Thursday, 24 December 2009

Hard times for the Edwards family

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In 2004, Ralph Edwards and his wife Phyllis (centre) visited Birmingham from Canada. The boys at the front are my sons Joe and Patrick Millington, the lady on the right is Julie Brindley, a great granddaughter of Pem, who lives in Staffordshire


On the 3rd October 1904, Mary Emma’s son, Arthur Edwards was placed in the Middlemore Home in Birmingham. Arthur’s son Ralph Edwards, who lives in Winnipeg, Canada told me about his father’s story:

“From the Middlemore records that I have been able to view, it appears that William and Emma and their children had fallen on "hard times" and were having trouble providing for their children and themselves. When my father went into the Middlemore Home on 3rd/4th October 1904, this is what was on the application:

Name and address of Parent: William Edwards 3 House 10 Court Lower Tower Street. Members of family: Mother and father and five children eldest 10 years the youngest 8 months. It goes on to say that the father (William) has been out of regular employment for fourteen months but has done odd jobs for his nephew who is a shoe finisher. Then it states that my father was "sleeping out' and also has been in trouble at the markets for apparently stealing things. It also states that when Pem was interviewed she said her husband had spent time in jail for assaulting people and being drunk. She also told the interviewer that they moved often to avoid paying rent so that they would have money for food. It also said that one of the children had spent time in the Shustoke Industrial School.

“The report on admittance does not give names of any of my fathers siblings and only uses his name (Arthur) and the father's name (William). Nor does it give any name of the mother. She is referred to as "mother". I know that life was hard in Birmingham in the late 1800's and early 1900's. My father's family was much better off than a lot of the family admittance reports that I have seen in the Middlemore records. There were a lot of "horror stories" in that era.”

“In June of 1906 my father was immigrated to Canada with many other children from the Middlemore Home. He came to Canada on a ship called The Siberian in 1906”.

“I don't know if you are aware of the child care agencies that were operating in England in the late 1800's and up until about 1930 but there were quite a number bringing children to Canada to work on farms. Dr Barnadoes organization was probably the largest. He worked primarily in London, saving destitute children. Middlemore Homes of Birmingham brought approximately 5000 children to Canada. Many of the children after they were placed on farms here were mistreated and treated like slaves. In fairness there were many who were placed in good homes and treated as their own children.”



Orphans from England working on a farm in Canada in the early 20th Century. The boys in the photo seem happy, but many were not treated well and were used as cheap child labour



“My father was placed on a farm here in the province of New Brunswick, with a farmer who did not treat him very well. In 1915 he left the farm and joined the Canadian Army which was known as the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He went back to England and served in France during World War 1.”

Ralph Edwards explained to me that his father must have had direct contact with his parents during this period and on his army records he gives the family’s home address at 1 Back 172 Farm Street as a contact address. It was also where his pay assignment went to during the time he was in England and France:

“My father arrived in England on 6th October 1916 and was in England and France until April 1919, when he was returned to Canada. He was not far away when his father died in Birmingham.”

“After returning from the war he married my mother in 1922. My mother was also immigrated here with Middlemore Homes of Birmingham. She arrived here in 1910. My mother whose name was Daisy Bate was born in Woodsetton, Staffordshire. They settled in Nova Scotia, about one hour drive from Halifax and raised five children, three boys and two girls.”

Ralph Edwards told me more about the life of his grandmother, Mary Emma Clayton, substantiating the information given to me by Carole Graham and raising similar questions:

“It appears that my grandmother, Mary Emma Clayton (age 19), was married first to William George Jeenes (age 22) at Aston Brook on 25 Dec 1885. I believe that there were children from this marriage which were carried over to her marriage with my grandfather, William Edwards (age 29), when they married at All Saints Parish 02 Feb 1896.”

“There are many questions that surround these two marriages. On the marriage certificate of William Edwards and Mary Emma she is a spinster. Also she has dropped the name Mary and is now Emma. Her age shows as 28 when she should have turned 29 at the end of the previous year. What happened to William George Jeenes? Had he died sometime between 1885 and her marriage to William Edwards? Or was William Jeenes still living and she illegally married ? These are a few of the questions that puzzle me about my grandmother.”


Ralph Edwards is a grandson of Pem Clayton and a native of Canada. In 2004 he visited the former Middlemore Home building in Birmingham from which his father was immigrated as a home child in 1906


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