This is the face of a selfless and much-loved woman, my Great-Grandfather’s older sister, Lizzie. This portrait of her was taken around 1890 when she would have been in her mid-thirties.
When I was young I remember hearing my grandfather mention her with great affection and being told that she had brought him and his siblings up when their own mother died. I have since found out that this was the second time that she had stepped up when the family had need of her.
Elizabeth Georgina was born in 1854 to my Great-great grandparents George and Emma who ran a greengrocer’s shop in Radford, Nottingham. Her brother, George Henry, followed in 1863, by which time her parents had given up the shop and moved back into town to live near the Lace Market area where George worked as a porter and Lizzie would later follow him as a Lace Mender. In 1867 my own Great-grandfather William Joseph was born. Sadly, a few years later, both parents died within a short time of each other; Emma in 1875 of a stroke, and her husband in 1876 of bronchitis when my Great-grandfather, was still a little boy.
We don’t know what happened to the siblings immediately following the loss of their parents and it’s the 1881 Census which adds some more details. Lizzie was lodging with an unmarried aunt, George by now a clerk, was lodging with a provisions dealer and his family, and young William Joseph was in the care of Sir Josiah Mason’s Orphanage in Aston, Birmingham. In later life William, always known in the family as Little Granddad, attributed his small frame to only having had one square meal a day there. He would have left on his fourteenth birthday and took up an engineering apprenticeship. It was then that his sister Lizzie made a home for him. The 1891 census has brother and sister living together in the Lace Market area, where Lizzie, still working in Nottingham’s thriving Lace industry, was listed as a curtain folder and William as an iron turner. Older brother George had moved to Grimsby to work as a trawlerman.
In April 1891 William married my Great grandmother Mary Jane with whom he had three children: Maud (1993). Albert (1895) and Sydney (1898), my grandfather. Unfortunately Mary was to die in 1902 aged only 32, leaving William to bring up three children under ten. Once more Auntie Lizzie stepped in to help; she moved in with her brother and his three children, keeping house whilst he went to work. This arrangement probably continued for about ten years until William re-married in 1912 to a widow, Gertie, who had lost her family in the influenza epidemic.
We know of the movements of Gertie and William up to their deaths in 1949 and 1952. As a baby of just a few months I was taken to see Little Granddad who apparently described me as ‘a perky little Poll’! We know that he was a well-read man who enjoyed his pipe and doing crosswords; that he had worked as a lathe turner until the age of 74 and that in 1941 he was ‘bombed out’ when his house took a direct hit. These facts are there to share because they have come to me through living memory, but what we don’t have are any stories of the lovely Lizzie after her brother’s marriage. It would be nice to think that he and his new wife gave her a home in just the way she herself had done first for him, then later for his children.
There is more research to be done, but for now we have to be content with this portrait of Lizzie in later life and let it speak volumes about this woman; daughter, sister, aunt but never wife and mother, though she carried out the rôle of both out of duty and with love.
Once more I am, grateful to my brother, the genealogist of the family for the small details.
For more tales behind the pictures join us at Sepia Saturday where other contributors will be opening up their family albums and introducing their ancestors.