Sunday, April 29, 2012

the WEEDENs and the Anchor Brewery and Charles Booth's poverty survey

I came across something interesting this week with regard to my Southwark ancestors (the porters, coopers, etc). I know from the various censuses that they lived within spitting distance of the Thames, and now I've discovered that Gainsford St where Richard WEEDEN and his family were living for several years, was owned by Courage Brewery. So, it would appear that this is who they worked for. The map below shows quite clearly the block that the Anchor Brewhouse took up, with Gainsford St running NW to SE near the bottom. The Courage website gives details of the history of the brewery, which brewed at the Anchor Brewery

So I went looking for more on the history of the Brewery and got sidetracked into Charles Booth's study of poverty in London. (more to come)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jonathan and Rebekah WEEDEN

Today I'm going to write about Jonathan WEEDEN, my 4x great grandfather.  I have managed to gather several documents about his life despite him living almost 275 years ago, including his marriage bond, and his will. His will, in particular, allowed a very high brick wall to be knocked down!!

He was born on 4 May 1750 in Chears Yard, Bermondsey and baptised 9 days later at St Mary Magdalene Church, Bermondsey, son of George WEEDEN, gardener, and Mercy his wife.

Jonathon married twice. Firstly to Sarah Carter by licence on 1 Aug 1770. The marriage bond is available, and quite exciting as it's the only marriage bond I've ever seen. How exciting to be able to view his actual signature! From this document I was able to see that he was living in the parish of St Olave's Hart Street. (Samuel Pepys' parish). Not far north of the river and close to the Tower of London.

Jonathan was a porter, and worked the route across the river from the City of London into Southwark. I know this from a 1772 document viewed online from the National Archives: George Mills accused of stealing a silk handkerchief from the pocket of Jonathan Weeden of Nightingale Lane, City of London, porter, as it he bringing a load out of the City into the Borough of Southwark and the end of Tooley Street.

Sarah died in Dec 1771, just 16 months after their marriage. Their daughter Susannah, born May 1771, died aged  just 18 months.

 Jonathan was now free to remarry,  to Rebekah BRITTON  on 15 May 1774 at St George the Martyr, Southwark by banns, (another lovely flourishing signature from Jonathan, and an X for Rebekah). One of the witnesses was George WEEDEN,  (his brother, as his father George had died in 1742). They had 10 children, and their baptism records show that the family had settled in Southwark after this marriage, living on Five Foot Lane. Jonathan's occupation varied between victualler, porter and Gent!

Jonathan died on 14 Aug 1792 in Lambeth, and was buried back at St Mary Magdalene Church, Bermondsey in a vault in the churchyard. (I am unable to read what it says in the PR after that. Looks like Desk Sewin???**)

Jonathan's will was published on 25th August, and described him as 'late Ticket Porter, now Victualler of Lambeth , Surrey.' Rebekah died in 1805, and also left an informative will.

** Eric thinks it says Desk Service, and I agree....but what does that mean?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Frank Winnold PRENTICE-Titanic survivor, born Downham Market, Norfolk

Frank Prentice-survivor
Today's posting is a diversion from my family tree, although the person it describes was born in my town.

Frank Winnold PRENTICE was born in Downham Market, Norfolk on 17 Feb 1889.
When he signed-on to the Titanic, on 4th April 1912, he gave his address as 71 Denzil Avenue, Southampton. He transferred from the Celtic. As an Assistant Storekeeper he received monthly wages of £3 15s.

At the time of the collision, Prentice was in his berth on the port side of E deck (a cabin he shared with 5 other kitchen storekeepers) sitting in his bunk talking to another storekeeper. He didn't notice anything strange other than the ship stopping. He went up onto the promenade deck to survey the scene and saw the forward well deck covered in ice. 

He either helped to load the lifeboats or watched the loading, but later in the night he ended up on the poop deck chatting with his mates. 

Cyril Ricks-victim
When the poop deck became crowded with people, Prentice, with his colleagues Cyril Ricks and Michael Kieran, climbed over the port side railing and jumped into the icy water. He found Ricks was injured, and floating nearby, and stayed with the man until Ricks died. Prentice began swimming and found Lifeboat 4, where the crew and women in the boat pulled him in.  He had earlier helped a wealthy Los Angeles socialite put on her life jacket. She was in lifeboat 4 and recognised him after he had been picked up and wrapped her coat round him – helping him to live.

Prentice signed-on to the Oceanic on 10 July 1912. He later recalled that he was on board when one of Titanic's lifeboats was found drifting in mid-Atlantic. He was the only one of the five Norfolk survivors to cross the Atlantic again.  

Here are two clips from interviews. Frank features in both videos.His memories are strong, and he still feels the pain after all these years.


Shortly before his death  Frank Prentice told his story in a British documentary Titanic: A Question of Murder. He died on 30 May 1982 at the age of 92

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Bonnets 1960

Here I am with my elder sister Cynthia on Easter Sunday 1960. We are wearing our Easter bonnets, so have either just returned from Sunday School, or are about to go. We attended the Union Chapel at Hunstanton. 

 Easter Sunday meant chocolate! This was courtesy of my great aunt Ada who ran a sweet shop in London. Every Easter she sent us a huge box full of chocolate eggs, which stood on the piano for at least a week before Easter. Of course we were not allowed them until Easter Day!!!


Friday, April 6, 2012

Richard James WEEDEN my great great uncle

Richard James WEEDEN was the brother of my great, great grandfather Joseph. I had no knowledge of him until I started researching, and was lucky enough, through the internet, to make contact with two of his direct descendants who were able to send me today's images.

Richard is a name that runs through the WEEDEN family, normally given to the eldest son. So, Richard was the oldest son of Richard (still to come) and Sarah (nee DOWNES) born on 13 Feb 1856 at John St, Southwark. In 1861 the family had moved to 59, Gainsford St, Southwark, Surrey. Gainsford Street is in the heart of Docklands today, so I have no idea what their house looked like. Richard father was a cooper, like his son Joseph.

Ten years later in 1871, the family have moved again to Freeschool St, Southwark St John, Richard is 15, but no occupation is listed for him.

By 1881, a new address, Three Oak Lane. Richard is now 25, still unmarried, and has followed his father's occupation into cooperage (barrel making).

Louisa Hogg
Holy Trinity
On 5 Aug 1882, Richard married Louisa HOGG  in Holy Trinity Church, Newington. [I've just discovered that in 1973, when plans to convert it into an orchestral rehearsal hall were well under way, the building burnt overnight in a spectacular fire, which destroyed most of the interior. It was recon­structed as Henry Wood Hall].

Richard James and Louisa had seven children, all of which survived to adulthood. Their family lived at Monson Road for at least the next thirty years. I have photos of three of their children.

Helen b. 1888
Edward (Teddy) b. 1893
Winifred Kate (Kitty) b. 1899

Remarkably, 87, Monson Rd survived the Blitz, and I was able to find a photograph of it!

Richard died in Arundel, Sussex in 1936.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

MIMMS/JONES in Canada (continued from 30th March)

What I know about Margaret and John's children in Canada:

Having arrived in 1912, they had two further sons. Thomas E Jones in 1915, and Herbert Jones in 1917. 
Their John Arthur Jones married Victoria Edith Morrow on 9 Nov 1923, Carleton, Ontario.
Their daughter Ella Jones married Charles Walter Lavergne on 11 Feb 1926, Carleton, Ontario. She died on 4 Aug 1930 (perhaps in childbirth).

The 1930 US census shows that John and Margaret with two of their sons, Herbert and Thomas E, were living at Parson's Boulevard, Queens, New York City, USA. John was a plasterer. This census tells me the birth years of these two Canadian-born sons. It also tells me when the family went from Canada to USA (1924)

On 23rd Sep 1931, John Jones attempted to cross back from USA into Canada. Currently I don't know what took him to USA.  The manifest which has survived is full of useful information. It shows that he was aged 53, from Brighton, England, married, and his mother's name was Helen Jones, currently residing at Islington Rd, Brighton, Susses, England. Additionally, he had lived in Canada before, between 11 April 1907 and 16 Jun 1924 living at 19, Lett St, Ottawa. The address to which he was trying to travel was his son's house, Earl JONES, 15, Finlay Ave, Ottawa. He was in possession of $150. His application was rejected.

However, he tried again on 2 November 1931. He travelled to Ottawa, Ontario. This time, he stated that his previous place of residence was St John, NB. He was accepted. Margaret wasn't accompanying him.

She has her own manifest 24 days after John was readmitted. Dated 26 November 1931, as Mrs Margaret Jones, housewife, travelling with two Canadian born sons (not named). Previously resident in Canada 1912-1924, Ottawa.  Husband John Jones of 15, Findlay Ave, Ottawa. Next of kin, Louise Godden, sister, of 82, Preston Drive, Brighton, England. $25 to her name. They were accepted.

I was hoping to have received some photos of this branch by now, but have decided to post today as I want to get backto maternal father's line of the Weedens tomorrow., starting with Joseph WEEDEN's brother Richard James.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

James and Ann MIMMS my 3x great grandparents

James MIMMS , born c1801, was the brother of John who I told you about yesterday. The situation for labouring families in Eynesbury had worsened in the previous nine years. By 1830 there was a severe agricultural depression. many were unemployed. John had, perhaps seen this depression coming. William Cobbett witnessed this unease up and down the country in 'Rural Rides'.

Two previous harvests had been very poor and 1830 looked to be no different. What made the difference and fuelled the unemployment was the adoption of threshing machines, This became the symbol of the labourers misery.  What followed was the greatest machine-breaking episodes in English history, and became known as the Swing Riots.

In the midst of this revolt, James MIMMS decided to leave his agricultural life behind him and seek his fortune in London,  as his elder brother had set out to do nine years earlier.  Perhaps he intended returning. We will never know. Presumably brother John had sent home letters with news of his alternative life selling fish.

James will have followed the Roman Great North Road towards London. Perhaps he walked some of the way, and sometimes managed to take a ride for some stretches. No doubt he slept in hedgerows. As he approached London he may have decided to visit John and Sarah in Hampstead. Again we will never know. What we do know is, that James continued into London, and in fact crossed the Thames to Southwark. This was the only ward of the City of London south of the river. James settled in Southwark St Thomas, marrying Ann WINFIELD there in 1833.

By 1841, James and Ann had a small family consisting of William, James and  Francis (future father of Margaret Wilhemina). James' occupation was a porter. In the following ten years, four more children were born (only one girl altogether). These were Thomas, Mary Ann, Benjamin and  John Henry WinfieldJames was now listed as an apprentice tin plate worker. They were, after all, living very close to the Thames, so undoubtedly there were opportunities for a variety of dock work, which kept many members of my family employed for another 70 odd years. We can follow his occupation through the baptisms of his seven children.  When he died a year after the 1851 census, his widow Ann described him as a cheesesmonger's warehouseman. James died of kidney failure on 11th June 1852. He was a patient in St Thomas's Hospital. However, the hospital unusually did not bury James. Somehow, Ann found the money to bury him privately in St Olave's Churchyard, Bermondsey, aged just 49.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

John MIMMS fish hawker of Hampstead - my great, great uncle

John was born in 1797, the son of John and Lydia MIMMS.  He was the first to leave his birth village of Eynesbury, to travel towards London to start a new life,  soon after his mother died in 1821.

Flask Walk early 1900s
He travelled as far as Hendon, where he met and married a local girl Sarah PEACOCK. They settled in the old and select village of Hampstead where they raised seven children. John spent his whole life in Hampstead where he worked as a fish hawker. They lived in Flask Walk, behind Flask Inn (formerly known as The Thatched House).
The Flask owes its name to a philanthropic bequest of 1689 when ‘six acres of waste land lying and being about certain medicinal waters called the wells’ were given over to the benefit of the poor of Hampstead.  Spring water was placed into flasks, which were sold for threepence each. The water was said to have medicinal qualities, and was sold throughout London.

John may well have sold fish from a stall like this

John died in April 1863, aged 66,  and was buried in Hampstead St John Churchyard.


Monday, April 2, 2012

John MIMMS and Lydia ENDERSBY of Eynesbury, Huntingdonshire

Hen Brook today
John MIMMS married Lydia ENDERSBY by licence on 24th Feb 1788 at St. Neot's Parish Church, Huntingdonshire..Their first child George was born just three months later. They lived their whole life in Eynesbury,  just across the small stream called Hen Brook which separated the village from the market town of St Neot's.

village sign
By 1805, their family complete,  they still had 10 out of 11 children, having lost just one the previous year(aged 15). Quite an achievement for the time!  They lived in very poor conditions in a small labourer's cottage. Peter MIMMS, my cousin who wrote "Only for Life" drew a comparison between their wattle and daub cottage, and those written about by Flora Thompson in 'Lark Rise to Candleford' 80 years later.  William Cobbett called them hovels, and the inhabitants, wretched. 

There was no piped water, even for the nearby town, until the end of the century. The sole village pump was next to the church. Clothes were washed in Hen Brook, and dried on the hedgerows.  John's wife Lydia died in 1821, and it was shortly after this, that son John set out for London (see next post).
St Neot's Workhouse, Eaton Socon

The area was famous for its lace-making, and their daughter Lydia earned her living as a lace-maker. When not in work she was found in the old parish Workhouse (in 1841). She never married and died at the age of 65 in St Neot's Workhouse, Eaton Socon. Her cause of death was 'exhaustion from chronic disease of brain and epilepsy'.

Eynesbury Church today

John lived until 1851, when he was in his 86th year. He joined his wife in the churchyard. A long and hard life, bringing up a young family during the French and Napoleonic Wars. 
Great Exhibition

His children had left home during the period of post-war depression, and the 'Swing Riots' of 1830. He survived the Hungry 40's, and died in the year of Prince Albert's Great Exhibition. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wm Francis MIMMS ~ 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars

William Francis MIMMS was my great, great uncle, another brother to James my great, great grandfather. He was the first born of James and Ann, and after his father died in 1852, when William Francis was 18 years old,  it fell to him to earn a living to look after his mother and six siblings.  At that time he was  a tinplate worker, making metal boxes for stroring groceries in the warehouses along the Thames. It will not have been a well paid job. Maybe this is one reason he enlisted to the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars, at the Westminster recruiting office in November 1854. He was sent to the Crimea, where he served seven months. He went on to India where he served six and a half years, earning the Indian Mutiny Medal.   Altogether he served 21 years in the 8th Hussars, and reached the rank of Troop Sergeant Major.  He was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, and achieved a 2nd class school certificate. His pension was 1s 10 1/2d a day when he was discharged in 1875.

A year later, in 1876, he married an Irish widow, Margaret Bowman. They settled in Limehouse where they lived for the next twenty years in various rented rooms.  By 1881 he had found himself a job as school attendance officer.  The census describes him as  Chelsea Pensioner and Schoolboard Visitor. In 1891 he is described as Visitor for School Board and School Inspector.

In all, he served 17 years working for the School Board. His health began to deteriorate, and he finished work just a year before he died, at the age of 63, from diabetic complications.

Friday, March 30, 2012

current MIMMS research

Looking for another branch of the MIMMS clan to write about today, has led me down the road of finding one that settled in Canada. I'm working on this branch as we speak, so will record findings here. This is Margaret Wilhemina Gertrude MIMMS and John JONES, who emigrated to Canada in 1912 and 1907 respectively. This fact I received from a cousin found online at some point in the past. I've  not been terribly good at recording sources at times, and all I know is that the info came from 'Dennis' (at least I have a name). I can find out more by searching old emails etc, but I REALLY MUST START TO BE MORE ORGANISED!!! (I spent a few hours today looking up old emails, and found all the missing info!)

Anyway, Margaret with the wonderful middle names, was the daughter of Francis George and Mary Selina MABBETT, my great, great uncle and aunt (he being brother to James and John). Like her 9 siblings, Margaret was born in Brighton.

She married John JONES on 23 Dec 1899.
In 1901 they were living in Brighton, with just Cyril, a 10 month old baby.

By 1911 they had 6 children.
The Canadian 1911 Census shows John as a resident of Ottawa, Ontario. It also shows that he emigrated there in 1910.(This is disputed by another cousin who has found a record for 1907).

The 1911 UK Census shows that Margaret and two of her children were at Shorncliffe Camp, Elham, Kent. 
First Name
other people ............. ..................... ... .......... .......... .............. ..........
There were obviously many other people there. It is not known where the other children were based.

Shorncliffe Camp 1916
Shorncliffe Camp, Elham was a military establishment at Elham near Folkestone in Kent, originally built as a Napoleonic earthworks fort, the site, which covers 200 acres, was used as a training camp during the Great War and is still in use by the army today. It looks as though Shorncliffe had strong Canadian links. By 1915, 40,000 Canadians were in training there. The Castle was used as an air-raid shelter and by the Royal Field Artillery.

In 1912, Margaret(aged 34) and 6 of her children emigrated to join husband John in Ottawa, Canada. They sailed from Liverpool to Quebec aboard the Empress of Britain, arriving on 13th Sep. Cyril was 11, Leslie was 9, John was 7, Ella was 6, George was 5 and Peggy was 4.

More children were born in Canada. I know of at least two, Herbert and Tom.

To be continued, am waiting for info to arrive re their Canada life .......

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Only for Life" by Peter MIMMS my cousin, writer.

How exciting it was, when in 2004 while researching my MIMMS branch of the family tree, I discovered this book. Written by Peter MIMMS son of Albert Thomas and Doris Irene nee JARMAN. Not only is it a very well written history of poverty over 300 years, IT INCLUDES MY FAMILY!!! I already had Peter on my family tree as my 2nd cousin 1x removed.

It follows the story from Gregory MIMMS in 17th century Wellingborough, down through son after son to my James who left the impoverished Midlands in about 1830 to try his luck in London at the time of the  Swing Riots. It traces his story for a while before following the author's branch.

How sad I was to discover, when I tried to contact Peter Mimms, to offer the missing image of James, which was in my possession, that he had died just two years previously, in 2002.

It was Peter Mimms who had travelled to USA to track down the story of John (Henry Winfield) Mimms, who I wrote about on Tuesday.

I discovered, from his widow, who wrote me a very friendly letter, that they has travelled widely researching in Record Offices all over the country. After the book was published, he did a lot of lecturing. He was an excellent speaker with a good voice, and was able to give people a lot of advice.

She also shared with me the way in which Peter ended his lectures, which I shall copy here:

"Let me finish with a biblical quotation (Ecclesiasticus Chapter 44/Apocrypha). It begins
"Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us....."

Perhaps less well known are the lines which follow a few verses on:

"There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them."
They were my family and this is their memorial. 

(full chapter can be found here

I think that is a lovely summary of the work we family history researchers do. We may not all have a book in us, but every time we share our findings anywhere online, whether it be a family tree, a website, or a blog, we are leaving a memorial to them.

R.I.P. Peter MIMMS

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John (Henry Winfield) MIMMS

Another day, another MIMMS person from my tree! This one is an interesting character. He was born plain and simple John, no middle names. He was the brother of my James MIMMS, born in 1851 in Southwark St Thomas. He went to Queen Elizabeth's School and St. Bride's Institute, Southwark and then in 1873, emigrated to USA . His naturalization papers date from 2 Sep 1880. He was living in Burlington, Vermont.

On the 1880 census, his occupation is stenographer.

He married Leonora Campbell HUNTINGTON in 1882, in Springfield, Illinois. At this point he decided, for some reason, that plain old John wasn't enough. Whatever the reason, his marriage certificate states 'John Henry Winfield MIMMS'.  (I suspect his nephew John H W MIMMS made him think how much grander it sounded). 

He was Lt. Colonel of the 1st Vermont Infantry in the Spanish American War, commanding the regiment most of the time. He enlisted 2 April 1898, and was discharged 17 Nov 1898.

The 1900 US census shows him as a court reporter.
1900-1902  He was Chief of Staff to Governor Stickney for 2 years.

In 1905 he travelled back to England just for a short period. There may well have been a family event.

118, Spruce St, Burlington

A cousin researching this family travelled to USA  and he photographed the house where John and Leonora lived in 1920-1930. I have been unable to find this address on the 1910 or 1920 census. The 1930 census shows them at this address. John's occupation says law ....... .

                           John died on 30 Jul 1930.

John's obituary appeared in the local newspaper.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Albert Matthew MIMMS (publican)

St James, Bermondsey
Albert Matthew MIMMS was the brother of my great grandma Helena who I told you about yesterday. He was the youngest sibling, born in 1882. In 1901 he was listed at his sister's house, as a scavenger. He married Mary Ann MEDCALF on 22 Sep 1907 at St James' Church, Bermondsey.

Mary Ann
By 1911, their only child, Albert George, was 2 and they were living on Lynton Rd, Bermondsey. Albert Matthew was a 28 year old furniture porter.

The next time we saw Albert was in 1921 on the London Electoral Register. He and Mary Ann were living in Camberwell, and they'd moved again to Fulham by 1923, and then in 1925 they were running their first pub, the Barrack Tavern in Woolwich. After one or maybe two years there, they took over the Prince of Orange, 118, Lower Rd, Rotherhithe. They were certainly there by the 1927 Electoral Register.

Unfortunately, the next event I know about in Albert's life is his death on 11 Dec 1933. Luckily for me his nephew was a funeral director, and a wonderful image has survived of Albert's funeral procession.  I recognise three people in the photo below. My grandfather Richard is the pall bearer at the very back of the coffin. Albert George (son) is the man two in front of grandad. My great aunt Lil is the woman you can see through the window of the hearse.

Albert George

I do not have a photo of Albert Matthew MIMMs, only his wife and son. His widow lived until 1958. As late as 1956 she is listed on the Electoral Register at the Prince of Orange. Albert George, their son, lived until 1996.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Helena MIMMS my great grandmother

Helena Alice MIMMS was born on 12th April 1866 to James and Mary Ann MIMMS (née WOOD) at 1 Dockhead Place, Bermondsey. She was the second of nine children. All but one grew to adulthood.  In 1881, she was described as errand girl. She married Joseph WEEDEN in 1888 at Newington.  They had 7 children of whom 5 survived. 

The image below(left) is on a glass plate. The right hand one is an attempt to digitally clean up the damage done over the years. It is of Helena as a young mum with 3 of her children. If the child on the left is her eldest, then they would be from l. to r. Albert, Lil (baby) Richard (my grandad). It dates from 1896.  It's one of the most precious images to come to me from my mum.

Helena had a hard life, made worse by the ill health of Joseph. In 1911, she was head of household with the younger 5 children in Bermondsey. Joseph was in Bermondsey Infirmary.  She lost her daughter Ada to pneumonia and her husband Joseph to T.B. within 2 months of each other in 1923. 

 I have found her on several London Electoral registers right up to 1938, living at 60, Heaton Rd, Camberwell. She would have been 72 then.

In her latter years she lived at each of her children's homes in turns for part of the year. She was a great character. Mum admired her greatly, and loved her to take her turn staying at the Chalet in Downham. It was Helena who told my mum all she knew about the family history that has now been passed on to me.

I can picture her drinking gin in the Rampant Horse Inn in Downham Market. She lived to the ripe old age of 94. She died on 16th May 1960 and is buried with Joseph and Ada at Nunhead.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Joseph WEEDEN my great grandfather

I've presented my family history here a bit haphazardly, unlike my friend Sheila whose blog Ancestral Thoughts is much more logically laid out!  Having spent the last few weeks writing mostly about my Norfolk family, with a slight meander into Lincolnshire for a pub or two, I want to turn back to my London family now. You already know about some of great aunts who were either born in London, or moved there from Norfolk, but I do have a whole branch who seem to be Londoners through and through. These are my maternal father's branch the WEEDENs. This is the branch that I knew least about because although my mum had done some work on them prior to me inheriting the family tree, it was hard due to the records not being readily available to me in Norfolk. But that all changed when I subscribed to Ancestry, and they started adding firstly Parish Registers and then Electoral Registers for London. The cost of subscribing to Ancestry is offset by the cost that certificates would cost me.

So, today I want to tell you a little more about my grandad's family. You already know a bit about my grandad's life from this post. You also know about his three sisters, Ada, Lil, and Flo (albeit through her famous husband), but today I want to tell you about their parents, Joseph WEEDEN and Helena MIMMS.

Joseph was born in Southwark St John on 30 Aug 1863 to Richard and Sarah. He was #7 out of 11 children, out of which only four reached adulthood. Both his father Richard, and his brother, another Richard, were coopers by trade. Joseph also worked for a brewery, but not as a cooper.
When he married Helena MIMMS in Newington, in 1888,  his occupation was a brewer. Over the next few years they had 7 children , losing 2 along the way, both under the age of a year. Over the next 20 odd years, his status declines from brewer, to brewer's labourer to machine minder in a brewery.

This old sepia photo shows Joseph and Helena and their six surviving children. The baby, Harry, was born in February of 1905. So that dates it.
(as an aside, ghostly Ada is the young child at the bottom).

In 1911 Joseph is found as a patient in Bermondsey Infirmary. Had he already contracted the T.B. that was to kill him later on? T.B was rife amongst the urban poor. (poster left  is from 1920s).  If so, he must have recovered as he lived on for another 12 years.

All three sons (Richard, Albert and Harry) go to war and thankfully come home safely. He appears on two London Electoral Registers, 1918 and 1920, living in Camberwell at 60, Heaton Rd, Peckham. (This area must have been bombed in WW2, as a walk on google maps shows new houses there).

And then, in March 1923, his beloved daughter Ada dies of pneumonia. He dies just two months later on 24th May. The family story says he died of a broken heart, but his death certificate says T.B..  He is buried with Ada in Nunhead Cemetery.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I want to tell you about my dad

I never knew my father DennisAll I had, growing up, was his absence, and the awkwardness, that results as a child, from not having a father. Sometimes this was cruel. I remember to this day a class teacher at primary school demanding to know, at dinner register time, WHY I had free dinners!! I had no idea why. I just knew we didn't have much money, received help from various organisations in the form of a hamper at Christmas, money on birthdays, plus visits from a rather nice man and woman on occasions...(turns out the help was from NALGO my dad's union) I'd internalised that all THAT was something to do with not having a dad, but other than that..... I remember bursting into tears and mumbling something about not knowing. I grew up, with a tiny photo of a man (whose identity I had obviously learned at some point), caught in the  corner of a mirror frame. We were taken as very small children to a grave (which later turned out to be his). We were NOT encouraged to talk about this empty space in our lives, or to ask questions. So what I now know, has been gathered up from the broken fragments that you amass during a lifetime.

The first significant event in this 'amassing' took place one wet and dark August afternoon when I was 13 or 14. Something had happened to alert my mum that I'd gone off the rails. She'd done the unthinkable and read my teenage diary. No need to go into details here, but, yes there had been some associations with boys, not always entirely innocent ones. How I'd expanded on events in my diary *may* be another matter altogether.(Years later in therapy I was told in no uncertain terms that my behaviour was completely normal for a teenager). Anyway, to get back to that pivotal afternoon I remember being confronted with the things she had read......I wasn't used to fighting my corner, undoubtedly I was quiet and sullen before the sobs began.....and then, in the midst of this, she thrust an envelope at me, and demanded that I should read its contents.

It was my father's suicide letter

On 11th August 1959 (it was a Tuesday I now find), my dad went off to a council meeting, and when it was finished he went to his office. He blocked off the windows and the doors. And then he turned on the gas. When he didn't return home as usual, anxiety eventually turned into action. My grandad (who was for some reason may already have been at our house, otherwise he was summoned), reverted into his former existence as a policeman, and a search was made. Events (as told by sisters and others over the years) led to the suicide note being found in a pocket of his jacket left hanging in the hallway at home, which in turn led to the police breaking down the door to his office, and finding him, beyond help.

They are the facts. Some of them were the angry, shouted soundtrack to my traumatic reading of the letter. (note: the handwritten letter my father left was actually taken away and replaced by this typewritten one. My mum was never shown the original - was something omitted from it to protect her?)

So, 'that' wet August afternoon must, almost certainly, have been the 11th August, the anniversary, and most probably the significant 10th anniversary. So 11th August 1969. 

By the end of that day, my adolescent fumblings were inexorably entwined with the suicide of my dad, and the guilt that inevitably went alongside it.

The remainder of my time before I left home at 18 to go away to college (which was inevitable under the circumstances, there was no chance I would settle down, marry and raise kids in my home town) consisted of an awkward 4 years, with battles and truces.  I wrote about my mum on Sunday, and said how hard it was after my sisters left home. The hardest period was from Nov 1972 when my middle sister married, to Sep 1973 when I went away to college. For there were just the two of us. Even the odd weekend visit home, and Christmas and Easter remained difficult. That's why, after my grandad died in May 1974, my 3rd term at college, I used to look forward so much to my nan Emma coming for the weekend. Amongst other things there was safety in numbers. My nan was a chatterbox, and filled up the awkward silences that my mum and I often endured.

Over the years, I have been able to talk a lot with my middle sister. She was able to tell me the story from her point of view. I was able to join the dots. It was she who confirmed the place of his death. Finally I understood why my mum was always most reluctant to take me to the library as a young child. The Sandringham Hotel was where the library was situated in the early 1960's. I loved going there, I was a voracious reader. I've always loved books. Why did she always seem to put off the beloved library visit? Well now I knew.

In subsequent years my mum and I continued to have an uneasy relationship. On the surface we got on well, but we didn't ever really talk or share confidences. I never went out of my way to relate things happening in my life. There was an evening a few years before she died, when she summoned the three of us, and said we could ask her whatever questions we had about our dad. We all duly went, but my memory of that evening was that one of awkwardness. It should have happened 30 years earlier. She told us that the reason his death was a taboo subject was the fault of her parents, who felt it shouldn't be talked about. She revealed that she, herself, had been unable to grieve properly because of them. They didn't allow it. Or rather my grandad didn't. By the time he died in 1974 we had all deeply buried our feelings. I feel so sad for her, writing these words.

After mum died in 2001, I immediately started to research my family history. She had done quite a lot on her own family, but not on my father's, nothing at all. She wanted me to have her family tree, on a roll of wallpaper, and also the photo albums. In addition I found old newspapers from the time of my dad's death. The whole, unread newspapers neatly folded. I have a large collection of wartime correspondence between my parents (which I still haven't read in their entirety) I also have the 1959 letter.

In looking into my family history, especially seeing all the photos, I have been able to somewhat 'flesh out' the man he was, or, more accurately, the child he was, as there are many, many photos from his childhood. The man remains a shadowy figure. To this day I do not have a single memory of him. I was told in therapy that the trauma had caused me to put up a wall.

There are some practical things I can still do. I want to go and read the transcript of that final council meeting on 11th August. Maybe there will be something there. Maybe I just want something concrete to show he was there. I also want to read the inquest papers. It was reported in the local paper but I'd still like to read the actual transcript.

Over the years I have felt the whole gamut of emotions including anger, abandonment, blame, loss, guilt, sadness and finally compassion. I now understand that he had no control over events. He was in that dark place that doesn't allow for logical, joined up thinking. I truly believe that it was impossible for him to have any concept of the effect his suicide would have on his wife and three children.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ok, this is what I know about Dennis my father

Dennis was born on 21 October 1921 at Station Rd, West Dereham to Geoff and Joyce
When Dennis was born my great aunt Millie and her husband Jack had been trying for a baby for 8 years. I don't know the circumstances but it was decided that Millie and Jack would have Dennis from Geoff and Joyce and bring him up. He went to Downham Grammar School and by all accounts did quite well. I have lots of pictures (including the blog photo at the top here) which show that he spent a lot of time with his grandma Jessie, as well as his aunt Mary.


During the war he was in the RAF (he worked as a radio mechanic) and served in the Middle East. 

Dennis was married from Millie's house at 96, Bexwell Rd, Downham Market in August 1946. I also believe that my parents lived with Millie and Jack when they were first married. 

After the war he trained as a Public Health Inspector, and worked mainly in Wisbech. In April 1959 he started work for Hunstanton UDC. The family moved there at Easter 1959. 
He was never happy in Hunstanton, and a deep depression set in from which he never recovered.

He took his own life on 11th August of that same year at the Sandringham Hotel, which has since been demolished. (His office was situated there). He is buried in Downham Market cemetery. 
My next post will be one that I have been wanting to write for many years about how his death and absence affected our family, and me in particular.