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Sundays and the Great Depression

I used to hate Sundays. I had to go to Sunday school. I really didn’t understand why I had to attend because my parents just dropped me off. That’s right. They didn’t even go to church. And no one asked me if I wanted to go.

After they picked me up, things got worse. It was homework time until lunch. Of course, I could have done my homework on Friday night but Fridays were reserved for movies on the television and reading in bed with a flashlight until all hours.

And worst of all, some Sunday afternoons were for Visiting the Elderly Relatives. In my mind, my aunts and uncles were ancient. Plus my brother, being a boy and older than me, was apparently able to take care of himself, as he always seemed to be absent from these visits. So I would sit in the living rooms of my aunts and uncles, with no toys or any other amusements, and listen to the adults talk.

I now cherish the memories of these visits because they provided me with an appreciation of the social history of Montreal, as well as significant events such as the Depression and World War II.

The stories about the Depression are the ones that struck me the most. During the Depression, a quarter of Canada’s workforce was unemployed.1  My dad, Edward McHugh, was a young man out of work in Montreal and he joined his older brother and sister in Drummondville, to work for the Celanese. At the peak of the Depression, the Celanese employed 1,757 workers.2

None of the McHughs had cars in those days so they must have travelled back and forth to Drummondville by train. And Uncle Thomas McHugh married a local girl. I can just imagine the McHughs, from Verdun, arriving in Drummondville for the wedding. I doubt very many people spoke English in Drummondville at the time. The culture shock must have been intense.

My aunts and uncles, even into the 1960s, were thankful that they were able to have some work during the Depression. Uncle Al Scott worked for the Northern Telecom for 40 years, although with reduced hours during the Depression. Luckily Uncle Frank McHugh worked for the Montreal Tramway Company so he was able to keep working during the Depression. He was a tram driver for tram number 24 that started in Montreal West and crossed the city on Sherbrooke Street. His job was safe.

My aunts and uncles loved to have a good time and the Depression did not stop them. My Aunt Elsie used to describe their card parties. There was only one bottle of scotch, some ginger ale, one can of salmon and one loaf of sliced white bread. My aunt was able to spread the salmon so thinly that she could make sandwiches out of the whole loaf of bread.

It was very clear to me that the Depression was a very frightening time in their lives. During this period, the future must have seemed bleak. Life was a struggle to make ends meet.

 

Notes

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression_in_Canada

2 http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=14311&type=pge#.WSNY7Gg1-Uk

 

The Family Secret

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

IMG_0002

Standing, left Gran. Standing right my mother Front: Marian and Great Grandmother Lilian, 1948

This article is a continuation of a previous story, called “Illegitimate”

https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/07/13/illegitimate-2/

 

Illegitimate

Illegitimate
by Marian Bulford

In the March 31st 1901 UK Census Lilian Mary Symons was listed as a ‘servant girl/domestic’ in Leicester, Leicestershire in the employ of Mrs. Mary Whatnall, ‘Retired Lunatic Asylum Matron’ Mrs. Whatnall’s niece also lived in the house.¹

The 18 year old Lilian had, the previous November 25th given birth to a daughter. The father of the baby was a Royal Navy Cooper and master carpenter Thomas Bevan whom Lilian met when she was 17. They had started to court, but neither of them realised she was pregnant when Thomas left for sea. He was gone not knowing he was to be a father and Lilian had no contact with him for the next three years.

Lilian was the oldest in a family of five. Her father was a jobbing gardener and her mother a housewife so they would have had no means to take care of Lilian and another child.

How Lilian must have felt at that time, being pregnant and unmarried is not known, but I can only imagine how she would have had to approach her family and tell them. She also had to tell them that she did not know where Thomas, the father was.

Lilian’s father Thomas Symons unsuccessfully searched for Thomas and he also wrote to the Royal Navy regularly to find out the father’s whereabouts, but to no avail.²

In the 1900’s in the United Kingdom, unmarried pregnant women were often disowned by their families and the work house was the only place they could go during and after the birth of their child. There were no fees, but hard work was expected of the inmates. ³

According to my family, although Lilian was not ‘disowned’ by her family she did give birth to her baby and her child’s birth certificate states the child was born in the ‘Leicestershire Workhouse’.

In addition, the original birth certificate also had the words ‘ILLEGITIMATE’ in large letters stamped over the entire certificate. Lilian immediately tore it up and threw it away. 4

Lilian’s circumstances definitely changed, as I have a wonderful photo of the child at two years old and she is dressed in a very attractive dress with a matching dolly. These are not the usual working attire for someone living in a 1902-era work house and tape recordings of family told me her parents looked after the baby daughter and Lilian went to work for Mrs. Whatnall.

Thomas Bevan did eventually return from sea and Lilian and he got married on 25th April 1904 when the child was three and a half years old.5

In the 1911 Census 10 years later, Lilian is the ‘head’ of a household with three additional children. They lived in the Royal Navy Port of Plymouth, Devon England and Thomas was once again, back at sea.6

The couple went on to have four more children, who all lived to adulthood, including my grandmother, Edith, who had no idea she was born out of wedlock until she was 65 years old, but that is another story!

 Sources:
1 1901 UK Census at Ancestry.com
2 http://www.workhouses.org.uk/life/entry.shtml
3 Family tape recordings
4 Certified copy of a Birth Certificate, Leicestershire City Council, England
5 Registered marriages in April, May and June 1904 Leicestershire, England at Ancestry.com
6 Family tape recordings

Photos Below:

Lilian Mary Symons b. 1882

Lilian Mary Symons 1899

Edith Bevan 1902

Edith Symons Bevan 1902

Thomas Bevan b. 1876

Thomas Bevan, RN

Australia, 1908

 

 

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