Monday, November 2, 2015

Keeping up with the Joneses

Walter and Rose Sophia Jones with their son, James Alfred 
Meet the Jones family.... The photo is of Walter Jones, his wife Rose Sophia ( nee Redrup) and their son, James Alfred, of  Birmingham, County of Warwick, England. Walter was born on 3 March, 1865 and Sophia on 1 January 1867.  They married in February,1929, many years after the birth of their son, James (1903). It can be speculated that they married, aged  64 and 62 respectively, because by that time, Walter was suffering badly from work related emphysema and chronic bronchitis  and in 1925, legislation was passed which granted "widows"  government support. This is, of course, retrospective conjecture!

Walter appeared on the 1891 census as a 'spade maker', and when his son was born, his occupation was recorded as a 'garden fork drawer and later in this life, his illness affected his capacity to work - in 1911, records show that Walter was working as a bricklayer's labourer.Walter's death certificate shows the cause of his death on 9 December 1929 (only 10 months after formalising their marriage) to be 1a) ascites  (fluid in the peritoneal cavity) ; 1b) cirrhosis of the liver and 2) bronchitis and emphysema.

Rose Sophia was born in Princes Risborough, Wycombe -  the oldest of eight children.  By the time Rose Sophia was 4 years old, the family was shown in the census to be living at  Monks Risborough. Since she always signed her name with a X,  it would appear that Rose was illiterate and probably did not attend school. Although the Redrup family was recorded in the  1881 census to be living in Birmingham, Rose Sophia's name was not included.  Her whereabouts around this time remains a mystery. She reappears in the 1891 census as living with Walter Jones in Shelton Lane, Halesowen, Birmingham. Rose and Walter had only one son, James Alfred.  A little about their way of life has been written by their grandson, James Eric  who was born in Walter's and Rose's home "... a two up and two down house. The front downstairs room was only used for very special occasions . The only such event I recall was my grandfather being laid out in that front room before his burial. This limited use of a quarter of a house ... (was) .... an extravagant waste of living space. (the other rooms) .... had to accommodate both my grandparents, my parents and five children. About twenty yards from our front door were the two communal lavatories for the four large families to share..."

It was rather a sad life for son James who resided with his parents while at school  although it was known that he resented the fact they were not officially married. James became a striker in an iron foundry and lived with the Bath family before marrying one of the Bath girls, Edith. James Alfred was known as a well read, politically aware and deep thinker.  His son,  James, wrote " When Dad was well enough to do any work, it was tatting. He was a rag and bone man, not the occupation you would expect , of a man so knowledgeable. Among the neighbours and  in the pubs, his opinion was often sought, and his advice was important on matters as diverse as who would win the FA cup to what to do about cataracts of the eyes."  However, James did not enjoy the respect of everyone. Family anecdotes suggest that James was the father of the son of  another of the Bath sisters,Sarah and possibly  this was the reason for James and his wife Edith  going to live with Walter and Rose Sophia.

James was plagued with illness and injury - tuberculosis and a severe car accident and  the death of two of their infant children led to deep depression and confinement in a psychiatric hospital where the treatment left him beaten 'black and blue'.  His sons 'rescued' him and brought James home, but after another severe bout of depression in 1956, and on the eve of a return to hospital, James sadly took his own life.  His son's memoirs sum up a difficult time " Poverty was an abiding problem ... Many people around us suffered the same, the only thing that distinguished us, was the degree of poverty. Ours was probably worse than most, I had seven brothers and sisters,  a father whose chronic illness and addiction to drink, gave my mother more than a fair share of problems and anxiety... Gran (Rose Sophia) had moved to live with us , she was getting too frail to live alone in the awful conditions in Walter Street. Another family moved in... although it had been officially condemned for human  habitation many years before... " 

Hearing and reading family stories of poverty and sadness, I have always been drawn emotionally to this photo. When given the assignment in my Creative Embroidery Course to do something with a bundle of brightly coloured threads I decided to "brighten" up Rose Sophia's world a little. In the photo she was obviously wearing a work smock, so  dear Rose Sophia, I have embroidered you an outfit that you could not have even imagined in your wildest dreams.
"Not in Your Wildest Dreams" -  Free embroidery , photo transfer on linen - Wilma Simmons
PS : My husband, James Simmons is the great grandson of Walter and Rose Sophia Jones and the grandson of James Alfred Jones.