Friday, 17 March 2017

Cynthia ..... and stories of family revealed

I have been thinking of my friend Cynthia and how she brought me closer to my grandparents and the uncle I never knew.

Cynthia, 2000
We came across each other purely by chance almost a decade ago when I was writing a series of family stories for the Derby Telegraph.

She read them, recognised the names and got in touch and then for a few brief years until her death we spoke and corresponded regularly.

She was an amazing woman full of wit, knowledge and as our friendship grew revealed a wealth of stories about my family.

Like them she had lived on Hope Street, first as a child and then later with her husband and children.

Now Hope Street is pretty central to our story.  My great grandmother Eliza, great uncle Jack and great aunt Dolly lived on the street and sometime in 1922 my grandparents set up home at 12 Hope Street, which is where they brought up my mother and uncle and where I visited during summer holidays until they moved in the late 1950s.

My memories of that house and indeed the area are those of a child and had become shot through with doubts about the veracity of what I remembered.

Uncle Roger, 1937
But Cynthia confirmed much of those memories and more than that added to the store of family detail.

From her I learned the degree of prejudice shown to my German grandmother which ranged from cold stares to having the washing in the communal yard thrown in the mud.

And that prejudice extended to mum and Uncle Roger who were born in Germany.

All of which is ironic given that grandfather, his brothers and indeed my great grandfather served in the British army during the Great War, and mother and Uncle Roger were in the RAF during the Second World War.

I never knew my uncle, he died aged 21 faraway in a Japanese prison camp and my memories of Nana are of a woman who was in her sixties, but Cynthia knew them when they were young.

Nana, 1934
In the case of Roger there was she admitted with a wry smile more than a bit of romantic interest but sadly it was not to be, and in 1938 he enlisted as a boy recruit in the RAF.

Nana she remembered was a humorous and caring individual who by the 1930s had not only come to be accepted by her neighbours but was respected.

Now these tiny snapshots are important because they offer up an impression of my grandmother which seemed at odds with the stern no nonsense woman I knew a full two decades later.

12 Hope Street, 1963, marked with an X
And in the case of my uncle Cynthia’s comments brought him out of the shadows.

More than that she also supplied details of Hope Street and the surrounding streets which again confirmed what I vaguely remembered.

Nor is that quite all because just a little after Cynthia and I made friends another near neighbour from the late 1930s made contact in a course of letters supplied information about the houses on Hope Street, but that is for another time.

Location Derby

Pictures; Cynthia Wigley 2000, courtesy of Cynthia, Uncle Roger 1937,  Nana, 1934, Hope Street, 1963 the Derby Evening Telegraph, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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