In the beginning…

… there was a woman, we’ll call her Lorna (her real name).

On any version of events Lorna had a less than an advantageous start in life. Her mother, we’ll call her Adelaide Joan (her real name) had also had a less than advantageous start in life but the true facts about that are only just emerging – that is the joy of our current obsession with “Who we think we are”.

Adelaide Joan was just Joan at birth (this much is known from her birth certificate). She was born at 1 Golden Street in Deal in Kent in 1922. Its a romantic sounding street name and Google Street View shows its to be a delightful little road running onto the Kent coast. It was a grocer’s shop back then. Adelaide was probably born upstairs. In a back room.

Her mother’s name was Beatrice Alice Powell (this much is known from the birth certificate). And there the story ends – or starts depending on one’s perspective.

Beatrice wasn’t married (but you had guessed that, hadn’t you?) and the connection with Deal is unknown. So many twists and turns yet to be unravelled. Was she the first “wayward woman” or one of long line? Maybe she was an innocent victim of unfortunate circumstance – she is believed to have been “very young” and that unfortunately suggests victim.

Beatrice gave Joan up for adoption. Barking and Leyton are mentioned in the records but quite how she got from Deal to there is not yet known. She ended up with Adelaide and William Hodges. And that’s how she became Adelaide – Adelaide Hodges (nee Poore) wanted “her” child to have a link with its mother and so changed Joan’s name. Such conduct would probably be frowned upon today and Adelaide Joan certainly was not keen – she went by the name of Joan in (much) later life but that may well have been her way of finding her own identity, I didn’t like her much and so never bothered to find out. She changed the story so often poor Lorna just got confused.

The circumstances of Adelaide’s adoption are now emerging thanks to the tenaciousness of Lorna who is slowly being granted access to historical adoption, court and children’s home records. Its been painfully slow – complicated, apparently, by the fact that Adelaide Joan is dead now and cannot consent (mind that wouldn’t have made much difference anyway according to one particularly obstructive civil servant who really was not inclined to release records until various court orders were threatened – I think Lorna really ought to stop telling people her daughter is a barrister for leverage, somebody somewhere is going to know that the “laws” that trip so blithely from Lorna’s lips don’t actually exist – the gentle art of blagging).

Her endeavours are as as much a fascinating insight into 1920s social history as anything. The adoption it seems was never formalised, it was rather more akin to an extended fostering. Adelaide only tried to formalise it after William’s premature death and then only to claim some sort of pension or relief in order to maintain Adelaide Joan. It seems that adopted children were entitled to some kind of stipend if one of the adoptive parents died. However, because the adoption wasn’t formalised at the time of Mr Hodges death, Adelaide was knocked back.

I digress. So Adelaide Joan grew up. She maintained it was an unhappy childhood but it seems that Adelaide H did her best in exceptionally difficult circumstances. William had been a butcher or similar and the living had been comfortable if not grand. But he died and Adelaide Joan had to be put in a children’s home for a while until Adelaide could get back on her feet and could support the child again. She did that by working in sweatshops in the rag trade in the East End of London.

Strong links with London’s East End Jewish community have emerged but its unclear whether this is a blood link or merely social – I’d like to think it was blood. Its unlikely however, Powell is of Welsh origin and on the “by association” side the Poore line seems to be firmly rooted for generations in Downtown in Wiltshire and Hodges isn’t a particularly Jewish name is it!

Adelaide remarried – Harry Epps and the family ended up in Essex (Chelmsford). Adelaide Joan’s step sister, Nancy married a Harry Bressloff (his name may well have been Hyman anglicised to Harry and his mother’s name appears to have been Tanenhorwitz – census records show them as Russian Jews). Theirs was a love affair of great passion by all accounts (and not necessarily all above board, Nancy was probably “a bit of a one”). Records show they did eventually marry. I would have liked to have known Nancy, Lorna used to take me to see her when I was very little – all I remember is red flock wall paper….bordello?

Adelaide Joan turned out to be “a bit of a one” too. She gave birth to Lorna when she was 22 – the father was claimed to be an American Soldier who was subsequently killed in the D-day landings. She said his name was Jack. Whoever he was, he wasn’t married to Adelaide Joan.

Lorna was born in 1944 – in Paddington, London. By all accounts bombs were still falling and she spent the first 18 months in the cellars of St Mary’s Hospital where Adelaide Joan worked as a nurse. Scabies has been mentioned along with malnutrition and general neglect. There was a war on of course, but Adelaide Joan’s big problem was her passion for men….

Which lead her to John Francis Charles. Nice chap. 6′ 4″, gigantic brain, a career soldier from South Wales – this man became my Grandfather and I am immensely proud of him. He was deployed with the Marquis (pronounced marki) in France and was a Chindit in Burma – special forces basically. He was a lovely man – which makes me wonder how on earth he ended up married to Adelaide Joan. But his is another story.

Marry Adelaide Joan he did (she was pregnant with his son after all) and he adopted Lorna. Remember this was circa 1945, such adoptions were rare and John Francis was stationed in Burma/India and thereabouts – the adoption papers travelled thousands of miles back and forth and it was commented on in the associated reports how impressed the authorities were that this man wanted to “make things right” for this little girl, give her a name and be her father. I believe he loved Adelaide Joan very much at this point (the only alternative is that he had taken complete leave of his sense and certifiably insane – there was a war on after all).

So, there was a marriage, an adoption and my Uncle Geoff was born and a Nuclear Family was formed – Dave Cameron would be so proud. But life is never that straightforward – is it? And “Nuclear” was the operative word.

To be cont…