Grandparents and before

Maternal Grandparents – William James Walker and Lydia Fanny Walker (nee. Stoker)

Willie and Fanny Walker with Shiela Jackson – a granddaughter

My mother’s (Lil’s) father was William (Willie) James Walker (1868-1946). He was a grocer and provision merchant in Farsley, a suburb to the west of Leeds. In 1889 he married Grandma, Lydia Fanny Stoker (1869-1950) at the Parish Church in Upper Armley, Leeds (figure).

William J Walker (1868-1946). My maternal grandfather, usually called Willie, was born in 1868 in Northampton, to Martha Botterell, age 33, and Charles James Walker, age 31. William married my grandmother Lydia Fanny Stoker in the Parish Church, Upper Armley, Leeds on 27th August 1889 when he was 21 years old.  

At the time of their marriage Willie was living in Upper Armley and Fanny was living at 30 Fifteenth Ave, Lower Wortley, Leeds. Fanny was given away by her father Charles Stoker – described on the marriage certificate as a “porter foreman smith”.

      Upper Armley Leeds at the time

In 1901 my grandfather William was living in Armley working as a “shop keeper grocery manager”. In the census of 1911 he was now living at 34 Camberley Street Leeds and described as a “traveller in chocolate and cocoa”. It was only in the early 19th century that chocolate became easier to produce; by the mid-19th century it finally could be produced in a solid form. The first solid chocolate bar was produced by Fry’s of Bristol in 1847 which was then mass-produced as Fry’s Chocolate Cream in 1866. In John Cadbury produced his own brand of chocolate bar in 1849.  By the late 19th century, chocolate became a mass consumption item that spread to all classes. Presumably Willie found travelling in chocolate a more satisfactory job than running a grocery store. Many well known brands of chocolate soon developed by the early 20th century and apparently sales grew rapidly in the early 20th century.

Camnberley Street in recent times
   Camberley Street Leeds, in recent times

Willie and Fanny had eight children between 1890 and 1905.   In 1911 they were living at this modest house at 34 Camberley Street where there were Willie (43 yrs), his wife Lydia Fanny (42 yrs) and their children Lily (20yrs), Rose (19 yrs), Alexander (14 yrs), Clifford (9 yrs), Jack (4 yrs) and a domestic Louise Hainsworth (39 yrs). 

Charles James Walker (1837-1915), (my great grandfather), Willie’s father, was born in 1837 in Northamptonshire, where his father, Charles Walker (1796-1851) (Willie’s grandfather, my great, great, grandfather) lived and worked as a bricklayer, then aged 41 years and his mother, Ann Walker (1800-1875) aged 37. Charles James was also a builder and had six children with Martha Botterell between 1864 and 1871. Charles Walker (1864), Annie Walker (1867), William J Walker (1868), William Walker (1868)  and Herbert Walker (1871).  Charles James Walker died in July 1915 in his hometown of Northampton aged 78 years.

Martha Botterell (1834-1909) (Charles James’s wife, Willie’s mother, my great grandmother) was born in 1834 in Dallington, Northamptonshire, when her father, William Botterell (1794-1864) and her mother, Lydia Dickens (1794-1863) were both 40 years old. Martha had six children with Charles James Walker – my grandfather Willie in 1868. She died in 1910 in Northampton aged 75 years.

Lydia Fanny Stoker (1869-1948), my grandmother, was born on 30th May 1869 in Enfield Wash, Middlesex to Elizabeth Lees (1833-1891) then aged 36 and Charles Stoker (1838-1904) then age 31 years. In the 1881 census Charles and his family were living in Totteridge Road, Enfield. They had five children aged 3yrs to 16yrs. and he was working as a gunsmith at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield.

 Main machine shop at Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield

 Machinery in the machine shop was driven by two 40 horsepower steam engines. The 1853 pattern Enfield rifle went into large scale production in 1857 and by 1860 1,700 men were producing 90,000 small arms a year. The Enfield rifle was sold to both sides in the American Civil War 1861-5.

 The factory was built in 1816 because of disappointment with the quality and cost of the existing British weapons used in the Napoleonic War. During the next 100 years it developed from a single, water-powered mill to a complex modern factory, the first to be built on the mass-production principles in Britain. It was the main Government-owned factory for the production of military small arms, and produced hundreds of thousands of rifles and machine guns during both world wars.

Charles Stoker had moved to Leeds by the time of the 1901 census and was living with Minnie (b.1878), one of his five daughters, at 45 St Mark’s Rd, North Leeds; he died aged 66 years.

Charles Stoker’s father, James Stoker (1816-1885), was born in Staffordshire and was aged 22 yrs when Charles was born. By 1871 he had moved to Lady Wood, Birmingham with his family and worked as a bricklayer. His wife, Charles’s mother, Jane Lees (1814-1883) was born in Brewood Staffordshire. She and her husband James had eight children.

To return to my grandparents.   In the 1890s Willie Walker and Fanny Stoker were a young married couple in Leeds.

      The Headrow Leeds in the 1890s

Leeds in 1890 was a thriving city (even though its application to become formally known as a City had just been turned down, and would not be granted for another three years). The magnificent and hugely expensive Town Hall had been opened by Queen Victoria in 1858. The Infirmary was built ten years later, and the Yorkshire College – the forerunner of Leeds University – ten years after that. The population had doubled in the previous thirty years and now stood at close to 400,000 people, many of them living in the suburbs which were springing up all around the town. Development and innovation were largely centered in the Northern cities such as Leeds. The great wealth generated provided so many of the great public buildings in the  cities. The lust for profit and cutting costs was every bit as strong as it is today.                                       

In Leeds, the council had purchased the private gas companies, taking complete control of the utility. It was run by the Gas Committee, which conceived a novel way to reduce costs, as the price of gas had fallen: in essence, they’d lay off the workers for the summer, when demand was lower, and hire them back at lower wages. 

gasworkers union
New Wortley bridge
The sketch “An impression of the battle of Wortley Bridge during the big Leeds gas strike” is from Will Thorne’s autobiography My life’s battles.

The strike, organised by the recently formed National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers of Great Britain, (banner) resulted in blackleg workers being brought in from elsewhere amid considerable violence and confusion.

Many of these imported workers deserted when they knew the details of the dispute. Eventually as the gas supplies in the city became dangerously low the Gas Committee agreed to the strikers demands. (Described in some detail by Leeds Novelist Chris Nickson) (also very interesting full account on

In 1893 Leeds had been granted city status. The industries that developed in the industrial revolution had included making machinery for spinning, machine tools, steam engines and gears as well as other industries based on textiles, chemicals and leather and pottery. The Coal was extracted on a large scale and the still functioning Middleton Railway, the first successful commercial steam locomotive railway in the world, transported coal into the centre of Leeds.

The Collier. Watercolour George Walker. 1813 The Salamanca in the background

The first steam locomotive, the Salamanca, was introduced in 1812 by Matthew Murray but because of the  boiler explosions in 1818 and then in 1834, on  both occaisions killing the drivers, steam was abandoned until in 1866 when tank engines from Manning Ardle, a local firm were introduced.  So the world’s first commercially functioning locomotive was produced by John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray in Leeds, Yorkshire, England; Stephenson’s first was two years later, after studying their work. Industrial developments in the city are described in an excellent website by the Leeds City Council “Discovering Leeds”.

leeds 1885

The city centre became a major centre of transport and commerce, Hunslet and  Holbeck became major engineering centres. Armley, Bramley and Kirkstall became milling centres and areas such as Roundhay became middle class suburbs, the building of the Leeds Tramway allowing them better connections with the rest of the city.   (based on History of Leeds – Wikipedia).

Bell Street 1901
                  Children in slums of Leeds

During the Nineteenth century the middle classes moved out to the suburbs. More cheap back-to-back terraced housing was built to accommodate the increasing numbers of the working classes. Crowded insanitary slums develop. Children were employed in the factories under appalling conditions.

In between the extremes of the merchant elite and the very poor,  the middle classes increased – craftsmen, shopkeepers, cloth workers and they increased to one fifth of the population many falling between working and middle class.

In the 1890s it was usual to have large families and also not uncommon for children to die in childhood with conditions such as pneumonia, measles, whooping cough or gastroenteritis. Bad housing, poor sanitation, poor nutrition and overcrowding resulted in epidemic diseases and such diseases as typhus and influenza,  closely associated with inner city areas. Cholera appeared first in Sunderland in 1831 and eventually killed  52,000 people. There were no antibiotics such as penicillin or even sulphonamides (M&B) in those days nor was intravenous fluid replacement understood or available for those who became severely dehydrated with diarrhoea and vomiting – a common problem in the hot summers. Antibiotics did not become available until the mid-Forties. There were no immunisations against the common infectious diseases such as measles and whooping cough or even polio in those days; there was only vaccination against smallpox, made compulsory by the British government as far back as 1853 and eradicated worldwide by 1977.

The infant mortality in England and Wales in the 1890s was a staggering 153.33 deaths per 1000 live born infants in the first year; in 2016 it had fallen to its lowest ever at only 3.6 deaths per 1000 infants. So in our grandparents time an infant had over a 15% chance of dying during the first year.                                                                                                                          As a reflection of the poor state of health of the children over the decade 1893 to 1902, 34.6 percent of those who underwent the army medical examination were rejected and a further 3 percent were discharged on medical grounds within two years. In 1903 the Committee on Physical Deterioration was established as result of the appalling state of health of Boer War recruits 60% of whom were rejected as unfit to serve.

The Committee’s report, referring to the state of working class people in Britain, stated   ‘A population reared in the sunless slums of our smoke-enveloped cities, unless reinforced by marriage with men and women born and reared in God’s fresh air, deteriorate quickly to such an extent that the third generation is either sterile, or at best capable of giving birth to an infirm and rickety posterity.’

The Committee recommended school medicals, free school meals for the very poor and training in mothering skills. In 1903  the average male physique was indeed weaker than it had been fifty-five years before. In 1845 105 men per thousand recruited for the army had been under the standard height of 5’ 6”.  In 1900, 565 per thousand were under this height. In 1901, the army had finally agreed to enlist men down to a minimum of 5 feet (George F Shee. “The deterioration in the national physique”. The Nineteenth Century 1903;52:798).

So, conditions were unbelievably bad during the early and mid-19th century and very gradually improved during the second half of the century when our grandparents were young, although conditions for many families in the industrial cities would remain appalling well into the 20th century.

Our grandparents, Willie and Fanny Walker, had a busy household with their family in Camberley Street, Leeds.  My mother, Lily their eldest daughter, recalls those days. In addition to the two parents, there were seven children and a great amount of work was involved in raising a large family even with a “domestic’ to help. My grandfather Willie seemed to be a very active and intelligent man. He went for long cycle rides with his friend Mr Matthews, was interested in many things including geometry and reading of all kinds. He had a great sense of humour – on one occasion, after he had a hydrocele (a collection of fluid in the scrotum) drained by the family doctor, he invited all to come to the “resurrection of the old cock!”.

In the Thirties, in the later years as I remember them, Willie and Fanny Walker, lived on Farrar Lane in Adel a pleasant suburb in north Leeds, in a semi-detached house (Photo) only half a mile from our house, Hollycroft. There had been major changes in Leeds since they were a young married couple in 1889

Grandparents’ house in Farrar Lane Leeds

My parents, with Auntie Rose their second daughter, had apparently bought the house for them. Another of their children, May Wilkinson (Nee. Walker), her husband Eric Wilkinson and their son Christopher lived in the other “semi” of the pair.

Fanny, Willie with  Jack & Lil  with cousin Chris.

In the Thirties Grandpa and Grandma Walker often came to Sunday lunch with us at Hollycroft, which was just a short distance along The Drive, in Adel. I remember the Sunday lunches were usually very good – Ivy Baxter, our housekeeper during the Thirties, was an excellent cook. Typically we had Yorkshire pudding made in a large square tin and cut into smaller squares; this would be served with gravy as a first course before the roast. Yorkshire people used to say that it made you less hungry so you wouldn’t want so much meat! Grandpa Walker always came in his suit, waistcoat, pocket watch and chain and well-polished black boots.

Grandpa Walker had angina for many years;  these were the days before invasive cardiac treatments with coronary stents and coronary bypass operations.  He died in 1946 aged 78 years. After Willie died Grandma went to live with her second, now widowed, daughter Rose Webster (nee Walker) at her very pleasant flat on the Crescent (photo) in Filey on the East Coast.

Crescent Filey
        The Royal Crescent Filey

Filey was a small fishing village until the 18th century when visitors from Scarborough arrived seeking the peace and quiet that Filey then offered.   In 1835 a Birmingham solicitor, John Wilkes Unett, bought 7 acres (28,000m2) of land and built the Crescent, later known as the Royal Crescent, which was opened in the 1850s (Photo). The English composer Frederick Delius stayed as a boy on the Crescent with his family at Miss Hurd’s boarding house (number 24) in 1876 and 1877, and then at Mrs. Colley’s (number 24) in 1897.

Grandma –
Lydia Fanny Walker

 Lydia Fanny Walker (1869-1950)     Grandma died at the age eighty. She had a serious attack of pneumonia in her Seventies before penicillin or any other antibiotic was available. She developed a serious complication known as empyema, which is a collection of pus in the chest between the chest wall and the lung. She became seriously short of breath and Dr Watson, the then Professor of Medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, came to the house and aspirated a large amount of pus from her chest with a large needle after which Grandma made a full recovery. She died many years later of heart problems. She remained very alert and on her final day even advised Dr Dibb, the Filey family doctor, on how to give the heart injection he was about to administer.

Grandma enjoyed doing the football pools every week and was always ready for a game of cards. She was a very kind person who had experienced a hard life. Her eldest daughter Lil, my mother, recalls that at times, when Fanny was harassed by her numerous children, she would say she envied those “unlucky couples” who weren’t “blessed” with so many children! The other things I recall about Grandma were she was always well turned out. She used a hearing aid in the form of a black box on her knee and a metal head band with an attached ear piece. Also every night she took water in which senna pods had been soaking for some time. A very nice lady who I remember well with affection.

Paternal Grandparents – Henry (Littlewood) and Annie (Astley)                                                       

My father John (always known as “Jack”) was the son of Henry Littlewood (1858-1927) and Annie Littlewood (Nee. Astley. 1863-1931). Both had died by the time I was born in 1932.  There are no photographs of them.      

My father had a younger sister, Nellie (her married name Arrowsmith b. 1886) whom I remember but only vaguely. In 1912 Nellie (1886 – 1953) married James Arrowsmith (b.1885 – 1936) a plumber, and son of Ralph Arrowsmith, a Leeds milk dealer. Nellie and James had two daughters, Betty and Peggy, but we had little contact with Aunt Nellie or her daughters – I suspect they “moved in different circles” to my parents.


From 1877, for 25 years, my paternal grandfather, Henry Littlewood, was a Post Office Telegraphist in Leeds. Telegraphy is defined as the “transmission of coded messages along wires by means of electrical signals”. For many years up to the end of the nineteenth century this was the only means of long distance communication and represented a definite revolution in communication during the second half of the 19th century from about 1850.  The following is an account of a telegraphist’s work (from the wiseGEEK website) – “A telegraphist operates telegraph equipment to maintain communication over the airwaves. This career is largely obsolete, as telegraphs have been replaced by other communication methods including radio and satellite. From the 1800s, when the telegraph was originally invented, to the early 1900s, when other technology began to supplant it, telegraphists transmitted signals from ships, between locations on land, and in military conflicts. Telegraph operators, as they were also known, included a mix of both men and women”.

I recall that for many years, for urgent important news, one would send a “telegram” which would be a printed message on a form (figure) in an envelope delivered to the recipient’s house from the local post office by a “telegram boy” on a motorcycle or bicycle. During the Second World War from 1939 families dreaded the sound of a motorcycle stopping at their house and were relieved when it went past, for it was by telegram families were informed when a relative serving in the armed forces had been killed. I can remember this when my brother Douglas was in the army on active service overseas – fortunately we never received such a telegram.

As both my paternal grandfather Henry Littlewood and his wife Annie had died before I was born in 1932, I knew very little about them. I never remember seeing a photograph of either of them in our house. They were virtually never referred to by my parents and seemed to have left little impact on the Littlewood family as it was in the Thirties.

However, in those days in the Thirties, the average person did not usually have the keen interest in the past and family histories as has been the case in recent years. It was not usual to take a great interest in one’s past family history – in fact, some people were keen to move on and not keen to remember too much of their family’s past, such was the obsession with “social class” and “good breeding” in the Thirties! My mother told me that the small select kindergarten school that my brother Douglas attended in North Leeds in the Twenties would not have accepted him as a pupil if his only parent had been a hairdresser like herself, but they accepted him as his father was the manager of an insurance company in Leeds – the Century and Friend’s Provident. I’m ashamed to say that when was asked about my parents in the Thirties, I always said first that my father was manager of an insurance company, not that mother was a hairdresser – albeit a very successful one in central Leeds and earning considerably more than my father! Undoubtedly, social class was very import in the Thirties.

Douglas Littlewood (1916-2007), my brother was 16 years my senior, and he did remember our paternal grandparents Henry and Annie Littlewood. He said that Grandpa Henry Littlewood was a very quiet person whom he remembers as sitting in a chair on his porch at 11, Rawnsley Street, Leeds. Douglas recalls that Henry  “never seemed to say very much”. However, he was obviously a steady worker and was awarded the Imperial Service Medal in 1917 “in recognition of your meritorious service in the Post Service” as a telegraphist.

Imperial Service Medal

The Imperial Service Order was established by King Edward VII in August 1902. Non-managerial civil servants who completed 25 years service were eligible for the Imperial Service Medal (ISM) upon their retirement. The award of the ISM was recorded on employees’ pension records. The medal is described as ‘a silver circular medal bearing the effigy of the reigning monarch on one side, and the motif of a naked man resting after work with the legend ‘For Faithful Service’ on the other side”. The ribbon or bow pattern is the same as the Imperial Service Order – I don’t think there was any financial reward with the medal!

For most of Henry Littlewood’s working life there was no radio – regular broadcasts did not start in the UK until 1922. The telephone was not developed by Alexander Graham Bell until 1876 and I recall not everyone had a telephone in their home even in the Thirties. Many families used a local public telephone box. So during the early part of the Twentieth century the telegram was still a very important means of rapid communication.

Henry Littlewood died in 1927 aged 69 years after which his wife, Annie, came to live with my parents Jack and Lil at Hollycroft in their relatively new impressive home in Adel on the outskirts of Leeds, which they had built in the late Twenties. My brother Douglas recalled Grandma Annie had the middle of the three front bedrooms at Hollycroft, until she died in 1931 – the year before I was born.  My parents had recently moved (some time before 1927) to Adel from their first home in Escort Avenue, Leeds to Hollycroft on The Drive in Adel which, in the late Twenties, was on the very outskirts of Leeds, virtually in the country. Apparently, the new house had to wait for the installation of running water and drainage for some time after the family moved in. I do remember there was a fresh water spring beside the road near the end of our garden from which it was said the family obtained water until connected to the mains supply; however, this was well before I was born in 1932.

John Littlewood (1828-1900).  

Our paternal great-grandfather, another John Littlewood, was born in Leeds and lived at 1 Elmwood Street in North West Leeds. He married Hannah Littlewood (Nee. Hatfield 1829-1911) and they had only two children – Henry my grandfather (1858-1927), described above, and Frederick (1854-1900) who was a clerk cashier and about whom I have no information.

John Littlewood was also involved with communications and for fifty years from 1842 worked at the Yorkshire Post newspaper in Leeds. He was described as a “printer’s compositor”. Apparently the printer’s compositor arranged individual metal letters of type by hand for printing newspapers or magazines; from 1886 the letters could be keyed in using a Linotype machine.  On his retirement John Littlewood was given an impressive pocket watch in hallmarked silver which bears the following inscription

“Presented to Mr. John Littlewood by his confreres on the staff of the Yorkshire Post on the completion of his 50 years service. June, 1892”. We still have the watch (Photo).

watch back

So my father’s parents came from humble stock and left little impression on the world. They raised two children – one of whom was my father John (known as Jack). My wife Ann told me that everyone thought my father was “a lovely man” and “no one had a bad word to say about him” which “couldn’t be said about your mother!”.  Certainly my mother was a very confident determined successful business woman, most unusual in the early twentieth century,  as we will see later.