Thursday, May 28, 2015

Grandmother: Harriet Priscilla

I never really got to know Grandma Allery as a young girl, she was an enigma to me, and was distanced from me by 33,000 kilometres. My only memories of her were of her stern face at the window as I explored her beautiful rose garden surrounding her red brick house at Guildford, near Aldershot, in England. "Don't touch the roses!" my Mum would say. I can see a white gate at the end of a curved concrete path and glorious standard roses neatly planted on each side. My love of roses grew from that moment.
By the time I was four years old, in the English Spring of 1949, we had left our own home in Kingston, Surrey and immigrated to Australia on board the 'Orcades'. My mind was filled with excitement and wonder as we started our new adventure as a family of seven; Mum, Pam, John, Pat, Michael, Brian and me. Dad had already sailed the previous year to set up a new home for us all. I can imagine the heartache that Harriet Priscilla must have felt as she said her goodbyes to us all. By then she was already in her eighties, living alone. She had lost two sons, a daughter and her husband by the 1930's and had learned to live and support her remaining children well into her sixties and seventies. And then she had to say farewell to her eldest son, and his family, I imagine her tears of sadness.
A greater understanding of her anguish at that time came through in a letter written by Grandma Harriet to my Dad in December, 1952. She was regaling him for his neglectful nature as she had not received any answers to her previous letters about how we were getting along in our new home at 11 Laura Street, Moonee Ponds - near Melbourne. In this letter, the last she sent, she wanted to know why my Dad had not returned to see her and why he had not fulfilled his promise to bring me with him. Pain at losing contact with a four year old granddaughter, I can understand that. She also wanted to know if my brothers and I had received her generous birthday gifts of money for our birthdays that year. Not hearing a thank you from us, must have been hurtful. I deeply regret not knowing that I should have done that back then. I know this scenario very well too.
The December letter from Harriet was discovered amongst my late sister's belongings after her death in February 2012. Pamela Marie had always been a keen collector of memorabilia and she had tucked that letter from Grandma Harriet Priscilla into her own notebook about family history. This sparked a deeper interest in family history sleuthing for me and I delved in for answers to my research about the life and experiences of my red-haired grandmother. What I discovered was a story of profound sadness and extreme strength - and further parallels with my own life journey.
When Harriet Priscilla Wright was born on the 6th December 1873, her parents, Alfred Thomas and Elizabeth (Carter) were in their early thirties. Harriet was their fourth child and she was born in Stratford, Essex. The family was living at 13 Franklin Street, and Harriet was admitted to a local school in 1880. The London School Admissions register (1840-1911) shows Harriet Priscilla Wright admitted as a new student on January 3 of that year, signed by her father Alfred. Two other students, Kate Hawks and Louisa Disley, joined that day - they could have been her childhood friends. The scanned copy of that page in the Admissions Register, with its neat handwritten entries, was one of the little gems discovered in my research.
By 1881, the Wright family had moved to Stratford, Essex. The 1881 census shows their address as 1 Beck Street, West Ham and it seems they were sharing this house with the Wilson family. Harriet appears in this census as a student aged 7 and details about her siblings. Her eldest sister Ellen, was already a Work Girl, and she was aged just 16. Her two older brothers, were also recorded as students; Alfred Jr. aged 11 and Joshua aged 9. Harriet's three younger brothers are listed here as: Benjamin aged 5, Herbert aged 4 and Albert aged 2. Her father's occupation is listed as a Laborer in a Bone Factory; one of the hundreds of different laboring jobs listed in the Index to Occupations. The ninth census of Great Britain was held on Monday 4 April 1881 and the Enumerators were
recruited to distribute schedules (during the week of 28 March 1881) to each household or tenement and to collect those completed schedules on either 4 or 5 April. Enumerators then had six days (i.e. until 11 April) to enter the details recorded on the schedules into their enumeration books, ‘in strict conformity with the rules given therein’.
By 1891, Harriet had joined the workforce as a Machinist and the Wright family was living at No 5 Abbey Lane, West Ham. The 1891 census shows one younger brother had been born, Isaac aged 4. The spread of ages of her siblings now ranged from Ellen aged 26 to Isaac aged 4, the family continued to grow and change. Ellen was no longer living at home, presumably married and moved out and the eldest son Alfred Jr. was listed as a General Laborer. In my further sleuthing I believe that Ellen married John Asher Parsons in 1888 at St Andrews in Warwick. Harriet's life as a machinist enabled her to meet her husband to be Walter Frederick Allery, my grandfather who was a Tailor. They were married on December 27 in 1896 in West Ham and the only other details about that marriage was the location, West Ham, Essex. The Marriage Index provides the volume and page number, but I would need to order the marriage certificate for more details of place, parents and witnesses.
Work as a machinist would not have paid well in the beginning - typically unmarried young women had little choice of occupation in Edwardian times (domestic service, prostitution, shop work, the stage or dressmaking). I can imagine that Harriet would have continue to live at home bringing into the household her meagre income of a few shillings; she might have made shirts at 7 pence a dozen and she probably worked from seven in the morning to eleven p.m. at night. I also imagine that Walter Frederick might have commissioned the construction of shirts from her for his private tailoring business, and perhaps that is how they first met.
By the 1901 census Harriet and Walter were living at No. 28 Elton Parade, Kingston on Thames, Surry and had one child, Cecil Henry, my Dad; then aged 11 months. This census shows Walter Frederick as an Employer and his occupation as Tailor/Journeyman working from home. His younger brother Joseph was obviously staying with them on the night of the census, and I suspect that this was a frequent occurrence for young Joseph, who much later, was to inherit the tailoring business from Grandfather Walter. Harriet at this stage would still be mourning the loss of her first child Walter Frederick Jr. and valiantly trying to raise her second born to be healthy and strong. I don't imagine that there was any kind of counselling for young bereaved mothers - infant mortality was high in Edwardian times - and I believe that she would have been supported by her own mother Elizabeth.
According to the 1911 census the Allery family had moved again to live at London House, Coombe Lane, Norbiton and had another business located at 13 Church Street. This evidence was listed in the 1911 Kelly's Directory, a popular tool for genealogists.
By this time the family had grown, Walter was then a Master Tailor, they had been married for 14 years and Harriet was now mother to four young boys. Cecil aged 10, Edward aged  9, William aged 5, Samuel aged 1, and one little girl, Imee aged 3. Curiously one other young girl (Lily Wren aged 15) was listed on this census as a daughter. Now I have never heard about this young person before my ancestry sleuthing, and to this day, I have not found out who she is. A mystery yet to be solved. Even more intriguing is the fact that Lily Wren died on the same day as Walter. I need to dig deeper.
The 1911 census, the most recent one available for genealogists, lists the number of live births for Harriet as 7 and 2 dead. Sad statistics for a mother to have recorded for her in such archives. The person who filled in these details was Walter, as we can see his signature on the census form. 
Their first born son, Walter Frederick Alfred Joshua, born in 1898, died in 1900 from Gastro Enteritis. His death would have been extremely hard to bear for Harriet as she was pregnant with another child at that time. Her first son died one month to the day, prior to the birth of her second son. My Dad, Cecil Henry, was born on the 25th April 1900 and he would have been very precious to her.
Harriet's sad story gets worse when she loses her husband Walter Frederick on the 5th of April in 1915. He had been a solider in World War 1 and may have died from war wounds on his return to England. I won’t know the answer to that until I send for his death certificate. He left a young wife and large family and he was one of the many who served their country in war time. Apparently in 1915, there was time prior to his death for Walter to plan for the care of his family and his Tailoring business. From the Property Settlement details for that year, I found that his brother Joseph had purchased the business premises from him and obviously took on the running of Allery and Sons. From the Wills and Probate details for that year, I was able to ascertain that he had been able to leave a substantial sum of money to his widow, Harriet; the Tailoring business clearly had been booming prior to the war. Harriet was able to be self-sustaining throughout her 40 plus years without him.
In 1930 Harriet learned of the horrific death of her son Edward Lionel - it would have been all over the newspapers at the time - a tragic motor racing accident at the Brooklands Raceway took the life of her 28 year old son.
Harriet buried 3 children and her husband.
I never knew her then, but I know now of her pain, anguish, strength and courage and just a little bit more of my red-haired Grandma.
She is now at rest, buried with her beloved Edward Lionel.

Harriet Priscilla Allery: Death 21 December 1953 in Mount Alveria, Stawey Rd, Guildford, Surrey, England

Post Script:
Harriet Priscilla was born in December 1873, Married in December 1896 and Died in December 1953. The letter from her to my Dad was sent in December 1952.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Remembering Winifred Edith Allery

“I wish that there were some wonderful place called The Land of Beginning Again…”!

My mother’s voice, from long ago, still rings in my head. Pitched low and melancholy, she would recite this, her favourite poetic expression by Louise Fletcher, as a prelude to her motherly advice on life and living. That recording of her voice is sadly lost to us! (It was inadvertently displaced on moving house.) There is little remaining of her physical presence here on earth, but she is remembered still, for all that she was in spirit. 

I can visualise her image if I peek into my memory banks; her smiling face at 50 and the slightly more wrinkled one of 80 years of age. I recall the soft feel of the folds of her paper thin skin as I attended to her needs. And the sweet fragrance of Lily of the Valley, her favourite scent. “You were beautiful once, and strong”. The time she needed a hip replacement springs into my mind when I recall her strength and her agony with barbaric procedures in a public hospital. Thank God this surgical operation has improved in recent years. “I wish I could return to that time Mum, and give you the support you needed.”

I remember the sound of her calling me into the shop at Macrina Street; “Carole! Your turn to serve the customers now! I’ll be in the kitchen.” She knew how to juggle her family and business commitments and to get all the family involved in the day-to-day running of the general store. I am pretty sure she knew just how many Mars bars were missing at the end of a day!

I blushingly recall the day she caught me skinny dipping in the local pond at the end of our street! Trying hard not to laugh, I scrambled into my clothes, and followed her home sheepishly. “The boys made me do it,” had no effect on her or on the severity of my punishment. Packing my small brown suitcase with my book, teddy and pyjamas I would make the trek to my friend’s house at the other end of Stanley Avenue. “I am running away!” I would say with five year old bravado. “Carole is coming to stay overnight again, I will pick her up in the morning. That okay with you?” she would say when making the phone call, as soon as I had left the house. So long ago! Those days of my childhood are carefully filed away.

I remember her sharp response when my phone calls had tapered off; “Oh, you’re still alive then?” My ‘hey days’ in my twenties did not include parental guidance. Then I remember quite clearly how delighted she was when I was married, and when my first child was introduced to her, and then my second child. I needed her advice then. “Being a mother is everything!” she would say, and bring out the small plaque, with the quote from Longellow, that stood on our mantelpiece for as many years as I can remember.

“Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the blossoms, Kind deeds are the fruits!Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds, Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and Kind deeds."  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
And I remember her tears the day Dad died! After receiving the call from the police on the 1st November 1985 I raced to be by her side in their tiny flat in Harris Grove. She was calm but sorrowful and explained how Dad had fallen in a heap at the end of the bed that morning. Her anxiety was palpable as she was unable to assist him, but, she had the presence of mind to call triple O. She was able to tell the sergeant that the key was in the meter box and he could let himself in. By the time I arrived she already had her cup of tea and was able to think clearly about what was needed to be done. Those days of my adult relationship with this frail woman are also carefully filed away.
I remember her mind slipping away in the latter part of her life. “Hello Mum”, I said each time I visited her in the Angliss. Swallowing my tears when she would say to her nurse, “She is just like my daughter”! 

Winifred Edith Allery was born on the 18th of March 1903. She married my Dad on the 23rd July 1923 and together they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1983.

Winnie, as my Dad would call her, was the steady hand and the soft heart in our family. She gave birth to seven children, from 1925 to 1945, a 20 year span of nurturing. Her first child, a girl, was stillborn. Mum held on to her one photo of that child, all of her life, and it went with her to her grave. She did not speak of those days, nor the time during the London Blitz. She was an 'earth mother' and delighted in the progress of her children; nurturing was what she did best. Winnie very rarely focussed on herself or shared her personal dreams; but she did frequently complain about my Dad's sometimes unfathomable ways. I suspect my Dad was also Bipolar, but never diagnosed.

She withstood the turbulence of coping with her eldest surviving child, also a girl, who was later diagnosed as Bipolar. Pamela was a headstrong teenager and I can see from her diary entries of 1944, that she would frequently row with Mum and there would often be tears and angry words. I recall how Mum would despair at Pamela’s behavior in later years, especially when this required frequent stays in ‘Larundel’ Psychiatric Ward. These things were never really talked about; at least not with me. Mum never gave up on Pamela, though, frequently sharing her home for short and long stays. Sharing her wisdom with her when she was permitted and giving her hope, when she felt there was none. Oh if I could talk to Mum now, we would have so much to share!

Winnie reluctantly gave her eldest son John, her blessing to join the Navy at the tender age of 16 and later the RAF. “He is following in his Dad’s footsteps.” She would say! But I bet she was crumbling inside. My eldest brother John has now reached the age of 87 and looks back on that time in his own ramblings. He remembers mostly the ‘hey days’ of his twenties, especially the freedom experienced as a young man on board the ‘Orcades’ during our emigration to Australia in 1949. I wonder how Mum coped with six children on board during this long sea journey – alone. Dad had already sailed the previous year, to pave the way for us. She remembers the times when the twins, nine years old at the time, would be frequently barred from the adult swimming pool or when she was called to discipline them for causing havoc on ‘A’ Deck. And I imagine she had a devil of a time supervising her 4 year old, 14 year old, and 22 year old daughters. I know that her patient mothering must have won through those days. I learned so much from her.

Winnie came from solid stock – her father Charles Cutting – was a carpenter and her siblings were all employed in commercial trades. Her mother, Mary Jane, instilled in her the need for domestic skills and had a strong influence on her parenting skills. Winnie was the eldest of six and was frequently called upon to help with the triplets. Her brother Reg was very fond of his sister and kept a photo of her in his wallet. This was later to be the start of her relationship with my Dad, who often admired the girl in the photo, and decided to write to her during his days in the RAF. At the end of World War I, he asked Reg to introduce him to her. Their romance was not condoned by her parents at the time, and this was one of the reasons why Winnie agreed to elope with my Dad in 1923. I delight in telling that story to my own granddaughters now.

Winnie’s trade was Bookkeeping and she kept the books for her father’s business in Surbiton. This skill was to be revisited later in her life when she and Dad started up a Milk Bar business in East Oakleigh in the 1960’s, a Service Station and Restaurant business in Bendigo in the 1980’s. Mum’s cooking was plain and simple, but filling and satisfying. Sunday roasts were always a favourite with the family – with many of her children aiming to eat quickly so they could get seconds. Her Yorkshire Puddings were matchless. I still use her secret recipe for Yorkshire pudding.

Winnie also possessed some unique qualities that may have their roots in her celtic heritage. We always said that she could have easily been a ‘white witch’, practicing her art in the moonlight. Perhaps her Welsh ancestors handed down this ‘wiccan’ philosophy – no matter, she was consistent in her beliefs and advice. “Turn over your silver in the light of the full moon”, she would say. “Prosperity will be yours.” “Don’t put new shoes on the table. That will bring bad luck”. Or “see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck”. At twenty past the hour, when all went quiet at the table,  a lull in the conversation, she would say, “Another angel passing!”

Winnie had a special place in her heart for her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She was always delighted to have them visit her and tell her their stories. There were always some stories for them too, ones that she had stored up for them – from the old days. She carefully stored her photos in her albums and would frequently bring these out to share with anyone who visited her. She lived on for two more years after Dad died and required extra assistance for her daily needs. Her own daughter Pamela, stayed for a while, then her sister Violet, and finally she was admitted to the Hospice in Ferntree Gully. She always insisted, “Don’t put me in an old age home”! I am happy to say that we followed her wish.

Winifred passed away quietly at 8 o’clock in the morning, on the 5th of January 1987 at The Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully. I was there at her passing and was privileged to feel the power of her leaving; yet another angel passing!