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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #140

Dear Reader,

This week, I made great progress with the writing of Operation Rose, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE book seven, and Fruit, book four in my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War saga. Covid slowed me down over recent months, but this week was much more like it.

In this month’s issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads…

Crime and thriller author Shawn Reilly Simmons interviewed by Wendy H Jones. Plus, Author Features, Nature, Photography, Poetry, Short Stories, Young Writers, National Batman Day, and so much more!

You discover all sorts when you look through parish records.

My 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan was born in Stepney, London in 1842. In 1851 with her sisters Amelia, 13, and Mary Ann, 6, she was living in 28 Church Road, St-George-in-the-East, London in the shadow of this impressive Anglican church. Lucy’s parents were John Glissan, a surgeon/chemist/dentist and Sarah Glissan née Foreman, a nurse/chemist/dentist.

In 1861 my 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan, 19, was living with her sisters, Amelia, 23, and Sarah Ann, 16, in 2 Charles Street, St George-in-the-East, London. All three were unmarried tailoresses.

A baby also lived with the sisters, William, their ‘brother’. A problem: their mother, Sarah, was a widow of seven years and past childbearing age. To save face, the sisters had lied to the enumerator. So, which one of them gave birth to William?

The answer: my 3 x great grandmother Lucy Sarah Glissan. Shortly after the census was taken, Lucy Sarah married William’s father, Richard Stokes. Sadly, shortly after that William died. The couple produced seven more children including my direct ancestor William Richard Fredrick Stokes.

Lucy Sarah Glissan married Richard Stokes, who later ran a furniture-making business, at St Mary’s, Stepney on 27 May 1861. Both were nineteen, and literate. By 1870 80% of males were literate compared to 75% of females, up from 66% and 50% in thirty years. Lucy Sarah’s younger sister, Mary Ann, who witnessed the wedding, was also literate.

Roath Village School, Cardiff, 1899 (National Museum of Wales).

Lucy Sarah Glissan gave birth to eight children in twenty years 1861 – 1881. Her first and eighth child both died in infancy. The other six prospered. In the Victorian era the average number of children per family was six.

Family portrait, (not the Glissans) 1893.

The Glissan sisters were close, so we should take a moment to explore Amelia and Mary Ann’s lives. Amelia married Charles Samuel, a mariner from Antwerp. The couple did not have any children. When Amelia died in 1894, Charles fell on hard times and entered the workhouse. Mary Ann married James Reynolds, a gun maker/engineer. The couple produced only one child, who died young.

Lucy Sarah died on 9 October 1888 at Red Lion Street, Shoreditch.

***

My 4 x great grandfather John Glissan was born in 1803 in Ireland. In 1824 Apothecaries Hall in Dublin recognised him as an apothecary with a licence to trade. A few years later, John moved to London where he found employment assisting John William Keys Parkinson, son of James Parkinson, the doctor who gave his name to Parkinson’s Disease.

Photographed in 1912 this is 1 Hoxton Square, London, the home and office of Parkinson and Son, surgeons and apothecaries. In the late 1820s my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan assisted the son, James, and added the skills of dentist and surgeon to his trade of apothecary. Picture: Wellcome Trust.

17 September 1829 a report in the London Courier detailing the evidence John Glissan, a surgeon, gave to an inquest into the death of Henry Kellard, a pauper.

In the early 1830s my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan left Parkinson and Son and set up his own business as a surgeon/chemist/dentist. Initially, he struggled and was forced to go on the road as a traveller, selling his medicines. In 1834 he was declared insolvent. Life for him in London was tough.

In early June 1833, at nine o’clock in the evening, Susannah Griffiths left her lodgings at 12 Dyer Street, London. She walked along George Street to the junction of Blackfriars Road, one of the most fashionable roads in nineteenth century London. She made her way to 147 Blackfriars Road and the shop owned by my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan. There, Susannah purchased a quantity of arsenic.

Returning home, Susannah set her needlework to one side and wrote a note, quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain.” She added, “I have taken poison.” Then she placed the note under her pillow and swallowed the arsenic.

Susannah was educated. She understood Shakespeare. I imagine that she was a sensitive soul. A coroner’s inquest held at Christ Church Workhouse absolved John Glissan of any blame and concluded that Susannah died whilst being of unsound mind.

Two days after the newspaper report on Susannah’s tragic suicide, this mysterious message appeared in the Morning Advertiser. I’m not sure what to make of the note. There were no follow up messages, so I’m not sure what my ancestor John made of it either.

17 November 1833. If gout was your problem, my 4 x great grandfather John Glissan, a surgeon/dentist/chemist, was your man. In the 1830s, John appeared in many newspapers advertisements promoting potions for all manner of ailments.

16 February 1834. Another advertisement featuring John Glissan. This advert ran on a regular basis in the Weekly True Sun.

Top of the Pops, 16 February 1834. Note that female singers dominated. Madame Vestris (pictured) was Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (née Elizabetta Lucia Bartolozzi; 3 March 1797 – 8 August 1856) an actress and a contralto opera singer. She was also a theatre producer and manager.

For the first thirty years of his life John Glissan concentrated on learning the skills of a chemist, surgeon and dentist, and on establishing his business. In 1834, life offered a new challenge. More about that next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah

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Sam Smith Mystery Series

Dear Reader #138

Dear Reader,

I’m delighted with this insight in a review for Damaged because it sums up my vision for the series. “Sam is a very compelling modern day female film noir detective. That I realize is a bold statement. Sam surrounds herself with good people and manages them incredibly well.”

Published on 27 February, Operation Cameo, Eve’s War book six, is a top thirty hot new release 🙂

My latest translations, the Spanish and Portuguese versions of The Olive Tree: Leaves. A Spanish Civil War Saga. I’ve worked with Ana on a number of translations and she’s great to work with. Nelson was excellent too, and great to have the series available in Spanish.

My latest article for the Seaside News appears on page 48 of the magazine.

My 8 x great grandfather John Cotterell (1718-75) was a ‘Chinaman and Glass Seller’. Here’s his trade card from 1752. John sold ‘a great variety of glasses, old as well as new china and lacquered wares with various sorts of fine teas, coffee, chocolate and snuff, Indian fans and pictures, etc. Wholesale and Retail at the lowest prices’.

My 8 x great grandfather John Cotterell’s store, selling a variety of items imported from India, was located at the ‘Indian Queen and Canister against the Mansion House’, pictured shortly after John’s time (1718-75). The exact address was 9 Mansion House Street. John’s business appeared in the trade directories for over thirty years.

We all have favourite relatives and the same is true of ancestors. My 4 x great grandmother Jane Esther Axe is one of my favourite ancestors. An educated woman, Jane was born on 10 October 1812 and baptised on 15 August 1813 (a long gap between birth and baptism) in St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, pictured.

The church is mentioned in the line “When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch” from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons while the crypt beneath the church is the final resting place of many actors from the Tudor period.

My 4 x great grandparents William Stokes and Jane Esther Axe posted their marriage banns in April and May 1835. However, something cropped up because they cancelled the marriage and posted the banns again in August and September. They married on 20 September 1835.

I have a strong sense that my 4 x great grandmother Jane Esther Axe was a well organised woman who knew what she was about. She had four children in six years, but after the age of thirty, no more, which suggests birth control. And despite having five brothers, she was the executrix of her father’s will.

My 4 x great grandfather William Stokes was a corn meter. Corn meters had the exclusive right of measuring all corn delivered within the city and port of London. They were the link between the cargo ships and the markets. Image: William’s workplace, the Customs House on the Thames.

4 Nov 1857. My 4 x great grandfather William Stokes’ son, William Fredrick, aged 21, is awarded ‘The Freedom of the City of London’, which meant he had the right to trade in the City and become a member of a guild or livery company.

The electoral register for 1862, which featured my 4 x great grandfather William Stokes. As a property owner, he was one of only one million men in England and Wales eligible to vote (out of seven million). The Reform Act of 1867 doubled that number. The Tories introduced the Act thinking it would be a vote winner, but they lost the 1868 general election.

The Stokes branch of my family, from Pangbourne, Berkshire, were  carpenters for hundreds of years, the family business passing from father to son. In 1794 and 1795 my 5 x great grandfather Richard Stokes took on two apprentices, William Reeves and William Smith, which suggests his business was doing well.

The poll books of 1796, when my 5 x great grandfather Richard Stokes was twenty-one, and tax register of 1798 reveal that he owned land and therefore was one of the relatively few people in the country eligible to vote. The records also reveal that Richard lived next door to the Monkhouse family. On 15 May 1797 he married their daughter, Martha.

My 6 x great grandfather Richard Wilder Stokes was born on 10 October 1742. A carpenter, he died shortly before his 34th birthday. He didn’t leave a will, which suggests his death was sudden, maybe the result of an accident in his carpentry workshop?

A year later, Richard’s widow, Sarah, married John Challis, a member of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, later renamed the Grenadier Guards. Sadly, Sarah died sixteen months after the wedding.

Beyond the basic dates: born 12 October 1712 in Pangbourne; married Lucy Wilder 17 February 1736, also in Pangbourne; died 7 July 1776, once again in Pangbourne, nothing is known of my  7 x great grandfather Thomas Stokes. The same is true of his father, Thomas: only the dates survive. Born 21 August 1681; married Katherine Whittick 14 July 1707; died 4 June 1754, all in Pangbourne. So, we move on to my 9 x great grandfather, William Stokes.

The will of my 9 x great grandfather William Stokes, carpenter of Pangbourne, shines a light on his times. The will dates from 23 October 1727. 

“I give my loving son Thomas (my ancestor) all those my four Acres of Land lying and being in the parish of Whitchurch in the County of Oxon and all other my lands in the said County of Oxon to hold to him, his heirs and assignes for ever immediately after my decease and ten pounds in money.”

“I give to my son William Stoakes thirty pounds in money. I give to my said son William the Table that stands in the Kitchen of the house wherein I now dwell the Cupboard and the Bedstead.”

“I give to my Son John Stoakes ten pounds in money.” 

“I give to my Daughter, the Wife of Samuel, Mary Wright twenty pounds in money. All the rest and residue of my household goods and other goods (ready money excepted) not herein before bequeathed I give to and amongst my said four Children, Thomas, William, John and Mary share and share alike.”

“I give to my Granddaughter Mary Stoakes daughter of my said Son William ten pounds in money to be paid by my Executor herein after named att her age of twenty one years or day of marryage which shall first happen and in case my said Grandaughter dye before that time then I give the same ten pounds unto my Grandson David Stokes her brother att his age of one and twenty years.”

“I give to my two Grandchildren William Stoakes and John Stoakes sons of my said son John Stoakes five pounds apeice in money to be paid also att their respective age of twenty one years and if either of my said last mentioned two Grandchildren dye before that time then I will that the part or portion of either of them so dying shall be paid to the survivor of my said two last mentioned Grandchildren and if both happen to dye before that time then I give the said five pounds and five pounds to and amongst such children or child (if but one) of my said son John as shall be then living att the time of their decease share and share alike.”

“I give to my Grandaughter Sarah Wright five pounds in money to be paid also att her age of one and twenty years or day of marryage and if she dye before that time then I give the same five pounds to her sister Mary Wright.”

“I give To my two Grandsons William Stoakes and George Stoakes Sons of my Son George Stoakes deceased five pounds apeice to be paid also To them att their respective age of one and twenty years but If either of them may said two last mentioned Grandsons dye Before that time then I will that the part or portion him so Dying shall be paid to the survivor of them attaining that age.”

“All the rest and residue of my Estate whatsoever not herein Before bequeathed I give and bequeath unto my said son William Stoakes whom I do hereby make and Ordaine full and sole Executor of this my Will.”

William left £12,500 in today’s money. I find it interesting that, as a carpenter in Pangboune, he owned land in Oxon. I suspect that he inherited that land, which points towards the Stokes family’s roots.

My 10 x great grandfather Thomas Stokes was born on 5 May 1626 in Whitchurch, Oxon. He married Jane Deane on 10 February 1651 in Caversham, Oxford and died on 16 December 1682 in Tilehurst, Berkshire thus confirming the Stokeses connection between Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

In the 1600s, through civil war, religious conflicts and plagues records were often lost or destroyed, so unless you can connect to an established pedigree identifying ancestors becomes harder. 

Thomas Stokes married Jane Deane in 1651 and there is a suggestion that the Deane family were one of the earliest settlers in America, but that requires further research. In 1736, another Thomas Stokes married Lucy Wilder. An established pedigree does exist for the Wilder family, so my next task is to see where my ancestors fit into that pedigree.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #127

Dear Reader,

Preparing for 2022. The new year will see the continuation of my Sam Smith and Eve’s War series, the conclusion of my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War Saga, and the start of a new series, Women at War, five novels about ‘ordinary’ women fighting fascism in France, Spain and Bulgaria, 1936 – 1945.

Exciting news. My Sam Smith Mystery Series will be translated into Italian. We will make a start on Sam’s Song this week. As a European, I’m delighted that my books are available in twelve languages.

A rarity in the Victorian era, a husband’s petition for divorce, filed 16 November 1883. The husband stated that on ‘diverse occasions’ his wife committed adultery with ‘sundry persons’. Marriage dissolved. Damages awarded to the husband.

For Armistice Day.

My latest genealogy article for the Seaside News appears on page 36.

My direct ancestor Sir Edward Stradling was born c1295, the second son of Sir Peter de Stratelinges and Joan de Hawey. The exact location of his birthplace is unknown, but likely to be the family estates in Somerset.

When Sir Peter died, Joan married Sir John Penbrigg, who was granted wardship over Sir Peter’s estates and both young sons, Edward and his older brother, John, until they reached their twenty-first birthdays.

As an adult, Edward was Lord of St. Donats in Glamorgan, and Sheriff, Escheator, Justice of the Peace, and Knight of the Shire in Parliament for Somerset and Dorset. He rose to such prominence through his staunch support for Edward III.

St Donats Castle, a print from 1775.

Edward Stradling married Ellen, daughter and heiress of Sir Gilbert Strongbow. They produced the following children:

Edward (my direct ancestor) who married Gwenllian Berkerolles, daughter of Roger Berkerolles of East Orchard, Glamorgan.

John, who married Sarah, another daughter of Roger Berkerolles. Two bothers marrying two sisters.

When John died, c1316, Sir Edward inherited the following lands:

St Donat’s Castle, Glamorgan.

Combe Haweye, Watchet Haweye, Henley Grove by Bruton, Somerset, all of which included three messuages, a mill, five carucates, two virgates of land, thirty-one acres of meadow, and one hundred and forty-one acres of woodland.

Halsway and Coleford in Somerset.

Compton Hawey in Dorset.

Through his wife’s inheritance, he also obtained two manors in Oxfordshire. 

As Lord of St. Donats, Sir Edward rose against the Crown in the Despenser War of 1321–22. The war was a baronial revolt against Edward II led by marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, fuelled by opposition to Hugh Despenser the Younger, the royal favourite.

15th-century illustration showing Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer; execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger in the background.

The Crown arrested Sir Edward in January 1322 and seized all his lands in England and Wales. It took two years and a loyalty payment of £200 – £92,000 in today’s money – before his estates were restored.

When Edward II was deposed in 1327, Edward Stradling was knighted by Edward III. Several appointments followed, including Sheriff and Escheator of Somerset and Dorset 1343, MP for Somerset 1343, and Justice of the Peace for Somerset and Dorset 1346–47. On 11 September 1346, Sir Edward was one of three knights of Somerset at Edward III’s Westminster parliament.

Sir Edward was one of the chief patrons of Neath Abbey and on 20 October 1341 he gifted the monastery one acre of land. He died c1363, either in St Donats or Somerset.

The Strandling line continued through the second Sir Edward, born in 1318 in St Donats Castle to Sir William, born in 1365 in St. Donats, to another Sir Edward, born in 1389 in St Donats. This Sir Edward was Chamberlain and Receiver of South Wales, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset 1424-6, Steward and Receiver of Cantreselly and Penkelly, Keeper of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire (appointed 22 August 1439), Constable of Taunton 1434-42, and Knight of the Sepulchre.

Already well established amongst the nobility, the Stradling’s influence increased through the deeds of the third Sir Edward. He married Jane, daughter of Cardinal Beaufort, great uncle of Henry VI. This marriage ensured that he held a powerful position within the royal court. 

Administrative posts in South Wales and money followed. As with modern nobility, medieval nobility was a moneymaking-racket, a mafia, exploiting the poor. Lords and knights gave money to the Church to assuage their sins. Many lords were brutal and ruled through fear. Some, and I hope Edward was amongst them, used their positions of privilege and wealth to better their communities. For Edward these communities included parishes in Glamorgan, Somerset, Dorset and Oxfordshire. Of particular interest to me is the Stradling manor of Merthyr Mawr, a beautiful village, which is on my doorstep.

Sir Edward fought at Agincourt. He was captured by the French, and wool, a staple product of South Wales, was shipped to Brittany to defray his ransom.

In 1411, Sir Edward Stradling went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1452, aged sixty-three, he went on a second pilgrimage, but did not return. He died on 27 June 1452 in Jerusalem.

View of Jerusalem (Conrad Grünenberg, 1487).

To be a peasant or a noble in medieval times? Although I’m descended from noble houses, my inclination is to side with the peasants. Life is hard for the poor in any age, and it was certainly hard in medieval times. Against that, the nobles had to contend with political intrigues, treachery, wars and pilgrimages, from which many did not return. 

Given a choice, I think I would select a middle course, neither peasant nor noble, but an observer, a chronicler, recording my life and times. After all, through fiction, that’s what I do today.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #115

Dear Reader,

Published this week, The Olive Tree: Leaves, part three of my Spanish Civil War saga. This story focuses on Dr Martinez’s attempts to protect his daughter, Espe, from the advancing fascists, and journalist Bernie Miller’s efforts to smuggle pictures of fascist atrocities out of Spain.

More details here 👇

I’ve discovered a hairdresser in the family. In 1790, my 6 x great grandfather Thomas Meek was educating an apprentice while fashioning the hair of the wealthy ladies of Gloucester in the style of Marie Antoinette, pictured here in the same year, 1790.

Known for being straight-laced, especially in photographs, here a Victorian couple reveal a playful side to their nature.

The son of Thomas Thompson Dent and Dorothy Hornsby, my 3 x great grandfather Richard Davis Dent was born in Bowes, Yorkshire and baptised there on 19 August 1839. Along with his parents and four siblings six year old Richard set sail for New York on the Rappahanock, arriving on 24 June 1846 before making his way to Canada.

In Canada, Richard and his family settled in Halton County where he worked on his father’s farm. Richard remained on the farm until his early twenties when he decided to leave.

Leaving must have been a big decision for Richard because the farm was prosperous, he was living amongst family and this combination offered a degree of security. That said, two of his sisters had died shortly before he made his decision and maybe their passing was a factor.

Richard returned to Britain, to London’s Docklands, where he found employment on the docks and on ships that were looking for crew members. Maybe his boyhood voyage on the Rappahanock hadsowed a seed for Richard. Not content to work within the confines of a farm he sought the freedom of the open ocean.

London Docks, 1845.

In London, Richard also found a wife, Sarah Ann Cottrell. Sarah Ann was born on 24 June 1848 in Bethnal Green, London to Matthew Cottrell and Sarah Gadsden. Matthew was a market porter while the Gadsden’s hailed from Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Matthew and Sarah married on 9 January 1843 in St Mary, Haggerston, after the birth of their first two daughters.

Between 1870 and 1882 Richard and Sarah produced six children including my direct ancestor Jane, born 10 September 1870 in Whitechapel. You can read Jane’s story here https://hannah-howe.com/ancestry/dent-yorkshire-canada-london/

In 1881 Richard and Sarah were living in Hackney with their children. Richard worked on the docks while Sarah was a housewife. Life for a docker was hard. Colonel G. R. Birt, the general manager at the Millwall Docks, gave evidence to a parliamentary committee, on the physical condition of the workers: 

“The poor fellows are miserably clad, scarcely with a boot on their foot, in a most miserable state … These are men who come to work in our docks who come on without having a bit of food in their stomachs, perhaps since the previous day; they have worked for an hour and have earned 5d.; their hunger will not allow them to continue: they take the 5d. in order that they may get food, perhaps the first food they have had for twenty-four hours.”

These conditions led to the notorious dock strike of August 1889, which resulted in a victory for the 100,000 strikers. That victory led to the establishment of trade unions amongst London’s dockers and is widely considered to be a milestone in the development of the British labour movement.

Manifesto of the South Side Central Strike Committee, issued during the strike.

With pay and conditions at the docks poor, Richard found employment on a merchant ship, the Stadacona, a name associated with a sixteenth century Iroquoian village located near Quebec City. 

Richard’s Stadacona was registered in Cardiff, Wales although a ship of the same name was launched by the Canadian navy in 1899. Thirty-five year old Charles Stocker mastered the Stadacona and with a crew of nineteen, including Richard, he set sail from Pensacola, Florida heading for Cardiff. Sadly, the Stadacona never arrived. On 13 March 1883 a shipping register recorded that the ship foundered, location unknown. and that all hands were lost.

Stadacona, 1899 version.

In the 1800s icebergs from Canada and Antarctica drifted into the waters off Florida, and it’s possible that the Stadacona stuck one of them. Equally, a storm might have caused the disaster. Whatever the reason, the sinking of the Stadacona must have been a horrific scene.

Richard’s tragic fate calls to mind this beautiful song by Mark Knopfler, ‘The Dream Of The Drowned Submariner’.

Lyrics: We run along easy at periscope depth

 Sun dappling through clear water

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Far away from the slaughter

Your hair is a strawflower that sings in the sun

 My darling, my beautiful daughter

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Cast away on the water

 From down in the vault, down in the grave

 Reaching up to the light on the waves

 So she did run to him over the grass

 She fell in his arms and he caught her

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Far away on the water

 Far away on the water

A widow, Sarah Ann faced the daunting prospect of keeping her family fed and housed. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 stated that widows were entitled to outdoor relief, meaning that they could receive assistance from outside the workhouse in the form of money, medical services, food, coal, and/or clothes. However, this assistance only lasted for the first six months of their bereavement.

In 1891 Sarah Ann was ‘living on her own means’, which suggests that she might have received a pension. More likely, her family were supporting her. Her son, Arthur Davis Dent, was living with his mother and he had secured a good job as a market porter at Billingsgate. 

When Arthur married, Sarah Ann lived with her father, Matthew Cottrell, an eighty-four year old widower. Sarah Ann supported herself and her father through employment as a charwoman, the Victorian name for a part-time domestic servant. This might sound like degrading work, and in some instances it was, but from my knowledge of elderly relatives, some of whom were charwomen, pride was often involved; to them, doing a good job was important, and they held their own in terms of their social standing.

London street dealer, 1877.

In 1911 Sarah Ann’s lived with her son Arthur, at thirty-eight already five years a widower, and his four children, aged six to fourteen. Obviously, she took on the mother’s role for these children. That task complete, Sarah Ann moved to West Ham in London. She died there during the summer of 1934 aged eight-six.

Although I have no letters to prove that the Dents in Canada corresponded with the Dents in London, it’s natural to assume that they did. And despite the fate that befell Richard, two of his children decided to make a life for themselves in Canada. On 27 September 1896 twenty year old Eliza Dent arrived in Philadelphia bound for Ontario. What a journey. What an adventure. Two years later she married Francis Gowan, originally from Ireland, and the couple produced three sons. They farmed land in Nottawasaga, Simcoe North, Ontario. Eliza died there in 1963, aged eight-seven.

Eliza’s brother, Robert Dent, arrived in Ontario in the early 1900s. He married Edith Eugenia Mollett. More about Robert next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #105

Dear Reader,

This month, I am writing Leaves, book three in The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War saga. This story features the Battle of Brunete and the plight of refugee children, like six year old Esperanza Careaga (pictured), who fled the fascists for saver havens elsewhere.

A post office directory from 1865 confirming that my 3 x great grandfather Richard Stokes was a furniture maker in Finsbury, London. From the 1600s every member of my Stokes family except one was a carpenter, originally based in Pangbourne (Richard’s father, William, was a weights and measures man, overseeing the distribution of corn as it arrived in London). 

Richard married Lucy Sarah Glissan, the daughter of a chemist and a nurse. The couple had seven children, including my direct ancestor, William Richard Frederick Stokes, another furniture maker.

My article about SOE heroine Eileen Nearne appears on page 36 of this month’s Seaside News.

My 3 x great grandmother Fanny Brereton was baptised on 19 November 1837 in Holy Trinity, Bristol (pictured). Her father, James Richard Brereton, a tinker, died shortly before her birth.

With William Bick, Fanny produced eleven children. However, she only married William when she was a month pregnant with their seventh child.

The family moved from Bristol to Hampshire, back to Bristol, before settling in London. James Richard Brereton was born in London and the family had relatives there.

William Bick worked as a stoker in Battersea Gas Works. The couple gave each of their children two names, so managed to think of twenty-two names, including Albert Charles Bick, their last born and my direct ancestor, who died during the First World War.

The last of my Heroines of SOE articles features Nancy Wake, a truly exceptional woman.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born on 30 August 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand. Two years later, her family relocated to Sydney, Australia.

Nancy was very fond of her father. However, he returned to New Zealand leaving his wife and six children in Sydney. The separation ensured that Nancy endured a difficult childhood and aged sixteen she ran away from home. At first, she worked as a nurse. Then a legacy from a relative enabled her to travel to New York, London and Paris, where she reinvented herself as a journalist.

Nancy Wake

In 1937, Nancy met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married on 30 November 1939. The couple lived in Marseille and were there when the Germans invaded.

Never a passive person, Nancy responded by becoming an ambulance driver. Then, after the fall of France in 1940, she joined an escape network known as the Pat O’Leary Line. The Gestapo pursued members of the Line and because of Nancy’s ability to elude capture they named her the ‘White Mouse’. 

In November 1942, the Nazis occupied Vichy France, increasing the danger for Nancy and members of the escape line. When a traitor betrayed the network, she had no option but to flee France. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, decided to stay in Marseille. 

Although Nancy loved Henri, he was known for his affairs and the couple parted on the tacit understanding that neither party would remain faithful. Their relationship was an unconventional one and, personally, I believe that’s why fictional accounts of Nancy’s life have failed to capture the public’s imagination. Indeed, she was unimpressed with a well-made biopic released in her lifetime because she felt it focused on her relationship with Henri and not on her amazing wartime exploits.

The Gestapo captured Henri and murdered him. Although she suspected, Nancy didn’t learn of Henri’s fate until after the Allies had liberated France. The news devastated her and although she later remarried she lived with that sadness for the rest of her long life.

After escaping to Britain, Nancy joined the Special Operations Executive. Vera Atkins, a mother hen to the female members of the SOE, described Nancy as, “A real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well.” Her intelligence record noted her “cheerful spirit and strength of character.” While M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of the SOE, said, “Her irrepressible, infectious, high spirits were a joy to everyone who worked with her.”

Nancy’s honours. From Wikipedia.

During the night of 29–30 April 1944, Nancy parachuted into Auvergne, France as a member of a three-person team. The team liaised with the Resistance, which often tried Nancy’s patience because of internal bickering and local politics. 

Nancy’s duties included surveying, collecting arms and money from parachute drops, training the local Maquis and engaging in sabotage. 

Setbacks occurred, which forced the Resistance and SOE into retreat. During one desperate episode, Nancy cycled 500 kilometres through enemy territory in 72 hours in search of a wireless, a feat she later recalled with justified pride.

Nancy participated in attacks on Nazi convoys. She also took part in defensive actions when the Nazis attacked the Resistance. Her main tasks were centred on organising the Maquis and distributing money and arms. Nevertheless, Nancy was active in all aspects of Resistance work and she killed several members of the Gestapo including a sentry with her bare hands. During a television interview in the 1990s, she described the incident. “They’d taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised.”

After the liberation of France, Nancy returned to Britain. She mourned Henri then set about the next phase of her life, which included a return to Australia where in 1949 she stood as a Liberal candidate in the federal election running against the deputy prime minister. She achieved a thirteen percent swing, but narrowly lost the vote – 53% to 47%. In 1951, Nancy tried again and came within 250 votes of success. 

Nancy was a liberal in the widest sense. She was sympathetic towards homosexual members of the SOE at a time when hostility and prejudice were the norm. She possessed a heart of gold, and nerves of steel. 

Seeking a new challenge, Nancy returned to Britain where she worked as an intelligence officer at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. In December 1957 she married RAF officer, John Forward. In the early 1960s, the couple relocated to Australia where Nancy resumed her interest in politics.

In 1985, Nancy published her autobiography, The White Mouse. John Forward died on 19 August 1997 and in 2001 Nancy moved again, returning to London. She became a resident at the Stafford Hotel in St. James’ Place, near Piccadilly before ending her days at the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women. 

Nancy died on 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital. Her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, at Montluçon, central France.

Is my character Eve Beringar based on Nancy Wake? Yes, to some extent, but the overall answer is ‘no’. Eve is a composite character based on the lives and exploits of twenty-one SOE agents. I did consider writing about Nancy Wake. However, I felt that aspects of her relationship with her husband, Henri Fiocca, did not translate well into my fiction. 

Nancy Wake was an unconventional woman fighting an unconventional war. She was a remarkable woman, a true force of nature and undoubtedly one of the greatest heroines of the Special Operations Executive.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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