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Wesley Hollier Wright and Ada Emily Louise Shelvey
(1892 - 1957) (1892 - 1962)
Family memories, written by Stephen Hollier. 10th. May 1992.
(Note: hover mouse pointer over pictures to see pictue titles.)
Nanny and Grandpa Wright had a strong bond of love and affection, which held their marriage together through poverty, separation and the hardships of two worldwars. Indeed, this relationship became the yardstick by which two subsequent generations of the family measured their family lives.
Those previous few years were difficult ones for Wesley. His mother died of a malignant tumour of the pelvis in August 1918. He was present at the time, as the death certificate shows. His father was greatly affected and went into a decline, ceasing to continue in family business. William went to live with his daughter Lilian but within two years she died of pleurisy. In August 1920 Edna, another daughter was born increasing the crowding problem at Talbot Mews.
In 1924, Wesley joined the Post Office and returned to study at the London Polytechnic on a course leading to a first-class pass in “First Year Technical Electricity” and an ordinary pass in “Post Office Mathematics”. A year later, the family managed to secure a tenancy in a ground floor council maisonette at 54 Oakworth Road W10. Ada and her family still kept in close contact with her mother and in addition, the two women took in washing; Emily washing it and Ada ironing.
As the family grew better off, they began to take regular holidays at the seaside and Wesley took an interest in gardening. The family sometimes would go back to Somerset and stay with Mrs.Luckins in Draycott. She would "tell us yarns" including how to cure warts. 'They turn you around five-times and hit you over the head with a shovel'.
By this time the family was growing up and the small maisonette must have felt cramped. During the mid 1930's, large numbers of better off working people were moving to the new suburbs springing up around London. Wesley and Ada decided to move out and buy a home in Greenford, Middlesex.
When Ada was a child, she remembered visiting the place, which was then a small village from the edge of the city, which they would visit on Sunday school outings in a horse-drawn cart. By 1934, the village had been overwhelmed by speculative building. Each week, the family made a visit on the little steam train that ran from Paddington to Greenford to see how their home was progressing. On one occasion in November 1933, they heard the sound of the horn and watched the Greenford Hunt chase a fox across the back of the site then disappear into the mist.
It took a bit of adjusting to by Lyn, who did not like the sense of relative isolation and she complained about having to live on "Muddy Island".
The night the London docks were bombed, half of the sky glowed red above the railway embankment. One afternoon, Wesley was working in his allotment when a German plane passing over dropped a 1000lb landmine on a parachute. It fell in the direction of Downing Drive. Horrified, he ran back towards his home. It disappeared behind a row of houses and a massive explosion shook the ground. The bomb had fallen on the next street, Bennett’s Avenue, killing several people. Later in the war, a British bomber, damaged in an air-raid crash landed in the field behind the house. Neighbours rushed to the scene and thought the crew might be German as they spoke in foreign accents. They turned out to be Polish airman based at R.A.F.Northolt.
When Wesley had been in the Navy, his father always complained that he was not an officer. He remained an Able Seaman for his entire career. As such Ada and Wesley must have been very proud of their son Steve, when he won a commission in the Fleet Air Arm. Steve had marked himself out as a man of potential by inventing the device that allowed the successful release of torpedoes from aircraft, a factor which proved crucial in the sinking of the Bismark. He won his wings and spent much of the war ferrying aircraft from Canada to the Shetland Islands.
William and Annie Wright's other Children:
The eldest, Lillian was Williams’s favourite. She married Philip Bevan who was described by Wesley as "a crawl-arse". He became a trolly-bus inspector. They had a daughter called Daisy.
Rosa married Bill Reid. They lived in Walmer Road and had two children George and Dorothy. One day Rosa’s younger brother George, newly home from sea, broke into her house to sleep off a drinking bout and "peed in the bed".
He, like his brothers joined the Navy, but died at the age of twenty-three of a stomach ulcer after being married for little more than a year.
Emily Matilda Shelvey (Nee. Ramsey):
1868 - 1930
By far the most colourful member of the family is Ada's mother, Emily and it is she who furnishes the greatest number of anecdotes in this family history. Her father had been a professional wine-taster (and a tea-totaler) from Kent and her mother had come from Aberdeen. She was a lively and kindly woman full of fun and stories of whom Uncle Steve said "had a terrific sense of humour".
She told the tale of how, before she and her future husband Frederick Shelvey (called "Watcherty Fred" by his mates) were married she went with him to meet his parents. His mother had died when he was a child and his father had remarried an Irish woman called Ada Tirrell. Emily said that she was a scheming woman who had sons of her own older than Frederick. She later made Frederick's father make the family farm over to them thereby cutting Frederick off from his birth-right. Ada took snuff and Emily said that she had "a brown dew-drop" hanging off of the end of her nose. Once, when Emily came for tea, Ada Tirrell made a pudding for tea, it fell off of her nose and into the mixture. Emily was so disgusted, that she would not eat anything in the house made by his step-mother again.
In addition to the farm, the Shelvey family had a mineral water bottling business (Shelvey's Mineral Waters) and my Mother used to be reminded of it as they advertised on the London Underground before the War. In marrying Ada Tirrell, Frederick's grand-father, who ran the business felt that his son had married beneath him. As a result, Frederick's father also found himself disinherited.
Frederick finally ended up working as a sewer man in London living with his wife at 3 Talbot Mews, North Kensington. He would collect rats that he found there and bring them home in a sack. He would keep them in an iron cage suspended from the kitchen ceiling until the week-end. On Sunday mornings, he would take them to a pub called The Roundhouse where bets would be taken on terriers killing them in an arena down in the cellar. Sometimes, a rat and a ferret would be put together in a cage placed in the Mews and bets taken on the outcome. Frederick and Emily had six children and not much money. Their marriage was not happy and in later years she would describe him as "a sod", who might come home late from the pub and throw his dinner into the fire.
One day in 1918, he was in a three foot sewer and felt a sharp pain in his back, he straightened up quickly and hit the back of his head hard on the roof. He came home and complained of a headache and died soon afterwards of a brain haemorrhage.
After a while, Emily's brother, Albert came to live with his sister. Albert had left his wife and family who, Emily said, were “making his life a misery". He worked as a lift-man at Claridge's and on one occasion took his great nephew, Steve to a ball where once a year "the posh would serve the poor". He was a favourite with Steve, Evelyn and Edna, giving them Bulls Eyes which he kept in an old wooden cabinet (which I still use to keep herbs in). ln his capacity as a lift-man he saw many rich and famous people. He was very fond of "Old Monaco", the Grandfather of Prince Renier.
When Evelyn was eight, she was given a gold locket on a chain with photographs of her parents inside. Edna was very upset because she wanted one. Albert then gave her another locket, which his brother-in-law had found in the sewers. He would call Edna, "little dolly-dimple”. In the late 1920's he caught his heel in the lift door, the wound went gangrenous and he died.
To her Grandchildren, Emily was always "Nan", and of an evening, she would send "Stevie" off to the pub with a jug or bottle for a quart of Porter. Then she would sing to the children sad songs like "The Mistletoe Bough" or “Only a Bird in a Silver Cage”. Sometimes she would sing something a bit more jolly like "Oh, for a Rolly-Polly" and Uncle Jim would give them “Only a Golden Picture".
It scored a victory over Tom on one occasion. It would coax the cat over to its cage by saying “come here puss, puss” in Nan’s voice. Purring, Tom went right up to the bars at which point Polly rushed up and pecked Tom on the nose. “Got you, got you" he screeched in triumph. Nan would try to catch the bird out by giving it a piece of sticky toffee, softened in her mouth. The wily bird would accept it but took it straight to the water trough to harden it before trying to eat it.
When Lyn and Steve were five or six years old, the bird escaped from its cage and flew about the room. Then to top everything off "it shit in the rice-pudding!" Times were hard so don't assume the pan was just tipped away! It was an affectionate bird and if asked, would give Nan a kiss with its little black tongue. Sometimes Lyn would steal its cashew nuts and eat them secretly. It didn't ever stop talking and could copy the song of Albert's linnets. When the bird eventually died of old age, Nan had it stuffed. When Nan herself died, her daughter, Lal kept the bird.
One important piece of equipment Nan possessed was an old box mangle for getting water out of the clothes she washed. The children were all frightened of it and believed it was haunted. Sometimes it would work on its own in the middle of the night.
Frederick and Emily Shelvey's Children:
Back in civilian life, he met a woman several years older than him called Emily. She was described as “a funny little thing" who's parents lived in the grounds of a manor house where her father looked after the gardens. Harry and Emily only came to Talbot Mews once, for tea. The meal consisted of "bread, new cakes and winkles". Emily turned up her nose and said "whatever are those?"
Wesley and Ada were the only relations from his side of the family invited to the wedding. Wesley managed to upset the wedding breakfast. When talking to Emily’s father, the man mentioned that Harry was twenty-six. "Oh, no he isn't, he's twenty-one". Emily's father exploded with rage.
It was said that as Emily became older, she became more reclusive and hide from visitors who came to their home outside Orpington.
After the end of the First World War, Harry and Emily dropped out of touch with the rest of the family; though when my parents and I met him in the early 1970's he said that he had tried to contact the family after the move from Talbot Hews by placing advertisements in newspapers.
The tale of Harry being “an Hofficer in Hafrica” was told and retold in the family over the next fifty-years and I was delighted to hear the story from his own lips, unprompted, when he was seventy-seven.
Lal married Jim Ingram. Uncle Jim was a great favourite with Steve, Lyn and Edna. He and Lal shared the flat in Talbot Hews where her mother, her sister and family lived for a period after the First World War. Their only child, Rene was a bridesmaid at her cousin Edna's wedding in 1942.
Rene married a man called Lee with whom she had five daughters.
She married Fred James who, like his father before him was also a "Totter” living in Talbot Mews. Fred had been a professional Light-weight Boxer and married Grace after his first wife had died of influenza in the First World War.
Fred's father, James, had a billy-goat which if it didn't like the look of you "butted you up the arse” according to Uncle Steve. He also kept a bullterrier called Dick. Fred James had two sisters, Lily and Rose who drove a trap and used to go down to the local corn chandlers.
Another dog Uncle Fred had was a great dane called Flossy. When she had pups, Steve asked for and was given one of them. Steve called the dog "Bob”. He-was eight at the time and the family was now living in the maisonette at 54 Oakworth Road. Wesley was worried about "the economics of the situation" so when Steve was out at Sunday School at Bethney Hall, he gave the dog to one of Ada's friends who subsequently used it as a guard dog in a local yard. In its place was “an insubstantial ball of fur". Wesley had bought a little scottie-pomeranian cross which he gave to Steve with a bow tied around its neck. He was broken hearted at first but in time he grew to love the dog.
Tony the Dog.
He didn't walk if he could ride and was well known by the bus conductors operating the old open-topped busses that used to run between Pangbourne Avenue and Cambridge Gardens. Tony would jump aboard when the bus stopped and go upstairs to the front of the bus, this being the last place the conductor got to. Jumping off, he would wait patiently outside Lancaster Road School and then when they came out, join in all of the children's games. He loved the "slippery slide" and even took part in skipping. He could jump the rope twice before he caught it with his tail. He was a first-class scrounger and was known in the fishmongers, the butchers, at Mrs.Rose's corner shop, at Jones's and Lee's where he would beg for Liquorice All sorts. Even those people who didn't know his name would know him as "ol' Brownie".
Each week the children would take an old push-chair loaded up with washing Nan had done back to their home in Oakworth Road where their mother would iron it. Tony would sit on top of it and "look as proud as punch".
Once Lyn and Edna tried to dress him up in baby clothes and put him into the pushchair, dressed in a bonnet, jacket and a pair of trousers. He took it all in good spirit but suddenly jumped out and ran down the street. They ran after him and laughed when he tried to cock his leg up a tree but was prevented from doing so by the trousers.
Tony lived to "a ripe old age” for a small dog and was missed by everyone who knew him.
One set of stables was used as a fruit warehouse. Grapes and tomatoes arrived packed in cork dust before being laid out on the fruit and vegetable barrows. Sometimes banana spiders would come out of the crates and children would use the "banana rope" which bound the crates to swing on. Another stable was a hay store and yet another was a rag-pickers den full of strange old women who frightened my Mother. Down at one end of the Mews, horses were killed with a spike and hammer. At one time a quantity of condemned treacle was stored there; some of it had been attacked by rats. People came to the Mews and bought it in large buckets. Steve, Lyn and Edna were sometimes allowed to lead the donkeys back to their stalls and perhaps help with grooming and feeding. In the evening, the lamp-lighter would come around on his bicycle with a long pole and light the lamps.
The James family also lived in the Mews and their son Fred married my Great Aunt Grace. Other families who lived in the Mews at the time were the Harwoods, the Mathews and Emily Bunting. In addition there was "Granny" Ibbs, who wore a bonnet and shawl, lace mittens and button boots, “Ol'Greens", an Irishman who always seemed to be drunk, "Lizzy" who wore long earrings and always wore her hair up. Next to her lived the Cousins family the Stillwells, the Crawleys and the Smiths whose son Billy "was a bit simple”. There was also Mr and Mrs Teddy and their two girls Kitty and Maisy.
At the end of the Boar war in 1902, there was a victory parade through the streets of London. Because he looked a bit like the South African's President Kruger, "Ol' Blower" was dressed up for the part to lead it. His friends got him "well oiled" beforehand so that he wouldn't object but he didn't like it when the crowd booed him and threw things at him.
Stephen Hollier. 10th. May 1992.
Stephen Hollier, biography 2007.
Keen to return to actual arts practice, he returned to college and trained as a garden designer, setting up his new business in 2004. He now lives on a narrowboat and travels abroad as much as he can.
Stephen has been married (and divorced) twice and has one son, now aged twenty. He has always played music and after a long period playing with folk bands, performs with the acoustic band Fat Freddy's Cat.
For more information about this excellent combo, check out fatfreddyscat.com"
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