Thursday, 8 November 2007

You wouldn't want to start from here...

Where does one start with what is mainly a family history blog? Just like in the old joke about asking directions, "You wouldn't want to start from here". Each story has a prequel, side shoots and a huge cast list. In future, this blog will be the material for a proper web site, where the lives and stories of the cast of thousands, all be explained. In the meantime though, random chapters will appear on this blog. If you recognise or are related to any of the people, add a comment to let me know who you are - we may well be related!

So randomly, to start, this photo is of my great grandparents Thomas Fitz-Henry and Rebecca (nee Lamb). It was taken in the late 1920s at the Katharine Building Tenements near St Katharine's Dock, London where they lived. The photo was taken by their youngest son Jim on a Box Brownie camera, and this along with a collection of photos and negatives was found in his house on his death in 1999.

The family had lived in the tenements virtually since they were erected as suitable dwellings for the East End's "deserving poor" in the 1880s. Only persons with a regular wage and who had a respectable family life were allowed to live there. One of the women who collected the rents and ensured that the tennents kept to the rules was the social commentator Beatrice Potter who married Sydney Webb. Beatrice kept a log of the families that lived in the Tenements and much of what I know of this phase of their lives comes from this journal. More about the social engineering project that was Katharine Buildings in future blogs.

The family moved into the tenements from Denmark Street on October 4th 1886.His father John was a coalwhipper in the docks earning 5 shillings and 6 pence a day, and mother Caroline was a tailoress There were 8 children - Thomas was the eldest (1870), then Caroline (1873), John (1876), Edward (1878), Elizabeth (1880), Henry (1882), Annie (1884), and Amelia (1886). Beatrice Potter's journal comments "The house is generally untidy, partly from the mother being at work, happy-go-lucky sort of people"

"Tom was at home out of work for along time. When he found work he married unknown to his parents - being only 18. Mother wishes they were all married."

Thomas married Rebecca Lamb in her home parish of St Thomas', Bethnal Green on February 5th1888 and for the first few years of their married life they rented rooms in various locations in London's East End. Their first child Rebecca was born in July 1888 and died in November 1889 of bronchopneumonia. Thomas James was born in 1890 and died aged 24 of a brain haemorrhage in 1914. Caroline was born in September 1891, but died in October 1892, again of bronchopneumonia. By this time Tom's family had moved back into Katharine's Buildings where they stayed until they moved out to Dagenham in the 1930s. Mary Ann was born in 1893 and John Lawrence in 1895. There was then a 6 year gap until my grandfather Henry was born in 1901 and then 12 years until the birth of James (Jim) who took the photo.

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