I have mentioned before that my mother takes an interest in my genealogical research, and as her memory reaches back to the end of the First World War, she often adds little details that liven up cold data. Thus it was when I mentioned her Uncle Harry, whom I’d found in the 1901 census but not in 1911. I was puzzled that his two sons were living with their maternal grandmother in that census, and asked if they had been orphaned.
Oh no! Uncle Harry was very much alive when my mother was a little girl, and she had clear recollections of him, a little larger than life. With the help of the Internet, and what my mother remembered from the 1920’s, we pieced together a picture, but with substantial pieces of the jigsaw puzzle missing.
Harry was born in 1875, and was just three years old when his father – who had the interesting occupation of “table knife manager” – died. A few years later his mother remarried. Her new husband was a widower with little ones of his own, so Harry, along with his brother and sister, acquired three more siblings, making quite a houseful as the children were all much the same age. Inevitably, several more children appeared in the next few years, including my grandmother.
When he grew up, Harry became a blacksmith and spring smith. At the age of 19, he married a sixteen-year-old girl called Hannah, and they moved into the house next door to his mother and stepfather, which was no doubt very handy for babysitting, as Harry and Hannah soon had two little boys. This is shown in the 1901 census, but there the trail peters out: I could find no trace of Harry or Hannah in the 1911 census although, as I said before, their two young boys were living with Hannah’s widowed mother.
Harry next pops up in incoming transatlantic passenger lists arriving in Liverpool: in December 1910 from Peru, in November 1914 from Chile, and again in November 1920 from Chile. Frustratingly, I can’t find him in any outgoing lists, so I don’t know how long he was gone each time. He may have served in the Merchant Navy during the First World War, as he appears to fit the description of a sailor called Harry Green awarded the Campaign Medal, but I am unwilling to pay the fee to view the record at the National Archives (blame my Yorkshire genes for that bit of miserliness!).
I don’t know how many times in all he made the voyage, nor for what purpose. He travelled as a passenger, not as crew, and presumably earned money in South America, as family lore is that “Uncle Harry struck gold”. My mother remembers him visiting in the mid nineteen-twenties, and “flashing his gold rings about.” He kept his little nieces and nephews enthralled with tales of his adventures on the transatlantic steamers, and the strange places he had visited. My grandmother apparently dismissed him as a show-off, but she named one of her sons Harry, and my mother thinks Uncle Harry was his godfather, so perhaps Granny was hopeful that some of the gold dust might rub off.
My mother knows that Uncle Harry kept a pub and that her grandmother went to live with him after she was widowed in 1924. The home address given on the last passenger list is a hotel. Was this hotel also a pub, and Uncle Harry the licensee? My mother has vivid memories of being taken to visit him and her grandma as a special treat in about 1930. The place, as my mother recalls it, was in a village somewhere out in the country, and as my mother had been given dire warnings about “the demon drink” she was rather apprehensive about going to a pub, which seemed to her a den of iniquity and she half-expected the devil to appear around the corner, with horns and a tail, in a flash of brimstone and smoke. Her lasting memory is the smell of beer and ale, which she found repulsive.
I had given up hope of ever identifying the pub and the village, but then I came across the burial record of my great-grandmother. There it was: “died at the Horse and Groom, Gainsborough”. Is it still there? The Internet informed me that it was demolished in 2007, after having very rapidly gone downhill in its last years. But there was a photograph, and even a list of landlords up to 1929. It didn’t include Uncle Harry, but Great-Grandma died in 1931, so that would suggest he took it over around 1930. How long was he there?
My jigsaw puzzle still has pieces missing, but probate records indicate that a Harry Green died in 1937 – not in Gainsborough, but nearby, leaving his estate to his widow, Emma Elizabeth. Is this Uncle Harry? If so, what happened to his wife Hannah and their two sons? These boys would have been just the right age to serve in WWI: did they? Were they killed or did they survive? Did Uncle Harry remarry? Who was Emma Elizabeth?
I don’t suppose I’m likely to find answers to these questions but in the meantime, I picture my great-uncle as a somewhat swashbuckling landlord, telling tall tales over the bar in a small-town Victorian pub.