The Autobiography of Chris Blows

When I was younger, I was not particularly interested in family history. As a teenager and young adult, I was as self-obsessed as any and, after I got married, I was much more interested in my own family life than learning more about my roots. I thought then that relations and ancestors were unimportant compared with my immediate family and our friends. More recently, I have come to understand that family in the broad sense is important and relevant to the sense of who we are, so I have begun to find out more about my ancestors. In turn, I feel I should write down what I have learnt for the time when my own children and grandchildren may become more interested. As an only child, I realise that if I don’t do it, the limited knowledge and memories I have will die with me and the more time that passes, the harder it is to remember. I particularly want to do this as my children did not really know their grandparents on my side of their family (my mother died when Joanna was eight, my father three years before she was born.) However, my reasons for undertaking this are not entirely altruistic. I know that I will get pleasure from making this memoir and the very act of remembering in itself brings its own feeling of satisfaction.

You can learn a lot about where you come from the details of the names, places and dates found in Census Records and on Birth, Marriage & Death Certificates. You can draw a limited number of inferences from this information and begin to understand a little of the social history of your family. In essence, you begin to answer the question “Who do you think you are?” But this factual knowledge can only give a sketch of one’s roots. On its own it is a colourless picture and incomplete. I wish that some of my ancestors had written a memoir, not only of names and dates but also about where they came from and what life was like for them and, by doing so, left a much more ‘colourful’ and rounded record of their life and memories. Maybe, my children and grandchildren will want to interrogate me before I am too old or confused to remember clearly but maybe they will not and later regret it as I now do.

So this is an attempt to write a memoir of what I know and have found out, in the hope that my children and later my grandchildren will be interested and enjoy it. Often, a family has a patriarch or matriarch who has become over time the main repository of knowledge about his or her family history. When they die, so much of what they knew dies with them. So, without necessarily casting myself in the role of patriarch, this is my attempt to try to write down what I know about my ancestors and my family as well as of my own life and experiences to create as comprehensive a family and social history as I reasonably can, while I still have, hopefully, a good few years ahead of me. I will also combine the text with photographs, which should make it all seem more real. I’m also hoping that sometime in the future, Joanna, Lucy & Kate may add their own recollections and thoughts and pass it down to another generation.

The early part of this narrative, which concerns my ancestors, comes mainly from official records and the deductions I have been able to make from them, together with pieces of anecdotal information and the memories of my cousins. Later, this narrative will become more of a personal memoir and, for this part, I need to rely on my own, often fallible memory of what I experienced and what I was told, mainly by my parents, at one time or another. I will write about what life was like as it affected me and my family starting in the aftermath of WW2 and going on to the present day. Most will be the more obvious events such as school, being a teenager, my career, marriage and so on. A few will be trivial but I hope interesting. I will try not to embarrass anyone still living and I suspect that, as I get closer to the present day and the times where my children have their own memories of what it was like, what I write will become sketchier but possibly adding information they didn’t know or perhaps providing a different perspective on events.

Although I’ll be content to be able to say that I’ve finished it when I get to the present day, it could be an ongoing task if I can add any other reminiscences of my life and times that come back to me for a later version. I have no delusions that anything I write will be of any interest outside my family, but I hope it is sufficiently interesting for them to read, keep and later pass down to later generations.

In researching my history, I have found it a little frustrating that, as I am an only child as was my mother, I have no siblings and no aunts , uncles or first cousins on my mother’s side that I can refer to. A family tree which includes my maternal grandfather Harry Warburton has been very thoroughly researched by Ray Warburton, a second cousin (someone with whom you share one pair of great-grandparents). Ray has done so much work on that that side of my family that its history can be considered as complete as it’s possible to get and I would be surprised to find anything new. My maternal grandmother Frances Savage was one of eleven children but quite possibly only three of them ever married, that number including herself. She only kept in contact with her youngest sister, Grace, but Grace was widowed in WW1 with no children. My grandmother also had a brother, Frank, who did marry and produced a daughter, but I’ve not been able yet to trace any offspring. It would be a bonus if I find any descendants on my mother’s side with whom I can exchange memories. It is sadly not as fertile an area in both a physical and metaphorical sense as might have been hoped. On my father’s side, my cousin Noel has done a good deal of research. Much of the history of that side of my family is based on his work and he in turn was helped by a cousin in New Zealand. I am also grateful for Ann’s memories as well as photos.

For the purpose of this memoir, I have gone back, where I can. to the beginning of the 19th century along the direct lines of descent from parent to child. I have included all my grandparents’ siblings but no relatives more remote than that.

Many dates given for ancestors can only be accurate plus or minus one year as Censuses estimate birth years from the ages reported. There are also possible differences between the year of a birth or death and its official registration after the event.

George Oliver Blows & Elizabeth Jane Pearl

My Father’s Family: (The ancestors and descendants of George Oliver Blows & Elizabeth Jane Pearl (Many thanks to Noel and Ann for much of this information).

My father Gerald Stuart Blows (1903-1968) was the son of George Oliver Blows (GOB) (18681945)and Elizabeth Jane Pearl (EJP) (1870-1947).

George Oliver Blows was born in 1868/9 in Cambridgeshire, the son of Elizabeth (Betsy) Dellar Oliver (BDO) b.1850. She was the daughter of Joseph Oliver b. 1830 and Lucy Dellar b. 1827/28 and the 2nd eldest of 10 children. Joseph Oliver was an agricultural labourer. GOB’s birth certificate does not show a father and she signed with a cross. The implications are that GOB was illegitimate and that my great-grandmother was illiterate. Presumably my grandfather was initially known as George Oliver.

In 1870, when GOB was about two, BDO married George Blows (senior) and GOB took his surname. George (senior) was born about 1842 in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. It’s possible that he was GOB’s father and later Censuses describe him as such but that is far from conclusive. George Blows (senior) was the son of Joseph Blows (b. 1813) and Mary Parish (b.1810) and his ancestors can be traced further back.

George and Betsy had two daughters, half-sisters to GOB (full sisters if George Blows {senior} was his father). Mary Jane Blows was born about 1876, in Meldreth. She married Harry (Henry) Anderson (b.1871) in 1896 and had a daughter, in Melbourne, Cambs. In the 1901 Census, Mary is described as a dressmaker and Harry as a porter. In the 1911 Census, Mary and Harry Anderson are living with George Blows (senior) and Betsey (sic) together with their three children, Hilda born about 1896, Elsie Rose born around 1904 and Reginald Harry born around 1911.

Incidentally, the Census shows that Betsey had given birth to four children, of whom three were living. Emily Blows was born in about 1880 also in Meldreth. In 1902, she married Charles Winter. From the 1911 Census, she had two children living having given birth to three children. Charles Albert was born around 1902 but I have not been able to trace him further. Millicent May Winter was born around 1906. She married Harold S. Brown in 1924. I have found some possible children of this marriage but the Birth Certificates need checking for confirmation.

Elizabeth Jane Pearl’s father was Rands Edmund Pearl (b.1839). Rands was the son of John Mark Pearl b. 1820 and Catherine (b. 1820 -maiden name not known). John Pearl was described as "a miller employing one man". Interestingly, in the 1861 Census, Rands Pearl, also described as a miller, was at the age of only 22, living alone with a 48 year old servant as his Housekeeper.

EJP's mother was Elizabeth Jane Tilbrook (b1842) and quite probably known as Jane as, in the 1881 Census, Elizabeth Jane Pearl nee Tilbrook is shown as Jane Pearl). Jane’s father was John Tilbrook b. 1820 a carpenter who married Sarah (b. 1821 maiden name not known – possibly Cracknell). John was the son of William and Maria Tilbrook both born in 1791.

Rands Pearl died in 1877 at the age of 38, leaving (Elizabeth) Jane Pearl (senior) as a widow with eight children. EJP was the 4th eldest:Catherine M. b.1864 Bennett b.1866 Henry b.1868 Elizabeth Jane b 1870 John Mark b.1872 Alice Maud Mary b.1874 Frederic b.1877 Gertrude Emily b.1878.

Johannes Popitz
George Oliver Blows (early 1900s)

All the place-names in the various records, mainly in Cambridgeshire but also Royston, Hertfordshire are from the same area around the South East of the County bordering both Hertfordshire and Essex.

In 1894, George Oliver Blows (GOB) married Elizabeth Jane Pearl (EJP). They had seven children between 1895 & 1913 as follows :1. Vera Pearl Blows 1895. 2. Cyril Sydney Blows 1897. 3. Harley Albert Blows 1898. 4. Gerald Stuart Blows 1903 (my father). 5. Olive Blows 1906. 6. Ralph Edmund Blows 1909 7. Doris Mabel Blows 1913.

Their histories of the children are given below and their descendants are in Appendix 1. GOB was a police officer. He joined the Cambridgeshire Police in 1888 and a year later transferred to the City of London Police at the age of twenty. He retired thirty years later in 1919.

GOB was present at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Coronations of Edward VII in 1902 and George V in 1911 and received commemorative medals of these occasions. GOB was a Mason (something perhaps unusual for someone of his low police rank) as seen in the photograph of him in his regalia. In 1914, he also became a Freeman of the City of London. Again this seems a little unusual. GOB, like most Freemen, became one ‘by redemption’ a term originating at a time when men ‘purchased’ their freedom. It is nowadays something which men may do because they want to reinforce their connection with the City, often because they are becoming a member of one of the City Livery Companies. ‘Honorary’ Freemen are created as an honour or reward and this is not nearly as common. The precise reasons behind GOB’s Freedom are not known.

He remained a police constable according to his official Career Record although, according to Noel, when Harley married in 1923, GOB was described (or described himself) as a Police Inspector (retired) but his police record shows him as remaining a constable. On Vera’s Marriage Certificate also in 1923 he described himself as a clerk. GOB & EJP initially lived in a number of police houses in London. In 1916 he requested that he be allowed to move to Leigh-on-Sea, Essex for the benefit of Ralph’s health. Later they moved to Richmond where Ralph & Doris went to school (Ralph to Hampton Grammar School on the Thames in Middlesex) before finally settling in Orpington, Kent.

Johannes Popitz
Elizabeth Blows in the 1920s

GOB retired in 1919 after thirty years of service with a pension of £165:4s:8d (approx 63 shillings & 6 pence per week) - approximately two thirds of final salary. It’s worth noting that police salaries increased dramatically between 1916 and 1919 when he retired. It rose from 45 shillings a week in 1916 to 58 shillings in 1918 (a 29% rise), and again to 95 shillings in 1919 (a further 64% rise). There was a huge amount of unrest in 1918 & 1919 about the pay and conditions of the Police Force and it seems that this dramatic rise was the result. In any event it allowed GOB to retire with a pension in 1919 in excess of his 1918 salary.

GOB was a long time retired for he died in 1945 at the age of 76, having retired 26 years earlier. EJB lived for a further two years and died in 1947 at the age of 77

After retirement from the Police, GOB went to work for Shell on the security side. It is no coincidence that my father, Ralph and Doris all subsequently worked for that company.

2. Vera Wilsher (1895-1924)

Vera married Herbert J.Wilsher in 1923. On their marriage Certificate , he is described as a clerk (on Vera’s Death Certificate as a railway clerk) and the son of John Wilsher (deceased). Vera died a year later in 1924. Her Death Certificate gives the first cause of death as “Acute Rheumatism” which today would be described as Rheumatic Fever. I understand that this is more common in children in adults but I don’t know whether she had been a sickly child. The second cause of death is given as Bright’s Disease. This is a group of kidney diseases which result in albumen being present in the urine. Noel & Ann had understood that she died of “White Kidney Disease” and albumen comes from the Latin for white – “albus”. The third cause of death is given as valvular heart disease. Heart problems often result from Rheumatic Fever. There was no post mortem which indicates that death was not sudden. Herbert Wilsher remarried in 1929 and there were two daughters of this second marriage. These diseases appear elsewhere in the family as Ralph died from kidney disease and Doris also had rheumatic Fever as a child.

Cyril went to Christ’s Hospital School from 1909 to 1913. (The school has continuing deep roots within the City of London but had moved to Horsham in West Sussex) in 1902. Probably as a result of Cadet training there, Cyril went into WW1 as a commissioned Officer. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th (City of London) Battalion of the London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers as announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 3rd February 1915. He was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and his name Is on the War Memorial there. His death particularly affected his mother Elizabeth as he was reputedly her favourite. This may have affected family relations but I don’t know any details.

3. Harley (1898-1971)

Harley married Mabel Coulling in 1923. He is present at both Ralph’s and Doris’s weddings in 1942 and 1940 respectively but emigrated at some point after that to New Zealand . While he was still in England, Harley had a succession of jobs rather than a career, including those of door to door salesman and Cruise Director in both of which his gift of the gab would have been a great help. Readingbetween the lines, Harley appears to have been a maverick. He didn’t go to Christs Hospital like his older and younger brothers and he didn’t settle into a solid career. In New Zealand he found he had the knack of managing and manipulating bones and became a successful chiropractor. Chiropractic, in its early days, unlike osteopathy, did not require formal qualifications. Apparently, Harley had an exceptional talent for this - he even once treated an expensive race horse. He travelled throughout the country and made a lot of money. He was also believed to be a bit of a womaniser.

Ann believes that Harley and Mabel’s three children didn’t emigrate with them at the time but were persuaded to emigrate later when Harley visited England, probably in the 1960s.

Harley was apparently the subject of a family row. This was never explained to me at the time but I understand now that it was a dispute about whether money from my grandparents to him was a gift or a loan. Seventy years on, it is unlikely that anyone now knows for certain.

4. Gerald (Gerry) Blows (1903-1968)

5. Olive (1905-1958)

Olive was unmarried. She had been a nurse at Guy’s Hospital. She was a smoker and died at the age of 52 after a long battle with breast cancer. Ann says that her mother was shocked to find Olive smoking in hospital. I have memories of her smoking at our house in Hatch End. In those days non-smokers generally put up with smokers who wanted to light up in their house. My father had given up a long time ago, when, I guess, I was around two or three. She was an avid knitter.

6. Ralph (1909-1958)

Ralph was the youngest son. As a child had some health problems which prompted the family to leave London for Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Later they moved to Richmond-on-Thames where Ralph attended Hampton Grammar School. Like GOB, Gerry and Doris, he joined Shell. In spite of his health, he was an oarsman and a top class fencer. During the War, he was in the RNVR and served on the Arctic convoys.He died of kidney disease in 1958.

7. Doris (1913-74)

Ann has written the following biography of her mother: “My parents met on holiday, I think in the Cheddar area, in1939. My father was a clerk and my mother was a short hand typist working at Shell which was I believe the only place she worked. My father joined the army in1939 and joined the British Expeditionary Force in France. When he returned from Dunkirk in 1940, after visiting his parents in Croydon, he rushed over to Orpington to propose to my mother. They then married a month later on the 26th July at All Saints Church in Orpington. My mother had to do all the arranging because our grandparents did not approve and thought they should wait until the war was over. It would have been a long wait. They rented a flat in Teddington where my mother lived, until she was expecting John, when she moved back to Orpington to live at Ravenscroft with her parents until the war was over. This was I think rather nice for Grandma who wasn't able to see much of her other grandchildren and apparently picked him up as soon as he cried - not what you'd expect of someone who'd had 7 children of her own!

My parents then bought 11, Grange Road in November 1945 and that was their home until some time after my mother died. My father was a sales representative after he was demobbed until I think the early 70's when he went back to being an office clerk. As was common in those days my mother never went back to work after John and I were born, though I understand she would have liked to teach, but my father didn't want to be "kept" by his wife so she stayed a
housewife.” John was born in 1944 and died of lung cancer in 1997, although he was not a smoker. Ann was born in 1947.