Friday, 25 March 2011

Leaving Home, A Historical Journey.

‘Dairy of a Family Tree Researcher’

Death of a Mayor 1961
My Journey to London by train is always steeped in my own personal history, even when I am researching for other families. Today will be no exception, and  I have scheduled a sufficient local visits to keep me busy for the whole day.

A March day full of sunshine , leaving home to walk to the Railway station, the air , as always, was filled with ancestors past and as I walked through my local park. My Maternal Great Grandfather worked in the Dock Timer Yard, which in it’s heyday had be sited close to where my home is today  and as I walked the cobbled street of the City’s old town, I passed the building that , until the early 1900’s, had been a Shoe Makers run by my Paternal Ancestors for several generations.

Ancestral connections throughout my journey would not stop there, as the train departed I could see the church in which my Maternal Great Grandparents were married and the area in which their daughter’s future husband was born during a dirigible air raid during the Great War. There were many more connections during a journey that took me in the direction of my sister’s birth place but today’s journey was not about my ancestors.

The Society of Genealogists 
Arriving in London, my first stop was the Holborn Library in Camden Town, the staff there were so friendly and helpful, I had almost forgotten I was in London. My aim had been to examine some 1961 copies of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, the Hampstead News and the Kilburn Times. I already had some information from the Times Archives and just wanted to supplement it. The quality of what I could find turned out to be top notch and all the staff continued to be very helpful.

The National Portrait Gallery
Next it was onto the National Portrait Gallery via the office of the Society of Genealogists to collect some research information. The National Portrait Gallery was a little disappointing, a series of related images had been prepared for me to view and as it was , all but one, we already had, and even that was a side elevation of one we did have !

Finally time to meet up with a Colleague from Nova Scotia, Canada and lunch at Sergio’s on Titchmarsh Street.  We spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing Anglo Canadian Connections and agreed to meet up gain next time at Pier 21 in Halifax. A Plate of pasta and a glass of wine later, and once more I entered into the breach.

My first two stops in the afternoon were sites of old the London Work Houses, Wallis Yard and Mount Street in the St Georges and Hanover Square district. Each visit had a different history , but each equally important to their descendants and in both cases, in some kind of quirk of irony, the districts that once  was home for some of the most poverty stricken of our Victorian ancestors, now represent the very opposite. In both cases the districts now house high class fashion houses, the best hotels and most exclusive private clubs , the most fashionable of eateries and the streets are littered with the most expensive of motor vehicles.

A Classic Work House Look
Mount Street was my first visit and I discovered the building to have all but disappeared. Rebuilt on the site had been Council Offices, which have now become the work places and apartments of wealthy businesses and the location had been renamed Charles Place and then  Carlos Place, as it is today. Perhaps to fit in with the Sebastian’s and Tarquin’s now frequenting the area. Despite this, I believe traces of the work house are visible from the front of the building , those chimneys certainly don’t match the period and the rear the building still resembles a classic work house.

I could not say the same for my visit to Wallis Yard, not only renamed but it would seem to have been completely eradicated once and for all.
In regard to my work house visits, I cannot help a but have slight feeling of disgust for something I am finding a little unpalatable. I mentioned before that my two visits had been connected to different history’s. One of them had been an employee of the work house and the other had fallen on hard times, had more than her share of bad luck and this had been the only course to ensure her survival but ensure it she did , and her descendents were born with strength because of it. Yet, what was as noticeable as the absence of any physical remains was a seeming desire to bury this history. Both areas are without those touristic blue plaques, reserved for authors of note, poets, pop musicians and sculptors few have even heard of. Some of those had long lasting effects on our future, some were mere fleeting visits of Any Warhol styled fame.  The Work House’s are more than that, they are part of our history. Perhaps we are too ashamed of some of the darker elements of Victoriana but at the very least their locations should be more conspicuously identified. 

From there my journey was to head to much grander locations in the direction of Buckingham Palace and to Ebury Square, a home in which an  ancestor had lived along with several other large families at the turn of the century. I wanted to feel what life would have been like for her. Ebury Square close to the famous Eaton Place had been high quality housing in the 19th  and early 20th centuries, surrounded by lush greenery and an idyllic city centre park to relax in, built at the behest of the Marquis of Westminster. Alas, like so many parts of London, parts of it had been destroyed during WWII but I was lucky enough to discover a sketch of the square from circa 1930.

Next to Marylebone, Hayes Place and for a personal trip to Hamilton Terrace.  My 2 x Maternal Great Grandfather’s family had been educated at home by a Governess who was educated herself in Hamilton Terrace, Marylebone. By the time I arrived in Marylebone, the light was failing me and as you can see from my images, this was affecting the quality of my photography. None the less, I persevered and I think that Hayes Place threw up some good results, the next street to Hayes Place for example with the pub on the corner, is a classic example of how Victorian life would have looked in the area, as is too, the cobbled street of Hamilton Close. My image of Hamilton Terrace can only show the scale of the school that housed 17 scholar boarders, a number of teachers and maids and is now sub divided into 2 homes. I think it looks pretty impressive.

From then on , it was a slow walk back to Kings Cross to get the last train home.
It’s been a long, fulfilling and successful day, with many new stones being unturned but no matter what the outcome, one thing is certain, ancestry is in every path we walk. I have the blisters to prove that !

See Images Here

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