Requiem for Harriet

#52 Ancestors ‘At the Cemetery’

Harriet buried 3 children and a husband. Now she is at rest.

They employed Harriet as a machinist in the Allery Tailoring business during the 1890s. Work as a machinist did not pay well then. Many unmarried young women had a little choice of occupation in Edwardian times (domestic service, prostitution, shop work, the stage or dressmaking). Harriet continued to live at home bringing into the household her meagre income of a few shillings; making shirts at 7 pence a dozen. She worked from seven in the morning to eleven at night. My father, Walter, commissioned the construction of shirts from her for his private tailoring business, and that is how they first met.

They married on December 27 in 1896 in West Ham, Essex. They were both hard working in the Tailoring trade, a trait passed down from their ancestors.

By 1901 Harriet and Walter were living at No. 28 Elton Parade, Kingston on Thames, Surrey. They had one child, Cecil Henry, then aged 11 months. Walter Frederick was an employer and his occupation was Tailor/Journeyman–he was working from home. His younger brother Joseph was staying with them on the night of the 1901 census, a frequent occurrence for young Joseph, who much later, was to inherit the tailoring business from Grandfather Walter.

Harriet was still mourning the loss of her first child, Walter Frederick Jr. and valiantly trying to raise her second born to be strong. There was no counseling for young bereaved mothers then – infant mortality was high in Edwardian times. As her own mother Elizabeth had already passed on in 1894, at 51, Harriet had no support. She needed all her strength to weather the turmoil and tragedy in her own life. She buried her pain along with her child.

Their first-born son, Walter Frederick Alfred Joshua, born in 1898, died in 1900 from Gastro Enteritis. His death was extremely hard to bear for Harriet as she was pregnant with another child . Tragically, her first son died one month to the day, prior to the birth of Cecil Henry on the 25th April 1900. April events had even more poignant significance for Harriet throughout her life.

By 1911 the family had grown and had moved again to live at London House, Coombe Lane, Norbiton. Walter was then a Master Tailor, and Harriet was now mother to four young boys. Cecil aged 10, Edward aged 9, William aged 5, Samuel aged 1, and one little girl, Imee aged 3. IOn the night of the 1911 census, it lists the number of live births for Harriet as 7 and 2 dead. Sad statistics for a mother to have recorded for her in such archives. Walter filled in these details himself in his precise handwriting.

Harriet’s sad story gets worse when she loses her husband Walter Frederick on the 5th of April in 1915. He had been a soldier in World War 1 and had finally succumbed to tuberculosis. In 1915, there was time prior to his death for Walter to plan for the care of his family and his tailoring business. Uncle Joseph purchased the business premises from him and took on the running of Allery and Sons in Coombe Lane, Norbiton. He left a substantial sum of money, over 2000 pounds, to his widow, Harriet. She could be self-sustained throughout her 40 plus years without him raising her family alone–she never remarried!

In 1930 Harriet learned of the horrific death of her son Edward Lionel – it was all over the newspapers at the time – a tragic motor racing accident at the Brooklands Raceway took the life of her 28-year-old son. Another April tragedy. I cannot imagine how she felt on hearing the news. I know how this tragic accident affected Cecil Henry. He blamed himself for encouraging Ted to become a mechanic and to be there, that day, at the raceway. Perhaps Harriet also blamed Cecil for her loss. Therefore, he was reluctant to encourage his twin sons to become motor mechanics or to enter the motor racing industry.

Life was not all tragic; there were the brighter aspects. Harriet passed on her dressmaking skills to her daughter Imee, who later specialized in ‘haute couture’ and earned her income by working from home. As far as I know Imee was making dresses for the wealthy. Her grandchildren, Michael and Carole, have inherited Harriet’s red hair.

Harriet is now at rest, to be buried with her beloved son, Edward Lionel, in the Guildford cemetery. A fitting resting place.

Farewell to Harriet Priscilla.

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