My Grandmother’s Century

In the midst of the First World War, on 11th November 1916, my Great Grandparents Alfred Newman and his wife Clara (née Gilbert) became parents again for the fifth time. This time they welcomed another daughter – Edna – my Grandmother, to their little Ely family.

Today, in 2016, marks what would have been her 100th birthday.

2016 has been a hard year, although I’m sure that 1916 was harder. However, partly as a result of the four family funerals I’ve attended so far this year, I’ve found myself in what was once her family home, and for the first time seeing the mass of photographs, keep-sake tins of bits and bobs, letters, a passport, and other ephemera.

My grandmother would certainly know hard times too – witnessing her older brother Wilfred being sent home to die in 1929 after exhaustive treatment in hospital for septicemia and tuberculosis when he was just 16yrs old, and hearing the news that her little brother Owen had died on a Japanese hospital ship after it was struck by a torpedo off Singapore. There would be more.

In particular, these photographs are letting me see my grandmother for the first time in her younger years. So far, the youngest photo I have found of her is when she was bridesmaid for her older sister Phyllis, and she stands beside her, and their brother, in 1935. This is my grandmother at 18/19yrs old – just a teenager – but to me, she’s unmistakeable.

Phyllis Newman and Sidney Fitch wedding group in Ely, 1935.
Phyllis Newman and Sidney Fitch at their wedding in Ely, 1935. My grandmother is second from right, with their brother Leslie Newman on the far right. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Within two years she would walk down the aisle with my grandfather Percy Martin, although perhaps somewhat hurriedly, as my uncle was born just 6 months later.

Their family grew in Little Downham, a village near Ely, but it wasn’t without difficulties.

Until a fortnight ago, as I had watched her oldest son’s (my uncle’s) coffin be lowered into his grave, and eventually turned to walk away, my mother tells me that this uncle was not the first to be buried there. This confuses me, but she relays the snippets of information that my aunt has told her and my father over the phone just days beforehand. There was another sibling – Malcolm – who my aunt (being his sister) believes is buried somewhere there too.

Edna and Percy, my grandparents in happier times. Probably Hunstanton during the 1950s.
Edna and Percy, my grandparents in happier times. Probably Hunstanton during the 1950s. Photo: Andrew Martin.

It was a shock. I thought I knew all my aunts and uncles, how had I never known about this one, and how had I not just spotted it anyway in the records? So I’ve set myself the challenge of identifying his burial plot. That’s in progress, and will need my detective work to find the cemetery plot map.

The next day, I searched through the birth and death indexes at freebmd, and sure enough, baby Malcolm Paul Martin was there. His birth in a neighbouring county hospital, his death in the hospital at the city of Cambridge – away from where the family’s other children had been born, and far outside of where I’d suspect him – if I’d ever suspected there was another child to find!

The sadness of spring 1958 was revealed.

This must have been so very hard on my grandparents, with my grandmother, now in her early 40s, giving birth prematurely to her final child. He hardly stood a chance – not just because he was premature (there’s no indication of by how much), but he would have been struggling to feed and grow strong due to having a cleft lip, and his weakness meant he stood no chance against the pneumonia. He was just 2 weeks old. My father hardly recalls him (as he was only young himself), my aunt remembers only a little more. My uncles never said a thing.

After the breakdown of her marriage to my grandfather in the early 1970s, she remained living with my uncle, and was already a doting grandmother to my aunt’s children, but clearly missed them dearly as they were based in the USA. As my sister, my UK-based cousins, and I came along, she proved to be just as doting to us.

I remember staying with her and my uncle on a few school holidays and playing with the kids next-door. I remember where my grandmother kept the sweets (in plain paper bags on the tray on the sideboard) which caused me to develop my light-footedness in aid of the liberation of countless aniseed balls.

Edna with Claire and Andrew, circa 1984.
Edna with my sister and I, c.1984. Seems the Christmas excitement turned me into a demonic child that year. Photo: Andrew Martin

I remember (and still have) a couple of the Christmas toys she saved up to buy me in my childhood – and I found a letter just last week whilst clearing my uncle’s house, where my mother is explaining to her what the toy was that she’d paid for in 1983. That was quite a lovely little find.

My parting memory of her is sleeping in a hospital bed. The same hospital where she’d had Malcolm almost 40 years earlier. I didn’t understand what was happening as an 8yr old in 1986, but my memories can take me right back there in an instant.

I wish we’d known each other for so much longer, but I cherish the memories of the time we shared.

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandma.

National Mills Weekend 2012

National Mills Weekend 2012 – visiting The Great Mill at Haddenham, Cambridgeshire.

This weekend has been National Mills Weekend in the UK.

The Great Mill
The Great Mill at Haddenham, Cambridgeshire.

I only realised that this was the weekend – but I was able to make the journey to The Great Mill at Haddenham, just 5 miles from me. The weekend also coincided with Haddenham’s ‘Blossoms and Bygones’ event, so the village was decked in bunting, musicians, fair rides and vintage vehicles.

I’d been to the Mill a couple of years previously and the current owners were very kind to show me around this 5-storey mill both then and now.

The reason I first went along originally was because of the unfortunate and violent death of my Gt x 5 Grandfather, Philip Newman, a miller and baker, died when he was caught in the workings of a mill.

Inside The Great Mill
The mill is essentially a vast wooden machine.

The mill (seemingly known most recently as ‘Neville’s Mill’) where he met his gruesome end no longer stands, but The Great Mill was standing opposite ‘killer mill’ back in 1809 when the accident happened. I wanted to find out what it would have been like to be inside a windmill similar to the one that my ancestor would have worked.

Neville's Mill, Haddenham
A photo of Neville’s Mill which stood opposite The Great Mill and killed my ancestor in 1809.

The Great Mill was built in 1803 by Daniel Cockle, and it’s still clear today as to what an engineering feat it was, with cogs, wheels, bells, sails all over the place – each with their own specific purpose in cleaning grain, moving it around, grinding it, sifting it etc.

The Mill was handed down through the Cockle family for almost 100 years until 1901 when it passed to the Peters family. It then moved on to the Lawrance family in 1906 until becoming unloved in 1980.

It stood derelict until 1992 when it was restored. 20 years on, and the Mill is undergoing a new restoration with the kerb (the part up in the top that allows the entire cap and sails to change direction) needing some attention.

The current owners are busily restoring it, and hope to one day have it working again like the one a few miles away in Wicken (which i visited on National Mills Weekend in 2010).

National Mills Weekend 2010: Wicken
The working windmill in Wicken village, Cambridgeshire.

If you’ve never been inside a windmill, i recommend it. It is cramped, there are lots of awkward stairs/ladders to navigate, but it’s a wonderful experience. I imagine that millers like my ancestor Philip, would have been able to quickly ascend and descend those ladders, fueled by necessity.

If you’re lucky to go into a windmill with its sails working, then you will soon realise the sheer power and complexity of them. And you’ll realise too that they aren’t noisy.

Where once every village had a windmill, there are just a scattered few. The cheaper costs of importing grain from the likes of Australia in bulk and then milling it at the UK ports rather than sending vast amount of grain inland, quickly terminated the nation’s windmills and made our millers jobless. By the end of the 1940s/50s, working windmills were all but a thing of the past.

Remembrance: Owen Newman

Remembrance: Owen Gilbert Newman (1919-1944) who died when the Japanese ship he was on, was torpedoed and sunk by American forces.

Owen Gilbert Newman (1919-1944)
Owen Gilbert Newman (1919-1944)

Owen Gilbert Newman (2009982) served as a Sapper with the 288 Field Company of the Royal Engineers during the Second World War.

Sadly he was taken Prisoner of War by the Japanese and joined 900 other British troops onboard the Kachidoki Maru ship, heading to Japan.

The ship was torpedoed and sunk by USS Pampanito, just North East of Hainan Island, near China on 12th September 1944.

400 British soldiers were on-board and subsequently lost their lives.

Surname Saturday: NEWMAN

The Newman family of Cambridgeshire are this week’s Geneabloggers topic for ‘Surname Saturday’ – a story of illegitimacy, windmills and dinosaur poop.

A killer windmill, illegitimacy and dinosaur poop all play a part in shaping my paternal Newman family of Cambridgeshire.

Alfred and Harriet Newman
Alfred and Harriet Newman

My earliest known ancestor (so far) was John Newman, the husband of Hannah (née Squire). They lived in and were married in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (as it was then in 1750). There’s no record of any earlier Newmans before this date and after parenting my ancestor Philip in 1760, there doesn’t seem to be another mention of them again.

When Philip reached 19yrs old he marries Lydia Ingle in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire in 1779 and they begin a family together. However, after their sons Thomas and Philip are born, baby Philip and Lydia die – both being buried on the same day in Somersham. This appears to leave Philip (senior) with his young son Thomas.

In September 1785, Philip re-marries, to Elizabeth Whitehead of Haddenham. The couple soon grow their family – having six children, although sadly their first (William) and fourth and fifth (Robert and James) children do not survive infancy. This leaves two daughters (Ann and Rebecca) and William.

The Windmill

In 1809 tragedy struck as Philip, working as a Miller at the mill of William and Robert Pate of Haddenham on 20th July 1809 “was caught in the works of his mill, and unfortunately killed” – as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle, dated 22nd July 1809. Philip was promptly buried the following day at Haddenham parish church where the register notes him as being both a miller and a baker. He was 49 years old.

The mill (known most recently as ‘Neville’s Mill’) no longer stands, although the windmill (The Great Mill) opposite the site is still standing and is being lovingly restored – well worth a visit to see what working in a mill may have been like.

Elias Dann

Having lost her father to the horrific sounding windmill accident at the age of about 5yrs, Rebecca Newman gave birth to a son Charles Newman in Somersham at only about 16 years of age. Whilst she was not married, parish records name an ‘Elias Dann’ as the father.

Rebecca does not go on to marry Elias, as it would seem that Elias may have already been living with his wife in nearby Wilburton. Being a fatherless teenage single mother must have been excruciatingly difficult for Rebecca in the 1820s. However, by 1826 she had married  John Seymore of Haddenham and bore him two daughters.

It appears that illegitimate Charles Newman was fully aware of who his father was, as he names him when he marries Emma Levitt at Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire in 1847. The couple also name their youngest son ‘Elias Newman’. The couple remain in the village, with Charles becoming a blacksmith, and have six children.

Coprolites

Coprolites (fossilised animal dung) were found to be excellent sources of fertilizer in the 1840s. Digging them soon became big business in the fens during the mid 19th century, although it began to decrease by the 1880s. Massive manual labour forces were needed to trace and dig out the seams of dung (you can even buy them today on ebay!) and my Newman relatives briefly became part of the workforce.

The 1871 census lists Alfred Newman (the son of blacksmith Charles Newman and Emma Levitt), along with his brother Charles as a ‘Coprolite Digger’. By the time of the next census though, the industry has downsized and neither are digging for dung.

In 1877, Alfred Newman marries Harriet Cooper in Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is here where the Newman family has reached today – with many descendants of their large family still in the city and surrounding villages.

The Newman family faced terrible tragedies, but they have survived.

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