‘The Aunties’

Women of their time

Family history is generally considered a hobby in discovering our direct ancestors, but what about the ‘shoots’ of our family trees that never continued the gene-line. With the passing of time, they just become names on a family tree, but they were people, and there is every chance that they had an influence on us or the lives of our ancestors.

‘The Aunties’, were just such people in our family tree, and this is their story.

John Harvey and Sarah Ann Ayliffe had (according to family lore), thirteen children. Further research seems to give eleven. Sadly, many of them died as young children, and Edward was killed during world war one.

May Bessie (1889), Mary Jane (1892) Daniel (1899), Charles William (1901 – my Grandfather), Isabella (1903), and Hilda Rose (1904) survived to adulthood, but, of these six, only two of them, went on to have families of their own.

John and Sarah Ann, both came from Wiltshire families. They had arrived in London independently, and from different villages, so it is unlikely they knew each other beforehand. They may have bought some of their old fashioned values with them too. One of which seems to have been that the eldest daughter should remain at home, unmarried, to look after parents in old age!

John and Sarah Ann Harvey with Jen, Dan and friend.

As a child born in the sixties, – twenty years after WW2 and forty years after WW1, I was aware that old ladies outnumbered old men, and have wondered why this might be. Although it is a recognised fact, that on the whole women outlive men by age, this would not account for the large number of single or widowed women during the second half of the 20th century.

It would appear that ‘The Aunties’ numbered among these women.

May Bessie, the eldest daughter, had earned herself a black mark in the family, by leaving home and marrying Arthur Watkins in 1908. This left Mary Jane (Auntie Jen), as next in line to look after their parents. It has been said that she lost a boyfriend during World War One. She remained with her parents, helping out in the family green-grocery business at 30 Fulham Palace Road, and never married.

Just before the outbreak of WW2, John & Sarah moved from Hammersmith, as the area around Fulham Palace Road was due to be demolished to make way for the Hammersmith Flyover. They set up home in Wolseley Gardens, Chiswick, together with Jen and Dan. After the deaths of their parents and the end of the war, Jen and Dan returned to their house, which had been bombed in 1944 and were joined by sister Bella and her husband Harry Moss. They continued living there until the deaths of Dan (1966) and Harry (1969), later moving to Richmond to be closer to sister Hilda and her husband Tom Taylor.

Angela Remembers the Aunties

My first memory of the Aunties was a visit to Hilda’s house in Richmond in 1970. (Although, I understand we visited Chiswick in 1968, but can only vaguely remember being put to bed in a strange room, along with brother Paul).

I couldn’t make sense of the Richmond house, as another lady lived downstairs, and we were instructed not to make any noise, as we mustn’t disturb her.This would have been unlikely anyway, as we were rather overawed by the visit to four elderly relatives we didn’t know. I wasn’t used to large suburban houses, which were split to accommodate more than one family. Although separate residences, there didn’t appear to be any privacy as downstairs the rooms opened straight onto the corridor, and upstairs onto the landing.

Living upstairs were Hilda and Tom. Jen & Bella were there that day as we were visiting. I later discovered the lady downstairs (and landlady) was Uncle Gordon’s Gibraltarian sister in law, who had married Uncle Tom’s brother!

Uncle Tom was a wood carver, and had made a small wooden doll for me, and a pull along dog for Paul. It seems that he and Harry had been making and selling these little wooden toys as a little earner during the War.

The wooden doll, given to me by Uncle Tom 1970.

In the afternoon we went for a walk to Richmond Park, taking some peanuts to feed the red squirrels, Auntie Jen in her wheelchair. Following this we had a traditional afternoon tea with sandwiches, cakes and tea. The next time I saw the Aunties was again in 1970 during the summer.

(1970 was quite a busy year for us, as we had just returned from three years in Malta, and we were catching up with visiting friends and family)

The Aunties were visiting Nana at her house near Grantham. They were probably staying with mum’s brother (Uncle Gordon) who lived close by. I recall having tea in the garden with Auntie Jen sitting in an old wooden garden chair, with a number of squashy feather cushions. I was reminded of this later, when Godfrey and his sisters were doing the same in an episode of Dads Army!!

Soon after this, the three Aunties and Uncle Tom, moved to Grantham to be closer to family. Uncle Tom died in 1977, followed by Auntie Jen in 1978. Aunties Bella and Hilda, lived on, and attended my wedding in 1985. They eventually moved into a retirement home. Bella died in 1989 and Hilda in 1990. With no children of their own, my Uncle Gordon was instrumental in ensuring their later years were happily spent.

Family Wedding 1980, Paul, Hilda, Cynthia, Elizabeth, Win, Bella, Angela

‘Auntie Jen’, in my opinion, was one of the oldest people imaginable, although she was actually in her late 70’s, (in 1970) which by today’s standards is not particularly old. She had trouble with her hips, and could hardly walk, having to use a wheelchair for going out. She wore her hair in a bun, at the nape of her neck. It appeared that she was a much revered older sister (being more than ten years older than the others). I would guess that all decisions were taken by her, and she had the final word.

Jen (right), Florence Frost/Tranter (left) and Joan.

Next was Auntie Bella (Isabella), a quiet and gentle lady, whose claim to fame was a ‘built up shoe’. We were told she had one leg longer than the other, but following the birth of my son in 1987, with the same problem, discovered it was caused by congenital dislocation of the hips. The hip joint does not form properly, and the joint dislocates. These days it is a condition which can be treated by the wearing of a splint for several weeks after birth. If this does not work, further treatment can be a plaster caste worn from knees to waist. If treatment is not successful, the person if left lame.

Luke in his plaster caste.

Auntie Bella’s shoes were black leather, and always highly polished. I don’t know how often or if ever they were replaced, but they always appeared to be an extremely old fashioned style. My mother tells me they were replaced quite regularly as she once went with Bella to the hospital for a fitting. Although sometimes offered a more modern style she was happier with her original design.

I also recall both Auntie Jen, and Auntie Bella, wearing navy blue raincoats. Auntie Bella had married Harry Moss in 1937, but never had children. This may have been because of her age, or on medical advice due to her hips.

Auntie Bella, kept in contact by mail, with many extended family members, and through her, we have managed to piece together family connections.

Bella and Harry Moss 1938 , Hilda, Jen and mother Sarah Ann behind.

Auntie Hilda, the youngest, was more of a live wire. She married Tom Taylor in 1933, sadly suffering a miscarriage, and not having any further children. She became a bus conductress – “a clippie” after the war.

Golden Wedding celebrations 1938 John Harvey and Sarah Ann, celebrate their Golden Wedding, with a visit by a local newspaper. ‘The Aunties’ on hand to help.

(Cynthia remembers the Aunties)

Although I lived in Heston, I spent many school holidays staying with my aunts and uncles in Chiswick. They moved with my grandparents to 33 Wolseley Gardens from Hammersmith just before WW2. Sadly my grandma died in January 1944 and my grandad was killed when a bomb hit their house in February, the others all surviving. I think it was the aunts who were in the house at the time with grandad but that Uncle Dan (Harvey) was on ARP warden duty and was called out only to find that his own house had been hit. I presume it was a night-time bombing.

My first holiday was actually spent in their temporary home in Grosvenor Road in approximately 1947 but afterwards they moved back to No. 33 where I visited for many years. I have lots of memories.
The aunties were of the old school so washing was always done on Mondays, ironing Tuesdays and so on. Thursday was big shopping day. We stopped at two different small shops on the walk to the High Street for sweets and cigarettes (not a good idea as both uncles died in their mid ‘60s). The main shopping was ordered from Platts in the High street and delivered the following Monday. Smaller shopping was undertaken nearby on Friday to include fish – a must-have Friday dinner. Although sticking mostly to their schedules, they always found time to take me out during my stays – open-air swimming pool (my favourite); Chiswick House, Kew Gardens among others. Saturdays I often went to Strand on the Green with Uncle Dan and was fascinated by the front door barriers erected in case of the Thames flooding. Even to me the aunties seemed quite old. They wore their hair in a bun which was loosened at night and plaited – Jen with one plait and Bella with two. I slept with auntie Jen. Cocoa was made about 8.30 and then we all went to bed to read – the Library was another of my favourite visits to choose my nightly reading!
Pre-war my three brothers had been visitors to their Fulham home which included the greengrocers shop so had added interest. With no children of their own I think they enjoyed their young visitors though it was perhaps a bit of relief to say goodbye as I was very chatty. I think particularly Uncle Dan was quite worn out after his Saturday outings,

I visited most holidays from age 6 until about 12 though we often ‘dropped in’ as a family on a Sunday. With no phones then, they never knew we were coming but we were always invited to tea. Here we were able to catch up on the rest of the Harveys as Auntie Jen was the family hub.

Hilda, Winifred and Cynthia.

Women of their time

The Aunties belonged to a generation of women, who had to face up to the fact that large numbers of two consecutive generations of their menfolk had been killed during war, and many of those who returned were physically or mentally maimed by the horrors they had experienced. As our society had lost so many young men, they had to ‘compete’ for those left. As for young women who had lost husbands, they would have even less chance of finding another. Many women who did find a husband later in life, were most likely beyond childbearing age. This happened for two consecutive generations  – leaving an excess of women over men).

With a shortage of men, women also had to fill in, in society, and found they had to work, perhaps taking up employment which would not previously been available to them. Women were increasingly employed in teaching and nursing, and they involved themselves in the community, many embracing the unimagined opportunities available to them. 

Angela Weatherill, Cynthia Sanderson 2021