A SPECIALLY designed headstone is being installed in York Cemetery in memory of a Hollywood actor’s ancestors who lived in poverty in the city.
York-born actor Mark Addy, who rose to fame in The Full Monty, learned about his great-grandparents’ struggles through the BBC2 documentary A Life Without Work, which aired in 2010.
The programme focused on Seebohm Rowntree’s pioneering work documenting how people were living in poverty in York.
His study highlighted eight families, one of them revealed in the programme to be the ancestors of Mr Addy, star of blockbuster film Robin Hood and BBC series Atlantis.
Three generations ago the actor’s great-grandfather, John Thomas Addy, struggled to find work and support his family, with only five of his 22 children surviving beyond infancy.
In the documentary Mr Addy was seen retracing his great-grandfather’s steps to Naburn Wharf, where he went in a vain attempt to find work, and visiting the site of the Hungate slums where his family had lived in the late 1800s before settling in Walmgate.
Mr Addy was also filmed visiting an unmarked plot in York Cemetery where his family was laid to rest, unable to afford a headstone.
After watching the programme, J Rotherham Stonemasons, based in Holme-on-Spalding Moor, offered its services and set to work creating a headstone for the family.
Adrian Buckley, monumental manager at the firm, said: “We saw Mark Addy looking at a bare patch of ground where his ancestors were buried and we wanted to help them to create a lasting tribute to their family. It is an amazing rags-to- riches story and we are delighted to be a small part of it.”
The documentary featured extracts from Seebohm Rowntree’s research which stated: “This was no family of undeserving poor. They are a sober, decent, well-living family, always eager for and willing to do any work however poorly paid.”
Mr Addy said: “We are grateful that we have a lasting memorial for our ancestors. We were thrilled when Rotherham’s offered to design a unique stone for our family.
“The whole process has been wonderful and the end result has completely exceeded all our expectations. It is the last page of the story and I am pleased we can give something back.”
The programme also uncovered a diary kept by John Addy, in which he talks about his son Sydney.
When Mr Addy’s father Ian was shown the diary, he found the details very moving. He still lives in York and spent his working life as a glazier at York Minster.
His own father, the same Sydney mentioned in the diary, worked at Rowntrees and Ian had no idea his family’s history had been so carefully recorded or that his father grew up in such harsh conditions.
Ian said: “It’s just an age that’s gone by and looking through a keyhole and seeing that, I realise how lucky we are now and how much things have changed for the better.
“The memorial stone is really beautiful. I have enjoyed seeing how it has evolved through from the design to the crafting of this magnificent finished piece of work.
“Our family has been in York for centuries and this is a really fitting tribute. We are really grateful to Rotherhams.”