Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ada Whybrew

I wrote about Ada Whybrew when I listed the fourteen children of David and Susan Whybrew back in 2014. Ada was the youngest child in the family, of those who survived infancy. At that time I didn't know much about her. But thanks to the information sent to me by the same family member who provided the photo of Susan, I can now fill in some of the details.

Ada with Joseph Metson,
probably around the time of their marriage

Ada Louisa Whybrew was born to Susan in July 1895, when her oldest sisters, Harriet and Eliza (my great grandmother) were already into their late twenties and married. Susan had one further child after Ada, named Lily, but she died within a few weeks of her birth in 1896. 

So Ada was effectively the youngest child in the family for most of her life. As she grew older, she seems to have been close to her sister Ellen (Nell) who was five years older than Ada. 

Her parents were living in Colchester when Ada was born. Her father David had retired from the army and was working as a watchman. Ada was baptised at St Botolph's church in Colchester on 1 September 1895. She seems to have been the only girl in the family to have been given a second name. Possibly she was named after David's half sister Louisa.

With David retired and settled, and most of her siblings grown up and left, her life was very different to that of Harriet, Eliza and her other sisters and brothers, who had grown up during David's army days.

In later life, Ada recalled her father David being very strict but fair, wanting the best for his family. He didn't like his daughters to go to dances, so Ada would hide her dancing shoes under a hedge.

She also told the story of how, when she was fourteen, she went to work in Cambridge, helping Bill with his fish and chip shop. (Possibly this was her older brother, Bill Whybrew, who was living in Cambridge at this time, although the 1911 census described his occupation as a "carman" for a mineral water company.) She did all the chores around the shop. 

Apparently Susan, her mother, visited to see how she was getting on. When she saw Ada carrying heavy buckets of dripping in the street, she said: “Put that down!”  She took Ada back to the shop, told her to put her coat on and took her home to Colchester. This story is somewhat apocryphal, but it would certainly be in keeping with Susan's character.

Like many of the girls in Colchester, Ada liked to visit the barracks to see the soldiers, and that was where she met her husband, Joseph William Metson. She and Joe married in May 1913, when she was seventeen and he was twenty-four 

After the birth of their first daughter, Florence, in 1914, they planned to go to India. They had their papers signed and themselves vaccinated, ready to go. But war broke out and Joe was sent to fight. He was injured in the heel, and then, after returning into service, suffered a hand injury that put him out of action for the rest of the war. According to the records, he was formally discharged in September 1916.

Ada and Joseph's second child, named Joseph William after his father, was born in Colchester in the same month, September 1916. Joe senior was unable to find work in Colchester, so they moved to Islington in London, where he worked as a caretaker at a school. Their third child, Violet, was born there in 1919. 

The war was still on when they moved to the school. Islington was a target for air-raids by zeppelins. During the raids, everyone in the street would come to the school and shelter in the hall. Ada would play the piano while the raids were on and everyone else would sing.

After Joe was diagnosed with TB, they had to leave the school. Joe died in 1935. For many years Ada lived with her daughter Florrie and her husband. She died in 1980, at the age of 85, while on holiday with her son Joseph, in Devon. 

She is remembered as being short, soft and pretty, someone who was kind but strong. She was always smiling and happy and had a great sense of humour. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

More on the feisty Ellen (Nell) Whybrew

When I wrote about Ellen Whybrew in November last year, my information was all based on official records. But now I've received new information, direct from descendants of the Whybrew family, which sheds new light on some of the things that seemed uncertain or odd.

Just to recap, "Aunt Nell" as she was known to the family, was the daughter of David and Susan Whybrew. She was born in Colchester in 1890. Of the three children born after her, only Ada survived. There was a six year gap between Nell and her older brother Bill, due to the death of another brother, James, in infancy, and a five year age gap between Nell and Ada. Nevertheless, the two girls seem to have been close to each other as they grew older.

As I noted, Nell and her first husband, George Howard, had three children, all boys. The eldest, Alexander George Ernest was known as George. The second, William Edward, was known as Billy. He died at the age of three, apparently from meningitis. Leslie, the third, also died in infancy. Poor Nell lost two sons, her husband and her father in the period between 1915 and October 1917. 

Cap badge of the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)


Apparently Nell met her second husband, Alfred Lloyd, through Ada's husband Joe Metson. In April 1919, Joe left the house to be out of the way while Ada was giving birth to their youngest child, Violet, as men did in those days. At the pub he found Alf, who he hadn't seen for years. They had both served in the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) during the war. Alf is said to have been gassed, and had been a prisoner of war in Germany. (I haven't been able to find any record of this yet.)

After talking for a while, Joe took Alf home with him. Nell was in the house, helping Ada, and that was where she and Alf met. The story concludes with "Uncle Alf and Aunt Nell got together and married 3 months later," which is almost true - they married in September 1919.

According to family lore, Nell was quite a feisty woman, a trait she may well have inherited from her mother Susan. During the war (I think this refers to the second world war) she is said to have picked up a chair and waved it in the air during air raids, shouting "Where are you bastards? I'll get you!" At the age of ninety she had her ears pierced and bought a long cocktail dress. 

She was 94 when she died in 1984. Unfortunately no photos of Nell have come to light so far. I'd love to see her in that cocktail dress, wouldn't you?


Monday, February 8, 2021

Memories of Susan and David Whybrew


John Street, Colchester
John Street, Colchester
I'd like to share some of the fascinating information that was sent to me recently with the photo of Susan Mason. It was recorded from a conversation with Susan's granddaughter, Violet, late in life. Violet had never met her grandparents, Susan and David. Her memories were based on recollections of what  her mother, Ada, had told her, many years earlier. So the source is rather distant in time. 

Having said that, it gives a wonderful insight into the characters of both Susan and David Whybrew, and also answers some questions that were left unanswered in the book, Susan

I've edited the information I was provided a little, and reformatted it to make it flow. But I hope you can still hear Violet's voice in it.

Susan was born in Australia in 1848. Her parents were Irish. She married David Whybrew while his regiment was stationed in Australia. After travelling around the world with the regiment, they returned to England and the barracks in Colchester.

Nell (Ellen) and Ada were the youngest of many children, born in many different places, including Cambridge. Susan was nearly fifty when Ada was born. Only Nell and Ada were still at home when Susan used to go away to work as a midwife. (This explains why Susan described herself as a nurse on the 1911 census, despite having no training as far as I could tell. Midwives then didn't need any qualifications.) 

In those days, midwives used to live in with the family in confinement. Susan used to go away for six weeks; three weeks before the birth and three weeks after the birth. Families used to send their pony and trap for her when she was needed. One particular family she used to attend to had lots of children and they always used to send for Susan.

Susan often used to be paid in kind. On one occasion she had been paid with sausages. As she was walking along, all the sausages were trailing along behind her!

Her husband, David, loved her dearly. He described her as 'the belle of the ball' and said that he loved every hair on her head.

David used to sing to Sue:

Sue, Sue, I’m very much in love with you, 

When your pretty little eyes of blue are smiling,

Few, few, few little girls are as nice as you,

There’s a lovely (lonely?) little part, in the middle of my heart,

Just for you, you, you.

David Whybrew was born in 1839. He was Welsh and a Regimental Sargent Major. He met Susan while with his regiment in Australia.  They married and eventually came back to live in Colchester. 

(My correspondent is unsure why the family thought David was Welsh. All the recorded evidence points to him being from Essex, with both parents English, but there's obviously a story yet to be uncovered.) 

He had retired by the time Ada was born. 

He was very strict but he loved his wife and children dearly.  Everything was done to precision. His rule was "no working on Sundays". Nell wasn’t even allowed to sew on a button. They had their own pew at church and went to church every Sunday.

Ada wasn't allowed dancing shoes.  She used to go out, hide her shoes under a hedge and collect them later. He called dancing girls “harlots”.

He did all the sewing and darning. He said that no woman could do it properly! Aunt Nell wanted to borrow some white cotton off him. He gave her some but said: “Don’t ever ask me again. You never lend or borrow, always replenish your stocks, before they run out.”

He used to clean their shoes every day, he even cleaned the soles. He had a piece of wood whittled down and cleaned the edges with it. When the children became fourteen years old, they had to clean their own. Last time he cleaned them was on their birthday. He used to say: “There you are my girl, that is the last time I will clean your shoes”, then he gave them an apple and a penny.

Stories like these are priceless. They say so much about ordinary family life, and they can't be obtained from public records or even newspapers. I'm very grateful to the lady who sent them to me.