25 December 2018

Finding a Real Home

In London in the 19th century, as far as I am aware, most of my immediate family were not the poorest of the poor.  They were certainly not the richest of the rich, either.

On Charles Booth's maps my London ancestors usually fitted somewhere between light blue, purple and pink.  The comfortable middle classes and wealthy upper classes would probably have considered the residences of my ancestors to have been slums, if they had bothered to inform themselves about such matters.


What is the relationship between a home and a sense of identity in your life?

Is your real home and your real identity actually within you as you explore your ancestry?

Do you feel really at home where you happen to be at present?

When someone is down on his luck, or her luck, where should that person go? 

Where would you prefer to be, and how would you prefer to live?

Can you afford to live there or will you need to move somewhere cheaper quite soon?

How do you interpret places of habitation?

While researching the large families of my 19th century ancestors, I especially find it difficult remembering the distinctions between second cousins and third cousins, step siblings and half siblings, and all my great, great grandparents, their parents and grandparents and great grandparents, great aunts and uncles and assorted other people connected with their lives.

How did they really live?

Did they, comparatively, actually live in slums or in something resembling modest comfort, at least in historical terms?

Many of my ancestors and their close relatives either died young or in middle age.

Some of my ancestors had homes in Northern Ireland, mainly Belfast and Bessbrook while others had homes in Belgium, including in Molenbeek.

Some of my husband's ancestors had homes on or near the Montello while others had homes in Basilicata.

Yet my Ulster ancestors eventually moved to England, as did my Belgian ancestors.

My husband's ancestors from the Montello and Basilicata eventually moved to Australia.

But did any of them find real homes?

Were their real lives reflected in art?

Similarly, with all the hard work of my Shropshire ancestors in and around the coal mines, did they receive any home comforts as a reward?

It seems unlikely.  The mine owners, like most employers, were more interested in their own home comforts.

Where did my Shroppie ancestors stay when they were in London for a few months each year to work in its market gardens?

I have only just realised that some of my female ancestors may actually have been in London when the census was taken, given the fact that they are missing from the Shropshire records.  I must investigate that further.

Did any of my - or your - London ancestors, whether as temporary or permanent residents, ever find their way home in a pea soup fog to a squalid rookery

A large proportion of the world's population still lives in slums.  There is high mortality, high crime and a high birth rate in such environments, even today. 

Recently, an analysis of 19th century skeletons, uncovered during redevelopment of New Covent Garden, revealed the unpleasantness of living and dying amongst London's poor and ignorant.

What can the world learn from 19th century London about policy mistakes and how to prevent future ones?

Do you live in an urban area that was once rural?

Where, in your local area, is fresh food is grown to support a large population?

Have you ever worked in a London market garden in Kensington or Chelsea or lived in domestic simplicity in Westminster?

Have you ever found London's streets to be paved with gold?

Do you always, or almost always, see the past in the present?

Have you ever felt unsafe in London?

Do you know much about 19th century crime in and around London?

Have you ever been a mudlark?

Did any of your ancestors live in the Devil's Acre?

Have you been priced out of the area in which you grew up as a consequence of speculative land sales and/or rising property prices?

Have you ever read London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew?

Have you ever explored a timeline of London?

Have you ever lived in central London

Have you ever been to the Museum of London?

Have you ever lived, worked or been entertained in Shoreditch?

Have you ever become rich in Shoreditch?

On 20 April 1889, at St Leonard's, Shoreditch, one of my English my great, great grandmothers, Sarah Elizabeth Cole, aged 25, married my great, great grandfather, Tom Ginn, aged 49.

Tom was born in Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire in 1840.  He was a widower when he married Sarah.

I have no idea why Tom's family moved to London when he was a boy.   He lived in Southwark for many years, working as a carpenter like his father, Richard.  There was much construction work in London in Victorian times.

Do you have Huntingdonshire heritage?

Sarah was born in Islington in 1863.  As a young girl, she became an orphan.

Her eldest brother, Welcome Cole, was born in the Clerkenwell district of London in the September quarter 1849.  Their father was also called Welcome Cole.

The elder Welcome married Frances Hedley in the same district in the March quarter of the same year.  I do not yet know much about the background of Frances though I do know that she was often called Fanny.

As far as I have been able to discover, all other people called Frances Hedley lived in the north east of England at that time.  Perhaps that is where the Hedley branch of my family originated, but I cannot be sure about that.

In 1841, Fanny apparently lived in a lodging house in Ossulston Street, St Pancras with her widowed mother, also called Frances.  The surname in the census was recorded as Hadley.  The younger Frances was a girl of eleven and her mother was in her mid to late 30s.

The area is known as Somers Town.  I doubt that Fanny and her mother would have been anywhere near as affluent as the characters portrayed by William Hemsley.  Nor am I sure they were particularly well fed.
The elder Frances was likely to be the widowed needlewoman and shirtmaker I traced through later census records from the St Pancras area of London. She lived alone and possibly died in the same district in 1869.

That Frances was born either in Shadwell or Stepney.

I am not sure whether any of my family were ever housed by the Peabody Trust, or in almshouses.

Sarah was the mother of Annie.  Fanny was Annie's grandmother, though Annie never knew her or her great grandmother.

Annie's future husband, my great grandfather, Jack, also known as John Albert and Albert, was born in Westminster 1883.  He was 28 years of age in 1911 and seems always to have been a law abiding citizen.

Jack had a long career as a tramcar conductor.   In his early life, he had a Carnaby Street childhood as the son of Belgian migrants.

Do you know much about working lives in Victorian Britain?

Do you know much about British family life in Victorian times, and in Edwardian times and later?

In 1911, Jack's younger sister, Lucie, later known as Lucy, married.  She was living near Bicester in Oxfordshire with her husband Job Coleman, a groom.

After the First World War, Lucy and Job spent much of their time in America, though they travelled by ship back to Britain quite frequently.  They are associated with the mystery house.  Could its location be somewhere near New York City?

Jack's eldest sister, Maria, known as Mary, did not marry until 1921.  I have no idea where she was in 1911.  Perhaps she was in America.

An older brother, Edward, aged 30 in 1911, was listed in the census as a managing estate agent.

In his youth, in the 1890s, Edward had been something of a juvenile delinquent, according to court records I have seen.  Was he like the Artful Dodger?

I have also found a record to say that he was a janitor in 1896 when he broke into a warehouse in Wardour Street.  In 1898 he was found guilty of forgery.  He seems to have been a law abiding citizen after that.  My grandmother remembered her uncle fondly, and probably had no idea he had once been a petty criminal.

Edward (who was also known as Adolph Emil and Edmund) was living in Bow in London in 1911 with his first wife, Ruth, and their six young sons, who had all obviously been born as Cockneys.  Edward and Ruth had other children who had since died.

Cities change so rapidly, as do many of the lives within them, that it is almost impossible to find a real home within a city.  A real home gives a sense of permanence.

Have you ever lived in Trafalgar Square with four lions to guard you?

Have you ever imagined breakfast with forebears anywhere?

Can you imagine being poor in 1870s London?

Was life for such people really any different than your own?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.