonably comprehensive family history research had been completed over the previous 15 years or so and, having gone as far as I felt inclined to, I was two months away from probably not renewing my membership to the Ancestry website. However, with this still at my disposal, I started to put a few names from the 1903 document into the search facility and began to record my findings. The rest, as they say, is … quite literally … history.
If I had to create a formula for such a project it would include elements such as an obvious interest in the subject, satisfaction in finding order in records, engaging in detective work, pleasure in writing and a genuine interest in people. The BBC programme ‘A House Through Time’ had shown that it was possible to track the occupants of a single property back to its beginning through records and I wondered if I might be able to do something similar with the house that, for the previous 30 years of its history, had been our home.
With the exception of the papers I had found in the cellar, all the information I gathered was already in the public domain. In addition to the Ancestry website and the books published by Honley Civic Society as well as others in the library. I found websites such as Huddersfield Exposed, which brought old maps and more written works to my notice. I also learned that, sometimes, an arbitrary ‘Google’ search can produce quite remarkable results.
As I made progress I began to build up a picture of the people who had lived in our house and what their lives might have been like. I was also surprised to find out that the building was actually much older than we had understood it to be.
Several times I decided that I had finished my research only to have my interest re-ignited by a new find or a chance conversation. The more people who stepped out of the shadows of history and into my notes, the wider the picture became and I soon recognised that I was actually writing about a community, not just about a single house.
Perhaps I had a few lucky breaks but, not for the first time, I wondered if coincidences really happen, or whether they are they just opportunities that are seized upon and made best use of. This brings us to ‘happy accident’ number two.
Long standing fascination in the story of the Hope Bank Pleasure Ground had taken us to an event in 2016 that was organised by the Holmfirth Sharing Memories group. Having left some contact details I received information about their participation at the 2018 Honley Feast when, together with a drama group, a performance of Sticklebacks and Swingboats re-enacted old stories of Hope Bank. I was slightly bemused to see my name on the event programme as someone who had shown interest in the organisation, but was more especially drawn to another name on the same list.
The history of Banks is inextricably linked to that of the Holdroyds who for at least 160 years ran their family business there. Starting out as a joinery shop in the early 1800s, Edward Holdroyd & Sons evolved over time becoming building contractors, electrical engineers and funeral directors. I had learned far more about the family and its history than was strictly fair given that they are not related to me, but the sight of Julian Holdroyds name on an incidental piece of paper provided an opportunity that was not to be missed.
An exchange of contacts with Sally Brown of the sharing memories group led to a meeting with Julian who, to my relief, did not view me as a stalker but rather greeted the project with enthusiasm. His support and the contribution of some of the materials that his father had kept gave the book a significant boost and enhanced the story of the Holdroyds considerably.
The title of the book started as a bit of a joke as Banks is unreasonably hard to locate. This is due to every mapping service getting the details wrong. Changing road names and inadequate signage, as well as an inconsistency in the numbering of properties, have been features of the area for as long as we can remember.
A whole section of the book, as well as a suggested walking route, is dedicated to leaving the reader in no doubt as to its geographical location. The apparent obscurity of Banks seems unfair as when it was first constructed it was part of the 14-mile Huddersfield to Woodhead Turnpike route. It was eventually replaced as the main road from Honley to Holmfirth by the A6024 Woodhead Road.
The gap in property numbers as well as the change from Banks to Far Banks had shown that at one time there had been something in between the two or to be more precise, 12 somethings. The discovery of the lost community of Upper Banks was particularly satisfying, especially as there is so little left to indicate its existence. Records show a number of key families living at Upper Banks whose lives are remembered in the book. We are also able to see how the communities of Upper and Lower Banks would have been connected to the Banks Mills which had been built alongside the River Holme in the valley below.
Through the recent history of one relatively small part of Honley village the reader is invited to learn something of Banks and its people during two world wars; to learn of the connection with an American town that is 3,000 miles away and, finally, to learn how the first ‘happy accident’ may have led to the 1903 papers being in our possession in the first place. Maybe it will also inspire other people to look into the history that surrounds us all; without actual time travel at our disposal, it is a worthy substitute.
Hopefully the book raises the profile not only of Banks, Honley, but also of a few key residents, particularly those whose families were around for more than a hundred years. These people all played a role in the life of our village – adults and children, employers and employees, ordinary family people who went about their daily lives, dealing with happiness and grief, with work and play, surviving (or not) illness and wars. Maybe they can serve to remind us that, whatever we are all facing in 2020, the continuing cycle of Honley life goes on.
To learn more about Finding Banks and how to purchase it, see here.
Honley Naturalists C1860 to 1939
Link to a talk entitled Honley Naturalists C1860 to 1939, which was given by Alan Brooke to a meeting of Honley Civic Society members on 14th September, 2017 at Honley Parish Rooms. Alan has kindly permitted us to share in this talk.
Some extra material which was excluded on that occasion due to time constraints has been added.