Saturday, March 26, 2011

December Letter from Gran

A recent letter from my sister Pamela, sparked another episode in the Allery family history story. In it she enclosed a photocopy of an airmail letter from my Grandmother Harriet Priscilla (Gran) to her son Cecil (Dad) written on 1 December 1953. I was thrilled to get it and have read it several times over, deciphering the spidery handwriting of my Gran, who would have been 90 years old at the time of writing. Woven into her letter were her hopes, her disappointments and her love for her family.

Her letter started in a pleading manner asking this question:
"Dear Cecil, Why do you not write and let me know how you and the family are?"

This gave me a clue to her feelings at the time of writing and also to some faint ghost of a memory that all was not well between my Dad and his mother. We had emigrated to Australia in 1949 and were living at 10 Stanley Avenue, East Oakleigh where her special coronation stamped airmail reached us. Had he been in contact during those four years? Or was it just the forgetfulness of an old lady? I was only eight years old in 1953 and do not remember if my Dad had written back to confirm our address, and whether I or my brothers had received our promised
'... small gift of cash' .... 'a present from Gran' .... 
as she wrote in the letter.

I was intrigued and hooked once more to search the ancestry of my Grandmother Harriett Priscilla to find out more. This will only give me the facts not the 'story' of the relationship between Gran and my Dad. For that I'll need to find out more from my siblings - I would like to know more about this feisty red-headed Gran who was born in December, married in December, died in December and wrote this poignant letter in December.

Sadly I don't have any pictures of Gran as a child  - I just have this one as a young woman - sent to me by another UK genealogy enthusiast in our family.



At the age of 18, according to the 1891 census, Harriett was living with her parents Alfred and Eliza Wright at 5 Abbey Lane, Stratford, Essex and was employed as a machinist.She was the only daughter among six sons, so I imagine she had to hold her own among this male household - something I imagine gave her that stern outer exterior - the only thing I remember about Gran. Each of her two older brothers Alfred and Joshua were in employment at this time, whilst her four younger brothers Benjamin, Herbert, Albert and Isaac were scholars.

Just five years later, at the age of 23, Harriett married Walter Frederick Allery, (my grandfather) on 27 December; clearly December is an important month in Gran's life. Perhaps she was employed by my Grandfather in his Tailoring company as a machinist - this I will have to imagine too.

I have yet to find any census details for the year 1901 but did find details of the family 10 years later living at London House Coombe Lane Kingston where Walter ran a tailoring business. Here's the details from the 1911 census that I included as a short story in Walter's files on Ancestry.com:

At the time of the 1911 Census Walter Frederick was listed as a Master Tailor working from home at London House Coombe Lane Kingston.  Listed in residence with him are his wife, Harriet Priscilla aged 38 - they were listed as being married for 14 years. Harriet has seven children born alive, five still living and two have died. Her first born, Walter Frederick junior lived only for two years, and Ivy Dorothy lived only for two months.
Five of their children are listed as living in this residence at the time of the census:
  1. Cecil Henry aged 10 Schoolboy; 
  2. Edward Lionel aged 9 Schoolboy; 
  3. William Francis aged 5 infant; 
  4. Imee Priscilla aged 3 infant;
  5. Samuel John Reginald aged 1 infant.
Along with these children is listed Lily Wren aged 15 domestic and also listed as a daughter.Now that's a curious fact that bears looking into. I do have a picture of the family taken around this time and share it with you here.

William, Imee, Samuel, Walter, Edward, Cecil and Harriet


I noticed in this picture that my Dad (Cecil Aged 10) is standing right behind his Mum (Harriet aged 38) with a hand on each shoulder of his parents. Perhaps it was a pose prescribed by the photographer - a common family grouping of the era - but I like to think that he had a special place in his heart for his parents. Walter died just 5 years after this picture was taken and Harriett lived on into her 80's - spending the greater part of her life without a husband. I imagine that her children were of great comfort to her and that she was especially close to each of them. Gran mentions Imee in her December letter - she reminds Cecil that a tenant of Imee's receives many letters from abroad

 ".. it would be a pleasure if the Post had one for me ..
I am your mother and I like to hear news from you...."

I wished I had been able to return to England to visit my Gran before she died - it seems that there had been hope of that in the letter.

... "You said Carole & yourself would be coming here but that seems to have been put on the shelf'"...

I would have loved to have met my Aunt Imee who it seems inherited her seamstress skills from her parents. Her talents are mentioned in Gran's letter too:

..."wishing you all a Happy Xmas & think of your Mother who will be alone... my life is a lonely one .. now it is all Bis with Imee's making dresses for the Court Ladies." ...

Gran's letter holds such a rich picture of this feisty but lonely lady who I did not really know, but wish I had. She signs off:

...."All the Best from your Mother give my love to all and yourself."

Senders name and address: Mrs H. P Allery, 3 London Road, Guildford, England.