Cousin Ray recently asked me if I knew where our Aunt Maud had been in service. Apart from the fact that she’d held a senior position in a “grand house”, I didn’t know. In fact I’d often thought about this, but I couldn’t think how to find the answer. Aunt Maud is long dead and she left no children. Her siblings too are dead, as are my aunts Ethel and Winnie who regularly visited Maud in her later years. I couldn’t think of anybody still alive who might know where Maud had worked. I decided to review what I knew about Maud to see if this exercise suggested any way forward.
Of course Maud wasn’t really our “aunt”. She was a first cousin of Joseph Walker, our maternal grandfather. Granddad’s aunt, Charlotte Lumsdon, married bricklayer Joseph Hind at St Peter’s, Sacriston, Co Durham on 14 April 1895, and they set up home at nearby Daisy Hill. Their first three children – Charlotte, Robert and John – were born there, but Robert died at the age of only one day. In 1898 or 1899 the family moved to 17 Brunel Street, Gateshead (just demolished last year), and on 9 December 1899 daughter Mary Ann was born there. Finally, on 21 July 1901, came the birth of Maud. Sadly, in March 1904, Maud’s eldest sister, Charlotte, died at the age of 8, leaving just John, Mary Ann and Maud. By 1911 the Hinds had moved to moved to 9 East View, Burnopfield, and by 1921 they were living at 5 South View, Chopwell – a house built by our great grandfather, Joseph Walker.
Maud’s sister, Mary Ann Hind, married grocer, Ernest George Dale, at St John’s, Chopwell on 28 March 1921 – Maud was a witness; and on 4 August 1924, her brother, John Hind, a power station worker, married Frances May Bushby at Christ Church, Hamsterley Colliery. Maud, however, did not marry young, instead she went into domestic service.
I don’t know if Maud had other jobs before going into service, or whether she’d gone into service straight from school, nor do I know if she stayed with the same household throughout her period of domestic service, or had moved around, but I do know that Maud was in service for a long time and rose through the ranks to a senior position in a “grand house”. I also know that she had left that position by the end of 1942, because on 2 December 1942 she married Thomas Smith who was 26 years her senior and was a chemist with a shop at Greenside. The marriage was not to last long, however, as Thomas died aged 71 on 9 December 1946, four years almost to the day after their marriage.
By 1949 Maud was living at 15 Naylor Avenue, Winlaton Mill (this photograph shows myself aged about 3 years with my parents in the garden of that house). During the 1950s I can remember Maud visiting my parents’ home at Rowlands Gill, and I can remember visiting Maud at Winlaton Mill. We caught the Newcastle bus from Rowlands Gill to Winlaton Mill; walked up the steps behind the bus stop, turned right onto Naylor Avenue, and Maud’s was the second gate along. The house overlooked the valley – a beautiful view to Hollinside and Fellside.
Even as a very young lad I realised that there was something different about Maud’s house and Maud herself – everything from the way she dressed to the way she laid her table, folded her towels or made her bed, was done to perfection! My mother explained that this was because Maud had lived and worked in a “grand house” where everything had to be “just so.”
Maud lost both her parents around this time. They’d retired to 28 Mill Road, Chopwell and Maud’s mother, Charlotte, died there on 16 May 1951 at the age of 76 years. Maud’s father, Joseph, died aged 81 on 8 September 1953 at his son’s house: 24 Joseph Street, Chopwell.
By the late 1950s Maud was working as an assistant in the Co-op Chemists at High Spen which was right at the top of Ramsay Street, in the shop which is currently the post office. I saw her there quite frequently when I was in that village visiting my grandmother. Maud then went to work as housekeeper to a gentleman called Linton Lawton Henderson who lived at at 5 St Ronan’s Drive, Seaton Sluice and ran a hairdressing business in Newcastle. Linton was also a prominent Freemason, who was a Past Master of Carliol Lodge No 5419 and a founder member of White Friars Lodge No 6523. Both lodges met in Jesmond. Maud and Linton married in February 1963 but, sadly, this marriage too was to be very short-lived. Linton died at the age of 64 on 14 December 1966, and was cremated three days later at Whitley Bay Crematorium following a 10.30 am service at St Paul’s church in Seaton Sluice. Maud remained at Seaton Sluice until her death in December 1988 at the age of 87 – a long life, despite having contracted colon cancer and having a colostomy bag fitted many years earlier.
So does any of this suggest a means of identifying the “grand house” where Maud had worked? What sort of records should we be looking for anyway? We can rule out records listed by address only, such as Electoral Registers, because the address is what we are seeking. We need records indexed by name which would specify the address. Census records spring to mind – and perhaps birth and death records where Maud might have been the “informant”. Less obviously she might have been named as executor, witness or beneficiary in a will or feature in some newspaper story which refers also to her employers. We can look at these one at a time, but first we need to know the time frame in which Maud may have been in service.
Maud was born in July 1901 and for anyone born in that year, the period of compulsory education was from the age of 5 to 12. Children could leave at the the end of the term in which they attained the age of 12, so Maud would almost certainly have left school in mid July 1913, the beginning of the five-week summer holiday. In theory Maud could have gone into service in her “grand house” as early as July 1913, and, as I stated earlier, she could have served until December 1942, when she married Thomas Smith. So we have the period July 1913 – December 1942 in which to seek out relevant records.
Let’s look first at newspapers. Not all newspapers have been indexed, but many have been and many can be searched online. Unsurprisingly Maud does not feature in any of these indexes – it was very much a long shot, but it definitely needed checking.
Censuses which list everyone in every household, have been compiled every ten years since 1841 – except for 1941 when the census was cancelled because of the war. However, census records are regarded as confidential for 100 years, so at present only the censuses of 1841-1911 are available for public viewing. In 1901, the census was taken on 31st March, so Maud was born four months too late to appear on that record, but she does appear on the 1911 census at Burnopfield with her parents and her two surviving siblings, though her father misspelt her name as “Maude”. In the period of interest – 1913 to 1942 – she would have been listed on the 1921 and 1931 censuses, but unless there’s a change in the law the former won’t be public until 2022, and the latter no longer exists as the entire 1931 census was destroyed in a fire in a government storage facility in Hayes, Middlesex on 19 December 1942. So the only potential source here, the 1921 census, won’t be available for nine years. It may provide the information we seek, but I doubt it. Maud was only 19 or 20 in 1921, and even if she was in service by that date, it is far from certain that she’d have been in the “grand house” by then. The 1931 census would have been a better bet if it had it survived, but it didn’t.
What about birth and death records where she might be mentioned as informant, or probate records where she might be mentioned as executor, witness or beneficiary . Unfortunately the birth and death records aren’t indexed by informant, and probate records aren’t indexed by executor, witness or beneficiary. All are indexed by the principal subject of the record – the child in the case of a birth record, or the deceased in the case of a death or probate record. That means that we are limited to births, deaths and wills of family members. The only birth that Maud would have registered would be that of her own child – and, as far as we know, Maud never had any children. The only deaths Maud is likely to have registered would be those of a parent – and her parents died in the 1950s, outside our period of interest. Probate records are similarly useless – her father did leave a will which might well have mentioned Maud, but his death was outside our period of interest – as were the deaths of Maud’s siblings. She could have acted as witness or executor or been a beneficiary of other wills – but we have no way of finding out if she did.
So what’s left? Until 2009 I would probably have said “nothing”, but that’s no longer the case. Most family historians have long been aware that no census was taken in 1941, but not everyone knew that there had in fact been a sort of mini-census, called the National Registration, just two years earlier in September 1939, the first month of World War 2. Even fewer knew that this National Registration formed the basis of our National Health Service record system in 1948 and is still held in an accessible form by the NHS at their offices in Southport.
Those of us who were aware of this were not particularly excited, because we fully expected that the National Registration records would be regarded as confidential for 100 years, just like the censuses. Indeed this idea seemed to be born out when a Mr Guy Etchells applied for information from the National Registration records under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act and was refused on data protection grounds. Mr Etchells, however, appealed to the Information Commissioner and was successful – the Information Commissioner ruled that the NHS could only withhold National Registration information which related to living people. Consequently the NHS has had to set up a department to handle these FoI requests, and applying has been made a very straightforward, if somewhat expensive, exercise. Anyone can now get details of the deceased members of any 1939 household, either by specifying an address, or the details of one member of that household.
Could these records be any help in our quest to find Maud’s “grand house?” Possibly. The National Registration was taken on 29 September 1939 and we simply didn’t know if Maud was still in her “grand house” at that date or had already returned to more mundane surroundings. There was only one way to find out – take a chance and apply. So I downloaded the application forms, filled them in requesting details of the household of which Maud Hind d.o.b. 21 July 1901 was part, and sent off the form along with my cheque. Three weeks later the information arrived by e-mail. It was just what I’d hoped for. On 29 September 1939 Maud was living at Angerton Hall near Hartburn, Northumberland – I’d identified Maud’s “grand house”.
Angerton Hall was the home of Frederic Straker, a 76 year-old banker, and his wife, Edith Gertrude, aged 69. Maud was described as “Personal Maid” and there was also a cook, a kitchenmaid, a scullerymaid, two housemaids, and one or more other servants whose details were withheld because they are still living (or at least not known to have died). Maud’s employers, known to their family and friends as Fred and Gertie, were keen supporters of the Morpeth Hunt, and Fred, who was said to be “of alarming appearance,” was a keen racing man who had several horses in training and special gallops on his estate. Angerton Hall was noted for “good food, enormous fires and every comfort.” Frederic was born on 28 April 1863, the youngest son son of John Straker of Stagshaw House who had coal and shipping interests. Frederic was educated at Harrow and at Jesus College, Cambridge – he obtained his “rowing blue” in 1884. He became a prominent banker and served as a J.P. He was also Lord of the Manor of High Angerton. He married Edith Gertrude Allgood on 6 July 1895 and they had two children, Richard, born 13 August 1896, and Gillian born 3 June 1901.
Frederic Straker died at Angerton Hall on 9 February 1941 following a tragic fall a week earlier. The official verdict was “At Angerton Hall on Feb. 9th, Mr Straker died from hypostatic pneumonia consequent upon injury to the chest wall, the result of an accidental fall on the stairs leading to his bedroom at Angerton Hall on Feb. 2, 1941”
Fred remembered his long-standing servants in his will. We don’t know how long Maud worked at Angerton Hall, but if, as seems likely, she’d been there for more than ten years, she would have received a sum equal to two years’ wages. A substantial bequest indeed.
Another tragedy struck the Straker family three months later on 20 May 1941 when Fred and Gertie’s son-in-law, Major David Barnett, was killed in action in Crete. Soon afterwards Gertie moved in with her widowed daughter, Gillian Barnett, at Halton near Corbridge. Presumably this was the end of Maud’s employment with the Straker family – and the timing fits in well with Maud’s marriage to Thomas Smith in 1942.
So the mystery of Maud’s grand house is solved – I wish all family mysteries were as simple to resolve.
[Rewritten 1st August 2013 to incorporate corrections supplied by cousin Ann and information from Frederic Straker’s will.]