You don’t need fame to discover ancestors with storied lives

Suffragette Kate Evans.
Suffragette Kate Evans.

People have long been fascinated by their family history and the lives their relatives lived.

The BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ – where celebrities delve into the mysteries of their family tree –is a prime example of the nation’s interest in the tales buried in the past.

Karen with 7-year-old Dexter.

Karen with 7-year-old Dexter.

However you don’t necessarily have to be famous to discover ancestors with storied lives, as one woman from Wesham knows.

Karen Paton-Chesney has always known about her great aunt’s life but now that story is being shared with the wider public.

She spoke to The Gazette ahead of the release of a new book about her famous relative, Kate Evans – a Suffragette leader, Broadway star and friend to the famous Novello family.

She was born in 1884 in Paisley, Scotland, and her father was General Evans of the Scottish Gospel Army.

Clara Novello.

Clara Novello.

Kate was one of the founding members of the Women’s Freedom League, which didn’t disband until 1961.

The league fought on after other Suffragette movements had been disbanded and their final triumph came in 1959 when women peeresses took their seats in the House of Lords.

As well as being a Suffragette, Kate also went on to have a showbiz life.

She was,for a number of years, the private secretary, business manager and press representative for Clara Novello Davies, the singer and conductor mother of Ivor Novello.

Ivor Novello

Ivor Novello

During this time she lived in New York after spending a number of years in London.

Karen, 58, has a number of photos and letters of both Clara and Ivor including a personal recommendation written by Clara.

It said: “Miss Evans possesses initiative and exceptional mental qualities that have made her services invaluable to me, and she relieved me of all correspondence and managed my many professional and business affairs most capably.”

She was also a star on Broadway during the 1920s.

Letter from Clara Novello

Letter from Clara Novello

Karen has a collection of newspaper cuttings from 1968, the 50th anniversary of women getting the right to vote for the first time.

One of the articles says: “Kate’s career on the stage brought her great acclaim and she was billed as ‘Scotland’s Greatest Commedienne’ and ‘The Scottish Queen of Laughter’ with all her sketches written by herself.”

Kate, who never married or had children, remained active even into her later years and made regular trips to London to keep in touch with friends. She passed away in 1974.

Karen recalls the memories she has with her grandmother and spending time at her grand home in Scotland called Roneil.

She said: “When I was growing up, we used to go up to Scotland every other weekend to see my grandmother and the other relatives.

“That is when I got to see my Auntie Kate and even at the age of nine I can still remember the talks we used to have.

Karen's mum Doreen Paton.

Karen's mum Doreen Paton.

“She used to tell me a lot of interesting stuff including her past.

“I think I was her favourite niece, as she didn’t see any of the other relatives as much because they were in Australia, so we were the only regular relatives she saw.”

A new book, which is due to come out later this year, has been put together with all of the belongings and artefacts that Karen and her cousin Hazel have kept.

Karen added: “It is only after meeting up with Hazel after years and years of not seeing each other that we have managed to get all of this sorted and Hazel has found an author who wanted to write a book about Kate’s life.”

Karen says the book would probably not have been possible if it wasn’t for her late mother keeping all of the photos and letters that had been passed down to her.

Her mum, Doreen Paton, was killed as she crossed the road at Clifton Marsh in 2003 . The 74-year-old had been crossing the busy road to visit Karen when she was hit by a car.

Karen added: “She has kept all of these things over the years and after she died I knew I couldn’t get rid of any of it.

“She always said to me ‘never get rid of any photographs’ which I have stuck by.

Some items, such as postcards, Karen did auction however she regrets doing so as she would have liked to keep them as a whole collection.

Karen was born in Warton and lived there until 2003 when she moved to Kirkham following her mum’s accident.

She settled in Wesham in 2008 and works at Kirkham police station as an administration assistant.

Karen says she is still learning now about her family tree and finds it really interesting to see what her former relatives lives were like.

She explained she is in the process of creating a photo album with everything dated in it so she can pass it onto her grandaughters Holly, 13, and Ruby, nine, who live in Ashton, Preston.

And there may be even more to uncover as Karen says she has more items in her attic that she needs to get down, including a published poem book of Kate’s.

She added: “I do need to get round to doing it as it is all part of the history and you never know, I might find something else worth sharing.”