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Biography of Ada Stebbings (nee Wilson)

Ada Wilson

Born on 29 November 1900, Ada was the second daughter of Thomas George and Ada Wilson (nee Coates). In 1984, Ada left an account of her early years, including her memories of the Bombardment of the Hartlepools and a Zeppelin raid.  Excerpts are as follows:

“One morning rather early in December 1914 having just left school and being one of a large family, 4 brothers and one sister and my mother pregnant, we were awakened by loud noises which we found out was gun fire being fired at us from a ship at sea.  The family went downstairs where my mother got us all to hide under a heavy table in the dining room.  We were very lucky as a lady living 2 doors away went out to the gate and was hit in the face by shrapnel.  There was a scare that we were to be bombarded again on the Friday so all the family went to Spennymoor to a relative and we slept where we could.”

Ada continues:

“We soon came home and I got work in a small boot and shoe shop.  As I wished to better myself I left after a few months and applied for work in a stockbroker’s office.  I started there on Jan. 2nd 1916 and was employed until 1921 when with one or two other female colleagues our services were terminated due to the return of men from the war.  While we were working we were asked to visit relatives of men killed in the war for particulars . . . and we compiled a list which with our names was buried in the War Memorial while it was being erected.”

She also writes that:

“I have a postcard of damage done to houses in Hartlepool. . . . I was taught typewriting in the office but went to evening classes for shorthand.  One night a zeppelin was sighted.  I don’t know if we were bombed but I remember running home, about a mile, in panic.  My father, who was a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy, was at sea all during the war. . . .”

Ada then describes how her father survived two sinkings by U-boat and how he narrowly escaped internment at Bremerhaven upon the outbreak of hostilities, mentioning her brother Tom’s enlistment.  The stockbroker’s where Ada worked was S. T. Coulson’s in Church Street.  Upon leaving his employ she worked at the local labour exchange, being appointed union representative.  Ada’s friend was May Bowden, who later married a shipping magnate and had the honour of launching a ship.

Ada Wilson married George Stebbings, an electrician.  He was the son of Charles Stebbings, Head Gardener to Lt. Col. Wm. Thomlinson of The Green, Seaton Carew.  Thomlinson was managing director of the local blast furnaces.  In later life Colonel Thomlinson sat for a portrait, now in the collection of Hartlepool’s Museum Service.  It was Charles Stebbings’ proud boast that he’d grown the flower shown in his employer’s buttonhole!  His wife, Isabella, had once been maid to the Dowager Lady Oswald.  A very prim and proper Highland Scot, she was rather taken aback by the relatively easy-going manners of the Wilson family!  Charles and Isabella lived in a tithe-cottage at 10 Station Lane.  Both are buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Seaton Carew.

After her marriage Ada converted from the Wilsons’ Primitive Methodism to her husband’s Scottish Presbyterian faith.  Owing to mass unemployment in the Northeast the couple also moved away to Leeds, where Polly Proudfoot, one of Ada’s aunts kept a lodging house and her clientele was composed of Anglican clerics.  At Leeds, George Stebbings found work with a firm of insulation engineers, rising to become weaving manager.  He died of an asbestos-related disease age 48.

By the time of George’s passing he and Ada were divorced.  The couple had one child, Dorothy, who went to school in Glasgow and Lancaster.  She trained as a nurse, later retraining to become a secondary school teacher (English and French).  Dorothy and her husband Douglas, a production engineer, had two daughters.  Both are graduates (business and languages respectively).

Ada Stebbings (nee Wilson) passed away in a Leeds nursing home in 1997.  Her faculties remained intact to the end and she was able to recognise her nephew, Jim Wilson, during his television appearance as Project Engineer on the restoration of Britain’s first battleship, H.M.S. “Warrior” (1860).

Ada Wilson is remembered as an unorthodox and intelligent woman.  A keen cyclist she was an early vegetarian and, like many of the Wilsons, a decent artist.

Source: “The Wilsons of Whitby and West Hartlepool,” Vol. 4 by Stuart James Wilson.  See images.  

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