Saturday, 18 March 2017

When great grandmother Eliza comes knocking ........ more from Derby a long time ago

Now I am never far away from my great grandmother who I never knew but was alive in Derby while I was growing up and may have lived no more than twenty minutes away from Hope Street where I spent many summer holidays.

Death certificate, for Eliza, 1963 with incorrect age recorded
She was born in Whiteman’s Yard in 1872 and died ninety-one years later in the Kingsway Hospital which for most of its existence was known as the Derby Borough Lunatic Asylum.

She was there by 1939 and may have been there even earlier, and given the stigma that attached to asylums I am not surprised that she was never talked about.

We have only on reference to her in the family collection which comes from a letter dated 1941 in which my uncle who was serving with the RAF asked about her health.

If I was told of her death I have no memory nor can I ever think I visited her.

That colourful life ........ 1894
She had lived a colourful life which as ever is glosses over much that today we might find unacceptable.

In 1894 Eliza had been charged and fined for a drunken brawl with a police man on Canal Street spent the next decade and a bit in a relationship with my great grandfather which took them from Derby via Birmingham to Erith in Kent.

Along the way they had four children and after the youngest had died in infancy she left their father, travelled north to the Derby and gave birth to her daughter in the Workhouse in 1902.

The next ten years are unclear.

In 1911 she was working as a domestic servant outside Derby and although the census return records that she said she was married and had four children, she is living as a single woman in the house of her employer.

Two years later her children are taken into care on the grounds that she is “unfit to have control” and there we lose her until 1918.

Her children had already been in care by 1911 and remained so after 1913 until each in turn was found work by the authorities.

All of which is not unfamiliar to me but now there is more and in its telling reveals something of how family research goes.

Most people who engage in tracing their families will know that often great gaps open up where an individual is missing from the historical record and stubbornly refuses to be found.

Court 2, Hope Street, marked in red, 1880 , unchanged in 1925
Eliza is one of these.  We have no idea what she was doing between 1881 and 1894 when she hit that policeman, and again slides back into the shadows from 1913 till 1922 when she crops up on a street directory in Hope Street.

But because she was entitled to a Parliamentary vote from 1918 she is there on the electoral roll in Hope Street and appears every year till 1925.

And from 1919 her son Jack is listed at the same address and from 1922 so is my grandfather.

All of which is a bit of a breakthrough because we know that grandfather had been demobbed in Belfast in the September of 1922 having been in Germany before that.

Nana and Uncle Roger, Hope Street, 1925
Sometime around that date my German grandmother and their two children will have travelled over from Cologne and settled into the house which was also occupied by my great aunt.

The house has long gone, but it was just a few doors up from 12 Hope Street where I spent those summer holidays.

It is listed as court 5 and was accessed from Hope Street by a narrow passage which took you into an enclosed court.  From the maps it looks to be a two up two down property.

And that would suggest that the house was very crowded.

I had always thought my grandparents had set up home in 12 Hope Street but it is clear from the electoral roll that they were their with great garandmother Eliza, my great uncle and aunt and their two children.

Grandad and Nana circa 1930s
Neither Nana nor great aunt Dolly show up on the electoral register and nor will they because neither was granted the vote until 1928 by which time Dolly had left for Canada, great uncle Jack had moved out to get married and my grandparents may also have left for no 12.

All of which just leaves Eliza who may already have made that journey to the asylum.

There will be more, but that depends on whether the rate books and street directories along with later electoral rolls are available.

I suspect they will not be on line and so I shall in time travel south to Derby.

All of which means that my great grandmother is not quite finished with me.

Location; Derby

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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