I knew that my paternal grandmother had grown up somewhere in north London. I could never quite remember where she said she lived. Whenever she mentioned her early experiences to me, it was only an old story of long ago as far as I was concerned, though I did like looking through the old family photographs with her.
When I was in my teens, I was interested in my family history but felt that it had little relevance to my life and my future. I did not think it was possible to learn more, except from my grandmother, and through one of her nephews who had been working on the family tree.
The more I learn about history now, and especially family history, the less I feel the distance between myself and other people, past and present. Now, the 1930s and even the 1830s can sometimes seem like yesterday, especially when making international and historical comparisons about current events. Being in touch by email can make the whole world seem just around the corner. The online world has changed perceptions in many ways.
When I lived in London, I never visited any relatives in the area. I had never had a relationship with them and my grandmother never put me in touch with them. Perhaps she thought I would not be interested in knowing them, or they would not be interested in known me. Now, several of my grandmother's nieces, nephews and more distant relatives have been in touch with me by email.
I vaguely remember being taken to visit some of my grandmother's relatives in London when I was very small, perhaps only two or three years of age. I have no idea which part of London their house was in, but I do remember being near a dining table with quite a few people, and there being food. Most of the people were strangers to me.
In later life, my grandmother often mentioned to me that she grew up in the Finsbury Park area. The names of places familiar to her were never familiar to me. I never lived or worked in those areas.
I remember my grandmother mentioning an open air school she attended, perhaps in Finsbury Park itself. It was thought, at the time, that an open air school was better for children suffering from respiratory problems, such as my grandmother, even with London's smog.
Recently, I used Google street view to explore the areas where my grandmother grew up, and where she probably lived and played as a child. Part of the area is now in the UK Parliamentary constituency of Islington South and Finsbury. The other part is in the constituency of North Islington.
In the middle of last year, I wrote about my grandmother's experiences at the end of World War Two. When I was young, any history seemed mostly irrelevant, and even ancient to me. The present and the short-term future were all that really mattered when I was nineteen. The long-term future only made me worry, or dream, when I thought about it.
I have already looked at a leaflet providing an overview of the archives. There is information there about the area in the First World War and Second World War.
|My great grandmother|
I am interested in how the family travelled about, and what they did on a daily basis and what they experienced, what they ate and the music they heard, in both the 19th and the 20th centuries. Family history, local history, social history, cultural history, economic history and political history are often intertwined.
War seemed so remote from my own existence when I was growing up yet I still found it frightening whenever poverty, injury or death were mentioned. My maternal grandfather often talked about the poverty of his youth in Shropshire, and the struggles against death and injury and pain of the people he knew. My maternal grandmother never mentioned anything at all of her past. My paternal grandmother mainly mentioned the people she knew when she was growing up, and always in affectionate terms.
Recently, I wrote about my paternal grandfather's experiences in Aden during World War Two. I was often repelled by his stories about the war when I was a child. They always sounded so gruesome. He did not seem capable of talking to me about anything else. The current situation Aden is yet another tragedy. Would the world be more peaceful if everyone could experience a sense of trust and belonging, free from poverty and free from fear?
There is much I still want to learn about 19th century London. I have only just started exploring Charles Booth's poverty maps. Are you aware of his work? Are you aware of the history of London?
|With my grandmother, 1990s|
Between the wars was the time of my grandmother's youth. Do you have any knowledge of London in the 1920s and 1930s? My grandmother was in her early 20s when the Battle of Cable Street occurred. She never mentioned any violent incidents affecting her directly, though she liked to keep herself informed of world events. During my provincial upbringing, I felt remote from the activities in cities.
|With my great grandmother, 1960s|
There were no immigration restrictions into Britain until 1905, though there had long been restriction on persons born in Britain moving from one parish to another. There had been workhouses in London for many years, both before and after 1834.
My grandmother would probably have been quite familiar with the public transport routes in the area in which she lived in her teens and early 20s, especially as her father was a tram conductor. The family would probably have been very familiar with Finsbury Park station. Even so, when she was young, my grandmother probably had no idea that her own family history in London probably had something to do with the East Coast Main Line railway in the early years of the Great Northern Railway.
|Tom, my great grandmother's father|
Ten-year-old Tom probably saw the station and railway line being built. A journey by train along that line may have been how he and his family ended up a few years later in Southwark, south of the Thames in London, unless they travelled southwards along the Great North Road.
Tom's future second wife, my great, great grandmother, Sarah, had lived most of her early life in north London and the East End of London, as far as I am aware. From her handwritten family records and an embroidery sample, it appears that she was a religious-minded member of the Church of England.
Sarah Elizabeth Cole was the daughter Welcome Cole and his wife Frances, née Hedley. She was orphaned before the age of eight.
Frances Hedley and Welcome Cole married in St James Church in Clerkenwell in 1849. They both died in Islington in the late 1860s, as did several of their other children. I am not sure whether any of them were affected by cholera or tuberculosis, typhoid or typhus or any other diseases. I know that my grandmother's older brother had polio.
|Tom and Sarah with their children|
My great-grandmother, also called Annie, was born in Shoreditch in 1890. In many respects, she was a true Cockney.
Tom spent his youth in and around Southwark, where he and his first wife married in the early 1860s. They had lived next door to each other as children back in the village of Eynesbury near St Neots. I now have quite a large amount of information about my Huntingdonshire heritage.
Jack (John Albert Gyseman) worked as a London tram conductor for most of his life. He was born in the city of Westminster in 1883. He died in 1951 and the tram era ended the following year. 1952 was the year of Great London Smog.
When I lived in London, I rarely spent much time in the East End, or the outer suburbs. I have only visited Hampton Court once, and that was on a holiday in England in 2000, long after I had migrated to Australia. One of the places I visited most was Euston railway station, on my way to or from a train before or after visiting my grandparents.
When I was young, my grandmother travelled down to Euston by train once a year to visit the grave of her parents in East Finchley Cemetery. Recently, during my family history investigations, I came across information about the Westminster cemeteries scandal and other related corruption. My grandmother never mentioned the situation to me though I am sure it would have caused her deep distress.
Of course, the excessive use of force or hubris by persons acting on behalf of a government or a monarch is unfortunately not new or unusual, either. One of the reasons given for allowing women the vote was to provide a moral impetus for better, more caring, less corrupt governments and societies. Now, everyone is too busy to hold abusers to account.
The use of violent tactics by non-state groups and individuals in London and elsewhere is nothing new. I have been thinking about how my ancestors would have reacted to the Tottenham Outrage in 1909 and the Siege of Sydney Street of 1911, for example. I have been attempting to understand more about the era, especially how news editors distorted the truth to increase newspaper sales.
There is much corruption in the world, even in London law enforcement, and in world football. Yet I think about the world in relation to the treatment of earlier migrants and potential migrants to cities and rural areas, whether from inside a country or outside it. I have been a migrant in many ways myself.
In the 1930s, my paternal grandfather was a fan of the Arsenal football team. Although he could have been considered to be part of the (working-class Ulster protestant) Irish diaspora in England, he grew up mainly in Devon, which is where he first met my grandmother. Their second meeting was meant to take place just before an Arsenal home game.
|My grandfather teaching me football|
My grandfather thought they were to meet outside the stadium. My grandmother thought they were to meet outside the station. Fortunately, after my grandfather had seen the game, without my grandmother, he went around to her house to see her there.
original football team had been associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in the south east of London, not its subsequent north London location. Woolwich had been where Tom Ginn's first wife had died.
I am reminded about how today's arsenals of the arms industry are used to feed corruption, abuses of power, fear, violence and expressions of hatred. I am also reminded that the weapons used in Middle Eastern wars are often provided by countries such as the United States and Britain.
The situation is such a mess. There is much hypocrisy. France is also selling weapons to the belligerents. And so is Belgium. The largest European military small arms exporter is currently in Belgium, too. There is also a considerable black market in weaponry, drugs and other dangerous things.
Italians living nearby who sold ice cream, calling it hokey pokey. Italians had also been living in Clerkenwell since the 1850s. That was where my grandmother's great grandparents, Frances and Welcome, were married. I married someone with an Italian heritage in Australia and was made to feel a welcome part of the family.
When considering family history, there are always many connections. One of my grandmother's first jobs was as a live-in cook with a Jewish family. It suited her well as she had recently had a big argument with her father and was not on speaking terms with him for a while. People interact with different cultures for many reasons.
North London Central Mosque, which is also known as Finsbury Park Mosque. Things are apparently now less militant there than they recently were. Not so long ago, the area around Finsbury Park Mosque was referred to in the media as Londonistan.
Yet Finsbury Park also has a large Irish community and many other ethnic groups. What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Many perceptions of the world are a matter of opinion. You may have compared your opinions with those of the mosque's the local Member of Parliament. Have you compared them with mine?
At the end of 2014, I wrote about terrorism in relation to family history. There were several terrorism incidents in London when I was living there, and just before I lived there, and soon after I subsequently visited the city. Yet I have also travelled widely in other places with terrorist incidents, and even wars, including the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan. Have you explored my Continual Journeys blog at all?
My grandmother was born in 1915. She would have been 100 years of age last year, if she had lived beyond her 95 years on Earth. After she retired, she visited Egypt, Morocco and India. She was an open minded person in many ways and lived an entirely secular, law-abiding life, as far as I can recall, as did all my grandparents.
Although she retained her London accent all her life, my grandmother used an occasional expression of Staffordshire slang from time to time. For example, she called everyone "duck" - including me.
When saying that word with its original meaning, itself of ancient origin, she would give additional emphasis to the local Staffordshire pronunciation, with a very short "aw" sound in the middle. When she wanted to feed the ducks in the park, she would say "daks" in her London accent , even though she had lived in central Staffordshire since the late 1940s. The greeting "duck" is said differently elsewhere in the English Midlands.
My grandmother retained her love of trips to the seaside throughout her long life. She also retained a love of her London family history.
Have you explored yours?