Alice Maud Richards Marriage
On Sunday, December 19th, 1909 Alice Maud Richards and Frederick John Ellis were married at the Wesleyan Church in Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw (demolished in the 70s). Alice was twenty nine. Frederick was thirty five - six years older. He was a stevedore at the Dockyard and the son of our elusive brick wall, James Henry Ellis who is here described as a florist (master) - the only time in his life he has such a grandiose title. Alice was living at 38 Foster Road near the Dockyard and Frederick was living at 46 East Street, down by the Camber Dock. Neither of them had been married before. Alice’s father and sister, Flora were the witnesses, which is slightly curious as usually one has a witness from each side of the family - and James Henry was certainly still alive. Maybe he couldn’t write and was ashamed to show this lack. But why not one of the sisters?
By this time the Salvation Army did have the power to marry, but all the branches did not all take up the opportunity. Besides Frederick, it seems was not in the Salvation Army and so they would have had to marry elsewhere, - hence the Wesleyan Church and Alice would have had to give up her status as a Lieutenant in the Army. The Salvation Army has, what some regard as a harsh marriage policy. If you marry outside the army you’re gone. The reason given is that:
“founders William and Catherine Booth believed that two officers could serve better than one officer whose spouse wasn't committed to the ministry.” In other words, total commitment was required. It was the Army before all else.
So it must have been a bit of wrench for Alice. We think that henceforth Alice’s commitment to the Army would have been purely as a place to worship - and maybe to attend women’s meetings. But then again I’m sure it was a genuine commitment for her. I remember her dressing up in her uniform, and I even have a vague memory of attending a meeting with her once, when I was a small child. Maybe after Frederick’s death she was able to return to a fuller association.
One can only hope that she loved Frederick greatly - they certainly look happy enough in the photograph above right, or that she was only half-committed to the Army anyway. I wouldn’t like to think that she married him because she was getting old ((29 would have been old to be single in those days). Apparently, when asked by her daughter why she did not remarry she said, “One man is enough”, which you could take either to mean that he was irreplaceable or that she was glad to be free.
Whatever, the nature of her commitment, and Frederick’s lack of it, we think that it must have been through the Army that they met, as Frederick’s father, was also a Salvation Army man. It seems to be the common denominator in their background.
The next record we have is the 1911 census. At this time they were living at 35 Lombard Street - now one of Portsmouth’s trendiest streets. However, I think no. 35 is no longer there - lots of the street was damaged in the war (more later) and I suspect that no. 35 was one of those that disappeared. Anyway sometime in the next two years they moved up the street to no.13 where the family stayed until 1930. No. 13 is the white house (apparently now known as the grey house) - second along from the left in the picture on the right. The city’s conservation statement describes it thus:
“No. 13. c. 18 century Two storeys and attic, gable end old tile roof common with No. 11. Red brick with grey headers, now painted. One round headed dormer. Two recessed sash windows to each floor. Panelled door with flat hood on shaped brackets.”
The drawing below is from that conservation statement - no 13 is the house on the extreme left. And the photograph on the right is taken by my cousin. The colour doesn’t quite square up to the picture above it, but maybe it has been repainted. Looks like the drawing though.
It was in this house that all the children were born. It was four years before Alice and Frederick’s first child, my mother, Olive Alice - the baby in the picture - was born on 4th February, 1913. It seems a bit slow doesn’t it to start a family four years after a marriage in a time when birth control was still in its infancy, particularly with such an ‘old’ couple? Who knows why. Maybe it was indeed something to do with age and decreased fertility. Maybe there had been miscarriages, or infant deaths. Whatever the reason, I would say, by the smiles on the face of the couple, that it was a welcome event. And once they got into it, they obviously got the knack, because the rest of the family followed in fairly quick succession - Freda Jessie (1914), James Frederick (1916), Kathleen May (1919), Leslie John (1922) and Nora Winifred (1924).
Tragically James died before his second birthday (I’m not sure why, though I have a vague memory of diptheria being mentioned) and it must have been a tragedy. It is always tragic to have one of your children die, but James was the first, and, at the time, only, son. He was the bearer of the Ellis names. After him there seems no attempt to follow family tradition with the children’s names - a pattern that seemed to have taken hold at about that time, throughout the country.
My aunt also tells of life without modern-day appliances. Monday was wash-day. Without a washing machine this took all day. Washing would have been done in a large tub (or what we called a copper - my mother had one). According to my aunt, Alice’s mother came to look after the children on Mondays which was wash-day. They can’t have been as well-behaved as the children in the painting or she wouldn’t have been needed. Then there was the ironing. My grandmother was still ironing with a flat-iron which was warmed on a big old range when I was a child - in the late 40s. She would sprinkle water on the clothes and then iron them on a blanket which was spread on the table. But by then she was only doing it for herself and her bachelor son who lived with her. Imagine doing it for a large household. Her husband worked with coal, so his clothes must have been particularly filthy. No wonder her mother was required to help out with the children. The washing would have been an all day job.
And life would have been tough. According to my aunt her father was paid just £2.00 per week (£2.00 in 1920 would be worth £42.42 (AUD$93.02) today - still a frighteningly small amount with which to feed a family of seven (five children and two adults - not to mention great-grandma Tier who lived with them until 1922). Indeed I question the amount really, as it was a responsible job that he had and would surely have paid better than this. And according to my aunt, “Mum wasn’t very good at keeping count of the money, so Dad kept the purse. On a Saturday night they went to the market in Charlotte St. where they were selling stuff off cheap.” And when the men weren’t working they went fishing so there was always plenty of fish to eat. My aunt remembers, “lobsters crawling around the kitchen floor. Crabs not so often. Winkles made a noise when put in boiling water.” And then there were the chickens that were kept in the backyard. “They didn’t have names as they were killed for food ... They had one cockerel. There was a hole in the top of the netting, so they threw some food in, then they could get in to feed them. Potato peelings and corn to make a make a mash or corn at times. They also had rabbits at one time but they were a nuisance so didn’t last long.”
Although nowadays the house probably costs a fortune, in those days it would not have done. As my uncle says in his reminiscences, “No bathroom of course”. Even I remember having a bath in a tin bath on the carpet in one of my grandmother’s later houses, even though there actually was a bathroom. Bath time would have been something like the painting on the left - I certainly remember that my grandmother had several bowls and jugs that matched and washstands on which they rested. And doubtless there was no inside toilet either - though there might have been one outside. Chamber pots were also still around in my grandmother’s house. My uncle also recalls, “having to fetch a bucket of salt water from the Camber for dad to soak his feet!” . The Camber is the inlet nearby, where James Henry Ellis lived. I doubt that my grandmother would have been as elegantly dressed as the lady in the painting though.
In 1930 Frederick bought a new home for the family - Olive and Freda’s contributions to the family income may have helped. The home was at 57 Green Road and apparently there were plans to turn it into a B & B. Green Road is in the same part of Portsmouth, but maybe the houses were bigger. You would hope so if you were going to have a B & B in it. The photograph, above is of Green Road today, but the houses are probably modern.
The family income was so restricted that there were few treats in the children’s lives - no birthday parties or cakes for example, though there was always a present, but their Christmas present was a simple stocking (or rather a sock) with an orange, some nuts and some sweets. My aunt talks about the occasional book, so maybe there were extra little presents too. Frederick had very few days off work, and so holidays were pretty non-existent. There were family outings though by tram and bus, out to Petersfield and the Downs or to Worthing along the coast, or sometimes they took the ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight where they played on the sandy beaches - Portsmouth’s beaches (like most of those in the south of England) were shingle.
Olive Alice Ellis
The children grew up, playing in the street, watching the horses in the coal merchant’s opposite their house, going to school and Alice slaved away at home cleaning and cooking and mending and generally looking after everyone. They all left school to work as early as possible - Leslie followed his grandfather Richards into the Dockyard as an apprentice shipwright, but, also like his grandfather, was transferred into the drawing office. This would have been after his father’s death though, as he was only ten at the time. I believe that their father was strict, but this was probably not unusual for the time and my aunt has said that although he was strict, he always wanted the best for his children. I really do not have much idea what my grandmother was like as a mother. Suffice to say that her children were always around her in her old age. She was never alone.
But then Frederick developed cancer and after a year’s illness, some of it in hospital, but most of it at home, he died. His bed was brought downstairs and he probably became a rather forbidding presence for the children. On 10th April, 1932 - two years after they had moved into their new home he died. Alice was 52 years old at the time. It must have been a very tough time for her, nursing Frederick at home - and she must have worried about money, although the children were all still living at home, and two at least were working, so there would have been money coming in from them. I think the only income she had for the rest of her life was a widow’s pension and, I guess, some money from my uncle who lived with her. At the time it must have been a calamity. I wonder whether she missed him for himself or whether she just missed the income and having a man to boss people around and organise things.