John Herbert Wilson 1870 – 1937
John Herbert Wilson took up photography professionally in about 1895. He does not appear to have had to advertise his photography business in trade directories as he lived in the small village of Weaverthorpe on the North Yorkshire Wolds about half way between Malton and Bridlington.
He ran the local shop and would have offered photography as just one of his services. In fact, although he had pre-printed cabinet card mounts, there is no evidence as yet that he actually had a studio; all known portraits having been taken outdoors.
John also photographed the village and the surrounding area and sold his images in the form of postcards.
John Herbert Wilson died on the 2nd January 1937.
1871 – record not found
1881 – age 11, at St. Nicholas Street, Norton, North Yorkshire with his grandmother Selina Bellwood (occupation – scholar)
1891 – age 21, at 54 Millfield Road, York with his grandmother Selina Bellwood. The head of household is recorded as Thomas S Bellwood – a single marine engineer (his uncle)
1901 – age 31, at Weaverthorpe, East Yorkshire with his wife Margaret aged 22 (occupation – grocery & drapery shopkeeper)
John Herbert Wilson was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England in 1870 to Henry Wilson (1841-1872) and Clara Mary Wilson (nee Rouse) (1850-1880).
When she was 11 years old, his mother, although baptised in Ireland, lived in Weaverthorpe in Yorkshire in 1861 with her step father, Thomas S Bellwood, a saddler and postmaster. Weaverthorpe was a place that John Herbert would return to later in his life.
His father, a chemist, died of smallpox in 1872 when John was only two years old. His mother married again to a Mr. William Jackson, a schoolmaster.
In 1880, when he was just 10 years old, John’s young life was again beset by tragedy as his mother died of plithisis pulmonalis (tuberculosis) and he was left without either of his real parents. His mother, aged 30, died in Norton, North Yorkshire, and the informant of her death was his 54 year old grandmother, Selina Bellwood.
The 1881 census shows John living with his grandmother at St. Nicholas Street, Norton.
John needed a guardian and a poignant letter, dating from 1883, was written by John to one of his uncles. At the time, John was only thirteen and was living at 13 Scott Street in the Scarcroft Road area of York, North Yorkshire.
The letter read as follows –
It is such a long time since you wrote to say you should like a letter from me.
First of all I must tell you that it was quite right for you to sell the old fixtures at Norwich and I do not want any other person as ‘Guardian’ but yourself if you will be troubled with me. But if you should die (I hope not) I should like Tom and Grandma Bellwood to look after me until I am twenty one. I shall soon be that as I am thirteen now. The tailor said to Grandma I took as much cloth for a pair of trousers as some men so you see I am getting up.
I should like to see my little cousins Tom and Nelson. I have a small magic lantern which I play with in the evenings and I draw or do sums with Uncle Tom.
The school term ends April 17th. I shall go to Weaverthorpe. It is jolly their (sic). I do have some rides. I go to Malton sometimes. Mrs. Longster and Mrs. Stilborn are very kind to me.
Give my love to my Cousins and Aunt Emmie.
Yours affectionately, John Herbert Wilson”
In 1891 there was another interesting letter from John Henry Wilson to his uncle, Tom S Bellwood, who was ‘Chief’ on board the good ship Hope at Belfast. At the time, John was 21 years old and living at 54 Millfield Road in York – just a few hundred yards from Scott Street which was the address of the previous letter.
This letter read as follows –
We received your welcome letter tonight. We both wrote to Sliema (Malta) and Gibraltar and we sent (Heralds) and (Tit Bits) by the dozen but did not write to Belfast as we hardly knew what address it would be, our book on Shipping says there is 8½ miles of dockage so we thought if we addressed it Belfast only it would not reach you.
It has been a fortnight of splendid weather here but the last two or three days have been bad it is a bad job for the farmers the weather has broken but they are getting on very well.
Harry Anderson has left Welburns of Scarbro he has got the poke poor old chap. I am sorry for him he is such a nice fellow. It is a pity when he has not got good health. I think he is coming to York for a week or two so you will see him when you come. How long will it be before you get home.
Grandma is not very well. I have just been down for some Beaumonts mixture of floro fuff (?) with a dash of Kybosh in it.
Should Grandma send for the allotment due tomorrow or will you get it when you are paid off.
With love from Grandma.
I am your loving Nephew
John H Wilson.”
John met and courted Margaret Hawley. In the 1891 census John is shown as living at 27 Millfield Road in York with Thomas and Selina Bellwood. At the same time, Margaret was living at number 25 Millfield Road with her mother and father, William Hawley, who was an engine driver; York being an important railway town in the North East of England. It would seem to be a case of ‘boy meets girl next door’.
It appears that John moved to Weaverthorpe around 1895 and opened a general grocery and drapery store selling all that the village people needed.
On the 19th October 1896 John & Margaret were married at York Register Office. John was 26 and Margaret was 17. John was recorded as a grocer and draper. At the time Margaret had been living at 45 Nunmill Street, York – probably with her father The couple lived at Weaverthorpe at the shop and the following two pictures show John in Weaverthorpe.
In 1902, John and Margaret had their first child, a son, Henry (Harry) Wilson.
At that time, much of the produce had to be fetched from Malton by the carrier in his cart whilst the farmers went to Malton or Driffield by pony and trap. The roads were rough being surfaced with chalk stones that produced thick mud in the wet weather and choking dust in the dry weather. The journey to Driffield took about three hours each way.
It seems that John took and early interest in mechanical forms of transport as there are two pictures of him, one with an early motorcycle and another with a tricar which had a passenger seat on the front.
He first became a motorist in 1903 when he bought a second hand tricar, a Rex which was a motor cycle with a basket chair in front and this was later exchanged for a new model with proper coachwork (see below).
By 1910 the tricar was exchanged for an 8 H.P. Rover car and later John traded up to a 14 H.P.Humber. Petrol was 6p a gallon!
It is possible that John used his new found mobility to travel around the area and take photographs of various scenes which he then sold to visitors in the form of postcards. A typical postcard of Weaverthorpe is shown below which found its way to far off Philadelphia in the United States!
As at this time there is no evidence that John had a studio. Although he went to the expense of having pre-printed mounts for his cabinet card photographs, every example found so far was taken out of doors. John obviously had a sense of humour as is shown in the photograph in the Gallery at the end of this biography of the couple billing and cooing beside the conservatory whist a lady peeps at them from around the corner.
Interestingly, John employed a little cross selling by putting a rubber stamp on the back of his photograph mounts which advertised his services as an Agent for the Equitable Fire & Accident Office Limited.
In 1909, when Harry was about seven years old, he was presented with a sister, Clara May Wilson who was born in Weaverthorpe.
A year later, in May, Weaverthorpe suffered a severe flood caused by torrential rain. John and his family and staff moved as much of the shop’s stock and equipment as they could out of harms way but stock in the warehouse outside was badly affected with a barrel of treacle and several 2cwt. bags of sugar creating damage and dismay. During the flood seven year old Harry was given the essential job of keeping his one year old sister safe upstairs. The family had to live upstairs for several weeks until all the mess and the 3” layer of mud was cleared up.
At about the same time the school was condemned and after lots of local fund raising a new school was built in 1911. John Herbert Wilson was appointed one of the school managers and put in a lot of work for the cause.
The shop took most of John’s time as practically everything was stocked and it was open 8.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. on Saturday with people often coming to the back door after closing. Whenever did John have time to take photographs?
As well as the shop and his photography business, John also ran a book lending service through ‘John H Wilson’s Circulating Library’. Charges were 2d a week with a fine of 1d a week for overdue books. One of the books in his library was the ever popular Oliver Twist first published in 1838. It is not clear whether the customers obtained their books at the store or whether the books were ‘circulated’ around like a mobile library.
Neither John nor his son was called up to fight in WW1. John was too old at 44 at the beginning of the war and Harry was too young – just – being 15 at the end of the war.
John’s interest in motor bikes and cars was shared by his son Harry who, around 1920, joined him and developed an engineering side to the business.
Meanwhile the stores provided the main income and examples of ephemera from John Herbert Wilson’s shop in Weaverthorpe are shown below.
John took a very active part in village life (including being a churchwarden etc.) and is shown at the Weaverthorpe Show in 1935 in the photograph below. He and wife Margaret are on the left and their son (with the dog) and their daughter are on the right. The man in the centre was a friend and the lady in the centre was an employee in the shop.
John died ‘in harness’ in January 1937 at Weaverthorpe at the age of 66. He was survived by his widow Margaret and his two children Harry and Clara. Probate was granted on the 23 April 1937 to Margaret Wilson and Edward Hawley. His effects were stated as £6,236 17s 10d.
John had had a difficult start in life but became one of the leading inhabitants of Weaverthorpe village in North Yorkshire where he provided many services to the other villagers for many years through his shop and through his love of photography.
Obituary in the Weaverthorpe and Helperthorpe Magazine February 1937
The tragically sudden death of our Churchwarden, John Wilson, cast a great gloom over us all at the beginning of the year.
I can only put on record here something of what one said in church. Coming to Weaverthorpe as a young man for reasons of health, he remained and made the village his home and his chief interest in life. A good business man and a born leader he used his gifts in the service of others and for the betterment of village life. So we found him advocating water schemes, telephones, electric light, village seats, trees on the green, anything to advance the happiness of the people who live here, and so too we found him in every organisation of any worth, and his work on the Hospital Committee, Show Committee, War Memorial Committee, and other organizations will long be thankfully remembered.
As Churchwarden he was splendid, and made the care of the church’s business his own, and the work he did when the parishes were combined, and during the times when there was no Vicar, was done in a way few churchwardens can better. Above all, his enthusiasm and labour for the Day School will be an abiding inspiration to us who follow on in that work.
He was an unassuming man, hated fuss and publicity, but in him the village has lost its best friend and the Vicar a loyal comrade, and on a cold January afternoon such a multitude assembled in the churchyard, that many failed to get into the church – testifying to the esteem in which he was held far and near – and so we laid him to rest near the place he loved to worship and serve in. Abide ‘full of good works’.
To his family we pray that God’s comfort may be given to them, and for him that light perpetual may shine upon him.
BURIAL – Weaverthorpe, January 5th. John Herbert Wilson. Aged 66.
Village Life – Remembrances
John’s son Henry (Harry) Wilson wrote down his early memories for his family and this provides a wonderful insight into village life generally and to Weaverthorpe in particular from the early 1900s to about 1930 and it is the source for some of the information above.
Father Henry Wilson born c 1841. Died 4 February 1872. Married 1868 at Norwich, Norfolk
Mother Clara Mary Wilson (nee Rouse) born Bellinhassig, County Cork, Ireland 1850. Died 10 April 1880 at Norton, North Yorkshire.
John Herbert Wilson
Born 1870 at Norwich, Norfolk
Baptized 21st June 1870 at St. Clements, Norwich
Married 19 October 1896 to Margaret Hawley (1879-1963) at York Register Office
Child 1 Henry (Harry) Wilson, born 1902 in Weaverthorpe. Died 1979
Child 2 Clara May Wilson, born 1909 in Weaverthorpe, North Yorkshire. Died 1996
Died 2nd. January 1937, aged 66, at Weaverthorpe.
Compiled by Ron Cosens © www.cartedevisite.co.uk
- Richard Hebblethwaite email@example.com grandson of John Herbert Wilson, family historian, who provided information for the life story above
- Stella Ellison nee Wilson, granddaughter of John Herbert Wilson provided information on village life and remembrances
- Marcel Safier for additional research
John Herbert Wilson – Gallery
See examples of John’s photography below – all supplied by Richard Hebblethwaite.
The soldier is Will Ward. The lady on the left is Jane Ann Rowlingson of Weaverthorpe. The other lady is unknown.
The lady to the extreme left is John’s wife, Margaret. She is peeping at her parents William and Ann Hawley.