|This account of John Yeadon’s life draws heavily upon a journal kept throughout his adult life which he called "Struggles through life.” This document was of course hand written. The result no doubt of countless hours sat beside a flickering candle at the end of the day noting down his thoughts. Paper was expensive and so the writing is small and it fills every bit of each page. A local historian Brenda Telford transcribed this document. I can see this was not an easy task. The spelling is sometimes unusual (for our times) and he uses colloquial words whose meaning is no longer known. At many points she must have had to work through the text letter by letter in order to make sense of what was written. A number of years ago she kindly gave me permission to copy the diary and use it for my research. I would like to acknowledge her accomplishment and express my gratitude. This booklet is grounded upon her work; any errors though are my responsibility.
Stumbling upon the man.
I have been researching my family history for about ten years now. Maybe it’s something that is done once you get past the middle of your life. The motivation for me was curiosity. My family lived on stories. We did not have normal conversations. We just told each other stories, and some of these were about our forbears. These had two themes, the heroic and the tragic-comic. The best had both.
Were they true? Just at the time I chose to find out it became harder to know at least from the first hand sources. Rowland my father died in 1998 before my interest developed, and anyway he would have been a reluctant source on these matters. His stories were about politics and history. The great family story teller, the one who could have been useful was Kathleen, his wife and my mother but she was now sliding into dementia. People in the early stages of that cruel disease may at the start be preoccupied with the past but they certainly don’t stick to the point when you ask them questions.
So it was mostly going to be the internet. It was around 2003 that I started and over the succeeding three years I gathered together the basics for about two hundred of my ancestors. When they were born, married and died, and how many children they had. For those who lives reached over the on line available census years between 1841 and 1911, I have greater amounts of information, including their occupation and if they had a severe disability.
Occasionally one of them performed some action which resulted in them achieving immortality on Google. One illiterate multiple great-grandfather built the monumentally incongruous, but grand town hall in Yeadon, where I come from. His identity was unknown until a photo was published in a local history book and my grandmother recognised and put a name to him. Others only survive and are known because of one-off thought which crossed their mind and found its way into an action which was just as soon forgotten. I know of one ancestor because he placed an advert for his grocery business in a flyer for a chapel Christmas Fair.
The results can be very unfair. All I have of one ancestor is her date and place of birth and marriage, the name of one of her children and how she bizarrely died hit by a truck whilst cycling home from the pub with a soldier whilst her husband was in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. The headline in the local newspaper was "Woman’s death due to Stout says coroner”. Every other bit of her life good or bad is lost and this one thing about her death is all that has lasted.
That must be unfair to her and my conscious would only be eased if I spent a few moments adding up the total of known facts, look for a best fit in regard to possible motives and let the mix suggest its own story. Was it calculation or impulse? What could have been going through their head? The further you travel back the sparser the information. So lots of dates but diminishing returns in terms of interest the material provided
A few years ago I got very lucky. Whilst researching the family of my paternal grandmother Ida Wilkinson, I had been struck by how many of her mother’s ancestors had surnames in common with children that I was at school with in the 1960’s. Most prominent were the names Dawson, Myers, Butterfield, Slater, Denison, Dean and especially Yeadon which I had a double helping of.
A man named John Yeadon, born in the town of Yeadon in 1764 cropped up again and again. Baptised at the parish church in neighboring Guiseley, he lived all his life in Yeadon and worked in a trade allied to the woollen textile industry. He had fourteen children; eleven survived and most married and produced their own tribes of children. Lots of spokes and he was the hub.
It was around this time that I spent a morning in the library whilst visiting my mother who still lived in the town of Yeadon. This is the place that I grew up in as did most of my forbears who had been agricultural labourers or textile workers there for at least four hundred years. Some ventured out and got to the next village but one, but generally they had not gone far in all that time. The habit of having surnames, keeping them and passing them onto our kids only really took hold in the fourteenth century. Where you lived, what you did for a job, a personal characteristic, a landscape feature, or whose son you were the most common ways of getting one. So and so of Yeadon had become So and So Yeadon. This habit no doubt took some time to reach this particular bit of ground but I can put names to people as far back as the sixteenth century when keeping parish records became the norm.
Some of the holders of this name ventured over the parish boundary and were scattered to the four winds. A name sake of my John Yeadon, an immigrant from England was living in Nova Scotia in 1811 and raising a legal petition which made mention of a neighboring settlement of Rawdon. I don’t know where about in England he came from but maybe he would have known that in Yorkshire, Rawdon is the village over the hill from Yeadon. I like to think he swapped one Yeadon for another across the Atlantic.
My ‘Yeadon’s though had continued to look over the hill at the original Rawdon for a very long time. They had not gone far.
In the library I glanced through a local history book. In the appendices I found an extract from a diary written by my John Yeadon. I knew he was mine because he had thoughtfully put together a table listing all of his children! It’s not at all unusual for family bibles to contain this kind of information, but this was from a diary which had survived goodness knows how. Alongside the table was a number of short extracts from that document. An ancestor of mine was ‘talking to me’ from two hundred years ago. He spoke about his family life, international affairs, local incidents as well as his life as a local preacher in the Methodist church in Yeadon and in his home valley. He wrote about the French Revolution and the execution of the king as a news event.
The table was written on New Year’s Day in 1839. It’s the credit side of the balance sheet of his life. Eleven children and forty nine grand children. The daughters are listed in their married names.
Tuesday January 1st 1839. New Year Day
On my Family John Yeadon Sr.
Aged 74 years two months
Number Names When Born Grand
child The age of my children today
1 James Yeadon Aug 7 1788 9 49 and 5 months
2 Hanh Yeadon Oct 1 1790 47 and 9 months
3 M. Fieldhouse May 5th 1792 5 46 and 8 months
4 Joseph Yeadon December 22nd 1793 10 45 years
5 Nany Rawnsley July 26th 1795 / 43 and 5 months
6 Benj. Yeadon April 4th 1797 3 41 and 9 months
7 Betty Murgatroyd June 1799 5 39 and 6 months
8 Ruth Claughton Feby 1802 5 35 and 10 months
9 Sam Yeadon Aug 1804 4 33 and 5 months
10 Martha Fieldhouse May 1806 2 32 and 7 months
11 Jacob Yeadon Jan 22 1808 4 31 nearly
A good many people in the town of Yeadon will have ancestors in that list. We will come back to it later at its proper place in John’s time line.
We have all had experiences where something special seemed possible and then evaporated. It was one thing knowing that this document existed but something else to actually be able to hold it in my hands. There was bound to be something that would prevent this. People don’t generally have ancestors who kept diaries which survive intact for two centuries. Probability is stretched further if we add in that it became available just at a time when an ancestor was researching the life of that person. Moving the scenario back at five year intervals the chances of this discovery quickly recede to just short of impossible. I had happened upon it just at the right time.
When I got back home to Norfolk, I ‘Googled’ "John Yeadon Methodist Local Preacher”, and immediately came up with a full reference for the diary which had been transcribed by a local historian Mrs Brenda Telford, and was currently in the archives of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in Leeds. I have repeated the same search today and got the same result.
"John Yeadon, Methodist lay preacher, Yeadon, diary 1764-1842 ...
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk › ... › Access to Archives
Yorkshire Archaeological Society. You are here John Yeadon, Methodist lay preacher, Yeadon, diary 1764-1842 (photocopies and transcript)...”
Phone calls to the YAS archivists, visits in person, kind permissions given by the Mrs Telford, photocopying fees paid and I was in possession of a copy of the original diary and its transcript. It must have been a nightmare to transcribe. Every last bit of each page was crammed with inky, Victorian micro script which served as a reminder that paper has not always been cheap. Over the next two years I botched together a John Yeadon biography for my family and local libraries. It seemed wrong that this diary could have survived and that only archivists and family history obsessive’s like me would know about it.
I have since spent a lot of time in the company of John. Trawling through the diary, if he made mention of an event, a book or place that he’d been I have followed up and learnt what I could about it. I liked the idea that I was looking over his shoulder. Getting to know him by immersing myself in what he did each day. The big themes are self education, the Methodist chapel, launching out as a lay preacher and apparently being highly respected and sought after, family dramas and a view on events in the wider world. Reading over the materials as I have done recently has given me a slightly different perspective, especially on the last quarter of his life. People don’t seem to like him as much as they once did.
I have enjoyed my time spent with John. Along with the account I have I believe come to understand something of what kind of person he was. Central to his view was that his life was a project. That is something to be consciously shaped and directed by him each day. He had somehow found himself with a life and he was going to make the most of it. Much of what follows is about that view and the journey it found.
A few stories by way of an introduction
This is my second time around with John. The first cycle began with discovering the diary and producing an account for family. With this revisit, which is a few years down the line I have been more aware of what was unsaid by him. This takes us into conjecture so I’m cautious about how I do it.
There are occasions that beg a few questions
On the New Years Day when he gave us the list of his children and grandchildren. He made some notes on his weekly expenditures and how he might reduce them to match his income of 3 shillings and six pence. He was seventy four years old, in poor health, no longer really capable of work and was close to being destitute but little mention is made of help from his family. They did help at times as did some of the Methodist Society. It just feels less than it might have been.
In old age he comes close to altogether giving up on the chapel, after a life time of close involvement. There is bitterness to some of his comments on preachers and members of the congregation. When he might have been playing the role of respected elder, people have been quietly dropping him. Most of all there is less mention of friendships and a social life than might have been expected for a man whose life had been so busy. His deteriorating hearing, accompanied by noises in his head the result of probable Tinnitus, must have been a factor here. The last pages of the diary now feel sad.
Looking at the papers again I can see that the tone of the diary changed in July 1820 when something happened to his learning disabled daughter Hannah. John made this brief entry on the 13th July ......”about 6 O’clock our Hannah met with that insult and assault”.
There are then very few entries for almost two years. Eventually at Easter in 1822 he makes the following note, "Not withstanding the incurable blow I received in July 1820, which seemed to paralyse all my powers, yet I had so far recovered as to preach twice at Yeadon”. He vividly describes his distress without every actually saying what happened. Whatever it was, he was not the same person again.
. We will get to these questions later but they are mentioned here as a reminder. John’s achievements were immense. The going up the hill part of the story can feel heroic at times, but there were darker times coming which may have had their route in these times.
The sadness of John in late middle age contrasts with what I know of him in earlier years.
Colleen. John wrote the following in his diary in 1813 about his
"My grandfather or my father’s father
Joshua Yeadon married to Eliza Wilkinson. My other grandfather or my
mother’s father was another Joshua Yeadon married to Grace Holmes. My
father was John Yeadon and my mother Hannah Yeadon before marriage. My
two grandfathers and their wives and their wives must have been born
about 1700 or upwards. My father and mother born 1741. My mother died
1765 and my father died 1810.” Sounds complicated at first sight but
both sides of his family had the surname Yeadon. I have not managed to
get around to delving back beyond around 1700 yet.I have looked in the
registers and managed to get myself totally confused! (David Kitchen March 2014)