Ada Alice.

8 Jun

A surprising but wonderful thing has happened to me. My daughter, Joanna, has just given birth to her third child, a girl, and has named her Ada Alice. These were the Christian names of my paternal and maternal grandmothers. So, in a stroke, five generations of our family have been connected!
I find it very touching that Joanna and her partner Allan Towns, value the importance of family and of remembering those who have gone before. I think this might have arisen from the family history research I did as one of my first post- retirement projects. This led me to acquire, with the help of my parents and my sister, photographs of my two beautiful grandmas when they were in their late teens. They are from another era, the now lost world of Edwardian Britain, before the horrors of the Great War blasted it into oblivion. Now in a new century and a new millennium no less, the naming of my new granddaughter links me to my two departed grandmothers, reactivating the fond memories I have of them. Ada and Alice are gone but far from forgotten.
Ada Millthorpe, my dad’s mother, was just 18 when she had her photograph taken. This was around the time she married my grandfather: George Arthur Bates. Similarly, my mum’s mother, Alice was captured on film, with my other Grandfather: Thomas Robert Bottoms, on the occasion of their engagement in 1913. Both photos were professional portraits executed in studios. In those distant days, having one’s photograph taken was a big, important event. They were the early days of the camera. The resulting pictures were the equivalents of the painted portraits that the aristocracy had commissioned in previous pre-celluloid eras.
My grandparents dressed up in their best clothes, their “Sunday best”, for their visit to the photographer’s studio. The black and white photographs show them striking serious poses. This was not an occasion for frivolity. Ada stands in front of a painted pastoral scene, surrounded by props that make it seem she is out for a stroll in her country estate. Her curly hair is swept back and tied back in bouffant style. She wears a cotton and lace blouse and a long, dark skirt with 3 frills at the bottom. She wears a delicate watch on a chain. It goes round her neck like a necklace and is pinned to the front of her blouse along with a flower decoration. The picture was taken in the Rembrandt Studio in Marringham, Notts.
Alice, in her portrait, sits seriously by her fiancĂ©e. Alice is also wearing an attractive white blouse and a dark skirt down to her ankles. Her blouse has “mutton leg” sleeves and embroidered, fancy cuffs. Like Ada’s it is probably made from cotton and lace. Alice’s hair is also swept back. She has a broach at her neck and a long, dark necklace. Beside her stands my granddad, proud and erect. He wears a dark suit and waistcoat, a white shirt with a starched collar and a white tie. Into his waistcoat pocket he has tucked his watch and chain.
In sharp contrast, Allan’s and Jo’s photos of the newly arrived Ada Alice are colourful, bright and informal. They were snapped on instant cameras phones within hours of her birth. Social networking then quickly took over. On her very first day on earth, Ada Alice Towns was the undisputed star attraction on her parents’ Facebook pages.( and on mine.) Now little Ada, although only a few days old,is having a blog written about her! Allan and Jo were able to share their great news in rapid time with a wide variety of friends and family members, who responded with their delighted messages of congratulation. After my teenage grandmas had had their formal, photographic portraits taken, there would then have been a wait of numerous days if not weeks before the finished product could be viewed and shared. The film had to be developed in a dark room and then the photos printed from the negatives. Finally they had to be delivered or collected. A great sense of anticipation and excitement must have built up. Today’s excitement is just as intense, but the long wait has been dispensed with. We now live in the age of digital photography. Ada Alice has been born into an instant world where communication is achieved through the click of an I-pad or a laptop.
Ada Millthorpe, my paternal grandmother, was born in 1889 in Barrow Hill, Staveley near Chesterfield, in north-east Derbyshire. Her father, John Swann Millthorpe was a hewer in a coal mine and later worked as a general labourer in the Iron and Steel works that dominated Barrow Hill.( but now closed and pulled down.) He had moved there from Wadsley Bridge, Yorkshire, presumably to get work.
In contrast, little Ada Alice Towns’s father, Allan, is a probation officer. he couldn’t work down a pit even if he wanted to, as they have virtually all been closed down. Ada Alice’s mum is a social worker. The senior Ada’s mother ( my Great Grandmother) was Harriet from Leicestershire. Ada was the second youngest of 6 children — 4 girls and 2 boys. Many people had large families in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ada married another collieryman, George Arthur Bates in 1908 at the tender age of 17. He was 7 years her senior. George Arthur, my paternal Grandfather, was a filler, loading the tubs with the coal extracted by the hewers from the face. Later, he too switched to the steel works after the 1926 General Strike led to a savage cut in miners’ wages.
The 1911 census finds George Arthur and Ada living as boarders in the house of her father. Even though their marriage was barely 3 years old, they already had 2 children, my aunties Evelyn and Doris. They went on to have 4 more children, ending up with 3 boys and 3 girls in all. My dad, Maurice Reuben, born in 1923, was the youngest.
I remember Ada senior, my Grandma Bates, as a gentle, kind, loving woman. I always liked being with her. We used to visit her and granddad every Sunday, after going to Sunday school at the Methodist chapel down the road. Grandma always had the kettle on, boiling water on the open fire and within minutes of our arrival was “mashing” (brewing) the tea in the pot. Then out came a barrel of sweet biscuits for us to enjoy. Ada must had a hard-working life, looking after her husband and 6 children. This was before the days of washing machines, electric or gas cookers and vacuum cleaners. She and my other Grandma, Alice, would have been constantly: washing, drying, ironing, cleaning, sewing, shopping, cooking and baking. Washing was a case of getting out the poss tub and stick and laboriously heating up buckets of water, rather than just slinging the soiled clothes into an automatic machine as is the case today. For a time Ada was helped by my Auntie Harriet who came home after her marriage broke up. Harriet’s child was brought up by George and Ada as their own to avoid upsetting gossip. So they really reared 7 children.
In their later years, George and Ada also kept pigs, chickens, pigeons and a pony on a small-holding. Going to the toilet in their house was always a bit of an adventure, as the white-washed out-house where it was located, was full of pungently smelling sacks of animal and bird feed.
Alice, my maternal Grandmother, was born Alice Anne Barson in New Whittington, Chesterfield in August, 1892. Her father was Harry Barson, from Chesterfield, another hewer down a coal mine. Her mother, Alice Bloomfield hailed from Eye in Suffolk. The coal mines and steel works of north Derbyshire had lured her family away from their rural, agricultural life in East Anglia. So, it seems that the name Alice has been passed down through the generations. My tiny grand-daughter may not know it yet, but Ada Alice will grow up to discover that 2 Great, Great Grandmas and 1 Great, Great, Great Grandma all share her names
Alice Anne Barson married my Granddad: Thomas Robert Bottoms in 1915 in Chesterfeild. It was in the middle of the First World War but Thomas did not go away to fight in the trenches, as he worked in the iron and steel works, an essential industry in the war effort. Thomas was a furnace-man. This protection from conscription also applied to my other Granddad as coal mining was another vital war occupation. Thomas and Alice went on to have 3 children: Leslie, Victor and my mother Jessie, who was born in 1926. ( The same year as the Queen as she never gets tired of telling me!) This side of our family were very religious and active in the non-conformist Methodist movement. Granddad Thomas led the way — being a lay preacher, an organist and chapel choir leader.
Like Ada, Alice worked hard to bring up her family without the aid of modern, labour-saving devices. She too had an iron “range” which consisted of an open coal fire, a cast-iron oven and hot plates where she would place her irons to heat up. All other cooking was done on a little double gas ring on the small work surface near the sink. This was Grandma’s kitchen, tucked into a corner of the living room. They did have another ground floor room but this was kept for “best” just in case special visitors came. Alice loved baking. I remember her jam and curd tarts, delicious scones and large trays of sponge cake, spread with icing and sprinkled with desiccated coconut. For some strange reason she called this “buffalo cake.” Alice also baked the weirdly named “Az Baz” which was a bit of left over pastry ( after making her excellent pies) with a jam filling. It was a favourite treat of mine.
The original Ada and Alice grew up in a vastly different world from their newly arrived descendent. Edwardian England had few cars, no television, no computers, no Internet. Most people did not have music players and radios were rare in the early 20th century. Provisions were bought from a corner shop not a supermarket. Many people did not worry about their carbon footprints or food-miles because they grew much of their own fruit and veg . Most ordinary folk had no landline telephone and mobile phones were unimaginable, science fiction items of the distant future. People wrote letters using pen and paper rather than typing emails and entertainment consisted of singing round the piano or doing jigsaws. Both my grandmas knitted and sewed, making and mending clothes for their families. I wonder whether the new Ada Alice will become adept at darning socks like her namesakes? More like she will be successfully mastering the latest electronic gadgets and technologies and leaving me standing! She will be comfortable in a world that is increasingly leaving my generation behind.
I spent a lot of time with my Grandma Alice. We were very close. Even as a teenager, when you would have expected me to be listening to pop music or chasing girls, I spent most weekends with her. I would take the bus there straight from school on Fridays. Later I went on my motor scooter. She lived in a two-up two-down terraced house in a courtyard shared with 3 other households. It had a toilet block in the middle of the yard and an old concrete air-raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. Mum remembers going in there during the Luftwaffe bombing raids of the Second World War.
The newest addition to our family, Ada Alice Towns has triggered all these precious recollections. Even now only a few days old, she has already had a big impact on my life. I have my daughter and her partner to thank for this. Ada Alice’s arrival brings hope for the future and memories of the past. Looking at her pictures on the computer screen ( and in real life) with her curly, ginger hair and tiny, delicate features, I wonder what life has in store for her? She has been born into a constantly changing, kaleidoscopic world where exciting opportunities will come to her thick and fast. She is lucky to have the stability provided by the unconditional love of 2 families. With her big sisters, Esme and Nin, Ada Alice will carry our family forward into a new generation.
Their world is greatly different from that frequented by the original Ada and Alice in the previous centuries. However, one important thing has not changed in all that time. That is the continued importance of family, whose love and support sustains us throughout our lives. I hope to pass on some of the love that I received from Grandma Ada and Grandma Alice to the new Ada Alice and her sisters. In that way the gulf of time that separates them will simply evaporate and the generations will melt into one.


2 Responses to “Ada Alice.”

  1. Gerry Fenge (@GerryFenge) June 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Wow, congrats on the expanding of the clan!

  2. Catherine Bates June 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    Great piece dad! lovely for Ada-Alice to read when she is older. and for us to read now.

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