Maude had more children than we knew about. And mystery surrounds the births of the last three. Moreover her oldest child, lived considerably longer than we knew and who brought them all up and why is still a bit of an open book. The photograph above is lifted from the net and is not actually Maude. It’s also not quite an accurate representation of her second family as you shall see, but I thought it conveyed the situation somehow. The lovely painting by Dorothea Sharpe conveys the feeling of the first family in happier times.
We ought to know so much more about these people. They are just a generation before me. Her oldest son was my father. Some of them were alive for much of my life. And yet their early years are a bit of a mystery A prime example of not asking the right questions at the right time, as there is no longer anyone to ask. Here is what I know.
Florence Elsie 1904-1928
Florence was born just nine months after her parents’ marriage. I do not know for sure whether the photograph at right is really Florence, but it seems very likely that it is. It was taken in Southend and shows a young girl of about the right age in the right time. It comes courtesy of our new-found cousin Phillip’s collection of Mollett memorabilia., and as there are no other members of the Mollett family who lived in Southend we think that it must indeed be Florence Too young to be Maude I feel. I hope it is Florence - she is rather lovely.
Until around 1911 the young family lived in small, probably shared houses, or flats in the Dulwich, Peckham sort of area. Her father was only an accountant’s clerk and probably did not have much family support because of his unsuitable marriage (though I have to confess that this is supposition, not fact). Both sets of grandparents lived nearby (well, the paternal grandfather was dead). So genteel poverty - I think this is how my father described his youth.
However, around 1911 the family moved to Southend. I still really don’t know why - maybe for Gerald’s health, maybe he just got a job there. Whatever the reason at the age of seven Florence found herself living at the seaside. And now she had two brothers, and the family had sufficient funds to have a live-in servant. So life must have, at least temporarily, taken a turn for the better. Southend is not really on the sea - it’s on the Thames Estuary - at low tide there the mud flats stretch out almost to the end of the pier. It is not a fashionable place, although there is a posher part - not where the little family lived., but it haas long been popular as a seaside escape for Londoners. For a while they may well have been very happy here. Children don’t mind mud and the pier is a great attraction, not to mention all the other kinds of amusement that exist in Southend. But this stay in Southend is short-lived for the years 1913-1915 find them back in the Dulwich, Brockley kind of area and two more children are born. Although Gerald was still living with Maude at that time, in 1915 he makes a will in which neither Maude nor the two new children are mentioned, which leads one to suppose that they were not his. Whatever the reason the family seems to split and at the age of eleven I think Florence finds herself back in Southend with her mother whilst her brothers, are with their father and grandmother in Dulwich. More about their fate later.
Actually I have no evidence for this other than that she definitely was living with her mother when she married. Whose decision was this? Was it the compromise position that arose when Gerald and Maude split? And why did Maude return to Southend? It wasn’t her family home. Was there a significant other there? Did she like it there? Was it for her health? Were those family legends of music hall connections what she did in Southend.? Is this how she made her money? All of which is only relevant to Florence in that she seems to now be an only child living with a mother in a very difficult situation. They must have been close. Or if I have got that all wrong - she maybe went to live with her grandmother and aunts in Dulwich with her brothers, until she was old enough to leave home and return to her mother.
The next fact we have is that in January 1924 June is born. June’s birth certificate states that her mother is Maude and her father is Gerald (long dead). When Florence marries later in the year (in September) her bridegroom gives his address as her home with Maude. Apparently this was often done to establish residency in the area, but I suppose one cannot rule out the possibility that June was Florence’s baby, and that Maude, nobly claimed parentage. Whatever the case, June was premature and died, which was, sadly, perhaps just as well.
Florence seems to have survived this trauma though and later in the year, at the tender age of 19 she marries George Leonard Chalk, known as Len apparently. He was a young man who had served his country in WW1 although he was underage. I think he had been in the navy, and also worked as a Thames Lighterman for a time, but once the children came along he found work in the gas works. Their first child Leonard George was born in the first quarter of 1925 - so was most probably conceived before the marriage. This must have been a bittersweet event for in the same quarter, in April, Florence’s mother died at home. I hope that she lived long enough to see her first grandchild.
Florence and Leonard were now living in Westcliff-on-Sea - the posher part of Southend, and in 1927 their second son Peter was born. However, this baby tragically died, either at birth or soon after - in the same registration quarter anyway. I do not know whether Florence’s own health contributed to this death or whether the trauma of the birth contributed to Florence’s own ill health, for by now she must have been quite ill herself. Just over five months later she died at the tender age of 23 of TB. Unlike her mother, who died at home, she died in the local sanatorium. How long she was there I do not know. She was buried with her mother and baby June.
My father told me that his sister died young of TB, and indeed she was young - tragically young - but I had somehow assumed that young meant as a child. I had no idea that she had lived long enough to have children of her own. Her young husband doubtless mourned her loss, but a few years later inevitably remarried. The Chalk family seems to have kept her memory alive though, for she was spoken of at her husband’s death many many years later. She was an aunt that I never knew.
Hubert Stanley (Stan) 1906-1978
My father. His story is told here.
Roland Harold 1911-1981
My Uncle Roland was born several years after his two older siblings in Southend. There are five years between he and his brother, my father, and seven between he and his sister. We have very few photographs of him but those we have imply that he was close to his brother. Which may well have been the case because I think the two of them found themselves alone, first of all without their mother who seems to have become estranged from her husband when Roland was a mere three years old, and then, when their father died two years later. They were, I think, alone with their, admittedly loving aunts, and a slightly forbidding grandmother by all accounts. I have no idea what their relationship, if any with their mother was. Did they ever see her? Did they see her occasionally? Was it worse for Stanley who was slightly older - eleven when his father died, or for Roland who was only six? My guess is that Roland would scarcely have remembered his father as he grew up.
However, my Uncle Roland also contracted TB - although we have yet to find out when, and so one wonders whether there had been contact with his mother. My father told me that all of his family had TB and that he had been told by the doctor to go to sea or be a farmer, or contract it himself, and since he went to sea at the young age of 18 just after his mother’s death, one has to assume that Roland had contracted it by then. I think he must have first spent some time in hospital and eventually he was transferred to Darvell Hall Sanatorium in Robertsbridge, Sussex - where he spent most of the rest of his life. Well to be fair I do not know where he lived in later life, but certainly for most of his adult life he lived there - first as a patient and then as an employee on the administrative side. We used to visit him there and it was there that we met Margaret (Russell) - the sanatorium’s matron, whom Roland married in 1956 at the age of 45. We were all so pleased for him. He was a gentle, kind man, but our contact with him was intermittent and as I grew older and moved away from home, I did not see him again. I do not know how often the brothers met either, as my father moved to Southampton.
By all accounts though, Roland and Margaret, though childless were happy and well suited. I gather, from relatives of Margaret who have made contact, that he was known as Bob to them. How this came about I have no idea. He died in 1981 at the age of 69.
We now move into a much more contentious area. Violet - just a single name, much less pretentious than the Mollett habit of two, conservative names. Violet is a little more fanciful and also simpler. She was born on March 22nd 1913 at 386 Brockley Road, Lewisham. Her birth certificate states that Gerald is her father, and indeed it seems, from an electoral roll, that Gerald and Maude were still living together. But she is not mentioned in her father’s will, made two years later, and neither is her mother. And my father never mentioned her. I guess we shall never know who her father was. It could even have been Gerald. I think she probably spent almost the first two years of her life with both Gerald and Maude, for in 1914, in the same area, another child, Harry is born - also with the same stated parentage. But either at that point or shortly thereafter the marriage disintegrated. I suppose, if I am honest, I have no real evidence of this, but, as outlined elsewhere the circumstantial evidence all points to it
When I first discovered Violet’s birth I naturally assumed, that both she and Harry had died as infants. But no death could be found. I then wondered whether Maude’s sister Florence who had married relatively late and was childless had taken them in. But I could find no records for this surname either. Did Maude, herself, bring them up until her death? Violet would have been 13 when her mother died, so you would think she would have remembered her - which it seems she didn’t. It remained a tantalising mystery for me.
And then, out of the blue we discover a new-found cousin - the son of Violet who told us that Violet had lived most of her life believing her father to be one Benjamin Brittle, bricklayer. Apparently when she found her birth certificate in the 70s, she was shocked and would not speak of it. How sad. We had grown up just the other side of the river from a woman who was at least our half-aunt, even possibly a full aunt, with children who were our cousins and we never knew them. My father never spoke of them, but he must have known about them. He was seven when she was born. Did he wipe them from his memory?
With a new name, Benjamin Brittle, to research I hit the internet and before too long came up with this story. It seems that Benjamin Brittle himself died in World War One in 1917 and I don’t think he ever married. I have yet to find a marriage anyway. His father, however, also named Benjamin was, it turns out, married to Maude’s aunt Mary Ann - her mother’s sister. So Benjamin the younger was her cousin. Was he also Violet’s father? We shall never know. Whoever the father was, the children were taken in and raised by the Brittles who gave them their name. Why did they do this? Well if Benjamin was their father the reason is obvious. If not - well Mary Ann and Benjamin had had eleven children, of whom only four were still alive in 1911, with Benjamin not long for this world. Maybe this was a chance to compensate for all those lost children. Maybe they were just good people. Again, we shall never know. The family seems to have lived at 29 Tanner’s Hill in Deptford for many years. Benjamin the elder died in 1919 - Violet would have only been six years old, and Harry just five. But Mary Ann and her daughters Florence and Mary Ann continued to care for them. Benjamin had been a blacksmith but Mary Ann was a wardrobe dealer and I think gradually the entire family were drawn into this family business.
Oxford has been mentioned as a place that they might have lived, but I find no evidence of this. Unless Violet went to live there as a young woman before she moved back to London and married. I do know that in 1934 the electoral register shows her living in what looks like a boarding house in the Catford district of Lewisham and the following year she is living and working in the Alperton Park Hotel in Ealing Road, Wembley. In that same year she married a Welshman, Percival (Percy) George Davies. Initially they lived in Northolt, Percy served in the Army during WW2 and they had five children - two boys and three girls. But times in England were tough and the family, with Percy’s father, moved back to Wales - to Hay on Wye in the Brecon Beacons area of Waless, where they remained for the rest of their lives, although most of the children migrated back to the London area. It would seem that Violet was very happy in Hay, (famous town of books) but she died just a month short of her sixtieth birthday. Percy died five years later.
I do hope that it was a happy life in spite of the traumatic discovery of her unexpected parentage - discovered in the 70s and apparently causing much distress. I am indebted to her daughter-in-law and her sons, for supplying me with this precious information.
Harry was born about eighteen months after Violet. Again the birth certificate states that Gerald was his father, and again the address is in the Lewisham Area - this time in Blenheim Grove. Curiously, in the 1915 electoral roll Gerald is living in the same house, with four other women, none of whose names I recognise. But no Maude - she has vanished. From this I assume that when Harry was born they were still together - still leaving the possibility that Gerald was indeed the father - but for whatever reason - Maude left and went back to Southend.
As with Violet’s story I am not sure what happened to Harry, other than that at some point he and Violet found themselves being brought up by Benjamin Brittle and his wife Mary Ann. Harry very probably served in WW2 - he would have been of the right age, but there are not many records available online as yet, they are still classified - unless you were killed or taken prisoner. However, in 1945 when the war was finishing, Harry was not at home with his wife in the electoral register, so I think we can assume he was away at the war somewhere.
It looks as if, unlike Violet, Harry stayed on at 29 Tanner’s Hill with his cousin? Mary Ann - Benjamin and Mary Ann’s daughter) until he either went away to war or married in 1941. The girl he married - Rene Levy was Jewish. They were married in Greenwich in the middle of the war, as so many people were. It is likely that they didn’t see each other much for the first few years. I do not know what relationship Rene had to Emily and Rose Levy who lived with them on and off until the 50s. Mother, sister, sisters? There were other people living in the house too, so either they owned the house and took in boarders, they themselves were boarders, or the house was divided into flats. Harry, it seems had a shoe repair business in Greenwich but I do not know where. They had two daughters, and in 1957 or 58 they left England forever to start a new life in South Africa. Harry, by now was forty three - in the prime of life I guess. Well, many English people left England around this time for the colonies. I did it myself, though a few years later. They were looking for a better life, for sunshine and prosperity. I have no idea why South Africa was chosen. After that, it seems contact was lost. One wonders whether Harry knew that his birth certificate gave his surname as Mollett. He must have had to produce a birth certificate to get a passport - so maybe he knew but never told anyone. There seem to be hardly any South African records online so I have not found out what happened to him. A cousin I never met - I am sorry I never knew you.
And last but not least - the final mystery child. At the age of 40 Maude apparently gives birth to a daughter in Southend, and puts on the birth certificate that her father was Gerald Osmond Hubert Mollett, timber surveyor. Gerald, of course was long dead and he was not a timber surveyor. Was June’s father? The baby was a month premature and probably struggled from the first, for at the age of three months, she tragically died. She was buried in the grave that was subsequently to become Maude’s own and her older sister Florence’s as well. Her mother, Maude may well have been ailing when she was born. I guess the only other thing to be said about this short life is that there is a slight possibility that she was actually Florence’s child. Florence and her future husband may both have been living with Maude.
Very sad, whosever child it was. The somewhat stylised picture at right, I hope gives the feeling of a not very healthy mother and child.
A sad end to Maude’s childbearing life.
A Google street view of 29 Tanner’s Hill - no. 29 is now a laundrette - the second house from the front.
Hay on Wye.
Was she a good mother? Was she traumatised by apparently having her children taken away from her? Or was she an uncaring mother? I do so wish I had asked my father more about her.
Is this Maude in the photo on the left? It is another photo from Phillip Mollett’s collection. It was taken in Southend and I think the face is sufficiently different from the photo I think is Florence, shown above, to assume a different person. Is this my father? She looks a little detached perhaps, somewhat sad? Not stunningly beautiful though. Even a little bit like me?
So many questions about Maude that will never be answered.