Sunday, 24 June 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge : G is for...

This week I am dedicating my Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge to my grandmother's gloves. That's a strange topic, you might say, but read on. There is a story to everything if you look closely enough.

My grandmother Lilian spent most of her life in poor health. As a young child she contracted tuberculosis, while bronchitis and asthma plagued her adulthood. Despite this, Lilian had a glamorous spirit and this is my fondest memory of her. She had style and she carried herself as though she possessed tons of it. Some may argue that she was above her station in life but I always liked that about her. She rose above her illness.

Lilian always wore gloves. She also smoked cigarettes from a black holder (which I tried to emulate once and only ended up looking like a right fool). She may not have been Audrey Hepburn either but, to me, she was pretty darn close to it. Every photograph I have of Lilian, taken at a family wedding, she is wearing gloves.
Lilian (left) and my Mother at a Family Wedding

She had many pairs in all lengths, styles and colours. When she passed away I was given a pair of her gloves and I still treasure them to this day. They are ruched at the wrist which is my favourite style of vintage gloves. I used to wear them in my younger years but nowadays they are kept in my treasure box for safe-keeping. Even my mother wore gloves well into her thirties. I remember she had a short navy blue pair which she always wore in the winter months when driving.
Lilian (right) with my Great-Grandmother
at a Family Wedding

The History of Gloves
While gloves have always had a practical nature they also began to develop symbolic meanings. It was good social etiquette when approaching a person of high authority to remove the right hand glove as a mark of respect. The same was also true for approaching an altar. A lady could show her affection or favouritism to a man by taking off her glove and offering her hand to him.

In Freemasonry the glove plays an important symbolic role. Freemasons believe that the glove alludes to the purification of life. They quote Psalm 24:4 from the Bible "He who has clean hands and a pure heart"

The tradition of wearing gloves for Holy Sacrament by Roman Catholic Bishops became a religious ritual and as early as the 10th century, to keep their hands clean, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops wore gloves. Kings began to wear gloves as part of their ceremonial duties and later as more of a fashionable accessory to display their position.
Copyright: © 2011 (Go Planet Gloves)

My grandmother's gloves hold a very special meaning in my heart because my grandmother was special, and because I associate vintage gloves with her. Whenever I go to a vintage clothes market I feel as though I am stepping back in time and seeing my grandmother's world as she would have known and loved it. Gloves, hats, handbags, scarves, brooches, feathers, and long coats. Even through the London Blitz, my grandmother still held her head high. She really did "Keep Calm and Carry On".
My Grandmother's Gloves
Photography by Jeff Watkins

Monday, 18 June 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge : F is for...

Welcome to another week, and this week is the letter F. I thought about a post dedicated to fathers as it was Fathers Day in the UK and USA yesterday but, instead, I have chosen to write a post about Fakenham:

My ancestors lived in the Norfolk market town of Fakenham during the 1800s. Around 1825 they left Kings Lynn for Fakenham, which was then nineteen miles away. Situated on the River Wensum, Fakenham is the Saxon name for "fair place" or "fair place on a fair river". The population of Fakenham in 1831 was 2, 085.
The 1839 Pigot's Directory states that Fakenham once had salt pits. Indeed, the Salt Pans are mentioned in the Domesday Book, but these had long since disappeared by the 1830s. Fakenham's economy was later replaced by crepe manufacturing, Fakenham Mill, corn growers markets and a renowned printing industry. Thomas Miller was the first person to bring the printing press to the town in the 1800s. My 3 x great-grandfather learnt the printing trade himself and established a successful business in the nearby Norfolk market town of Holt.
Fakenham Market Place
Poppyland Publishing

In Jim Baldwin's ©1982 book Fakenham: Town on the Wensum he says, "The town of Fakenham developed around Tunn Street and Swan Street. In fact the oldest original house remaining in the town is situated at the junction of these two streets...Oak Street formed part of the early development of Fakenham...". My 4 x great-grandfather lived in Oak Street and, later in Swan Street and White Horse Street. He was the town's organist and musical instrument seller. The church of Fakenham is St Peter and is well noted for its tower which can be seen from many distant views. In 1826 a brand new organ was bought for the church by the late Rector. My 4 x great-grandfather would have been a part of this celebrated day and he would have played this new organ to the congregation of Fakenham.
St Peter's Church
Norfolk's Past on Canvas: BBC Website

The 1839 Pigot's Directory likes to boast the Robert Bloomfield, "celebrated as the author of The Farmer's Boy and many other sweet poems of a rural and domestic character, has, in a pleasing tale, called The Fakenham Ghost, eulogized this town in a very pretty manner". Others argue that Bloomfield referred to Fakenham Magna in Suffolk. Here are the first four stanzas:
Benighted was an ancient dame,
And fearful haste she made
To gain the vale of Fakenham,
And hail its willow shade.

Her footsteps knew no idle stops,
But followed faster still;
And echo'd to the darksome copse
That whispered on the hill.
Darker it grew, and darker fears
Came o'er her troubled mind;
When now, a short quick step hears
Came patting close behind.
She turned; it stopt! naught could she see
Upon the gloomy plain!
But as she strove the Sprite to flee,
She heard the same again.

Finally, this from a Most Haunted message board: Wondered why it rains nearly every market day in Fakenham? Well the story is that years ago Walsingham used to hold a market, but then moved to Fakenham. There was a witch of Walsingham who was upset by this and so put a curse on the market of Fakenham. She said: "There will be more wet than dry days for Fakenham market." People who have heard of this call this the story of the Walsingham witch. You can always guarantee that there will be more wet market days than dry - is it just a coincidence?

Fakenham Wood, Euston Hall
Robert Bloomfield

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge : E is for...

I feel terrible. I am sorely late with this weeks alphabet challenge blog post. My excuse is that I have been working solidly on indexing and editing a family history book. I have been so tired these past few days, I have barely been able to concentrate.

So, here we are at the letter E:

Two of my great-grandmothers had names starting with the letter E so it makes sense to write about them, right? That would be reasonable but, to be honest, I hardly know anything about either of them to do them proper justice here. Both of them died before I was born, one just months before.
Elizabeth was my mother's maternal grandmother. She was born in Putney, county Surrey in 1884. The daughter of a long line of gardeners, Elizabeth was the sixth child of eight born to Richard and Louisa Dare. My mother never met her grandmother Elizabeth, but had just one photograph of her which was inside her mother Lilian's photo album.

Elizabeth Dare
"Fondest Love, Mother"
Elizabeth was particularly fond of the cinema and she would do just about anything to go. In the early twentieth century, before the advent of television, this was her only outlet from a tumultuous home life. Some family members have said she would usually take her coat to the pawnbrokers, or sometimes clothes belonging to her husband and children. This may sound cruel to some but I actually feel quite sorry for her. Being a wife and mother in Elizabeth's time would have been extremely hard. Before the age of welfare and women's rights, women like Elizabeth had to find respite wherever they could. Elizabeth's respite was the cinema.
Elizabeth's love of cinema extended to her daughter (my grandmother Lilian) and to me. One of her favourite actors was Laurence Olivier and a favourite film was Rebecca. I may not know who Elizabeth revered most in the cinema but I can well imagine her sitting in her favourite spot each week, anxiously awaiting the black screen flicker into light and sound, eager to escape into a world of imagination and fairytale.

Eva was my father's maternal grandmother. She was born in Loddon, county Norfolk in 1887. The daughter of a Painter & Glazier, Eva was the eldest child of three born to Robert and Mary Bowes. Eva was the only one of those three to marry and have children. Her brother Fred and sister Winnie lived together in Beccles. My father dearly loved his grandmother Eva, and always talks of her very fondly. She died two months before I was born.

Eva (second from left with her daughters)
Eva was very fond of writing and in her life she wrote many letters to all of her family and also wrote articles for the Beccles Methodist Church parish magazine, of which she was a staunch member alongside her husband who was a Verger (my great-grandfather).
My grandmother Freda always believed I was an exceptional letter writer, and would constantly tell me that I took after her mother Eva. Freda always knew I would be a writer one day, bless her. When I began writing articles for a genealogy society and I told my father about it, he wistfully assured me I was following in Eva's footsteps. I did not know (or had likely forgotten) that she wrote articles for magazines. This made me feel so good inside, I can't begin to articulate what significance that has to me.

Last, but not least, my letter E blog must make mention of Emails. Without the ability to email people I would quite possibly not effectively communicate with half the people I do. All thanks to message boards, genealogy websites, or my website, I know the very lovely June, Angela, Jim, and Terry, today.
Of course, emails don't quite mean the same as a carefully handwritten letter, folded and posted and delivered to your mailbox. That is one of the many things I miss about my grandmothers. Both were keen letter writers, especially Freda. The reality is though, we live in the technological age where everything is faster, speedier and accessible on the internet. Emails are the quickest (and sometimes, only) way to communicate and "keep in touch". Without emails, I would not have half the amount of family photographs in my photo collection or have been able to share and compare the family history information that I have researched. So, thank you Emails.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge : D is for...

As we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee this month, and I am up to the letter "D" in my alphabet blog challenge, I thought it only fitting to dedicate my post about the Royal Family and how they have influenced my family throughout the years.

As a child I was very much aware of Royalty. They dominated the news, the television, my school life and my home life. My maternal grandmother Lilian was a staunch royalist, standing for National Anthems and demanding total silence during its full broadcast. My life as I knew it would be over in an instant if I even dared to move an inch or open my mouth to speak words other than the words of the Anthem.
My great-grandparents varied in age (from two up to nineteen) during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. I wonder what celebrations they joined in and witnessed alongside their parents and families. My maternal great-grandparents were Londoners so it seems appropriate that they would have joined at least one party or throng of people gathering along the Thames and within the streets of London. My paternal grandparents were in Beccles & Bungay except for one, who in 1897, was living in Hampstead, London as a housemaid to a prominent Surgeon/Physician. Did he allow my great-grandmother to go out and be a part of all the pomp and street festivities, I wonder?

Coronation of George VI in 1937
Image from
In 1975 Beccles Historian and author of many local history books, E A (Ted) Goodwyn, published "Small Town Jubilee: Beccles in 1897". This book thoroughly investigates life as it was in Beccles and the surrounding towns and villages in the Jubilee year. From newspapers to council minutes, Goodwyn describes in great length the atmosphere, reputation and unique celebrations that Beccles acknowledged.

Here are a few excerpts from page 60-63:

"...Tuesday 22 June , the Day of Celebration, was fine and hot. The town was gay with bunting, flags and all sorts of decorations, including a triumphal arch of evergreens and African grasses in Station Road with "God Bless the Queen" over the main arch and "1837 - 1897" over the smaller ones on each side. The only hitch was at the Town Hall, where an accident with the halliards prevented the hoisting of the Union Jack..."

Station Road in Beccles 1897
Photo curtesy of Frank Denson, Beccles Borough Archivist
"At half past one the children of the Board and National Schools assembled at their respective buildings, the Artillery Band leading the former and the Rifle Band the latter, to the New Market, where a Jubilee hymn followed by the inevitable anthem, three cheers for the Queen and one for the Mayor..."

'In the crowd was a venerable old lady of 99, in her wheelchair, watching as the children, gleeful and excited, each eaving a rosette and medal portrait of the Queen, shouted lustily; and the hot sun shone gaily as the columns marched into the Common. There, after games, tea was brewed in large coppers and served to 2,000 children..."

My mother was six years old on the day  of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation ceremony. My family easily recall the excitement surrounding this time in history, not only because of the coronation of a new Queen but because many people in Bungay brought televisions into their homes for the first time. Seeing life actually moving on a small flickering screen in the corner of your living room was a sight to behold. Neighbours who couldn't afford televisions were invited round and many living rooms across the nation were fit to bursting with onlookers. My mother remembers standing erect, next to her parents and siblings during the Anthem, and gasping at the gown, the glitttering crown jewels and all the royal regalia of Elizabeth's coronation day on 2 June 1953.

My own memories of celebrating Royal Jubilee's was in 1977. This occasion was Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. I remember my sisters and I were each given a commemorative mug. My sisters and I were also part of a large street party and there we enjoyed many different sweets and treats, made by all the local Mums. We played games and danced with everyone in the street until late into the evening.

Celebrating the Silver Jubilee in Beccles
Queen Elizabeth's Christmas broadcast in 1977 focused on Reconciliation as well as her overwhelming appreciation of the kindness and greetings she received from people she met that Jubilee year, "from twelve Commonwealth countries and thirty-six counties in the United Kingdom". She had visited Northern Ireland earlier in the year, which was the first time in 11 years, which also had a resonating effect on her. She finished her Christmas speech by saying these profound words:
"My hope this Christmas is that the Christian spirit of reconciliation may burn as strongly in our hearts during the coming year. God Bless you all..."