Thursday, 28 July 2011

Those Places Thursday: Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset

Weston-Super-Mare was (and perhaps still is) the traditional summer haunt for many Bristolians, my family being no exception.  Both sides of the family were frequent visitors, and our photo albums bear testament to their love affair with the resort.  In my view, they should have dropped this particular love affair and found something a bit more attractive, but poor old Weston, cheap, tatty, but oh so convenient, just kept them coming back for more.  Shame!

So, what are Weston's attractions, besides a quick rail link to Bristol.  Well, it is beside the sea and at one time it was certainly a very elegant resort, with two (or was it three) attractive piers, steam boats, winter gardens, a lido and imposing beach front hotels.  In latter years, the steam boats stopped calling, all but one pier became derelict (and that one burnt down two years ago), the lido is closed and the hotels look rather elderly.  The beach is, of course, still there, but at low tide the sand gives way to miles of murky, smelly mud.

Still, happy memories!  Donkey rides, ice creams, my gran and Aunty Betty (fag in hand, of course) sitting in deckchairs in their summer frocks ALL day, breaking only for cups of tea.  The rush to the train station at the end of the day.  Visits to my other aunt, a nun, in the convent on the hill, where the nuns did a particularly good high tea.  Yummy!

Why, oh why, did I ruin the memories by visiting as an adult!  A couple of years ago my husband had business in Weston, so my daughter and I went too, thinking it would be a giggle.  Oh dear!  Incessant drizzle, no one on the beach, nothing to do.  We found a crazy golf course and spent the game desperately trying to distract our daughter from the man on top of the multi-storey car park behind us who was threatening suicide (she didn't notice, despite the police and ambulance presence).  So, Weston is now known as Weston-Super-Nightmare in our house.

Which just goes to show you can't relive your past - just treasure the memories.
Monday, 25 July 2011

Matrilineal Monday: Great-Grandmother No 1 - Ellen Warren

I have always considered myself to have inherited my looks from my father's family, the Browns.  I look just like Dad, and seeing a photograph of his father with his parents and 10 siblings confirmed the matter.  It was only recently that it dawned on me that actually I do not possess the Brown looks (I can be quite slow on the uptake - the photograph has been on display for the last 30 years!).  Actually, my great-grandfather Henry Brown is fair, a blue-eyed blond.  Several of his sons have the same colouring.  The rest of the group are dark haired and dark eyed - like their mother, Ellen Warren.  So, I seem to have inherited the medium-dark Warren visage, not the (contrarily) fair Brown one.

My dusky great-grandmother was born in June 1865 in Bedminster, Bristol.  Her parents, John Warren and Harriet Courtney, were from the small Devon town of South Molton.  I am guessing that their migration to the city was caused by the fall in demand for wool produced by the cottage industries in Devon.  John had been a woolcomber as a young man, but in Bristol found work with the railway and seems to have remained with them until his death.  Harriet was the daughter of a tailor, John Courtney and his wife Mary Snow.  John Courtney carried on his trade until his death in 1885, his wife survived him by a year.  Harriet pre-deceased her parents - she died shortly after the birth of Ellen, leaving John to bring up their six children.

Ellen had four older sisters, Mary Jane (b. 1852), Alice (1854-1875), Sarah (1858) and Emma (1860) and a brother, Joseph (1862-1930).  Ellen seems to have been close to Alice - in her will she left a small bequest to Alice's grown-up twins.  Like his father, Joseph worked for the railway, continuing to do so when he emigrated to Sydney, Australia.  In time, three of Ellen's sons were to follow their uncle to Australia.

In 1881 Ellen was living and working at a pub in Bridewell Street, Bristol.  Next door was the City Police Headquarters.  Perhaps it was here, over the bar, that the young Ellen met an older Police Fireman, Henry Brown.  The couple married in July 1882.

Ellen and Henry seem to have lived with the Warrens at first, their first son, Joseph Henry Brown, being born at John Warren's home.  Alice Brown was born next in 1884, followed a year later by Robert.  The family moved to Cardiff at some time before 1887, in time for Harold to be born, followed by Reginald in 1888, and Sidney in 1891.  During this time Henry was working as a tram driver.

The family moved back to Bristol by 1893, when Ernest was born.  Edwin followed in 1894, Philip (my grandfather) in 1896, Gwendoline in 1898 and finally Gladys in 1902.  By this time Henry had set up in business on his own account as a corn factor - he must have done quite well as they were able to employ a servant to help Ellen in the house.  He moved the family once more, around 1904, to a new house where he set up as a butcher.

I hope that the move to the new house was a happy time for Ellen - she was surrounded by her 11 children, in an up and coming neighbourhood, and the future must have looked bright.  Sadly, perhaps, life began to change quite rapidly for the Browns around this time.  Joseph, the eldest child, decided to emigrate to Western Australia.  I imagine this was the prompt for the family photograph which I cherish so much.  To my eyes, Ellen's expression is bleak - but that is perhaps fanciful.

Matters didn't improve - Robert emigrated to Canada in 1907 and over the next few years Reginald and then Ernest joined Joseph Warren in Sydney.  Real tragedy struck when war broke out - with the exception of Joseph and Robert (both married with children) - all the Brown boys joined up.  Ellen's home was empty, save for her husband and her girls.  The first blow was struck in the summer of 1916 - Reginald fell at Pozieres, followed two weeks later by Ernest.  In February the following year, Sidney too died.

Ellen Brown in later life

After the war, the house emptied again.  Harold married in 1919 and set up his own home.  Henry Brown died in 1920, leaving his entire estate to his widow.  She remained in the house, with her daughters and my grandfather and Edwin.  In 1924 my grandfather moved out to marry, and Edwin married in 1926, a month before Ellen's death.  I wonder if Ellen couldn't see the point to her life with all the men in her life gone.
Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sunday Obituary: Reginald Brown 1889 - 1916

I have written about Reginald Brown before, and I shall make no apology for doing so again!  He was my great-uncle, I never met him, but I am duty-bound never to forget him.  Reginald's life was cut short, depriving him of the opportunity to marry and have his own descendants to remember him, so it falls to me and my cousins to do so for him.

Today is, I imagine, the day on which Reginald's life officially ended, the day on which his Unit realised that he was definitely not just missing, but dead.  There is no exact day, no time, not even a body - just an official estimate of 22-25 July 1916.  He was Private 2336 in the 1st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force and during this time he and his comrades were involved in some of the bloodiest fighting on the Somme, at Pozieres. The war diary mentions "exceptionally heavy shell fire of all calibres" and reports that they could not evacuate some of the wounded for 24 hours due to a lack of stretcher bearers.  Somewhere amongst all the chaos, Reginald fell.  He is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, as is his brother Ernest.  Their brother Sidney lies not too far away at Rouen.

There is a little more about Reginald here.

Lest we forget.
Saturday, 9 July 2011

Surname Saturday: Brown-ed Off!

Some weeks it just doesn't go well, does it?  After a fortnight of research into the Toal side of my family, yielding some exciting and sad revelations, I turned my attentions back to the Browns.  Shouldn't have bothered.  Might as well have sat window shopping on Ebay.

Generally, I am extremely pleased with the results of my labours - researching "Brown" is a pretty tough ask. But it has gone well - back to the mid eighteenth century, living cousins found, all jolly lovely.  But this week has been a little frustrating.  I had two goals - the whereabouts of my great-uncle Sidney's Battery at the time of his death in 1917 and a lead on my great-uncle Edwin's St John Ambulance Brigade war record.

To find the answer to my first question I turned to my favourite website - The Long, Long Trail.  It is the Holy Grail of all things WW1.  So I trawled the (rather long) lists of Divisions trying to find 127th Bristol Heavy Battery.  I didn't find it.  So I tried again.  And then (rather crossly now) again.  A fourth attempt was looking futile, so I steeled myself and posted a question on The Great War Forum, fearing that my general ignorance about WW1 was about to be unmasked.  It was - a very kind man gently reminded me that Heavy Batteries were not attached to Divisions, but part of a Corps.  I have been living under the rock beneath which I crawled ever since.

On the question of the St John Ambulance Brigade, I thought that I had sent a query (very politely and in English) to the SJA museum around a week ago.  I must be mistaken, because nobody has replied.

So, all in all, I am a bit browned off (don't know if that is a phrase in use in USA?  Comes from RAF slang, meaning "extremely annoyed") with my Brown research.

Here's to a better week next week!
Monday, 4 July 2011

Matrilineal Monday: 3 Ellens and a Laura

My great-grandmothers:  3 Ellens and a Laura.  Actually, one Ellen; one Eleanor, known as Ellen; one Mary Ellen, known as Ellen or Ellie.  And one Laura, as far as I know, known as Laura.  What else did these four ladies have in common?  I plan to post about each of them over the next few Mondays, but here is a summary:

Three were born in England, one in Wales.
Two moved to Wales (for a time at least) and three lived in Cardiff
Two were born in Bristol
One moved to the USA and died there
Two married seamen
Two outlived husbands (not necessarily my great-grandfathers!)
Between them they had nearly 30 children
One died before she was 30
None of them reached their three score years and ten.

Next Monday - Ellen Warren - barmaid, teenage bride, mother of eleven.
Saturday, 2 July 2011

Surname Saturday: This week's To(t)al Despair

Last week I posted about the Toal's previously unknown emigration to the USA.  This week I have been delving further into their lives and rather wish I hadn't.

I had already found that my grandfather's young sister, Elsie, had died shortly after arriving in Philadelphia.  She is buried in the City's Holy Cross Cemetery.  I have now found that two other little Toals are there with her - twin brothers George F Toal and John F Toal.  Both babies died aged 9 weeks on 1st July 1896 (a year and a month after their sister).  The cause of death was given as Marasmus, which was unknown to me.  It is apparently a form of malnutrition, now most commonly seen in children in the developing world.  Whether the baby Toals had insufficient nutrition, or whether their failure to thrive was due to some underlying illness, we shall never know.

Another baby Toal (a nameless girl) died early in 1900 in Camden, New Jersey, the child of James Toal and Ella F Toal - this may or may not be my great-grandparents' child, although the names fit.  I still can't find a death record for poor Ellen Toal - she must have died around 1900 - worn out, I would imagine, by the deaths of her babies.

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