Guy Oates (1905-1987): Home and Family – Part One – Writing Lives

Guy Oates (1905-1987): Home and Family – Part One

The history of some of the men in the Oates family:

‘My Grandfather 1816 to 1872’ (1:66)

[Guy’s] grandfather loved to entertain all and sundry, and see others enjoying themselves’

(Oates, 1:71).

It is clear that Guy had heard fond memories about his grandfather when he was a child, and so he wanted to find out any information that he could on his grandfather’s life. As a result of this, over the years Guy was able to gather material about his grandfather, ‘apart from what [Guy was] able to substantiate by cuttings taken from local papers of that time’ the crazy tales to follow about his grandfather are ‘hearsay’ (1:10). Fredrick Oates was born 21st May 1816, when he was a young man he inherited a large sum of money from two of his family members, ‘Samuel and Mathew’ it was ‘believed to be somewhere in the region of ninety thousand pounds. £90.000’ (1:10). With this money, he invested it into the ownership of ‘Mills, Linen, Wollen and Corn’ (1:10) businesses. From Guy’s own research he discovered that around the early stages of his grandfather’s life or just before, ‘the Oates family owned quite a lot of land in and around Harrogate, known as ‘Oatlands’ (1:10). Stemming its name from of course the family surname. Regrettably, in the memoir Guy does not provide a photograph of his grandfather but he describes a photo he had seen of him in his later years (after having children). ‘He appeared to be a good six feet tall, and portly, with a bewhiskered face and long beard. He looked [like] a man with strong will, and with his wealth he was additionally powerful’ (1:71). Because of his appearance Guy remarked that he ‘imagine[s] that few men would have argued with him’ (1:71).

Castle Mills Plaque (taken by me).

But how did the Oates family get their wealth?

One of the oldest linen mills in the country was known ‘as Castle Mill, on the banks of River Nidd in Knaresborough’ (1:66) and at one time it was ‘owned by “Messrs Walton, Oates & Simpson, manufacturers of linen to the Queen” (i.e. the late queen Victoria), and apparently at some stage it supplied the tea-towels for all the royal castles’ (1:66). In 1836 the mill employed around ‘200 workers on a 72-hour week, many of them children’ (1:66). It is important to note that ‘children were useful as laborers [sic] because their size allowed them to move in small spaces in factories, […] children were easier to manage and control and perhaps most importantly, children could be paid less than adults’ (History editors, 2009). In order ‘to comply with the Factory Act of 1833, [the children] had [to have] lessons for two hours a day at a little school established on the premises’ (1:66). From 1830 to 1836 ‘the firm had increased its annual sales of Knaresborough linen from £42,000 to £51,000’ (1:66).

It is possible that Guy’s family also had railway shares, because of the opening of the railway, Guy had ‘reason to believe that one of’ the two firm partners (of the Oates and Simpson companies), ‘may have been [Guys] grandfather, or one of his uncles’ as he himself had seen ‘deeds referring to railway shares’ (1:67). In any case, there is no doubt that ‘Samuel and Matthew Oates were undoubtedly wealthy men by the standards of the time’ (1:10). Later on, readers will be able to learn about why Guy grew up in a working-class family.

A photo taken by me of the Knaresborough bridge, 3rd February 2019.
Train tracks in Knaresborough, 3rd February 2019.

Passions and stories

Guy’s grandfather was the talk of the town of Knaresborough with the wealth that he had gained at a young age; he was able to do whatever he pleased freely. ‘One of [Guy’s] grandfather’s passions in life was fishing’ (1:67) and while residing at Anglers’ Lodge, ‘he built a sort a grotto, not far from the main entrance’ (1:67) to express his love for fishing. The grotto consisted of ‘many different kinds of stone, some coming from [different] parts of Europe,’ (2:67) and at the centre of it ‘was a fish in bronze, its head with open mouth curving down close the water, its tail towards the sky’ (1:67). Guy was able to see the statue in the exact same position in 1969 (around 126 years since being placed there). Since Frederick was such a keen fisherman, there was a story which had been passed down about how ‘every one of his children, when only a few weeks old, were taken to the grotto and bodily passed through the circle of the fish’s tail!’ (1:68). Whether this was for religious reasons like a baptism or not it is still interesting to note just how much influence fishing had on Frederick’s life. Many experts and those who knew the land quite well informed Frederick that there was simply no water on his land, but he ‘relied on his own instincts, and proved them all wrong’ (1:68). To celebrate his discovery of the water ‘the legend foes, he held an all-comers party […] where he ordered a donkey to be roasted […]. Later, the donkey’s shoe was found in a tree nearby,’ and so the land was then Christened as ‘“Donkeyfield”’ (1:68).

Guy notes that his grandfather was either ‘a little eccentric or (as [Guy] prefer[‘s] to think of him) a practical joker’ (1:68). Once again being a popular figure of the town, rumours about Frederick often got spread around about what he was up to. One rumour was told about how ‘he built himself a tower to enable him to see, by means of binoculars, into the dining room of a large house quite nearby,’ (1:68) at his home at Anglers’ Lodge. He simply wanted to ‘see what they were eating, and then [he would] write and tell the owner of the house [about] what [they] had had for dinner the day before’ (1:68). I personally agree with Guy and think this is rather amusing! Although it is a little weird, I am sure the look on the owners faces when reading the letter was priceless.


Anglers’ Lodge residence had employed a cook and a butler, who were married (Mr and Mrs West), and ‘they had a rather beautiful daughter of fifteen years of age, named Hannah’ (1:68). It is clear that Guy’s grandfather began to grow fond of Hannah as he took an interest in her, ‘paying her more attention than was usual between master and maid’ (1:68). As his admiration for her grew ‘when she became of marriageable age, he asked for her hand’ (1:68). This was a very unusual pairing given that Frederick was considered a young and wealthy man and Hannah was from a working-class background.

With the wedding agreed upon, the question now asked was where was the wedding to take place? ‘The most obvious place would have been the local parish’ (1:68) but as I am sure readers have already gathered that Guy’s grandfather was not a traditional man. So instead Hannah, her mother and Frederick ‘went to Gretna Green in Scotland. There [Frederick] requested to be married at one of the Toll houses. Everything was a go ahead, until the price was mentioned, the Tollkeeper demand[ed] the sum of eight pounds,’ considering Frederick wasn’t poor you would assume this money would not have got in the way of love. But Guy speculated that he either ‘didn’t consider the girl worth the money or the Yorkshire spirit of spending wisely and getting value for your money took over’ (1:68). Whatever the case may be, after making some enquires Frederick ‘discovered that the keeper of Allison Bank Toll House’ would marry the couple for ‘the sum of one gold sovereign’ (1:69). Frederick agreed upon this toll and so the couple ‘married on 12 September, 1847’ (1:69).

Guy’s mother told him that once married, Frederick sent Hannah ‘away to a good finishing school’ so she could get a better education as ‘being the daughter of servants, [meant] she would have received very little in the way of an education’ (1:69). Since Frederick was a wealthy man he had lots of servants under his house and so he needed ‘a wife who could control and give orders’ (1:69). In addition to this, ‘he also want[ed] her to provide feasts, and know how to entertain his guests’ (1:69). From the marriage came six children; Grace, Fredrick, Russell (Guy’s father), Elizabeth, Amelia and Melinda. Like Hannah, Fredrick made sure all of his children received a good education.

Table of ‘records of the births’ (1:72) of Fredrick’s children, which was created by Grace – eldest daughter (1:80).

Branton Court

Over the space of 10 years, all of their children were born, and so eventually Frederick decided that they needed a large house. ‘He had already purchased some land in Farnham, near Knaresborough, with the sole purpose of building a new home’ (1:69). The house was built on land which ‘is one of the highest points in Farnham’ (1:69). On a fishing expedition, in the Lake District, Frederick took an interest in ‘two large boulders lying in a field’ (1:69). It is rumoured that these boulders ‘inspired [Frederick] with the idea of using them as support stones at the main entrance of his new home. Apparently he set off with men, horses, drays and lifting gear, and brought them to Farnham’ (1:69). On arrival they were placed at the front of the house with this Frederick decided to ‘carve [his name] on both’ (1:69). Guy explains that ‘the house was completed in 1860, and was named “The Hollies”’ which was later changed to ‘“Branton Court”’ (1:69). The building had ‘two entrances’ and a ford which had ‘a beck of a stream’ (1:69) which passed through it to get out of the grounds.


‘Legend has it that once a year [Guy’s] grandfather would give a feast, with food and drink in abundance’ (1:69). No invitations were sent out for this feast since ‘the date [was] known far and wide, well in advance,’ (1:69) all were welcome, and nobody was turned away. Frederick encouraged his guests to ‘eat their fill and take their drink in full measure, [as] all [was] at his expense’ (1:70). Another tradition of his, ‘so the story goes, he could gold sovereigns into the stream, with instructions that only the young girls and women were allowed to go in and look for them’ (1:70) since the women would not want to get their shoes and socks wet they would remove them and lift ‘their skirts above their knees – [Frederick] no doubt had a keen eye for a shapely leg’ (1:70). Since ‘the thought of finding a gold sovereign was guaranteed to remove all modesty’ (1:70).


One of Frederick’s ‘eccentricities was to have [a] coffin made many years before it was likely to be required,’ (1:70) this was then ‘kept under his bed’ (1:70). Guy confesses that his grandfather was either ‘going a little insane or was just a practical joker (1:70). But this bizarre story does not end here, supposedly he ‘instructed his groom to harness one of his black horses to the dray’ on which the coffin was placed. Once the coffin was in place, Frederick would then dress ‘himself in white’ and lay ‘down in the coffin’ telling ‘the groom to place a white sheet over him and replace the lid loosely’ (1:70). When everything was set in place the groom would proceed to drive ‘to the clock in the Market Place’ it is here readers you can see Frederick’s practical joker side creep out again. Once a crowd had gathered around the coffin ‘upon the groom’s signal, [Frederick would throw] off the lid, jump up and [stand] there in his coffin, in white from head to toe’ (1:70). After a couple of seconds, ‘the groom was told to drive like a madman back to Farnham’ (1:70). Guy informs us that his grandfather ‘was a heavy drinker, and this may have accounted for some of what [he] heard’ (1:70).


‘Despite his drinking and his eccentricity, [Frederick] was a generous man’ (1:71). For example, ‘when he lived at Spofforth he gave nearly two acres of his land to the people of Crimple Cottages, in the are where he did much of his fishing, to be converted into gardens’ (1:71). Guy also heard that when his grandfather visited ‘the Mill at Aysgarth for the first time, he saw the women of the village carrying buckets down to the river to collect water,’ (1:71) because there wasn’t any running water in the town or a well. Frederick took it upon himself to change this and so ‘he had a well sunk,’ (1:71) while it was still there it ‘was known as Oates’s Well’ (1:71). This well would have helped countless families in this village, and so maybe even without realising Frederick will have affected many peoples lives.  


Frederick was known for being a heavy drinker, and ‘he always went about with two other men, by the names of Willey and Burton’ (1:70). In order to have a friendship with Guy’s grandfather you ‘had to match him in everything, including his capacity to drink’ (1:71). His drinking habits eventually became a problem as in his later years ‘Hannah and the children turned him out of his house on account of his drinking’ (1:71). But this did not stop Frederick as he simply ‘went to live in a solidly built hut which stood in the grounds of the village pub, and here [he] carried on his drinking with his two pals’ (1:71). He died 18th September 1872 and was buried in Farnham Churchyard, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.


Guy’s grandfather was a man who seemed to hold great admiration among his peers to those ‘he associated [with] his word would be law, but equally it would be his bond’ (1:71). He did not have time for people who he deemed as ‘fools and fops’ (1:71). Although he appeared ‘rough and stern’ he was actually a kind-hearted person, someone who was ‘ready and willing to help where help was needed’ (1:71).  He was a man of spontaneity and generosity, someone ‘who could be led, but never driven’ (1:71).  From the information Guy had learnt of his grandfather it resulted in him ‘respect[ing] him greatly’ (1:72). Frederick’s story was simply unheard of and still is, ‘he must have been something of a rough diamond, coming into a great deal of money at a young age, and having to put his skills against the experts’ (1:72). It is no wonder Guy felt great respect for his grandfather; he ‘admire[d] his honest and noble character’ (1:72). Although at the end of his life he was away from his family it did not seem like he considered it a bad ending to his life, as it oddly seems fitting for a man of such spontaneity to have lived his final days in a hut at the pub drinking with his friends.

The Donkey Story:

‘Cutting from an unknown newspaper (possibly The Knaresborough Post)’ (1:75).
‘Cutting from an unknown newspaper’ (1:76).

From Riches to Rags:

‘My Father. Russell Oates. 1851 to 1909′ (1:96).

I know very little about him. I do not remember him’  – Guy about his father

(Oates, 1:96).
My Father. Russell Oates’ (1:98).

Unfortunately, this section on Guy’s father is not that big because he sadly died at the age of 58. Guy’s father was born at Angler’s Lodge on the 1st June 1851 and died in Knaresborough, on the 20th February 1909, Guy was only three years of age when his father died, and he was buried at the same place as his father (Farnham Church Yard). Sadly, for Guy, this means he did not really know his father.

His father was ‘trained to be a Chandler’ with the hopes that he would take ‘over the corn mill at Staveley, near Boroughbridge’ (1:96) which he successfully ‘did for a time when [he was] a young man’ (1:96). But when Fredrick died the mill was sold, and then his wealth was ‘shared equally among his six children’ (1:96) this left Guy’s father in a comfortable position. It ‘enabled [Guy’s] father to marry at a young age, [and] live in a large house in the most residential part of Knaresborough’ (1:96). His first wife Emily Jane Gilbertson and Russell were able to raise four well-educated children (Fredrick, Samuel, Ethel and Percy) and they lived a luxurious life. ‘It was not until late in his life that disaster over took him and he was forced to seek employment’ (1:96). Guy learnt that Emily was a gifted pianist who regrettably died ‘at an early age due to drink’ (1:96).

Russell married his second wife Phoebe Amelia Mary Trafford (Guy’s mother) on 1st June 1893. Russell then left the York House and moved to ‘126, High Street, Knaresborough’ (1:96) with Phoebe and his children. They eventually had ten children ‘Marion, Bernard Trafford, Aubrey, Russell, Phyllis, Jane and Doris (twins), Septimus, Guy and Madge’ (1:99) and when Russell’s older children grew up, they began to leave the house. Russell went into a partnership with ‘a man whose name [Guy] believe was Sadler,’ (1:96) When he went into this business he went in as ‘a sleeping partner putting in quite a few thousand pounds, leaving all the work of the business to this man. The Tannery was on Briggate Hill and for some unknown reason [it] was never insured against fire’ (1:96). One evening in either ‘1907/8, the whole town was excited, there being a big fire on Briggate Hill’ (1:97). Out of curiosity Guy’s ‘father (or so [he] was told) took the three eldest children to see the blaze. Imagine the terrible shock he must have received to see it was his own Tannery on fire’ (1:97). Unfortunately, nothing could be done about the fire in time, and everything was destroyed, ‘this loss seems to have been the beginning of the end for [Guy’s] father’ (1:97).

His financial position had now completely shifted, he was born into a wealthy family and received a great inheritance, but after losing his Tannery, he now had to provide for his family on a working-class income (thanks to the Parish Council who ‘found him employment as Assistant overseer’) (1:97). As the strain of having ‘eight children’ (1:97) to feed and educate began to rise, ‘consequently his health began to suffer. Against the advice of his doctor he kept on working’ (1:97) as what other choice did he have? ‘One day he developed a heavy dose of influenza, yet [he] still went to work. He was found dead at his desk in his office’ (1:97). His death was a devastating loss for the family, who now faced a difficult transition into life without Russell or financial security.

Here is a photo of me in Knaresborough, 3rd February 2019.
My Family where the Oates Family lived, 3rd February 2019.

Part Two of ‘Home and Family’ is about Guy’s wonderful mother which was written by Sarah Pass.
(Remember to check Twitter for updates @TashaSiloLJMU).

If you have enjoyed reading about Guy’s life, you may like to explore the full collection of Guy Oates Posts.

If you would like to read some of our fellow Writing Lives students blogs, then look no further! Here are some of the posts Sarah and I enjoyed for this particular theme:

Joshua Emery: /uncategorized/william-wright-b-1846-home-and-family-part-1 this post is about William Wright and his relationships with his family and his hometown Alton.

/thomas-raymont-an-octogenarian/home-and-family-8 this blog was written by Mike Widdows about his chosen author Thomas Raymont and his fondness of his hometown.

If you are interested in reading a memoir quite different from Guys and his relationship with his family, then you should look at Danielle Hughes’ blog on John Sawyer: /home-and-family/john-sawyer-b-1914-home-and-family as John had a poor relationship with his family because of a combination of factors.


Oates, Guy. The Years That Are Gone. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, Vol. 1.

Further Reading:
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363. 
Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201.
Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47- 70. 
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin, 2015.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247. 

Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982.
‘Child Labour.’ History. London: A&E Television Networks, 2009. Updated 10 January 2019. Web. Accessed 15 April 2019. 
Steedman, Carolyn. Master and Servant. Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 
Strange, Julie-Marie. Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, c. 1870-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
Strange, Julie-Marie, ‘“She Cried a Very Little”: Death, Grief and Mourning in Working-Class Culture, c. 1880-1914’, Social History, 27 2, 2002, 143-61.
Strange, Julie-Marie. ‘Providing, fatherhood and technologies of attachment’, 1870-1914. Historical Journal  55.4 (2012), pp 1007-1027.

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