Writing about your family history (iii) … the journeys they made…

It’s a bit of a fallacy that people in the past never travelled further than the nearest market; in fact, as you probably know from your own research, people moved about almost as much as we do, if not more – and probably for the same reasons, work, family, opportunities, marriage, business… Writing a family story from the point of a journey is a way to create a contained narrative, with a beginning – in one homestead/village/town/city and after staying temporarily in other places, the settling in what became the family home.

On my dad’s side of the family, the Elsdens were all ag labs, agricultural labours, working in Suffolk on farms for generations. They may have come from Norfolk, and before that from Scandinavia, but they stayed in the Suffolk area throughout the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth century, moving from village to village, no doubt finding work on different farms. When the railways came they moved from the land to work initially on the tracks in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, but later into the engine sheds and driving the big steam engines. The sons of the family moved out of labour and into commerce, opening a fruit and vegetable shop in Cambridge, then holding the license of a pub… and so we became a Cambridge family.

On my maternal side, my Jewish forebears left their commercial business in the hands of their brothers and cousins in London, and travelled round the other side of the world to Tasmania where they started an import export agency – they had ships travelling across the Pacific and all round the South China Sea. Eventually they returned to London and settled in a house on Regent’s Park, they were extraordinarily rich… this was an actual journey, but there followed a journey of a different kind… a journey from riches to a more modest way of life.

My character Thomas in my Radwinter stories follows his ancestors lives, tracing his family back to war-torn eastern Europe, and following their journey from their arrival in England in the 1830’s, across southern England to Easthope, where the family still lives… “I followed the story of the Radwinters, and discovered where we came from… and what an interesting journey that was. I mean journey for me in a non-literal way, but it was an interesting journey for the Radwinters, literally”.

Here is a link to the first  book in the series:

http://amzn.eu/iaeUMrD

Herbert de la Rue

We were sorting out the under-the-stairs; it has shelves and we use it as a food store for coffee, tea, biscuits, tins, bags of flour sugar etc… but t also houses the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board, our collection of shopping bags (we have so many because we are absent minded and forget them and then need to buy new ones) and pictures which we no longer have room for on the walls but don’t want to throw away. Many of them are by my husband, some are ones we bought together and have replaced, and some come from long ago… and here is the story of one of them:

We moved from the flat where I had been brought up as a child into a house which we bought from an old, very old friend of my grandparents, a Mr Pleasants, his wife and sister… I’m not sure now whether she was his sister or his wife’s sister, or maybe they were two sisters, but the three old folks had lived in their house for many, many years. They were pleased to have a family they knew buy it, and especially to have us two children move in with our parents.

For whatever reason they let various bits and pieces behind, no doubt they didn’t want them or couldn’t accommodate them where they moved into sheltered accommodation, I think on Honey Hill… its amazing what comes back when you think about things. Among the items we ‘inherited’ were some old pictures, including two very fine-looking Edwardian gentlemen we christened Albert and Edward, and a water-colour of Mr Herbert de la Rue. We knew this because it was inscribed on the back. My dad thought that the de la Rues were a printing firm who used to make playing cards, he also seemed to think that one of the old ladies had been a maid in service to the family in London.

We were doing some tidying and we came across the picture of Herbert de la Rue and I tried to find out more about him. He was born in 1855, his parents were Warren de la Rue of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and his wife Georgiana. In 1871 the family were living in Staines (now called Staines-on-Thames)  and three children lived at home, Herbert, Ernest and Alice, along with eight servants. Ten years later the family had moved to Portland Place in Marylebone, half as mile from where my family were living by Regent’s Park. Now there were only the two sons at home, Ernest was now a partner in the firm of de la Rue & Co who which was described as wholesale manufactures, stationers etc. Herbert was an underwriter at Lloyd’s

I 1851, four or five years before Herbert was born, Warren’s occupation is F.R.S &tc, Chemistry, Mechanics, Card Manufacturer, Envelope ditto, and Wholesale Stationer, Engineer (?) employing with partners 410 persons… so my dad was right, they did make cards. At this time two other children were living at home with Warren, Georgina and Alice, Warren junior and Thomas.

In 1891 I can only find Warren’s grandson, Warren, living with his parents Ernest and Florence, and his  sisters, Irene and Phillis. Of Warren senior, and Herbert I can find no census return.

However, it is interesting that by 1911, Warren de la Rue junior, Herbert’s brother is living in Chippenham not far from Newmarket… Newmarket which isn’t far from Cambridge where the Pleasants lived who had the picture of Herbert de la Rue which set me off on this quest. Warren had a large number of servants, including a Swiss chef, a footman and a waiter… as well as several female domestic servants, one of whom may have been the lady I knew in her old age, living in the house we later moved into.

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I wonder if she’s wondering?

I don’t know if everyone does this, but I often think back to when I was at school and wonder what happened to those people I remember from long ago… Sometimes it’s possible to find old friends or school buddies – I did so with much joy recently. However some reunions are just baffling… “where is that funny fun person I remember? Who is this po-faced individual with no sense  of humour? What happened to change them… or have I misremembered, was this always how they were?‘” Sometimes strange things are revealed, unexpected things – some are lovely – this person always really liked and admired me and wanted to be a closer friend, this other person was a bully and really unkind but I never saw it or guessed.

This morning for some reason I was thinking about my birthday, and remembering when I was at junior school, it might even be infant school, there were a couple of friends whose birthdays were either side of mine. One was called Catherine, and I can’t remember who the other was – John, maybe? What happened to them? How did their lives pan out? Catherine must have moved schools because she wasn’t in my class later on… and thinking about it now, I used to play with her because she lived in our road, so maybe she didn’t even go to our school? I guess I was about six at the time… Does she ever think back over those many years and remember a little me she played with?

Then there were the twins who also lived in our road and also moved away, Richard and Elizabeth, I wonder where you are now, I hope you’ve had happy and successful lives. Living in Cambridge there were a lot of visitors to the university who stayed for maybe only a year or so; their children came to school, then they too disappeared – little Polish Jan, and Pierre from France, and another little girl from Poland, Ewa, Carla from the States and someone whose name I’ve forgotten – maybe she was Virginia, from Australia. There were other little children who I now know didn’t have such happy lives, and sad things happened to them while they were still young; I hope they escaped their situation and were able to  find happiness.

Often quoted because it is so true –  “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”…

The Brazen George

I’ve been looking back at the names of old pubs in Cambridge, many of them gone, long gone, and maybe some of them renamed as is the trend these days – names which have nothing to do with anything. It used to be that you could direct a stranger by the pubs in a place, now there are so many which are gone, and so many changed names to things like the Spoon and Follicle, the Warped Damson, the Jelly Mold… actually I have made those up, but there are some ludicrous modern pub names.

Cambridge before the war was not much bigger than a market town, even though it was a University city, and many pub names reflected the rural shire… the names of farm animals and occupations for example.

There were also many, many pubs called after famous personalities of the day, royalty and the aristocracy, and also the English patron saint, St George. There was one pub called the Brazen George, its sign showed a brass coloured George slaying the dragon; it was a going concern in 1500, so goodness knows how old it actually was. Like so many, it is long gone, and was long gone when my dad was a boy.

Here is just a sample of pubs named after people – either actual people of by their trades and occupations… and the mythological Green Man of course!

  • King William/King William IV
  • George III/ George IV
  • King’s Head
  • King’s Arms King’s Arms
  • Prince Regent
  • Queen Adelaide
  • Duke Of Sussex,
  • Duke Of Wellington
  • Duke Of York
  • Marquis Of Granby
  • Earl Of Durham
  • George/George And Dragon/Brazen George
  • Nelson/ British Admiral
  • Garrick
  • Black Moor’s Head
  • Bricklayers
  • Wrestlers
  • Britannia
  • Green Man

Animals in pubs

Our pub the Dolphin (named after an animal) is a creature friendly pub. Dogs are more than welcome, in fact there are two resident Jugs (pug/Jack Russell cross) Tim and Sim. There are other dogs who visit, some are regulars, but none is as famous as Penny, known as Mrs Pen, who died several years ago but is not forgotten.

I was researching something else and was looking at the names of pubs in Cambridge – well, the names of old pubs, so many have now disappeared or changed names. Cambridge not so long ago was little more than a market town with a university – although in actual fact it is a city. The rural nature of its surrounding countryside is reflected in some of the old pub names…

Animals of various colours and although there are some exotics, many reflect animals seen in the Cambridgeshire countryside  –

  • The Blue Bore/Lion
  • The Black Bear/Bull/ Lion/ Swan/The Little Black Bull
  • The Green Lion/Dragon
  • The Red Bull/Red Cow/Red Lion/ The New Red Lion/Old Red Lion
  • The Cock x3
  • The Cow and Calf
  • Dog and Duck/Hare and Hounds
  • The Horse and Groom/The Light Horse/The Race Horse
  • The Eagle/The Hawk/The Peacock/The Crane
  • The Lamb/The Ram
  • The Roebuck
  • The Pike and Eel/The Pickerel/The Salmon

… and of course there had to be…

  • The Dolphin

Penny, Mrs Pen at the back door of the pub

 

An elegant gentleman

I told the story of Herbert de la Rue – as far as I knew it, a couple of years ago:

We moved from the flat where I had been brought up as a child into a house which we bought from an old, very old friend of my grandparents, a Mr Pleasants, his wife and sister… I’m not sure now whether she was his sister or his wife’s sister, or maybe they were two sisters, but the three old folks had lived in their house for many, many years. They were pleased to have a family they knew buy it, and especially to have us two children move in with our parents.

For whatever reason they let various bits and pieces behind, no doubt they didn’t want them or couldn’t accommodate them where they moved into sheltered accommodation, I think on Honey Hill… its amazing what comes back when you think about things. Among the items we ‘inherited’ were some old pictures, including two very fine-looking Edwardian gentlemen we christened Albert and Edward, and a water-colour of Mr Herbert de la Rue. We knew this because it was inscribed on the back. My dad thought that the de la Rues were a printing firm who used to make playing cards, he also seemed to think that one of the old ladies had been a maid in service to the family in London.

We were doing some tidying and we came across the picture of Herbert de la Rue and I tried to find out more about him. He was born in 1855, his parents were Warren de la Rue of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and his wife Georgiana. In 1871 the family were living in Staines (now called Staines-on-Thames)  and three children lived at home, Herbert, Ernest and Alice, along with eight servants. Ten years later the family had moved to Portland Place in Marylebone, half as mile from where my family were living by Regent’s Park. Now there were only the two sons at home, Ernest was now a partner in the firm of de la Rue & Co who which was described as wholesale manufactures, stationers etc. Herbert was an underwriter at Lloyd’s

In 1851, four or five years before Herbert was born, Warren’s occupation is F.R.S &tc, Chemistry, Mechanics, Card Manufacturer, Envelope ditto, and Wholesale Stationer, Engineer (?) employing with partners 410 persons… so my dad was right, they did make cards. At this time two other children were living at home with Warren, Georgina and Alice, Warren junior and Thomas.

In 1891 I can only find Warren’s grandson, Warren, living with his parents Ernest and Florence, and his  sisters, Irene and Phillis. Of Warren senior, and Herbert I can find no census return.

However, it is interesting that by 1911, Warren de la Rue junior, Herbert’s brother is living in Chippenham not far from Newmarket… Newmarket which isn’t far from Cambridge where the Pleasants lived who had the picture of Herbert de la Rue which set me off on this quest. Warren had a large number of servants, including a Swiss chef, a footman and a waiter… as well as several female domestic servants, one of whom may have been the lady I knew in her old age, living in the house we later moved into.

 

Respect your readers

I’m always very ready to accept ideas or to listen to good suggestions – for most things, but writing in particular! I write on my own (although I belong to a very helpful and friendly writing group, we share specifically written pieces rather than discuss on going projects!) and I self-publish so I don’t have an editor (but I do have a proof reader, plus kind friends who give honest criticism) … so any advice or suggestions I can find elsewhere I give serious consideration to!

I came across this headline:

5 Essential Pieces of Advice You Need Before You Publish

I immediately read it through, and although some of the advice was more relevant to me than other bits, it was all sound. The ‘5 Essential Pieces of Advice’ are:

  • Editing is VERY important
  •  Marketing can’t be avoided!
  • Reach out to other authors for advice
  • Research publishing – what’s a good fit for you?
  • Respect your readers, and the craft itself

This is the order in which they appear, but if I was to put them in order of importance to me – just my thoughts, you understand, they would be like this:

  1. Respect your readers, and the craft itself 
  2. Editing is VERY important
  3. Reach out to other authors for advice
  4. Research publishing – what’s a good fit for you?
  5.  Marketing can’t be avoided!

I was thinking about the first point – writing is about the audience as well as the writer! it took me a long time to understand the importance of ‘audience’ a very long time.

Here is something I wrote while ago but I think it is still very true:

I made a commented recently about the importance of not falling in love with my characters… and I had some great comments which I really appreciated, but it made me realise I need to make it clearer what I mean. I sometimes think that writers, particularly of a series of novels, that they become so close to their characters that they are no longer objective about them and become almost indulgent. I don’t wish to criticise P.D. James  heaven forbid! She actually is an old girl of the school I attended in Cambridge and a wonderful writer, a great writer. I, along with other people  will never forget the way she took apart the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, when she interviewed him in 2009… however… however… I think she is too indulgent with her detective, Adam Dalgliesh. I haven’t read her latest Dalgliesh mysteries so I may need to retract this statement!
Someone commented that a fiction writer is the creators and so makes the rules… I suppose that is true to a certain extent, especially for great writers… However, but I’m just an ordinary writer, a story-teller, and I want people to read my work so like it or not, to a certain extent I have to conform to a certain structure and convention. It’s the same as if I were a performer, I would want people to watch me, so maybe I would have to compromise in order to get that audience. As a writer, especially an unknown writer seeking an audience I might sometimes have to adjust what I write to catch people’s interest, and then sustain it… and yet I must continue to be  my own person and true to what I want to do.
I do love my characters, I really do, in fact there is one who I am almost ‘in love’ with! If you have read my three published novels you might like to guess who that is! I guess what I mean by not falling in love with them is that I should also try and see them objectively so they behave within the context of the plot in a consistent and believable way. maybe I should have used the word indulgent, perhaps I believe I shouldn’t be too indulgent with them.
My characters are important to me, really important, they live with me after all! They continue on with their lives long after the story has ended… just because there is nothing more for my readers doesn’t mean the characters don’t continue their lives and adventures!
As a reader I love it when characters stay with me…  and so they do when I write; I just don’t want to become too close to them!

In this piece I mention I’ve published three novels – well, I have now published twelve as e-readers, and one is available as a paperback. I would really appreciate your comments, and criticism, so here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_8?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+els%2Caps%2C140&crid=3A6GAQYMCT6PP

Here is a link to the article ‘5 Essential Pieces of Advice You Need Before You Publish’ – I really recommend you read it!:

http://services4authors.com/2017/05/23/5-essential-pieces-of-advice-you-need-to-hear-before-you-publish/