Tag Archives: Yorkshire

Malham in the Sun – introducing entomology to budding ecologists

Last year I wrote about my experience of being a tutor at the British Ecological Society’s Undergraduate Summer School at the Malham Tarn Field Studies Council site. I really enjoyed myself and also found it very refreshing to have the opportunity to interact with 50 bright young proto-ecologists. It appears that the students also enjoyed themselves as I was invited back this year to repeat my performance. I was very happy to accept the offer, after all, any chance to visit the county of my birth (Yorkshire) is not to be sneezed at and with the added bonus of being able to talk about entomology to a new audience thrown in I would have been made to turn it down. Thus it was that I headed up the dreaded M6 motorway on a sunny Monday afternoon (July 18th) with joy in my heart and a car boot full of entomological equipment and identification keys. The M6 did not disappoint and I spent an hour sweltering in the summer sunshine very slowly (very, very slowly) making my way through the inevitable road works. Luckily, being one of those people who likes to arrive early for appointments, I was only fifteen minutes late collecting my trusty assistant, Fran Sconce, from the very picturesque Settle Station and then heading up on to the FSC Malham Tarn site.

Malham 1
The weather on arrival was in marked contrast to last year.

We unloaded the car and just had time to set up 35 pitfall traps before heading in for the evening meal after which the students went on a long walk to Malham Cove.

Malham 2

The long walk

 I walked part of the way back with them but turned back in time to get to the bar 🙂  for a very welcome drink, before retiring to bed.

The next day was even hotter, and we spent the morning setting up the labs and teaching areas.

DSCF7290

This year, as well as the fifty undergraduates we had ten sixth form students from several different schools in London.  Last year interacting with a class of fifty had posed certain difficulties, so this year we divided the students into two groups and ran the session twice, once on the Tuesday afternoon and then again on the Wednesday morning.  This worked extremely well and meant that Fran and I and the PhD mentors assigned to us, were able to spend much more time with each student and also meant that we were not as rushed off our feet as we would have been otherwise.  So a win/win outcome, although I did have to give the same lecture twice in 24 hours which was an interesting experience.  On the Tuesday afternoon, I started with my lecture on why entomology is important and an overview of the insects.

Malham 3

I seem to have done a lot of arm waving

Malham

We then went outside and I demonstrated sampling methods while the students baked under, a by now, extremely hot sun, before sending them off to empty and reset the pitfall traps and collect other insects using nets and beating trays.

Malham 5

Being cruel to trees

 

Malham 6  Malham 4

Some of the stars of the day

 

Then it was back to the labs to identify the catches before the evening meal and refreshing drink or two in the bar*.   After the bar closed we had the fluorescent beetle extravaganza.  Last year I demonstrated the use of fluorescent dust on one hapless carabid beetle.  This year I used ten, and two different coloured dusts.  The beetles were then released after dark in

Malham 7

Fluorescing carabids

the courtyard outside the teaching labs where they were photographed fluorescing colourfully under my UV flashlight, as I ‘chased’ them around the arena, much to the delight of the watching students.

As the weather forecast was not very good for the Wednesday morning, we did the insect sampling first, in case the forecast rain was as heavy as predicted.  As it turned out, apart from a short sharp shower, whilst I was demonstrating sampling methods, the sun came out and there were plenty of insects to collect before I did my lecture and we headed in to the labs for another ID session.  All too soon the session was over, and Fran and I, after a hasty lunch, drove back down to Shropshire.

I think that the BES summer school is a superb idea and that the students get a great deal from it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that I get the chance to be involved in any future summer schools.  I was also greatly impressed by the 6th formers who certainly seemed to enjoy my entomology session, one of whom produced this excellent drawing.

Malham 8

Much better than anything I could draw

For those of you on Twitter #bestug16 will give you a flavour of the whole week.

Malham 9

Glorious Yorkshire

 

*staffed that evening by the son of my best friend from school!

 

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Ten papers that shook my world – Lewis (1969) – the importance of (h)edges for natural biological control

In 1969, Trevor Lewis, of what was then the Rothamsted Research Station (now Rothamsted Research), published two landmark papers (Lewis 1969ab). These papers, in which he described the importance of hedges as habitats for insects (Lewis, 1969a) and in acting as possible sources of natural enemies able to colonise nearby fields (Lewis, 1969b) were to have a profound effect on me and generations of applied entomologists and pest mangers to the present day.

In 1976 the UK experienced what is now recognised as the warmest year of the 20th Century.  It was also the year that I started my final year as an undergraduate.  Before entering our final year we had to do a research placement or project.   I opted to do my project at home, I was making very good money as a temporary postman and as I usually finished my round by 10 am, I had plenty of time during the rest of the day to get to grips with my project.  I had come across the Lewis papers in lectures and thought that it would be interesting to do a similar study; given the weather I was also keen to spend as much time outside as possible 🙂 My Uncle James owned a local farm and was happy for me to sample some of his hawthorn hedges, so sampling hawthorn hedges was what I did during July and August of the glorious summer.

Simon summer 1976

The intrepid student entomologist; trusty bike, clipboard and a copy of Chinery*. Note the wellington boots despite the heat 🙂

The hedges

The hedges in question – three types of management

As I mentioned earlier, 1976 was the warmest year on record at the time, and I see from my report that during August I was recording temperatures in excess of 25oC, even in the hedge bottoms.

Hedges project

The report

What is interesting is that although 1976 was one of the famous ladybird outbreak years (in fact last week I was interviewed by the BBC about my memories of that very same event) I didn’t record more than a handful of ladybirds in my surveys.  Perhaps inland Yorkshire just wasn’t attractive enough 🙂

Overall my results showed that over-clipping resulted in more crop pests being present and that hedges with less clipping supported a greater diversity of insect life than the more managed ones, very similar to results being reported today (e.g Amy et al., 2015).

Sadly, although Lewis’s two 1969 papers and to a certain extent his earlier paper in a much harder to access source (Lewis, 1964), led on to the concept of conservation headlands (Sotherton et al., 1989) and ‘crop islands’ (Thomas et al., 1991), which are an integral part of European Union subsidised farm payments, it was included in an influential review article (van Emden & Williams, 1974).  As pointed out recently by Terry McGlynn over at Small Pond Science, this often rings the death knell for a paper’s citation score.  As a result,  Lewis (1969b) has only been cited 91 times since 1969 and is barely remembered at all.   I remember being invited to be a facilitator at a Populations Under Pressure conference workshop on this very subject at the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Silwood Park about fifteen years ago and being surprised that none of the participants had even heard of Trevor Lewis let alone read his papers.

Simon PUP

At the Populations Under Pressure conference brandishing my undergraduate hedgerow report!

The subject of hedgerow and crop edge management is still a highly important research area today, and you will be pleased to know that in the latest paper just submitted from my research group, we cite both of Trevor’s 1969 papers. Hopefully this will do something to redress the balance and bring Trevor some of the recognition that he deserves, however belated.

 

References

Amy, S.R., Heard, M.S., Hartley, S.E., George, C.T., Pywell, R.F. & Staley, J.T. (2015) Hedgerow rejuvenation management affects invertebrate communities through changes to habitat structure. Basic & Applied Ecology, 16: 443-451

Chinery, M. (1973) A Field Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe.  Collins, London

Lewis, T. (1964). The effects of shelter on the distribution of insect pests. Scientific Horticulture, 17: 74–84

Lewis, T. (1969a). The distribution of flying insects near a low hedgerow. Journal of Applied Ecology 6: 443-452.

Lewis, T. (1969b). The diversity of the insect fauna in a hedgerow and neighbouring fields. Journal of Applied Ecology 6: 453-458.

Sotherton, N.W., Boatman, N.D. & Rands, M.R.W. (1989) The “Conservation Headland” experiment in cereal ecosystems. The Entomologist, 108: 135-143

Thomas, M.B., Wratten, S.D., & Sotherton, N.W. (1991) Creation of ‘island’ habitats in farmland to manipulate populations of beneficial arthropods: predator densities and emigration. Journal of Applied Ecology, 28: 906-917.

Van Emden, H.F. & Williams, G.F. (1974) Insect stability and diversity in agro-ecosystems. Annual Review of Entomology, 19: 455-475

*I still own that copy of Chinery which was a present for my 20th birthday – take note of the date if anyone wants to send me a present or card 🙂

 

Chinery

.

 

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Leathers are not Lauders – the problems of genealogical scams

It’s been a while since I did a family history post so I thought it was about time I did one, so here you are.

Back in the 1980s a company called Halberts started up a business to exploit the then newly growing hobby of genealogy. They purported to be able to supply customers with accurate information about their family tree and to provide them with a coat of arms. In fact what they actually did was to supply customers with a book entitled the Book of XXX which was essentially a list of names and addresses of XXX culled from telephone directories around the world with a frontispiece claiming to give the history and origins of the name in question, together with a coat of arms.  More often than not, these were incorrect.  Their claim to respectability was that they had bought the right to use the name of Burke’s Peerage. What they actually did was cause a lot of confusion to fledgling family historians and to make it difficult for genuine family historians, in particular One-Name Studies to gain the trust of those who had fallen victim to the Halbert’s scam. Several articles have been written over the years about this scam and the company has been shut down several times but apparently has miraculous powers of regeneration and continues to pop back into existence. For an interesting read about this duplicitous company see for example: http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2004/08/my_least_favori.html

 

Scams aside, our surname Leather, appears to cause the editors of surname dictionaries particular difficulties. For example, in the several dictionaries of English or British Surnames, the name is usually described as being derived from workers or sellers of leather such as this shown below from The Internet Surname Index http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Leather#ixzz2gSAekBD2

This is an English surname. Recorded as Leather, Lether, Leither, and probably other others, it has two distinct origins. Firstly it may derive from the pre 7th Century male given name “hleothar”, meaning a sound or melody. Though not recorded independently, this personal name forms the first element in such placenames as Leatherhead in Surrey; Letheringham in Suffolk and Letheringsett, Norfolk. These are recorded respectively as Leodridan in the Saxon Chartulary, dated 880, as Letheringaham in the Domesday Book of 1086, and as Letheringsete in the Pipe Rolls of Norfolkin 1254. In his famous book “Patronymica Britannica”, Lower states that “One Lethar was a bishop in the days of Ethelbert” (860 – 865). The surname may also have originated as a metonymic occupational name for a leatherworker or seller of leather goods, from the Middle English and Olde English “lether”, leather. Although the surname itself does not appear until the early 16th Century (see below), the word was used in such occupational names as “Lether-dyer” in London in 1373, and one John Lethercarver was noted in a descriptive catalogue of Ancient Deeds for Northamptonshire, and dated 1404. The modern surname is now found chiefly in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The first recorded spelling of the family name may be that of Robert Lether. This was dated 1524 in the “Subsidy Tax Rolls of Suffolk”, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as “Bluff King Hal”, 1509 – 1547.

If the writers of articles like this actually did their homework, they would realise that their hypothesis of it being a metonymic occupational name was nonsense. If it was an occupational name it would be spread throughout the country instead of being, as even the authors of the above state, that the name in now “found chiefly in the Lancashire and Yorkshire” regions of England. A quick look at the map below derived from the 1881 census data shows this very clearly.

Leather 1881

Leather – 1881 per 100,000 people

 

A few years ago I decided, given the restricted distribution of our name, evidence seemed to suggest an origin near Winwick a town close to Warrington, that it would be very interesting to start a DNA surname study. Imagine my surprise to find that the name Leather was already registered, but as a derivative of the name Lauder!   [due entirely to the misinformation given by Halberts] I was incensed and decided that this needed to be corrected immediately. Using the same sources http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Lauder#ixzz2gSATbi7f I was able to easily demonstrate that Lauder is a Scottish name recorded in the spellings of Lauder and Lauderdale, this is a famous Scottish locational surname. As Lauder it originates from the village of Lauder in the county of Berwickshire, and as Lauderdale from a name for the western district of the same county of Berwickshire. The translation of the place name and hence the later surname is believed to be from the French-Breton pre 7th century word “laour”, meaning a trench or ditch. The surname is one of the first recorded in Scotland, and early examples taken from authentic rolls and registers of the medieval period include: William de Lawedre, the sheriff of Perthshire in the reign of King Alexander IIIrd of Scotland (1249 – 1286), Alan de Lawadyr, who witnessed a charter by Stephen Fleming, master of the hospital of Soltre in 1426, and Johannes Lathirdale, a notary public, in the city of Glasgow in 1472. Other recordings include Sir David Luthirdale, archdeacon of Dunkeld in 1477, whilst William Lauder, given as being a literary forger, died in 1771. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Sir Robert de Lauedre. This was dated 1250, in the register of the Abbey of Dryburgh and from the map 1881 census data (see below)

Lauder 1881

Lauder – 1881 per 100,000 people

 

it is pretty clear that the surnames Leather and Lauder are distinct and non-overlapping.

This story does have a happy ending. As a result of this analysis I was able to get Leather registered as a separate DNA-surname study, although sad to say the various surname dictionaries have not yet manged to change their entries, but I continue to live in hope 🙂

 

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Being inspired by the BES

This week (20th July) I have had the privilege of being able to interact with 50 undergraduates (mainly just finished their first year) under the auspices of the British Ecological Society’s new undergraduate summer school held at the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Centre. The scheme enables aspiring ecologists to have “an opportunity to enhance their existing knowledge with plenary lectures from senior ecologists, fieldwork, workshops, careers mentoring and more at a week-long residential course” This was especially pleasurable for me because as a school boy and student I spent several enjoyable camping holidays at Malham and it gave me an opportunity to take part in a field course again, something I have missed since leaving Silwood Park where I ran the now defunct annual two-week long Biodiversity & Conservation field course. The programme included two ecological luminaries and old friends of mine, Sue Hartley from the University of York and plant scientist and author, Ken Thompson formerly of Sheffield University and also Clare Trinder from the University of Aberdeen.  Also in the programme was conservation biologist, Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley,  and additional input from the Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management (CIEEM), microbial ecologist, Dr Rob Griffiths from CEH and ecologist Dr Peter Welsh of the National Trust.

I arrived mid-morning of the Tuesday, having driven up from Shropshire to Yorkshire the night before, having taken the opportunity to stay in the old family home in Kirk Hammerton before it is put up for sale. Whilst there I also set a few pitfall traps to collect some insects that we might not catch otherwise. As it happened they were a dismal failure, returning mainly spiders, harvestmen and woodlice, plus one nice carabid beetle, more of which later. The weather didn’t look all that promising for an insect sampling session but I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that it wouldn’t rain as much as it did almost 40 years ago when my best friend from school and I aborted our camping holiday at nearby Malham Cove after three days of solid rain 😉

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn – not quite raining

  I was greatly amused on arriving to be greeted by a very large arachnid lurking on an outhouse.

Malham spider

We breed them big in Yorkshire!

Malham Tarn FSC

Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre

After checking my equipment and locating suitable sampling sites I joined the students, Karen Devine, the BES External Affairs manager and some of the PhD mentors for lunch. After lunch it was my slot, a chance to infect (sorry, inspire), fifty ecologically included undergraduates with a love of insects. After being introduced by Karen I launched into my talk to a very full room of students.

Karen Devine

Karen instilling order and attention 😉

Ready to be inspired

Ready and waiting to be inspired

The undergraduates came from thirty different UK universities with a strong female bias, 34:16. Exeter University had four representatives, with Reading, Liverpool John Moores, UCL and Bristol with three each. I was sorry to see that there were no students from my Alma mater Leeds, or from my former institution, Imperial College, once regarded as the Ecological Centre of the UK, although UEA where I did my PhD, had two representatives.  There was also one representative from my current place of work, Harper Adams University. Incidentally one of the students turned out to have gone to the same school that I did in Hong Kong, King George V School, albeit almost fifty years apart; a small world indeed.

I set the scene by highlighting how many insect species there are, especially when compared with vertebrates.

The importance of insects

The importance of insects and plants

Number of animal species

Or to put it another way

After a quick dash through the characteristics of insects and the problems with identifying them, exacerbated by the shortage of entomologists compared with the number of people working on charismatic mega-fauna and primates, I posed the question whether it is a sound policy to base conservation decisions on information gained from such a small proportion of the world’s macro-biota.

Then we were of into the field, although not sunny, at least it was not raining so I was able to demonstrate a variety of sampling techniques; sweep netting with the obligatory head in the bag plus Pooter technique, butterfly netting, tree beating and, as a special treat, motorized suction sampling, in this instance a Vortis.

Sampling

With aid of the PhD mentors and Hazel Leeper from the Linnaen Society, the students were soon cacthing interesting things (not all insects) and using the Pooters like experts.

Students sampling

Getting close up with the insects

I also let some of the students experience the joy of the Vortis, suitably ear-protected of course. All good things come to an end and it was then time to hit the microscopes, wash bottles, mounted pins and insect keys.

In teh lab

Getting stuck in – picture courtesy Amy Leedale

Down the microscope

What’s this?

I was very impressed with how well the students did at getting specimens down to orders and families and have every confidence that there are a number of future entomologists among them. After the evening meal, Kate Harrison and Simon Hoggart from the BES Publications Team introduced the students to the tactics of paper writing and publishing which I think they found something of an eye-opener. The students, after a rapid descent on the bar, enjoyed a Pub Quiz whilst I relaxed with a glass of wine until it was dark enough for me to demonstrate the wonders of using fluorescent dust to track our solitary carabid beetle using my UV torch before heading off to bed.

Fluorescent carabid Eloise Wells

Glow in the dark carabid beetle – the bright lights of Malham Tarn – photo courtesy of Eloise Wells

I was sorry to have to leave the next morning, it would have been great fun to have stayed the full week, but next year I do hope to be able to be there for at least two days and nights so that we can do pitfall trapping and light trapping and of course, have more fun with fluorescent insects.

I hope the students found the whole week inspirational and useful, I was certainly inspired by their obvious enjoyment and interest and will be surprised I if do not come across some of them professionally in the future.

Well done BES and congratulations to Karen and her team for providing such a great opportunity for the students. I am really looking forward to next year and being able to see great Yorkshire features like this in the sunshine 😉

Yorkshire grit

 

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Celebrating being 60 by walking the Yorkshire Coast – a pictorial record

Those who follow my blog will remember that I turned 60 on March 13th and was pleasantly surprised at lunch time by colleagues, students and friends.

Simon 60 cake

There was however, also another treat in store for me.  My best friend from school (John Pearson) and I used to go walking and camping together in our school and university holidays.

Simon & John T - 21st birthday SRL

Me and John – 21st Birthday Party

 

Family and jobs put an end to this tradition although we and our wives used to (and still do) get together for short walks and visits.  For our 50th birthday however, we diced that it was time to get our walking boots back on in earnest and as good Yorkshiremen we decided that we would walk the Yorkshire Coast (or at least part of it).  In the end we enjoyed a very enjoyable walk from Redcar down to Robin Hood’s Bay, as traditional Yorkshiremen, Redcar, despite boundary changes is still Yorkshire territory as far as we are concerned 😉

Yorskhire coast 1

 

We stayed in pubs and B&Bs along the way, our camping days being long over.  As a point of honour we walked to the end of every pier (and back) on the way down.

For our 60th birthday, John’s wife Christine paid for three nights in a hotel in Scarborough on the Esplanade for us, The Weston, and we set off to do Robin Hood’s Bay to Bridlington in three days.

Yorkshire coast 2

The weather forecast was truly awful so we were a bit worried, and certainly driving to Scarboroug on Saturday morning, the weather was not promising.  By lunchtime however, the rain had stopped and apart from a short shower we had remarkably good weather for the end of March.  The last two days were, however extremely windy. Each day, we left a car at our finishing point and drove the other car to our start point; that way we were able to stay in comfort in one location and enjoy a well-earned beer at the end of each day and a bottle of very reasonably priced wine at dinner.  Bliss.

 

Day 1 Robin Hood’s Bay to Cloughton

A gentle start as we only had half a day and wanted to break our feet in gently.  Daffodil and Primula garden escapes were very much in evidence on the cliff sides – actually they were present all the way along the coast.

 

Day 1 beer

Staring with a beer – Theakstons Black Bull Bitter

Day 1 Yorkshire best

Yorkshire at its best

Day 1 steep bit

A steep bit (one of many)

Day 1 evening

View from hotel bedroom – evening

Day 2 – Cloughton to Filey

There were some more very steep bits, but despite the gloomy start, it was mainly nice and sunny.  Insects were not much in evidence, but skylarks were very noticeable, and of course there were lots of sea birds.

Day 2 Gloomy morning

First morning – gloomy view from hotel window, but luckily the weather improved as the day progressed.

Day 2 steep bit

There were indeed some steep bits,

Day 2 steep bit Simon

and some very steep bits as well.

Day 2 Slippy bits

Not forgetting the slippy bits!

Day 2 distant objective

Distant objective.

Day 2 dramatic cliffs

Dramatic cliffs.

Day 2 clearing skies

Clearing skies – great views.

Day 3 Filey to Bridlington

An extremely windy day, most of the time we felt like we were walking uphill despite a lot of it being on the flat, on the plus side it was quite sunny.

Day 3 Dawn

Sunrise – a beautiful start to the day

Day 3 - windswept tree

Not just us that was windswept!

Day 3 Bempton

Bempton – lots of Gannets and Guillemots

Day 3 The only puffin

This was the only puffin we saw!

 

Day 3 The sea

The sea, the sea!

Day 3 Footsore

The beach was a bit of a struggle.

Day 2 Flambro

Flamborough Head – we came here for our 3rd form Geography field trip in 1969 – it was joined to the coast then and was a blowhole!

Day 2 Flambro lighthouse

You can’t have a coastal walk without a lighthouse!

Day 4 – Spurn Point

Drove here from Scarborough just to see it as we didn’t feel like slogging along the beach at Bridlington and this is our proposed finishing point for our 65th birthday walk.  We decided that waiting until we were 70 might not be wise 😉

Spurn Point

Clear(ish) skies but gale force winds.

Spurn Point John

Just like walking in a desert sand storm – we had to turn back after a mile.

Day 3 Spurn Point Brown sea

The sea was brown not blue! Hopefully when we reach this point in 2020 the wind will have abated!

And just to finish a great piece of seaside sculpture.

Freddie Gilroy

Freddie Gilroy on the front at Scarborough.

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From Company Solicitor to Victorian Lunatic Asylum

ALEXANDER WILLIAM DOW LEATHER

 A BIT OF A BLACK SHEEP

1837-1890

One of the things that sticks in my mind from my youth is how relatives of my grandmother’s generation (those born in the 1870s and 1880s) who spoke of my great-great Uncle Alexander William Dow Leather, always in the following breath sighed and uttered the phrase “poor Pritchard”.  This of course made the subject of my great- great Uncle Alec (as he was apparently known) one of great interest to the budding family historian that I then was.

There was not a great deal known about my great-great uncle, at least in our branch of the family.  In fact I was to find out that there was surprisingly little known about him at all.  All we really knew was that he was the eldest son of my great-great grandfather John Wignall Leather (1810-1887).  My great-grandfather John Henry Leather was born in 1842 and was the youngest child of the family, preceded by Walter (1840-1869) and Florence Mary (1838-1886), so we knew that Alec must have been born in about 1836.

Some years later my first cousin once removed, Michael Leather of Knaresborough, supplied me with some additional information.  It transpired that Alec had been a solicitor and had led a somewhat riotous youth, drinking and womanising.  Once, whilst under the influence, he had fallen off his horse into a pond in Askham Richard.  Michael supplied the further information that he had been married twice, first to “poor Pritchard” whom he had deserted, leaving her and their two children in Herfeford where she had relatives.  These two children were Francis Holdsworth and Isabella Gertrude Leather.  Francis Holdsworth Leather became in time Michael’s godfather.  According to Michael, Alec had a second family – Percy, Mabel and Alan.   He also knew that Francis Holdsworth Leather had three children, one of them John Francis, died of influenza shortly after Michael was born in 1918.

The Yorkshire IGI informed me that Alexander William Dow Leather was christened in St Peter’s, Leeds on 24 May 1837.  His names puzzled me for some time, because they were so unfamilial; George, William, John and James were the normal first names at that time for our branch of the family.  I later found out that the family doctor was named Dow.  The 1860 Post Office Directory of the West Riding informed me that Alexander William Dow Leather was a solicitor at 4 Finsbury Park, Leeds.  The 1864 Woollen Districts Directory listed him at 1 Bond Street, Leeds, which was also the business address of his father John Wignall Leather.

I searched the St Catherine’s House Indexes assiduously and found that Alexander William Dow Leather had married Ellen Elizabeth Pritchard at Great Barfield Parish Church, Middlesex on 12 June 1860.  His wife was born in Hereford in 1839 and was described as the daughter of Thomas Pritchard, Gentleman of Park Gate, Essex.  At last I had found “poor Pritchard”, but where Alec had met her I still do not know.  Ellen died in Hereford in 1872, by which time Alec had disappeared from the Leeds Directories.  I continued searching through the indexes and found that his eldest son Francis Holdsworth was born in 1864 in Kensington, and his daughter Isabella in 1862 in Leeds.  She subsequnetly maried the Revd John Swire at Tupsley Parish Church, Hereford in 1882 and died in Wantage in 1891. The youngest child, Alexander Ernest, was born in 1866 and died the following year as a result of a scald, a surprisingly common form of death, even in middle-class families.

Some time later I obtained a copy of John Wignall Leather’s will (made in 1886) and this fuelled my interest in Alec to an even greater extent.  It told me that Alec’s second wife was called Jenny and that she and her children were living in Leeds.  Kelly’s Directory of Leeds 1888 confirmed this, indicating that she lived at 52 Samuel Street.  The Leeds Grammar School records show that her son Percy Alexander Leather attended Leeds Grammar School’s commercial division in the 1880s and that his tuition was paid for by his grandfather John Wignall Leather.  The two codicils to the will excited my interest greatly.  Here was John Wignall in his final illness (the last codicil is witnessed by his surgeon) and yet he took the time to alter his will to make sure that his eldest son Alec would not in any circumstances be allowed any of his money, particularly that left to his daughter-in-law Jenny.  What could Alexander have done or be doing, to have caused this much anxiety to his father?  I was hooked.  I had to find out more about Alec.

What about his second family?  I found his second marriage to Jane (Jenny) Potter, daughter of Edward Potter, Farmer, at the Parish Church of St Margaret West, Essex on 5 April 1873.  This confirmed that Alec was a bit of a gad-about and certainly not a full-time resident of Yorkshire.  At about this stage in my research, the Yorkshire Family Historian published an article I had written about my search for Yorkshire Leathers.  In this article I mentioned the infamous Alec and named his children as given to me by my cousin Michael.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from David Burnet of Guiseley who had had, my article drawn to his attention by an Australian cousin.  His great-grandfather had been the solicitor for my great great-great uncle George Henry Leather (1815-1897), and had been responsible for drawing up and administering the terms of his will.  As well as being George Henry’s solicitor he was also his brother-in-law.  David had in his possession a notebook that detailed all the beneficiaries of the will including their addresses up until 1907: a real treasure trove.  I found out that Alec’s youngest son was not called Alan but was in fact Cyril John Cadman Leather.  Armed with this fact I soon found his birth certificate.  He too was born in London, in Greenwich in 1879.  I also located the birth of certificates of more children of the marriage, Percy Alexander born in Camberwell in 1875, Mabel Caroline born in Peckham in 1877 and Violet Bertha born in Lewisham in 1888. Interestingly enough, Alex’s profession moves from being Company Solicitor of the family firm, George Leather & Sons Navigation, to solicitor’s clerk as his family grew and his dwellings moved down-market.   Then I came across Alec’s photograph in an old family album and was stunned to see that his nose was almost identical to mine – I had always thought that my nose was unique!  I was also struck by his resemblance to Del Boy (played by David Jason) in the BBC TV series Only Fools and Horses!

Alexander Wm Dow Leather

I scoured the St Catherine’s House Indexes of deaths and eventually located an entry for an Alexander William Leather in Barnet in 1890.  This seemed promising so I wrote to Somerset House to see if they had a copy of his will.  Wills are a great source of family history, if you are lucky enough to have a family who believed in writing them.  They give much more information about the individual and his family than the death certificate, and are only half the price.  As a solicitor I felt sure that Alec would have made a will, but to my surprise none was registered.  I sent off for the death certificate and found that Alec had died in Friern Barnet Lunatic Asylum, the causes of death being cystitis and disease of the kidneys.  This suggested that he had been an alcoholic and that the riotous living of his youth had caught up with him at last.  It also solved the problem of why his father had been so anxious to ensure that no money came his way.  Interestingly enough the death certificate, although listing him as a solicitor, had no known address for him.  His family had obviously cut all links with him or vice versa.  I wrote to the Greater London Record Office who hold the records for Colney Hatch (as Friern Barnet Lunatic Asylum is more popularly known), but unfortunately the casebooks for the period 1885-1890 are not yet available for public perusal.

Since that appeared to be as far as I could go with Alec I decided to search for his descendants.  I found that his eldest son Francis Holdsworth had married Ella Mary Smith of Weobley in Herefordshire in 1893.  They had three sons, John Francis (1894-1918), Geoffrey Clifford (1897-1901) and Godfrey Clifford (1902-1943).  Francis lived his whole life in Weobley apart from his service in the First World War.  He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the RASC and was awarded the DSO.  Like his father he was a solicitor.  He died a year after his wife, in 1929.  His wife Ella is famous as the author of Folklore of Herefordshire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Mary_Leather .  Their youngest son Geoffrey was also a solicitor and, although married, left no direct issue.  That line is thus extinct.  Isabella, the eldest daughter, married the Reverend John Swire in 1882.  They had three children, John (1884-1905), Mercy born 1886 and Nona born 1888.  Isabella died in 1891 and her husband in 1902.  I do not know what became of the daughters.

The second family has proved equally elusive.  I have found the marriages of Percy Alexander, Mabel Caroline, Cyril John Cadman and Violet Bertha.  Percy Alexander, at the time of his marriage to Emma Wilson in Leeds in 1896, is described as a salesman.  I know that in 1907 he was living in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and later found that he died in Leslieville, Alberta in 1921.  I have also managed to contact his descendants who are now natives of Calgary.  Mabel Caroline married a widower, George Hampton in Knaresborough in 1898 and subsequently moved to Bath and married secondly, Augustus Davies, with whom she had four children.  She died in 1951.  Cyril John Cadman married in Rotherham in 1906 and died in 1931 in Rochford, with no offspring that I have been able to discover.  Violet Bertha married Herbert Colville in 1912 and died in 1957 leaving behind four children.  I know nothing further.  It is interesting to note that – of their marriages, neither Percy nor Mabel listed their father as deceased; presumably they were unaware of his death.

I am always hopeful that one day I will hear something more about this branch of the family and look forward to meeting any long-lost cousins who may turn up.

The great thing about family history is that you are never sure what you are going to find out or whereabouts in the world you have relatives.  This story is also an illustration of how the computerisation of paper records, which is all I had available when I began my research into Alex, has enabled me to add more detail to a story that was rather sparse almost twenty years ago when I first wrote about him in the Yorkshire Family Historian.

Leather, E.M.  (1912)  The Folklore of Herefordshire. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Folk-lore-Herefordshire-Collected-Printed-Sources/dp/0951858904/ref=la_B001KIXX3C_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362929648&sr=1-1

Leather, S.R. (1990)  The Leathers in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire Family Historian 16 (3), 69-72

Leather, S.R. (1994)  Alexander William Dow Leather – black sheep of the family?  Yorkshire Family Historian  20 (4), 99-101

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