Edith Head. She married George Smith senior at Mortlake in 1907
After the aura of becoming her own mistress had dimmed I'm certain that my mother didn't take quite so kindly to the rustic scene as she had imagined. For it was a terrific change from the bright lights of the big city, and the sociable life of the fully staffed "town House". It is not surprising, when feeling slightly despondent, that she would refer to the village as this" dead and alive hole".
It is fairly certain in the early years of the marriage she spent more than my father earnt. It's reasonably true that a really successful business man is one who can make more money than his family can spend. Dad didn't belong in that category. Had an entirely different family background, not that the financial circumstances or her immediate family had been better. She had eight brothers and sisters, and an improvident father who, apparently, had an almost unquenchable thirst. He was a semi-skilled building worker, but was more often out of work than not. These days he would have been "sitting pretty with nine children. Often he would have to go "stone-breaking road building at a very low wage to get any sort of official assistance at all. I'm assured that he didn't take kindly to that, besides, it just made him thirstier than ever.,
My maternal grandmother was a very conscientious and lovable old soul, who. Strangely enough, looked like Queen Victoria's twin. For many years as was custom of the time, a large photograph of "Black Gran" adorned the wall of our living room. Visitors, assumed we were intensely patriotic, would comment, "Ah, a picture of the old Queen". To which mother would proudly reply, "Oh, no that's my mother". The family's pet name was because of her raven black, hair, which, remarkably, she retained until she died in our house at the age of eighty-four. Following customs again, my mother sorrowfully took a snippet of the revered hair which was placed in a small glazed locket, with miniature photo of the old lady's the opposite side. False sentiment-oh no, it was practically the only really personal memento one could keep of someone who was deeply loved by every member of her ever growing family. It is still a treasured heirloom, with scant regard to the fact that there was no accompanying inheritance.
No one in the family is likely to show much interest in it once my generation has passed on
(you're wrong Dad, I, and your grandchildren would just love to treasure it) and I visualise it ending up in the
Bermondsey or Portobello Road street market; with some "knowledgeable vendor passing it off to some gullible foreign
visitor as a genuine regal relic. A more discerning buyer, armed with a watchmaker's glass, commenting pithily on the unlikelihood of the old Queen ever being so impoverished as to use nine carat gold, will be airily informed, "Ah! Well", these were only made as remembrances for members of her grief-stricken staff when she died".
Us folk with an almost uncontrollably passion for "bygones" or rare and unusual items from the past are often "suckers for punishment", and although having no wish to expand on this at the moment, it is generally accepted that it's a hobby where one usually has to pay to learn.
There seems to be an increasing. Interest in one's family history in these times of more leisure, and some enterprising concern recently assured me that it was 96% certain that they could supply me with an authentic Coat of Arms historically associated with my surname.
Naturally, I wondered what they'd do about a name like Smith, though with a universal clan of such dimension, it was a "stone-bonker" certainty that they qualified, even if the heraldic device was merely Eve enticing Adam with a "Granny Smith's".
To return to my particular bunch of the clan, family tradition had it that my maternal grandmother was born at
Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and that her father had been part-time music tutor to the children of the Marquees of Salisbury. With the kindly assistance of the archivist Hatfield House. (the magnificent, centuries old, home of the Salisbury family) and the Parish Clerk, I ascertained that "black gran" had indeed been christened in St. Ethelred's the Norman parish church which is adjacent to the remaining wing of the 19th century "Old Palace", where Queen Elizabeth 1 spent much of her childhood. Local records show that my grandmother was baptised on the 28th July 1844, daughter of John Sanders. Musician. Probably a professional to this art, as other records show that his father, also John Sanders, was the bandmaster of the Herts Militia in 2818 [ 1818 ?], when the whole of the colourfully resplendent Militias was reviewed in the grounds of Hatfield House by King George 3rd. The former contains a magnificent painting recording this event in the Regiment's history by Richard Livesay. The Armoury also contains two drums that
belong to the band of this era. I found that in the name painted on the sides the name county is spelled "HARTFORDSHIRE", which was, apparently, the accustomed usage from the year 1757 to 1908. Undoubtedly, tradition does die hard!
The above is but a resume of the knowledge gained regarding my ancestry. One thing that naturally aroused my interest
was that a namesake, George, brother of the bandmaster, was living in Hatfield in 1851, aged 62; he is recorded as
being a shoemaker and a Chelsea Pensioner. I must admit it gives me a considerable sense of satisfaction, both
genealogically and genetically, to ascertain some real facts regarding one's forebears. My deference to genetics
was because a number of old John's descendants were (or are) quite talented musicians, and a very fair preparation
were (or are) military personnel. I hope that my digression will prove of some encouragement to those who seek
personal links with the past. Most of us have a clue or two to start us off, then it's a matter of carefully working
backwards, mainly with the help of Somerset House and Parish Church records. Understandably, owing to the time-consuming nature of the work (apart from probable travel expense) commercial forms of genealogical investigation can often prove expensive. Of cause, most of us are usually too busy coping with the pressing demands of our
everyday existence to pay much attention to our antecedents; and for the more imaginative, it is a cheering
thought that we too will surely end up some time as a brief note in some dusty register.
Little is known of Gran's early life until she married my maternal grandfather and settled in Mortlake, Surrey. He
hailed from Eltham, Kent, and was of yeoman stock. His mother had been in service with an upper-class family.
And around the time of his birth she was employed as a "wet-nurse" in a household of the nobility. It was very rare
for ladies of standing to suckle their own young. Grandpa was, apparently, very proud of declaring that he was a
"breast-brother" of Lord X.
Not that this can any bearing on the fact that he had eleven children by gran, two dying in infancy. I expect she
would have been more than grateful if she could have had a few of her's "wet-nursed", not that they interfered with her "social;" life at all.
I learnt that grandpa was personable, tall, lean, and a good conversationalist. Strict with his numerous progeny to
the point of harshness; this was understandable when for a long period he had to be both father and mother too. For
it was easier for gran to secure employment than it was for him. At a time when transport facilities were often
non-existent (according to location), it was often more convenient both for employer and employee for staff to
"live-in". With her particular background it is not difficult to imagine her in the employment of Princess Mary
Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, at the White Lodge, Richmond, as a cook. This one-time Royal residence is less well-known than most, particularly as it has been used as a School of the Royal Ballet since 1955. As the Duchess belonged to a rather less wealthy branch of the Royal family, it is probable that it was a "grace and favour" domicile. The fact that she was a first cousin of Queen Victoria also had a bearing.
In 1866, Princess Mary Adelaide (she became Duchess in 1871, when her husband was created Duke of Teck) had married
and impoverished, but very handsome, young Austrian army officer from a somewhat lower aristocratic status. Her
extremely kind and charitable disposition was well known, particularly in Richmond and the London area. She had the
reputation of being acutely aware of the needs of the poor, the ages, the destitute, and actively supported many
charities. I suspect that, in such a comparatively small Royal household, she took more than a passing interest
in the welfare of her staff. Undoubtedly, my mother, and her sisters and brothers, had much to thank Queen Mary's
"Black gran" could have told many an anecdote of the "comings and goings" of this particular branch of the Royal family, but she was, in the main, much more pre-occupied with the welfare of her own particular charges. Again, she was so quietly self-effacing that it wouldn't seem to her of any special interest that she was witnessing an important facet of British history in the making. By the circumstances of her birth, it was unlikely that she would be over-awed by the nearness of important parsonages.
The beautiful and gracious young lady that she knew so well as the daughter of the house, Princess MAY, was
eventually to become the Queen Consort of George V. She was always known to her friends and profusion of relatives
as "Princess May", conveniently to differentiate from her mother's name. It was almost pre-determined that this
Princess should ultimately become a British Queen, for she was originally engaged in 1891 the Duke of Clarence, elder
son of the future Edward VII and thus in direct line of succession to the throne. This prospect presaged a new
infusion of entirely unrelated stock, which was probably of considerable benefit to the Hesse-Cassel blood ----
Tragically, the young Duke died of pneumonia at Sandringham on the 14h January, 1892. His most untimely and left his
younger brother, George (later George V) in line of succession and Princess May married him the following year. An intelligent, determined, and discerning young woman, she was, fortunately temperamentally well fitted for this role she was destined to play in the country's future affairs,
My grandmother held the Teck family in high regard, mainly because she considered that they led useful lives compared with many of the higher aristocracy and, more practically, this Duchess was kind to her. A woman of lesser character might possibly have felt slightly bitter by reason of the vast gulf between their respective modes of existence.
On the contrary, she was realistically grateful for the perquisites of her occupation. She seldom returned home
without something in the way of "surplus" foodstuffs, for even Royal Households hadn't the benefits of modern
refrigeration. Ice-boxes helped, but even then, only where the clientele could be assured of a daily supply of ice.
Often my mother would relate how she would go to meet Gran at the gates of Richmond Park after a special function at
the "big house". Along would come Gran, almost staggering under the weight of two bulging black American cloth bags.
She could brook no questions from her eager and excited young daughter as to the contents. Ma would share the
carrying of the heaviest bags. She would never get her mother home fast enough, for she knew that she was shortly to
partake of fare that would certainly never have come her way normally. As she said, "It was like having Christmas several times a year": In keeping with Gran's disposition, some delicacy such as cold chicken would go "over the fence" to their neighbour. And living next door to an often "motherless" young family of nine, I strongly suspect they well deserved it.
Regarding large, impecunious families, it was as well to produce females in the earliest offspring, so that these could care for later additions. Fortune favoured "Gran" in this respect: her first two were girls.
Although it was a walk of several miles, she would endeavour to get home as frequently as possible to see how her brood ware faring. Often she would find her "old man" was out drinking with his cronies. She accepted this with patient indifference till a certain day, when she discovered he had pawned a pair of her best linen sheets in order to retain his accustomed seat in the bar. This was the last straw: "Gran" posed one of her youngest as a scout, and on receiving a signal, umbrella in hand, waylaid the wrong-doer outside the front gate. Without saying a word she took an opening swipe at the side of his head with her weapon (the customary rolling-pin would have been tactically inadequate in this particular case). She then proceeded to belabour him vigorously with a suitable epithet at every blow until her sturdy old "brolly" broke in two. It finally disintegrated across his back, amid peals of derisive laughter from her highly appreciated audience. The story of how this normally placid little woman of five feet two inches "pasted" Grandad, a fairly hefty six feet one, was never forgotten in the family. It was always good
for a laugh, especially the bit where the kids had gathered round, ostensibly to watch, but effectively to cut off the miscreant's retreat. I know she later took to out of some of the eldest for their unnatural treachery. They reckoned it was worth it.
Regretfully, I have to record that I never met the old man, so was unable to form a personal opinion of him. His
heavy drinking was understandable, it wasn't uncommon in this time. The ordinary working class had few alternative
forms of relaxation. That he was an improvident man was obvious, but viewing it rationally, it must have been a terrific struggle for even a regularly employed artisan to bring up a family of nine in reasonable living conditions.
Drink has too often been the last resort of a desperate man, though it seldom helps to try and hide one's head in a
bottle. My mother heartily detested her father, and that's the reason I was never taken to see him. It was a
comparatively trivial thing that fomented this intense dislike. With "Black gran" away for considerable periods, the
old man must have had an unenviable task in controlling his oft-times high-spirited youngsters and he was determined,
whatever his failings might be, that he wasn't going to have them roaming the streets, and possibly getting into
serious mischief. This applied particularly to his growing daughters. His parental discipline was of the "iron fist
in the velvet glove" variety, and if this proved ineffective, then he'd remove his glove. Not that he was
really a brutal man. However, when nearly twelve years of age, my mother wilfully disobeyed him one evening by staying out after darkness had fallen. He was furious, and probably prepared as how to chastise her, particularly as Gran had armed herself with a new and slightly heavier umbrella. So, more to scare her than anything else, he chained her to the end of an iron bedstead in one of the bedrooms saying "I'll watch you don't defy me tonight, my girl". The other children looked upon it as a joke and went out to play as usual. The two elder daughters had already left home to go into domestic service. This little episode had a terrible psychological effect on my mother, for it left such a lasting impression on her mind that she never forgot it till her senile old age. It completely obliterated any spark of affection she might previously had for her father. Illogically, and harsh as it may have seemed, she just would not understand that, the old man was trying, in his rough way, to protect her and give her sense of discipline with which to face an often unkind world. I can only hope that he later learned to regret his rash action. No wonder many of the older generation give a wry smile when they hear that overworked word "underprivileged" so often today. "It's mainly a question of relativity", as Einstein may have said. One thing is certain, some of Grandfather's iron discipline had certainly "rubbed off" on his children, as you will learn later: and he had no cause to ever feel ashamed of any one of them. There have been many well-known, and "privileged "members of society, who could well have envied him in that respect. There's more than a grain of truth in the old saying that "selfish parents often rear the best children" Nome of Grandfathers descendants became either famous or notorious in the main, just ordinary, decent, law-abiding citizens. Though, being reasonably human, I cannot refrain from adding that the lives and attainments of serval of them make quite impressive reading.
Sometimes subsequent to the marriage of Princess May, Gran took a better position as "English cook" to the Comte and
Comtesse de Paris. In other words, she prepared their favourite English dishes. This was probably at Orleane House, Twickenham. The move probably with the full approval of the Duchess, for the Teck family, and the Royal Family generally, were on friendly terms with the Pretender to the French throne and his immediate relatives. The Orleane family had been banished from France in 1886, but had accorded a welcome in their chosen country of exile fitting to their rank. Knowing ow meticulous the French are about their meals, even in the middle-class, Gran must have been acceptably proficient in her craft/It is more than likely that the Comte or Comtesse had a friendly tate a tate with the Duchess before the transfer was made. Most families manage to hold on to one or two treasured items connected with one or more of their forebears, and among several I value; there are two of some intrinsic as well as sentimental value; one is a beautiful Wedgwood jug inlaid with enamelled sprays of blue and red peonies.
Known to ceramic connoisseurs as "Antico Rossi"; the Victoria and Albert Museum has many splendid examples of this
fine ware. Incidentally, in 1956, whilst I was on "demob" leave from the R.A.F., I was dreamily browsing round a Deptford junk shop, when suddenly I espied a filthy but delicately shaped little cream jug; nonchalantly turning it over, scarcely discernible under an accumulation of years of grim, I thought I could recognise the famous mark in very small lettering. Knowing that it isn't always wise to rush things in such circumstances, I sauntered round and eventually picked up a small decorative plate marked Copeland. Taking it to the young assistant, he charged me a very fair five shillings; I handed him the cash, I casually remarked "What's the grubby little cream jug over there". "Oh that, says he, one and a tanner to you, gov". He handed me a sheet of newspaper to wrap my purchases, and I bid him a cheerful "cheerio"; as I suspected, after carefully washing my "finds", the jug revealed itself as "Antico Rossi" of precisely the same decoration as the one I already had.
It happened that the Comte had a rather unusual way of distributing gifts to his staff. On special occasions he would
assemble a number of items on the dining room table, and the staff, in order of precedence, would be invited to "take their pick". As kitchen staff never seem to rate very highly (heaven knows why), I presume that Gran would be about halfway down the hopeful queue. The Wedgwood jug was her choice on the occasion of Queen Victoria's sixty year anniversary in 1897. It would be considered that she did very well, as the piece is much earlier than that, and could well have an item from the Comte's private collection. On another occasion Gran was in the empty dining room, and paused to admire a lovely small chiming "travelling" timepiece (seems they've been popular for a very long time) on the marble mantelpiece. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Comte walked in. "Do you like that clock, Head?" said he. "Yes Sir, I do", promptly replied she; and to her extreme surprise, he said, "very well - then take it.".
After belonging in turn to three other members of the gamily, all of whom have "passed on", it now remains in my
"trustee-ship". Standing on my more commonplace mantelpiece, it is it's rather unusual inasmuch that it is still
housed in its original red leather case, with its two hidden interior recesses, one for the double-ended key, the
other to hold the leather-covered slide which one can insert in frontal grooves to protect the glass when travelling.
Eventually, the minor problem will arise as to who the next trustee should be; that is, unless some unscrupulous
scallywag breaks in and decides that he has more right to it than we have. (After dad passed away I, his daughter,
became the trustee - as I add this it is 2019. The next trustee will be one of dad's grandchildren).
At one time Gran managed to get her almost intractable spouse a situation as valet to a aristocratic friend of the
Count, Unfortunately, he was hardly the type to succeed in in dancing attendance on anyone, irrespective of their social standing; so when his employer found that Grandfather and his butler were "shifting" more of his favourite brandy than he was himself, he decided to find another valet, with less fastidious drinking habit.
Obviously, there's no perfection in human beings, it merely happens that some are worse than others. Personally, I've
made it a practice to "weigh" people have contact regularly on my "mental balance".
If the sum total of their apparent failings is too far against them, then I endeavour to avoid them as far as
possible. Perhaps this philosophy ties in with that "hairy" old saying, "Birds of a feather ... How Grandfather would
have fared on my "scale-reading" there's no means of knowing. It is remarkable how minor events remain in one's mind
when far more important ones have long been forgotten. Such a one was after I had paid a visit to my Uncle Jack at
Mortake, and one of my cousins had accompanied me to a railway station, possibly at Barnes. Waiting for the train,
for the want of something better to do, I was peering in a neglected, dirt-encrusted photographer's advertising
board. Suddenly my young companion pointed to a photo of an old man in the top left-had corner, saying, "That's our
Grandfather". Carefully rubbing the accumulated dust off the corner of the glass, I took a long look at the image of
the man I'd heard so much about and never even seen. To me, at least, he was important, and it helped my feelings
considerably to know that the photographer was so impressed with the character in the sitter's face that he had
recorded it to place in the display cabinet purely as an example of his art.
"Black Gran" had left him soon after he lost his fairly brief valeting job, and he was seemingly abandoned by the whole family from ten on. He died in an institution, lonely and practically friendless. I recall my father's words, "There's definitely no profit in rearin' kids, unless they happen to be someone else's".
I can still see that photo in my mind - the poorly-cut jacket, so typical of institutional coshing. The carefully
parted hair, slightly off-centre; the grey bushy eye-brow surrounding the rather piercing eyes; the pointed,
neatly-trimmed beard; the slightly aquiline nose matching the lean-ness of the face; the whole emanating a certain
air of sadness - the sadness of a man who'd tried hard to face up to the harsh realities of life, and, by some
standards, failed. The likeness certainly did not reflect the face of a weakling. I had walked away, reflectively, and perhaps a trifle wiser. Feeling, perhaps, a little like the Judge in a murder or manslaughter trial. Where all sorts of allegations are often made against the poor, unfortunate victim; who's story, if only he or she could sit up and talk, might well provide a far clearer relationship to the real truth?
There was certainly a tendency for the family to feel ashamed of the Oldman, a feeling never shared by me; for
he was my Grandfather, and I was satisfied.
In my experience, farmers never wittingly breed from poor stock; and when one considers the necessity for so called civilised and enlightened communities having to provide for an ever-expanding prison population, one cannot help feeling that a closer study of genetics, and the "protective" implementation of its more rational findings is long overdue. Already, I plainly hear the loud yaps and yells of a so-called well-educated, militant section of the community, usually very vociferous sonorities, who are for ever anxious to foist the product of their retrogressive minds on the quieter majority.