Monday, October 25, 2010

Following on from my previous post...

Here is my great granny Jemima Clark (nee Cleary) getting kissed by the Mayor of Ramsgate. Couldn't embed it sadly...

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=24285

Jemima must have been about 77 then or possibly a bit older, I suspect she may have been a trifle dishonest about how old she was, as I've had rather a lot of difficulty tracking her down. Mind you that is also because she doesn't appear anywhere as Jemima till she's 18, and before that I suspect she was going under the name of Mary Ann Cleary, a name she unfortunately shared with a cousin, so it's easy to get them muddled.

What I do know about Jemima is that her father Thomas Cleary drowned when she was very young - according to the stories left behind by her youngest son (my G uncle Bert), Thomas had an unfortunate habit of taking his coat off over his head without undoing the buttons. He made the mistake of doing this on Barking Docks on a windy night and fell in the Thames and was drowned. Mind you, Bert also claimed that Jemima's hair went white at 16 when she saw someone fall down out of a window and die in front of her. As shock of said experience also turned her deaf, I think Bert may have been embellishing a bit. He was a bit of a one for tall stories...

My mother describes Jemima with a degree of dislike, as she lived with them after her husband (the wonderfully named Ophir, who was a mill worker), and was a bit of a drama queen to say the least. (Her younger sisters on the other hand, describe with glee the way that Jemima taught them rude words when they were very young). My own grandmother, reacted to Jemima's histrionics by always keeping a very tight lid on her own emotions, something she passed down to my own mother. Mostly, I think it's a good thing, but occasionally, I suspect Jemima's is a better way. Though, I am also inclined to agree with my grandma that forcing Ophir to convert from the Baptist faith to the Catholic one on his death bed was not her finest hour.

She lived apparently as a very merry widow, and numbered several male friends in Ramsgate, as well as the mayor. Though history, alas, does not record whether she kissed any of them...

I can understand why my mother found Jemima's histrionics difficult to stomach, as my grandmother had to manage alone during the war, with six children and a sick husband (who died in 1944, the same year as Jemima), and probably needed a demanding mother like a whole in the head, but since I've been researching her, I've some sympathy with her too.

She not only lost her parents young (haven't tracked down what happened to her mother yet), and lived with extended family for most of her childhood, as far as I can tell from the censuses, but she lost not one but two sons in the First World War. Ernest, her middle son, died of illness in 1916,aged 20, and Alfred the oldest died in the last week of the war, in the battle of the Sambre, the same battle that Wilfred Owen died of. Factor in the loss of twins, Wilfred and Winnie, who died at 6 weeks and were so small they had to buried in drawers (a story that held fascination for me as child, and now seems unbearably poignant), and I think she probably had every right to the odd moment of histrionics. Of her seven children, only three survived to adulthood. I can't begin to imagine that must do to you.

I currently have a strand of my current wip which focuses partly on WW1, and Lily, the heroine shares some of Jemima's experiences. She's not at all like Jemima, but I've been inspired by what happened to Jemima to come up with Lily's story. Best be warned though, you need to get out your hankies...

I'm rather glad that Jemima was able to live the life of Reilly in the 30s, seems to me like she deserved it, histrionics, and all...

490 comments:

1 – 200 of 490   Newer›   Newest»
Talli Roland said...

Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Lesley Cookman said...

I found this fascinating. My daughter has just started on my father's line and received his birth certificate on Saturday. I daren't start or I'd never get any work done!

And thank you for commenting on my blog! xx

James Wilson said...

Hi Julia, glad you're still keeping the blog fires burning. I have actually become quite heavily involved in blogging for a new think tank, all of which I reproduce on my personal blog as well, though much of it is legal stuff. Still have my signed copy of Strictly Love - if I ever get a spare minute I will search out some of your other books as well.

Best

J.

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