Private James Elston

This is one of a series of posts about local men named on the Keighley Union Workhouse roll of honour.
James and his brother John Helston were both under the care of the Keighley Guardians under the name Elston although various records show their surname as Helston. This may have been down to poor literacy on the part of their parents.

James Elston of Keighley in 1927. Source: Leeds Mercury.

James Helston was born on the 22nd June 1893, to John Helston and Catharine Helston née Sweeney. His birth was registered at Keighley in the third quarter of the year. A couple of years earlier in the 1891 census the family were boarding with the Sweeney family at Cabbage Fold in Keighley. This area is now long since demolished and a large Morrison's supermarket and car park now sits in the same spot.
In 1901 James was nine years old and living at 11, Rhodes Street in Keighley with his parents and sisters Elizabeth, Jane and Catharine, and a brother, John. His father John was an Ironfounders labourer. James was a schoolboy at that time.

Criminal convictions:

James was convicted of larceny on 5th December 1907 when he was bound over by the Keighley court.
He was again convicted of larceny on 3rd September 1908 in Keighley, this resulted in a much stiffer sentence of around four years (until his 19th birthday) at [1] St William's Community Home, a Catholic reform school for boys near Market Weighton in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He was 15 when he entered the home and he would have been discharged on licence on 29th February 1912, and this would become a full discharge on 21st June 1912.
The details of the archive records state that his father John Helston, a moulder, had deserted his family and was living at 22, Wellington Street in Keighley, whist his mother Catherine Helston was in the Keighley Workhouse along with sons John jr., Joseph and Samuel. Jane was 16 and an inmate at a servant's home in Sheffield, in training for domestic service under a matron and her assistant.

In the 1911 census James was aged 17 and described as an inmate at the Catholic Boys Reformatory School at Holme upon Spalding Moor in East Yorkshire. His occupation was given as School part time - Farm boy labourer. The boys reform school was a couple of miles to the South of Market Weighton in open countryside so it would have been much healthier than the rather industrial atmosphere of Keighley and we would hope it would have been a very positive thing for a young lad's health and well being. All was not rosy though as it seems he either absconded or was on some kind of day release, when he was arrested for begging at Market Weighton and convicted at Selby. He was imprisoned for 14 days on 27th January 1912 and his sentence was completed on 9th February but obviously this did not go down very well at the reformatory school. He eventually left there on 11th June 1913, which was just 11 days before his 20th birthday, so it appears his original sentence was extended because of this conviction for begging.

War service:
We know he served because his name is on the Workhouse roll of honour but we can not connect any specific service records to him, although there are a number under the surname Elston and the alternative spelling of Helston. There is a 1919 electoral roll for James Helston at 56, Wellington Street in Keighley (living with his father John Helston) which gives his voting qualification as 'NM' meaning he was an absent 'Naval and Military' voter and that he may still have been serving in 1919, although it's also likely that he was serving when the electoral list was drawn up, as opposed to the time it was published.
From 1919 onwards James lived at 23, Henry Street in Keighley until 1922 when he moved to 56, Wellington Street where he lived along with other boarders.

Later life:
James' name appeared in the Leeds Mercury newspaper in 1927 because he had agreed to be hypnotised on stage by a Professor Merrill. James wasn't the only person to submit to this and it caused quite a stir at the time because it was on stage and some stayed in a trance for quite a long time. There was a question over whether this was a legal and moral thing to do and the professor was in court defending his position against the testimony of several medical experts. James was called as a witness to give evidence about it and fortunately for us his photograph also appears in ths newspaper.
By 1936 he had moved to 56, Woodhouse Way, Keighley and then he is absent from the Keighley Electoral roll after 1940.
In 1938 he married Fanny Greenwood at Keighley and this was registered in the final quarter of that year. They were stil living at 56, Woodhouse Way in Keighley and James was described as a farm labourer and Fanny was described as 'unpaid domestic duties.' There are three redacted entries for this address so they may have had several children living with them, or they could have been lodgers or boarders.
The second page of the 1939 register shows a further entry against James' name, indicating that he served with the National Defence Company which was established in September 1936 for former members of the British armed forces which is a further indication he had served. These Companies became the Home Service Battalions in 1939.

Birth records show a Jack Elston born in Keighley in 1940 and a Mavis Elston born in Keighley in 1941 and both these records show their mother's maiden name was Greenwood so it's possible that Jack and Mavis were children of James and Fanny.

James died at the age of 63 and his death was registered in Bradford in September of 1955.

Source information:
England and Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
Keighley's Gallant Sons, held at Keighley Library
Keighley News archives at Keighley Library
Keighley Union Workhouse roll of honour held at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley
West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962
The 1939 England and Wales Register.
The Leeds Mercury Newspaper, via the British Newspaper Archive.
National Library of Scotland mapping service
Children's Homes website.
The East Riding Archives hold records for St. William's Community Home.

[1] This was a Roman Catholic Reform School led by Roman Catholic priests and situated to the South West of Market Weighton in East Yorkshire. Formerly known as the Yorkshire Roman Catholic Reformatory for Boys, Market Weighton, East Riding of Yorkshire, the name was changed to St. William's School for training Catholic Boys in 1906.

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