On the ancestral trail from the Ribble Valley to Fleetwood
PUBLISHED: 16:27 08 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 February 2013
A recent photo-essay on Downham by Mark Robinson set reader Steve Minto on the trail of his ancestors - a county-wide journey from the Ribble Valley to Fleetwood Photography by Mark Robinson
The long upward slopes of our hills and the green swards of our cherished villages reflect the up and down fortunes of the families who live there.
The passing of major events are in direct contrast to the unseen, quietly-fought struggles within families trying to establish a future.
Where do I begin? In Downham, where in 1866 there was no pub just a farmhouse with rented land and a few thirsty workers. My 89-year-old mum is Margaret Kayley Minto (nee Whittaker), and her great-grandfather was Henry Kayley, buried in the Downham church garden.
He founded the George and Dragon (now the Assheton Arms) public house. The old photo, above right, shows the building, largely unchanged. The picture includes his wife Mary, their three children and a housekeeper along with Henry himself in a formal pose with his name displayed above the door as a Licensed Victualler & Purveyor of Ales.
Sadly, soon after it was taken, in December 1872, the eldest girl in the picture passed away and is buried in the same grave as Henry and Mary - a reminder of the mortality of children little more than a century ago.
The photo next to it resonates with happier times in the village life. It was the bell for last orders at the pub! It was rescued from the inn when Robin Greenwood sold the licensee holding in the 1890s. Mum recalls the story of it ringing home and the richly decorated bronze-coloured beer jug.
Mums mother, Hannah Whittaker (nee Greenwood) was born at the pub in 1885. The thriving business passed to Robin Greenwood and his wife in 1882, the latter being the smallest girl from the photo. The stature of girls has moved on remarkably in 100 years.
Fickle fate was not far away again however. Robin and family moved to Aughton, near Ormskirk, and he started a cattle feed business in the 1890s. A trip to Ireland for business seemed promising but he returned with typhus and died at 32, leaving my mums diminutive grandmother, aged just 33, to bring up five children alone. No social payments, the only safety net being family, friends, charitable institutions and a lot of hard work.
Luckily, the wheel of fortune turns for most of us in the long run. The countrys increasing employment and new-found status for the middle earners allowed my grandmother Hannah a stab at teaching in Bolton in the golden years of Edwardian England. There she met Frank Whittaker and married in 1919 at the age of 34. Frank was 40.
Mum came along in 1922, a single child with older parents - something that is very much back in vogue these days.
The family star was now rising as Frank moved from book-keeper to trader at the Royal Manchester Cotton Exchange in 1923. He sold it to Turkey and the Middle East and his employer, Catlows, operating four mills in the Sabden area, were also prospering and had purchased Mains Hall at Poulton-le-Fylde where Frank and Hannah and baby Margaret enjoyed some weekend stays.
Frank was making 12 a week at this time.
Just as they thought they were enjoying la dolce vita, the British cotton industry was sunk by the incoming tide of cheap goods from the Third World producers. This was immediately followed by the the Great Depression. Catlows Mills went and Franks job along with it.
Re-group, plan and move on was the spirit of the 30s. The family moved to Fleetwood in 1933 to rent a large house opposite the Mount and sub-let to tenants for other income. Frank returned to book-keeping at home. World War Two brought extra guests at the house as several Canadian Air Force pilots were billeted there. Very slowly life was getting better. Hannah passed away suddenly in 1947 but cupid brought Mum and Dad (Joseph Minto) together in marriage in 1949.
From this time - dare we tempt fate? - good fortune stayed with the family. My father was at BAE Warton working on the P1 Lightning fighter plane, possibly the finest jet plane ever built and he then moved to ICI for the rest of his working time to retire on a comfortable pension.
Now Im self-employed and challenged. My two brothers, Alan in Phoenix, Arizona, and Ken on a gas/oil exploration vessel sailing all over the globe, are doing very well but history has shown you can never get too complacent.
From the idyll of the Lancashire Valleys to the seagull cry of Fleetwood, it never pays to get too comfy but to follow the FIVE P rule of life that is universally unchanging: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance and mind your Ps and Qs as well!
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Have you got a family with a fascinating history? If so, wed love to hear it and if you can provide relevant pictures, well consider it for publication in a future issue.
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