Thursday, 27 October 2011

A matter of time

This picture was taken in October.

October 19th, 1910, to be exact.

I love the timelessness of it, although the rain of that long-ago day has ceased, the pavement dried, the leaves rotted, and actually, the building itself, built in the eighteenth century, was demolished in London in 1960. In 1850, a seven-minute walk away to the west, was the last residence of the Resident Fan Boy's great-great-great-grandmother Harriet Hammond Croose Pasquier where she lived with her second husband, an artist. Between 1820 and 1825, a six-minute stroll northwards from Queen's Square (would it have been called Queen's Square then?) would take you to the house of the RFB's great-great-great-grandparents in another branch, solicitor Matthew and Ann Elgie. This is where they lived briefly with their young, large family and where two of their small boys died. (The Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, which borders Queen's Square, was not yet built.) And a twenty-minute walk to the east, in 1826, my great-great-great-grandparents Richard and Virtue Hales were living in Jerusalem Passage. After a rather disastrous foray into innkeeping in the Barbican area, Richard was back to being a printer and book-seller.

I know about where our ancestors were because I've been plotting them in one of several Google Maps, after being inspired by a British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa lecture a few years ago by John Reid. I now have some idea of what our ancestors in London may have passed on a daily basis because I stumbled upon Lost London: 1870-1945 by Philip Davies in a Chapters bookstore last week. It's a coffee table book, chock-full of gorgeous plate photographs of a London demolished to make way for new structures -- or bombed all to blazes during the Second World War.

The row of buildings in the second picture (taken September 1908) used to stand on Aldgate High Street and are now where The Hoop and Grapes pub is located, one of the oldest taverns in London, with cellars dating back to the thirteenth century. If you walk for six minutes to the north, you'll find yourself in Petticoat Lane, where, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, my great-great-great-great-grandfather William Hales ran another public house, and where his children, including my three-times-great-grandfather, were born. Steps away from the houses in this photograph is St Botolph Aldgate where many of my ancestors were christened and married, probably buried too.

This bleak block of houses (taken just before its 1931 demolition) is Provost Street, Shoreditch where my great-great-great-grandfather James Janes lived with his wife Sarah and my great-great-grandmother Jane was born in 1827, the youngest of five. James worked as a tailor and was still living here at the time of the 1841 census. Did Provost Street look this forsaken at that time? I sincerely hope not.

So many others: the Strand as the Resident Fan Boy's grandmother may have remembered it; the busy streets around St Paul as the RFB's great-grand-father may have recognised it (although he probably would have been shocked by large advertisements cluttering up the surroundings just before the First World War -- he died in the 1890s); sights south of the Thames no doubt passed daily by some of my more recent ancestors.

There were several copies of this lovely book at Chapters, at a rather reasonable price....

1 comment:

funnyoldlife said...

Oh dear...just tried to post a contribution, but it's disappeared! Never mind. The gist of it was that my dad lived with his family in that street in the 1930s, possibly the 1920s, too. It was certainly a tough life, and he was the youngest of nine children, so your lot probably knew mine! Dad was born in 1922, and I was born when he was 40 years old (elsewhere), hence my ability to be able to relate back to the 1930s without recourse to grandparents etc! What a photo! (Sadly, most of the family seemed to die pretty young, so there's no one to ask anything anymore!)