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The Major and the Workhouse Girl


In the third of a series of articles about the Middelton family adapted from his forthcoming book, 'The Lords of Ilkley Manor - The Road to Ruin' David Carpenter tells how Major John Middelton gave a girl he had met in Otley Workhouse a new life and a new opportunity.

'The Major' stands out amongst the Middelton family because of his prominent role in the life of Ilkley and the genuine respect, admiration and affection which were felt by the townspeople towards him. A lifelong bachelor, he mixed much more with the townsfolk than did his brothers, and his charity, particularly towards the young, was much commented on. He would invite parties of underprivileged youngsters to visit him at his home, Laurel House, on Wells Road, which was well known in later years as the home of the British Legion. Sometimes he would hire the assembly rooms to give a party for the local children, and once entertained more than three hundred children at Wells House.
He was involved with the Black Hats and White Hats novelty cricket matches, was an active member of the School Board, and acted often as a magistrate at Otley. It was said of him that he always showed great sympathy to the 'poorest of persons' and that 'through his special sympathy and efforts many young people had been wrested from lives of misery and criminality'.
The Major had been born in 1830 and educated at Stonyhurst and Downside, two popular Catholic schools. His title came from his days with the 5th Royal Lancashire Militia in the 1850s and '60s, where he gathered a number of entertaining reminiscences from his service in Aldershot and in Ireland. Later he came to live with his older brother at Myddelton Lodge and subsequently built Laurel House. One of his public roles was as a guardian of Otley Workhouse, and it was on a visit there in about 1885 that he met Selina Yeadon Young, 'a pretty, bright-eyed, intelligent creature' about seven years old. Her father, William Calvert Yeadon, a maker of weaving tools, had died and doubtless it was this circumstance which threw the young Selina into Otley Workhouse.
The Major must have been immediately taken with her and formed the idea of educating her so that she could become a governess, but had soon made an agreement whereby her mother Margaret had assigned her care and guardianship to the Major. Thenceforth, after spending some months in a convent school, Selina made her home at Laurel House.
The whole of Ilkley mourned the major's passing when he died suddenly in 1891. Flags flew at half mast, the dead march was played at churches of all denominations. Along the funeral route shops had their shutters closed and blinds drawn. The procession include representatives of the Otley Board of Magistrates, Otley Board of Guardians, Otley and Ilkley Police, Ilkley Local Board, Ilkley Overseers, Ilkley School Board, Ilkley Constitutional Club, Ilkley Liberal Club, Ilkley Football, Lawn Tennis, Golf and Cricket Clubs and many others.
The major's will provided for Selina well. She had just reached the age of twelve at the time of his death. Her care and guardianship was left to Ann Curtis, the major's housekeeper and wife of John Curtis of Ilkley, an upholsterer, until Selina reached the age of 25. 1,000 was left to Ann for her attention and services. A bequest of the majority of the Major's estate, amounting to some 12,000, was left to Selina. What the rest of the Middelton family made of this is not recorded. As usual they were struggling with debt and mortgages, trying to sell of parts of the estate to keep their heads above water.
Selina made the most of her start in life. It seems she did initially work as a governess, and it was probably through this work that she met her husband John Tucker, a London solicitor. They were married on August 16, 1906 in Leamington. Their first child was named John Cuthbert Middelton Tucker. John also became a solicitor and partners at his firm recollect that he was always very pedantic about the spelling of his third name.


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