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Monday, 21 October 2013

The Book of Me - My Maternal Grandparents

This post was prompted by Julie at Anglers' Rest  and  her  series " Book of Me - Written by You", where she asks  us to write about our Grandparents.

 If the best family histories should be "rich in detail", my mother's Danson family fit the bill, and has been a source of many blog posts.  I grew up with my mother's relatives and regard Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire  as my spiritual home.   Also the collection of old photographs at my grandfather's house was a great stimulus to finding  out more about the people who featured in them.


 My maternal grandparents - William Danson and Alice English -

 in a photograph taken at my parent's wedding in 1938
Alice with Edith, Kathleen,
Harry  & baby Billy,

Grandad - William Danson (18851962)  was the fifth of ten sons and
one daughter of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  In 1907 as a 22 year old labourer, he married Alice English and then went on to have six children - Edith, Kathleen (my mother), George (who only survived six weeks), Harry, Billy and  after the First World War Peggy.  

During the First World War Grandad fought at the Battleof  Passchendaale and won the Military Medal at Givenchy. He sent back from Flanders a wonderful collection of postcards that remain among my family treasures and feature on many of my blog postings.

Like many of those who had experienced the horrors of the First World War, he would never talk about this time.  He lost two brothers  during the war - John and George.


In 1924 the family moved from a small terraced house in the  centre of Poulton  to a new 3 bedroomed semi-detached house, bought on the deposit of  £67 - I have the receipt.  It looks quite big, but, with only three small bedrooms, it must have still been a squash for parents, 3 daughters and two sons.  The front door had a round stained glass window which I thought was very posh. 
It was here, as a treat, I was shown the shoebox of old family photographs and memorabilia kept in a cupboard to the side of the fireplace - the beginning of my family history journey.  
Outisde half way up the side wall was a small door which revealed the coal shute where the coal men emptied  their sacks down into a small cellar under the stairs - this was great excitement to see as a child. The side trellised gate was later taken down and a driveway created to take my uncle's car.  I remember the former hen house at the back and collecting eggs there. This later became the site of the garage.  The large gardens were my grandfather's and later uncle's joy - with floral displays in the  front and productive vegetables and fruit  grown at the back.  The  front garden was the  setting for many of the family photographs in my collection.    
There was one surprising feature about the house, though - it did not have electricity until the late 1950's, because my grandfather refused to have it installed. I remember my aunt standing on a chair to light the ceiling gas lights, and ironing with a heated flat iron, and the flames from the gas cooker frightened me.
On  all official records, Grandad was described as a "labourer".   He worked in the Auction mart in Poulton, before it was closed down and I remember being taken by him there, before it closed down.  He later worked at the ICI chemical works at Thornton, near Fleetwood.   Left -  he is the seated figure.
 Granddad was a country man at heart, and  he would walk everywhere rather than take a bus.  He never owned a car. My main memory of him was taking my brother and I   out on a Sunday afternoon down lanes and across fields, before the land was developed for housing, showing us rabbit burrows and helping me collect items for the Nature Table at school.  Our Sunday treat from him was a bag of pear drops and I can picture  him dressed in his Sunday suit, with waistcoat and pocket watch.
Alice English - could this be a wedding photo,
given she is wearing a corsage?
Grandmother Alice English (1884-1945) I never knew,  and she remains the proverbial "brick wall" of my family history research, as I have not been able to trace her birth certificate. 
My mother and aunt were surprisingly reticent about her, though her photograph (right) was on display in both homes. I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, and ended up with vague and conflicting information. 

Was she born in Manchester or Bolton? There were stories that her mother had been a matron, with some Irish connections; that Alice was orphaned and her uncle went off to America with her money and never called on her to join him, as arranged. 
Alice went to Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire as
nursemaid to the Potts family, prominent local Methodists and was confirmed at St. Chad's Parish Church in 1904 (I have her prayer book from that occasion). 

I did know (from the marriage certificate) that she married Grandad  at St. Chad's Church when Alice was 22 and her father's name was given as Henry, a painter (deceased), plus I was always told we shared the same birthday - September 23rd.    Her age on the  death certificate confirms her year of birth   - and that is all I know.  

Despite many years of hunting and using a professional researcher, I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for Alice to find out at least the name of her mother. I cannot link an Alice born in Lancashire 23rd September 1884 with a father Henry, a painter, and have gone down several fruitless paths. 

Sadly Alice had  cataracts causing blindness - something that with today's modern medicine  can so easily be sorted - and she died in 1945.          

It would have been lovely to have known my grandmother Alice, as my mother and aunt Edith spoke so well of her.  Her home became my second  home as we were frequent callers there to see Granddad until we moved across country with my father's work.  It remained the family home for over 70 years, lived in  by my unmarried aunt and uncle until their deaths in 2001. My mother's Danson family played an important part of my own life and I am very grateful for that close link. 
William and Alice, c.1916

My grandmother Alice, with her three daughters
Edith, Peggy and Kathleen (my mother), c 1940
My grandparents (centre) William, Alice with their children
Edith, Peggy, Harry and Kathleen
with youngest son Billy missing from the  family group c.1940
Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


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