Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hard Times and Heroes.

Last time I talked about daily life at grandma's. This week I want to go further back in time, by a whole generation, to talk about my Great Grandparents on my Grandfathers' side of the family.  Some dramatic events in their lives had far reaching effects on the descendants of the Connolly family, for many years to come, as you will see. 

Alfred Thomas Connolly.
(Born 1872)

My GT. Grandfather,
Alred, Thomas Connolly.

Alfred Thomas Connolly was my Great Grandfather, the son of a master gardener.  He was one of a family of 5 and when his parents died in 1875 & 1879 he went into an orphanage near Woolwich.  He then ran away to sea.
This is the earliest photo
I have of Emma.

On January 29 1896 he married my Great Grandmother,Emma Dowson at St. Andrews Anglican Church, Grimsby.  

Emma was born in 1874 in Grimsby and her Father was a trawler Skipper. 

They had 4 children:-
Alfred Edward, my grandfather who's house we lived in 'til I was 7.

born 1896
Lorina Harriet, born 1898
Emma  born 1901
Henry "Harry" born 1907.

Alfred Thomas was a fisherman sailing out of the fishing Port of
A newspaper report i at the time in the
Grimsby telegraph.
Grimsby and in 1906 he was serving as third hand on the trawler "Victoria" owned by the Standard Steam Trawling Co. of Grimsby when a severe storm struck the vessel.  The master's name was Hill and his son, W. Hill, (the Second Hand) was swept overboard.  My great grandfather swam out with a rope attached to him and retrieved the stricken fisherman but the man was dead before they got him back aboard.
The exposure caused Alfred Thomas to contract pneumonia and he was put ashore in the Faeroes Islands.

On January 17th 1907 he died of his illness at the age of 35 and was buried at Klagsvig, Faeroes Islands.
My Great Grandfather was presented (posthumously) with a medal from the Grimsby Humane Society.  It was presented to his widow Emma, along with a small sum of money from the Society's funds
"in the hope that the children would regard the medal in the light of public appreciation for their father's gallantry".

Emma was left a widow at the age of  33 with no means of support and 4 young children to bring up!  There was no Welfare State in 1907, that wouldn't start until July 5th 1948.  The only income she had was 6 shillings from the Parish and whatever other money she could earn.  
She took in washing, wallpapered and  whitewashed,cleaned and did dressmaking for people. She made shirts for people and sold them for 1 shilling each!  She did all these things and yet still managed to keep a clean house and raise 4 children, a huge achievement but all the more remarkable as she only had 1 hand!
Emma was born with only her left hand.
In spite of all this though Emma had to part with her 2 eldest children Alf (my granddad) and his sister Lorina and send them to The  Sailors' Orphan Home at Newland in Hull.  Hull is on the other side of the River Humber so visiting them was difficult. While they were there she only saw them for 1 day every 6 weeks,
they were there for 4 years.  Alf returned home in December 1911 but sadly, Lorina died at the Orphanage in January of that same year.
The other 2 siblings each took their turn at the Sailors' Orphanage,
Harry emigrated to Canada many years later and Em was to marry a butcher and live in East Marsh Street, Grimsby.

Alfred Edward Connolly.
(My granddad)
While he was at Newlands Sailors' Orphanage my Granddad was educated to the standard of the time.  He had a bad chest and the people there advised him to take up playing a wind instrument to strengthen his breathing.  The orphanage had a tradition for teaching music and had a well respected band.  Alf took up the clarinet and learned to read music, it soon became apparent that he had a natural aptitude for music and many years later became an accomplished musician to professional standard and played in many well known bands and orchestras around the Grimsby area.
However, while learning music at the orphanage he was invited into the band and immediately accepted,  for two reasons.  Firstly it would mean going out every weekend in the summer, to play at concerts in Yorkshire at places like Filey, Scarborough and Harrogate.  The other kids at the orphanage would be kept in to do cleaning etc.  The second reason was the cream teas and meals that were provided at the concerts!  To be a member though meant he had to have his own instrument, he'd only been using a borrowed one for tuition.  Once again Emma (his mum with only the 1 hand) came to the rescue and did extra washing and dress making to buy Alf a brand new Boosey & Hawkes clarinet which must have been a big expense.
There is a lot more I could tell you about my granddads' musical career but I'll save that for another time.
When Alf returned home he became an apprenticed metal turner on Grimsby docks and continued in that trade for the whole of his working life.
one of the earliest pics of Alf taken in
1943 holding my sister Kathleen.

While still at the sailors Orphanage Alf met a girl there called Rachel Younger.  She had also been orphaned and sent there after losing both parents who were Scottish.  Rachel was born in 1899 and when she left the orphanage went to live in Grimsby and later married Alf to eventually become my grandma, "Nanna".  They were childhood sweethearts and, many years later, helped raise me until I was 7 years old.
I know an awful lot about my other ancestors but that is all I know about Nanna other than that she was kind to me and my sister Kathleen and had a great sense of humour!

At the outbreak of World War 1 my granddad was a turner on the docks and was issued with a "Certificate of Exemption" from the Military Authorities which prevented him from being called up for service as he was employed in an exempt trade that would be valuable for the war effort as he was employed repairing ships.
He was also issued with a War Service Badge to wear to show why he, as a young man, had not "joined up" to fight in the war.  A certificate was also issued to verify the badge.
Many young men who didn't "do their bit" were branded cowards so the badge was very important.

I'm at the end of this weeks' entry and I've found it a bit harrowing recalling these events, although I've always known them the details are quite upsetting, I think you'll agree.
I called this entry "Hard Times and Heroes" and I'm sure you will agree that my Great Grandfather was certainly a hero but equally heroic was my Great Grandmother Emma who we always called
"Little Gran".  To be left a widow in those days was a terrible situation to be in, especially with her handicap, these days she would be described as a "single mother" and get all the help that the state has to offer. 
Little Gran was a survivor however and lived a long life.  Despite being "bombed out" of her house in 1941 during WW2 she lived for many more years and died in 1969 at the age of 95! 

There is another final story to tell about "Little Gran", a very happy tale and I hope to amuse you with it at another time later on.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Daily Life at Grandma's.

As I said previously, no-one used their front doors, especially on Harrington Street as the railway line ran along the opposite side of the road so all the places we needed to go were out from the back of the house.  Bikes, prams & shopping all came through the back passages and into the back door.
Despite this, once a week, the front doorstep had to be cleaned.  It was made from York stone and was a pale creamy yellow colour so soon picked up all the airborne dust and pollution.  In those days everyone had coal fires so the atmosphere would be thick with smoke and soot.  The step would be scrubbed with soapy water  and then "stoned" with a very hard "step stone" which brought it up sparkling, bright and spotlessly clean.  It was a matter of pride and quite a bit of rivalry for the housewife to ensure their step was the cleanest in the street.  Some steps had a distinct dip in the middle where the housewife had been a bit too "enthusiastic"!
If there was a brass letterbox it too would receive a good polish!

In any house the front room was hardly ever used, the exception would be for funerals!
The next room, the middle room in the house, was the main room where the whole family lived and gathered together to eat, relax and listen to the radio.  The radio was the main form of entertainment. 
Another important function for this room was to get bathed, once a
week, on a Friday night in front of the fire. We bathed in a tin bath which was kept outside and all the water had to be brought in, heated on the fire and then emptied into the bath.  It was a long process so we had to share the water.  I got bathed first, then my sister Kathleen had her turn and I seem to remember my mother would have her bath after we had been put to bed.  Years later my mam told me she always bathed us on a Friday night and then went early to bed herself because that was the night my grandparents went to play whist (a card game played by 2 people as a team against another 2 people) and if my grandmother had made a mistake and let their side down
(apparently it often happened) there would be an argument when they got home, my granddad was quite competitive!
The next room in the house was the kitchen which was used for cooking.  Washing, by that I mean the laundry, took place in an outside building known as the wash house.

Wash day always took place on a Monday and would require a very early start and would occupy the whole day.  First job was to light the fire under the copper in the wash house.  The copper was a brick built structure with a large bowl made of stone above an enclosed fire below. The bowl had to be filled with water and the fire lit below by 6 - 6:30 am!  My grandmother would do this and then make cheese sandwiches for my granddads morning break. Sometime he forgot them and I would eat them for breakfast.
Image courstesy of
It took all day to do the weekly wash and I hated it!  Not because I had to help, but I was expected to keep out of the way and occupy myself until it was all done.
Washing was carried out using dolly tubs & wash boards.  The order of work was wash, rinse, mangle (put through a mangle or ringer to get out excess water) and finally hang out to dry on the washing line.  I can still remember the sound of bed sheets "cracking" on the line.  If it was raining then all had to be dried indoors.  It was a matter of pride who had the whitest, cleanest washing and they would use Reckitts Blue Bag, placed in the water
A typical flat iron.  Image courtesy of 'Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life'
to make them whiter.  Finally all the washing had to be ironed using a flat iron.  A flat iron was a none electric,  solid iron and had to be heated up on a fire, there would be 2 in use, one on the fire while 

the other was being used.  
The whole process took all day but came to a break when my granddad would come home from work at dinnertime.  Dinner on  Monday was always cold meat from the Sunday roast with perhaps some bubble & squeak (fried mashed potatoe and brussel sprouts mashed together).  My job was to keep looking out of the window of the middle room so I could have a clear view down the back passage and tell my grandmother when my granddad was almost home.  In the summer I would wait in the garden and would know he was on his way when I heard his "seggs" scraping along the passage.  Seggs were the metal studs that manual workers hammered into the soles of their boots to stop them slipping and also made the soles last longer.
The only other diversion for me was when my sister Kathleen returned home from school and was expected to entertain me!

Meals were always taken sat at a table, with a tablecloth (no lap trays and TV meals then) and we were taught to eat properly.  No elbows on the table, eat with your mouth closed and replace the knife & fork together on the plate when finished.  Always ask permission to leave the table... "please may I leave the table ?" 
 Sometimes there might be an accident and a cup of tea would get spilled, grandma would immediately wipe it up but then place a saucer below the table cloth to prevent it staining the polished wooded top below.
Despite being taught all these things my granddad would be allowed to prop his newspaper up at the table to read while he ate!  I was told I would be allowed to do this when I was "grown up" too!
We were taught general good manners, to say please & thank you, never walk between two people talking or interrupt.  It was all done in a firm but friendly way and I'm grateful as it has stood me in good stead all of my life.
Going to bed was not my happiest time of day, there being no electricity upstairs we had to light our way with a candle to go upstairs and then, when in bed my mother would leave us with a couple of nite-lites in saucers of water.  They were similar to modern T-Lites but without the scent!  In the winter we had hot
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
water bottles to  keep us warm, the houses were extremely cold, no central heating!!  Often we awoke to find frost on the inside of the windows and the curtains stuck to the glass!  Surprisingly I remember they were rubber hot water bottles although my grandparents insisted on using the older stoneware hot water bottles.

This image courtesy of 'Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life' 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

8 foots, 10 foots and Passageways.

Cleethorpes and Grimsby.

I said in the previous post that I was born in Cleethorpes, it's a small seaside town on the east coast of England.  Next door is Grimsby, once the largest fishing port in the world but now reduced since the decline of the fishing industry in the late 70's.

Once these two towns were quite separate with open farm and coastal land between them; in the Victorian period the land between the two towns was built on and now Grimsby & Cleethorpes are as one large town with no obvious border to tell the visitor which town they are in.  The railway came to Grimsby in 1848 and later to Cleethorpes in 1863,  this lead to more trade and Cleethorpes became a very popular seaside resort so more housing was needed.

Harrington Street, where I was brought up, was one of these new developments and although very old then, the houses survive today. 
Harrington Street.

Harrington Street was just one of many rows of terraced houses built in long rows in the back to back style which was prevalent throughout England in the Victorian era.  The back gardens of one row backed onto the back gardens of the next, this building style was repeated all along the areas streets.  They were separated at the rear by an open walkway between the gardens (known as either "8 foots" or "10 foots" depending on their width) and along the row of houses there would be an enclosed passageway between the houses to allow a way through from front to rear.
By using the network of "8 foots" & passages residents could swiftly move about the area without needing to go to the ends of the terraced rows of houses.  It was also one of the reasons no-one used their front doors, at least not on Harrington Street, as the houses only occupied one side of the road because the railway lines through to Cleethorpes Train Station were on the opposite side.

This shows how close the railway is to the houses on Harrington Street.

Sadly, it's a sign of the times that all these inter connecting "8 foots" "10  foots" and passages have had to be closed off. Gated and chained for security reasons the residents no longer have their networks of short cuts and socially don't tend to meet and talk in the back ways any more.
Photographed recently.

The passage I used to come & go from my grandparents house which can be seen in the distance. 
My Grandparents House.

My grandparents house where we lived was typical of the period with almost none of the inside services that we take for granted today.  No electricity, no inside toilet/bathroom and no inside water!  There was gas for cooking and lighting in the kitchen but that was all.
Although my grand parents rented the house (from a private landlord) my granddad paid for electricity to be installed downstairs but this was limited to lighting and a couple of low capacity power points.  He retained the gas lighting in the kitchen and I can still remember when the gas mantles were lit and the lovely light they gave off.  I used to go with my mam or grandmother (Nanna) to Ron Ramsdens' hardware store to buy the mantles.  More of "Rammys" on another occasion.
The only water was from a tap out in the back yard, all water had to be brought into the house for cooking and bathing.  The toilet was an outside "privy" in a brick outhouse adjoining the wash house. Very basic but it did have one item of comfort, a wooden seat, very welcome in colder weather!
We all washed daily from water in an enamel bowl, heated up in a very large brown enamel kettle which was permanently over an open fire for the purpose.  When not required a kettle of boiled water would be left "singing on the hob", a metal stand on the hearth  in front of the fire.
I can still remember my granddad  washing when he came home from work, he would strip to the waist and let his braces hang down at the sides.  (American readers might like to know that braces are what men hold their trousers up with here, you might know them as "suspenders".  In England suspenders have an entirely different use and it's best to leave it there!)  Back to my granddad, he would finish his ablutions with a grand flourish by throwing water up into his face to rinse the soap off and blowing out through pursed lips at the same time!  This made a loud noise that made me laugh every time. 

In the next post I'll talk about daily life. 


Thursday, 13 November 2014

The winter of 1946 - 1947.

Winter of 1946–47 in the United Kingdom

Soldiers digging out snow drifts
along railway lines.
"The winter of 1946–1947 was a harsh European winter noted for its effects in the United Kingdom. The UK experienced several cold spells, beginning on 21 January 1947, bringing large drifts of snow to the country, which caused roads and railways to be blocked. Coal supplies, already low following the Second World War, struggled to get through to power stations and many stations were forced to shut down for lack of fuel. The government introduced several measures to cut power consumption, including restricting domestic electricity to 19 hours per day and cutting industrial supplies completely. In addition, radio broadcasts were limited, television services were suspended, some magazines were ordered to stop being published and newspapers were cut in size. 

(This is me in May 1947.)
Mid-March brought milder air to the country which thawed the snow lying on the ground. This snowmelt ran off the frozen ground straight into rivers and caused widespread flooding. More than 100,000 properties were affected and the Army and foreign aid agencies were forced to provide humanitarian aid. With the cold weather over and the ground thawing there were no further weather problems. 

The winter had severe effects on British industries with around 10% of the year's industrial production lost, cereal and potato crops down 10–20% and one quarter of sheep stocks lost. The ruling Labour Party began to lose popularity which led to their loss of a large number of seats to the Conservative Party in the 1950 election. The winter is also cited as a factor in the devaluation of the pound from $4.03 to $2.80, Britain's decline from superpower status and the introduction of the Marshall Plan to aid war-torn Europe. The effects on the rest of Europe were also severe with 150 deaths from cold and famine in Berlin, civil disorder in the Netherlands and business closures in the Republic of Ireland."

The above information courtesy of Wikipedia.

Whilst the winter was both long and extremely cold another important event occurred in January of 1947.  On the 9th of January, 1947 I was born!
 I don't remember  anything about it or the fact that the country was experiencing a "once in a lifetime spell of extreme weather".  Now that sounds familiar.

I was born in my grandparents house on Harrington Street, Cleethorpes in the county of Lincolnshire.  Apparently it was a difficult birth being a breach birth, I made my first appearance backside first!  My mother would often say, in later years that I could be stubborn and awkward, adding "you were even born arse first"!  

I was one of thousands of children born in the years following WW2, we were known as "Baby Boomers". 

(See "About Me" page for more info regarding Baby Boomers.)

As a family there was my mother and father, Kathleen and George and my sister Kathleen who was 5 years my senior. I have a younger brother, Brian, but it would be another 13 years until he came along.
This is me photographed in
June 1947 (long after the snow)
with my Granddad and sister.

Note the home made knitted
swimsuit Kathleen is wearing.

Just like most young families of the time we lived with my grand parents in their house.  No-one of working class in the years just after World War 2 expected to buy their own house and my grand parents rented their house from a private landlord. 

This arrangement was common and allowed newly married couples to save for their own home.  It would be quite a few years until the councils embarked on a massive building scheme to provide council housing, referred to now as "social housing".  Many years later people would start to buy their own houses.