Tag Archives: family

Young and Willmott on Leaving the Slums for the Estate

I know they are listed as Young and Willmott but that simply is impossible to roll off the tongue, I shall try and probably once again fail to write it this way in part two on Family and Kinship in East London (1957). From the densely woven networks of family described in part 1, held together in crowded rooms and turnings by living with parents or next door to them, by every day visits, shared meals, shared chores, shared lives, to spacious new council homes built on 44 acres near Epping Forest. This is how everything changed, and as Young and Willmott write, what better way to understand the importance of residence?

From Bethnal Green to Greenleigh (Debden)

Less than twenty miles away from Bethnal Green, the automatic doors of the tube train open on to the new land of Greenleigh. On one side of the railway are cows at pasture. On the other, the new housing estate. Instead of the shops of Bethnal Green there is the shopping centre at the Parade; instead of the street barrows piled high with fruit, fish, and dresses, instead of the cries of the costermongers from Spitalfields to Old Ford, there are orderly self-service stores in the marble halls of the great combines. In place of the gaunt buildings rising above narrow streets of narrow houses, there are up-to-date semi-detached residences. Bethnal Green encases the history of three hundred years. Cottages built for the descendants of Huguenot refugees, with their wide weavers’ windows and peeling plaster, stand next to Victorian red-brick on one side and massive blocks of Edwardian charity on the other. Greenleigh belongs firmly to the aesthetics of this mid-century. Built since the war to a single plan, it is all of one piece. Though the Council has mixed different types of houses, row upon row look practically identical, each beside a concrete road, each enclosed by a fence, each with its little patch of flower garden at front and larger patch of vegetable garden at back, each with expansive front windows covered over with net curtains; all built, owned, and guarded by a single responsible landlord.

Instead of the hundred fussy, fading little pubs of the borough, there are just the neon lights and armchairs of the Merchant Venturer and the Yeoman Arms. Instead of the barrel organ in Bethnal Green Road there is an electrically amplified musical box in a mechanical ice-cream van. In place of tiny workshops squeezed into a thousand back-yards rise the first few glass and concrete factories which will soon give work to Greenleigh’s children. Instead of the sociable squash of people and houses, workshops and lorries, there are the drawn-out roads and spacious open ground of the usual low-density estate. Instead of the flat land of East London, the gentle hills of Essex.

‘When I first came,’ said Mrs Sandeman, ‘I cried for weeks, it was so lonely. It was a shock to see such a deep hill going up to the shops.’ (121-122)

That gives such a beautiful sense of the differences, albeit a very particular view of them. But the scale is quite incredible.

Between 1931 and 1955 nearly 11,000 families containing over 40,000 people were rehoused from Bethnal Green on L.C.C. estates, many of them outside the county.’ (124)

People did, many of them, choose to come of course. Part of the study was to understand just why. The reasons were many, but not, for the most part, weaker attachments to their family.

lf the migrants did not have weaker kinship attachments than other people, why did they come? The main reason is {quite simple. The attraction is the house. Our couples left two or three damp rooms built in the last century for the ‘industrious classes ‘, and were suddenly transported to a spacious modern home. Instead of the tap in the backyard, there was a bathroom with hot and cold water. Instead of the gas stove on the landing, a real kitchen with a sink and a larder. Instead of the narrow living room with stained wallpaper and shaky floorboards, a newly painted lounge heated by a modern solid-fuel grate. And instead of the street for their children to play in, fields and trees and open country. The contrast is all the sharper because the new residents had, in the main, come from Bethnal Green’s worst houses. (126)

But the council in general had much more to do with it:

But, in general, the L.C.C.’s view of who needed it most decided who went. Our informants were mostly at the top of the L.C.C.’s housing list – they were living in the most overcrowded or the most unhealthy houses in the borough – and that is why they were selected. (127)

One of the tenants told them — ‘If we could take the house with us, we’d go back like a shot.’ (127)

For many, as with so many families, it was about the generations to come, not the generations they had left behind.

‘Everything seems quieter here, more calmer,’ said Mrs Vince. ‘The fresh air hits you when you come out of the station.’ Many people value the air and fields even more for their children than for themselves. Greenleigh is generally thought ‘better for the kiddies’.

So even where they left their kin with regret, the people were not deserting family so much as acting for it, on behalf of the younger rather than the older generation. (128)

But many did not stay.

Many migrants in fact decided that they had made the wrong decision, and left the estate, most of them to return to the East End. Altogether, from the opening of the Greenleigh estate until March, 1956, 26 percent of the tenants who had come there moved away again. (129)

The Family at Greenleigh

So what changed? Any friendly community feeling did not survive the scale of changing community. Everyone found the neighbors snobbish, stand-offish. Talked about the terrible loneliness. Some got part-time jobs just to survive it — one of those said ‘If I didn’t go to work I’d get melancholic.’ Her verdict on Greenleigh — ‘It’s like being in a box to die out here.’ (133)

The study found a great sense of loss, particularly women missing mothers. Most of the men continued to work in Bethnal Green as there were no jobs out near the estate, so suddenly they become the ones maintaining family ties. What made me most sad — it wasn’t distance or time that kept women from their wider families, but the cost of transport. In times of trouble they had no support, there was no one to lend money to tide people over, help when sick or pregnant, help with kids. Visiting was not a thing that was done.

Their study of Bethnal Green showed just how much happened in public spaces, not private ones, and these were precisely the spaces missing in the new estates.

One reason people have so little to do with neighbors is the absence of places to meet them. In Bethnal Green there is one pub for every 400 people, and one shop for every 44 (or one for every 14 households). At Greenleigh there is one pub for 5,000 people, and one shop for 300.

They had no cinemas, so could not congregate there either. This combination of distance and television changed things. Young & Willmott write:

The growth of television compensates for the absence of amenities outside the home, and serves to support the family in its isolation. (143)

Rents were also higher there on the council estate, often by 3 times. That in addition to fares meant people were trapped there.

Keeping Themselves to Themselves

Willmott and Young found people in Greenleigh eager to talk about their neighbours, how unfriendly they found them, and they always compared back to their community in Bethnal Green.

At Greenleigh they neither share long residence with their fellow tenants nor as a rule have kin to serve as bridges between the family and the wider community. These two vital interlocked conditions of friendship are missing, and their absence goes far to explain the attitude we have illustrated. (150)

They believed this to be partly due to the fact that everyone moving in at the same time, and there was no existing community for them to integrate into. While Willmott and Young describe their expectations that things would have improved over the few years between interviews, nothing really had changed. They blame a lack of density — a bit of catch phrase these days.

One reason it is taking so long is that the estate is so strung out — the number of people per acre at Greenleigh being only one-fifth what it is in Bethnal Green — and low density does not encourage sociability. (153)

The new big homes reinforced a feeling of what people lack, rather than all that they had. They were spending more on filling homes with objects, rather than entertainment and going out as they had before.

There is also a facsinating aside on time and space — in Bethnal Green people tended to be very informal, did ‘not need a highly-developed time sense…because it does not matter greatly whether her goes round to Mum’s at 10 o’clock or at 11. If Mum is not there someone will explain where she has gone‘ (157). This was not at all true of Greenleigh. Much of the difference lay in how close things were in Bethnal Green, with everything walking distance. In Greenleigh, life required a car and a telephone to ‘overcome geography and organize a more scattered life into a manageable whole (158)’.

The impact of this was quite profound, particularly on mental health, and particularly for women. This should not have been stuck in a footnote really:

Footnote 1, p 158: The chief psychiatrist at a local hospital told us that the loneliness of the women on this and other housing estates was the immediate, precipitating cause of so many of them coming to his department for treatment.

This lack of relationships, of knowing people, meant both a growing formality, as well as increased reliance on visual clues for judging strangers.

In a community of long-standing, status, in so far as it is determined by job and income and education, is more or less irrelevant to a person’s worth. He is judged instead, if he is judged at all, more in the round, as a person … How different is Greenleigh…Where nearly everyone is a stranger, there is no means of uncovering personality. (161-162)

They continue

Their relationships are window-to-window, not face-to-face. Their need for respect is just as strong as it ever was, but instead of  being able to find satisfaction in actual, living relationships, through the personal respect that accompanies almost any steady himan interaction, they have to turn to the other kind of respect which is awarded, by some strange sort of common understanding, for the quantity and quality of possessions which which the person surrounds himself (163-164)

They also note the lack of forward planning in the planning process for the estate itself…it has been developed as a community where people cannot age. When people’s children are grown where will they live? Nowhere for them to move close by, almost certain that enough existing units will not become vacant over the normal course of things, and it was council policy to prioritise outside people from the list rather than children. Willmott and Young note the protest that this raised among residents, a local association writing of the LCC in 1955 ‘We are in opposition to the view that people are simply units to be moved around the face of the earth in line with the impersonal schemes of some “Big Brother”...’

W&Y continue

The method by which the council has eased the housing shortage in the middle of the century is bound to create a further shortage in its last quarter. (168)

They weren’t wrong.

Movement between classes

They wanted to check and make sure that this growing sense of the importance of geography was not in fact more a function of social mobility, which leads to a rather interesting way to better understand class. Again, Willmott and Young trace sense of loss and disintegration of a sense of community it primarily back to the geography of the built environment — as people tend to seek out larger houses, they must look elsewhere. The authors write:

The East does not provide ‘middle-class’ people with ‘middle-class’ places to live, and such migration may therefore be more common than it would be in districts with more of a mixture of classes. (172)

In conclusion, though, of all of it.

…very few people wish to leave the East End. (186)

While the houses were better, Willmott and Young look at the networks of support, and find they are absent on the new estates. They have the best description of  the daughters’ new plight,  engaged in the ‘arduous…puzzling…monotonous‘ work of child rearing, while older people were cut off from remaining useful and part of the family. Willmott and Young are highly critical.

It seems that when the balance of a three-generation family is disturbed, the task of caring for dependents at both ends of life, always one of the great and indispensable functions of any society, becomes less manageable. (196)

So one key recommendation is to support these connections rather than tear them apart. Central to that there follows the need to maintain communities intact, and save as many of the existing houses as possible, updating the fabric, giving people new bathrooms, lavatories and kitchens.

I cannot help but agree with them, and wish this had been policy for the past few decades so as to build on the strengths of working class communities, rather than the opposite.

Young, Michael and Willmott, Peter ([1957] 1979) Family and Kinship in East London. Manchester: Penguin Books.

The Importance of Residence: Willmott and Young on Bethnal Green

Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London is an incredible book, and I am just sorry I didn’t get round to reading it while working in East London though it has been on my list to read for what feels like forever. There are a number of critiques of the book, based primarily on the ‘rosy’ views of working class life. Looking backwards it is hard to tell of course, but it seemed to me it captures much of what continues to be good about working class life…and there is enough here to show that such closeness of community is many-sided and not to everyone’s taste. I thought back to Morrison’s writings on East London, which accentuated the narrowness of life, the gossip in those Mean Streets. I don’t know that either is wrong or right, they can sit together in the richness of how people experience life. For myself, it is always the generousness of my class that has impressed me. Anyway.

This is quite a stupendous piece of research. Amazingly I found a pdf of some of the original survey instruments (original link here, another copy of the docs here)… very cool. But what I love most is they seemed to have actually listened to people, rather than categorising them, and in their work to have explored the intersections of family, home and neighbourhood in quite brilliant ways.

This book is about the effect of one of the newest upon one of the oldest of our social institutions. The new is the housing estate, hundreds of which have been built since the war. In the last century people moved into the cities; in this they have been moving steadily out again, towards the countryside from which their ancestors came. (11)

They write too, that ‘We were least prepared for what we found in the borough’. Because what did they expect? The familiar tale of the ‘good old days’ now gone.  They believed old patterns of wide extended families and support networks had disappeared over the course of industrialization and modernisation undergone in East London, but instead:

We were surprised to discover that the wider family, far from having disappeared, was still very much alive in the middle of London. This finding seemed to us of more interest than anything we had been led to expect, all the more so when it transpired that the absence of relatives seemed to be as significant on the estate as their presence in the borough.

and the last line, a rather fascinating methodological note

We decided, although we hit on it more or less accidentally, to make our main subject the wider family. (12)

This is perhaps why I didn’t prioritise this book, being less interested in constructions of family and more in community and home. But I was terribly wrong about that. In addition to tackling the myth f the destruction of familial networks, they take on others. Bethnal Green’ 54,000 residents in 1955 were almost all working class, but only 8% of population found to be Jewish, ‘contrary to popular opinion‘. So on to what they did find.

Kinship in Bethnal Green

The begin with a review of earlier studies — Charles Booth among others, who described barefoot children, undernourished babies, young moths sick and hungry. The majority of these blamed poverty, blamed the poor, and above all men for spending money on things they shouldn’t, particularly nights down the pub etc. This is the image of the brutal working class man, tales of drunkenness and forced sex, bruises, pregnancies.

Even though we may think the accounts overdrawn, and distrust the representativeness of the families they describe, we cannot ignore the historical evidence, all the more so since the notion still survives that the working-class man is a sort of absentee husband, sharing with his wife neither responsibility nor affection…(19)

But you look at the evidence drawn from their interviews, it is the falling death rate that seems the biggest factor in families remaining families — 29% of those born before 1890 came from homes broken up before they turned 15 by the death of a parent, as compared to 2% from divorce or separation. That is a crazy figure. It was still 19% for those born between 1921 and 1933, compared to 1% divorce and separation.

It had never occurred to me before to think seriously of how young people died, to understand what that meant for the living. To remember how soon this all began changing.

Still — things were improving — despite people living longer, more housing was being made available. In 1931 there were 3 households to every 2 dwellings. 1941, 4 households to every 5 dwellings. More space, less hard wear of space. More comfortable spaces you might want to spend time in as opposed to down the pub. It never occurred to me to think of that much either.

Nor labour patterns and rights, but of course those were also definitive.

The spread of the five-day week has created the ‘week-end’, a new term and a new experience for the working man. (24)

You can see, of course, why I should love this book, bringing all these structural factors together to understand just what life lived within their constraints might mean. It is also full of those details you only get with qualitative work. Like the descriptions of the rise of cinema and wireless — a lovely section on the impact it has had on naming children! No longer names that have always been in the family. Aspirations were changing in other ways — work for example. Primarily for sons, but I love the snark in this reply:

I’d like him to take up chemistry. It’s completely unproductive and therefore well paid. (29)

Young and Willmott continue:

A sizeable minority of men in Bethnal Green take a very different view from white-collar people about the status of manual work, placing jobs such as company director and chartered accountant towards the bottom of the scale and manual jobs, like agricultural laborer, coal miner, and bricklayer, towards the top. These men regard business managers with disfavour because ‘They’re not doing anything. They get their money for walking around’ … Agricultural laborers, on the other hand, they value highly because ‘you can’t do without grub’; coal-miners because ‘without coal, industry stops’; and bricklayers because ‘you’ve got to have houses’. But even some of the men that take this view are anxious that their children should get as good a technical education as possible. (29)

That is one of the best statements of how the world should work I have ever read.

Where People Live

Housing was always an issue given its scarcity, and there follows a long, and brilliantly detailed exploration of how and where people live. After marriage, if the new couple have no home of their own yet, they most often live with the wife’s parents — mother and daughter have a long term bond, can manage in the house together by custom. Willmott and Young write:

Their tenancy is the most valuable property-right many working-class people posses: where the property is privately owned, the rent is low and controlled by law. (33-34)

People inherited tenancies from their parents, sometime going back three generations. This was one of the positive aspects of remaining at home after marriage, but as Young and WiIlmott make clear, most people ‘don’t want to live with them, they want to live near them‘ (35). They include a brilliant quote from Sheldon’s, ‘The Medicine of Old Age’ about similar community in Wolverhampton:

The fact that no less than four per cent of the sample had children living actually next door is astonishing; and there is no doubt that this proportion would have been higher but for the general housing difficulties since 1939, for the opinion was frequently expressed by both generations that this is the best mode of life for the old people, since it enables them to preserve their independence and the married children to lead a separate life, while at the same time ensuring that help is at hand when needed. (36)

This study showed twice as many women as men living in same house with their parents, and twice as many in the same street or block. They talk about the matrilocality of the English working class, and spatially at least this is well born out. (37) They include brilliant little pieces of description of the neighbourhoods they are visiting, and the feel of life there, like their visit to:

a four-roomed house in Minton Street in the middle of the borough. The other houses (but not the two pubs, obviously newer) were all built in the 1870s, of brick which has become a uniform smoke-eaten grey. They are nearly all alike in plan; on the first floor two bedrooms, and on the ground floor a living room, a kitchen, and a small scullery opening on to a yard which has a lavatory at the end of it and patch of earth down one side. Many of the yards are packed with clothes hanging on the line, prams, sheds, boxes of geraniums and pansies, hutches for rabbits and guinea-pigs, lofts for pigeons, and pens for fowls. the only difference between the houses is the colour of the curtains and doorsteps which the wives redden or whiten when they wash down the pavement in front of their doors in the morning. Dilapidated but cosy, damp but friendly, in the eyes of most Bethnal Greeners these cottages are the place, much more so than the huge blocks of tenement buildings standing guard, like dark fortresses, over the little houses . On the warm summer evening of the interview, children were playing hop-scotch or ‘he’ in the roadway while their parents, when not watching the television, were at their open windows. Some of the older people were sitting in upright chairs on the pavement, just in front of the doors, or in the passages leading through to the sculleries, chatting with each other and watching the children at play. (38)

The mother is usually the one who helps get her daughter her own place after marriage — she is the one with connections through the rent collector and through friends. She knows who has died or who is moving out, if she is a good tenant the rent collector can assume her daughter will be too. This means empty apartments go to those from the local area due to this web of connections. Some charitable trusts who owned housing in the area had it as official policy that family gets first chance at flats opening up, in others while not official, that was generally the way things worked. Willmott & Young note too, some of the other arrangements that can be made to reduce animosity over flats where they are scarce, such as letting part to a family who also needs it etc.

This was very different from how the council operated, which is rather fascinating. Willmott &Young noted that at the time of writing the council owned a third of dwelling in the borough and that was increasing. The council worked off of lists not personal connection, and early version of today’s points and priority need. Preference was given to ‘slum’ dwellers and those with high need, and it is easy to see the argument for this, but also you can see what might be lost. In 1957, it was still true that

Bethnal Green suffers from a serious housing shortage. In time, we can hope, it will be much less acute… (42)

Mothers and Daughters

From the above, it is clear just important relationships are. Willmott and Young note the amount of time daughters spend with their mothers, and mothers with their daughters, how it makes no sense to talk about the household as such, particularly given how many meals people share. Again they quote Sheldon on Wolverhampton:

‘In at least 40 per cent of cases they must be regarded as part of a family group, the ramifications of which bear little or no relation to architectural limitations. (48)

I rather love how the family overflows and engulfs the limits of brick walls in that sentence.

There is a multitude of ways listed in which mothers and daughters help each other, but I found this sentence about work quite fascinating:

Part-time work is plentiful in Bethnal Green, both in the small local factories and in the tens of thousands of offices which have to be cleaned in the nearby City, and women are therefore less in need of help from relatives than they would be in many other places. (54)

This would change, I suppose, but it seems to me I have not read much at all that really looks at these employment patterns and the independence such work must have provided. While also being rather shit work.

Husbands and mothers

Another amazing description:

Once arrived in the Hanbury’s front room, most of the guests stood about rather stiffly, holding glasses of beer and sniffing the pickled onions. The Buxtons, that is the bridegroom’s family, were grouped by the window, looking disdainfully at the chipped china dogs on the mantelpiece, the worn linoleum on the floor and the pictures of country scenes which did not quite conceal the damp patches on the wall-paper. (62)

Things liven up though.

You’ll be happy to know that the study found sons to regularly check in on their mothers, it tended to be once a week, and it was often them dropping by on their own. Nice.

The Kinship Network

These are broad, reinforced by regular meetings, but often the mother/oldest sister at their centre, and they tend to dissipate after their death.

The Family in the Economy

More on the many jobs available — it is hard indeed not to think of them as better days:

You do not have to live in Bethnal Green, you only have to take a bus down the main street to notice that this is a place of many industries. You pass tailors’ workshops, furniture makers, Kearley & Tonge’s food warehouse, and near to Allen & Hanbury’s big factory. The borough has by itself a more diversified economy than some countries. But the borough has no frontiers: it belongs to the economy which stretches down both banks of the Thames. At its heart is the largest port in the world, which lines the rives for nearly twenty miles from London Bridge to Tilbury, and supports on every side a web of interconnected industries… (89)

More on immigration, some things don’t change.

Because the East End is a port, and near to the Continent, it is the place where for centuries foreigners have landed to escape from war and persecution in Europe. (89)

Immigration’s connection to employment, though becoming more tenuous

The Huguenots most famously, notes still hand-loom weavers in 1939 and the closure of the last Huguenot silk firm in 1955. Furniture, however, once a spin-off of this trade, still strong though showing signs of winding down…

Several chapters on they have another great story about the Huguenots, where a local resident showed them a document written about the time of the Revolution, some kind of petition to the Governors of the French hospital in Hackney (!) to employ, and treat, his granddaughter. Amazing. But I digress.

Despite this winding down of the furniture trade (though that was still existing in pieces when I worked there), they can still write:

East London is less vulnerable because it has many industries to lean on, and while it cannot avoid being harmed by a general contraction in trade. (91-92)

And they note that those in Bethnal Green able to take the job of their choice. It’s political leanings are no surprise:

Every constituency in East London returns a Labour member to Parliament and every council is controlled by the Labour Party, Bethnal Green regularly electing a complete slate of Labour Councillors almost as a matter of course, The people share their politics; they speak the same language with the same accents; they work with their hands; they have, in short, the same kind of life. These deep-lying bonds between members of a class are also bonds between members of the family. (94)

See? Good old days. Hard to imagine this as Labour now.

One change for the better? Things aren’t quite as openly racist as they used to be:

But for most people the Council is not the prize it was. Security does not now matter enough to offset the low pay. Mr Sanderson, a dustman, explained how far his job had sunk…

Things have got so bad that they recently started about a dozen black men. They’re got the rough and rebel from everywhere. One of the black men was sweeping roads with a cardboard box with eyeholes over his head. The foreman asked him what he was doing that for and he said “Well guv’nor, it’s cold.” If it’s a bad winter, they’ll pack up, go home, and make rum.” (96)

The docks a different story (though probably not in the matter of casual racism), ‘It is a matter of pride to belong to a docker’s family‘. (97) I love this story, though I can’t honestly tell if its racist or not:

There were many well-established families — in a nearby dock, one of these was…known as the ‘Flying Eighteen’, a group of brothers and uncles with legendary sensitivity to the ‘jungle drum beats which let them know a ship was coming up the Thames’. (98)

They always got there first. This closeness of community and family surely has its downside. The study looked at how unions and industries gave preference to members’ sons — Transport and General Workers’ Union, Billingsgate for fish, Covent Garden and Spitalfields for fruit and veg, and Smithfields for meat.  Printing, bookbinding and paper workers the same.

Kinship and Community

Willmott and Young meet some of these challenges head on, at least in terms of the wider white working class:

Since family life is so embracing in Bethnal Green, one might perhaps expect it would be all-embracing… Far from the family excluding ties to outsiders, it acts as an important means of promoting them… The kindred are, if we understand their functions aright, a bridge between the individual and the community… (104)

They give this amazing, cinematic description of Mrs ‘Landon’ doing her half-hour morning’s shopping and telling the name and background of everyone they pass. By her own record of who she saw in a week in the street that she considered herself to ‘know’, there were 63 in total, and 38 were the relatives of someone else she knew. It is in the street, the shop, the pub that people meet each other, NOT in the home, which remains private. But I think much more happened then in public that would now be considered things best kept private.

Again we have another  brilliant description of urban space:

The streets are known as ‘turnings’, and adjoining ones as ‘back-doubles’, Surrounded by their human associations, the words had a glow to them, ‘In our turning we‘, they would say, ‘do this, that, or the other.’ ‘I’ve lived in this turning for fifty years’, said one old man proudly, ‘and here I intend to stay’. The residents of the turning, who usually make up a sort of ‘village’ of 100 or 200 people, have their own places to meet, where few outsiders ever come — practically every turning has its one or two pubs, its two or three shops, and its ‘bookie’s runner’. They organize their own parties…some turnings have little war memorials… (109)

They mention a woman had lived in the same courtyard all of her 62 years, spoke of newcomers with only 18 years residence, shocked to hear the council thought of her court as a slum. Imagine.

Another quote from J.H. Robb Working Class Anti-Semite…I don’t quite know what that is about, will have to look it up, but the quote is a good one:

There is a further localism within the borough. People are apt to look for their friends and their club within a close range. The social settlements draw nearly all their members from within a third of  a mile, while tradition dictates which way borderline streets face for their social life. The main streets are very real social barriers… (110)

So in looking at what holds community together, they write:

The interaction between length of residence and kinship is therefore the crux of our interpretation. Neither is by itself a sufficient explanation. (115)

But above all it is place.

In ending this chapter…If we are to pick out one conclusion, it is the importance of residence.

Marriage, changes of life, all of it

A special cast is given to all these adjustments and readjustments by the fact that they are played out within a limited physical space.  (117)

What better way, they say, to study the importance of residence than to look at what happens to this thick web of connections when there is a change? So on to part two — the new council estate at ‘Greenleigh’, now the truth can come out of the name — the Debden Estate. Why did I think it was the Becontree Estate? Dear oh dear, but it matters not. That will be saved for part 2.

Young, Michael and Willmott, Peter ([1957] 1979) Family and Kinship in East London. Manchester: Penguin Books.

Birthday

A Wednesday this year, weeks ago now in a fog of mad deadlines but bracketed by two weekends full of delights and I took the day off to go to London. The week brought me some of my very dearest friends whom I haven’t seen for years … at the Trinity in Brixton, breaking every rule in Cheltenham. Also a meeting with my editor (I love those words) and free books, the Rock on imax, Holst’s birthplace, Victorian pockets, Mayfield Station, looming chimneysweeps, Annie’s, decanted wine, Fast and Furious live, bookshop and book presents and the reading and some writing of novels, and Mark and my friends. Happiness.

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Akhmatova: grief, revolution, icebergs

I

I found out how faces wilt
How beneath eyelids fear looks out
how suffering cheeks become stiff pages of cuneiform
How black hair
Is suddenly made ashen.
And how, on submissive lips, smiles wither
and fright trembles in a small dry laugh.
And I do not pray for myself only
But for all who stood with me
In the fierce cold and in July’s white heat,
Under the red unseeing wall.
(–Requiem, Epilogue)

She waits for news of her son in prison. So many wait with her.

I love Akhmatova (1889-1966), know there is so much that can’t be translated. Langauge, of course. But meaning also, because of this very specific kind of writing which means probably that me, here, now–I can never read most of the meanings she intended.

Objects, events and characters have been omitted. We feel their existences [though ‘we’ don’t always, because this is not our context] but can’t find them on the page. The images that are there, however, have a strange aptness to this missing context … Acmeism. The explanation we like best is that the Acmeist poem is supposed to be like the tip of an iceberg. Only one-tenth of its mass juts out of the water, but the submerged nine-tenths is also present.
— Lenore Mayhew and William McNaughton, 24

But that’s all right.

I also love this quote from Korney Chukovsky:

It looks as if all of Russia has divided into the Akhmatovas and the Mayakovskys. There is a gap of thousands of years between these people. And they hate one another.

Akhmatova and Mayakovsky are as hostile to each other as the times that made them. Akhmatova is an assiduous inheritor of the most valuable pre-revolutionary treasure of Russian literary culture. She has many ancestors: Pushkin, Boratynsky, and Annensky among them. She has that elegance of spirit and the charm that one acquires through centuries of cultural tradition. … Akhmatova has kept the old Russia, the motherland, “our soil.” He, like a true bard of the revolution, is an internationalist, a citizen of the world, who treats with indifference the “snowy monster,” the motherland…He is in the street, at a mass meeting, in a crowd, he is himself a crowd…

And then, like me, despite being a diehard for the revolution’s hope if not its outcome:

I can say of myself only that … to my surprise, I love both of them … (15-16)

She was from St Petersburg with its shifting names, the heart of the Russian revolution, the siege of Leningrad:

excerpt from ‘To My City’:

And when you did not become my tomb,
You, granite-like, satanic, kind,
You turned pale, became dead and silent,
Our separation is a lie:
I can never be separated from you,
My shadow is on your walls,
My image is in your canals,
The sound of my steps is in the rooms of the Hermitage,
Where I walked with my friend,
And in the old Volkovo Field
Where I could weep freely
Above the silent communal graves.
And what has been noted in the first part
Of love, of passion, of betrayal,
Free verse has thrown down from her wings,
My city stands ‘sewed up’…
The grave-stones weigh heavily
Over your unsleeping eyes.
But it seems as if you follow me,
You who stayed to die
In brightness of steeples
in brightness of water.
–finished in Tashkent, August 18, 1942

From ‘Secrets of the Trade’

X

So much waits,
To use my voice;
A certain wordless rattle
An underground rock in the dark
And something
That fights its way out
Through smoke.
My account’s not settled
With fire
With wind, with water…
So that in light sleep
Suddenly, gates open up
And I go out
Toward the Morning Star.
–1942

The final poem of this lovely collection:

A land not native
That stays in the mind
like a native land
And in the sea, a water not salty
And caressingly cold.

The sand underneath
whiter than chalk
And an inebriate air,
And the rosy body of the pine
Naked in the sunset.

And in this last light
on waves of ether
I can’t tell if the day ends
Or the world, or if it is only,
In me again,
the mystery of mysteries.
(1964)

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The One-Legged Gibbons of County Galway

My dad’s birthday today, St Patrick’s day. He was Patrick Colum Gibbons Jr., of course, but only named for St Patrick indirectly via my grandfather. I miss him more than I can say, grief never does go away, does it? Sometimes it hits me at unexpected moments like the proverbial sandbag, but today, today it is expected.

My dad was amazing, and he never did get to hear the story of the one-legged Gibbons(es) of County Galway, nor see what a beautiful place it is our family comes from, so I thought today I would tell him. It is exactly the kind of story he would have most loved. And then on to a real St Patrick story. Our very own.

Dad

So my great-grandfather Thomas Joseph Gibbons, and his siblings Delia and James immigrated to Pittsburgh from County Galway at the turn of the century. While my great grand-dad was a gambler and an abusive son-of-a-bitch fleeing gambling debts as the story goes (though he also made violins and is listed in the census as a carpenter, which is rather lovely), Delia worked as a maid and cook (and read tea leaves), and James got a job on the tram.

So family legend had it that James lost his leg in an accident on the Pittsburgh tram line. Andrew Melon (that Andrew Melon), Delia’s boss, helped them get a good lawyer, and on the proceeds from the resulting lawsuit, the two took the money and ran, all the way back to Ireland to buy a pub. So in the early fall of 2013 when my partner and I, more by luck than judgment, ended up in a cottage in Toormakeady, I thought I might try and find them. The decision to spend the holiday in the West of Ireland was sort of in honour to dad anyway, so I looked up what he’d been working on and from a postmark on a letter Delia had sent my great-grandmother Mary, we found Clonbur and Gort na Ropa, the ancestral lands also known as the Field of Thieves. In Galway, but right along the border with Mayo. I mean right along the border. Turns out our lovely little cottage was in Mayo, but on the very same road.

So we started in Clonbur, and feeling a little too much like a daft American searching for her past I had a pint of Guinness to steady my nerve, then approached the bartender. I knew it was a long shot I said, but my great-grandfather with his brother and sister had left the area for Pittsburgh, but my aunt Delia and uncle James had come back in the 1920s or 1930s. The thing is, my Uncle James had lost a leg in a tram accident, so they had come back to Ireland with lots of money and my family believed they had bought a pub.

Surely that might be memorable?

The bartender conferred with some gentlemen at the end of the bar. They didn’t know of a Delia, or a James Gibbons who had lost a leg. But maybe I was meaning Gregory Gibbons, who worked out of a garage just down the road? The one who had cut off his own leg with an axe?

But no, he would have been a few years too late, wouldn’t he. No, it couldn’t be him, though he’d only had the one leg.

(and you know, I should have written this down right away, because was it Gregory cut his own leg off with an axe? Was it not Geoffrey? Something else altogether? Was in he in a shed not a shop?)

Still, I was very focused on finding my own James and Delia Gibbons. I look back now and don’t know how I didn’t ask more questions about the Gibbons who had cut off his own leg with an axe. I was embarrassed about the questioning, and single minded. My James hadn’t cut off his own leg after all. No one gives you money for that. If they did we’d all have one leg.

There are two Gibbons’ pubs in the area it might be, they said, so after a long walk in the area (so beautiful, utterly beautiful) we drove to the first on the way home.

It was empty. Gaelic football was on, so it was just the owner’s daughter and her boyfriend. You’ll have to come back to ask my dad to be sure, she said, but she didn’t think it was the pub I was looking for. Still, her dad had bought it from a Bertha Gibbons, and funnily enough, Bertha had also lost her leg.

Diabetes and a problem with her toe and the leg had to be amputated.

Three one-legged Gibbons separated by time yet not space…

Amazing.

We did not find my Aunt Delia or Uncle James, but a story. And we found this place that a piece of me is from, it’s amazing. My family from this stretch between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, on the slopes of Binn Shléibhe:

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In honor of dad today, and in light of ever more material online, I did a little search for James Gibbons, and look what I found — turns out he was a railroad brakeman (so sad I only found a tiny article, but a brakeman…so cool, Eugene V. Debs was a railroad brakeman, or did he just organise them? I can’t remember):

From Friday, August 22, 1924 – Page 7 of The Pittsburgh Press.

And then look here, from the Wednesday, September 28, 1927 – Page 13 of The Pittsburgh Press:

That was a shit ton of money in 1927. They came back home rich unless the lawyers took it all.

They might have. It seems the railroad fought hard, I found text of the judgement on their appeal. They were real bastards:

The plaintiff, claiming defendant had been negligent in the operation of its railroad, and that, as a result, he had suffered injury, brought this action in trespass to recover damages for the loss sustained. A jury rendered a verdict in his favor, and a motion for a new trial was refused.

This judgment allowed the railroad to bring another case because my great great Uncle’s lawyer said this:

It is admitted that counsel for plaintiff stated in argument as follows: “Just look at that man. Does he look like a crook? Does he look like a liar, and does he look like he was a man who was trying to rob some railroad?” This comment was manifestly improper. The question for the jury to determine was not whether Gibbons was a crook, a perjurer or a robber, but whether the facts as testified to showed negligence on part of the railroad, free from proof of contributory negligence of plaintiff. The natural tendency of such language was to put in the minds of the jurors the impression that, if they did not decide in favor of the claimant, their determination would in effect be a declaration that he was of the criminal class suggested.

Real bastards. I suppose it all worked out in our favour in the end?

Galway papers are all behind a firewall, though I did give it a go. Surely there must be something. I tried to find out from the genealogical office just a few miles away from Clonbur in a town littered with Gibbons, we walked past it and dropped in. I told them the story and the man was busy writing it down but stopped almost right away.

You’re from the Galway Gibbons, not the Mayo Gibbons, he said.

Nothing else to say really.

While there we also took a trip out to Inchagoill island, leaving from the pier into Lough Corrib where the old steamers used to leave for Galway City, first step on my family’s journey to the US.

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We were taken across on a boat, and entertained by someone who had appeared as an extra in The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara — he showed us the pictures and all, sang us songs, it was utterly lovely.

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Inchagoill — My dad would have loved it.

The connection with St Patrick takes us back another half century or more. Continuing west on the island the visitor will come to the ruins of the much older St Patrick’s Church. This is related to the legend that St Patrick came to Cong in the middle of the fifth century, as part of his evangelizing mission in Ireland. It is said that he met opposition from the Druids, who practised their own religion at the time. Because of this, Patrick had to flee to Inchagoill, and indeed this is how it got its name, ‘the island of the foreigner.’ The legend has it that Patrick was accompanied by Lugna, or Lugnaedon, his nephew, who acted as his navigator. Lugna is recorded in the ancient Book of Lecan as the son of Limanin, who in turn is named as a sister of St Patrick. On Inchagoill, Lugna and Patrick built the church which bears Patrick’s name.

There is a stone in the ancient graveyard of the church which is the most curious of all the relics there. It is about 70cm in height and is in the shape of a rudder, appropriate for Lugna the navigator. The stone bears a total of seven crosses and an inscription in the ancient Ogham alphabet which was used on monuments. It has been decoded by scholars as LIE LUGNAEDON MACC LMENUEH, which is translated as ‘The stone of Lugnaedon son of Limenueh’. The inscription is also found on the stone in Irish. This is thought to be one of the oldest Christian inscriptions in Europe.

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There is a tiny graveyard and it is full of Sullivans, full of them — we have a Bridget Sullivan or two in our genealogy and I wonder if they are not from here…

Our own mountain from Lough Corrib:

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There is too, Croagh Patrick. Mark and I climbed — almost climbed. We didn’t join the steady line of people to the very top.

Croagh Patrick, which overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo, is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland.

The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption. Its religious significance dates back to the time of the pagans, when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of harvest season.

Croagh Patrick is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. The Black Bell of Saint Patrick was a highly venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for many years.

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So beautiful.

Anyway, this whole place was so imbued with Patrick. Thought I would share all he had found about the family, and tell him I miss him. Dad had written after finding out about Clonbur:

Next vacation to Ireland, this is a spot to visit and soak in roots.

And now? More than you could ever possibly want to know about our branch of the Galway Gibbons from my dad himself. For posterity I suppose, to make it available if anyone else is searching…

Gibbons Genealogy—2009 Recent Work on Thomas Joseph Gibbons, His Siblings & Mary J. Barrett

1. An envelope with no letter was postmarked July 26, 1939 (see copy attached). This letter was sent to Mary Gibbons, our grandmother, from Delia Gibbons, our great aunt, and the postmark was Fairce with return address Buffuld (Buffield? The name designates either a house or farm, typical British naming without numbers), Clonbur, County Galway, Ireland. Fairce (now An Fhaiche) is Gaelic for Clunbur. Clonbur is in Corr na Móna, the parish of Cong, and is on the Galway/Mayo border, the parish being largely in County Mayo. County Mayo as we know is the source of the name Gibbons, being an Anglicized form of Gibouin, Gaelic for Gilbert—Gislebert, a Norman (Norse-French) name.

Delia, if you remember, was sister to Thomas Joseph Gibbons, our grandfather. She came to America as a servant and became a popular cook with some of the wealthier families in Pittsburgh, including for a time that of Andrew “Andy” Melon. She was described as stout and had the ability to read tea leaves. This she apparently did on request when after a meal the tea cups were sloshed around with their little remaining tea then turned upside down and placed on their saucers. Delia would pick up a cup, turn it over, look inside and study the patterns of the leaves. Through this study should would reveal some aspects of the future of that cup’s drinker. She did this so well, she was in high demand. We can know from this that she was able to captivate and audience, certainly those susceptible to such goings on (Andrew Meoln?). We also know she was a good cook of simple fare, as Dad mentioned Andy Melon liked her food above that of his own hired kitchen staff, and that on occasion she even traveled with him so he could get a good, simple meal.

This is about as much as I know of Delia, other than she appears in the 1920 census of Pittsburgh (see attached)—this with the fact that she returned to Ireland, unmarried, with her brother, James, who also was unmarried, sometime after 1920. She was noted as being 45 years old and single in 1920.

The postmark is important as Dad also mentioned that our grandfather, Thomas, came from a place I remember as being pronounced Gortnarumpna. That this place was on Lough Corrib. I have never been able to find such a place in Irish place names. But with the Clonbur address of Delia, I went to the web site of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, did an enlarged topographic view of the area around Clonbur, and there about 1 mile to the southwest of this village I found Gort na Ropa, a setting of fields and half a dozen or so houses on the eastern apron of mount Gable (Binn Shléibhe). This, then, is the place of origin of Thomas Gibbons – and, it must be assumed, of Delia and James. Oh, and Gort na Ropa means Field of Thieves in Irish.

Wikipedia has Clonbur noted and you can search the net for other info on the area. Next vacation to Ireland, this is a spot to visit and soak in roots. It is also possible the cemetery and parish records in Cong will have more information to follow up with the Gibbons line. There may even be some relatives left (note the Griffith’s Valuation charts show a John Gibbons as holding land in Gortnarup (same as Gort na Ropa). Also, note there are Coyne’s holding land in the same place (see Coyne).

Delia Gibbons

A picture of Ross Hill cemetery at Clonbur with Gort na Ropa at the foot of the mountains in the the background. Great aunt Delia should be buried here.

Great Uncle James we know little about, less than that of Great Aunt Delia. Finding him has been difficult as he never married and never owned a house. The one story that comes down clear is that he was a street foreman for the City of Pittsburgh Street Railway, was run over by a city streetcar, and severely injured a leg (lost a leg or part of a leg?). He survived. For probably valid reasons he claimed the City of Pittsburgh was at fault. Great Aunt Delia somehow persuaded Andrew Melon to get involved and he instructed one or two of his lawyers to act on behalf of James to sue the City of Pittsburgh for damages. The suit was successful and James was awarded the highest damages given out in the country up until that time ($80,000?—a figure once or twice jogged out of my poor memory). The conclusion of this tale is, that however much the settlement was for, it was more than enough for James and Delia to take the money and to return comfortably to Ireland. We know Delia returned from the letter in this collection. The story rings true. That James used Melon’s attorneys and had his backing also rings true as the danger of losing the contest would have more than bankrupted James—he never had the kind of money, status, or union to end up on the wrong side of the City of Pittsburgh’s wealth and batch of attorneys. Losers pay court costs. I suspect an out-of- court settlement given the guns put up here.

I have no picture of James, no legal records of birth, immigration, naturalization, military registration. I do find a James Gibbons in the 1920 census (taken 8 January; see attached) which fits him—somewhat. This shows a James B. Gibbons as 50 years old (birth then about 1870 which fits, being from the second marriage), Irish (fits), single (fits) and occupation as Street Foreman (fits) for the City of Pittsburgh (fits). The puzzling aspect of this record is that he is living with a sister, a Catherine Barry who’s age is given at 67 (born about 1853 from the first marriage, which fits) and who is widowed (which is why she is living with him). If this James is brother to Thomas, then the sister is a half-sister.

What to make of this? There are a few other James Gibbons living in Pittsburgh (again a common Gibbons name), but none who fit so exactly our James. We do know that our great grandfather had two marriages. One was to a Bridget Sullivan (our direct line) and one an unknown Coyne. We also know that there was a half-brother of Thomas, our great half-uncle, living in Pittsburgh. As noted elsewhere in this report, I believe this half- brother is John Gibbons. The age given for Catherine puts her birth before any of the three siblings—Thomas, James and Delia—and makes her a likely candidate for there being a half-sister here in the states along with half-brother John. I know no more about this Catherine Barry.
An added problem occurs in the 1920 census, for the enumeration for Thomas and family (taken 25 April) shows James, brother, age 50, occupation carpenter, now living with them. The conclusion is that either the James who is Street Foreman is not the brother of Thomas (unlikely), or that James moved in with Thomas after the January census take and was re-enumerated in April, all residents being counted. This latter is the more likely by my thinking, knowing the mess the census data is. See the Thomas section below.

Thomas Joseph Gibbons, our grandfather, is as elusive as his siblings, but not in the census data—or not quite. The quality of factual data in the census from year to year is terrible. The years do find people, though. The first census that I find Thomas in is 1900 (taken 6 June). Here the last name is spelled “Givens,” not “Gibbons.” We must remember that both Thomas and Mary were native Gaelic speakers and English was a second language, making their English speech probably a bit difficult to understand to some. Misspellings occur with great frequency in the census, not just with our family. This 1900 census has Thomas as born in December of 1866 (showing him as age 33) in Ireland and having arrived here in 1884. He is married to a Mary who is age 27, born in January of 1873. They have been married for 5 years (the marriage taken place in 1895). They have two children: James (age 3) and Annie (age 5/12). Thomas is shown as a laborer. Mary is showing as having given birth to 3 children with two living. This all fits.

He again appears in the census of 1910 (taken 22-25 April) as Thomas Gibbons age 39 (a discrepancy having him born in 1871—typical of his fiddling with his age), married to Mary for 14 years with Mary’s age as 35 (making her born now in 1875), both married for 14 years (the marriage now in 1896 unless they were married between 25 April and 6 June, which put the marriage back to 1895). Children are James (age 12), Anna (10), Bridget (8), Margretta (6), Patrick C (3) and Thomas (1 month). Thomas shows his immigration year now as 1883, that he is naturalized and that he is a carpenter. Mary now shows her immigration year as 1888 (making her only 13 years old coming to the states —not likely). Mary is noted as having had 8 children with only six living. From Dad, I know that there was a Bridget who died young. The Bridget shown here has to be Isabelle who fits into this birth order slot and who is missing. What is with our family?

The 1920 census (25 April) has Thomas now age 54 (being born once more in 1866), having immigrated in 1884 (like the 1900 census) and naturalized in 1900. He again is shown as a carpenter now working in an oil refinery. Mary is now age 50 (again born in 1875) having immigrated in 1888 (like the 1910) and naturalized in 1900 (maybe). I repeat that the only Mary Barrett arriving in New York between 1888 and 1891 who fits her profile is the Mary of 1891. Other Mary Barrets arrived but none of the proper age and through New York. This puts Mary’s naturalization date in question. In fact, I question if she was ever naturalized, but simply said so. Mary is noted as having had 8 children with 6 living. The children are: James (age 22), Anna (19) Isabell (17), Margaret (15), Patrick (12), Thomas (9). This all fits. Here for the first time appears James, brother of Thomas, age 50, carpenter in construction, now living with them. Note that Bridget has disappeared and Isabell is in her place. From this we can assume that sometime before 1910 a Bridget was born between Ann and Patrick and died less than 8 years old, perhaps in the great Swine Flu epidemic of 1918.

The 1930 census (25 April) does not show Thomas with Mary, rather Mary is now head of household. Her age is 53 (making her born again in 1877, not 1875), that she is married (note not widowed), was married at age 22 (year about 1899 which is impossible as she already had James and Ann); her immigration year is 1890 (not 1888 or 1891) and she was naturalized in 1890 (not possible if she immigrated in 1890—again, I don’t think she was naturalized). Living at home are James J (age 32, born now in 1898) and Patrick C (21, born now in 1909—what a mess). Issy and Tom are not shown as resident, though they certainly were in the later 30’s.

What we get from this is that Thomas is not living with his wife. We know that Thomas was largely estranged from his children, that he had little contact with them and kept himself privately to himself. We know that Dad would not talk of his father other than to say he was an excellent carpenter and also was a good fiddle maker (which meant he probably could play as well). Dad also said we were related to Grinling Gibbons, the great English carver, though I don’t know if this is so (strong doubts, probably put into his head from his father). I know neither Issy nor James talked about Thomas in my presence. Indirectly, from Mother, I gather Thomas was an abusive alcoholic, though she said no more about it though she reaffirmed no one would talk about him. He is whispered to have left Ireland under cloudy aspects, gambling with money he did not have—a runaway welcher. We also know that he was Church of Ireland (allowing his line to own and pass on land) while Mary was RC—an added problem with Mary’s strong church ties and faith. His absence here indicates a thought out (welcomed?) separation.

So where is Thomas? He shows up in the 1930 censes (12 April) in Pittsburgh living with who I believe to be his half-brother, John. This census taker made error upon error throughout his taking, particularly with place of origin, seeming always to put Pennsylvania down then overwriting. The form shows Ireland as place of origin for Thomas then being overwritten by England (the time of Thomas immigration Ireland was in the hands of the UK, England being frequently used instead of Ireland in the census, even on some ship rolls). Here Thomas is shown as a lodger, age 62 (born 1868), married (at age 26, making the year about 1894), immigrated (1886), and occupation as laborer in a mill. While this data sort of fits, I have reason to conclude this is our Thomas if you look at the John Gibbons info.

Thomas does not appear anywhere after 1930. I know nothing of his death, year, or place of burial.

Mary Gibbons (nee Mary J. Barrett) I now know has the middle initial “J” (see census data for 1930). It could stand for “Jane” (popular at the time in Ireland) or for “Jo” as used in the family or? I have found no naturalization data on her, but have found her in the 1900 census as entering the country in 1891 (other census data gives differing dates, but this is the first census in which she shows up and, I believe, the most trustworthy). Dad said she came in at New York’s Castle Garden (old Fort Clinton). There is a record of a Mary Barrett debarking from the ship City of Paris, Steerage class, 21 May, 1891 (see attached). Her age at the time was estimated at 18 which would put her birth at 1873. Her birth as noted on the 1900 census is January of 1873 making the two dates fit. You should note that from census to census (see attached) ages change along with dates of entry—the census data is quite unreliable for dating. This family seems to have no sense of years or has some superstition against giving accurate dates. Also, it must be noted, that Mary Barrett is a somewhat common name (too Irish; it would help if her name was Gertrude or such). This is the best fit I can make here from all given data and as it is her first census I believe she would give a more accurate reading of her birth—nerves and fear of government (they did live under English rule back in Ireland). Mary does show up as head of household in the 1930 census, still married, not widowed, with Thomas missing. See the section here on Thomas—maybe not missing. Interesting.

The rest of Mary’s history is collated in a number of photos and letters to Patrick (Dad) archived here in Tucson. She was largely in poor health in her late fifties and into her sixties, took some sort of daily medication that soothed her chronic nervous condition, complained bitterly about her children living with her (Tom and Issy)—too much partying, not enough money given her for needed food and rent. Dad and Jack Jones (her daughter Ann’s husband, later Tom) would send money frequently to help with bills. I do know they somehow rigged the electric feed (with a coin) into the house (Fisk Street house, Pittsburgh) so that electrical usage did not register with the utility. It seems suggestive from her letters that she developed a heart condition, but she took no notice of it with regard to being active. She would get up each day at 5:00 AM and start a laundry (Sunday I am certain was excluded)—ignoring the suggestions of her children to take it easy, that laundry did not have to be done every day. She was deeply religious and Roman Catholic. She also was controlling in that she expected her children to be un- American and closely hang around her or return with frequency—a very rural way of thinking. She disliked the freedoms expressed by Issy and Tom and longingly pleaded with Dad to come home for every holiday, including the Fourth of July. In one instance she would not eat candy sent her by Dad until he came home (from Detroit) to share it with her.

As you already know she died in 1943 from burns suffered when in her morning routine she went to light the coal fire and her night-dress caught fire. I never knew her though Blanche may have some vague memory of her. Mother described her as saintly—that she had a visible glowing aura about her. Issy (her daughter Isabelle—Issy’s spelling) claimed that Mary was from a line of French Jews who fled Ireland at the time of the Huguenot massacre in France. That Mary’s line was not West-Country Barrett, but the name came from the beret which was worn by the French (it is true that the East Irish Barretts derive their name from this hat and that they were French refugees). Take this for what it is worth. DNA would show the mitochondrial line and resolve it.

Coyne. The name meant little to me until I found that a John Coyne held land in Gort na Ropa (Gortnarup)—this from Griffith’s Valuation (see attached). This triggered a memory. Dad once or twice mentioned that there was a female Coyne married to his grandfather. The fact that a John Gibbons and a John Coyne both held property in Gort na Ropa (a tiny place) strongly indicates these two families are related. This would fit the story of our grandfather having two marriages, one to a Coyne and the other to our great grandmother, Bridget Sullivan. I cannot remember our great-grandfather’s name. It could also be Thomas (seems to ring a tinkle of a bell).

Uncle John in Mary’s letters is a mysterious figure. Who is he? I believe I have found him: John Gibbons. Three clues were given by Dad to help the search. Dad mentioned that Thomas had a half brother living in Pittsburgh, that he was very tall and given the title “Spire” Gibbons—a decidedly Irish pun of political twist. He was a self-taught flute player who could play anything by ear and from memory. He had two sons. He had a wife who went blind. This is all I started to work with. Mary writes about an Uncle John and in a letter has James going to see him with a question about Francis. Francis appears in her letters and letters from Peg, Dad’s sister Margaret. So I started looking in the census data for a gibbons with two sons, one named Francis. As the half-brother would be from the earlier marriage of Thomas’ father, he would be older than any of the three siblings, Thomas, James and Delia.

I found him. John Gibbons. He first appeared in the Pennsylvania 1910 Miracode Index (see attached), birthplace Ireland, age 46 (birth about 1864, thus older than the sibs), married to a Hadler (native Pennsylvanian) age 45, and with two sons, Francis (age 18) and Joseph (15) both born in Pennsylvania, with another occupant, a Hannil (can’t they read the writing? What’s a Hannil?), age 47, sister-in-law. The ages work out, the two sons fit, and having a sister-in-law somewhat reaffirms the need for some help if John’s wife had recently gone blind. But more needed to be looked into.

Next the census of 1900, where the two sons would show up in the search. I found them again in Pittsburgh and with a better fit. John Gibbons, age 39 (born Jan 1861), origin Ireland, married, laborer, arrived in 1883. John is married to Mary E., born May,1863 in Pennsylvania (parents both born in Ireland), married for 12 years (about 1888), had 4 children, 2 living: Francis (age 8 born September 1891) and Joseph (age 5 born July 1894).

The census of 1920 finds John, age 56, renting and as a laborer. Mary, age 54. Joseph, age 22. Francis has left. There are no other residents shown. The sister-in-law is gone.

The 1930 census has John 66, now owning a house valued at $5,050 and working as a watcher with the Railroad; he is still married to Mary who is now 64 and there are no children still at home. Who does show up is a Thomas Gibbons, married, and living without wife as border. This is our anti-social and missing grandfather I suspect gone to live with his half-brother.

I find no record of John and Mary after this census. The 1940 census is not available to me.

Lastly, if John had a sister here, then the widowed Catherine Barry would be Catherine Gibbons of the first marriage of our great grandfather. I am not interested in pursuing this line as it has too may dead ends and “if’s.”

Great grandfather Gibbons. Our great grandfather is a mystery to me. He clearly lived just over the Mayo border in Galway, in the scattered farm area of Gort na Ropa (also spelled Gartnarup) just southwest of Clonbur (An Fhairche), Corr na Móna, Galway. His name may be Thomas (John?). He was married twice (from Dad), his first wife being a Coyne, first name unknown and who probably died in childbirth or complications from, as was common at the time. His second wife was Bridget Sullivan. Both marriages would have been in Clonbur or Cong. Our grandfather Thomas was Church of Ireland (from Mother), Protestant, and the current church in Clonbur is Roman Catholic. I suspect the marriage may have been civil or in the nearest Anglican parish church (St. Mary’s Church, Cong—as of today—though there is a ruined church, probably Anglican and recently abandoned, in Clonbur; there is a RC Church in Clonbur, St. Patrick’s, but of more recent build). Today Gort na Ropa is in the parish of Cong, largely in Mayo. More than likely he was a renter of land and house, or lived with a close relative who did so. The record of ownership for the Gortnarup area shows a John Gibbons as tenant in Gortnarup, block 4a and labelled “Gully” on the accompanying map, this in Griffith’s Valuation (see attached). About Griffith’s Valuation (www.failteromhat.com/griffiths.php or http://griffiths.askaboutireland.ie/gv4/gv_family_search_form.php): Irelands Valuation office conducted its first survey of property ownership and tenants in Ireland from 1848 to 1864. This survey became known as ‘Griffiths Valuation’ after Richard Griffith who was the director of the office at that time. The survey was used to determine the amount of tax each person should pay towards the support of the poor within their poor law union. This involved determining the value of all privately held lands and buildings in rural as well as urban areas to figure the rate at which each unit of property could be rented year after year. The resulting survey was arranged by barony and civil parish with an index to the townlands appearing in each volume. Griffith’s Valuation can be used as census substitute for the years after the Great Famine as censuses prior to 1901 were destroyed.” It is important to note that both a John Gibbons (as well as a John Coyne) held land in Gortnarup at the time of this valuation. This John Gibbons most certainly is in our family line.

It can also be noted that Gibbons as tenants in Galway at the time of this valuation are very few. The name is not common. There is a cluster around Gortnarup, on the coast to the west and a few scatterings both east and west of Lough Corrib. Of the Thousands of tenants in Galway, only 106 are Gibbons, and some of these are repeats as one Gibbons may be tenant on more than one property making the actual number of Gibbons even fewer.

I also do not know anything about Bridget Sullivan other than she is from the area (how big an area?) and would have been a Gaelic speaker.

There is one other relative mentioned by Dad. This relative was game keeper for a local estate. The one large estate nearby is the Guiness estate just east of Clonbur. There is also the Lynch family (hated locally). There were other holdings in the area of which I know nothing. I do know that this family member would occasionally bring game to the family, legally or not. I do not remember the name of this relative.

Though this place and time in our family line is but one movement or our line from a place to another place, Gort na Ropa is unique. This narrow strip of land between two large lakes was the passage of war—mountain people to the west, plains people to the east—many a cow and horse must have made its stolen way here.

Also note that our Field of Thieves is historically/mythically extremely important to Irish memory. Here at Mount Gable, according to legend, the Fir Bolg assembled on the summit before their confrontation with the Tuatha Dé Danann at the Battle of Moytura. This was a big one. Wikepedia notes: “In far antiquity the Fir Bolg were the rulers of Ireland (at the time called Ériu) immediately before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who many interpret as the Gaelic gods. The King of the Tuatha Dé, Nuada, sued for half the island for his people, but the Fir Bolg king refused. At the ensuing Battle of Mag Tuired the Fir Bolg were all but conquered and their king slain by the goddess Morrigu, though the fierce efforts of their champion Sreng saved them from utter loss, and the Tuatha Dé were so touched by their nobility and spirit they gave them one quarter of the island as their own. They chose Connacht. After this, the Fir Bolg all but disappear from mythology.” Neat!
Search the net to add your own color here. Fun. http://clonbur.galway-ireland.ie/

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Arizona Dreaming

Tucson during the monsoons is one of my favourite places…it’s one of my favourite places most times I have to admit. And my brother Dan is home for the summer, and my cousin Alana is living with my folks now, so it was a houseful and that is always nice.

On Saturday we went up to Mount Lemon, I remember some time ago coming home to see the entire mountain on fire, clouds of smoke in fantastic shapes, the air alive with the all the colour and smell and ash of fire…half of the mountains burned one year, and the rest in the next, along with most of Summerhaven (though the pie shop survived! My dad swears that was due to his prayers, and the prayers of everyone who has ever been there…). It is amazing to see how the trees living and dead show how fire skips and leaps, how it razes the side of mountains leaving patches of trees intact, how it jumps over the bottoms of arroyos, stops at the crests of hills. And the trees remind me of Scotland in the wintertime, I love their stark silhouettes against the sky and the distant views. Or I would if only these trees would also return to life come Spring. Still, they have an incredible beauty to them that I almost prefer to what was there before. I wonder why I prefer my beauty bleak?

Mt. Lemon after the fires

And here is another view of it…

We went up the ski lift…the first time I have ever done that in all the years we have been going up there! Here’s the family up at the top:

And my little brother out on the rocks at Windy Point…that’s Tucson in the background, only about 20 minutes down from the pine forest…it is an amazing thing to go from the Sonoran desert to forest in such a short time…

After the mountain we headed over to the Hut to see some amazing and funky music courtesy of Dan’s friends…everyone playing was good, and the rain was coming down in torrents outside, the thunder and lightening going off, the roof leaking…it was quite spectacular. Got home after 2, woke up early the next morning for brunch at Sun’s, and then saw the Dark Knight. Which was also spectacular. And I loved Heath Ledger. And the only bit that made me sad was when the Joker equated anarchy with chaos and said he stood for both…anarchy is not chaos, it is the opposite of it. So I damned the writers and the confusion of their politics but didn’t let it interfere with the rest of the movie. I definitely recommend it.

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Ancestors

ancestors

Had a crazy and wild evening of tv planned for today, but I feel like writing instead…and maybe playing with arg, we shall see if I get round to that. Thought I’d celebrate dia de los muertos with words rather than altars of marigolds and candles and statues, more my line after all…

My dad’s parents, Patrick Colum Gibbons and Margarette McCullough…here they are with my great grandmother Mary Barrett, direct from Ireland:

Mary Barrett died in Pittsburgh before I was born, her housecoat caught fire while she was loading the wood stove. Her husband had died long before that, not sure how…he was forced to leave Ireland fleeing gambling debts, made beautiful violins, and was a drunken bastard by all accounts. This is how I like to remember my grandparents:

My grandfather was much older, no one knows quite the year he was born…he used to drink back in the day as well, but never when I knew him. He spoke Irish. My dad said that he used to work in a steel mill in Detroit until one day the wire that they were using to bind a roll of steel broke, and the pressure caused it to snap around slicing one of his coworkers in half. He walked out of the mill and started selling insurance, but I remember him telling the dramatic story of how he got that job during the great depression, when men were crowding around the gates and they chose him to come inside and start working. I liked his stories, but it was so long ago that I hardly remember them. He loved pinochle. He loved me when I was very little, and my parents were living in Taos and could visit regularly. Apparently I started screaming when I was born and continued for several years without much pause, no one would babysit me but him, because he could always get me to laugh and smile. I couldn’t talk to him much when I got older because he was rigidly traditional and Catholic, and would go on about birth control and abortion and women’s places. He might have loved me when I was little, but I always think he valued my brothers more, being boys. He did not recognize me at all just before he died, and would ask about me whenever I left the room, he was convinced that my parents had had 3 kids not 4. He couldn’t seem to acknowledge that I had graduated from college, and would explain to me kindly that highschool was enough for any woman who wanted to get married, and I shouldn’t push my luck. Steel, steel was the industry of the future, and if I had to work, I should try and be a secretary for a steel company. I mostly just thought this was funny, but perhaps it hurt just a little. I drank my first shot of whisky and danced my first jig with aunt Kathy and aunt Barbara at the wake we held after his funeral.

My grandmother I knew a little better, since she came to live with us after my grandpa died, but I think by that time she wasn’t at all as she had been. She was immensely strong-willed, and immensely Catholic as well. She wasn’t born catholic though…she had 4 children with my grandfather, converted close to 15 years after the 4th was born, and proceded to have 3 more. What made me the saddest about my grandmother was that she could not tell stories at all, I tried before she died to know her better. I don’t know if she couldn’t remember things or didn’t want to, or just couldn’t find the words…so I just really know what she was like in the last few years of her life. She loved Harlequin romance novels that had sections in them that made me blush, she loved the Inquirer and other rags and I think she believed about 60% of what she read. She always feared the worst, if anyone was home late it was because there had been an accident, if my mum was cutting up vegetables it was “careful Ruth, don’t lose a finger,” if she was in any pain at all it was the worst most intolorable pain possible. She told me that John Kerry was a gay lover and a baby killer when I told her who I was voting for. I took care of her, did everything for her for a couple of weeks when my dad was sick with cancer in the hospital over christmas two years ago, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done both physically and mentally. When she died I think it was a blessing for her and for us because she couldn’t do anything for herself any more and was getting beyond the point of my folks being able to take care of her. When I heard the news I was at a conference in Portland, and I thought I would be alright but I wasn’t…I fled to the restroom to cry, and actually went and found a catholic church to sit in for a while. I loved her in spite of everything. My favourite story about her is that when the doctors told my grandfather he had less than a year to live because of his asthma, my grandmother travelled by herself from Detroit to Albuquerque with a cane and a broken foot, bought a house, and bullied the whole family into the move…my grandfather lived another 20 years.

My mum’s parents I hardly knew of at all…here is their wedding picture in London, during the middle of the war:

Grandma jean also married a much older man…it’s funny that both my grandmothers married much older men and both were very unhappy in their marriages, but Margartte stuck it out and Grandma Jean couldn’t. My grandfather’s name was Robin Dar Woodcock, and he died years before I was born. This is how I remember grandma Jean:

Here she is with her second husband at her home Wayes in Devon. he was an old farmer who spoke like a pirate and I understood very little of what he said. He wore braces that creaked a great deal. I believe the calf’s name was Daisy, and I loved that farm…everything except the pigs. I only met her twice, once when I was five, and again when she was dying of cancer and I was 13. I’m thinking i’d like to spend some time learning more about her, and about my grandfather. I know she could milk cows and make clotted cream. I know that during the war she unravelled an old sweater, dyed and respun the wool, and knitted herself a new one. She was a tremendous knitter, and used to send us these amazing bulky parcels wrapped in brown paper with loads of colourful stamps, with blankets and presents packed in plastic tubs that used to hold cornish ice cream. Mum said that grandma was very very shy, was afraid of conflict, and had trouble coming out and saying what she was thinking and how she was feeling…she had bleeding ulcers before she walked out on my grandfather on a Friday and split the family in two, lost most of her friends, lost her son for a while. I have only ever seen two pictures of my grandmother and grandfather, when she left him, my grandfather destroyed the photographs that she was in…she lived a tragic life I think, but I salute her courage. Unlike my other grandmother who became more opinionated and bitter, I remember Grandma jean as being quiet and kind and warm and lovely.

Father Al Lot…the only priest I have every truly loved and respected, he was brilliant. Here is a picture of him and my brother Dan:

he was very unorthodox or I should never have loved him…he believed in liberation theology and loving your neighbor, he did not believe in hell or most of the Old Testament. He was passionately in love with his wife. I remember him standing outside church smoking his cigarrettes, telling funny stories and cursing with the best of them. I have met few kinder, more compassionate people, who actually worked to practice what he believed in, and I respect him tremendously for that. He also had a fantastic sense of humour and an incredible singing voice. He told me this story once about when he was a priest in San Francisco in the 1960’s (fair boggles the mind, that), and was asked to officiate at a wedding. When he arrived he found that everyone, bride and groom included, were naked…this is the 60’s remember. So what did he do? Took off his cassock and married them in the nip. I miss him.

This has become a novel, but I’m writing it for me, not for you!

Jeannie Sweetser…she was beautiful, funny, and lived by herself in a trailer in the desert off of Valencia and had a bit of land and a lovely horse named Treasure. We used to go riding sometimes. She ran our youth group (parents were big churchgoers in case you’re curious, we were inflicted with a large number of church activities as children), and I remember seeing 21 Jump Street at her house for the first time and falling in love with Johnny Dep. She, on the other hand, was in love with George Michael, and I’m only glad she died before forced to realize the bitter truth! She had the fattest cat I have ever seen even now, affectionately known as hippo. She once let Jeff Voutas drive her truck down her dirt road to practice for his driving test. I was in the front seat with her, and my brother Mike and Steve were in the back when somehow Jeff hit the gas and couldn’t get his foot off to find the brake and we veered off the road and fucking ran over quite a large mesquite…um…tree? Anywhere but Tucson people would call it a shrub, but all of us remember the day that Jeff ran over a tree. I really thought I was going to die, and some major bruising occurred in the back of the truck, but I remember when the truck finally stopped and we had all poured ourselves out and surveyed the damage (minimal to the truck, maximum to the tree), we all burst out laughing and couldn’t stop for quite a long time. Jeannie was shot in the head with her own handgun that she kept for protection, and it was ruled a suicide but everyone believes her boyfriend killed her. I was in highschool then…she was probably only a few years older than I am now. I miss her too.

Dr. Travis, my freshman english high school teacher commited suicide with a handgun as well. He had this amazing warm smile full of teeth, and he wore a hairpiece, you could sometimes see the glue, and he wore this red v-neck sweater all of the time…he was a good teacher and actually gave us interesting things to write about unlike the substitutes who took his place. I didn’t know him well at all of course, but it was shocking that no one had known anything…he was always so jolly and laughing.

Ricky Zajac, a delightful little Polish woman from church as well…she also lived in a trailer for a long time surrounded by religious kitsch that definitely looked Catholic, so why she was at an Episcopalian church is a bit beyond me. She used to own a polka bar in Chicago, and the mob paid her off to use her basement, not like she had much choice in the matter. I wish I could have seen her back in the day, but she had no photographs from those times on display, and I never thought to ask her. She stayed with my parents for a few months when her daughter left Tucson…she died a few months after her daughter dragged her off to Seattle to live with her again.

Winding down…this year has been hard, lost Noel Zuniga who I didn’t know well but whose mother is one of my favourite people and it broke my heart to see her pain. Mrs. Alexander. Eddie Nunez. I hope next year I won’t have any new people to remember…and I hope there are none that I have forgotten!