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.