Sunday 16 March 2014

Life is full of surprises - By Arthur Flounders Brown

Life is full of surprises

Arthur Flounders Brown

As many people do nowadays, some 15 years ago I embarked on a search into my family history. Since my surname is the third most common in the UK – after Smith and Jones – I decided that I would pursue my second given name of Flounders which was my mother’s surname.

I knew from my mother that her family came from Scarborough and the area of North Yorkshire inland from there. At the start of my quest, I had no idea that it would eventually lead to Huttons Ambo and Westow and reveal a life so removed from my own. I was a city dweller, born in Bradford, but my antecedents to the east of the A64 (as it now is) were as rural as it is possible to be.

I shall cut the story sideways, so to speak, at this point, as the readers of this story are interested in the history of their own area and only incidentally in elsewhere.

John Walker was born and married in Westow, just down the road from Huttons Ambo. Over the course of time he became a very comfortably off yeoman farmer, owning property which he put out to rent. In the course of his first marriage he fathered 10 children. Shortly after the death of his first wife, he married for a second time. This marriage did not last long, as his second wife died two years later, I suspect, in childbirth. During that marriage, John fathered upon Mary Harrison of Westow in 1793 a female child who was called Charlotte. (I have not been able to certify whether Mary was a servant in John’s household  or “otherwise”) The Poor Law at the time – in place since 1601 – stipulated that the father, if known, should not only acknowledge the bastard child as his, but provide for the expenses of the birth and for the upkeep and education of the child. I have a copy of the Bastardy Bond sworn and witnessed which John Walker had to sign.

However, upon the death of his second wife, John made an honest woman of Mary Harrison who outlived him by many years after his death in December 1814 at the age of 84, his last child being born of Mary earlier in the year. Can’t blame the old feller for trying; he fathered 22 children in all. His Will, a copy of which I have, makes interesting reading, as it shows what wealth in cash, land and property he had accumulated in the boom years if the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to bequests to his wife and legitimate children, John Walker bequeathed a cottage to Charlotte and, with her half-sister, a half share in another cottage. In addition, Charlotte received £20, the equivalent of £1000 today. This was a fortune when one takes into account how agricultural wages in the early 19th century scarcely made two figures.

The Walker family were indeed prosperous in 1814, but the depression in agriculture in the 20/30 years after the end of the Napoleonic wars very nearly destroyed the industry.

Thus by the time of the first real Census in 1841 we find Charlotte and William Hepton 55, widower of Charlotte’s half sister, living in High Hutton together with Charlotte Hepton (Harrison) and 4 of Charlotte’s illegitimate children i.e William 20, EMMA 15, Hannah 10 and Maria 5. Charlotte has married her deceased half-sister’s husband. (This marriage did not offend the church’s rules concerning Consanguinity)

In the 1851 Census William is described as an Agricultural Labourer and is aged 80. Yes, I know he has aged 15 years in 10, but Census enumerators took their evidence by word of mouth and did not question it. Also in the home were Charlotte Hepton 56, EMMA  Harrison Unmarried 26 and William Harrison 3.

1861 shows at 5 unnamed dwelling – Charlotte Hepton, widow, labouring woman; Emma Harrison, daughter, unmarried 35, born Hutton, labouring woman; Charles
grandson 8 b. Hutton; ADELINE granddaughter 1 born Hutton

1871 at 1 cottage Emma Harrison 30 General Servant born Huttons Ambo; ADELINE 11 born Huttons Ambo.

Charlotte had died in between the 1861 and 1871 Censuses.

I have capitalised Emma’s and Adeline’s given names, as they are my maternal/maternal grandmother and grandmaother. Charlotte was very cavalier with the naming of her children as regard surnames; she uses Harrison and Walker indiscriminately at their baptisms etc. I have a Bastardy Bond for her first child – William – but the Elizabethan Poor Law was repealed and replaced by the Workhouse System and the weight of upkeep was shifted from the Parish to that system. Fathers were no longer recorded on the new Birth Certificates. Their absence from these documents told the tale, however.

I am not sure of Emma’s situation at 1881, but I have a likely candidate in the household of Richard Lawson of  Bulmer and Stillington. Emma Harrison Servant 60 born Hutton. Adeline is nowhere to be found as yet. The young children in the household at Hutton after the death of William Hepton are Emma’s no doubt.

The story of  Emma ends sadly, as she developed dementia and was first admitted to the Workhouse in Malton and then in 1892 to the North Yorkshire Asylum at Clifton, York, were she was incarcerated until her death in 1909.

My grandmother, Adeline, aka ADA, married my grandfather, Thomas Flounders of Scarborough, in the church at Bulmer in October 1885, my Aunt Beatrice, my oldest maternal/maternal aunt, having been born in the Autumn of 1884! So my “chequered” ancestry was – at last – legitimised and Flounders became my middle name to preserve that line in me as the only male child of my mother’s family of 6 brothers and sisters.

I have visited all the places found in this account of my connection to Hutton/Westow and taken photographs. If you attend the church in Hutton, you will see, every time you enter, the font where my grandmother, Adeline, was baptised on 6 April 1860. You can stand at the altar in Bulmer church where she was married to Thomas Flounders  in October 1885. You can see - what is left after the Victorian depredations of the church at Westow - where Mary Harrison and Charlotte were baptised.

The Font, St Margaret's Church, Huttons Ambo

Nace & Aisle, St Mary's Church, Ebberston

The Font, St Mary's Church, Ebberston

You can even go to Ebberston, on the road between Pickering and Scarborough, and stand at the altar where my paternal ancestor, John Flunders of Hinderwell married Rachel Hick of Snainton in February 1753. Their first child was born 3 months later! That, however, is another story which coincides with the one you have just read, at the marriage of Thomas Flounders and Adeline Walker/Harrison in 1885, 132 years later.

Arthur Flounders Brown
February 2014

Editor's Note:
Aurthur contacted me last month and asked if we would be interested in his family story and of course we said yes, so he very kindly wrote this article for us and supplied pictures as well.

If you have any links to the family mentioned in the story or know anything of the locations mentioned and can provide more details we'd love to pass them on to Arthur, so why not get in touch via email or use the contact form on the right of the main website page.


  1. Thank you for this very informative story. Charlotte's father, John Walker (1730-1814), was my 4th great-grandfather. I'm very pleased to be able to add some details about Charlotte's life to my family files, now. Kind regards from Germany.


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