Friday 2 June 2023

Lilian Jane Margaret Watkins (nee Lanyon)

In the early hours of yesterday morning my mother-in-law Jane Watkins (nee Lanyon) passed away. I knew instantly that I wanted to honour her life in some way even if it is through this humble blog post. I first met Jane in August 1999, just weeks after her 51st birthday. I was immediately struck by her no nonsense attitude and fiercely determined spirit. Seven years prior she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease related to manganese poisoning. When I met her, she had a barely noticeable limp and she held her left arm across her chest but she didn't ever complain or allow it to slow her down or inhibit her life. She continued her life in that vain, even as the prolonged manganese poisoning symptoms began to take away her abilities to walk, talk and basically function. For a time, Jane continued to travel with her husband, my father-in-law Roy, and enjoy the simplicity of life. She could no longer do the things she loved most in all the world, her pottery and artwork. Over time the symptoms of her disease robbed her of the ability to sculpt and paint.

Jane came from a long line of Cornish artists, notably her father Peter Lanyon (read about him here in my blogpost written ten years ago). Her brothers Andrew, Matthew, Jo and Martin are also revered artists. I had the pleasure of meeting some of Jane's family when I visited the Cornish coast in 2006. I felt an instant connection with her mother Sheila and her nephews Arthur and John. Being able to see Jane's extended family and her beloved Newlyn through her mother's eyes, I became fascinated with the Lanyon family and began researching the family tree. However, I wish I had of asked more questions of both Sheila and Jane but both of them possessed a "look ahead" only spirit. I honestly felt that they would simply evade my questions and curiosity, not because of any sense of family pride or rudeness but from a standpoint that life goes on, look forward towards the future, and don't dwell or look back on the past.

For instance, when I first met Sheila at her house in Newlyn, she had a framed photograph of her late husband Peter resting on a table beside her armchair. When I pointed it out, admiring his youthful good looks, she simply waved her arm around flippantly and said "Yes, that's Peter" and said no more on the subject but got up to go put the kettle on. Sharing memories of Peter Lanyon were usually shrugged off and mentioned only in passing. I also personally felt that for Jane's sake, her father died as a result of injuries incurred from a gliding accident when she was just 16 years of age, so bringing him up in conversation might have felt almost too intimate for Jane. I remember only once she spoke about him at great length and brought out some books and reels to show me; she sat on the floor with me for a short time but then without another word, got up and left me alone to pour through them. She rarely said another word about her father to me, it was like the door had quietly closed leaving no room for loitering in the doorway but to swiftly move on and never look back. I respected that silent motion at the time, but I do now regret that I didn't ask her any more about her childhood.

One of my favourite photos of Jane in her youth.
This was taken around 1964.

Jane was a wonderful mother-in-law. She made no fuss, interfered only once in my bringing up of her grandchild, and she quietly doted on all of her friends and loved ones. She was always smiling, I remember the many times we visited her and Roy, she would usually always be in the kitchen pottering around, baking and cooking even though she was increasingly restricted in her movements. She rarely sat still, she just developed a natural shuffle to get about in her own way. She would laugh heartily too. I can hear her laughter in my mind even now, and in the months before her passing she laughed at Goon Show references and my rendition of "A Little of What You Fancy". And yes, she sometimes cried unabashed too, especially as the years passed and she grew increasingly frustrated and restricted.

I shall miss Jane profoundly. Her legacy is of course her artworks, her pottery and her paintings. But also her husband of 52 years, her two sons, her two grandchildren, her extended family in the UK, and her lifelong friends in Australia. I shall miss her smiling face, her cheery outlook, her infectious laughter. Thank you for being my mother-in-law for 22 years. Rest in peace. You fought a long, arduous battle and you did it with dignity and sober realism. It was a pleasure to know you and call you family.

For further reading on Jane's journey to uncovering more about her manganese poisoning and Parkinsonism please read this article.

Thursday 26 November 2020

Lilian Katie : 100 Years

This is a very special post which is dedicated to my maternal grandmother, Lilian Katie Humphries, who was born on this day 100 years ago.
I have written about her here

Nannie Lilian will always be fondly remembered for many things but the most important thing she taught me, whether intentionally or not, was that combing your hair and putting powder on your face and rouge on your cheeks made you look and feel much better, even if you didn't necessarily feel that way underneath. My Nannie spent almost all of her life unwell, mostly from asthma and bronchial ailments, as well as heart conditions, but she always managed to run a comb through her hair and apply some rouge on her cheeks. I used to watch her apply her favourite Bourjois rouge and I still have her last used blush pot in my archive box, given to me in more recent years by my mother. Nannie Lilian also passed on to me her passionate love for London. Regrettably, I haven't returned there for many years now but whenever I see it on television, in a movie, drama series or documentary, I can feel my heart automatically soar. London is such a wonderful place and as Samuel Johnson once famously said in 1777, "those who tire of London tire of life". For me, that saying lies deep within my psyche even today, because London has always made me feel recharged, fully present and energised whenever I am there. Not only that, I also feel a strong ancestral connection there and that fills me with honour.

I miss you every single day Nannie but please know that I always think of you and often recall childhood memories as I go about my daily life. I am forever grateful that you were a part of my childhood and teenage years. You were taken from us way too soon. I love you.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Thank You... Armistice Day 2018

This is my first blog post in three and a half years *shock face* I have been away from blogging, writing and family history research and concentrating my energies elsewhere but I will never ever forget my ancestry. I will never forget the sacrifices, the losses, the struggles, and their strength and dedication. This is my promise to my ancestors, my living family, and especially my daughter.

This special post honors the centenary of the end of the Great War or World War One (WWI). At this solemn time I am once again reminded of those who fought for their country and lost their lives. Husbands, boyfriends, friends, school chums, work colleagues, brothers, cousins, nephews. uncles, sons, grandsons - lost, yet never forgotten. I would also like to acknowledge all the courageous women who served as nurses, both at home and overseas.

🌺James JOLLY
1880 - 1914 Norfolk Regiment
From Bungay, SFK  not married
🌺William Burgoine WATERS
1889 - 1917 Norfolk Regiment
From Beccles, SFK married, five children
1889 - 1918 Essex Regiment
From Holt, NFK  married, no children

In April of this year I took a trip to Kings Park as it was the centenary of Sidney Preston's death. I made a special lanyard and attached his school photograph and a Preston family photo of happier times with his family, on a picnic at the beach, taken before the war broke out which changed everybody's life. I took photographs, as well as some video footage and I recited the Ode of Remembrance. These are a few of the photographs from that trip (10 April 2018):

Sidney Preston 1889 - 1918
Eternal Flame, Kings Park
My special lanyard made especially for Sidney

 ADDENDUM: 11 November 2018
I have just returned home from Kings Park where the centenary Armistice Day service was held. The crowds were on a much grander scale than in the previous years I've attended (2014/5/6/7). Not only was Mark McGowan (Premier of WA) in attendance this year but also Kim Beasley (Governor of WA) as well as several government dignitaries and officials. Most importantly, the soldiers who have served our country, who received respectful yet hearty applause at the closing of the service. This show of respect touched my heart and also moved a few of them to tears.
As I walked around looking at the sea of handmade poppies (over 61,000 were made for the occasion) and taking photographs with my phone, a young girl approached me and asked about my photographs. I told her who they were and she then told me her two of her 3xgreat-uncles served (and died) in WWI and their names are on the War Memorial. One of them was named Percy!
I was deeply moved by the events of today, and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the service. Seeing thousands of people, young and old, and feeling the depth of mutual respect. Some were wearing military medals and/or pins, some were wearing commemorative t-shirts or slouch hats, everyone was wearing poppies. Witnessing the sea of handmade poppies is something I will not forget for a long time to come. Here are some photographs from today's service (11 November 2018):

James Jolly 1880 - 1914
The rosary beads belonged to my great-grandmother Nellie
who was James' sister

🌺Lest We Forget🌺

Friday 17 April 2015

Winifred Ellen : 100 Years

This is a very special post which is dedicated to my paternal grandmother, Winifred Ellen Waters, who was born on this day 100 years ago.
I have written about her here

Nannie Freda taught me many things but most of all she taught me the true meaning of family and its history. She always encouraged me to explore my family history and to write about it. She often said I had the gift for writing, as did her own mother Eva who wrote articles for the church newsletters. Nannie also taught me the full appreciation of home and what it means to have roots. Beccles was her home for almost all of her life, and my love of home comes from her. Whenever I write about Beccles, I feel as though she is controlling my pen.

I miss you every single day Nannie but I know that you are a constant guiding light in my life, and I am forever grateful for your presence. I love you.

Monday 24 November 2014

James "Jumbo" Jolly

I have previously posted about my great grand-uncle James Jolly, particularly at times of Remembrance. He was killed in action on this day, one hundred years ago. The Great War was barely three months old when James was fighting on the front lines during the First Battle of Ypres.

James Jolly, circa 1899

James Jolly was born in 1880 in Bungay, county Suffolk. He was the son of William Jolly and Emma, nee Clarke. James was baptised at Bungay Holy Trinity Church on 16 November 1881. He joined the Norfolk Regiment at around the age of 19 and served with the 2nd Battalion in the Boer War from 1899-1902.

James' nickname was Jumbo. This could have stemmed from the fact that he had large ears. Bless him.

In 1894, when James was thirteen years old, he was sent before the Bungay Petty Sessions (with H. Rider Haggard presiding) for stealing seven rabbit traps, the property of Mr C French of St John Ilketshall. James did not work alone, he was with Arthur Ward and his brother Herbert Ward, and Edward Barber. Arthur Ward, who was twelve years old at the time, would go on to become my great-grandfather.

When war broke out in 1914, James served with the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment and was sent to France. According to the website the 1st Battalion formed part of the 15th Brigade, 5th Division and landed at Le Havre in August 1914. The 5th Division were involved in the following:
The Battle of Mons and subsequent retreat, including the Action of Elouges
The Battle of Le Cateau and the Affair of Crepy-en-Valois
The Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Aisne
The Battles of La Bassee and Messines 1914
The First Battle of Ypres

James Jolly, circa 1914

Grey field of Flanders, grim old battle-plain,
What armies held the iron line round Ypres in the rain,
From Bixschoote to Baeceleare and down to the Lys river?

Merry men of England,
Men of the green shires,
From the winding waters,
The elm-trees and the spires,
And the lone village dreaming in the downland yonder.
Half a million Huns broke over them in thunder,
Roaring seas of Huns swept on and sunk again,
Where fought the men of England round Ypres in the rain,
On the grim plain of Flanders, whose earth is fed with slaughter.

--- Margaret Louisa Woods (1845-1945)

Thursday 30 October 2014

Bussey Woodrow

My second great granduncle Bussey Woodrow was born in Fulham, county Middlesex in 1842. He was the first born son of my three times great-grandparents, Bussey Woodrow and Louisa Powell.

Bussey is a unique name, and one I had not heard of in my family history until I received my two times great-grandmother's birth certificate in the post. My first thought on reading the father's name was that it said "Bufsey". Of course, I now realise the written meaning of the double S in transcripts. According to the Ancestry website Bussey means:
English (of Norman origin): habitational name from any of several places in Normandy, France: Boucé in Orne, from which came Robert de Buci mentioned in Domesday Book, Bouce (Manche), or Bucy-le-Long (Aisne). All are named with a Latin personal name Buccius (presumably a derivative of bucca ‘mouth’) + the locative suffix -acum.Altered spelling of German Busse.
I am yet to determine where the name originated from to be used in my family.

Bussey Woodrow was a Letter Carrier, and he lived in various places within the London area including Belgravia, Hanover Square and then later, in Battersea. During his life time he was married three times and had at least five known children. His first wife, Mary Ann, died after they were married for two-and-a-half years. Perhaps she died in childbirth? She was just 25 years old. Around six months later, Bussey married Susannah Catchpole with whom he had five known children, all boys: Harry, Bertie, Walter, Frank and Ernest. Susannah died in 1896, aged 48. The following year Bussey married Emma Chapman.

Bussey joined the British Postal Service on 12 February 1866 as a Letter Carrier. The occupation title was changed to Postman in 1883. This is reflected in the census returns where Bussey's occupation before 1891 was recorded as Letter Carrier and from 1891 onwards, Postman.

The Illustrated London News, 1860

Today we have airplanes, trains, ferries, motorcycles and motorised vans to deliver all of our mail items across the world. We have a raft of express delivery services, airmail and seamail choices, and vending machines that supply stamps. Before Bussey became a Letter Carrier in the 1860s, horses and coaches were the main method of delivering mail. This was an idea first formed by John Palmer, a theatre owner in Bath, who used carriage services to transport props and actors around the countryside. In 1782 Palmer took his idea of using carriages to transport mail around the country, to London where the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, accepted the idea and in 1784 an experimental mail coach journey succeeded in paving the way for a faster, more efficient postal delivery service. The development of the railway saw the demise of the mail coaches, with trains first used for delivering mail in 1830. Later in the 19th century, London would also undergo a massive change with the introduction of the Underground rail system.

In Bussey's time as a Letter Carrier he would have walked the congested London streets hand-delivering mail to businesses and residences in his designated area. He would have walked in all elements of weather, including thick fog and snow. His mail bag would have been made of cloth, which attracted mice so most Post Offices had to employ cats to catch and kill the mice. Horses and ponies were used to deliver mail up and down the country even after the demise of the mail coaches as they pulled the mail carts and vans until the 1930s when motorised vehicles replaced a great many horse-drawn vans (except, of course, for the more remote areas). The last horse-drawn mail van was seen in London in 1949. Bicycles did not become fully popular until the 20th century.

Horse-drawn Mail Cart, 1887

Bussey Woodrow died in May 1905, aged 68. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery in Lambeth. Among the notable burials there are Isabella Beeton, Sir Henry Tate and Dr William Marsden. In 1911 Bussey's widow, Emma Woodrow, was living with her sister Sarah in Kentish Town, St Pancras. It is believed that Emma Woodrow died in 1913 (Wandsworth area) but she could have died in 1928 in St Pancras. Bussey's brother, Frederick John Powell Woodrow, lived in Putney which is an area most familiar to my maternal family history. My two times great-grandmother Louisa Woodrow, who was Bussey and Frederick's sister, also lived there as a married woman.

If you have any Postal Service ancestors, I urge you to visit The British Postal Museum & Archive at There is so much to see there, and it includes just about everything you would ever want to know about the postal service. It has sections for family history, school and further education and provides an extensive history of the Royal Mail dating back to the 1600s.

Monday 22 September 2014

The Live Bait Squadron : Centenary

Today marks 100 years since the sinking of three Cressy-class armoured cruiser ships, HMS Hogue and her sisters HMS Aboukir and HMS Cressy. All three ships were hit by German U-Boat torpedoes in the morning of 22 September 1914.

The three ships which were to become known as the "Live Bait Squadron" were patrolling in the North Sea when they were torpedoed without warning. The combined total from all three ships was approximately 837 men rescued and 62 officers, and 1,397 men lost.
HMS Hogue

One of these men was my great-grandfather, Albert Humphries. Born in 1884, he lied about his age to join the Royal Navy in 1899. He served a total of 12 years, and joined the London Police Force in 1907. Ill-health prevented him from staying with the Force, taking retirement in 1911. When World War One broke out, Albert joined the Royal Naval Reserve and was posted to HMS Hogue. His commander was Reginald A Norton. Both men survived.

In November 1914, my great-uncle was born. His given name was Reginald Norton Humphries. The Norton name was passed from Reginald to his son and daughter and to his grandsons.

The Times newspaper, September 1914
My great-grandfather's name (top, right)

We will remember them. Lest we forget. God Bless them all.

For more information please see this wonderful website: and Albert Humphries' details have been kindly added by Henk van der Linden: