Sunday, 7 October 2012

Between Wars.

Dick and Josie Get Married

  Dick and Josie were married on 7 October 1922 at St. Paul's Church in St. Paul's Square in Hockley, in what is now known as The Jewellery Quarter. They were still living in Pope Street which is a short distance from the church. Josie was expecting their first child. The wedding was witnessed by an Albert Brown and Josie's sister, Kathy Winney and the service was conducted by the Rev. William Henry Smith who was the Vicar of St. Paul's. As the newly married couple were leaving the church, Josie noticed a silver threepence coin which someone had dropped on the step of the church and she picked it up and this was generally viewed as being a good omen for the marriage, which it may well have been since they remained together for almost 61 years until Josie died in 1983.

St. Paul's Church, Hockley where Dick and Josie were married in 1922.

  Their first child, their only boy - Richard John White - was born on 18 December 1922 and in the following years they had a pair of twins, Ruby Josephine and Pearl May (born 15 May 1925 and named at the suggestion of the midwife when Josie had been at a loss at what to call them) and another daughter, Constance Joan (always known as Joan), born 7 November 1927. Around the time of Joan's birth, the family moved to a large house at 14 Ingleby Street, which linked Summer Hill and Monument Road, in Ladywood. This apparently was an old pawnbroker's shop and in consequence had an enormous window at the front of the house. I believe the house had six bedrooms and at some stage, Jack Winney came to live with the family although he later moved to another house in Ingleby Street. There was a large cellar and hall way but only an outside toilet and no bathroom. In the garden the family often kept poultry, including chicken and a large aggressive cockerill and ducks. At one time Richard John had a pigeon loft and kept a number of the birds. The family always kept dogs and sometimes had a cat as well - they had a dark brown dog who was known by a name that would now be politically incorrect although it was not offensive at that time and afterwards an English bull terrier called "Paddy", who was a very fine dog and much loved, although deaf. The house was so big that the family would sometimes take in lodgers to supplement the family's income.

Richard John White c.1925.

Pearl, Joan and Ruby White c.1930.

  Dick's sister, Elsie, married George Frederick Fisher in the first quarter of 1915. They had two children:- Gwendoline - "Gwen" or  "Gwennie" - born in the second quarter of 1915 and Brenda, born in the first quarter of 1923, both in Quinton.  Sadly, Elsie died at the age of 34 in the final quarter of 1926 from throat cancer, a diagnosis, which the family concluded, was due to a blow she had previously sustained to the throat. Dick was very upset by the death of his beloved sister, so much so that he had a small tattoo applied to his left forearm in memory of her.
Elsie, Dick White's sister 1892 - 1926.

  John Henry White died at the age of 60 at home in Drayton Road on 28 March 1929. The death certificate describes him still as having been a maltster and gives the cause of death as "gastric ulcer (no post mortem)". The informant of the death is identified as Annie Maria, who, the certificate records, was present at the death. The death was registered at Edgbaston sub-district on 23 March 1929. John Henry's funeral took place at Quinton Cemetery on 27 March 1929. The bill for the funeral shows that the original cost of the grave was 3s 6d and that the minister's fee for the funeral was 5/-. The grave, no. 7012, section 6, does not have a headstone but there is a large vase at the centre of the grave which was clearly put there by Annie Maria and bears the inscription, "In memory of my dear husband John Henry White".
  In the third quarter of 1924, Tom White, Dick's elder brother, married Ethel Woodward (born in early 1899) and the couple had three children:- Arthur James White, born 1 December 1924 in West Bromwich, Marjorie W., birth registered in West Bromwich in the third quarter of 1926 and Doreen, birth registered in the third quarter of 1929, also in West Bromwich. However, tragedy hit the family when Tom died on the 13 September 1931 and Ethel was left to bring up three young children by herself. Tom was buried in his father's grave in Quinton Cemetery and the vase on the grave was additionally inscribed on one of its four faces with a commemoration of Tom.
  Dick and Josie's children seemed to have led the sort of life you might have expected them to have done in the 1920's and 30's. They seem to have had the same little squabbles that siblings have always had and attended local schools where Richard seems to have been the most successful of the four children. Pearl had a talent for art and Ruby, plagued by the school teachers because of their determination to "cure" her left-handedness, seemed to have a talent for music. The family sadly were not well off and it was not possible for the children to go on to any form of higher education. Dick worked in a factory at (the now totally modernised and fashionable) Gas Street Basin where he carried out skilled work in the production of glass although later he was to change his employment and to work as a storekeeper at the great Birmingham firm, then based in Ladywood, of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold's.

Ruby and Pearl White c.1935.

  Richard John recalled that he was particularly close to his grandfather, Jack Winney, who gave him a half crown every week. Dick and Josie did their best to ensure that the children had a happy childhood - they would be kept smartly dressed often in clothes that Josie had made for them and at Christmas they had splendid toys that were mostly made by Dick - he made prams for the girls in which to push their dolls around and little items for a doll's house he had constructed for them. Josie would make clothes for the girl's dolls to be dressed in and it appears that although not rich, the family got by satisfactorily due to the hard work and devotion of Dick and Josie. 
  Nor were the older members of the family neglected. As we have seen, Jack Winney either lived with or lived in the same street as Dick and Josie. In the third quarter of 1938, at the age of 64, Jack remarried, this time to a woman called Elizabeth Wood, whom the family knew as "Lizzie". He remained rather flash and smartly dressed and liked to splash his money around. He lived till the age of 81 when he appears to have died from a stroke in his house in Ingleby Street, the death taking several hours and attended by Josie and Joan with Richard John just arriving at his beloved grandfather's bedside around the time of death. His body was laid out by a neighbour from across the road while, as Joan recalled, Lizzie and one of her cronies were downstairs drinking.
  Dick paid a lot of attention to his mother, Annie Maria, after John Henry died and she was much loved by the family. For many years, Annie Maria had problems with leg ulceration following an injury to her leg and this was a problem for her. Her granddaughter, Joan, particularly remembered that "Granny White", as she was known, always made the family kneel down to say grace before starting to eat any meal. After her husband's death she continued to live at 19 Drayton Road. Dick's Aunt Laura, Annie Maria's sister, was also included in the family circle and Dick would frequently visit her and do jobs for her if necessary, at her home in Quinton. The children would also be taken to visit her and on one occasion, as recalled by Ruby, Laura had been taken ill and took to her bed and Dick had gone to her house to look after her. She had requested a glass of "medicinal" brandy and Ruby remembered being present in the bedroom while her father was pouring the drink for Laura whilst his aunt lay seemingly asleep but with one eye half open to ensure that Dick did not help himself to any of the drink!
Annie Maria White with her niece Brenda.

  The Gathering Storm

  Dick and Josie's family also remained in regular contact with Ethel, Tom's widow. Joan recalled that although Ethel had little money to spare because she had no husband to help to support her family (the benefits system did not exist then), she always had a welcome for anyone visiting her, giving them a cup of tea with the more affordable Carnation milk to add to it. The Ingleby Street children were in regular contact with their cousins. 
  Richard John seems to have found life difficult faced, as he was, with three younger sisters although the favouritism shown to him by his grandfather, Jack Winney, may have been a comfort to him. Perhaps Jack Winney was not the best role model for the boy. Richard would often have tantrums and could be unpleasantly selfish, Joan recalled how, once, when his grandfather had given him a half crown, Josie had been so short of money to buy bread for the family that she asked him to lend her sixpence but he moodily refused to do so. After leaving school, he became an apprentice in the making of spectacles and the work included using a substance which caused his overalls to become filthy. On the Christmas Day that followed his sixteenth birthday, he demanded that his mother wash his overalls despite the need to prepare the Christmas lunch which the extended family usually attended. He behaved so badly during lunch that the occasion was ruined and Richard found himself expelled from the family home and subsequently needing to find a bed in his grandfather's home. Everyone agreed that it had been the worst Christmas the family had ever experienced. Richard started to go to night school to study to be an optician and was successful in passing the necessary examinations to enable him to join that profession.
  During her teenage years, Ruby became fond of a boy, Leonard Knight - known as "Len" - who had been born in Birmingham on 12 June 1925 - he was about one month younger than Ruby. Leonard was the son of Harry Arthur Knight, born in London on 3 May 1886 and his wife, Evelyn Dorothy Trinder, born in the pretty village of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire in 1890. Harry's father, Harry William Knight had been born William Henry Knights on 30 October 1862 in the tiny village of Debach  in Suffolk ("Knights" as opposed to "Knight" is an East Anglian name), the son of James Knights (1820-1864) and his wife Lydia Crane (1824-1873), the family having lived in the area for many generations. The orphaned William Henry moved to London whilst still a teenager after his mother's death and probably in pursuit of work between 1871 and 1881, accompanied by his older sister, Sarah Angelina. When they arrived in London they altered their names, Sarah simply calling herself "Angelina" and William Henry becoming "Harry William" and both of them dropping the "s" from the end of their surname. Harry took up work as a glass beveller and in the third quarter of 1884 married Eleanor Annie Mulcay (born in Westminster in the second quarter of 1864) in the third quarter of 1884. The couple had six more children after Harry Arthur - Eleanor (born 1890) and Ethel Emma (born 1893) and four unknown children who died as infants. Eleanor Senior died from tuberculosis on 28 April 1896 aged just 32 at 11, Tufton Street, St. John in Westminster and Harry was left to bring up the children with the help of his mother-in-law, Jane Dunn, born in 1833 in Kelso. For some unknown reason, Harry Arthur moved to Birmingham some time between 1901 and 1911 which is probably when he met Evelyn Trinder who had moved from Tenbury and was working at The Bell Inn in Northfield at the time of the 1911 census. They had 2 children, Harry Albert Sydney (born 19 November 1912 in Selly Oak) and Arthur Thomas (born 4 October 1914 in Birmingham) before they were married on 22 December 1916 at Birmingham Registry Office, probably while Harry was on leave from army service during the First World War (like Dick White, Harry served in The Royal Warwickshire Regiment). Their subsequent children were:- George (born 1917 in Birmingham, died aged 16 in 1933 from tuberculosis), Dorothy (born 1922), Len, Eleanor (born in 1928 in Birmingham) and Evelyn (born in 1933 in Birmingham). The Knights lived reasonably near the Whites, firstly in Sandpits in Ladywood, and later on, at no. 6 Wellington Road in Handsworth. Harry worked as an engineer and the family did not have a lot of money, particularly as he enjoyed regular visits to the local public houses where much of the family income was spent. Through his attachment to Ruby, Len became a regular visitor to the house in Ingleby Street and Ruby's parents became very fond of him with his kindly, gentle nature.  We shall return to a more detailed telling of the Knight's story in future blogs.
  The three girls, as they left school, went to work in the nearby Jewellery Quarter in the factory of A. Hill and Co., owned by Alan Hill and a Sudetenland Jew, who had escaped from the territory when the German Nazis seized it, called Theodore Steier. The company had only recently been established and Ruby was one of its earliest employees. The factory produced costume jewellery and Ruby was employed as a finisher of the pieces of jewellery and job which involved putting the stones into the jewellery, fixing pins and clips to it and so on. She worked there from 1938 and was followed by Pearl who worked there as a solderer. Joan joined the work force on 2 February 1941 also as a solderer but she recalled that being the most junior staff member, much of her work at the beginning involved sweeping up rubbish including the papers from the fish and chips which the women working there usually consumed for lunch. She remembered that her first week's pay amounted to £1- 5 shillings for 40 hours work, rising to 27s 6d in the second week and after three or four weeks, being paid piece-work, her pay consequently increasing as she grew more experienced. The workers also received bonuses two or three times per year. Ruby was so delighted when she received her first bonus that she threw all the notes into the air like large pieces of confetti and when she took it home to her mother, Josie told her she had never seen so much money in her life and in fact, when the girls were paid their bonuses, they actually earned more than their father was bringing home. Although she did not take the job, Josie was offered the job of tea lady at the factory.
  After the seizure of The Sudetenland from which Mr. Steier escaped, the Germans attacked the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and subsequently Britain and France guaranteed the independence of Poland which The Germans invaded on 1 September 1939. As a result, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. Everyone in England was to be profoundly affected by what was to follow. The Whites were no exception.

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