Marriage Frederick John Ellis
On Sunday, December 19th 1909 Frederick John Ellis and Alice Maud Richards, daughter of a dockyard draughtsman, were married in the Wesleyan Church, Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw in Portsmouth. I don’t think the Salvation Army had the power to marry people, and the Wesleyans were perhaps the next best thing. When Frederick joined the militia in 1892 he had given his religion as C of E, though whether this was just a reflex that many indulge in or whether he had not yet become more presbyterian I do not know. I believe my grandmother had been a Salvation Army officer before her marriage, but had to give it up on marriage. How sexist! Anyway, she must have wanted to marry him, and they certainly look happy enough in the photograph above. But they were not a young couple - he was thirty five and she was twenty nine. I wonder why they both waited so long to marry? They are both attractive enough you would think to have had no shortage of offers. But I suspect they were both serious and very proper young people and determined to do the right thing, make the right marriage. It has to be said, however, that FreeBMD does have a birth of a Frederick James Ellis in the March quarter of 1910. Without sending away for the certificate, I have no idea of knowing whether this is their child (I cannot find a subsequent death, or an entry in the 1911 census come to that) - just the suspicion of the names. But if this is their child then my grandmother would have been pregnant upon marriage - and really I do consider it unlikely that two Salvation Army officers would get themselves into this predicament. A bit tantalising though. And in the space for pregnancies on the 1911 census, Alice does not mention any - not that anyone would know if she had lost a baby but declined to say in the census. It would be nice to think that they had a fancy wedding like the one in the old wedding invitation at right, but I suspect it would have been a much more modest affair. The witnesses were Alice’s father and sister. I wonder why Frederick’s family was not represented. Frederick did live with his father right up until his marriage after all - this is his address on the marriage certificate.
So let’s stick to what we definitely know. They married and their first child - my mother - Olive Alice - was born on the 4th of February in 1913 - just over three years after their marriage - quite a long gap for the times one would have thought. They look quietly pleased in the photograph, and the baby looks well-behaved. By this time they were living at no 35 Lombard St. just across the water from Frederick’s father. I am not sure, but I think the red house in the picture at right is no. 35. It was right at the end of the street and the numbering was a bit unclear. The water of the harbour is just a little to the right and it is now a very lovely street with beautifully preserved houses - some of the few that survived the bombing of World War 2, which hit Portsmouth hard. After Olive came Freda Jessie in 1914, James Frederick in 1916, Kathleen Mary in 1919, Leslie John in 1922 and Nora Winifred in 1924. The slightly longer gap between James and Kathleen might be down to the fact that James tragically died in 1918 at the age of almost two. I do not know which of the many childhood diseases of the time killed him, but it must have been a great loss. He was the first son after all. Frederick had no brothers, and for a while there it must have looked as if he would have no sons either, so the birth of my uncle Leslie in 1922 must have been an occasion of great celebration. So an ultimately modest sized family for the times, of five children - four girls and a boy, so plenty of help for the mother as the girls grew.
I would like to think that Frederick spent time with his children - maybe like the father in the lovely picture at right. The beach was just down the road after all, and my uncle did talk of being taken out in the boat with his father when he was checking the moorings of the coal barges. Whether he spent time with his daughters as well is another matter. But he did make sure that they were educated, and my mother played the piano, so I guess there were extra lessons for that as well.
I do know however, that he worked hard to provide for his wife and family. Sometime between the birth of his first and second child the little family moved up the street to no.13 - the rather more substantial house in the picture at the top of the page. Here they kept chickens in the garden and the occasional rabbit too, and no doubt they grew vegetables as well. Frederick continued as a stevedore, where he commanded gangs of men going out to the coal barges as shown in the beautiful painting by Turner at right. I think he worked for the coal merchants Fraser White, who were the largest coal merchants on the south coast. They had a huge yard on the island in Camber Dock on which Frederick’s father worked, which is possibly how he came to work for them in the first place. It was not, of course, romantic, as the Turner picture shows, but really hard and skilled work.
By all accounts Frederick was a strict father. My mother in particular, was apparently always having fights with him, and my aunt Freda - the second child - complained that she was always put in charge of my uncle, so she probably fought with him too. For the times were a-changing. It was no longer the time of children being seen but not heard. They were beginning to rebel and make their voices heard, which must have been hard for their parents who had been brought up in different times. But it was ever thus, and my aunt did say that although he was strict, he really just wanted the best for his children.
His hard work paid off, for in 1930 the family bought a house at 57 Green Road, apparently with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast, so it must have been a larger house, because the children were all still living at home. But alas this success and hope for the future was shattered because in the next year Frederick developed cancer and after a year long struggle he died at home in 1932. Initially he was in hospital, but presumably at the point when they decided nothing could be done, he was returned home. Apparently his bed was brought downstairs, and before he could not move at all, his daughter Kathleen would walk him up and down the street. The cancer was of the spine and no doubt caused by his chosen career with coal. He was fifty eight when he died. A will was made shortly before his death but we have yet to get a copy of it.
So a tough life, but he would have seen his children grow up and their personalities emerge. When he died, he no doubt thought that the house would be a secure home for his wife and her children. The war was to change all of that of course. He avoided the horrors of World War One but not the horrors of poverty and hard work. He saw the industrialisation of Britain, its glory days of Empire and the changing dynamics of family life. I would have liked to have met him and am sorry that I did not ask more about him.