Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Diary Part 2: A Mother’s Tale

It is quite some time since I wrote part one of the story of “the Diary”, so this second part is well overdue.  James Jesse Blake mentioned many people when he wrote his life story.  For many of these people, he didn’t just provide facts, he also gave an insight into their personality. So, this is the story of James Jesse Blake’s mother, her life and her character.

According to James Jesse Blake, his mother’s father was a widower with three girls and that he had moved up from Somerset to London to work on the Thames Tunnel – I have written his story.  Catherine Elizabeth Flower* was born in Timsbury, Somerset about 1820 and was baptised in the parish church there on 3 Aug 1821.  She was the oldest daughter of Jesse Flower and Mary Ann Hoare and had two sisters, also born in Timsbury, Harriet and Amelia, who survived childhood.  Another two sisters, both Elizabeth, born in Southwark, died in infancy.

Catherine lost her mother when she was eleven and her father when she was twenty, so was an orphan before she came of age at twenty one.  As a teenager, she went into service, so worked as a house maid somewhere in Greater London, I don’t know where. 

On 5 Oct 1846, Catherine married James Blake, a south sea mariner, in Aldgate Parish church, London.  According to The Diary, they moved from Aldgate to Park Street (now Milligan Street) Limehouse in 1848.  They stayed in Park Street for the rest of their lives, as shown by subsequent Census records.

Although she didn’t feature much in her son’s early recorded memories, Catherine emerges as a concerned mother once he started work as an apprentice.  James Jesse was living in Park St Limehouse while working at a coach maker’s in Marylebone.  After a year of walking 7 miles to and from work, Catherine finally allowed her son to lodge close to work during the week with him coming home at weekends. James would have been no more that eighteen at the time, so her reluctance to let him move out is understandable.  As his apprenticeship continued, he varied between living at home and living away depending on his health and behaviour.  James records a few instances of his mother insisting that he return home for varying periods.

After one of his many (yes, there were several) accidental dips in the Thames, slipping of a dock in fog, James Jesse was rescued by a Swedish seaman who inspired him to want to travel.  The seaman was headed for Queensland, Australia.  He mother said that she “would soon know that dammed nonsense out of you”.  This resulted in him having to live at home for some time.  It sounds like she was a woman who wouldn’t stand for any nonsense from her children and wanted to keep an eye on them.

Another time when Catherine exerted her authority on son James was when she reminded him that he needed to give his sister a wedding present.  She then helped him get one of his drawings framed as the present so was supportive of his talents too.

When James met his future wife, Eliza Todd, his mother had an important role. The two women first met without James present.  Eliza was sent by her Mistress to meet James’ mother soon after the young couple first met.  The mistress wanted to make sure James was a decent lad with honourable intentions and presumably thought his mother would feel the same.  When James and Eliza eventually married, Catherine helped them set up their new home and also hosted thier wedding dinner at her house. 

Throughout his married life, James mentioned his mother coming to help out when one or other of them was ill.  This included when James had to be nursed for three months after he was temporarily blinded by small pox.
Catherine died not long after the small pox episode, in December 1889.  She was 68 years old.

For so many ancestors, it is only the bare facts of their stories that can be known for sure, so it is special to have even a hint of personality; to know that someone care about their children’s welfare and did their best to look after them through childhood and as adults.  I do know from the facts that Catherine’s life couldn't always have been easy but thanks to The Diary, I know a little of how she coped with what life threw at her.

*Or Flowers.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > Catherine Elizabeth Flower

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