Revealed: Hollywood legend’s York family connections

Shambles as her family would have known it, in this extract from an old York postcard
17 Sep 2015 @ 8.36 pm
| News

On Saturday (September 19), one of the Hollywood greats will be honoured in York. Treasurer’s House is to host a blockbuster exhibition dedicated to the life of Vivien Leigh, star of Gone With The Wind and one of Britain’s international movie greats.

Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives

Treasurer’s House, Minster Yard, York YO1 7JL

Sat Sept 19 – Sun Dec 20

Entry to the house – adult £7.20; child £3.60

Treasurer’s House website

And yet this isn’t the only time Miss Leigh, who died in 1967, has had a York connection. A number of her family lived in the city.

Leigh’s mother and father, Ernest and Gertrude Hartley, were both from Bridlington. Her grandfather lived in Selby in the later part of the 19th century.

Meanwhile Ernest’s mother Elizabeth came from a family of York butchers.

Vivien Leigh’s great-great-great grandfather, William Houlgate, was a butcher at number 16 the Shambles in 1830.

The business was maintained into the 1930s by her great uncles, John and Richard Houlgate, who lived next door to one another at numbers 17 and 18 Shambles.

Different life

Richard was one of three men who re-started the butchers’ Gild.

His great-nephew, John ‘Jack’ Houlgate described a life very different from the Hollywood glamour game in Van Wilson’s history of Shambles, Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers.

“My father was an electrician and when my granddad died, my granny asked him to take over the shop,” Jack said.

The business was truly a family affair; “my mother kept it going during the war years because my father went to the Co-op and was distributing meat all over Yorkshire”.

Famous relative: Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind. Photograph © The Photographer on Wikipedia
Famous relative: Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind. Photograph © The Photographer on Wikipedia

Jack Houlgate, known as the last man to be born in Shambles in 1923 at No 5 Little Shambles, acquired the skills of the trade himself:

The slaughterman for my father was always drunk and he used to make a mess of the hides. So he got another lad, Jack Linfoot.

Jack showed me how to dress sheep. I took over that and eventually I was dressing sheep for a man from Harrogate.

Jack also described how the Houlgate family were deeply associated with York’s rich trading history, “the first slaughterhouse in The Shambles was up a passage and five butchers used to slaughter there, my dad, Aspinalls, Johnsons, Linfoot”.

Ernest and Gertrude moved to India before Vivien was born – she arrived in Darjeeling in November 1913, before being bundled off to a London boarding school aged six.

Quite how much she knew of York and her family here, we’re unsure. Although we did hear tell that she visited once with her famous husband Laurence Olivier…