Monday, 3 July 2017

A Bit of Family History

In March 2017 we lost my Uncle Geoff at the age of 83. He had gone into hospital the week before Christmas and had spent a few weeks in February and March in a care home with a few more spells in hospital. It had almost been a long standing joke that although he was a keen photographer, we virtually never saw any of his photos. But I'm not sure we expected to find the wealth of early family photos that we came across, once we started to sort through his estate. Here are family members as I had never seen them before. Some of them I had never seen full stop. Some of them I didn't know their names until recently. Some, sadly, I still don't know quite who they are...

This is my Great-Grandma Margaret (Maggie) Brierley, aged 18 in 1898. In the May of that year she gave birth to my grandmother so I'm guessing this is either late in the year or very early and the hand is strategically placed... Incredibly a couple of months after I scanned this professionally produced card, I unwrapped the paper from around what I thought was a framed photo and found the original glass negative of this photo!

I had never seen a photograph of this man before. He is my Great-Grandad Brierley. I'm afraid I don't know his name even now. And I presume he is standing with either his own mother or Maggie's mother so she must be one of my great-great-grandmothers!

Coming down a generation, this could almost have come from those incredible photographs in the book Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. However, this is my grandmother, Annie Brierley who would later marry John Burke (after whom I was named) and her sister, my Great-Aunty Elsie.

By the age of 17, Annie was quite the beauty. This would be 1915, the year she met "Johnny".

Taken the previous year in 1914, this is John Burke, my grandfather. He never went away to war, being a trained engineer, his work was essential to the war effort back home and he had already lost two fingers from his right hand in an accident at work. Whilst no doubt a relief to John's family, the photo of him in the uniform with Royal Field Artillery badge probably suggests he would have wanted to go. The cap badge was carefully kept and stored away for us to find (below) along with RFA shoulder badges and a few other mementoes.

John's badges denoting him as being on War Service. Without these identifiers he would have been in danger of receiving the infamous white feathers from patriotic women, suggesting he was a coward. The badge on the left is from David Bridges engineering firm in Castleton, Rochdale. Dated 1915 it would that year be outlawed by the Government as they thought firms were trying to keep their trained workers by issuing their own badges. The Government brought out their own enamelled badges, but then realised just how many men were essential to the war effort in factories at home and very quickly issued the plain brass badge seen on the right. Individually numbered on the back, the identity of anyone wearing one could be quickly ascertained by the authorities.

William Thomas Burke was John's father, my great-grandfather. A man who I knew nothing about whatsoever until we found this and a few other bits of information. I previously had never seen a photo, nor knew his name. I still know next to nothing about him other than the name. A postcard he sent tells me that he had a dog named Lady and there we are - my only knowledge about him.

Mary Burke was John's sister. She hated the fact that people in Rochdale pronounced "Mary" to rhyme with "furry" and decided she would be known as "Cissie", by which name she was known all of her life.

Cissie never married, though according to my Mum, she had had a string of admirers and in this photograph from the 1920s/1930s she certainly did not lack for confidence! I only remember her as a grey-haired and very wrinkled old lady who smoked one cigarette after the other until eventually in her eighties, she succumbed to lung cancer. She remained slim all of her life and had a good sense of humour and lived in the house that her parents had lived in on the main road in Castleton, Rochdale. I remember she had an outside loo with a long drop over an open sewer far below which you could glimpse by shining a torch down. It terrified me as a kid...

The marriage of my grandparents, John Burke to Annie Brierley on 11 June 1921. From left to right: Percy Alston, my Great-Uncle by marriage as he was soon to marry Annie's sister, Elsie Brierley, who stands next to him. John has been posed carefully so that it might appear that his missing two fingers on his right hand are merely folded back to hold the glove; Annie, looking a little lost in the moment of it all; Jim Ivory - I know the name but nothing else; and finally Cissie, seated at the right. The wide and low brims of Annie and Cissie's hats have led the photographer to employ some trickery to make their eyes visible. I suspect the use of a masking device when printing allows the whites of their eyes to show and their eyes have then been drawn in at least partly with pencil. Unfortunately in Cissie's case this has given her a slight squint which she definitely did not have in real life!

Fifty years later in June 1971 this was taken on John and Annie's Golden Wedding celebration. Johnny had been let out of hospital especially for the occasion. He had been walking to Great-Grandma Brierley's one day in 1970, forgot where he was going in the middle of crossing the main road and just turned round to walk back home - straight into the path of a car. Horribly injured, whilst he survived, his mind wandered and this would be the only time he came out of hospital before he died in December 1973.

Back Row: Evelyne Burke, my Mum; Elsie Alston, Annie's sister; Florrie Woolfenden, Annie and Elsie's aunt, my great-great-aunt and sister to Maggie Brierley; Cissie Burke.
Front Row: Annie and John Burke, my grandparents; Maggie Brierley, Annie's mother and my great-grandmother. Two years later 1973 would be a terrible year for the family, bringing the deaths of Elsie Alston (Percy had died in 1971 not long before this gathering), Cissie Burke, Johnny Burke, and Maggie Brierley.

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