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Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

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York waifs and strays:  Ina and Nancy Dixon are boarded out

In 1881 York Poor Law Union set up a pilot scheme to test the feasibility of boarding out (fostering) abandoned or orphaned children in its care (see York waifs and strays) Ina and Nancy Dixon, deserted by their parents, were among the twenty children selected. They were boarded with William and Selina Clarkson, who had never had any children of their own and the experiment proved very successful. They had a stable childhood and education, attending Micklegate School, and remained close to the Clarksons after they grew up and had families of their own. This is their story. 

Four little girls, Ina, Jenny, Nancy and Louie Dixon, all under six years old, ended up in the York Union Workhouse after being deserted by their parents.

In a perfect world, their father John Dixon would have become a small farmer like his father James, who owned land and property in Huntington. But the 1870s brought a severe agricultural depression, John’s father sold up and John had to become an agricultural labourer, with a small wage and a large family to support.

Dixons Tree cropped

Just before his youngest daughter Lila was born, he hit rock bottom and had to ask the Poor Law Union for help. Although destitute, he was able-bodied and in work, so he received only a very grudging hand-out of provisions. John’s wife Annie may also have been struggling, as Lila was her fifth child in six years, and at some point in 1880 the older girls moved to Osbaldwick, which suggests they were with their maternal grandmother Mary Pearson. On 26 November, they were admitted to the Workhouse from Osbaldwick. Unfortunately, the Application and Report Books for this period are missing, so the exact circumstances are a mystery, though later documents confirm that the Poor Law Union had no idea who the children’s parents were. The Workhouse Admissions book provides a very basic reason for their admittance: “Sick”.

The four sisters were in the Workhouse when the 1881 Census was taken but, although they had been there for around four months, the staff were unclear about which one was which. In mitigation, Census Day required the staff to fill in details of over 700 people, put them into rough alphabetical order and arrange them in family groups, so it is not surprising that errors were made.

Dixons Census 1881 cropped

1881 Census, Workhouse, York Poor Law Union

They got the ages correct – 6, 5 year old twins, and 3 ½  – but they matched them to the wrong children. The twins were actually Ann Elizabeth (Nancy) and Mary Jane (Jenny). The youngest was Maria Louisa (Louie), who was born in Huntington not York, and there is so much wrong with the fourth entry that it may not even be Ina at all. The details which point to Ina are: a) she was admitted into the Workhouse as Ann, and, b) she was born in Stepney, Hull, close to a sub-parish of Holy Trinity called Myton, which could have been misheard as Murton, a place closer and more familiar to York. Also, I have not been able to find Ina anywhere else on the 1881 Census.

This illustrates how impersonal care in the Workhouse could be, which is shocking to us.  At the time, however, the Guardians were more concerned by moral contamination.  Workhouse accommodation for girls was also overcrowded, so in 1881 action was taken. A pilot scheme was set up to test the feasibility of boarding out orphans and deserted children. A trial group of twenty children was selected, and Ina and Nancy were included.

They were boarded with William and Selina Clarkson, who had never had any children of their own. William Clarkson at the time was a shoemaker, later to become a labourer with the North Eastern Railway, and the couple fulfilled the PLU’s strict accommodation and respectability criteria. But why were the twins not boarded out together? Was it because Mary Jane (Jenny) was lame – she had a club foot – or were Ina and Nancy just more docile? An interesting hypothesis from Nancy’s great-grandson, is that the Clarksons knew Ina already and asked for her personally. Ina, her mother Annie, unmarried at this point, and the Clarksons were all living in the same small area of Hull when Ina was born and registered (presumably to keep them at a safe distance her from her father Thomas Luty’s existing wife in York.)

The placement was successful. The sisters had a very stable home life and attended Micklegate Infants and Girls’ SchooIs throughout their school careers. Their education was patchy (see York waifs and strays: Ina and Nancy Dixon go to Micklegate School), but Ina’s talent for needlework was developed and she later became a dressmaker.

Ina and Nancy stayed with the Clarksons until they became adults. Nancy was close to William and Selina even after she married William Dunn – on the 1901 Census their daughter Muriel was visiting the Clarkson home and is described as their granddaughter, though subsequent censuses do not throw up any clues as to their later relationships.  DUNN, Annie Elizabeth & Muriel circ 1899

Nancy and Muriel, circ. 1900

The bond with Ina was stronger. She remained with William and Selina at least until the 1901 Census, working from home as a dressmaker. It is interesting how her name changes over the years. In the 1891 Census, she was Ina Dixon, Boarder. (As she was now sixteen she would no longer have been funded by the Poor Law Union.) In 1901, she was Ina Dixon Clarkson, Adopted daughter. When she married James Rider in 1907 at the late age of 33, she got rid of the Dixon connection altogether, and gave her name as Ina Graves Lutey [sic] Clarkson. Graves and Luty were her biological parents and she named Thomas Luty as her father, but she chose Clarkson as her surname. Her daughter born in 1909 was called Ina Mary Selina Rider, honouring her foster mother, and possibly also her maternal grandmother Mary Pearson of Osbaldwick.

Ina had found her forever family. She stayed close to the Clarksons until they died. On the 1921 Census Selina was a very old lady of seventy three, and a visitor to the Rider family, where she is described as Wife’s adopted mother. They are still together in death.  William and Selina Clarkson, and Ina and George Rider all share plot 3264½ in York Cemetery.


Birth certificate, Ina Luty. No.  276, 25 April 1874, Stepney, Hull.

Baptism, Annie Eiizabeth Dixon. 9 Feb 1876, St Lawrence Church, York

York Poor Law Union, Application & Report Books, Rural Districts, PLU/3/1/1/95, p. 46, Parish of Warthill, Mar 1880. [In: ExploreYork]

York Poor Law Union, York, Registers of admissions and discharges for York Union Workhouse, PLU/2/1/1/,1 26 Nov 1880. [IN: ExploreYork]

York Poor Law Union, Guardians' Minutes, PLU/1/1/1/19, p. 322, [Details of boarding out] 2 June 1881 [In: York Explore]  

1881 Census, York - 1901 Census, York - 1921 Census, York

Marriage certificate. Ina Clarkson – James Rider, 1907, St James Church, Halifax.

York Cemetery records, Plot 3264½