Catharine Eliza Warner Old age
Peckham, Dulwich 1915-1933
It’s only when you come to write the stories of your ancestors that you notice things that escape you when you are just recording dates and events in a database, without making connections. In this case I look at the date of Catherine’s death and realise that my father, who was born in 1906 must have known her - or at least, of her. And her husband James as well. They were his grandparents after all and you would think they would therefore have visited often. They lived very close by when he was a child. My father never spoke of her, but then he never spoke of his mother either - nor of his childhood. Nothing much that I can remember anyway. In light of the fact that his mother appears to have strayed and been separated, at least for a while, from his father, there may have been a total estrangement from his maternal family. When his parents were long dead, was contact renewed I wonder, or did his paternal grandmother keep him close?
But back to Catherine’s story. When her husband died they were living at 14 Avondale Road in Peckham. This road no longer exists, but Avondale Rise does, and this is number 14. So far I have not been able to establish whether they are the same road or not, but whether they were or not, it is entirely likely that this would have been the kind of house they lived in. Florence was still unmarried and living with her parents. It is she who registers her father’s death, so she would, no doubt have been a great support to her mother - as she later seems to have been to her sister Maude. World War 1 was in full flight, and it is possible that one or even both of Catherine’s sons were away fighting in it. She must have been a tough old lady for her life was not over yet by a long way. I see I have used the word possible a lot here, for, alas, this is a family that I do not know a lot about - frustratingly little in fact. There must be descendants of one or other of the other children still out there, and we would love to hear from you if you come across this. Please contact us by sending an email.
In 1922 Florence finally married - one Sidney Edward Steer, a few years younger than her - was the lucky man. By then she was 42 and the couple do not appear to have had children which is entirely possible. The photograph at left was sent to us by our new found Mollett cousin Phillip. He did not know whose wedding it was, but I am fairly certain that it is Florence's, and this is a picture of the bride and her family - which would mean the older lady on the right is Catherine herself. I know it is this family because there is my father in the back row - 3rd from right, next to a lady who I think is his mother. His sister is one of the bridesmaids in the front row - 2nd left. I can only guess at the rest - maybe the mysterious Harry and Violet are there with their adopted parents - the Brittle family. As I say I cannot say with certainty who any of these people are, but it does seem to fit - the time is certainly right anyway.
What did this marriage mean for Catherine? Was she left to fend for herself, or did she continue to live with Florence? I suspect the latter for it seems to me that Florence was the carer of the family. So let us hope that Catherine’s old age was a happy one, occasionally looking after the grandchildren, for there must have been some. I have chosen the photograph on the right to illustrate this period, for, although taken in America, it somehow reminds me of my own grandmother, who, for me of course, is the archetypal grandmother.
In fact, Catherine was very definitely a great-grandmother too. Maude’s daughter, Florence had married and had two children before her early death. One of these had died, but the other, Leonard had survived. Alas, he too, was probably lost to her, by reason of Florence’s death, and his father’s subsequent remarriage, coupled with the fact that he lived in Southend. It is possible - that word again - there were other great-grandchildren too, for Catherine herself did not die until the grand old age of 84 in 1933.
An unremarkable life in many ways - the same as that lived by the majority of women born in that time, but a life full of incident, and struggle, maybe even romance, and above all, of great change.
I have yet to get her death certificate - having only found reference to it recently, so I do not know why she died - but she was 84. She died in the first quarter of the year in the registration district of Camberwell, so most likely she was still living in Peckham with Florence and her husband. I salute the women of this generation. They lived from the very beginnings of the Victorian age, with all the rigidity, poverty and lack of assistance either from machines or from the state, until almost the middle of the twentieth century - cars, aeroplanes, labour-saving devices, albeit in a rudimentary form, women’s lib and a radical makeover in clothes. And then, of course there were the medical advances - penicillin, anaesthetics, hygiene, sewers ... the list is endless. The two pictures shown here sum up the differences I think - the clothes women wethe clothes women wewearing when she was born on the left, and those they were wearing when she died, on the right.