Saturday, October 19, 2013

Herne Hill, London...Where My Great Grandmother Lived

The next couple of days were spent exploring the neighbourhoods where Dad lived at one time or another before he left England for Canada in the 1950s.

Here I am with Dot, Dad’s cousin, in Biggin Hill, Kent. Dot was born the year after my father and has given me some wonderful pictures of him when he was a young child.


We’re looking at a photobook that Pam made chronicling Dad’s life as best we know it up until the time he met Mom. Dot loved the book and there were some photos she hadn’t seen before, including one of her mom.

We went to The Old Jail for lunch. We had been there on a previous visit and the atmosphere and food are always great.

Here we are, pleasantly stuffed after a great lunch. On the left is Irene, Tim’s partner, and Jim and me. On the right is Tim, who is my age, and his mom, Dot.

We went back to Tim’s house to chat and before we knew it, it was time to leave to catch the train home. One last photo…me, Irene, Tim, Dot, Nick and Tom (Tim’s son and his girlfriend). The time always goes by so quickly and I'm so happy to be able to spend time with people who knew Dad.

The next day we went to Herne Hill, a district in south London, where Dad’s grandmother lived, and where he stayed with his sister, Elsie, for a time after they were orphaned. Here we are arriving at the train station. There was music playing and people dancing. Whoa! All this for us? Oh, it’s market day every Sunday.

We started our walk up Herne Hill (I now know why the town is called this). This beautiful old building on the corner is the Half Moon Public House, which was built in 1896, although a tavern has existed on this site since the 17th century.

This church was coming into view as we walked up the hill. Dot had asked us to take a picture as this is the church she was married in.

And here it is...St. Paul’s church. It was originally built in 1843 at a cost of £4,958, but was rebuilt in 1858 after a fire.

The houses across the street…a very pretty neighbourhood.

Look at the detail in the brickwork. You don’t see much of this anymore.

Poplar Walk!! I was so excited to see #17. This is where Gran (Dad's grandmother) lived for many years and we had frequently heard about 17 Poplar Walk Road.

And here we are…hmmm, it didn’t look much like the photo I had, but it could have been. It had a red door, but something wasn't right. Then I remembered my cousin, Ann, telling me they changed the name of the street from Poplar Walk Road to Poplar Road. Quite confusing! We asked a lady who pointed us further down the road.

We saw the Ss Philip and James Catholic Church on the corner, which was opened in 1906, so it would have been there when Dad was here.

We saw the sign…Poplar Road!!

And up above on the building, you could see that it used to be called Poplar Walk.

Looking down the street…

And here we are at #17. There was no mistaking it was the same house. Dad would have lived there in the 1940s. Gran and Uncle Jack lived downstairs and Dot and her parents lived upstairs.Whew...with Dad and his sister, Elsie, it would have been a crowded house.

I held up the photo I was carrying. This was taken in the 1980s.

Here I am in front of 17 Poplar Road. It was a central gathering place and a place of significance for many of Dad's family. Tim remembered visiting his grandparents upstairs. I remembered my cousin Ann saying they would wait at the gate for cousin Len (my dad) to arrive for visits after he joined the Merchant Marines. Here I was at the gate…it was a very special moment.

It was so wonderful to be where my dad spent time in his early years. It was hard to leave, but I couldn’t take many more photos of the same door. It appears to be a Jamaican neighbourhood now and well looked after. Jim went on ahead to start the climb back…

Coming up to the top of hill and passing St. Paul's church again...

This beautiful green space was near the train station.

The market was getting rained out, but there were still lots of yummy food smells.

Jim at the train station. It was such a successful visit!

We went back to our favourite pub that night. We decided we were going to the cemetery to see if we could find where Gran is buried. Here is Jim at the pub plotting our route for the next day…

The next day we ventured out to the cemetery hoping to find the spot where Gran and Granddad (my great grandparents) were buried. It was also where two uncles and an aunt of Dad’s were buried. It was a little trickier getting there…two tube changes and a bus ride. We hadn’t tackled the bus system yet, but like the rest of the transit system in London, it was pretty easy.

At the entrance to the cemetery…

We dropped into the office where we were very disappointed to find out that the headstone had been removed from Gran’s grave in 1988. Some story about doing work at the cemetery, and they put a notice in the paper saying if you wanted your headstone returned to the grave, to contact them. Seriously, I can’t imagine such a thing. I think it was probably more that no one was paying any upkeep. So now we knew we were looking for...a piece of grass.

Obviously, these people were not involved in the "renovation."

Jim and I wandered through the wet grass for at least an hour trying to find the graves that would be somewhat close to theirs. We had a map with some grave numbers, so it was a bit of "I’ve got a 7000 over here. We must be getting close."

Finally, we picked the spot where we determined the grave would be. We laid some flowers and told Gran we did the best we could.

Such a shame, that they removed so many headstones. I still don’t get it, but they would give me only limited information as I wasn’t the owner. 

We already knew that Aunt Louie was buried in a common grave when she died at age 16 in 1915, so we knew we weren't looking for a headstone. This was also our best estimate. The photo is of Aunt Louie and Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack also played a significant role in Dad’s life and was really the only relative we heard of when we were children. Every Christmas Dad would call Uncle Jack and we would all have to talk to this man with the British accent that we had never met, and could barely understand. Luckily, both my brother and my sister got to meet him before he passed away in 1998.

Wasn't Louie a pretty girl? It must have been a terrible blow to Gran to lose her oldest child at the age of 16. By this time Gran had seven other children, so Louie must have been like a second mother to the them.

The common graves area…

And with that highly disappointing visit, we headed back to the bus stop.

Cousin Ann had contacted the office about the location of Gran’s grave and not once did they mention that the headstone had been removed. They did ask if she would like to take over the ownership of the grave (what grave?), which she had thought she might do. Shame on them….

Tomorrow we are heading to Kennington, the area where Dad was born and where the infamous wedding photo was taken…


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