Monday, February 6, 2012

Great grandfather Charles

This is my paternal great grandfather Charles in the only photograph I have of him and it shows him a matter of weeks before his death, holding his grandson Dennis.

He was born in 1847 to a veteran of Waterloo, and lived his whole life in a tiny fenland village. He worked on the land, but maybe had some aspirations as he learned to operate a steam engine.

He was married twice. He had twelve children with his first wife, and four with his second; a total of sixteen which seems a vast number to me...but then there was no birth control was there at this time?

Three children from his first marriage died in tragic circumstances. In fact he was the cause of Ethel's death:

On Monday an inquest was held before Mr T.L.R---, coroner, on the body of Ethel Bruce,aged 10, who died from the results of an accident which occurred on Tuesday, 2nd inst. It appeared that her father, Charles Bruce, was driving Mr P----'s traction engine, to which was attached a drum and elevator, along the road from Wereham to West Dereham; and when opposite his cottage he stopped to take water for the engine. Ethel and another child ran out and got under the train, and then climbed on to the chain attaching the elevator to the engine. The engine soon afterwards proceeded, and the children rode on the chain for about 150 yards, when they dismounted, one of them safely, but Ethel fell, and though the wheels did not pass over her, one of them caught her left knee, inflicting a wound of a rather serious character. The poor child was taken home and a surgeon called in; but she died on Friday, 5th inst, after intense suffering. The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death".

How do you move on from that kind of event? Especially when he goes on to lose his wife Ann three years later in childbirth, with his twelfth child. He is left alone with nine surviving children, of which five are under the age of ten. So he takes a housekeeper from the village. A woman sixteen years his junior, with a young illegitimate child of her own to care for. At what point does a relationship form between Charles and his housekeeper Jessie? I like to think it's all above board for the first few years. And then on Christmas Day 1896 Charles and she get married. Jessie's daughter is thirteen by now, she is at an age to start contributing to the family income , which she does by becoming a dressmaker.
He then goes on to have two more children with Jessie over the next four years. The new century sees Charles beginning to slow down. He's 52 and still working on the land (hasn't driven a traction engine since that fateful day in 1888). The tiny village cottage houses children from both his marriages, his step daughter and his new father in law; seven people in a 2 up 2 down cottage. Father in law Henry dies in 1902. A son marries in 1904. Child number three is born in 1905. A daughter marries in 1906. Another son marries in 1910. Stepdaughter marries in 1913. Normal events that mark the passage of time. Baptisms, marriages and burials. But around the corner something apocalyptic is waiting in the wings. War arrives in 1914. Even their tiny fenland village is touched. Two sons enlist. One dies almost immediately in November 1914, the other holds on for two long bloody years.
I know little of his remaining years. Family memories are of an old, sad, broken man. He finally succombs in 1922, and is buried in the family churchyard where his gravestone is still legible. His widow Jessie survives him for another 38 years.

1 comment:

SheilaMatilda said...

very moving story Sheila