We human beings need to feel a sense of belonging. Being part of a group, knowing how we fit in seems necessary to our well-being, to our very sense of self. I suppose one of the reasons why we want to trace our past is that very need to understand the group, or family, we came from and what has made us into the person we are today. And perhaps to use that comprehension to heal things from our own past which may have been holding us back in some way.
Which sets me thinking about orphans, refugees, the displaced. How much harder must it be for someone who has been forced, or has chosen, to flee from everything and everyone they hold dear, and start again in a new place. To create a new story, find a way of belonging in an alien place. A place that is not always very welcoming.
A case in point – imagine being part of the “Windrush Generation”, invited by the “Mother Country” to leave the Caribbean and come to the UK in order to help with post war reconstruction. Only to be met by hostility and signs like this one. And NOW, more than half a century later, our contemptible Government is the instigator of new regulations which have questioned whether the Windrush immigrants and their children have a legal right to stay in Britain, to be treated on the NHS, stay in employment, be able to keep their homes. I cannot express just how shamed and disgusted I feel that this is happening to these people in this day and age. All the belated grovelling apologies just don’t seem enough.
Until 1965 (UK Human Rights Act), it was not illegal to put the above notice in your window . It occurs to me that my own Irish mother could have seen signs like that as she went about her business in 1950’s and 60’s Glasgow, though it’s my impression that Glasgow saw less of that kind of racism due to its strong links with Ireland over the years. But still, my Mum, the alien! She who became more Scottish than the Scots, whose love of her adopted land ran strong and deep and true. Here are her own words as she was approaching home after one of her Russia trips.
It was lovely to see our first glimpse of Scotland, dear old Scotland, so green and small! And do you know all our roads are curvy and the walls around our fields, and our houses and farms and hills. Lovely.
In some ways displacement from Ireland to Scotland might not seem such a huge distance to travel – not like someone coming from a faraway land where faces are a different colour, tongues speak a different language and the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life so different as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s no wonder that migrants, whether fleeing from war and oppression or just looking for a better life, tend to gravitate together in expatriate communities. They often struggle in the face of what can be a suspicious and hostile new world.
I find it sad that instead of welcoming the stranger with open arms, so often backs are turned, excluding them and even turning them into scapegoats for the ills of society which have nothing to do with them. Our present British Government tends to pander to these prejudices. And as to the current American President! He seems to have forgotten the wonderful words carved on the Statue of Liberty.
We all belong to one another. The more I explore my family tree, discovering yet further distant relatives, the more it is brought home to me that families, in fact humans, are really just variations on a familiar theme, sharing the same basic feelings and instincts. I can’t imagine there’s a single person whose heart doesn’t break at the sight of that wretched little body on the shoreline. It helps me to remember that whether we are high born or low born, rich or poor, a rogue or a saint, we are more alike than we are different…
One of the first things you learn when delving into family history is not to believe everything you are told! Memories can be notoriously inaccurate, and with the best will in the world it’s very easy to get hold of the wrong end of the stick, especially when you WANT something to be true. That’s why I’ve tried to be careful in this blog only to include “facts” and stories that can be otherwise verified in some way. Things like birth, death and marriage certificates, photographs with inscriptions, letters, address books etc. etc. And of course there’s the plethora of public sources that are available to us nowadays – census returns, civil registration indexes, military records, passenger lists…
Of course that doesn’t mean you always get everything right, or that the information is in any way definitive or comprehensive. I’ve tried searching for myself on Ancestry.com and there was no sign of me in the birth register, electoral roll, or anywhere else. Good job I have my birth certificate to reassure me that I really do exist!
So, despite one’s best efforts, sometimes you just have to take a leap in the dark and plump for a particular solution to a problem while keeping your fingers crossed that you’re not going to have to revise it later.
So, with all that in mind, let’s get back to the question of the Mystery Granny that was exercising us in my last post. You may remember that I was hesitating to identify the old lady in the “Four Generations” 1922 photograph as Sarah Thompson because of the conflicting idea that she might be “Granny Bentley”, as pictured in the Fort William christening photograph of 1936.
The lady from the christening doesn’t look unlike either of the other two, but could she really be an older version of the lady on the left (Sarah?) nor, I think, is she tall enough to be Alberta. In any case she’s wearing the wrong style of clothes to be either of them. So, I’m going to come off the fence and say that I believe it IS Sarah Thompson, Alberta’s mother, in the Four Generations photograph.
And then Cousin Steve Bentley throws me a curve ball in the shape of some more photographs featuring the brick wall!
L to R:- Beatrice, Laurence, Donald
Same wall/fence, same chairs, same occasion – Sunday morning on the Lawn. But what lawn? Where are we? Could it be Blackpool – some of the photos of the 1927 holiday were taken in front of a very similar looking brick wall…
But none of them show the wall/fence, and surely if this is the “sweet spot” for taking photographs, at least some of them would. Also, remember that the Blackpool pictures were from 1927 and the Lawn photos from 1922. So no, I don’t think it’s Blackpool. We need more clues.
At this point I’m going to tell you some more about Alberta Bentley, nee Thompson, my father’s grandmother. Throughout my childhood, my Dad talked a great deal about Fort William and his MacFarlane relatives, but very little, if anything, about the Bentley side. Perhaps he didn’t know very much, or had forgotten. Both Laurence and Donald, his uncles, appear in his address book, though not Alberta. As children we knew about Beatrice, the English mother who had so tragically died when John was young and who he had loved so much he’d called his first-born child after her.
So, part of my purpose here was to find out more about this namesake of mine, where she came from, what she was like. I quickly discovered that any information about her that my Dad’s father George might have had was most likely destroyed in that bonfire he instigated shortly before he died. I do regret that loss, take it almost personally. I can understand that George might not have wanted to pass on these items to his second family, but surely he could have handed them down to his three older children, Beatrice’s children, John, Mary and Donald, who would certainly have cherished them.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, I started looking up the public records, and while I had no success in finding me, I did manage to find one Frank Bentley from Cleckheaton in Yorkshire, who had married Alberta Thompson from Sowerby Bridge in August 1896. He was 25, she 23. The 1901 census shows them living at 11 Victoria Terrace, Cleckheaton with daughter Beatrice, 3 years and son Laurence age 1. Frank is listed as being a “Professor of Music and Assistant Schoolmaster” – rather intriguing! Maybe that means that he took pupils for singing and piano.
By the time of the next census, 1911, we find Alberta listed as Head of Household, Widow, with daughter Beatrice 13, son Laurence 11 and son Donald 8, living at 56 Logan Street, Market Harborough, Leicestershire. So we look at the death register and find that Frank had died in Yorkshire in 1904, aged only 33, the same age as his own daughter would be when she died 28 years later. I don’t know the cause of Frank’s death, still trying to track down the death certificate.
I have many times speculated about why Alberta, as a young widow, had moved to Market Harborough with her three little children after Frank died. Perhaps there was family there? But at least it explained why Beatrice and George were married there, though my own researches did rather grind to a halt at this point.
And then last month came a positive flood – well a healthy trickle – of new photographs and snippets of information courtesy of Steve. I started to learn facts – Donald and his wife Doris had been known as Don and Polly; Donald had been a Chief Inspector of Taxes until he retired and had worked for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, for a period; Laurence and Hilda had lived in a house named Rylands when they first married. And new names started to appear – Queenie and Reg Eaton, Ernest Blockwell, Florence Bush, the Naylors. Not to mention Vera, a WW2 refugee quartered with Don and Polly who had eventually married Queenie and Reg’s son Bernard. I know! It’s all starting to get a bit complicated! So before I get too diverted let’s turn our focus back to the brick wall question.
Steve came up with this picture:
And here’s a segment of a letter to Polly written in 1977 after Don’s funeral and signed “Winnie”.
So who was this Winnie that had been so close to Don and Polly; who had always had Don in her life? Neither Steve nor I had the slightest clue. Then it occurred to me that I might have in my possession the key that could unlock the whole puzzle.
This birthday book belonged to Beatrice. It was given to her in 1911 when she had been part of the Wesleyan Prize Choir who had performed at the May Festival that year (see inscription below). And in turn my Dad gave it to me years and years ago when I was still a teenager. When I think of how little he really had of hers, it means a lot that he entrusted this precious little artifact to me.
I think this was probably how I first learned that my grandmother’s maiden name had been Bentley. And besides being a treasured possession, this little book has proven to be an invaluable source of information in the past year, for Beatrice faithfully added all her MacFarlane relatives to the family and friends who were already recorded in here. Not to mention, one by one, the inclusion of her own children as they made their appearance into the world.
So I hunted through the birthday book looking for all the Winnie’s. I found four and was drawn to Winnie Naylor, birthday 22 November, as the name Naylor had already come up on the back of a postcard. A quick search in the 1911 census and what do we find but Winnie aged 4 months in the household of James Alfred Naylor 33, his wife Harriet Annie Naylor 32 and son Alfred Naylor 3. Address? 28 Logan Street, Market Harborough! So I’m thinking the Naylors are close neighbours of the Bentleys at number 56 and there you have the connection.
But wait! There’s more! Look further and you’ll see that also recorded as a visitor on census night is one Sarah Thompson, widow, age 70. Alberta’s mother! AND actually (from the records), Harriet Annie’s too, the final confirmation being the entries in the birthday book: Alfred Naylor, Winnie Naylor, HA Naylor, Beatrice’s cousins and her Aunt! And, it turns out, her own little boy Donald was born on the same day as his great Aunt:
Steve and I had been a bit puzzled as to the identity of the boy who is posing for the “Sunday Morning on the Lawn” photo sitting on Laurence’s knee in that rather familiar fashion. But it all makes perfect sense if this is his young cousin Alfred. And this here has got to be Alfred with his little sister Winnie, don’t you think? Also, remember what I was saying about having to revise previous statements? Well, I think I was so excited by the idea that I had a picture of Beatrice with her brothers that I didn’t look too closely
at the chap in the deck-chair. Looking again, it’s clearly NOT Donald. This is Donald at Laurence’s wedding, to the left of Alberta, and the fellow on the other side of her looks like the deckchair chap – perhaps this is Uncle James.
Something else that now makes sense to me is what took Alberta to Market Harborough in the first place. If her sister, and possibly also her mother, were already there, what would be more natural than to move near to them – in fact only a few doors down – in order to get their support now she was a lone parent. Or she might have brought Sarah, also a widow, with her from Yorkshire.
Are we ready to say where the brick wall was? Googling the addresses reveals that 56 Logan Street no longer exists, but number 28 does and in fact was up for sale quite recently, so here’s the picture from the schedule. It’s a 4-bedroom semi-detached RED BRICK villa. In 90-odd years the garden has been so completely remodelled that it’s impossible to say whether it was definitely the backdrop for our photoshoot, but it could have been. The way I see it, the photos, so palpably domestic, must have been taken in either Alberta’s or the Naylors’ garden. I’m sure that Alberta’s house would have been similar to her sister’s, or possibly a little more modest – you can “walk” down Logan Street via Google today and still see lots of these Victorian brick villas and terraces.
Go back to the photographs and look at them all lolling around in the garden, reading the paper, fooling around, obviously totally relaxed in each other’s company. Can’t you just imagine one or other household members strolling down the street to spend that sunny Sunday morning with the rest of the family and keep company with the sister who had come all the way from Fort William to show off her first born son. Later, Beatrice, Alberta, Sarah – and John! – got dressed up in their best clothes and posed for the Four Generations shot. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
The mystery began with this photograph, found among the collection of loose photographs we fell heir to when my mother Nellie died in 2015. There are no names, just the caption “Four Generations.”
To start with, I do know that the two seated on the right are my Grandma Beatrice with my dad John on her lap – you’ll maybe recognise them from previous posts. I reckon this is probably the spring of 1922 when John would be 7 or 8 months old (born 30 August 1921). The older lady standing beside Beatrice is her mother Alberta Bentley – you can see the strong family resemblance between them. I thought that the granny in the bonnet was likely to be Sarah Thompson, Alberta’s mother, but I didn’t actually know it, and I wasn’t even sure whether she was still alive in 1922 – she was born in 1841, and would thus have been 81 in this picture – not impossible.
Further intriguing clues are contained in some pictures of a family holiday, marked Blackpool July 1927, which I found pasted into a ragged little scrap book. They show Beatrice and the three children, John, Mary and Donald, enjoying a family holiday by the sea. Their father George doesn’t appear in any of these photographs, so either he’s shy and always behind the camera, or he might have had to stay at home in Fort William and keep the business going. Here are the children having fun on the beach.
So far so good. But we also have some pictures featuring our elderly lady, who, if it IS Sarah, would by this time be a rather magnificent 86 years old.
Here’s a better view of the house, with… who?
Again, I have been unclear as to the identity of this gentleman. I thought it was probably one of Beatrice’s brothers, but had no other evidence to give me a positive identification.
Enter Steve Bentley, stage left! As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently made contact with this third cousin on the Bentley side, and he too had photographs which included the lady we rapidly started calling the mystery granny, as he was no nearer to a definite identification than I was. However, he was able to confidently identify Laurence Bentley for me, which meant that for the first time I was able to put a name to the chap having fun with the children – it’s their Uncle Laurence.
You might be wondering why I am so hesitant to identify this “mystery granny” as Sarah Thompson, it does seem kind of obvious. Well, part of the reason is that I’ve heard from a couple of sources that after Beatrice died in 1932, George and the children used to get visits in Fort William from “Granny Bentley”. She even carried on visiting long after George had married his second wife, Jessie MacPherson. The story goes that she was so moved by the warmth of her reception that she converted to Catholicism! This is supposed to be a photograph of her attending the baptism of George and Jessie’s oldest child, George. You’ll recognise a somewhat older Mary and Donald on either side of her.
BUT George was’t born until 1936. If it’s the same person, that would take this “Granny Bentley” to the grand old age of 95, which is really pushing it a bit. Besides, wouldn’t she be Granny Thompson? It’s Alberta that would be Granny Bentley. The final thing that makes me think that this line of enquiry might be a red herring is the following picture that I know is of George’s christening (it says so on the back). Notice that Mary and Donald are wearing entirely different clothes.
But on the theory that the best mysteries should be scattered with red herrings and cliffhangers, I’m going to leave this question up in the air for the moment, and turn the focus back to Blackpool and the family holiday.
I wondered what might bring Beatrice and the children to Blackpool at this time. Why Blackpool, and why were so many members of her family there too? It could be that they’d taken a house for a big family get-together, perhaps in advance of Laurence’s wedding which was due to take place in the September (I don’t think Beatrice was able to attend her brother’s wedding). Or this could be someone’s home. The Bentley family had settled in Market Harborough after Alberta’s husband Frank had died in 1904, but I know that she eventually ended her days in Blackpool.
And Beatrice… I suspect that whether she knew it or not, by this time she was already in the grip of the dreadful disease (TB) which would eventually end her life. Cousin Steve showed me a letter written by George after Beatrice had passed away in which he mentions that the first time Beatrice left home to be admitted to hospital was five years to the day prior to her funeral. Five years! If that’s true, then by the end of this year, the year of their Blackpool holiday, Beatrice would have started the long slow decline towards her demise.
Which makes these photographs all the more poignant and precious to me. I’d like to end this post by sharing some more of them with you.