Temple of Relief

A ‘temple of relief’ pictured in Birmingham the 70’s. And a similar, though a more  grand affair, under the railway arches near to the Bull Ring. I think this has been bricked up now


I must put this down…

"M's" mother - Annie's  -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

“M’s” mother – Annie’s -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

I’ve been immersed of late in another search into the past. Sue’s aunt by marriage, “aunt M”, now 83, was adopted as a baby. All we knew was her mothers name and the fact that she had returned from Canada when aunt M was just 3 months old.

The ultimate, long stretch objective was to discover who aunt M’s father was. People in the family, particularly aunt M’s grandson, wanted to know where they came from.We started the search with just a name, Annie Martin, and a simple fact: ‘aunt M and her mother came back from Canada in 1930′ From that simple beginning we discovered a tale uncovering:-

  • a family of miners and domestics from North Wales some of whom moved to Durham,
  • relatives going back to the mid 1700’s,
  • a millionaire umbrella manufacturer from Manchester,
  • a 70+ man taking advantaged of his domestic servant and fathering 3 children with her, one of whom was aunt M’s mother,
  • disappearing money  and property equivalent to over a Million pounds today,
  • a peep behind the curtains of life in a Victorian seaside town,
  • family emigration to Canada,
  • the effects the great depression of the 30’s made on the family,
  • a widow who did well for herself and her family in Toronto, Canada,
  • the internal migration of a Cornish family to booming Manchester of the 1800’s,
  • love and loss in Lancashire,
  • aunt M’s mother marrying and having 2 children – aunt M’s half sisters,
  • lifelong spinster and bachelor-hood in Lancashire,
  • a brace or more of illegitimate children,
  • adoption out of the family and inwards too,
  • and finally, at the end of the line, bureaucratic difficulties surrounding aunt M’s mother’s grave .

We finally found aunt M’s mother, deceased of course but we also found aunt M had 2 half sisters both sadly dead. The last one, “J” , only passed away in November 2013. At the time she was looking into her family history too. It’s a tragedy we didn’t start this earlier.

Aunt M also had 2 uncles she knew nothing about. We revealed their lives in Canada and discovered one returning back in the UK and making a life in the Greater London area.

But best of all we discovered the best friend and end of life carer of aunt M’s half sister J. We travelled to the coast in Lancashire to meet her . We returned with a suitcase full of letters and pictures including some of aunt M’s mother. We also found aunt M’s mother’s grave.

Sadly we never found any sign of aunt M’s father; not even gossip. Perhaps we never will but the secret is out there in Canada somewhere. Maybe he will come to light.

We have a couple of research “hooks” dragging in the Canadian ancestry waters  hoping for a bite and we have a lead on a possible ‘living’ relative of one of aunt M’s newly discovered  uncles. So the search is not totally closed. It’s now more wait and see.

Update 9th Feb 2014.
We have now discovered a living cousin of aunt M. He lives alone in London. He has shone a light into the past showing stories of his dad, a jockey, riding horses and winning races in Canada, America and France. Stories of how a solicitor committed fraud against the family cheating them out of their inheritance and being jailed for it. And he has sent lots of pictures, some from Canada.

This research has been an adventure. One which has captivated, consumed even,  for over a month and one which must now be put down.

Incomparable? I don’t think so.

careI saw on the news this morning (BBC Breakfast 4.11.2013) Councils pay care organisations less than £15.00* per hour to look after our old and vulnerable – one reportedly as low as £9.00. This sort of care is now outsourced to private companies as most Local Councils do not carry out this function. Neither does the NHS. The figure is meant to cover the cost of the care-worker, mileage and overheads etc. The rate is so low some care agencies are refusing to take contracts from certain local authorities.

In other instances I have seen reported recently these same agencies are passing on their pain to the care-workers ( in order to try to make a profit no doubt) by giving them 15 minute slots at clients house – that’s 4 an hour. Sometimes these slots are reportedly 20 minute driving distance apart.So it’s just impossible.

You have to ask yourself just how much “care” can be delivered by such a care-worker during those visits of 15 minutes or shorter.

Hmmm. By comparison: how much are lawyers paid per hour for delivering legal aid would you think? Perhaps someone could tell us.

Ask yourself if money spent on people who have, or may have, committed a crime and are therefore antisocial by definition should be more than that which is spent on people who have given so much to society in the way of taxes, work effort and even fought for the country’s freedom. (forgive the sweeping generalisation here but you get the point).

And please don’t argue the legal system is expensive. Whose fault would that be if it isn’t the legal system itself with all it’s archaic practices and self aggrandisement?

Just in case you are interested: there is a 108 page document here on how Lawyers should charge their legal aid work.


If only the government considered the care of our old and infirm with such a prescriptive, careful and comprehensive document instead of passing it off to Local Government who are… well that’s another story.

On the 11th of this month we remember those who gave their lives for this country during wars. We should care for those who survived too.

* £15.00 or thereabouts was considered the actual cost by one of the people interviewed in the piece. Seemingly most are well below that.

Britain’s first metric houses… well sort of.

Back in the early 70’s Britain went metric. Feet,inches and yards based on a root of 12 were thrown out in favour of the metric system of millimetres and metres rooted in units of 10, 100 and 1000.

Metrication swept aside Gunter’s Chain – yes the measure called a “chain” was actually a physical chain measuring 66ft (there were 80 such in a mile) and yes we did have to measure land area with this when I first started land surveying (if you didn’t know this is the measurement between the stumps at either end of a cricket pitch but I digress). Gunter’s chain was developed in 1620 remaining in use until metrication.

In his book “Measuring a meridian” first published in 1874 – Jules Verne describes the exploits of a group of men who were measuring a meridian in South Africa. A meridian is an imaginary line, a great circle, running through both poles around the earth. Famously the 0deg (longitude) meridian runs through Greenwich in London from which all time is measured.
In this book Verne writes of men struggling with keeping the chain horizontal and constantly measuring the temperature to take into account the expansion of the chain – it was afterall metal and would expand and vary, thereby making the measurements in error as compound measurements were taken.

This archaic and yes, quirky and vaguely romantic form of measurement was swept aside with metrication. In those heady days of the 70’s Gunter’s chain was replaced with steel or even fibreglass reinforced plastic 30 metre tapes, or they would have been had we have had any.

In the early 70’s, I can’t remember the exact year but I think 72, 73, I worked for C.Bryant and sons (Bryants) building and civil engineering contractors of Birmingham. Bryants had been awarded the contract for part of the huge “Chelmsley Wood” housing area to the South East of Birmingham near to Marston Green.

In my youth Chelmsley Woods were exactly that, woods, with blue bells amongst the trees in the spring and wonderful rhododendrons.The area also included large swathes of farm land heading over towards Water Orton, Castle Bromwich and Coleshill.

The ensuing mega-estate was divided up into a number of areas and each of those into sub areas. And I was working on Area 13a abutting the M6, which was being built at the time.There were about 1000 houses in this section alone. One block of which was destined to be constructed using a metric system. And the task befell me, as one of the handful of engineers on the site, to set out this particular block.

I asked for a metric tape but there were none thus the dimensions of the metric block were converted to ‘Imperial Feet and Inches’ and set out using an imperial tape. The block was positioned in virgin farmland measuring in imperial dimensions in order to do so. The levels of the block were all calculated and put in using a level and an Imperial staff.

We were told this was the first metric block of houses in Great Britain. I have no doubt the final precast concrete structure, called “System 4 Metric”, was constructed in metric using metric tapes and rules but the foundations were solidly imperial, or at least converted to be so.

A great fuss was made over the launch of this block of houses. The City Architect, Alan Maudsley (later to be arrested and charged with corruption for his dealing with other architects and contractors) arrived on site with a bus load of folks from the City Architects department. Alderman Beaumont-Dark, later Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark* (died 2006), a stock broker, MP and former Birmingham City Councillor was also present. He ceremonially buried an imperial measuring staff (used by me) into the foundations of this block before the superstructure started. Chris Bryant, the managing director of C.Bryant and Sons was also there. (Chris Bryant went on trial at the Old Bailey denying two counts of plotting to bribe Maudsley.)

In the foreground George Tilbrook (in the lighter suit) is being spoken to by the City Architect. Alan Maudsley.

In the foreground George Tilbrook (in the lighter suit) is being spoken to by the City Architect. Alan Maudsley.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark laying the imperial measuring staff into the foundations of the first metric houses in Great Britain.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark laying the imperial measuring staff into the foundations of the first metric houses in Great Britain.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark putting the finishing touches to the slab after burying the imperial staff.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark putting the finishing touches to the slab after burying the imperial staff.

2nd left George Tilbrook site manager/agent. 3rd left Allan Senior Engineer from Scunthorpe. 4th Chris Higgins engineer from Evesham. 5th left Ernie Harris engineer from Walsall way. The remainder are groundwork crew including shuttering carpenters. The Man with the staff is Joe from Norther Ireland. He was my chain man. I was the engineer on the block and the photographer

2nd left George Tilbrook site manager/agent.
3rd left Allan Senior Engineer from Scunthorpe.
4th Chris Higgins engineer from Evesham.
5th left Ernie Harris engineer from Walsall way.
The remainder are groundwork crew including shuttering carpenters.
The Man with the staff is Joe from Norther Ireland. He was my chain man.
I was the engineer on the block and the photographer

It was a sordid time for the construction industry in Birmingham, but through it all houses were built and the industry appeared to be booming in and around the city.

You can see the layout of the houses drawn onto the ground floor slab and the re-finished part of the slab where the staff was buried.

A lot of the names have gone from my memory after these years. But George Tillbrook was the site manager. At the time he live in Nuneaton. Allan was the senior Engineers who came from Scunthorpe. Chris Higgins was part of the engineering team ( He was from near Evesham).Ernie Harris was also an engineer on site. My Chain-man – the engineers assistant – was called Joe and he came from Northern Ireland.

Sadly I’m not on any of these pictures as I was the photographer. My car is though. It’s the white VW Beetle in the first picture.

In passing. We, the technicians and tradesmen who turned all of this into reality were invisible to this motley crew. I remember not one comment made to me or my colleagues from anybody on that day.And certainly no recognition for suffering the interminable mud and bitter cold and rain in which we worked. Such is the lot of the working man I suppose.

There is a certain Schadenfreude in knowing what we now know. We may have been cold and wet at times but it was more than compensated by the glorious summer mornings, even the crisp winter days and we were free of the corruption surrounding the construction industry in those days.

The row of metric houses taken recently

The row of metric houses taken recently

The block of houses pictured recently. There is no sign of anything indicating the importance of this humble row of houses. Hopefully that may change.

*Further ignominy…This year -2013 – Sir Anthony’s son, Nicholas Beaumont-Dark, was given a 12 month sentence for downloading child porn.

Newly discovered aunt and uncle

I blogged recently about discovering the identity of my mothers father. Lost as it was in the prejudices of past generations it wasn’t easy to discover.

Now, a few weeks on, relationships have been struck up, family have been met and family history adventures have been had. All of which have been both fascinating and joyful but none more so than yesterdays meeting between my mother and her half brother and sister.

Tony Brown and his sister Joan came to Lincoln with some of their family to meet their eldest half sister Edna. The illegitimate daughter of their father William Charles Brown.

Joan Brown, Edna Barton and Tony Brown.

Joan Brown, Edna Barton and Tony Brown.

Illegitimacy is a curse.

In search of my grandfather

For the seeker of family history illegitimacy is a curse. In these more enlightened times the lack of wedding vows before the birth of a child is no big deal but in the 19th and early years of the 20th Century it was considered an evil rarely spoken of.

It wasn’t simply the child of these liaisons who was blighted. Those further down the blood-line wishing to discover where their own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies came from – like where did I get these eyes, or in my case, teeth? – they too had difficulty because, whether out of embarrassment or shame, things were covered up. Hushed up. Hidden. Locked away from public view making discovery nigh on impossible.

My mother and I are nothing like anybody else in the family both in looks and temperament. Both of us has a lazy left eye – as does one of my children. And those teeth! Now in my 67th year I’d never met anybody with teeth even close in appearance to mine.

And that temperament? Standoffish – arrogant even, dismissive, with a strong dislike of unfairness and privilege; where did it all come from?

Most people have a couple of grandfathers and grandmothers from whom they can get some idea of inherited flaws or ‘jewels’ in their makeup. I had only one grandfather. My dad’s dad.

My mother, Edna, never knew her father; something she has continually bemoaned, blaming many of the unfortunate happenings in her life on this simple fact. Yes, you could say she is a ‘glass half empty’ person. Perhaps that’s something else I inherited? “If only I knew who my father was” she trotted out many a time.

In 1920, a time when ’bastardy’ was a taboo subject, Edna was born to a woman who was not the sharpest knife in the box and who was not going to tell her daughter anything. And she didn’t. She stayed stum. Never telling Edna even her father’s name.

I resolved to see what I could find out. This is the Internet age where all information is laid bare isn’t it? And illegitimacy is not frowned upon at all these days. Well… yes and no to both of those.

Edna has recollections of going into the city to collect the maintenance payments made by her father to her mother – presumably ordered by the court. I thought this would be a good place to start.

Many years ago – perhaps 25 or more – I made a failed attempt to get this information from the courts in Birmingham . I was told the records for that period had been bombed out during World War 2. Deflated I left this issue alone for many years. And then perhaps 8 years ago I made another attempt. This time with slightly more success.

I approached the City of Birmingham Central Reference Library asking if they had the information. I was aware there would be a ‘100 year rule’ on the data assuming they had it. This meant that I would not be able to see this information until 2020. I asked if they could check if it was there as I didn’t want to wait until 2020 only to find the cupboard was bare.

The wonderfully helpful man in the records office went off for a few minutes returning to tell me it was there. Success! Well sort of. There was just the matter of a few years wait. I thanked him and turned to leave. He stopped me.

“Do you want to see it” he said. I said yes of course. Then he told me how I could apply to the courts for the library service to make the information available to me. Shocked and delighted I asked him how much to do this. £100? £500? “How much”? It turned out to be the price of a cheap curry. Naturally I applied and some few weeks later I was provided with the name – and only that, as there was no other information on the file of my grandfather.

William Charles Brown was his name. Why couldn’t he have had a more uncommon name? Do you realise just how many William Charles Brown’s there are in census records of that time? And remember I didn’t even have his age so I was unable to narrow the huge list to anything manageable. And even if I did narrow it down and pick just one how would I know that particular W.C.Brown was ‘THE’ W.C.Brown? You see my problem. There were no terms of reference and nothing with which to compare. I’d hit the proverbial brick wall.

Thus far, apart from searching, I hadn’t used the Web in any substantial way. So I turned to what I knew, after-all I had been involved in working with the Web more or less since it started. I was then ‘Head of Web and Information Governance’ working in a local authority and privately I had produced the first Internet site on the history of Coventry so I was well versed in the World Wide Web, what it contained and what it could do. I had researched all of the information for the Coventry site, written to hundreds of people, answered hundreds of questions, pontificated about it on local radio. I reasoned if I could research Lady Godiva and the town in which she lived, discovering facts from hundreds of years ago in the process, then finding my grandfather would be possible.

I seeded every family history bulletin board and web site I could find. I wrote to people who had a William Charles Brown in their family asking if they had any knowledge of an illegitimate birth in 1920. I had a number of responses from folks who took umbrage at the question, but that’s all.

Nothing positive came back. So I just left it out there. Floating in cyberspace. Tagged and ready for Google or any other search engine to pick it up. A digital baited hook in the ever deepening data pool that is the genealogy ocean.

And then on the 13th June this year I got this.

“Hi. Charles was my grandfather. My mom and Uncle I believe to be your aunt and uncle. Call me for more information.”

I happened to be sitting in front of my machine when this came in. I called the number within a minute. I heard Sharon, my cousin, tell me about how they knew about her grandfather having an illegitimate daughter before he married her grandmother.

I agreed to see them shortly afterwards. I went to Birmingham and met my cousin Sharon and her daughter, Hayley, who had discovered one of my messages, together with Joan, Sharon’s mother, my aunt.

I confess I couldn’t see any family resemblance. And then my uncle Tony came in. He had my mother’s eyes. Breathtakingly familiar. I was knocked back. It became a blur from then on. I had a laptop and scanner. I scanned in pictures and text. I left a couple of hours later with my mind fizzing and popping.

Later I took a closer look at the pictures I had scanned. I was shocked. Tony as a young man had my teeth. Identical. Not pretty but unmistakable. For me that did it. I asked if they would take a DNA test sample for sibling/ half sibling comparison with my mother. They agreed. That went off to Vancouver and returned yesterday with a positive result for half sibling.

My mother now has a new half brother and sister and at least one niece and I have a new uncle and aunt. And of course I have now found that missing grandfather.

And now I know where the bits of me that didn’t fit in my family come from. They come from William Charles Brown. A blacksmith. Born in Gloucester in 1896. That’s who.

And what does mother think? Underwhelmed would best describe it. Perhaps it just has not sunk in yet. Maybe at 93 it never will.

The final great sadness of this story isn’t that Edna and her father could never have found each other before the Information age, that’s bad enough; no the tragedy is that, without knowing, they only lived a mile apart up until William Charles Brown died in the 60’s. And he lived no more than a hundred yards from my Dad’s brother where my mother must have been at some time. So near and yet…

Without Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the world wide web who enabled the Brown family and me to find each other, and the discoverers of the double helix of DNA, James Watson and Francis Crick, who enabled us in turn to ‘prove’ we are related none of this would have been possible. I thank them all.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

My first love in photography…

My first love in photography was architectural work.

For a while I was even paid for taking pictures with a big 5X4 plate camera. You know the sort; where the photographer throws a black sheet over his head and the back of the camera. I did some work for Austin Rover and some design companies. Not much at all really but it was fun. Especially being flown to a shoot in a private plane by Austin Rover.

I still do architectural work even now. None of it paid for. I simply do it because I like to.

I was at the National Space centre and spotted some architectural details I liked. I particularly like the concrete and how I can get it to look in images.

Anyway here they are:

Ventilation grill in concrete wall.

Ventilation grill in concrete wall.

I think I’ll print this image and hang it.


Stairwell at space centre

Stairwell at space centre