Someone once said that we, all of us, are the sum total of all we have ever seen, all we have ever read, and everyone we have ever met. He was probably right, but he didn't go far enough. We are also the evidence that our ancestors were tough enough to survive. We inherit characteristics and abilities which help us to survive also - to live. So, who were they? How tough did they have to be? Let's find out, shall we?
This is definitely not a historical document. It results from my efforts at trying to be a genealogist and it all begins with Eunice Wilkinson Peterson, my (Hal Peterson's) grandmother. I was her first grandchild. After my father was killed in 1933 I lived with her and her husband, Hans, until I graduated from high school in 1938. Those were memorable years for me and I grew to know them well. I wish you could also, they were both remarkable people.
The reason I am writing this is because her daughter (and my aunt), Cleo Tidwell, asked me, some years ago, since I was living in England, to do some genealogical research on the Wilkinson family for her. It was a fascinating search and, while I was not able to contribute much, I did end up with a greater understanding and a very healthy respect for our ancestors who originated here in England. I also became aware of the great gaps in our knowledge of them and how they lived. It seems to me that what I learned and my feelings and impressions may be of interest to you, one of her many descendants - I wish some of her ancestors had done as much for my own curiosity. In any case, this is being written for you, her great- and great-great grandchildren who never knew her but who, I hope, inherit some of her and her ancestors' characteristics. I only wish it were possible for me to write in the same detail about my grandfather, Hans Peterson, whose family is equally interesting, equally important and worthy of being studied and remembered in the same way.
A few facts to start with. Eunice Wilkinson was born on February 15th, 1878, to Allen Wilkinson and Harriet Mackay. She married my grandfather Hans on March 24th, 1896. Both were born and lived in McGill, Nevada. My father, Henry Lionel, was their first child, born just after Christmas in 1897. Hans died in 1926; grandmother died in 1958 at the age of 80. There is a lot of living not covered by those bare statistics, I can assure you.
I began my search by trying to learn what I could about the English side of out family and in particular about my own great-grandfather, Allen Wilkinson, who was born in Honley, West Yorkshire, in 1816. All I have been able to learn here about him as a person can be summarized very quickly: Allen was the second of seven children born to Joseph and Hannah (Haigh). Joseph was a stone-mason and, although I have no proof, I believe that his father, John, was also, since in those days fathers trained their sons in their own trade. Allen moved, about the age of 23, twenty miles over the mountains from his home in Honley to Duckerfield, near Manchester, where he married a Mary Ann Morris. According to their marriage license (of which I have a copy), he was a "collier", or coal-miner, when they married. They had three children born in England and, between 1843 and 1844, he and his family emigrated to Illinois - I believe aided by the LDS church - where three more children were born. Mary Ann died about 1850 and, in 1853, Allen married Harriet Mackey in Richfield. He was 62 when my grandmother was born.
Over a period of about a year, I learned, her in England, a great deal about the Wilkinson family name and the area around Honley where our ancestors lived for centuries and where the Wilkinson name is still prominent. I spent three days there one February and came away impressed with the strength and courage our ancestors from there had to have to survive. Honley, where Allen was born, is a small village about three miles from Huddersfield, an industrial town about two hundred miles north of London. The name Wilkinson is the eighth most common name in the area - column after column in the Huddersfield telephone directory, and on many, many businesses - far more than you could expect. From my research in the British Museum Library, the Guildhall Library, and others, it appears that the first local record of the name was in one of the "manor rolls", or listing of tenants on the manors, for Honley, taken in 1379. These rolls were an early form of census for tax purposes. Those rolls indicate the family concerned had moved to Honley from North Owram, Halifax parish, near Leeds, probably to work in the fields or mines. The earliest parish reference we have found to a direct Wilkinson ancestor (confirmed by LDS records), is to John Wilkinson, Allen's grandmother, citing his marriage in 1774 to Lydia Jagger. I have been unable to trace his father. Some of Lydia's ancestors have, however, been traced back a further four generations, with names like Lee (or Leigh), Sheard and Sayville. The Jagger family of Allen's mother, when traced back, adds the names of Sykes and Woodhouse. All these names are still found in numbers in the Honley area.
Would you believe the Wilkinsons of this world have a Royal Coat of Arms, registered, legal and listed in the British Royal College of Arms? We do - it was granted to William Wilkinson, High Sheriff of London, by Henry the Eighth in 1638. "the XXXth yere of his moste noble reigne"! I seriously doubt that William was in any sense a direct ancestor of ours, but I am fairly sure he is a distant cousin. Here's why:
In reading up on Yorkshire history, I found a reference to the name "Wilkinson." It took a while, but the library finally found a copy of the referenced book for me. It had been written by a sociologist making a study of the origins and dispersion of common English names. Luckily for us, one of them was Wilkinson. He traced it from the earliest references up to the present day, starting in the twelfth century right after the Norman Conquest. According to him (and he is very positive), all the present-day Wilkinsons derive from the area around Huddersfield, which includes the villages of Owram, Honley and Darrington.
Later, and after much research I located in the library of the British Museum, a beautifully bound book, published in 1896 in London, and written by a Susanna Proctor Flory, titled "Fragments of a Family History." I have the feeling she paid to have it printed in order to show off her name and her family line back to Austria and the year 1080! Although she doesn't list the sources of her information, it is possible she may be right. It is an interesting story, in any case.
According to Mrs. Flory, in 1080 there was a "de Wilten" monastery located in the Austrian Alps on the right bank of the River Inn where a ferry boat crossed over the river. A certain Henry de Wilten was provost, or guardian, of the ferry and the surrounding area, the feudal property of a lord named Robert. When a triple-arch bridge was later built over the river, and because of the increase in traffic created by the new bridge, a town sprang up, near the site of the ancient Roman town of Veldidena. It is known today as Innsbruck, a famous winter resort in Austria. You may have heard of it or visit it some day.
In early days, people usually had only one name, followed by the name of their village or some other outstanding characteristic, such as their trade or profession. This where we get names such as Smith, Taylor, Barber, Farmer, Hunter, etc. De Wilten, taken from the monastery, seems to have stuck. Mrs. Flory says Henry's son, a Sir David de Wilten became Lord of Innsbruck; his son William did also, as did his grandson, William Jr. William Jr. had a son, Henry, who in about 1157 moved to the West Riding of Yorkshire (today West Yorkshire). He was a younger son, he probably moved in order to make an advantageous marriage into a wealthy family, as was the custom in those days when the oldest son inherited the title and the family fortune, while the younger children inherited nothing. It appears he was the first to be called "Wilkinson" or "Wiltenson" sometime after his arrival in England. The adding of "son" to "Wilkin" could have been because Yorkshire had been largely settled by Saxon Angles and Vikings, whose normal practice was to add "son" to the father's name. He settled in the town of Darrington, which is near Honely, Owram and Huddersfield, which you will remember I mentioned before. Even more important, in the document awarding the Wilkinson Coat of Arms, Sheriff William is identified as having been born in Darrington. I think you may agree that this shows a connection, although perhaps distant, between them and us.
There is not a lot more of interest to us in the Flory book, which continues with a listing of her Wilkinson ancestors down to her great-grandmother, born in 1726 in Ireland. An interesting point, though, is the fact that her line of the family had moved to Ireland, probably as officials or governors for the English government which ruled Ireland, sometimes harshly, for many centuries. One of Mrs. Flory's ancestors, Thomas Wilkinson, is listed as having been Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1719 to 1720. What makes the Irish connection interesting to us is the fact that my grandmother's mother, Harriet Mackey, was the daughter of Phoebe Wilkinson Mackey. All we have found out to date about Phoebe's parents is that her father was named Anthony Wilkinson and that he came from Ireland. So, we have Wilkinson blood from both sides of grandmother's family.
A quick look through an English "Who's Who" and "Who Was Who" will reveal several hundred distinguished Wilkinsons. Quite a few generals, members of parliament, judges, etc. Two World War II generals are named, as well as the present-day science reporter for the BBC, for example. In the past, a Sir Henry W. was a general (1752-1802). A Captain William W. fought for the crown in the American Revolution and was a US prisoner there for seven years. I am sure there are many interesting examples in the U.S. as well. Perhaps we all are descendants of the William who lived by a monastery in the Austrian Alps guarding a ferry boat on the River Inn!
Don't take all this too seriously. We could almost as easily be related to the English royal family as well. A little pencil or calculator work will show why: assuming each generation takes twenty-five years, that means I, personally, am about twenty-one generations removed from the first written record I have seen of "Wilkinson," in 1379. Since I started with eight great-grandparents (as all of us do), that means that a Wilkinson of that time was my "great, twenty times" grandfather. But, if I start with the eight years, I end up with a total of sixteen million grandparents. Obviously this is impossible since England only contained at most about 5,000,000 people in 1379. With numbers like that, any one of the sixteen million could well have been descended from Henry II and an ancestor of ours as well. Obviously in five hundred years there had to have been many marriages of people with the same grandparents - second and first cousins, etc. This marrying of first and second cousins was undoubtedly necessarily due to the geography of Honley and the surrounding areas during that time. Sound strange? It really isn't, as I want to show you.
I have to ask you to use your imagination on this section - words can't substitute for actually seeing Honley and the area around it. Bear with me, with first a bit of geology.
In the Paleozoic Age, Yorkshire was part of a shallow tropical sea, lots of vegetation (and dinosaurs), lots of sand and sediment slowly accumulating. As the years passed it sank further beneath the sea and, in a million years or so, the sand and silt compressed into sandstone and slate, the plants became coal seams. Towards the end of the Paleozoic the entire area lifted above the sea, forming mountains reflecting the twisted deposits laid down in the earlier sea. The last great Ice Age of 50,000 years ago covered all of Scotland and England with miles of ice, further deforming and compressing the landscape. When the Ice Age ended, fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, it ended slowly, with glaciers everywhere, wearing down the mountains, with the streams which flowed under them carrying rock, sand and gravel out onto the ice-free plains of southern England and creating more deposits. By the time the glaciers had finally cleared Yorkshire the mountains had been ground down smooth, leaving rolling highland moors cut by rivers tracing a path down to the North Sea. At the same time, Britain, which had been connected to Europe, became an island as the channel developed between it and what is now France.
As the centuries passed, given the rain which even today falls in England, the rivers cut deeply into the highlands, creating gullies and deep valleys, often five to six hundred feet below the moorlands. Rivers ran fast in winter but slowed in summer, depositing topsoil along the wider parts of the river valleys and creating good farmland, even though it was limited often by the steep banks on each side. Honely is located on the banks of one of these rivers, the river Orme; most of the Yorkshire towns and villages I have mentioned are located on similar rivers, all running down to the North Sea.
Why is this of interest to us? Because, based on what we know, our ancestors not only lived there, they made a living, raised families and, above all, survived for centuries before Allen was born; how different it was compared to life there today, or even a hundred years ago.
First, there were virtually no roads. the valleys were too narrow and the sides of the valleys too steep to climb with wagons. They traveled on foot or by riding a horse or mule. They might have been able to go eight or ten miles a day up or down river; it would have been almost impossible to go more than three or four miles going up and down hills overland. Local products went out and supplies came in on pack trains (Allen's grandmother's maiden name was Lydia Jagger, and a "Jagger," in the local dialect, was man who operated a pack train). In the 18th century there were stage coaches traveling from Edinburgh in Scotland to London, but a person from Honely wishing to go to London had to get to Bradford, thirty miles away on horseback, to catch it. A local history of Honely that I read says "wise persons always made their will before leaving." Why not, it took ten to twelve days to make the two hundred miles and there were highwaymen about along the entire route. There is a local story (which I have heard about stage coaches in America also) that says there were three classes of passengers - first, second and third, but they all rode side by side. The difference was that when they came to a steep hill, first class stayed in the coach, second class got out and walked, and third class got out and pushed!
Imagine what it was like to be a young man or young woman in those early days. No roads - cement and asphalt were not used in those days. Some streets in Honley were paved with cobblestones (are some are still today), but there were only tracks or paths from the cottages to the village or between villages. Many families had miles to walk to church or on market days. Young people could meet there, but it took true love for a boy to go courting a girl who lived in another village, given the time involved even to get to see her (a good reason for marrying a girl who lived nearby!). What little schooling there was for children only lasted a few hours a day, to allow them time to come and go in the daylight. And, during the winter, the days were less than seven hours long and, with rain and snow, the tracks were difficult to use.
For the poorer people, there were no schools. Now and then the local vicar might identify a particularly gifted child and recommend him for a church school, but this was rare. It meant leaving his family and living in a monastery with the monks, eating as they did, and working the monastery fields with them in return for an education that was basically religious in nature. Some girls of course went to convents, but not for education - it was not thought proper to educate girls - but as servants, or possibly, as novitiates who would become nuns.
No, there was nothing for the poorer families but work, from sunrise to sunset. During the Hundred Year's War, which devastated much of Europe, Britain became a center of the wool trade. Land not suited for farming, such as the moor lands above Honley, were ideal for sheep and what is called a "cottage industry" got a start. A family would graze a few sheep on the common land, shear them, spin the wool and, on a home loom set in the largest room in the house, laboriously weave woolen cloth. The entire family was involved in this, from the youngest to the oldest, tending sheep, shearing, washing bleaching or dying the wool, spinning with a spinning wheel, winding the thread on bobbins and working the loom. Come summer, the father would take the work to the market to sell. If he was luck he got enough for food and essentials to last them through the next winter.
Remember the River Orme that runs past Honley? Yorkshire was lucky in that it had so many rivers. Before steam engines, water power was the chief source of power and soon water mills were established. Since the Orme was swift, it became lined with mills in only a short time (the ruins are still visible). With the power they could generate to turn pulleys, small industries sprang up. It became more profitable for farmers to specialize by increasing their flocks of sheep and shearing them, selling the wool to a mill where skilled craftsmen did the preparatory work and where larger bolts of cloth could be woven. As a result, the villages grew larger as people moved there to work in the mills. Shops were established, wages were paid weekly in cash, and a merchant class developed.
Sadly, most of this increased wealth was created by children. Boys and girls, they started in the mills at the age of eight, working ten to fourteen hours a day, especially after the invention of the steam engine and the increasing weaving of cotton from the American South. Their size, nimble fingers, low wages and inability to complain made them ideal workmen. The more children a family had, the greater the family income. They worked in noisy, unheated buildings, with little light, going home in the dark worn out and exhausted. They even had to work barefooted, since the hobnails in their shoes or clogs could strike sparks and cause a fire. After much social pressure, about 1850 they were given Saturday afternoons and Sunday off. Not much chance to play for those kids.
There were other occupations, of course. The Honley area has a number of granite quarries that have been worked for centuries (the Jagger family still owns one there). Some of the uplands could be farmed, but with difficulty. One of the most remarkable features of the fields above Honley is the miles and miles of stone fences, stretching as far as one can see, enclosing sometimes quite small areas. No cement was used, they are what is called "dry wall" fencing. Strange thing is, they didn't plan to have fences around their fields - they were built to get rid of the stones turned up every Spring during the spring plowing. When plows (primitive or modern) hit a stone, plowing stopped while it was dug out and put to one side. Later, dragging a sled, they would pick up all the stones and take them to the fence and add them to it. Gradually, over the years, the fences became quite high. Some of them, still standing, are shown on local maps made in 1411 as property boundaries. In the Honley census for 1841, 1851 and 1861 that I have gone through, there are numerous Wilkinsons, Haighs, Leighs, Sykes and Jaggers shown as farmers, in addition to those working the mills.
Allen had moved to Duckersfield about 1839 so he was not covered by the 1841 census in Honley. His family was, however. I was able to read, in a photocopy, and in the original handwriting of the census taker, the following listing of the occupants of "Lane Top," Lockwood Township, Honely Parish: Hannah Wilkinson, widow, age 55; children-Joseph, age 35, wool clubber; Sarah, age 21; Elizabeth, age 15. In the census of 1851 Hannah and Sarah were not listed; Elizabeth was listed as a "weaver." In 1861 Elizabeth was the only Wilkinson, she had a sixteen-year old girl living with her. I have often wondered if Allen kept in touch with his family after he went to America.
Their next-door neighbors were Haigh's, Hannah's maiden name. Other Wilkinsons in the same township were Henry Wilkinson, 51, cloth spinner (and eight children); Joseph Wilkinson, 65, tin plate maker; Mary Wilkinson, 40, cotton beater and Hannah, 15, bobbin tender; Joseph Wilkinson, 50, laborer, with three children at home - John, 25, weaver; Salome, 20 and Joseph Jr., 13, cotton factory workers. There is no way of telling if they were related to our family, but I believe they were, as were those scattered throughout the neighboring townships, all less than five miles away.
I've wandered from the subject of how it was in Honely. Let's go back to 1664, during the reign of Charles II, after Cromwell had been deposed and the monarchy restored. Charles introduced a novel form of tax - on hearths, or fireplaces. Most homes, particularly among the poor, had only a fire pit against a wall, with the smoke escaping through a hole in the roof - no chimney. Charles decided that the existence of a chimney indicated wealth and placed a tax on them. We had one rich cousin, in Huddersfield, where a Mathew Wilkinson had to pay tax on eight hearths, second largest number in town. No Wilkinsons in Honley were taxes, I guess they had no chimneys, but four Haigh families and one Jagger family paid on one chimney each. At that time there were 184 houses in Huddersfield; Honely, three miles away, had only 117 houses.
Try to imagine living in a cottage like they must have had. One room, with a loft for sleeping, cooking on stones, dirt floors, few in any windows and a thatched roof. Food was chiefly "oaten bread" or thin oat cakes baked on a "bake stone." The main meal was about 5 pm. Each family of course grew what vegetables and fruit it could - cabbages, carrots and apples could be stored for winter, usually in barrels packed with straw. Fuel was wood and peat, a form of soft coal dug from the marshes with a shovel and dried in the sun. Clothing was hand-made, on their own looms, usually the cheapest possible since they had to sell the best wool. Most of it was made from a mixture of linen and wool, called "linsey-woolsey," a name used in the US during the Civil War when the Confederate uniforms were made from it. Undyed, it was yellowish, not "Confederate grey" and did not wear well.
Up to about three hundred years ago much of England was covered with forest. The very name "Honley" means a stony clearing in the woods. Over the years the forests were cleared to create more farmland - all but the oaks, that is. They were the property of the King, reserved for shipbuilding only. Cutting an oak, or cutting off the branches, was punishable by death. There were beech and elm trees, however, in the area. This gave rise to another industry - the making of "clogs," a form a sandal with a thick wooden sole and wide leather strap across the top, with the soles full of hobnails to keep them from wearing out. Clogs made in Honely were the best, and were exported all over Britain. Given the mud and sand, and the rocky paths, there were ideal - long-wearing, easy to clean, not like leather. They were always removed before going indoors, much like the Japanese habit. I found one reference to a popular sport called "clog fights," but how it was played was not explained. Kicking each other without the clog falling off?
Some other unusual industries developed in and around Honley. For example, horehound candy was invented there and shipped around the world. Huddersfield was a famous center for the manufacture of pipe organs, sold to churches in Europe and America. It was, and is, an important center for the production of brass band instruments. Most communities sponsor a brass band locally and the Honley brass band has won several national championships.
Flagstone from the large quarries was shipped as far away as Boston, as ballast in ships which brought cotton to the mills. The first Axminster carpets were woven in a Honley mill. The cloth known as corduroy was invented in Honley, for use in South African gold mines - it was placed in the troughs carry water from the placer mines, the corrugations in the corduroy would trap the minute particles of gold in the water. Later, the cloth was removed, dried, and then burned to recover the gold. Another item of interest to anyone who has ever played marbles, is that they were manufactured in great quantity in the Honley area. The names for them that I knew as a young boy - "taws," "aggies," "dobies," etc., are still used around Honley. One more item, during the wars against Napoleon, messenger pigeons were raised there for use in carrying information between the troops and headquarters. They continued to breed them after the war, resulting in the present-day sport of pigeon racing in Britain and other countries. Champions sometimes fly hundreds of miles back to their lofts, in very fast times. Today, a champion can be worth thousands of dollars (if the owner will sell).
Today the Yorkshire region is considered one of the most beautiful areas in England. With modern roads, most parts are accessible. It has been written about many times - Lorna Doone, by Sir Walter Scott, the Bronte sisters, even Sherlock Holmes chased criminals across the moors. Today the valley of the Orme is a favorite location for television series since the villages look much like they did a hundred years ago. You may have seen an English series called "All Creatures Great and Small," or "Last of the Summer Wine," both filmed in and around the area, with scenery much as our ancestors saw it. Homes two to four hundred years old still look as they did when they were first built, protected by a law which permits the interior to be modernized but no changes are permitted to the outside. Row on row of millworker houses built two hundred years ago still stand in Honley (what the English call "two up, two down"), living room and kitchen downstairs, two bedrooms upstairs and originally built with a toilet in the back yard (toilets and bathrooms are now in a small lean-to off the kitchen). The streets are almost as narrow as they were then - sidewalks cut back so cars can get through. The old parish church still sounds its bell twice a day for prayers and Sunday services. In the church courtyard the stocks still stand - used for punishment for minor intractions. Wrists and ankles were place in hollows cut in stone and a board placed on top and locked - public humiliation for twelve to twenty-four hours for crimes such as public drunkenness, swearing on Sunday, being a "common scold" (women who made too much noise too often) or even for showing disrespect for the vicar or the squire!
Wilkinsons, Haighs, Jaggers and Sykes are buried in the tree-shaded churchyard on the hill. Many of the tombstones are so old it is not possible to read them, but those from the late 18th and the 19th century are still legible - "Ann, wife of William Wilkinson, draper of Honley, who died April 6th, 1873, in her 71st year. Also William Wilkinson who died June 27, 1875, aged 77 years." And "Joseph Haigh, who departed this life the 20th day of May, 1803 in the 53rd year of his age." Another, in a small church on the road from Honley to Huddersfield, reads "In this choir are deposited ve bodies of John Wilkinson of Greenhead, Esquire, an upright magistrate and worthy gent. He died Febv ve 29th 1727 aged 67."
You may remember from your history lessons that King Charles I was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell, who then ruled England for twenty years until Charles II raised an army and deposed him. Charles II needed money: he had the bright idea that having chimneys meant you had money and so he imposed a "hearth tax" in 1664. Poor people had no chimneys; they built their fires against a stone wall and let the smoke get out through a hole in the thatched roof. The rich, however, could afford to use brick and stone. Early records of that time show there were 184 houses in Huddersfield and 117 in Honely. One of the Wilkinsons taxed must have been very rich because he was taxed for eight chimneys, the second highest number in the entire parish. Six Haighs and one Jagger in the area paid on one chimney each, another Wilkinson, George, on four, but one poor John Wilkinson is listed as having no chimney at all.
Even today in Great Britain all births and deaths have to be registered in a parish of the Church of England, whether the people are members or not. These records, dating back over five hundred years provide us with much of our knowledge about our family. Reading them can be very interesting. Many of the older ones are in Latin, some in French. A few examples for you: "Ye 26th of Dicembre 1597. Alicia ux Thomas Wilkinson, sepult" (buried): July 1601. "Alicia. Fille de Tomas Wilkinson de Calderslev, sepult." and a real teaser "April 4 1563 Johannes Wylkynson"!
At one time the area was an outpost of the Roman army guarding against invasions from the warlike Scots from the North. The Romans built a fort on a hilltop across the valley which is visible from Honley. Today the great watch tower still stands, together with some of the walls. I drove up a winding road to the top, for the view over the river valley and Honely. I was most impressed by the well. On that high hilltop they had dug eighty feet straight down through solid rock to reach water. The well is still usable - the Romans needed it in case they were besieged. Also, at a time when Rome ruled the entire western world, Roman armies were made up of conscripts or draftees from the many lands they ruled. These soldiers normally served for twenty years. When they retired (if they survived the battles), their "pension" consisted of a grant of good farmland somewhere along the Roman frontiers they had protected. This was most probably true in Yorkshire, with the retired soldiers coming from places like Jugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Germany, North Africa - anywhere within the Roman empire. It is not unlikely that some of them could be counted as one of our ancestors.
Another bit of history concerning someone I know you have heard of. Kirklees Parish is right next to Honley Parish and, in the grounds of the Kirklees priory is a tombstone with the following inscription (anyone who has trouble with spelling can read it and feel superior to his ancestors). First, as written, then a translation:
An pipl kauld him Robin Heud Sick utlauz as he an is men
Vil Engeland nivr si agen. 1247"
"Here underneath little stone
Lies Robert Earl of Huntington
Never archer were as he so good And people called him Robin Hood
Such outlaws as he and his men
Will England never see again. 1247"
Well, take it as read. Historians agree there was indeed an Earl of Huntington and that there were bands of outlaws - whether Robin Hood is buried here is not certain. I prefer to believe he is, and that the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham, bad King John, good King Richard, Maid Marion, Little John, etc., all existed just as in the stories. I would also like to think that perhaps a Wilkinson, Jagger, Leigh or Sykes of that day might have been a member of his merry band. It makes it a lot more interesting, doesn't it?
Well, cousins, there you have it. A bit of history, a bit of geography, some family history - all of which we have a personal interest in. Perhaps it tells you something about yourself. Perhaps it will make you want to know more about the life and times of our ancestors - direct or not. I hope so. As for me, the more I know the more there is to know. I hope what I have told you makes you a bit proud of your ancestors I have tried to describe.
There is one more characteristic of our common ancestors that I hope you inherit - for their times, many had remarkably long lives. Allen Wilkinson lived to be 66 at a time when the statisticians say the average person's life span was 45 years. My grandmother lived to be 80. I am sure there are many more examples in the Wilkinson line but, unfortunately, our records list so few of them (although one line, the Lee line, goes back to 1663). But, thanks to my aunt Cleo and another cousin of ours, Pat McCune, we have a much fuller family tree for the Peterson line. They have established virtually all the grandparents of Hans Peterson back through four generations, many in the fifth and sixth generations, and even some in the seventh and eighth. All in Denmark, of course when Hans's father was born in 1835. He lived to be 74, his father 53 and his mother 71. The next generations, in the 1700's, has most of them living beyond the age of sixty and one lived to be 78. And, of the sixteen people in the next generation, we have dates of birth and death for only eleven of them. Amazingly (to me at least) six of them lived until they were well over seventy and only two failed to live until fifty.
As I said before, I am sure the story of our Peterson ancestors is equally interesting. Except for the fact that there are no mountains in Denmark, I think their life was much the same as in Honely for centuries. Perhaps one of you someday will be able to search out the facts for the rest of us. They should make quite a story. Truth is, by and large, more interesting than fiction. The truth about the histories we read is that our ancestors lived it, as we are doing today. Don't forget that, please?
In response to this message, a very nice letter was received regarding a few factual inaccuracies. It is included below in its entirety.
Dear Mr Wilkinson, I happened to surf into your Wilkinson site on a net search for West Yorkshire Woollen industry and came across the Hal Petersen letter concerning a branch of the Wilkinson family that originates from the village of Honley near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England. I am a Publicity and Media Relations Officer with Kirklees Council which has administrative responsibility for the area covering Huddersfield and Honley and I also live in the village of Meltham which is situated about three miles from Honley so I know the area very well. There are many many factual inaccuracies within Mr Petersen's letter. For instance, he refers to a local river as the Orme - it is in fact the Holme. He refers to granite quarries in the area. there is no granite in this part of Yorkshire (probably none in Yorkshire at all). All the local quarries are for Millstone Grit or Yorkshire (flag) stone. Stone 'fences' (known in England as dry stone walls) were indeed to keep animals in, keep other animals out and to mark boundaries. They were not thrown up as a storing place for stones picked up in the fields which just happened to reach a great height. They are uniform in height and many are still in good condition locally and used for their intended purpose. Old-type clogs are not a form of sandal. Present day mule clogs are. Old clogs as used in 18th century were full shoes with thick wooden soles. Clog fighting was actually kicking your opponent with the wood and metal toe of the clog - very painful and potentially disabling. It was NOT until your shoe fell off. The TV programme 'All Creatures Great and Small' was filmed in Swaledale and Wensleydale, some considerable distance away. The first Axminster carpets were not made in Honley and Huddersfield possesses a fine Father Willis organ but is not renowned for the manufacture of organs, nor brass instruments although there are indeed many brass and silver bands in the area. Lorna Doone is set in Exmoor on the border of Devon and Cornwall, over 300 miles away. The book wasn't written by Sir Walter Scott. Honley Parish Church does not sound its bell twice a day for prayers though the church clock may well chime the hours. Nearby Castle Hill was the site of an Iron Age fort, not a Roman one. There is no well. The tower referred to is not a watchtower of Roman construction but was built to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. Robin Hood's grave at the site of the Kirklees Priory at the edge of the district is widely held to be a fake and access to it is denied by the landowner. I have printed the text of Mr Petersen's letter (there are more inaccuracies about British life and local life) and have passed it to the Local History Unit in Huddersfield Library. They may well help to put more of the facts right. I am sorry this e-mail is so negative, but there are some considerable factual errors in this page which we can help you to correct if you will allow us to do so. Yours sincerely, Sarah Cheffins Kirklees Council Crown Court Buildings Princess Street Huddersfield West Yorkshire England HD1 2TS KMCPR.SC@GEO2.poptel.org.uk