Found in the Attic – Part 1
After my mother-in-law was admitted into residential care, my husband, Chris, and I had the less than pleasant task of going through her belongings. We had not been in the house, especially the attic, for many years because she lived in England and we in Australia. After all, you don’t tend to rummage about in the attic when visiting family you haven’t seen for a long time. This time, though, exploring the attic was a must.
“Granddad Willers”, Chris’s maternal grandfather, had been a budgerigar breeder and it appears that he won the medal for “The Best Budgerigar” in the 1939 Crystal Palace National Challenge Show for Cage Birds.
The medal was not the best of our finds though.
These were the photograph and postcard albums and the framed portraits.
Among the formal portraits was one showing a small girl with her parents and grandparents.
Chris recognised his grandfather as a young man so we realised that the child was his mother aged about two years.
This was the first time either of us had seen a photograph of Chris’s great grandparents or his grandmother. She had died when Chris’s mother was eight years old, in about 1916, during the influenza pandemic, leaving her daughter Grace to mourn her forever.
The frames for the formal photographs were ornate and heavy, so we removed the photographs from their frames to bring back to Australia.
Since then these photographs have lived between the acid-free pages of a photograph album but, nonetheless, they have still deteriorated as Grandfather and Grandmother Willers’s wedding photograph shows.
Sadly we do not know the names of the wedding party other than those of the bride and groom, Robert Willers and Ellen Harriet Fordham.
The facial resemblance between all the ladies in the photograph suggests that they are related to the bride and may well be her sisters.
The man standing to the left of the groom shows some resemblance to the groom and may be his brother.
As I write “may be”, I am reminded that researching my late husband’s family tree is fast becoming a priority.
As well as the photograph albums and the portraits there was an album of postcards, birthday and Christmas cards.
Many of the postcards were in mint condition and had never been posted, whilst others had been posted to the recipient, a Miss Gertie Cracknell, who lived at various addresses in London. One wonders if Gertie Cracknell was in service in London.
An even bigger puzzle is her relationship to my mother-in-law – Grace Clark (nee Willers).
The postcards were of tourist attractions throughout pre-WWI England and Scotland as well as a small number from the Continent, suggesting that whoever collected them and/or sent them to Gertie had sufficient income to allow them to travel.
Some of the later ones were coloured like the card below showing the pier and promenade at Rhyl.
The earliest date that I have found from the small number of cards that I have carefully removed from the album is 17 August 1908.
Whilst many date from the First World War years, one card carries the notation “Best wishes Blossom” and is postmarked Egypt 17 December 1912.
As well as the cards, there were a small number of photographs of men in uniform, including one with “Erny March ‘17” scrawled across the bottom, leaving one to wonder if he was the person who sent the postcard from Egypt before the outbreak of war.
As to the others, once again their identity has disappeared with the passing of my mother-in-law.
The photograph albums themselves are leather bound and one of them can be closed with a clasp. They are in good condition. The covers of the postcard album, however, have deteriorated and fallen off, leaving the pages exposed. The book itself has been sewn so the pages are holding together. It is now with a conservator who will reattach the covers and tighten them up in order to preserve the integrity of the album. She felt that it is well worth making an effort to save the album and its contents.
Our find in the attic had a positive side in that my husband and our son know what their Willers and Fordham ancestors looked like.
The sad part of this discovery for my husband, however, was that his mother had never showed him these photographs and albums whilst she was well enough to identify them or tell him the family stories; neither will we ever know why she kept them secret. By the time we found them, her Alzheimer’s disease was too far advanced for her to recognise the photographs.
As she was an only child and her Aunts and Uncles had died, there was no-one that Chris knew for us to ask about the Willers – Fordham family history.
Do you have the surnames FORDHAM, WILLERS, CLARK or CRACKNELL from Cambridgeshire or the London areas, or recognise anyone in the photos above? If so, do leave a comment below!