All posts by Marian Bulford

Doc Penfro, Wales and the O’Bray Family Name Part 2

In part one, ( I wrote about John Barnett O’Bray my third great-grandfather who was born in Rhosmarket and lived in Doc Penfo – The Welsh name for Pembroke Dock – and his family name, the spelling of which had changed so many times over the centuries.

Part two is about third great-grandad John’s life and work in Pembroke Dock.

The town of Milford was founded in 1793 a year after John Barnett O’Bray was born in 1792. He was apprenticed in 1805 at Milford as a shipwright boy.

Sir William Hamilton obtained an Act of Parliament in 1790 to establish the port at Milford. It takes its name from the natural harbour of Milford Haven, which was used for several hundred years as a staging point on sea journeys to Ireland and as a shelter by Vikings. (1)

By 1810, Third Great-Grandad earned 2 shillings a day, and when he was 21 years old in 1812, he became a shipwright and married Eleanor Allen, whose family were also shipwrights and lived in Pembroke Dock.

In 1823, John Barnett O’Bray took a 60-year lease of one of the Club Houses recently built in the High Street at a rent of One Pound, Ten Shillings a year. His years’ wages in 1828 were 87 pounds, 19 shillings and one penny. Such a tiny percentage of his salary for the lease compared to today!

Over 25 years, John and Eleanor had ten children. Their first child, William died at age four, Maria, was born in 1814, George in 1815, and John in 1818, and became a shipwright. Elizabeth was next in 1820, Thomas in 1821, Robert in 1824 who became a joiner’s apprentice, Samuel in 1828, and Eleanor in 1834. For some reason, although very common, partly because of the high mortality rate, the last child born in 1836 was named Thomas William however, he died at age eight in 1844.

Why would they name the youngest last child after his two siblings? Perhaps in memory of them especially after the first-born Thomas, left Wales for the other side of the world, so perhaps this would be a kind of memorial to both sons? Some family mysteries we will never know.

Five family members left Wales for various parts of the United States. I know that Thomas and Samuel were baptised as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – or Mormons. The other family members, Maria, George, and John did live and die in various parts of the USA and I believe they too, were baptised as Mormons. (2)

John Barnett my third Great Grandfather, suffered a grisly death at the age of 54 years.

An Unfortunate and Fatal AccidentCarmarthen Journal Article 19 Dec 1845

“An Unfortunate and Fatal Accident – An efficient and industrious shipwright, named John Obrey, belonging to Her Majesty’s Dock Yard at Pembroke, fell from a considerable height into one of the building slips and was killed on Thursday last. To mark the esteem in which he was held by the establishment authorities, the Chapel bell of the Arsenal was tolled during the funeral.

It appears a plank forming one of the stages around the ship’s side had not sufficient hold of the support on which it rested, and the weight tilting it up, he was precipitated into the slip, and falling on his head, his skull so fractured that his brains actually protruded. His wife will, no doubt, have a pension, though the amount must necessarily be small.” (2)

I went to Pembroke Dock, West Wales In September 2019 to visit my dear friend, Michelle, who kindly drove me around the areas in West Wales, where she lives, in Aberdare. She took me to Pembroke Castle where the Tudor Dynasty started with the birth of King Henry VII. Next door to the castle entrance was a shop called ‘The Hall of Names’ with a database of most names in the world and, for a price, they will research and print out the name, and its origins. (3)

Michelle also drove me to 14 Queen Street East, where third great-grandfather John Barnett O’Bray lived in 1841 with his family. The street and number 14, one of a row of houses, are still there but have probably changed a great deal since!

It certainly was a strange experience standing in front of the well-maintained pretty house that my ancestors had once lived in with their many children.

14 Queen Street East – A typical terraced two-up (two bedrooms) and two-down (kitchen and sitting room) house.

According to the 1841 Census, only five of the children, now all in their teens, still lived there but a tight squeeze for seven people. However, I am sure they were happy to have such a pleasant home.

Through research, I believe that third-great grandad John Barnett was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons), but died before he was baptised.




3. Carmarthen Journal Article


Richard Rose wrote a fascinating book called ‘Pembroke People’ and is described on the flyleaf, as probably the fullest account that was ever written about life in an early 19th-century community. Flipping through this wonderful book, that seems to be true. I found my Great-grandfather’s family listed there and other family members too.

Every possible trade in shipbuilding, mariner,  and associated trades were listed, from accountants to wine and spirit merchants even including the local prostitutes and illegitimate children! And yes, I did look to see if any of my family were listed there, but none were.

“My Family History” which includes Thomas and Samuels’ stories can be found here:

And you can read Samuel’s story here:

Doc Penfro, Wales and the O’Bray Family Name Part 1

Pembroke Dock (Welsh name Doc Penfro) is a town and community in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales on the River Cleddau.

Originally named “Paterchurch”, a small fishing village, Pembroke Dock town expanded rapidly following the construction of the Royal Navy Dockyard in 1814. The Cleddau Bridge links Pembroke Dock with Nyland. (1)

John Barnett OBrey or Obray my 3rd Great -Grandfather was born in Rhosmarket. in 1792. Rhosmarket or now Rosemarket is a parish in the county of Pembroke South Wales. In 1833 the parish contained 456 inhabitants; in the 1841 Welsh Census, John Barnett was a shipwright.

The spelling of the O’Bray name over the centuries has changed numerous times and because of this, trying to trace very early family members has been a headache. There is a landed gentry branch of the Aubrey family, and I have seen our tree added to them, more times than I care to remember. It seems that everyone would like to be associated with royalty or the lords and ladies – unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we are not.

Awbrey is the earliest family name I have traced. That would be Jenkin Awbrey, born in 1410 in Abercynrig, Breconshire Wales. He was my 13th Great Grandfather.

The next generation was Hopkin born in 1448, William born in 1480 and Thomas born in 1588 but they spelt their name, Aubrey.

But William, my ninth Great Grandfather born in 1607, who, just to be difficult, reverted back to spelling it Awbrey.

John, born in 1678 spelt it Aubrey and by the time my fourth Great Grandfather arrived in 1760 once again, another name change to Obray. Which has lasted right up to the present day for our English relatives – with one small change, my Grandfather spelt it with an apostrophe O’Bray.

However, another mystery about John Barnett Obray cropped up. In Richard Rose’s magnificent book ‘Pembroke People he states

“I assume that William Aubrey, buried at St. Mary’s church on 27th September 1817 aged four years was probably another child of this family”

In addition to this, he also states that

“An Elizabeth Oberry was buried, according to St. Mary’s register on the 11th of April 1841 aged 93”

This was my fourth Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Barnett whom John Barnett Obray is named after. Another different spelling and name.

When John Barnett Obray, my 3rd Great grandfather and his wife, Elinor Allen married in 1812 his Marriage Lines recorded him as ‘John Obra’ yet, he was born Obray and died Obray.

I recently wrote to “Find My Past” to point out the error in their 1812 Marriage Lines, and they adjusted it to spell Obray. A small victory!

When I visited Salt Lake City, Utah, I went to the cemetery in the town of Paradise, located in the southern part of Cache County, Utah. I had researched and found that quite a few of the American O’Brays were buried, there. Once again, I noticed another change to the name they spelt it “OBray” no apostrophe, as my Grandfather O’Bray and his family spell it.

I can only surmise that over the centuries, the name became corrupted once spoken. I tried saying the name out loud…Awbrey, Aubrey, and O’Bray DO sound similar, especially if spoken in Welsh and with the addition of a Welsh accent.

To further add to the confusion, once I looked up the names I find that Obrey is an altered form of the French Aubry which in turn comes from the ancient Germanic personal name Alberic composed of the elements alb meaning elf and – ric powerful.

When compared to Aubrey it stated it is English from Middle English meaning a male personal name such as Albry Audry or Ayubrey. That in turn is a borrowing of Old French which in turn is a Middle English female personal name such as Albrey, Aubrey which in turn is from ancient Germanic!

French Canadian is also in there somewhere, but it all became so confusing…I gave up! Suffice it to say, the name contains some of the most ancient Old English, French and Germanic languages. No wonder there has been so much corruption and confusion spelling the name over the centuries! (2)

In part two, I shall be sharing the life of Elinor and John Barnett Obray.



(2) Source: Dictionary of American Family Names 2nd edition, 2022

(3) Pembroke People by Richard Rose

This book is a must for anyone researching ancestors who lived in Pembroke Dock, Wales.

My Old Yellow Bowl

This is my favourite mixing bowl. As you can see old, battered chipped and stained….. but It is not just any bowl. Oh no! This bowl has a history, this mixing bowl is over 50 years old, and this mixing bowl is VINTAGE!

Still quite sturdy and in daily use, but definitely showing its age a little like it’s owner.

Its history starts at RAF Northolt, a station in South Ruislip two miles from Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon Western London. England. Today, the station still handles many civil flights plus Royal and VIP transport to and from London. This is where my husband, a Royal Air Force Air Cartographer and I were based a few years after our marriage. (1)

When our first child was born, we were assigned married quarters at RAF Northolt, and as you are ‘marched in’ to your furnished house an officer accompanies you. He has a list of all the contents within the house, which as you inspect the house, he points out and writes down the condition of each item. Hours later we can take possession. When we leave the same happens, in reverse and the condition of each item is noted and whether we have to pay a fee for misuse or damage.

Because service people get posted frequently, all essentials and furnishings within a married quarter house are provided including this T. G. (Thomas Goodwin) Green Pottery Company mixing bowl which is 31.115 cm (12 1/4 inches) wide. As you can see, it had a large chip on the edge and then had the beginning of a tiny crack inside the bowl, which, over the years has become larger.

The officer made a note that it would be replaced however, it never was but I continued to use it.

A few years later, when we were ‘marched out’ all was in order and no fees were incurred. However, the officer decided that the mixing bowl was to be discarded, as it had a large chip in the edge so, I asked if I could have it. The officer agreed. It was mine!

On the bottom, the date 1971 – the year my eldest son was born, so it is of sentimental value to me – and a three-prong black mark. This broad arrow was used in England (and later Britain), apparently from the early 14th century, and more widely from the 16th century, to mark objects purchased from the monarch’s money, or to indicate government property.. (2)

Whilst my vintage mixing bowl is not in great condition, I know that the vintage gripstand mixing bowl is highly sought after today, and sells online for over100$ Canadian or 26 pounds sterling.

I found the following ad on Etsy just this week and it sold! However, more reasonable prices can be had online.

I use this bowl daily for my baking and cooking I just love it. Traditional Cane Bowls were an item invented in the late 19th century by the precursor of the Mason Cash Company, which was incorporated in Church Gresley in England in 1901.  T. G. Green & Co Ltd originally operated from the village of Church Gresley, South Derbyshire between 1864 and 2007.

Church Gresley is medieval village and former civil parish in the Southern District of Derbyshire, England. Gresele is recorded in the Domesday Book. Its first element is of uncertain origin, possibly the Old English grēosn meaning gravel and lēah meaning a woodland clearing. Churchegreseleye was first recorded in 1363 and distinguishes it from Castle Gresley. A priory of Augustine canons was founded at Gresley in the reign of Henry I by William de Gresley, son of Nigel de Stafford. It was suppressed in 1536 in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. (3)

T. G. Green is more famous for their blue and white striped ‘Cornish Kitchen Ware’ produced from the early 1920s (then known as ‘E-Blue’) which, as a child, I remember from my own home and my Granny’s house too. Mugs, plates, cups and saucers teapots, the company made it all.

Sadly now however the old pottery site lies in ruins, the land under private ownership, never likely to ever see the production again, and the last of the South Derbyshire potteries has gone, although as it nears its 100th anniversary the traditional Cornishware is still manufactured and sold through a new T. G. Green & Co Ltd. (4)

My bowl is made from local light brown clay also known as yellow ware and is a ‘Gripstand’ version patented in 1906 it has a wedge in the base, which allows the bowl to be tilted and held at an angle that allows for an easier whisk or stirring.

As my bowl is sorely in need of repair, I think it is about time I find a china repair shop and get the chip and the crack on the inside repaired so I can continue to use it for many more years.

Who knows, maybe pass it along to my eldest grandson, Devon or my granddaughter, Molly-Marguerite aged 9 or her brother Louis-Ryan aged 11, all of whom I am thrilled to know, show a great deal of interest in cooking and baking.


(1) “Northolt predates the establishment of the Royal Air Force by almost three years, having opened in May 1915, making it the oldest RAF base. Originally established for the Royal Flying Corps, it has the longest history of continuous use of any RAF airfield. Before the Second World War outbreak, the station was the first to take delivery of the Hawker Hurricane. The station played a key role during the Battle of Britain, when fighters from several of its units, including No 303 Polish Fighter Squadron, engaged enemy aircraft as part of the defence of London. It became the first base to have squadrons operating Supermarine Spitfire aircraft within German airspace”’




The following link is to the T. G. Green pottery archive museum.

The Beginnings Of The Original Plymouth, Devon England

Previously, I wrote about the ancient Plymouth Gin Distillery located in Plymouth 1 in that story, I mentioned that Plymouth had been attacked, raided and ruled by many others many times.

Here is an account of only a fraction of some of the various raids, uprisings, invaders and wars that is the tumultuous history of Plymouth.

Plymouth is located in the South West Peninsula of England and consists of the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It is the furthest South and West of all of mainland England.

Map of The South West Peninsula

In 1866 a cave was discovered containing the bones of animals that no longer live on these islands. The bones included the lion, hyena cave bear, rhinoceros, and human remains. So man lived in this district as far back as the early stone age.

Most local finds in and around various areas of Plymouth have been of the Bronze Age, such as mirrors, daggers spearheads and coins up to 150 BC. In an area of Plymouth called Stonehouse, a burial chamber known as a kistvaen or kist was found. The name means a ‘stone chest’ 2

This is known as the Drizzlecombe Kistvaen Dartmoor, Devon

There are many kistvaens in the large area of the Dartmoor National Park just outside of Plymouth. However, the majority of the known Dartmoor kistvaens were opened at some time in the past, and whatever they used to hold is missing. The idea that ancient tombs might contain valuable items is a very old one; one of the first mentions of searching kistvaens in Devon dates back to 1324.

Location of Dartmoor National Park

We can tell that Saxons settled in the Plymouth area because of the names of places ending in ‘Ham, Ton, Leigh, Worthey and Stock. In fact by 926 AD Saxons ruled the whole of Devon. There is an unusual place name are in Plymouth that was once a Saxon lane. In the Doomsday Book of 1086, it was called Heche Bockland and the Saxons had a church there. By 1385 it was known as Ekebokland which over the centuries has evolved into ‘Eggbuckland’ which, as a child, often produced a smirk…

After the Normans conquered England William the 1st gave the Saxon Manors to his Norman Knights and in 1085 had a list made of all the estates in the country and this was called ‘The Domesday Survey’ – the Middle English spelling of “Doomsday Book”.

The Great Domesday Book Held at Kew Gardens, England.

By 1376 we first hear of a Mayor whose name was Maurice Bard. in 1377 the population of Plymouth was 7,000 and by this time, Plymouth was playing an important part in Naval affairs supplying ships for the fleet and was a busy port.

When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 the priories had to surrender the tithes of Eggbuckland to the king. The present church is a stone building that dates from around 1420/30 called St. Edward. Its Parish registers date from 1653.

The Anglican church of St Edwards Church Road, Eggbuckland Plymouth Devon 3 Photography by Chris Downer

During the 14th Century, the South coast was attacked on several occasions by French pirates with many attacks on Plymouth, which caused a decline in trade and prosperity. Again, raids and attacks took place in 1377, 1400, and 1403. The most famous of all was the 1403 attack from the Bretons. They sent 30 ships and 1200 men at arms who came and anchored as the townsmen of Plymouth fired cannons at them but they landed and burnt 600 houses and plundered.

Later in the same year, an English fleet crossed to Brittany landed 4,000 men and laid waste to a large area. We seem to have had an uneasy relationship with the French ever since!

The famous seaman, Sir Francis Drake was born in 1541 near Tavistock, just outside Plymouth and was the eldest of 12 children. In 1581 Elizabeth I knighted him and the same year he was appointed Mayor of Plymouth. He was second-in-command as a Vice Admiral of the English fleet, in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada, in 1588.

Sir Francis Drake
Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1591

Early in July 1620 two vessels ‘The Mayflower’ and ‘The Speedwell’ set sail from Delfshaven in Holland. They were refugees who thought it would be safer in America. Both vessels reached Southhampton, but after leaving the Speedwell sprang a leak and they had to put into Dartmouth for repairs. Again, they set to sea but once more the Speedwell started to leak and so they put into Plymouth. On the 6th of September, 1620 the Mayflower left Plymouth with 102 pilgrims aboard and reached Cape Cod on the 9th of November 1620. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1642 the civil war started in Plymouth. Most of the counties were Royalists whilst the towns were Parliamentarians. Plymouth, which was surrounded by Royalist country was the key to the West.

It had a harbour it was strongly walled and there was a fort on the Hoe. The word “Hoe” is derived from old English and appropriately means High Ground.

(This year, Facebook banned the word ‘Hoe” assuming it meant something else!) 4

The Royal Citadel on Plymouth Hoe

The Royalists asked the whole town to surrender but they refused, and so, on Sunday, December the 3rd, there took place ‘The Sabbath Day Fight’ The townsfolk rallied from all the neighbouring strongpoints and drove the enemy down a steep hill and into a creek. The rear guard of the Royalist Cavalry was thrown into confusion and the creek was full of drowning men and horses. This was the primary battle but not the end of the siege.

At one time, the King himself came down to Plymouth with 15,000 men but still the town held out. in 1646, the siege was eventually raised. During it, 8,000 people died in Plymouth from various cases a number greater than the normal population.

The Baroque main gate of the Royal Citadel. Note the date 1670 above the arch

Today, the following notable units are based at the Royal Citadel.

The Royal Artillery, Number 3 Commando Brigade and the 29th Commando Regiment 5

Centuries later, World War Two came to Plymouth. My grandfather saved the newspaper cuttings below. They are not too clear but give an idea of before and after a bombing raid on the city.

In the beginning, there were many small daylight raids. As the nights lengthened, these took place at night and in 1940, there were fairly heavy raids on December 29th and January 13th, 1941.

The caption reads: “The city centre as it was. Tomorrow, we propose publishing a photo of the same scene as it appears after most of the buildings have been smashed by enemy action”
The caption reads: “The City Centre as it is. Yesterday, we published a photograph taken from the Guildhall Tower of Plymouth’s shopping centre. Poignant contrast is this picture, taken from the same angle showing the destruction caused by enemy raiders during the Plymouth blitzes”

The worst raids took place in March and April 1941 and on the second of these raids in April, 106 high explosive bombs were dropped, 26 people were killed, 60 houses were completely destroyed, 400 were badly damaged and 2,000 were slightly damaged.

During those raids, the city centre was methodically destroyed in seven continuous nights of bombing. Plymouth lost all of its chief public buildings including the Guildhall, and the council chamber was wiped out.

In the last three years of the war, numerous raids were made. Plymouth lost its large stores and shops, 39 churches including its ‘Mother Church’ St. Andrews in the city centre, 20 schools, a theatre, eight cinemas, six hotels and nearly 30,000 homes completely uninhabitable and although many more raids took place, none were as bad as in 1941.

Although it took decades to rebuild today Plymouth is a vibrant holiday destination and describes itself as “Britain’s Ocean City” It has many holidaymakers visit and there is plenty to see and do. Plymouth boasts some spectacular scenery, a bustling town centre and some delicious dining options.

There is The National Marine Aquarium, The University of Plymouth, the Marine Biological Association, and the Blue Marine Foundation plus the City Centre and the Drake Mall. In addition, for any adrenaline junkie or marine life enthusiast, there are plenty of adventures to be had!

Plymouth Hoe view. with Smeaton’s Tower.

Smeaton’s Tower in this photo was built by an engineer named John Smeaton, constructed of Cornish granite and cleverly dove-tailed together. It has been a Grade 1-listed building since 1954.

It is open to visitors who can climb the 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room and observe Plymouth Sound – pictured – and the city. 6

Plymouth is now a modern city shaped by its past and steeped in history.




(3) T,_Plymouth.jpg Photograph by Chris Downer




A History of Plymouth Gin

…or, to be historically correct “The Black Friars Plymouth Gin Distillery” however, we locals just call it Plymouth Gin. I was born in historical Plymouth at the end of WW2 and among our history lessons was, of course, the history of England and Plymouth in particular. (1)

Plymouth’s history goes back to very early times. In 1866 several caves were discovered in the Plymouth area, containing the bones of animals that no longer live on these Islands. along with the human remains were the bones of a lion, hyena, cave bear and rhinoceros, which show man lived in this district as far back as the early stone age. Saxons settled in the area and by 926 AD ruled the whole of Devon.

Plymouth was attacked, raided and ruled, by others many more times…but that is another story, this story is about the Plymouth Gin Distillery, the oldest working gin distillery in England.

In the 13th century, friars arrived in Plymouth. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach and help the poor. There were also Carmelites in Plymouth, known as White Friars and Franciscans or Grey Friars. During the middle ages, because the Dominicans wore a black ‘cappa’ or cloak over their white habits they became known as the ‘Black Friars’

The Friar is still used somewhere on every bottle of Plymouth Gin today

The Plymouth Gin distillery building dates back to the early 1400s and was formally a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars. The most intact part of the distillery is the Refectory Room a medieval hall with a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431 and is one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth.

In 1536 the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the former home of the Black Friars was put to a variety of other uses including the first non-conformist meeting place, a debtors’ prison, a meeting hall and a centre for Huguenot refugees who fled France and came to Plymouth.

In 1620 It has been suggested that the Pilgrim Fathers spent their last night in England in the distillery and they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail to America on the Mayflower, where they founded a new Plymouth.

Plymouth Gin Bottle

The original distilling business was owned by Fox and Williamson and in 1793 when a certain Mr Coates joined the establishment, Plymouth Gin started being distilled and soon the business became known as Coates & Co,. until March of 2008, when the French Pernod Ricard took over the company.

My three miniature souvenir bottles from my last visit to Plymouth – Empty!

Some of the many fascinating botanicals that make up the unique taste of Plymouth Gin are Juniper berries, Coriander seeds, orange and lemon peels, angelica root, green cardamom, and orris root. Its gin is also ‘Appellation Controlee’ meaning it can not be made anywhere, except Plymouth, Devon, England.

Made with single-origin juniper, picked on a single day, from a single mountain location in Frontignano, Italy, only one batch will ever be made.

One of the oldest continuous buyers of Plymouth Gin is the Royal Navy. Almost all Navy Gin is linked to Plymouth thus Plymouth and the Royal Navy have a long history. The Royal Navy’s ‘rum ration’ or ‘tot’ was usually rum for the ratings but the officers drank Gin.

Spot the Friar

This was a huge business for British distillers. By 1850 the Royal Navy was said to be buying over 1,000 barrels of Plymouth Gin a year, and during the Napoleonic Wars, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson ordered barrels of Plymouth Gin for his officers. However, on the 31 st July 1970, that tradition ended. Modern Naval ships carry sophisticated weaponry where a push of the wrong button or an unsteady hand could result in WW3, so it was decided to end the daily Rum ‘tot’ that the ratings had been drinking for over 300 years!

On that day, sailors, drinking their last free ration of rum, wore black arm bands, drank their tot and threw the glasses into the sea. I have no idea what the officers did with their Gin! (2)

The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a ‘mault-house’ on the premises going back to 1697. Today, Plymouth Gin is known worldwide. Just the other day, to my surprise, I heard VPR – Vermont Public Broadcasting Service – advertise Plymouth Gin on its station.

At the moment, no doubt due to the Covid delays, it is hard to find Plymouth Gin in Montréal, as the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec or Quebec Liquor Corporation) where I usually buy it, is sold out!

Today, Black Friars offers a range of tours, ranging in price from a 40-minute, £7 inspection through to an in-depth, 2.5-hour “Master Distiller’s” outing (£40) where visitors get to create (and take away) their own bespoke gin. The distillery complex also has its own cocktail bar and brasserie. (3)





The YouTube link below is a tour with the Master Distiller.

Granny’s Ornament Part Two…

Kenneth Victor O’Bray aged 10 months May 1922

My Mum and her brother, Kenny c. 1932 my Mum would have been about 9 and Kenny 11 years old.

Two years into Uncle Ken’s apprenticeship, his life takes another turn…

A few days before Christmas, a neighbour visited Granny and saw her putting Holly branches around the fireplace and remarked “You should not put up Holly, it means a death in the family’ Gran chose to ignore this ‘old wives tale’

The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland. France also declared war on Germany later the same day. The state of war was announced to the British public in an 11 am radio broadcast by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. (1)

Most of the country was in shock. Kenny as my grandparents always called him, was 17 years old that July 31st, and I have no doubt that he would have signed up as soon as he was 18 years old.

On about the 20th of December, Kenny complained of a tummy ache, so he stayed home from work. The pain got progressively worse, so the family doctor was called in. This was before the National Health Service was formed in 1948, so all house calls were to be paid in cash.

Because Kenny was feeling so poorly, Granny put a stool next to his bed, piled it up with books and put his food and drink on it, so it was eye level and easy to reach.

When the doctor arrived he examined Kenny and said it was nothing just an upset tummy. My Mum also had the same stomach pains so the doctor thought it was this. Days later, he worsened and the doctor was called in again.

By this time, my gramps was very worried and asked for him to be taken to the hospital as the pain was getting worse, but the doctor refused to admit him saying” With all those books piled up next to him, he can’t be that ill’

The next day, 23rd December and again, Gramps called the doctor in. This time he examined my Mum and left some mixture for her to take. Mum told me, that she refused to take it, because he had a strong foreign accent, and she was certain he was a ‘spy’ and the mixture was poison! Kenny worsened on the 23rd of December.

My mum remembers her parents and neighbours at his bedside, whispering ‘Is he still breathing?” Get a mirror and hold it up to his mouth’ Mum was in the bedroom next door worrying and in pain herself. Kenny died that evening. He was 17 years old.

Once again, the doctor was called and Gran and Gramps made him examine Mum at the same time. She was admitted to the hospital immediately with the same symptoms as Kenny had.

She had appendicitis and was operated on that day, and she recovered. Kenny meanwhile was autopsied. They discovered he had peritonitis. A ruptured appendix spreads infection throughout the abdomen. it requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity or death occurs.

Mum was lucky her appendix had not yet burst. Kenny was not. My Granny and Gramps were so upset they tried to sue the doctor. I read Gramps’ diary of these events leading up to Uncle Ken’s death and wept.

My Gramps was not successful in suing the doctor although he tried very hard. Granny told me of her visiting the cemetery after Kenny’s burial and sitting on his gravesite and weeping, every day.

Plymouth was one of the most heavily bombed British cities during World War Two. The first bombs fell on the city on 6 July 1940, with the heaviest period of bombing occurring in March and April 1941. (2)

Many years later when she related this sad family history to me, we were at the cemetery visiting Uncle Ken’s grave. I noticed a large chip in the granite headstone and pointed it out to Granny. ‘Oh, yes” she replied, “I remember that!” She continued, “One day when I was visiting the cemetery, sitting on the edge of the grave, when the air raid sirens went off. I just carried on weeping and shouting to the sky ‘Take me now! I don’t care!” when a large piece of shrapnel hit the side of the headstone!

I asked her if she was afraid but she said ‘Not in the least!” and told me, that she continued to sit there and cry and shout, all whilst the air raid roared and blazed around her. I think this was her expressing her grief in a most dramatic but cathartic way, and was probably a good thing to do.

Grief can drastically alter a person’s attitude to life and I know families who lose a child never really recover from the shock. My grandparents, whilst not always talking about Kenny, did answer my questions and let me look through all his sketches and drawings they had.

My Mum was affected by her brothers’ death. Her parents were strict she said, timing her outings and expecting her home at a certain time, if she was spotted talking to boys she was called into the house.

She was constantly “kept an eye on” not allowed much freedom, or chance to meet people, and consequently, married far too young and too fast. However, I believe that they were afraid that they would lose her too, especially during the war years with constant bombs and air raids.

When her brother died and Mum’s infant son, my baby brother Christopher, died at three days old and she thought they were ‘cursed’ I must admit when my own son was born, the thought did cross my mind that the boys of the family did not live for long….. but I quickly quelled that thought! (3)

Today, my two ‘boys’ are healthy happy men and I am grateful.

October 1938. A sketch by Uncle Kenny of the Barbican where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America on the 16th September 1620
August 1939, This was taken four months before Uncle Kenny died. He is 17 years old, and it was taken at the Whitsands Beach, near Plymouth Devon.

The above photo was the one that I always remember, it is hung on the wall when I lived with my grandparents and is still there today. Below is Kenny’s Death certificate. The cause of death reads: “Perforated appendix generalised peritonitis Certified by W. E. J. Major Coroner for Plymouth after post mortem without inquest”. Because there was no inquest, I believe this is why my grandparents decided to try and sue the doctor. There should have been an inquest, so they could express their outrage, grief and sorrow at the behaviour of the doctor.

A few days ago I received an email from HM Coroner’s Office in Plymouth Devon. I had inquired about obtaining the Post Mortem report.


Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email and for updating the information provided.

I have made enquiries with our archivists and unfortunately, they do not hold any Post Mortems reports for 1939. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist with your enquiry any further.

Kind regards

Debbie, HM Coroners Office 1 Derriford Park, Derriford Business Park Plymouth PL6 5QZ

I had hoped to obtain them to add to this story. It was not to be. Perhaps, in the future, I may be luckier. I am sure they are held, just not digitized yet.

A Brief Note on Holly Beliefs in the West Country of Devon, England.

It was always considered terribly unlucky to bring holly into the house before Christmas Eve and even more so to leave it in the home after Candlemas Eve (1st February)“.





Read Part One of ‘Granny’s Ornament” here:

Granny’s Ornament Part One

Noun: ornament; plural noun: ornaments
A thing used to make something look more attractive but usually has no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine
Noun: figurine, plural noun: figurines statuette, especially one of a human form. The photo above is the ornament.

The underside is printed “Suvesco Foreign”

Granny always called it Ken’s ‘ornament’ so, for the purpose of this story, ornament it is.

Further searching tells me it was made in Japan in the 1930s and is in the style of ‘Art Deco’ (1)

When I lived with Granny and Gramps in the late 1950s there was not much colour around her house or indeed anywhere. We were still rebuilding our city after WW2 and things were still rather bleak.

However, I do remember in Granny and Gramps’ bedroom, on the shelf above the fireplace, a small lady holding out her colourful skirts, with her head on the side, she was the only bit of colour in the house. I often admired the pretty pastel colours and ‘the ladies’ pose.

Many years later, when I was visiting Granny, she must have been in her late 90’s, she took it from her cabinet and gave it to me! She said, that she knew how much I had admired it whilst I lived with her and she knew I would appreciate it. She was right! I was thrilled!

As I grew older, I kept Granny’s ornament in my cabinet and I admired the pose and colours. Much later in life, when I was taking art courses, I painted it and called it ‘Dancing Lady’

Dancing Lady

Living with Granny and Gramps, I one day asked if the lady was old, and where and how Granny got it, she was silent for a moment, and then told me the story.

Her eldest son, Kenneth, had bought it for her with money from his very first job. I knew who Ken was, he was my Uncle the older brother by two years, of my mother. I had always seen his photo on the wall in their house, at the bottom of the stairs, a dark-haired young man, looking similar to Gramps in his first – so Gran told me – pair of long trousers! At the beach, barefoot and leaning against a cliff in shirtsleeves.

Uncle Ken about 16 years

Uncle Ken was apprenticed to Mr Henry Mallett Osborne on the 27th of October, 1937, from the age of 15 years until he was 21 years. He was to “Carry on the art trade of business of a House and Decorative Painter Glazier and Paperhanger at 20 York Street City of Plymouth”

I know this because I have Uncle Ken’s Deed.

Gran told me he was so excited and the business of “THIS DEED” gave him a feeling of being, at last, a grownup.

The Deed was large and cannot be shown in full here, as the document measures 41cm in length (16 inches) and 27cm in width (101/2 inches). However, I can show the top of the Deed and the bottom with the signatures of Gramps, his son, Uncle Ken and the ‘Master’ Mr Osborne.

Frontpage of the Deed

First Page of the Deed.

Included in the ‘Deed’ are these words…… “he will faithfully serve ‘The Master’ until the full end and term of six years shall be fully complete and ended. (Such term to expire on the 11 September 1943)

Who could have known, that full out war and destruction would have been wreaking havoc all over the world for four years by then? The United Kingdom had declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September, 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland.

One interesting note in the Deed was Kenneth’s salary which says:

……the Master does now or shall hereafter use and practice the same and shall and will pay or cause to be paid to the Apprentice during the said same wages at the rates and in manner following (that is to say) the sum of six shillings and sixpence per week during the first year of the said term and sum of eight shillings per week during the second year of the said term the sum of nine shillings and sixpence per week during the third year of the said term the sum of Eleven shillings and sixpence per week during the fourth year of the said term the sum of Thirteen shillings and sixpence during the fifth year of the said term and the sum of Sixteen shillings and sixpence during the sixth and last year of the said term”

The last and
Signature Page

So, with the handsome salary of six shillings and sixpence, (worth approximately $2.50 in today’s Canadian dollars) during the first year of his apprenticeship, he bought Granny the lovely little lady.

Granny said that Kenneth was keen to learn the signwriting part of the Apprenticeship as he was quite a good artist. Granny kept all his paintings sketches and drawings between two large pieces of cardboard. I often got them out and looked at them. I could spend hours looking at his art.

Whilst I was still at school, I had to do a project on the City of Plymouth History. Granny let me have the Royal Coat of Arms, painted by Uncle Ken to put on the front of my project book, I was thrilled and still have the project book and Uncle Ken’s painting on the front.

Uncle Ken’s painting of the Royal Coat of Arms – not finished.

The picture below is the present Royal Coat of Arms, with the crown of Queen Elizabeth II.

The motto at the base reads: ‘Dieu et mon Droit’ (‘God and my Right’) and the shield bears the motto Hon soit qui mal y pense (‘Evil to him who evil thinks’ (2)

Two years into Uncle Ken’s apprenticeship, his life takes another turn which will be told in Granny’s Ornament Part Two.

(1) When did Art Deco start and end?

Art deco (c. 1908 to 1935) Art deco began in Europe, particularly Paris, in the early years of the 20th century, but didn’t really take hold until after World War I. It reigned until the outbreak of World War II

Of course, Art Deco covered a great many items including homes, buildings, clothing, home furnishings and sculptures.

If you Google ‘Art Deco Ladies’ many of the ladies are in similar positions and colours. Some just marked ‘foreign’ and some made in Germany and Austria.

I have no idea of value, but to me it is priceless and I hope when I have shuffled off this mortal coil, one of my sons or grandchildren will treasure it too.

(2) This symbolises the Order of the Garter, an ancient order of knighthood of which the Queen is Sovereign. Uncle Ken’s painting shows the crown of the then-King George V

Memories of A 1950 British Christmas

I was reminded of the city I grew up in when images of the tornado that shattered the towns in Kentucky were shown on TV and online recently. Our city after the blitz looked exactly like that…. and it was not until I was a teen that the city workers had finally cleared away the last of the debris and rebuilt our city completely.

Plymouth, England, After A Raid – 1941

Plymouth Reduced to Rubble after A Raid – 1949

This was bad, but after London, the worst bombed city in England was Liverpool.

Christmas 1950 was still bleak, I was five years old and Christmas that year was to be austere, to say the least, but I was not aware of that at the time. It is only with age that I remember and think wow! That was hard.

WW2 had finally ended in November 1945 the year and month I was born. Our city of Plymouth was battered and bombed, and by the time I was born, rationing and shortages were still all over the country which lasted until I was nine years old!

I often think, as so-called ‘victors’ in the War, shouldn’t we have been better off and not ‘on the rations’ until I was nine years old?

One person’s ration for a week.

There were few Christmas trees or decorations, At our primary school, we cut up strips of newspaper, glued them together to make paper chains to hang in the classroom.

We did the same at home. Occasionally, if you were lucky we could buy coloured strips of paper but mostly it was the newspaper chains. Dad would go out and find some Mistletoe and Holly to put around the mantlepiece.

We did not have a tree at home, but we all had fun at school, making the ‘decorations’ we sang Christmas carols and exchanged homemade cards coloured with old, worn down crayons. We always had a Carol Service at school before we finished for the year.

We had no books or school library but our teacher read out loud to us each Friday and she finished the book the last Friday before we broke up for the Christmas holidays. I remember the book, it was called ‘ Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. (1)

Back to Christmas 1950. Below, is a photo of me, Dad and his mother, Emily Marion. It always makes me laugh as I am wearing my ** National Health Service** free glasses- hence the gawky look! (I hated those glasses with a passion and once buried them in the garden!) (2)

In this photo, we were shopping in the Nissan huts, temporary metal huts set up for various bombed-out shops until re-building could commence in our blitz-wrecked city. and I was meeting Santa.

Looking at this photo now, I see that I was not exactly dressed appropriately” for the weather. Severe shortages were still in effect, and although I was warm I do remember my legs always being cold, after the fashion of those days!

The photo below was taken in 1943, The Nissan huts were still in use in my photo above.

A view of the busy Market Hall in Plymouth, showing that Woolworth’s has opened a large stand in the market. The main F W Woolworth & Co. Ltd. store had been severely damaged during an air raid.

There was not much available for Christmas foods, but my Dad would go late in the evening, as the stalls were closing, to get the cheap ‘end of the day goods’ like apples that were slightly bruised, or some pieces of holly or mistletoe or a few small oranges which only appeared at Christmastime.

Nuts were popular but we would see them only at Christmas and they were very expensive, so it was traditional to put a few nuts in childrens’ pillowcases along with a small orange. We usually had two or three big walnuts, still in their shells in our pillowcases. There were no ‘stockings’ to hang up. We put pillowcases hung over the bedknob at the end of the bed for our gifts and I carried on that tradition with my children.

Most of the gifts were either homemade or knitted and always wrapped in newspaper. We did not care what it was wrapped in, we had presents! I do not remember feeling deprived of anything.

That year, 1950, only certain meats were off ration such as reindeer, horse, rabbit and whale meat was also on offer. If I ate them, I cannot claim to have a memory of it! If we had a chicken or duck we were very lucky or rich. Usually, it was lamb or pork.

1949: Workers rolling out the whalemeat roll from a conveyor belt at a Slough factory. Whalemeat will soon make its bow to the public and it will be unrationed and off points. It can be served as luncheon meat, warmed in a frying pan as a breakfast food or served cold with a salad…..Yum!!

Three years after the War ended, restrictions on food were gradually being lifted. Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950. . Flour was ‘off ration’ on 25th July, followed by clothes on 15th March 1949. Although on the 19th of May 1950, rationing ended for canned and dried fruits chocolate biscuits treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat. In September 1950 soap was off ration and became a very popular Christmas gift!

We were still having to queue for food, and often it was sold out, by the time we reached the head of the queue, so our Christmas pudding and cakes had carrots added to them, to sweeten and bulk it up. Even when I was older in the early 1960s, and learning to bake and cook at school, we still added carrots to our Christmas cakes and puddings. (3)

We all ate a lot of ‘organ meats’ such as liver and onions and occasionally, when they could be picked in the fields, with mushrooms too. Today, we would add bacon to the liver and onions. Steak and kidney pies were and still are, a favourite in England. I do remember eating calves’ brains – on toast!

Liver And Onions

(Photo from

Oh, and ‘Brawn’ or ‘Braun’ made with a whole pigs head, when you could get one. Tongue, ears, brain, eyes. Boiled for hours with various herbs and spices cooled, and then everything was removed from the head then pressed in a mold overnight.

Sliced and served cold in a salad, on a Summer day it really was delicious. I believe it is known here, in Quebec, as ‘headcheese’?


Tripe and onions were very popular too. Tripe comes from the stomach lining of farm animals and, I remember Granny telling me, it was a wonderful source of protein and would make my hair and nails grow. Still served in many countries around the world, I think in the UK it originated in the county of Yorkshire.

Tripe Before Cooking in Milk, Herbs And Onions

I ate it all. What did I know or care, what I was eating?? I had a full tummy. Today, I do not take Christmas for granted even with all the goodies available because, although austere bleak and not much around in Christmas, 1950 I do not remember ever being hungry. Plus our dietary restrictions were not a bad thing for our health. As a five-year-old, I was frequently cold, yes, but hungry? Never! I was a lucky one.


(1) Many years later on 25th December 1964 when I was 19, the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ came out. I remember sitting in the theatre watching it and thinking “I know this story”….of course, it was based on the book Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw that teacher used to read to us every Friday.

(2) Before the National Health Service was created in 1948, patients were generally required to pay for their health care. Free treatment was sometimes available from charitable voluntary hospitals. Some local authorities operated hospitals for local ratepayers (under a system originating with the Poor Laws).
History of the National Health Service – Wikipedia


A short video of Plymouth after the Blitz Raid, 1941.

The first items to go on points rationing were tinned meats, tinned fish and tinned beans; later, points rationing was applied to most tinned goods, dried fruits, cereals, legumes, biscuits, etc. When points rationing was first introduced, everyone had 16 points per person every four weeks. British Wartime Food – CooksInfo › Cuisines

The RAF Administrative Apprentice

The internet and social media have changed our lives, allowing us to connect to new friends and reconnect to old ones to celebrate our victories and lives. I recently experienced this first-hand.

Last September, I received, out of the blue, an email message from a complete stranger because he read a few of my stories on about my time in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).

George Cook, an archivist for the Trenchard Museum, which is based at RAF Halton was gathering information on the MTE – Medical Training Establishment – and happened upon the story of my time there. He recognised the man in one of my photos that went with the story.

“Purely by chance, I had the opportunity to read “Dear Miss Bulford” and I was compelled to follow up on Marian’s story of life in the RAF in the 1960s,” he said in his email.

‘You will appreciate my surprise when on reading part 4, I recognised the young gentleman who became her husband. John and I joined the RAF in September 1964 as admin apprentices at RAF Hereford. Not only did we do our square bashing together for 12 months but we were both posted to RAF North Luffenham in Rutland in 1965”

So, of course, I had to find out more. Let’s begin at the beginning of this intriguing tale, as told to me by George in his letter and by my very surprised husband.

At the end of August 1964, my husband John Clegg was only 16 years old. He says he remembers standing on Liverpool Station on Lime Street England, waiting for a train to Herefordshire. He had left school in July 1964 and was headed off to join the Royal Air Force at RAF Hereford to enter a one-year Administrative Apprentice training course as part of the 301st cohort known as an ‘entry’ (1)

A week later, on the 2nd of September 1964, he took the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen.

The Oath of Allegiance

This committed him to serve 12 years in the RAF. One small point not clearly explained to an eager 16-year-old was that his 12 years of service wouldn’t start until his 18th birthday, meaning that the RAF had him for two extra years (14 in total)!

The boys in the administrative programme numbered approximately 40 per entry and were divided up into two dormitories of 20 per room. The training period consisted of daily classes for administrative procedures which would, on successful completion, quality John as an Administrative Secretarial Clerk. In addition, he learned personal discipline and stories about life in the RAF, including its history.

At that time, students were also taught to type on mechanical typewriters. John says that that training prepared him for the future introduction of computers John can still type 55 words a minute, the speed the boys were trained to do. George sent us this photograph of the typewriter they learned on.

The Typewriter the Apprentices Trained On

George Cook also apprenticed at RAF Hereford and he and my husband were alphabetical order billeting, which meant they ended up in the same room. They became friends.

John remembers George as a wonderful artist. He told me, that one drawing, in particular, stood out. It was a haze of charcoal until you stepped back and there appeared the face of Dusty Springfield a very popular singer in the England of the 1960s. John always remembered that drawing and the quiet talent that was often on display from George.

Whilst there, John and George made many friends with boys from different parts of the UK and from different backgrounds. After a year of close contact and demanding discipline, they forged friendships and operated as a group. At the end of the year-long course, trainees graduated as Senior Aircraftmen and had their passing out parade then they were posted to their stations where they became part of an administration team. Afterwards, they were to be posted to different parts of the country. Many never saw each other again, but that’s not what happened with John and George.

Invitation To The Passing Out Review.

Instead, they got their first posting together to RAF North Luffenham in Rutland. This area is very ancient and first mentioned as a separate county in 1159, but as late as the 14th century referred to as the “Soke’ of Rutland’, and in the Domesday Book as “A detached landlocked part of Nottinghamshire” (2)
George was in the Station Sick Quarters teaching the Nursing Attendants to type, whilst John’s first assignment at North Luffenham was as a clerk in the Motor Transport section and later to the Ground Radio Servicing Centre. They were responsible for the reparation of Radar and Radio facilities in the UK. At a later point, he worked in the General Office and helped prepare airmen for overseas posting.

After a few years at RAF North Luffenham, John applied for a position on VIP duties, as a clerk on the staff of the Air Officer Commander in Chief at RAF Upavon in Wiltshire England where, shortly after his arrival, he met…….me!

**(Read my adventures and how I later met my husband of 53 years at RAF Upavon  below)

Fast forward 60+ years and George read my story about my time in the RAF. Here’s what he told me about his experience

“During the 2 years there, I also worked in the Station Sick Quarters as the admin support to help the Nursing Attendants learn how to type at the mind-boggling speed of 15 wpm! We went our separate ways when I was posted to Singapore in 1968 but I do recall being told that John had re-mustered in the trade of air cartographer and was serving at AIDU RAF Northolt.

So, how did I come to read Marian’s stories? I work as a volunteer at the Trenchard Museum RAF Halton as an archivist and one of my tasks is to look into the history of the station.

Most people associate the station as the home of Number 1 School of Technical Training and the Trenchard Brats, young engineering apprentices who entered into a 3-year apprentice scheme set up by Lord Trenchard in 1922. What many people seem to overlook is the amazing medical history of the unit particularly the hospital, Institute of Pathology and Tropical Medicine and of course the Medical Training Establishment (MTE) Marian refers to.
Marian, I loved your stories and you have made an old man very happy learning of my old pal John. I hope that you are both well particularly in these troubled times”

I read his email with great excitement. I called my husband to come and read THIS!!!

When he read it he could not believe it was from the same George whom he knew all those years ago when they served together as Administrative Apprentices.

George Cook is now a volunteer Archivist at the Trenchard Museum at RAF Halton and also assists with the guided tours of the Halton House Officers’ Mess. (3) (4)

An exchange of emails reveals that George has led a full and varied career in various positions of leadership in the RAF. John served 12 years and then served many years in the airline industry in Genéva, Switzerland and Montréal, Canada where we now reside.

How amazing is the speed of technology the internet and social media? I will always be grateful that it allowed George to read my stories, and John to reconnect with his friend after so many years.


Four stories of my adventures in the WRAF – Women’s Royal Air Force.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

British mourning cards and Funeral fashion

As a child in Britain in the early 1950’s I remember the death of our Monarch King George VI on 6th February 1952. I was 6 and a half.

When his death was announced on the radio, my family and grandparents immediately drew all the blinds in their houses and covered all the mirrors and clocks. Neighbours did the same. A black funeral wreath was placed on the front door, and black bands were purchased for the men, these to be worn on arms when outdoors. The family spoke in hushed tones. I clearly remember answering the door to a visitor and whispering to them “The King has died’

Everyone wore black and some openly cried. On the day of the funeral, everything ceased. Transportation stopped, shops closed, the streets were empty. Schools, theatres, movies were all cancelled. The radio was surrounded by family members listening avidly. Newspapers the next day, provided photos.

Citizens reading of the death of the King

During this time of the World wide COVID-19 Pandemic, death has been a constant. There have always been many visual symbols of grief in the World especially during the Middle Ages, when black attire was popular with the wealthy and symbolic of spiritual darkness. Velvet especially was very expensive.

The wealthy classes would show their status in life, through paper products. cabinet cards, calling cards and they were the status symbols for many years. The Industrial Revolution caused a rise in commercial processes, but they were still very expensive in the 1800s

King George VI Death Card

Victorian society was obsessed with death and Queen Victoria and her subjects followed the rules she set. Perhaps the most significant turning point in Queen Victoria’s life was the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. His death sent Victoria into a deep depression, and she stayed in seclusion for many years, rarely appearing in public. She mourned him by wearing black for the remaining forty years of her life. [1]

Death was a frequent visitor in Victorian Britain and planning to die well, started whilst young. Conversations about death were open and ongoing. People knew what their kin wanted for a funeral, and women made their own shrouds and some even included a funeral shroud in their wedding dowries!

Kate Strasdin, a British fashion historian and curator said it was during this period that codes for mourning dress took hold. The modern department store was born of the brand spanking new funeral industry where, in one stop, you could acquire everything for a funeral from stationary and clothing, to mourning jewellery. [2]

An advertisement for mourning clothes for all the family from Jay’s London General Mourning Warehouse. Date: 1888

The following advert in The Illustrated London News, August 31, 1844 shows how people were tutored on how to dress;

MOURNING—Court, Family, and Complimentary.—The Proprietors of the London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249 Regent-street, beg respectfully to remind families whose bereavements compel them to adopt mourning attire, that every article (of the very best description) requisite for a complete outfit of mourning may be had at their establishment at a moment’s notice.

Widows’ and Family Mourning is always kept made up; and a note descriptive of the mourning required will ensure everything necessary for the occasion, being sent (in town or country) immediately Ladies requiring Silks—either Satins. Satin Turcs, Watered or Plain Ducapes,and Widows’ Silks, are particularly invited to a trial of the new Corpeau Silks introduced at this house, as they will be found not only more durable, but the colour will stand the test of the strongest acid,or even seawater. Black and Grey, and Fancy Mourning Silks of every description.

The Show Rooms are replete with every novelty that modern taste has introduced in mourning millinery, flowers, collars, head-dresses, bugle berthes, trimmings. &c. &c.—The London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249, Regent-street, near Oxford street.—W. C. JAY, and Co.

Over the years we have again become more open about death, and to tell our families what we want and how we want to be dispatched. The Victorians would have been shocked at how much less formal we are today with our funerals planned as a ‘celebration of life’ or focusing on protecting the environment.

Many of our customs today would certainly be shocking to someone from the Victorian era, as we are generally much less formal. The Victorians would have been aghast at a funeral that was a celebration of life. A green funeral where the focus of the burial is on protecting the environment would have been an outrage. Although we still wear mourning jewellery today it is more likely to contain the ashes of the deceased. (1)

in my family, my Maternal Grandfather Percival Victor O’Bray allowed me to copy some of his families’ mourning cards. I always wanted to know the reason behind these cards why we wear black and how our mourning rituals came to be.

The research has been interesting.

My Great-Grandmother (Front View)
Back View of the Mourning Card

This next family history mourning card is the most heart-breaking in my collection. By the time this death notice was posted in the newspaper, 16 days later my Great-Grand Uncle’s third and youngest daughter had died too.

Newspaper Clipping March 13, 1890
Back View of Mourning Card