A-Z April 2012

Y is for Youlgreave

Y is for Youlgreave

Youlgreave is a small village deep in the Derbyshire countryside, roughly half way between Buxton and Matlock. It is a pretty unremarkable place really and I suppose you are wondering why I am writing about it today, especially as I am Manchester born and bred and it is a couple of hours drive away.

Let me enlighten you.

Some time ago I began researching my family tree with Kevin. It was something that we had always wanted to do, and after a couple of conversations with my Gran we decided to find out some more about our family and where we have come from.

I already knew that my Mum’s family name is “Birds”, which is quite an unusual surname. Apart from her father (and his brothers and sisters, all 13 of them) there are no other Birds in Manchester. We gathered some bits of information from my Gran and we found out that there was a family grave in St Peter’s churchyard here in Blackley so we set out to try and find it. The churchyard is massively overgrown, and around 75% of it is inaccessible. We tramped and tramped for hours one afternooon through the vegetation, scraping moss off inscriptions and at the point of giving up we bumped into an old man by chance who was just outside the church door. He was very polite and asked us what we were doing, and when we explained he said “Oh the Birds? I know that family! I went to school with Walter Birds”. He was very helpful and pointed us in the right direction to the grave we were looking for. A very nice chap indeed!

We were really surprised that when we saw it because there were quite a few names on the headstone, and the neighbouring plot was also a Birds family plot. The inscription on the first headstone said that there was one of the family interred at Youlgreave, which was a place neither of us had heard of before.

We were intrigued to say the least, and set about trying to find out where it was and whether or not it would be possible to find our relative buried there. We looked in the roadmap and were delighted to find that there was only one Youlgreave in England (we were hoping it would be in England and not somewhere overseas, so that was a relief!) and because it was only a couple of hours away we thought we would have a day out to find it. The game was afoot!

When we arrived in Youlgreave we were faced with a bit of a dilemma; which churchyard would he be buried in (there was a church at the end of the village as we arrived, one part way up the main street, a Methodist chapel next to that and then a really old church at the far end of the village) and would we be able to find the grave after all this time? We decided that the best plan of action would be to tackle the old churchyard at the far end of the village first and work our way back out again, so we parked up and found our way into the grounds. We were expecting quite a bit of a hunt to be honest. As I said, the name “Birds” is really uncommon, and the churchyard was as nearly overgrown as the one at St Peter’s back home in Blackley, and we weren’t even sure we were in the right place to start with. Daunting wasn’t in it!

Imagine our surprise when we went through the little latched gate off the road into the graveyard and literally stumbled across a headstone with exactly the name we were looking for – CHARLES LEONARD BIRDS. Eureka!!! How easy was that?! Only…hang on a minute, there was another headstone next to his with…erm…Charles Leonard Birds on that one too. And another on the row behind with the name Leonard C Birds. And round the corner was Charles Birds… Oh my word. There were literally HUNDREDS of Birds’ buried in that churchyard!

We wrote down as many details off as many headstones as we could, including dates and family connections and were overwhelmed with the number of graves with the same surname on. On the way out of the churchyard there was a parish noticeboard, so we had a look (as you do when you visit somewhere new and you’re as nosey as me!). There were the standard notices – Jumble Sales, services offered, notice of a parish meeting etc – and again, the name Birds jumped out at us because so many of the people on the noticeboard had my family name. Wow!

We followed up the information when we got home and we discovered that the Birds family have been associated with Youlgreave and the surrounding area for hundreds of years. I realise now that the branch that my Mum comes from is a breakaway branch and the mystery as to when and why they left is still unresolved. Why did they leave? Why did they choose Manchester? Was it to do with the Industrial Revolution, and were they chasing jobs? If so, why Manchester and not Nottingham or Birmingham?

That is the kind of question that ignites my soul and fires my imagination but is probably never going to get answered now. Sadly there are just too many loose ends and stories have sadly died with the generations.

Having brought to mind our excursion to Youlgreave that day I think it is distinctly probable that we will make a return visit very soon.




17 thoughts on “Y is for Youlgreave”

  1. Interesting, Pam. My eldest brother is one of our family’s genealogists. He was only able to find one relative from England in his search, and came to realize all the siblings were sisters, who took their husband’s names.


    1. Genealogy is a total minefield! We found people who were killed in the war (not unusual), a brother of my grandfather was gored by a bull and my grandmother was a foundling, so we don’t know anything about her biological family at all. It’s a complete joy as well though!! Where in England is your relative from? I may be able to help – a photo of the area they were from perhaps?

      I’d be glad to help 🙂


  2. I’ve been enjoying your posts this month (okay, sorry – I always enjoy them, but the A to Z have been fun to watch). This one was particularly good – enjoyed hearing about Youlgreave and your family. Although you did better with the “X” than I would have!

    I enjoy recording the family stories. It turned out of my consultants is from the same area of Switzerland that my grandfather emigrated from. We had a lot of fun talking about my family and where he came from.


    1. Yay! Thank you for your kind words. It’s always nice to receive feedback and it matters to me that you enjoy my posts, so thank you for telling me.

      I have a feeling that us writers have all got a similar gene running through us, and that is to know and understand other people’s stories. I wonder if that’s why we are so keen on our family history? It would make sense, after all, they are the first stories we hear as children and it is only natural to want to know more about who we are and where we come from.


      1. I really fell behind on comments, but managed to do fairly good at least keeping up on the reading. Glad I finally made it here though to let you know I’d been reading your posts.

        That’s a good point – why do we like family histories so much? That could be a good post. I think you have a good point that it’s the first stories we hear. I think it’s also because we know the players, the truthfulness of the stories and let’s face it – fiction is nowhere near as weird as our families are. Which is a pretty good trick these days.


  3. How neat about finding your family name in Youlgreave!
    My grandad was an amateur genealogist and so we’re very fortunate to have a lot of our family history filled in. Not that there aren’t gaps, but it’s so nice to know all that we do.

    As a little side note- I was pretty excited to read that you’re from Manchester. I’m listening to Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Mary Barton” on tape at the moment and it’s set in Manchester.


    1. Fabulous!! Yes, Mrs Gaskell wrote a lot of her stuff here in Manchester. I believe she was a minister’s wife (I may be wrong there….) and she knew a lot about the nitty gritty of life in Manchester, which is what she wrote about. My daughter’s college is just a mile or so down the road from the house where she used to live. I hope you enjoy the story all the more now that you know there is a “real” connection to her, even if it is via blogland!


      1. I’m enjoying the book a lot, and it’s making my daily commute more enjoyable. And I think of you everytime I start the car and start listening.


      2. Thank you!! That’s nice to know 🙂

        You have made my mind up now and I will do a post at some time about Manchester’s literary heritage. It will probably take some time to put together with photos and research etc, but I’m on a mission now!!


  4. Hi,
    I am really confused by the “there are no birds in Manchester”, I can think of a few. The church in Blackley is St. Peter’s and they have a website, Charles Birds came to Manchester around 1899 when the lead ran out with 8 kids, Charles Leonard had 4 kids (my great grandfather).


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