Through My Great Grandmother’s Eyes? ~ Ancestral Perspectives


Well I like to think my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, might have looked through the hole in this old Derbyshire gatepost on her way from Callow Farm to Hathersage village. The post stands beside a path she would have known well until 1886 when, at the age of 23, and apparently already betrothed to the local squire,  she ran off with a city type, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, Tom Shorrocks.

The High Peak of her homeland was by no means a rural idyll, although it looks so today. Alongside stock rearing and subsistence agriculture, small landowner-tenant farmers like the Foxes had for centuries engaged in other trades. Lead and fluorspar mining were mainstays of the area. So was the making of millstones up on Stanage Edge, though not so much for wheat grinding since the local gritstone discoloured the flour, but for pulping wood and crushing the lead ore for the smelting houses. The grind-stones also served the cutlery industry in nearby Sheffield and stones for wood pulping were exported to North America and Russia.

Hathersage, then (seen distantly here through the gate post), has a busy industrial past. From Tudor times it was the centre of wire-drawing, at first for making sieves for miners, and later for pins and needles. By Mary Ann’s day there were 5 such mills there, all powered by steam, their chimneys gushing out fumes that would have hung over the Derwent Valley. By then, too, the railway had arrived, the line from Manchester to Sheffield passing through land once owned by her grandfather. So, as I say, this was no rural idyll, but a community of industry and enterprise of the sort that had characterized High Peak farming families for generations. Growing and stock rearing might put food on the table, but farming did not bring the kind of prosperity that a rich seam of lead could be expected to yield.

But I do wonder if Mary Ann was not shocked to find herself in the little terraced villa on Kildare Street in Farnworth, (part of Greater Manchester), there in a maze of town streets, far from the far-reaching uplands she would have seen every day from Callow Farm. Did she miss these views? She certainly told my grandmother about crossing the River Derwent stepping stones on her way into Hathersage. And she told how she never forgave her father for taking away her pony, this because she would not desist from jumping the 5-bar gate at the end of the lane. He feared for her life. She mourned only her pony’s loss, back-broken by the overweight farmer who had bought it from her father.

Perhaps she had good reason to leave. Perhaps the squire of Abney was not to her taste. Perhaps city life was more exciting. From my perspective it is too easy to be overly sentimental about the loss of this landscape; one that I find so beguiling. It wasn’t really like this in great grandmother’s day. As L.P. Hartley says in the opening of his novel The Go-Between:  “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

Square Perspectives #7

52 thoughts on “Through My Great Grandmother’s Eyes? ~ Ancestral Perspectives

  1. I love this, Tish. I, like Jude, enjoy reading your family stories. What a blessing that you have so many and then so many excellent ones of your own. The poor pony! I understand why that would upset her, although I can also understand her father’s concern. Happy Tuesday.


  2. What fabulous family tales. I love the thought of her looking through this.

    Have you ever looked up what happened to the squire?!

      1. Bowles was probably the family in question, squires of neighbouring manor of Abney and any betrothal would have been around the early 1880s i.e. before or upto 1886 when she ran off with Tom. So if the family tale is true, said squire would likely have married then or later. How nice of you to do some sleuthing.

      2. It will be fun 🙂

        Btw are you aware someone has reblogged this post word for word, picture for picture. Your name is in title but I was confused as the link to squares came up

      3. I did know there was a reblog by Pete at Hutts Ultra Blogging World. He often reblogs my posts but I notice the formatting is a bit odd this time, which might explain the squares link coming up. WP is still very slippery. I’m noticing lately how many blogs are tagged ‘insecure’. I think I sorted my problem (fingers crossed). It was the old amazon image to my kindle book which only had an ‘http’ prefix. I thought I’d deleted it but the link was still lurking in the background because I hadn’t updated the delete action. Duh!

      4. Glad you know about it 🙂 and even happier to learn you have sorted your secure issue. I sorted mine by not showing any more posts I have liked on other blogs.

  3. I know some of the places you mention. She would have missed the fields she knew as a girl. But was she happy? You can always find fields if you really want to in England.

  4. Amazing to hear about your great grandmother. The views you show are gorgeous. It’s hard to believe anyone would leave. Perhaps things were difficult in the countryside (such as less access to resources that were easily available in Manchester?). I love the quote about the past being a foreign country. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Many thanks for commenting, Londiegan. I certainly think city life was more exciting, though that’s reminded me that she told my grandmother how the dark clad towns women looked askance at her bright country print frocks, so it seems she felt an outsider there.

  5. Magical. Hathersage up close (almost telescopically) and deeply personal.
    Do you believe in synchronicity? The past is a foreign country is a line that popped into my head just last week for no discernible reason and you have just set it like a jewel.
    As aphorisms go, it does seem peculiarly literal. At least this was my thought at the time, and remains my thought. (Apologies if my mind is wandering, it’s rather late and I got up early!)

    1. Hello, James. That’s a very lovely comment. As I was writing this yesterday, I registered your proximity in Sheffield and wondered if you’d read it. Synchronicity is an interesting concept – which I’d never rule out. Also yesterday was the first time it occurred to me that Mary Ann might not have missed Hathersage at all. My maternal family nostalgia has always revolved around the Foxes leaving Callow. In 1892 for goodness sake! Mind you that was after nearly 200 years. And just as there were always Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, the Fox family myth had it there were always Foxes at Callow – from 1066. Anyway, please ramble as much as you like here. As I’ve just said to another blogger, I’m wondering what the ancestors would think of us at this present juncture.

  6. What a marvellous story. In recent years I have researched my great-grand parents voyage to NZ from Gotland, Sweden in 1873. With thanks, I copied your post onto my blog.

  7. Hello, well I have spent the afternoon on ancestry and findmypast, and unfortunately I have not found her squire!

    The Bowles were not living at Abney Grange during this period, suspect they were renting out as there are various farmers living there in 1881.

    I did wonder whether the Squire in question was in fact John Shuttleworth of Hathersage Hall, but he was married. I also half wondered about the Eyres given the close relationship with them, which then got me wondering whether the family has borrowed something out of Jane Eyre?!!

    There was huge excitement when I found a newspaper report of an altercation at Callow in 1885. A local farmer Henry Greaves entered Callow and damaged table, chairs in your great great grandparents kitchen. He also attacked Mary Ann (unclear if your great or great great grandmother) and Sophia. However he was also married so unlikely to be a rejected fiance!

    Mary Ann didn’t quite run away though did she, I note from her marriage certificate she married by licence in the church in Hathersage, so maybe there was a bit of artistic licence in the family tale! I do love it though, and reading the newspaper reports of 1893 I see the local media felt the loss of Callow as much as your maternal ancestors did.

    By the way if you want me to send any of the records I have found, including the various newspaper reports, then just email me and I will send them back 😀

    Been a fun afternoon despite not finding the squire!

    1. Oh goodness me. You are so wonderful. Am now dying to see that newspaper report and anything else you have found. I think Henry Greaves may have been a neighbour at Offerton Hall. Have emailed you Txx

      1. And I’ve replied – hope you can find the articles in the PDFs I sent. If not let me know and I can do enlargements

  8. I’m loving this Tish! First of all because you’d got me thinking about how our notion of a “rural” past tends to be idealised and ignores the fact that people still manufactured things before the growth of big factories — and they did it close to home, in the countryside. Which got me wondering g what the landscapes of my ancestors looked like. Then I got engrossed in Mary Ann’s story and your exchange with Becky. Fascinating. I hope your write about your new findings sometime.

    1. So glad this hit the spot, Su. We inevitably have skewed views of past rural landscapes. I ought to have had this thought more to the front of my brain before. The nearby Ironbridge Gorge – so-called birthplace of the industrial revolution – conducted its manufacturing and R & D in entirely rural locations i.e. where the resources and the post-monastic experienced lay-workers were. Near Wenlock, during monkish times, they had the populace mining coal. And this trade grew after the dissolution and the selling off of the vast domain. London merchants flocked into to develop industrial enterprises on their new estates. The original iron making bloomery in Coalbrookdale (several miles from us) belonged to Wenlock Priory. And the neighbouring Buildwas Abbey was charcoal burning and making ceramic tiles, exporting stuff in barges down the Severn from the early middle ages. Lime burning for fertilizer went on everywhere. Then there were the clay pipe factories, and pot works and quarries, tanneries and breweries, forges, textile and paper mills. This is now making me wonder if the notional rural idyll isn’t more recent, i.e. from the end of the 19th century when industry left the countryside for the towns and cities, leaving behind the more pastoral crafts that served the immediate community and so colour our veiw of what country life must’ve been like.

      Hm. That was a lot of thinking and all before breakfast! As to writing more of the Mary Ann story, I’m wondering how best to proceed. Becky’s find was great because it actually placed my gt gt grandparents (George and Mary Ann – there were three serial generations of Mary Anns) in their house in a highly dramatic filmic moment. Heaven knows what their drunken, otherwise apparently respectable neighbour was up to. There was no clue in the report. Sophia was Mary Ann’s (gt gran’s) younger sister, around 18 years old. There was another sister, Louisa, who was deemed ‘a bit simple’. She would have been 20 and presumably ‘at home’ too. George 16, was probably at school. The eldest Robert, 25, was presumably out on the farm, or he may have taken over his own farm tenancy by then at Foolow.

  9. I suppose things turned out just fine for your great-grandmother and how they were supposed to be. You are certainly here because of her decisions. It is quite awesome that the post is still there and what a perspective! Enjoyed reading your family heritage. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lisa. It would be nice to think that things did work out well for my great grandmother. Perhaps I should write the rest of the story, though it’s all very sad. You are right though, things were fine for long enough to ensure there were some descendants.

  10. Well written. I enjoyed reading this post. Beautiful photos to accompany the story too. May I borrow the wrote for a future blog post? I can ping back to you.

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