Thursday, 29 May 2014

A British German National

This week brings you the second guest post by Jo Vietzke, further investigating anti-German sentiment in County Durham.
Postcard of views of Consett, c.1910 (D/CL 27/277/375)
D/CL 27/277/375 Postcard of views of Consett, c.1910
While I was researching the riot at Crook I also stumbled upon the story of the Yager family.  The anti-German violence in response to the sinking of the Lusitania was more contained in Consett  than the scenes that took place in Crook.  However, the windows of a pork butcher’s shop and of a chemist, both owned by members of the Yager family, were smashed.  This part of the reaction to the Lusitania particularly piqued my interest. 

On searching the 1911 census for the Yagers I found that Mary Yager was living with her daughter at the butcher’s shop that would later become the object of the mobs’ ire.   I was originally impressed with a woman and her daughter running a business which predominately employs men, even today.  It does appear as if she might have had some help from her son, Henry Fred, who is also listed as being a pork butcher on the 1911 census.  However, it was Mary and Sophia who lived at the shop and Mary who was listed as an “employer” while Henry and Sophia were her “workers”.  From the Kelly’s Directory for 1914 I also identified George Yager, another son, as owning the chemist’s shop next door.

The census stated that Mary, and all of her children, were born in England.  More curiously still, I found an entry on The National Archives catalogue stating that Mary had applied for English Naturalisation in April 1915.  For a while, I assumed that there must have been more than one Mary Yager, until I stumbled upon the “British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914”. 

Because Mary Yager had been married to a man of a different nationality, the 1914 law said that she also took on that nationality.  Even though her husband had been dead for over 10 years, and she had been born and lived all of her life in England, she was deemed to be German!  According to the census, Mary had lived in Consett since before 1891.  She had brought up her family and they had established businesses in the town.  It is easy, from my point of view, 100 years distant from these events, to be amazed and astonished at how this family became a target for such hatred and violence.  Perhaps, if we are being charitable, the attack on the Yagers of Consett, could be said to illustrate the extreme nature of the times; where one peaceful neighbour might be turned on by another simply because of the nationality of their deceased husband.

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