For today's Object of the week, Josie Bland, of Skelton History Group describes her research on a quilt which was recently donated from America to the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum.

MY research on the Emmerson family of Skelton, my mother’s ancestors, has led me to an extraordinary object.

In 1926, a time of severe economic depression, Ethel and Harry Symons, and their five-year-old son, emigrated to the United States from Skelton in Cleveland, where Harry had been a mechanic at a local ironstone mine.

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They eventually arrived in Chicago, where they made their home. Ethel took few possessions on this trip: clothes of course, but no household objects – except one. A handmade, double bed sized quilt, a patchwork of intensely patriotic imagery. At its centre, a date – June 6, 1917.

Her granddaughter, Sharon Symons, visited Skelton in 2019 to explore her grandparent’s past and was shown round by three of us from the Skelton History Group.

Inside All Saints Church, where Ethel and Harry married in 1920, Sharon showed us six striking photographs of a quilt belonging to her grandmother. This was the first we knew of the quilt’s existence.

Sharon confessed she was puzzled by the date on the central panel, but my colleague’s research revealed that Ethel Beatrice Emmerson of Hollybush Farm, Skelton, had married William Edwin Mills, Water Board Clerk and son of Skelton Castle’s gamekeeper, in All Saints on June 6, 1917 – The date on the quilt. Ethel had been married before.

The Northern Echo: The date stitched into a panel on the quilt – June 6, 1917 – had puzzled the family of the woman who made it

A heartbreaking story unfolded. Married to Ethel for only eight short days, on June 14,1917, Billy Mills entered the military as an able seaman, one of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves.

Called upon to support the army, on October 17, Billy went to the front, part of the British Expeditionary Force. In November he joined the Hood Battalion and on the December 30, 1917 he was killed on the Somme battlefields.

When did Ethel sew the quilt? On the long evenings after Billy left? Or in the months after he died? It was clearly very dear to her.

She bequeathed it to her granddaughters, and it was stored at Sharon’s sister’s home in Chicago. However, the sisters worried about the quilt’s future.

Happily, The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum provided the perfect solution. The quilt has come home, to be part of its permanent display. Ethel, who liked things done properly, would have been delighted.

* The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum, in Skinningrove, will open autumn next year with a £2.3 million extension.

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