It’s that time of year again. Where we empty our pockets for more Hallmark inspired obligation and red roses appear in great swathes in the supermarkets. St Valentines day is, when you get down to it, pretty awful really. If you are single it’s just a way of reinforcing the fact. In a relationship, then you’ve got to make sure you balance each others efforts or else that causes stress. Of course, our retails overlords are happy to tell us that real love needs Jewellery, Lingerie anything with a price tag, not just a card. As ever, as with Christmas, and Easter, the message is that money equals love.
Now, I’ll make a confession, Mrs Bloke and I didn’t even exchange cards this year. And it is an anniversary for us. It is an eye watering 27 years this Valentine’s since I first asked her out, back in the heady days of 1990. We were doing our G.C.S.E’s at the time and I am absolutely sure here parents were delighted I appeared on the scene to drag her grades down.
I caught some of ‘Who do you think you are’ with Warwick Davies the other day. And his glee at discovering that one of his ancestor’s marriages took place just a couple of months before the birth of their child got me thinking. Because, in my own family history research, I have discovered similar evidence of, shall we say, over enthusiastic ardour?
In fact, and don’t tell a soul this, Mrs Bloke and I had our own little scare all those years ago. A trip with her family to The American Adventure Theme Park coincided with an upset stomach and, well, lets say, some calendar worries. Boy was that ever a long couple of days. Needless to say it was just an upset stomach but not before I was preparing plans to pack a bag and run away to join a circus. Of course, as I wrote recently My little boy ain’t so little anymore…. , having children would turn out to be a whole ‘nother thing.
My paternal grandfather, Douglas, was born in 1913, in Sept. His parents married in 1913 in, oh, July. Bless ‘um. Different world then up in the North East of England. His father, my G.Grandfather Elijah, worked as a miner at Usworth Colliery, near Washington, Tyne & Wear. He worked down the pits with his father and brothers including my great uncle Joseph who fell at the Somme just a few years later.(I talk about him here Remembering one forgotten man: The Somme 1916.) My grandfather, would also spend time down the mine.
The patriarch of that family, Elijah’s and Joseph’s father was another Joseph. And he was the product of another pre-marital encounter. Though in his case, it wasn’t followed by marriage and a happy life. Joseph senior first appears in the census record in 1861, aged nine years old, living in Penrith Workhouse in Cumbria. On further digging though I found he was actually there in 1851 as well, though still safely installed inside the womb of his mother, Emma. He was born in the workhouse a few weeks after the census and, as far as we can tell, spent his whole childhood there before going off down the mines in Maryport, Cumbria. Hard to imagine a more miserable start to a life. I have a copy of his birth certificate. It only lists his mothers name and her signature is just a large ‘X’. She would have been separated from the baby quite soon and at some point she left the workhouse. Poor Joseph, just like Oliver Twist grew up alone under lock and key. That he came from that, worked hard, got married and had a large family earns him my greatest respect, and just one of the reasons Little Blokes middle name is Joseph.
Emma, his mother. Had had a tough life as well. She had a sister and parents in a tiny village nestling under the bulk of Cross Fell on the Pennines. Her father, again also a Joseph, had a brother in the same village and we know from court records that they both did time in prison for theft. We don’t know yet quite what happened to Emma. We know her mother and sister died when she was quite young. Then, when she was in her early 20’s her father died as well. I would have liked to think her Uncle’s family, in the same village took her in, but apparently not as she found herself pregnant at the gate of the Workhouse. Part of the workhouse policy then would be to get the mother to identify the father so the parish could pursue him for costs in supporting the child. I have not been able to track down the record of any such interview, if it still exists, but since the father is anonymous on the birth certificate I can only assume she kept silent or, god help us, she never even knew his name.
It is easy to think of her being cruel in leaving behind her son but, at that time, she probably felt she was doing the kindest and best thing for him and I suppose we’ll never know who the real father was.
My point is, all this lust and romance, can often get out of hand and historically cause many, many problems, even within my little family tree. We may not have the same moral standard these modern days but I can’t help thinking that’s a good thing. When a woman who has become accidentally pregnant can only find shelter in the workhouse and not with her family, you know society is not at it’s morally and compassionately strongest. Not to mention the quality of sex education and contraception in days gone past.
I want to finish though by talking about the practices of the little community on the Isle of Portland, way down south, dangling below Weymouth. In centuries past the community there was so tiny and hard to reach they had a very different approach to courting. If a couple expressed an interest in each other they were encouraged and given every opportunity to sleep with each other. If the girl fell pregnant than a marriage was performed and a new family created. If, after about 6 months, no child was on the horizon than the couple were split up to move onto fresher partners. What an amazing policy. However, when industrial quarrying began in the 19th century and outside workmen came to the isle the practice fell apart. Can you imagine the delight of the workman to find an island full of sexually experienced women who would happily jump into bed with them. Unfortunately, they didn’t understand the other side of the bargain and the number of children born on the island out of marriage sky rocketed as the workmen would run for the hills on finding out they were to become fathers.
So, the moral of the story? Just be careful and don’t let yourself get too swept away in the greeting cards romance of this week.
That being said, big kisses for you all! xxxxx
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