One Grandmother

Handsome couple aren’t they ?

No its not Bonnie and Clyde, its my paternal grandparents, Percy and Clarice.

Percy is the one with the Woodbine in his mouth, obviously, I daren’t put a flat cap on because I have this mortal fear that I’d actually look like him.

I never knew either of my fathers parents, they died long before I appeared on the scene, Percy my grandfather the watch repairer died in or around 1945/6 and his wife Clarice followed at some unknown time thereafter but certainly before 1956.

We already know the story of Percy, of how he was raised in a substantial and apparently fairly prosperous  inn keepers family, we know that he lost his inheritance to his younger brother on the turn of a playing card and how he moved out to start the business that I eventually came to purchase from his son and we know, as he is ably demonstrating in that photo, that he smoked himself to death during World War Two while his son was enjoying himself in Africa – but what of Clarice ?

In 1901 Clarice was 9 years of age and living with her family at No 4 Sefton Street, Hunslet Leeds, a street that no longer exists on a map of Leeds, its fair to assume though that it was simply one of the hundreds of terraced rows that existed in the district at that time – from the 1901 census we can see that eight houses appear on the same page, all of them classed as having less than five habitable rooms, most of them containing only two or three people – small houses then, or maybe even tenements.

Hunslet was a hugely important engineering centre, a nationally important heavy engineering centre – if the city to the north of the river was nationally important for its clothing production then the city and Hunslet to the south was heavy engineering personified, the Hunslet Engine Works not surprisingly was located in Hunslet and was still manufacturing steam and diesel locomotives for export all over the world up until the 1960s – next time you watch a documentary on any far Eastern Commonwealth country and a steam train rolls by have a close look at it – somewhere on its ironwork will be stamped the name “Hunslet Engine Works”.

The land to the south of the river was criss-crossed with railway tracks, not only did they manufacture railway engines here they marshalled and offloaded them here too – right in the middle of an old map of Hunslet is the Midland Goods Station and further spider webs of tracks make there way across the district to Leeds New (Central) Station.

The district had its docks too even though Leeds is 70 miles from any seaport its connected (eventually) to both west and east coasts by the Leeds/Liverpool and Aire & Calder canals, and so a huge and varied number of warehouses and traders packed the area some of which still exist today as protected status buildings.

It was in this busy district of heavy engineering and commerce that the Brook family laid their roots, they were there on the 1881 census too although my grandmother Clarice wasn’t born then but in 1901 her father Thomas Shackleton Brook was head of the small household of wife, two sons, two daughters and his 13 year old nephew from Durban South Africa.

There’s two things of note in that last paragraph, my family appear to have a tenuous link to South Africa and my Great Grandfather had a most impressive middle name, Shackleton, why couldn’t I have been given the name Shackleton as one of my two middle names instead of his surname Brook, for yes, I carry their family name on my birth certificate as one of my total of four names, only Prince Charles has more official names than I.

Thomas Shackleton Brook is 53 years of age in 1901 and his occupation is “Machinery Painter”, well I suppose there must have been a lot of machinery in the district of Hunslet and I suppose someone had to paint it now and again. His wife Emma is 51, son John Mitchell Brook is 23 and a Commercial Clerk (remember all of those warehouses along the riverside).

Eldest daughter Amy Maude is 21 years of age and a Clothiers Machinist/Tailor and her younger brother Harold is 15 and a grocers assistant, Clarice at 9 years would still be a scholar and there is nothing else of note of Percy the South African nephew other than he was lodging at the house at that time.

As always and while its interesting to gaze at your own family and wonder what their lives were like in a busy commercial city at the turn of the previous century its also of interest to browse the rest of the page of the census, get a snapshot of what that section of that street was like – its obviously a working class district, everyone who is of an age to work is listed with an occupation and as mention above the dwellings appear to be very small, much smaller than the street in which my grandfather Percy lived for instance (see Friday).

At No 6 Sefton Street lived William Brown, a Plumbers Merchant Assistant, his wife and four small children ranging from 8 to 1 years of age, they all hail from Scotland including the youngest child so presumably they’ve just arrived in the street recently. William E Thompson is a Saddler and lives at No 14 with his wife and 9 year old daughter, same age as my grandmother Clarice, were they friends five doors apart, did they go to school together, had they spoken to the 8 year old Scottish Jeannie at No 16 yet, could they understand a word she said  ?

An electrician from Derbyshire lives at No 12, Alfred Dakin, wife and 3 year old son, and George W Telford and his wife Amelia live at No 10, childless but a “Registered School Teacher” while at No 8 Albert Whitfield and his wife Louisa are also childless with Albert having the title of Pharmaceutical Drug Chemist, two neighbours seemingly with professional qualifications, did they stick out like a sore thumb in the neighbourhood  ?

George Stocks a Journeyman Joiner lives next door to my grandmothers family with Ada his wife (from Robin Hoods Bay) and their 2 year old daughter Mary and on the other side of the Brooks family lives John Vincent at 55 a retired Police Officer, his wife Selina and three sons, one a Joiner, another a Tailors Cutter.

And there you have it, eight houses in a street, 31 people, those males who are of working age are all working, none of the women are, and what do I know of my grandmother Clarice, what tales do I have to tell of her ?

Precious few, my father spoke at length of his father but very little of his mother, Clarice had four children, three girls and my father, the sister just above him in the pecking order died in childhood from a tumour or swelling that invaded her throat and choked her to death literally overnight leaving him with quite a big age gap between him and his two remaining sisters.

He did tell me once that his eldest sister Phyllis was very much cast in the same mould as his mother, slight pretensions above her place in society, always expected more from her husband, the feeling that somehow she had married beneath herself, that she could have done better – this was my Auntie Phyllis and I suspect that her mother Clarice may have been similar judging by the number of times they moved house, they didn’t stay in Hunslet for long, moved to the slightly better off Beeston further up the hill, then to a wooden bungalow in Colton, a village way out in the countryside, “no bigger than a shed” my mother used to recall but my father would insist that it was a bungalow, and of course they ended up owning a business in Meanwood, maybe she was satisfied with her lot by then, looking at her photo I somehow doubt it…

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7 thoughts on “One Grandmother

  1. After looking over a number of the blog posts on your web page, I really appreciate your way of writing a blog.
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  2. My great grandfather was brought up in Hunslet and Holbeck slums, the nuns used to live among them. Do any photos exist of the area, especially Cheap St, or Frost Fold?

  3. You have the wrong Clarice Brook in your family tree, I’m afraid. The Clarice, whose history you outlined, was my grandmother and her husband was indeed Percy but he died in the 1930s and was a draughtsman.

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