Things Fall Into Place

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!

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We believe in you granny!

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.

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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!

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…

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Mary, Donald and John getting down and dirty in the garden.

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.

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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:

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And here’s a segment of a letter to Polly written in 1977 after Don’s funeral and signed “Winnie”.Winnie segment 1977

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.

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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.

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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:

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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

Donald, Alberta, James

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.

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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!

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One final little gem from the pages of the birthday book – a photograph of the 1911 choir pasted behind the front cover. Can you spot the 14 year old Beatrice? That’s her second from the right in the back row.

 

 

 

 

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More from the Family Album

Today’s post is really just a few more pages from the family album, as we only managed to get to 1957 the last time (“The Man with the Box Brownie”). Mary makes her first appearance on this page in a photo dated April 1958 (Dad used to take advantage of the odd ray of sunshine to take snaps of us in the house.)

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And then in Sept ’58 here’s Mary waving to her fans from the family pram.

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And here she coming up for two years old in August ’59. Although, I’m questioning whether this is in fact August. Grace was born in June of that year, so where is she? I think Mum could be pregnant in that lower picture (she’s wearing a pair of her earrings, can you see?) In which case this would be earlier in the summer…

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And here’s Grace finally on the next page! Ann has her arm in a sling – she broke it when she fell off the bed! We used to get in trouble for bouncing on our parents’ bed, but it was one of our favourite games.

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As you can see, we had the odd outing to Inchinnan, where a friend of Mum and Dad’s had a caravan, and down the coast – I think on the train/ferry – to places like Helensburgh and Dunoon. And as well as the Elder Park, they also seemed to like taking us to Bellahouston Park. I have to smile at that second page to see my Dad all formally dressed in his suit and tie just for a trip to the park – different times!

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The next page heralds the appearance in 1962 of yet another character that was to become an integral part of our family – the Vauxhall Victor which would serve as our family car for many years to come.  I’m quite surprised to find “Victor” making its appearance quite so early in the story, while we were still living in Rathlin Street, but the evidence is clear.

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And of course that wee Vauxhall Victor gave our family freedom. Whenever they could, Mum and Dad would bundle us up in the car and head off up Great Western Road, destination all points north. I can never travel along that road to this day – you can see the mountains in the distance – without getting that feeling of excitement and anticipation that comes as I read the destination boards – Dumbarton, Helensburgh, Loch Lomond, Crianlarich, The Trossachs…. And I am reminded of some words from John’s letter to his mother in 1931 (as written): “The May holiday was very wet and we stayed in ecept in the afternoon we went in the bus for a hurl to Corpach and back.” He was a great one for a wee hurl was our Dad!

And then, the following year, comes the move from Govan to Hillhead. Look back at the post entitled “Sisters, Sisters” if you want to be reminded of the difference that made to the family, and how “Number 8” became our family home for the next fifty years. Here we all are at the beginning of that era enjoying the sun in our very own newly acquired back garden. Jane was born in the January of that year, just before we moved house – unfortunately she was maybe taking a nap during this photoshoot.

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I think it must be rather frustrating for my sisters that there are far fewer baby pictures of them than of me. My first couple of years are well documented – as new parents do – whereas they have to make do with the odd shot here and there, and in fact Jane has pointed out that there are NO baby pictures of  her at all. Which is very unfortunate, but perhaps not altogether surprising considering how quickly Eleanor followed on her heels a mere 15 months later in April ’64. Not to mention in that same time period the acquisition of a car, a house, a mortgage, a new neighbourhood, new school for older siblings. Our parent probably barely had time to stop and eat, never mind take photographs! However, they did manage to take this one of baby Eleanor with Mum in the Botanic Gardens, our new local park. After this though, there aren’t so many snaps of us all in the park, as Victor would take us to more exciting destinations where, sure enough, Dad would get out the Box Brownie and line us all up for the family photograph. (Click on each photo to see the captions).

Well, we’ve made it to 1969! It’s kind of funny when you look through old photographs – you know it’s you, but it also seems like somebody else that you struggle to remember. I kind of love the way I look in these photographs, so competent and confident, and sure of my place in the family and in the world. It’s good to be reminded of that, and to appreciate the wonderful close relationships that sustained you growing up – things can get so much more complicated as life unfolds.

The Man with the Box Brownie

It was a great disappointment to me that I failed to find a single photograph of my mother on my trip to County Mayo in April. However, once she had left Ireland to seek her destiny, she did then have the good fortune to fall in love with and marry a man with a box brownie camera – my Dad! So, happily for us, our family history was recorded from its earliest days – in fact I should say meticulously recorded, for Dad would carefully enter all the snaps, with captions, in a big leather bound album with black pages separated by tissue paper. This album became an essential part of our childhood and survives more or less intact to this day, give or take a few gaps where sisters have “appropriated” various pictures of particular significance to themselves. Here’s the first page:

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John and Nellie started out their married life in digs near Queen’s Park, so naturally this was where I was proudly paraded in 1954. I’m afraid there are more pictures of me than anyone else!

This lovely old book tracks our family’s development, not to mention each new arrival as she came along, and especially in the early pages, provides evidence of events none of us can now really remember. This was how I knew that Mum and Dad visited Ireland with me in September 1955, the year after her father died. These are among my favourite images of my mother, seeing Nellie through John’s eyes in the early years of their marriage. (You can click on the individual pictures if you want to have a closer look.)

Unfortunately Dad seems to have been so enamoured with his own little family that he forgot to take any snaps of my grandmother, Maggie Hynes, who would still have been alive then, or any other members of the Hynes family that he was meeting for the first time. Maybe they were too shy…

He’s done slightly better in these pictures of a holiday in Fort William in June 1957, when my sister Ann was just one year old and I was three and a half. This time he has also captured Grandpa (George) and Auntie Catherine, the youngest of George and Jessie’s six children, my Dad’s half siblings. Catherine must have been around 10 in these photos and I do have a memory of her pushing me on the swing and patiently spending hours playing with me in the garden – I absolutely adored her! I think we must have stayed in the house at 50 High Street, or The Barn (an adjoining annex), and by the look of it we had a lovely time. But as far as I know that was the first and last time Dad took his family to stay in what had been his childhood home.

Another selection from the family album shows an occasion when Ann and I were taken to visit Dad’s ship, the MV Bhamo when it was laid up at Princes Dock in August of 1958. I’ve also included a picture of Dad taken during the course of a voyage, and one of his radio room – a whole other life that had nothing to do with us! Again, I have no memory of this visit…

Dad was always very interested in gadgets and how things worked – the radio officer had been a boy who recounted such exploits as building a bogey and writing with invisible ink in the letters he wrote to his mother during the time she spent in the TB Sanatorium before her death in 1932. This letter is from 1931, when he was coming up for 10…

Don’t you just love that his trousers were “past mending”? I wonder what scrapes he’d got into to get them into that condition. John never lost the boyish playfulness and enthusiasm that’s displayed in this letter. If any of us ever collected stamps (I did for one!) or made a model or showed the slightest interest in morse code or how a valve radio or a car engine worked, he’d be there, explaining, showing, joining in. He tried, I’m not sure how successfully, to teach us to play bridge and he loved corny jokes. He once brought something home for Mum and patiently bided his time until she gave the answer she was in the habit of giving when asked if she wanted a cup of tea, “Just half a cup”. Whereupon he whipped out his prize – HALF a cup! Mum didn’t have much of a sense of humour for that kind of joke, but we all thought it was hilarious!

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This is not the actual one, which mysteriously disappeared! But you get the idea…

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The piano playing too carried on into later life. The familiar sound of him playing away on our upright piano would let us know he was home. Here’s how Mary remembers it, “He’d play Chopin and Debussy, and had a gift for arranging the popular songs of of his youth into his own lovely versions, like Stormy Weather and Stardust. He was a romantic person and bought Mum a pair of earrings every week, which she kept in a chocolate box.”  Ah yes, Mum’s earrings, I wonder what happened to them, I used to love being allowed to look through them and try them on. Dad’s piano playing reminded me of Russ Conway, a popular performer who used to appear on the Billy Cotton Band Show on a Saturday night. We would all squeeze up on the family sofa to watch. Dad often arrived home halfway through TV shows, depending on his shift pattern, and would be shushed by us when he wanted to know what was going on, ungrateful children that we were!

In many ways, the boy who wrote the letters points to the man he would become. The man who collected, in blue binders, the entire set of “Knowledge, the new colour magazine which grows into an encyclopaedia”; the man who spent endless painstaking hours constructing a model bungalow (long gone) entirely out of spent matches, setting the walls in place according to his detailed plans. You only have to look at these notebook pages (preserved for 60-odd years from when he was studying for his radio certification) to see how neat and meticulous he could be.

He was also meticulous in the way he kept control of the family finances, assigning the cash from his pay packet to the bills and the household expenses, from the largest to the smallest amounts, including our weekly dinner money. He would count this out on a Sunday night and wrap it up in little brown paper parcels complete with our names and amounts, ready for us to pick up on a Monday morning. Beatrice 4/11d, Ann 4/4d, Mary 3/9d. I think those are the right amounts though I can’t remember what Grace had to pay. I think he’d probably given up doing it (had he?) by the time Jane and Eleanor started school. I don’t know about my sisters, but there was no way I was going to hand over this pre-packaged payment intact as intended – I would unwrap mine (always sellotaped) and hand over the cash to the teacher in the normal way, just like everyone else!!

With hindsight, I suppose I’d have to say that Dad was just a tad obsessive-compulsive in his manner of fulfilling his responsibilities, as he saw them, as head of the household! But you know, I also see someone with a rather inflexible personality who struggled to accept and deal with some very hard blows that life had dealt him. I’ve said before that he never really got over the death of his Mother when he was only 12. And it’s perfectly obvious even from his boyhood letters that his expectations were somewhat different from the way his life turned out.

As a mother and grandmother I know that you have to learn how to be a parent, instinct will only take you so far, the rest has to be learned as you go along. The way I see it, Dad coped by doing what he always did – by faithfully carrying out what he saw as his duty and staying true to his beliefs and principles. Among the possessions he left behind are some items that say it all – his wedding ring, his wartime service medals, his rosary beads, awards from the Road Operators Safety Council for 5, then 10, then 15 years of safe driving. And this one, a tiny wee drawing done by his mother, our long lost granny, Beatrice.

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I think what I’m trying to say is that, with Nellie by his side, John grew into the role of father, became less uptight and more accepting. That whatever his faults and failings, they were tempered by his sense of fun and romantic soul. And that he always loved Mum and his six daughters with all his heart –  you only have to look at our family pictures to know that the photographer was in love with his subject. I find it very striking that when I look through albums Dad made of his time in the RAF and then at sea, there are lots of photos taken of the places he’d been to. Whereas the family album contains pages and pages of just us, with hardly a view in sight. In fact I’ve only scraped the surface of those family pictures, so we’ll need to come back to them another time.

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In the meantime, with Father’s Day coming up on Sunday, I’m going to leave you with my last loving memory of my Dad. It was 1981, he had come home from hospital – come home in fact to die – and his bed had been set up in our light and airy lounge at the front of the house in Kersland Street. We knew it wouldn’t be long and I had come up from London to say my goodbyes – my own four little ones were very young so it couldn’t be a long visit. I was sitting by the bed just quietly chatting with him before I was due to depart when he crooked his finger for me to come closer. As I leaned towards him he tapped his chest three times with his forefinger and said “Number one daughter”.