Naturally enough, we hardly glimpse her in the diaries of her teenage son John.
She had been running the large household at Bridge Foot for thirty years, bringing up six children and entertaining family, friends and business guests. This was the unexamined background to John's life and escapes comment, except for occasional entries such as this one on 23 May 1856, when John was thirteen:
“at night I rode to Ouseburn … got home at a ¼ to ten got a rowing for being so late"We don't know how many servants were employed in the house nor how many employees the shop needed. Bessie Carass seems to have been in the family's employ for a very long time and her importance can be seen from John’s fiancée Ellis’s letters to him from Boroughbridge on her first visit there:
“Last Night I went to the kitchen to try to get old Bessie tell me something bad about you, but of course failed altogether. This morning I watched her prepare a turkey for cooking. So you see I am beginning already!!”Bessie obviously knew John all his life and may have been the children's nurse. She and her husband Henry, a local butcher, are frequently mentioned in John's diaries and she remained a mainstay of the family for many years, helping Mary with cooking and cleaning in the 1870s, offering to come and look after Ellis when the babies were due, making cushions for Ellis and going for holidays to stay with John and Ellis in Coatham.
The 1851 Census shows that Thomas and Mary had one apprentice and two servant girls living in the house, but the amount of work must have been considerable and the diaries show that John lent a hand at home. He often records acting as "housekeeper", sometimes for his parents and sometimes for his married brother Joe – householders rarely left a house empty and generally left somebody at home. In January 1857 he wrote
“Father and I were the only two at home All the rest had gone to the Concert Servants as well”.He would take his turn at chopping up the loaves of sugar and helping with the cow that Mary kept for the house – in January 1856 he recorded going
“to see the Cow as we were expectg her calving”
Mary was seven years younger than her husband Thomas, and she was sixty-four when he died in November 1867. She and her unmarried daughter Alice left the Bridge Foot to her eldest son Joe and his family and moved to a house in St James's Square where she spent the rest of her days.
The 1860s had been a bad decade for her. Her sister Ann Pick had died in 1860 and her sister Jane Redmayne in 1862. The year 1866 had opened with the shocking news from London that her second son Tom was seriously ill; he died three days later of "brain disease very suddenly," according to John's diary. He was thirty-two years old. Later in the same year her brother William Henlock was taken ill and died in September.
Mary was the eldest of eight children. The Henlock siblings lost their brother George at the age of twenty and the two youngest, John and Richard, emigrated to New Zealand a few years later. We do not know how much contact was maintained with John and Richard – they were to hear of Richard's death in Australia in 1876 – but perhaps family ties became all the more important to the diminished family at home in Yorkshire.
Mary's brother William took over the family farm. There had been Henlocks in the Great Ouseburn area for generations, but William would be the last. He was forty-four years old when he married and he and his wife Ellen Thornber, who was forty-one, had no children.
“I have sent your dear little boy a cheque to be given him on is Christing morning”.
“Tell dear Ellis I may write her from Ouseburn but pen and ink are often difficult to be had there”.
At the same time, Ellen [right, by Howell] was in a far more comfortable financial position, and Mary had her children to consider. Mary was fond of her sister-in-law, as can be seen in her letters to John in which she often reminds him of Mrs Henlock’s goodness to the family, and she took trouble to include Ellen in the family social life.
“Poor Aunt left us on Tuesday we miss her greatly though she required nursing and care she is so very nice and kind. Alice and I were quite sorry to part with her but I hope she left us better.” [24 January 1874]Ellen was always generous to John – he records her giving him a gold chain for his birthday in 1859 and in 1860 he buys two flannel shirts at York Cattle Show, which Ellen had said she would pay for. She describes herself in the 1851 Census as a farmer’s wife, and in 1859 John notes, “Mrs Henlock and I went to see some sheep and had a good course”. Her portrait shows a bonny dark-haired woman with a pleasant open face.
Mary saw her sister Isabella (John's "Aunt Bell") frequently, as she lived nearby in Boroughbridge. She was a very sociable lady, fond of whist, frequently holding supper parties, entertaining young relatives and going to parties herself.
It was perhaps because of her spinster status that in later years Mary spoke of her with a certain sort of pity, the reasons for which are not otherwise clear. For example, in March 1872, when Mary was sixty-nine and Bell sixty-three, Mary wrote to her daughter-in-law Ellis that
“Bell is coming home on Wednesday we expect she will find a great change to her lonely lodging”In November 1873, she wrote,
“we yesterday dined with Aunt Bell off Goose Joe Sarah Dora and we three and had a very pleasant chatty party, and we are going again on Monday to her for an evening entertainment and to meet a few young ladies, she is very good poor thing”.Aunt Bell seems to have been a robust and lively lady, and her letters show a straightforward, fluent and brisk style:
“Willy and his wife are still here she is very delicate and I think will make him soon look an old man”
“I sincerely wish your dear little boy may live to enjoy many happy returns of his birth day, but I fear you are instilling dissipated habits into him”.Apart from winter cold and suffering from the hot weather, mentioned in her letters in 1874 and 1875, she does not appear to have ailed much and was only ill for a few days before her death. She took in her stride the accident in March 1874 when she was coming home from Harrogate with Uncle Hirst in the dogcart, and
“the horse fell broke both shafts pitched them both out frightfully but they were no worse except the shaking”.Her death in 1880 at the age of seventy-four left her elder sister much shaken. She was greatly grieved by her loss:
“I cannot realize poor Aunt gone at all I feel as if she would return again but it is not to be in this world”and she was somewhat distressed that her eldest daughter Jane was the main beneficiary of Bell's Will, writing to John
“Jane you see sweeps all Aunt Bells and will get six hundred pounds”,This was because Jane was the wife of a prosperous man and Mary was very concerned about her unmarried daughter Alice’s future. She was anxious that Alice should have enough money to be independent of her brothers and sisters and in due course altered her own Will to make her future as secure as she could.
Mary's sister Jane was six years her junior. She was thirty when she married Thomas Redmayne, a widower with young children and probably a family connection of her mother Jane. The Redmaynes lived in considerable style at Taitlands, the house Thomas had built at Stainforth. They had four house servants and a coachman at the time of the 1851 census, and John's diaries show that they had more than one carriage and kept a number of horses. They were generous hosts to their wider family, who frequently enjoyed visits to Taitlands. It must have been a considerable shock to everyone when Thomas and Jane died within a week of each other in early spring 1862. Jane died on 18 February, aged fifty-two. Thomas died three days later, aged sixty-five. He had lost his son Thomas, who had died as a young man when out in Australia, and his remaining son, Henry, died six years after his parents' deaths, at the age of twenty-six.
The youngest Henlock sister, Ann, was born in 1810 and married William Pick of Great Ouseburn at the age of thirty-six. They had no children, and Ann seems to have been particularly close to her nephew John. Her death in 1860 must have been a terrible shock.
William Pick continued to be very much a part of the family's life – John frequently stayed with him and they evidently were good friends. He died unexpectedly in 1872 only weeks before he was to marry his nurse/housekeeper Miss Wing and there was general dismay when it was found that he had left his affairs in sad confusion. Mary wrote
“Poor Wing I do feel for her. The bridescake had arrived and all beautiful clothes in which she had spent all her own money as she did not wish to be dependent on him before"Then there was confusion over his Will, as he had been thought to have made a recent Will but none could be found. John, who by then had been in practice in Middlesbrough for twelve years, had done a good deal of work for his uncle for no fee, and Miss Wing was left unprovided for.
“I do grieve for her poor thing for she had been a faithful nurse”,wrote Mary. Mary was worried on John's account and must also have felt a certain amount of regret if, as seems likely, the money and possessions that Ann Pick had inherited from her parents had been subsumed in her husband’s estate.
The Will that took effect dated from before Aunt Pick's death and the principal beneficiaries was the wealthy Pick family. It seems that the Picks and the Stubbs came to an arrangement which satisfied all parties and it is likely that something was done for Miss Wing, who had been on the threshold of a new and comfortable life when Uncle Pick's death snatched it from her. She is later to be found running a boarding house in Harrogate (in which Ellis stayed), which suggests she was given some money from the estate to set herself up in business.
It was a sad and confused episode, as Uncle Pick was much loved – Mary recounts of poor Miss Wing:
“in the midst of all she said I am so sorry for your family Mrs Stubbs for had there been a later Will I am sure Mr John would have been well remembered for though he liked them all he was his favorite”.Miss Wing sent John a photograph of Uncle Pick on 29 May 1873 from “The Haughs”. We have the accompanying note, but most unfortunately do not know to which photo it refers.
Mary was a person to whom people turned for help.
We can see this in the diaries. When poor Mrs Clark of Ellenthorp Hall, in her late thirties and in labour with her first baby, is delivered of a dead child, John records, “Mother was there”. She was at Settle in Old Aunt’s last days, and she “was at Langthorp all day as Joes baby was ill in the whooping cough”. In poor Miss Wing’s sudden and disastrous bereavement, it is to Mary she turns for help and it is clear from Mary's letters in the 1870s that when her daughters, nieces, nephews and more distant relations were in need of loving care in convalescence they wrote to Mary and asked to come to stay. Her sister-in-law Ellen stayed with Mary when she was in need of nursing. When her daughter Lizzie has been seriously ill, she comes home to her mother:
“we expect Lizzie on the ninth but she brings I hope Mrs Miller [the nurse] with her who has been with her all along for she I thought would know all her requirements and I preferred that to having [Lizzie’s husband] William at present for he is a great fidget and requires much attention so you see your old mother can be inhospitable if she likes” [letter 30 March 1872]Mary's letter to John in 1874 describing the stay of her little grandson Duncan, staying at Boroughbridge while his sister was born, shows her close attention to and loving care of the little boy. Her letters speak eloquently of her concern for her family’s health at a time when a minor ailment could lead to fatal complications and death was ever present, and they testify to her constant contact with her family and friends, and her strong religious faith.
Naturally she gives her son advice. It is interesting to notice that the advice she gave him on his professional partnership and the problem of his partner’s continued illness:
“have you made any arrangements for the year with Mr B do strive dearest John to go on amicably with them for your term will soon be over DV and always do to them as you would be done by and their friendship is much better than enmity, and it might have been that your health had failed” [February 1874]was an echo of a comment by Timothy Crosby, the County Court Registrar:
“Mr Brewster has unfortunately been prevented, for some months, from giving his accustomed attention to business. The same thing might have happened to Mr Stubbs. It is one of the ordinary contingencies of life” [24 May 1873].She ends,
"Now dearest John I think you will be tired of this long prosy letter I will spare your patience and conclude very very much love for you and dearest Ellis …"Her letters are loving and lively, and fluently written in spite of the fact that in later years she could not read them through because of her eyesight.
Her advice on child rearing would not be out of place in many modern handbooks. She wrote to Ellis,
“I am so thankful you have a good supply of food for the Boy [ie breastmilk] it is much better than any other than can be supplied”She had strong views on child-rearing, writing of her daughter's family:
“Poor Jane Capes cannot hear of servants and her Governess will not stay, is it not trying? I told them I did not think the Children were taught to be implicitly obedient when they were very young, for I do believe it cannot be too early instilled by firmness not punishment dear lambs” [7 November 1872]And after little Duncan's return home to Coatham following the birth of his baby sister, she wrote
“do tell him poor Grandma was obliged to cry on Sunday when she thought he was gone do not say he is spoiled for I cannot believe it he can be led by appealing to his feelings at any time and is a most loveable boy” [20 May 1874].With her strong principles went a strong character, sometimes revealed in acerbic comments:
“your old friend Jane Thompson is going to marry a Clergyman a Widower with ten children a Mr Woodhouse (I think is his name in the neighbourhood of Newcastle William [her brother] is much annoyed) and she had four hundred a year of her own and had offers unmissable poor thing is she not a silly woman?” [10 October 1872]Her style is very attractive – here she writes of her return to Boroughbridge from a visit to John and Ellis:
“at last we have hired two very young [maids] for Jane all we could meet with as so many objected to the large family and I am sure I should if I were a maid” [16 November 1872]
“Jane and Henry … have lost two valuable cows lately but amateur farming is never profitable though it may be pleasant their hens too die off sadly How are yours” [1 February 1873]
“William Dunhill [her son in law] left us on the Thursday which was a great relief for he is a fearful fidget in a house” [20 April 1872].
“I did hope I had come home much stronger but on Thursday I began again with a very sharp attack of Redcar”.Her surviving letters, which date from 1872, show that she was obviously very close to John. Perhaps this was increased by her fondness for his wife and the close friendship that had developed between the sisters-in-law Ellis and Alice. Of course, we only have her correspondence with John. When we read her comments about Jane's family we must bear in mind that we don't know if she spoke to her daughters with equal frankness about any worries she had over him.
She had her limitations of understanding and was particularly baffled by her eldest son Joe's illness, which she described at one point as "all in idea". It seems to have been a depressive illness that left him debilitated and incapable of work:
"I do not think poor Joe is at all well he is so highly nervous. Jane and Henry wished him to go there for a week but they cannot persuade him he says he is not strong enough" [10 May 1874]It is possible, of course, that alcohol played a part – it would have been fatally easy for Joe, given his business – and this might explain her comment
"Joe I am sorry to say is very poorly I am afraid wilful illness it pains me very much” [24 April 1875].but it seems more likely that she found his depression completely incomprehensible.
Home was very important to her:
“there is something which always makes you cling to home as your most valued possession though a change elsewhere may be pleasant” [25 July 1874].In old age, she and Alice employed one maid, and seem to have been generally fortunate in keeping servants. The servant would join her for prayers in the evening – “now I must say goodnight dearest John as Margaret is coming in for prayers” [15 February 1873] – and the tone of her letters suggests that she treated them well and kindly.
She and Alice kept a cat and a dog (mentioned on 27 October 1875). One was called Snow:
“Margaret has retired to bed so Snow and I are the sole occupiers now” [13 January 1872].The cat was not perhaps a good mouser, as later in the letter she says,
“our mouse trap does not catch at all how can it be for we seem to have a great many mice”.We know from Mary’s letters to John that, while loving her own home, she was accustomed to and enjoyed a convivial social life. Rain and bad weather would keep women and the elderly or infirm confined to the house, where a strong young man like John might be undeterred. We have become so accustomed to our modern clothing materials, warmer houses, washers, driers, antibiotics, cars, buses etc that it takes an effort of imagination to put ourselves in our ancestors’ position. Ellis, for example, had to miss church one Sunday because she was not feeling well enough to face the prospect of sitting through a long service in wet clothes.
Mary expected people to call in, family and friends to come to dine or to take tea, and visitors to come to stay. She continued to take exercise when she could – in 1872, aged sixty-nine, she wrote,
“Alice says I must have a walk so I must conclude”and on 1 June 1872,
“Mabel begs me to take a walk with her and it is a fine bright morning”.She went out to call on neighbours and to stay with the family. Old age and infirmity naturally curtailed these activities to some extent. The letters show that her eyesight was poor, and became worse if she was over-tired. She was evidently not in good health in old age, and was very frail towards the end. It seems that her family obtained a wheelchair of some sort for her [Alice’s letter 8 May 1886].
Above all, her letters, which always end with a blessing, are imbued with her faith. This was a life-long comfort to her in all her tribulations. We can see this vividly in her words to John when informing him of a young man’s death,
“God's ways are not our ways and we must believe He doeth all things well and we must trust him dearest John for he loves us with an everlasting love and never afflicts us willingly” [February 1874].She died on 6 May 1891 at the age of eighty-seven and was buried at Boroughbridge.
After her death the family gave a new Choir Vestry to the Boroughbridge Church in her memory. The Revd Owen in his address called her
“the most consistent lover of our Church … one of my most steadfast and consistent friends … For the erection of our little church she, and the members of her family, jealously laboured and liberally contributed – and, as I believe, herself sought to be a living stone in the Temple of the Lord”.
How I wish I had a photograph of her – or knew which photograph in the album was hers. A couple of readers have wished they knew what Jane Capes and Alice looked like, and I do so agree. All I can do is post a photograph of one of Mary Stubbs' letters: