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Friday, 22 February 2019

Messages of Love: 52 Ancestors - Week 7.

"Love" was the  appropriate theme for Week 7 of the "52 Ancestors" challenge  and I am proud to feature the story of my parents 61 years of marriage.

A Dance Floor Meeting 
I know exactly how my parents first met - at the Winter Gardens Ballroom in   Blackpool,ancashire.   My father often recalled the occasion and wrote it down in his "Early Memories".
"One Saturday night I was in the Winter Gardens when I saw a young lady sitting on a settee. She got up and we said "Hello". I tried to find her again in the evening without success, even going to the exit door to watch people leave." 
"Two weeks later I was at the Tower Ballroom and who should come along but two ladies - and you have guessed that was your Mum and Aunt. Mum stopped to say "Hello" and we started talking and had a good chat. I asked if she would come to the cinema the next night and offered to come for her and take her home. She agreed. I thought it was rather brave of her to come with me when we had only just met to talk together. 
The date was 13th October 1936 and we married 18th April 1938." 
My parents John and Kathleen on their wedding day 18th April 1938
My mother (Kathleen Danson) was born in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, a few miles from the north west seaside resort of Blackpool.

At the age of 14, she was apprenticed to be a tailoress and was still making her own clothes in her 80's. For her going  into a fabric shop was like going into a jeweller'sMum  and her sister, Edith,  often went dancing in the Winter Gardens Ballroom and in Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

 Dad was then what was known as a commercial traveller - a salesman, and covered the north west of England, primarily  Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland away from home a week at a time. 

 Messages of Love.
Movingly, following their deaths, I found letters, still in their envelopes, that my parents had written to each other.  The letter below from my mother was dated 26th April 1938, so very shortly after their marriage.  It was a revelation to me, as my mother writes so eloquently about her feelings, yet had always struck me as quite reserved.
My Dear John,
What a long time it seems since you left here Monday morning.  I have missed you dear, the days seems so long and empty being all on my own. but I think of you every minute of the day.  Peggy came up to see me last night and Edith is coming for tonight and tomorrow......  [Mum's sisters]

I hope you enjoyed the sandwiches dear, though I meant to put in an apple, but forgot.    I have got the wireless on while I am writing,  I am so glad we got one, dear, as it keeps me company.............
Till Friday, dear.  God bless you and keep you, Your every loving wife, Kath XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

* I think my mother had been working at the firm, Frosts in South Shore, Blackpool, making clothes, but  this was the time when women were expected to give up their job on marriage - and look after their man!  

My father joined the RAF and served  in the Codes and Cipher Branch of the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London.  He witnessed the Battle of Britain over London earlier in the autumn of 1941. I love the design of this telegram and the message, with the frank on the reverse showing it was sent on December 31st 1941.   


There were also letters spanning the years 1944-45.   Dad by this time was in France and Germany,  attached to the US forces under General Bradley.

The letter below was  written in September 1944 
after the Allied troops had entered Paris.


 A another letter from 1944 ends:

In Peacetime
We were now a family of four, leading a typical 1950's lifestyle, with my mother running a dressmaking business from the spare bedroom/boxroom in our house, and Dad continuing to rise up the promotional  ladder at work.

Following retirement Mum and Dad  continued to lead busy lives, involved in their local community and enjoying their first holidays abroad together.  

Celebrating their Diamond  Wedding Anniversary
Mum  and Dad on their Diamond Wedding Anniversary -18th April  1998
with the telegram from the Queen.  

Both lived to the good age of 91.  


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Monday, 18 February 2019

My Mystery Family Photo: 52 Ancestors: Week 8

"A Family Photo" is the theme of Week 8 of this year's "52 Ancestors " challenge.  Where to start?   I don't have many group photographs in my collection, but here are two of my Danson family from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, on what seems to be a very happy occasion.  

But  I don't know  what the occasion was - and I never asked the right questions, when I first came across the pictures in a family album.   Why was I so reluctant to find out more?  

This appears to be taken outside a typical Blackpool bed & breakfast.  My grandmother (Alice Danson, nee English)  is in the centre of the group and to the right her daughters Kathleen (my mother), and Edith, and crouching at the side could be my Uncle Harry, smoking and wearing a carnation - though I did not instantly recognise him here. 
The second photograph shows  the Danson family - Edith, youngest daughter Peggy, my grandparents William and Alice, son Harry   and Kathleen, with youngest son Billy missing. The three sisters enjoyed fashion and  made their own clothes, with my mother apprenticed to a tailor at the age of 14. 

My guess as to the occasion rests on Uncle Harry wearing the carnation  Was this his short- lived wartime wedding?  But where was his bride?  Or was he best man?  Is that the happy couple  on the left of the first photograph where the girl has her arm around the man by her side, who I think is also sporting a buttonhole.   But why was my grandmother taking the centre stage position? 

Throughout my own life,  Uncle Harry lived in the family home with my grandfather and sister Edith (my grandmother died in 1945).  But through snatches of conversation I picked up as a child, I became aware that he had at some time married and was divorced - all very hush, hush  in those days, swept under the carpet and certainly never openly mentioned. 

It was only after his death, I found the papers confirming a marriage on 11th June 1940 and divorce in 1947.   

The marriage date is significant as Uncle Harry was one of the thousands of troops evacuated from Dunkirk on the flotilla of small ships  between 27th  May and 4th  June 1940. Yet here  he was some ten days later. 

My mother recalled how Harry arrived back home from Dunkirk  still in the uniform in which he entered the sea to be rescued.   He never talked about his wartime experiences, but seeing commemoration services or documentaries on TV could bring tears to his eyes, so the memories remained very strong. 

Below are some photogrpahs of Harry  - is he the man on the right  wearing the button hole in the family photographs?  What do you think?  There is no-one left in the family now who could throw any light on his marriage.

A young Harry sporting quite a hairstyle! 
This studio pose was taken at a photographers in Salisbury. 
Could this have been when Harry was on army training? 

The Errol Flynn look? 

Harry never remarried but lived a full life with interests in sailing, photography, stamp collecting and ballroom dancing,  where he was never short of partners.   He died  at  the age of 89, still retaining his good looks.  
Copyright © 2019 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


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Friday, 15 February 2019

Bobbing, Shingling and Marcel Waves: Sepia Saturday

 "Bobbing, Shingling, Marcel Waving and Perming", was the promise of my cousin's mother "Elise" - otherwise Elsie Oldham of Blackpool, Lancashire. 

I have written previously about Elsie, but feature here some additional photograph of her life.

This  lovely evocative "blotter" reflects both  a hairdressing business and the 1920's style - so an ideal match for this week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph,  which shows a French window display of 1920's mannequins, promoting a "coiffeur" - a hairdressing salon.   

Elise's real name was Elsie Oldham (1906-1989)  but perhaps the French adaptation was regarded as more appropriate for a hairdresser.   The business was conducted from the rather less glamorous setting of the family home (below) with the large adverts in the windows and on the pole outside.  

The Oldham family was a well known one of  coal merchants and carters in Blackpool, Lancashire, with, behind their house,  the stables   a large yard, hay loft, tack room. and stabling for around seven horses. 
A  young ringlet Elsie with her grandfather Joseph Prince Oldham

An older Elsie - still with the disjunctive ringlets.

Elsie set up her hairdresser's around 1926.

On the death in 1939 of her father John William Oldham,  Elsie   took on the helm of the coal merchant business along with her husband Arthur Stuart Smith, seeing it  through the difficult wartime years,and  combining it with Elsie's own hairdressing activities. The coal merchant business was eventually sold around  1948 to another local firm, thus ending over 50 years of the family concern.    

When Elsie moved into a bungalow, one of the bedrooms was converted into a hairdresser salon, with Elsie working   until shortly before she died in 1989 - by that time the number of customers had dwindled to about three a week all of whom were as old as she was!  When the house was emptied a cupboard was discovered full of the tools of her trade and bottles of hair dye  in myriad colours - some of it must have been at least 20 or 30 years old!

  Elsie's old set of scissors and hair clippers

With thanks to Elsie's son,  for these photograph and memories. 


Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity
to share their family history through photographs.

Click HERE to read how other Sepia Saturday bloggers 
have reflected this week's photograph

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Love from Flanders Field: - 52 Ancestors Week 7

Appropriately this week "Love" is the theme from the "52 Ancestors" prompt.

Towards the end of the First World War, my grandfather,  William Danson,  sent sentimental cards to his wife and children back home in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.

"Dear Alice,  received your letter alright.  I have landed back at the Batt and am in the pink.  I have had a letter from Jennie [sister]  and am glad they have heard from Tom [brother].  Your loving husband Billy xxx"
Written in pencil with the writing now faded, and the censor's stamp unhelpfully across the message, the card was sent from the Field Post Office 7th February 1918 to Mrs W. Danson, 20 Bull Street, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, Blighty, 

The "In the pink" phrase seemed to be a favourite term that William used in other messages as well.

"Batt" I take it to mean the battalion.

"Blighty" in the address was used as   a nickname for Britain, or often specifically England.  It was first used by soldiers in the Indian army in the 19th century and popularised in the First World War.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word derives from "bilayati", a regional variant of the Urdu word " meaning "foreign", "British", "English" or "European." or "Anglo-Indian".

A "blighty wound" was a wound serious enough to  require recuperation away from the trenches, but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim - it was hoped for by many, and sometimes self-inflicted.
Grandad (William Danson) was a labourer, a taciturn country man.  He never spoke about the war and would never have put into words the sentiments expressed (sometimes in French) in the cards he sent to his wife Alice.  

Grandad's messages were very prosaic, compared with the images. 
 "Dear Alice, Just a line to let you know I am in the pink and hope all at home are the same.  There is nothing that I want.  I will write again shortly.   Your loving Billy xxx".   Sent 29th April 1918.

 Alice with their children - my aunt Edith, my mother Kathleen 
and uncles Harry and baby Billy.

Below -  A postcard to my mother, Kathleen.    The postmark is 2nd September 2nd 1917, and her 9th birthday would be on September 8th.  Written in feint pencil, the message is  now rather  difficult to decipher.  
"Dear Kathleen, I got your card, all right and am in the pink and hope you  like this card.   I have had a letter from Jennie [his sister] and she says all's well at home.  No more this time.  From her Dad   xxx."    Sent 29th April 1918.  
"Dear Edith. I am all right and hope all at home are well.  I will try and send you  a nice card for your birthday and will send it in a day or two.  From Your Dad. xxx"
Sent 3rd September 1917.  Two months earlier, William had been fighting in the mud bath that was the Battle of Passchendaele.  

On 9th April 1918 William was awarded the Military Medal for "conspicuous gallantry and determined devotion to duty  in action"

William  served in the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.  and I wrote to the regimental museum at Lancaster Castle for more information   I  was sent a copy of an extract from the Regimental War Diary.   The full citation (a poor typed copy) reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry in action at GIVENCHY on 9th April 1918, this N.C.O commanded a Lewis Gun section...He did good work with his gun during the attack inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. When the other N.C.O. in command of the other Lewis Gun was wounded, he took over the gun and controlled the line of fire.  
 9th April was five  days after Granddad's 33rd birthday.


Amongst the horrors  of that war,  these cards, kept for nigh on 100 years 
 stand out as a symbol of  beauty and love for Grandad's family back home.

                                     Adapted from a post first written in 2012. 

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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Family History Surprises - 52 Ancestors - Week 6

“Surprises” are the bonus in researching family history, and two instances come to my mind, in response to this week’s theme from “52 Ancestors”. 

Cousin Bait Success
We all hope that our blog will result in being contacted by long lost distant cousins, but this was very slow to happen to me. But then out of the blue, I had a surprise!

An unknown third cousin, Stuart,  discovered my blog and made contact.  Even better he lived only 50 miles from me, so we could  easily meet and spend afternoons,  sharing research, old photographs and memorabilia. As a result I was given  a wonderful boost to my blogging activities in terms of family stories and images, just when I felt I was coming to a halt with my own material.  

Our Background 
We shared the same great great grandfather Henry Danson (1806-1881) of Poulton-le-Fylde, near Blackpool, Lancashire.   Henry and his wife Elizabeth Calvert had nine children - their  eldest child Elizabeth (1831-1885) was Stuart''s great grandmother, whilst the youngest child James (1852-1906) was my great grandfather - both born at Trap Farm, Carleton.

So Elizabeth was 21 years older than her youngest brother.  She married Thomas Bailey, whose family lived on an adjacent farm with the picturesque name of Bready Butts.  Six children were born, cousins to my grandfather  -  the youngest Mary Jane in 1877, Stuart's grandmother.
 A modern photograph of Breedy Butts Farm, Carleton
where the Bailey family grew up. 

The story, however, has sad overtones.  Elizabeth died in 1885, aged 54, followed a year later by her husband Thomas, leaving a family orphaned with her two young daughters  only 12 and 8 years old.  Margaret went to live with her eldest sister Elizabeth, with  Mary Jane joining  the household of her older brother Henry in Blackpool.  

At the age of 28, Mary Jane married John William Oldham in 1905 at St. John's Church, Blackpool, but she continued to face tragedy in her life, when her youngest daughter Hilda  died aged 6 in 1915.   

 John Oldham and Mary Jane Bailey, with daughters Elsie (left) and baby Hilda.

The Oldham Connection
Mary Jane's husband John Oldham was the only son of a  firm of well established carters and coal men in Blackpool,in a house with a large yard, hay loft, tack room. and stabling for around 7 horses.


On the death in 1939 of John Oldham his daughter Elsie (left) took the helm with her husband Arthur Stuart Smith. She also ran   her hairdressing concern as "Elise"  run from the family home. where she promised "Bobbing, Shingling and Marcel Waves."  This lovely evocative advertising blotter below  is in the family memorabilia. 

Family history takes us in all kinds of directions and Stuart's family connections, although not my direct ancestors,  added a new dimension to writing my blog.
  • Poet John Critchley Prince (1808-1866),  well-known in his time as a writer of poetry  in the Lancashire dialect.

  • The Smith Family with their origins  on the island of Unst, off Shetland, the most northerly island of Britain.  Many of the family down the generations had the middle name of Ingram, after the local minister. A move to the mainland took place between 1861-71. John Ingram Smith became the catering manager  at the famous Winter Gardens entertainment complex in Blackpool.  John's  son Edward Stewart Ingram Smith as a young man had a sensitive and artistic air, but the impact of serving in the First World War at the age of 44 took its toll on him. 
    Ruins  of a  Smith family croft of Heogland on Unst.
    • The Dower Family  of Aberdeenshire,  with William Dower appointed by the London Missionary Society as a Wesleyan Missionary in South Africa,  setting  sail there in 1865 with his new wife Jesse. 
William and Jesse Dower  in 1913
  • The Alan Blumlein Connection  - William and Jesse's daughter, married a German mining engineer Semmy Joseph Blumlein of Jewish descent. They settled in Britain and Semmy took out citizenship in 1903.  Their son Alan  Dower Blumlein (1902-1942)  has been described as "the greatest electronic engineer of the 20th century", notable for his many inventions in  telecommunications, sound recordings, television and radar.  He died at the young age of 38 during a secret trial of an airborne radar system.
You can stumble across some amazing stories when you start to delve into sidelines of your family history.  Stuart's contact with me was my lucky day  - and I haven't even mentioned the war-time tales, the wealth of wedding photographs down the decades or the charming children's photographs that have found their way into my blog posts. 

 Arthur Stuart Ingram Smith (1908-1979)

A Surprise Birthday 
Early on in my research,  I sent away for the birth certificate of my great grandmother Maria Danson, née Rawcliffe, the central figure in my family history. I opened the envelope and read her birthdate “15th January 1859” - I could not get over this, for  114 years later “15th January” was also the birthday of my daughter   - a coincidence that meant a lot to me.
My great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe

Maria's great great great granddaughter, born 114 years later. 


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