The Family Secret
Posted by Marian Bulford
By Marian Bulford
My Gran told me that her mother Lilian, did not like her very much and was not very nice to her, and consequentially for some peculiar reason Lilian did not like my mother or me, either.
I remember Lilian as a very stern presence so I steered clear of her. She did live with my Gran for a time, but by the time I was a teen, she had moved to another daughter’s house to live, so I never had much contact with her.
A photo below shows the four generations myself, Gran Mum and Lilian and I do not look very happy to be in this photo!
When my mother found out she was pregnant with me, 2 years after being married, she told me that Lilian said “Well, you made your bed now you have to sleep in it” Not a very nice thing to say about becoming a Great Grandmother! I never did understand why she did not like us and what she meant by that remark but years later, I was to find out.
For a while, I lived with my Grandparents from 11 years to 14 years. They were very strict but loving and Gran and I went everywhere together, to church the church fétes and shopping trips. Gran taught me to cook and bake.
One day, Gran wanted to go and see her mother who was living in Okehampton, Devon, a train ride away from us in Plymouth.
A train ride, what a treat! I was about 14 and we lived a very quiet life. Off we went, sandwiches and tea packed for the two-hour train journey to visit great-grandmother Lilian.
After my Gran’s meeting with her mother lunch with the cousins and visiting, it was time to go. We had the train carriage to ourselves.
‘That was a lovely day, wasn’t it Gran?’ In answer, Gran burst into tears I was astounded, my Gran crying? She never cried.
I put my arm around her and asked her ‘Gran! What is the matter are you sick?” she cried some more, blew her nose and then said “I am a bastard”
Well! You could have knocked me down with a feather. Gran NEVER swore let alone say THAT word.
Eventually, she calmed down and I asked her what she was talking about. She must have been very very upset to divulge her mother’s secret to her young grand-daughter.
Apparently, Gran wanted to be baptized in the Church of England, and needed her birth certificate and to eventually claim her Old Age Pension, she also needed this document. That was the purpose of our visit.
When Lilian heard that Gran wanted her Birth Certificate SHE burst into tears and said that she hoped she would be dead by the time her secret came out.
Then, she had to reveal the reasons why she was so upset. Lilian was by then in her late 80’s and told Gran that she had given birth to her in the Leicestershire work house, because she was an unmarried mother. When she received Gran’s birth certificate it had stamped across it, in very large letters the word ‘ILLEGITIMATE’ Lilian had ripped it up and threw it away.
Lilian had, like many before and since, become pregnant at 17. The father Thomas was a Royal Navy Cooper a master carpenter. They met and she became pregnant. My Gran told me years later, that Lilian told her that she ‘fell off the style (or kissing gate) and never got up’ When Thomas did eventually come home from sea, they married. Gran was then three years old so yes, she WAS illegitimate for a while, but the parents had married, just a little late!
This seemed to be the reason Lilian did not like my Gran very much and Lilian did show a great deal of resentment towards Gran, my mother and me.
The four generations
This article is a continuation of a previous story, called “Illegitimate”