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 Ancestry.com 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
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.