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The search for my godmother

Edith’s parents and early life

Edith Mary Dunne (nee Freeman)
(1880 - 1965)

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Edith’s father, William Freeman, was baptised at Portsmouth in 1858. He married a local girl, Elizabeth Putman, in the town during 1878. William was a jeweller/watchmaker and in 1888 and 1901 he was trading from 147 High Street, Old Portsmouth. This address was close to the homes of my mother’s family (the Mills) who had lived in the notorious Portsmouth Point for a century.

 

Edith was born in 1880 at Portsmouth, the oldest child of three children. When young, her parents encouraged both an interest in travel (she and her father travelled abroad when she was a school girl) and religion (she began attending church at the age of four).  Edith was involved with Sunday School work as a teenager and was also a keen chess player. In July 1899, she attained a Stage 1, 1st Class success in mathematics (my great uncle Archie Mills was in her class and also received a commendation).

 

By 1901, Edith was studying at Whitelands Teacher Training College at Chelsea. She was back in Portsmouth in the summer of 1902 when she was appointed as a pupil teacher at St Lukes Infants School. My grandfather began teaching at St Lukes on 28 August 1905 and his brother, Archie Mills, was an assistant master at the same school between 1903 and 1905. My Uncle Pat said that Edith was a friend of his mother (ie Charlie Mills’ wife). Edith was headmistress of the school between 1919 and 1925. It was clearly this connection with my family which brought her into the circle of my mother’s acquaintances.

 

It was towards the end of the First World War that Edith developed a taste for sending short stories, letters and poems to newspapers for publication. In October 1918, she sent an account of the ‘tragedies and comedies’ she had come across whilst working as a Government clerk helping to issue new ration books. The publication of her experiences encouraged her to write a follow-up, Irrationalities, during the following month. The two pieces are amalgamated and reprinted below. Her first story (A Woman’s Faith), printed just after the end of the War in November 1918, occupied more than one column on a page. Then, in January 1919, another short story (“A Story!”) was published.

RATION-BOOK ROMANCE

Many histories of the Great War will be written but I doubt whether the tragedies and comedies connected with rationing will ever find their way into print, so a few human incidents may be of interest at this time.

 

For a fortnight instead of being a ‘teacher’ I played the part of ‘Government Clerk’ and helped issue the new ration books to every kind and condition of man, woman and child.

 

First should be mentioned the Biblical family. This commenced with Noah and proceeded through Abraham and Moses to Hezekiah, Mary and Elizabeth. Then the question of age seemed rather vague to many people. One young girl was certified to be 116 years old and a baby born in 1918 was given under occupation as a ‘pensioner’. In the same column, the work of two girls was described as ‘munitions’, but on further enquiry it was discovered that the definition of ‘munition’ work in this instance was ‘preparing potatoes for soldiers’.

 

The occupation of many people is often very vague but in one household they were quite decided about the matter - the whole family even to the tiny baby of a year old were ‘skin dressers’; while on another paper a bright youth had described himself as a managing director, this information however had been cancelled and the words ‘errand boy’ inserted - the pride of imagination had evidently in this instance received a very extensive fall.

 

In the ‘age’ enquiry column the most fascinating statements are made: a ‘shop boy’ four years old occasions very little comment, nor does the fact that a married woman and a vanman were both born in 1915, but we were astonished to find that one man was practically a contemporary of William the Conqueror being born in 1080, while a baby to be born in November 1919 seemed determined to have its ration book in good time. Again it was somewhat difficult to determine which book should be issued to another individual as he had not decided to be born until 1949 - and we read of one who was not due in this world before 19,011! However, they all received a ration book of some description.

 

A tragic story was that of ‘Ole Charlie’. He and his wife had been living with a daughter and one night her ‘husband’ arrived and the poor old mother and father were turned out  into the street. They were given refuge in a two-roomed hut but owing to neglect it was found necessary to remove the aged woman to the Infirmary. The hard-hearted daughter had retained all her father’s food tickets, so the poor old man had been living on bread for several days. As he told his story with shaking voice and tearful eyes, many hearts warmed in sympathy and several of the public slipped money into his hand. He was accompanied by a daughter-in-law, but as she pathetically said, ‘You see Miss, I can’t take the old man in. I have five children and a husband and we have only three rooms. Particulars were recorded and one woman will have a surprise if she tries to use those tickets illegally detained.

 

Another interesting figure was that of a young widow who had resided a few miles from Dublin during the riots. She had been through much agony of mind owing to the fact that no news could be obtained of her friends in the city and when tidings filtered through, she found she had lost her dear ones. She also stated that going into a hospital for a fortnight’s rest, she, with only one trained nurse, was called upon to care for many victims of the Lusitania outrage. No sleep could be obtained for two nights and days owing to the great demands on their skill and time and, as she said, the hardest part of it all was helping the frantic men and women to identify their loved ones. Never will she forget the awful scenes witnessed during that dreadful time - and her voice shook at the remembrance of these past horrors.

 

A gleam of comedy appeared with the advent of a young soldier. He looked so hot and bashful that one could see he was probably wishing he was facing ‘cannon’ rather than ‘clerks’. But we talked to him gently and then he was most communicative. It appeared that he had enlisted at the age of fourteen years and seven months and when war broke out, although being only about sixteen, went as a trumpeter, but being tall and well-built, was made a gunner. He had been through all the fighting unhurt and being home on leave had escorted his lady-love for a walk the night before. She had been commissioned to obtain the family’s food books, but love and the soldier making her forget the time, had been too late. So in order to retrieve the misfortune the bold defender of his country offered to come the next morning - hence his bashful appearance at the office. Needless to add the ration books were duly handed over to him and following our best wishes, he thankfully departed.

 

One poor lady was in great distress. She had arrived in the town three days previously but having no books and not knowing what to do had had very little to eat. Her landlady would take no interest in the matter, so she arrived tearful and fainting to be consoled and advised.

 

In a back alley of a populous seaside town will be found Admiral Jellicoe (still a young baby) and it is interesting to note that he may one day meet as a fellow townsman, Douglas Haig, aged fourteen, who is at present ling in the same locality

 

Oh so many, many stories could be told for it was a most enlightening and touching fortnight, but I will just close by mentioning a lady of eighty-three who rather proudly informed me when I expressed surprise at her age, ‘Yes Miss, and I have lived in this place all my life and this is the first time I have ever been in this Town Hall - I have not even been on the steps’. As we boast a Hall famous throughout England for its beauty and size, it was rather a blow to our civic pride but as an illustration of the eccentricities of humanity it was a most interesting an instructive experience.

The Hampshire Telegraph of 6 February 1925 printed an announcement concerning “The Temple of the Brave”, Hedge End, Southampton. Recent visitors included ‘Miss Edith M Freeman, the authoress of the celebrated “Victory” poem’. This poem was the first in Edith’s book of poems:

                                            VICTORY

 

Oh ye, who gave your all when Duty’s call

Re-echoed o’er the land, we hail today

As saviours of our race, a world, in thrall

To passion’s power, broke through the deadening clay

Of earthly lust, of pride of place, and wrong;

For since your hearts were strong, your spirits brave,

Men took your lead, gave all for which men long,

The wives unwon, the tender babies unborn,

The joys of home, the fresh, sweet English air,

The lark in heav’ns blue, splashed poppies ‘midst th’corn,

The night that shrouds the world with watchful care,

The day that brings new hope, the love of friends,

The lilt of song, and Youth’s unbounded dreams,

The quiet calm of age when Mem’ry sends

Such fragrant fancies as the firelight gleams;

All, all you grave, - these stones that Nelson trod

When last he left this happy English shore,

No more re-echo to your step, the sod

Of battlefield your grave, but evermore

Your spirits live, though years may come and go,

New worlds be born, new nations rise to pow’r,

You saved mankind; the good that all shall know

Was won because you gave Life’s golden hour

Of happy Youth to stern, unflinching fight

With wrong, and then because the hard-fought strife

Demanded all, you passed into the Night!

But we will not forget, we will be true

To that great Vict’ry won, ah sleep to wake’

Our words are weak, but just because of you

We live - as you have died - for Honour’s sake!

In addition to her responsibilities as headmistress,  Edith had a baptism roll of 365 at St Saviour’s Church, Twyford Avenue, Portsmouth. This church was near the address at which she was living when she married -12 North End Grove. Edith married Hubert Elsmere Dunne (who was living at London, WC1) at St Mark’s Church , North End, Portsmouth (where my parents also married) on 3 June 1925. Hubert was seven years older than his bride (who was aged 44). He was from Northern Ireland and had been Justice of the Peace for County Down.

 

The Portsmouth Evening News reported the wedding. Hubert was of Letallian, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. Edith was ‘well-known in local educational circles’ and was ‘exceedingly popular with the staff and pupils...her retirement will be a loss to the teaching profession in Portsmouth’. The wedding was conducted by Rev F Kirby, the priest in charge of St Saviours Church. Edith wore a beige ninen gown, handsomely embroidered with beads and silk, and a dainty hat of net with flowers to match. Her cousin, Miss Jeannie McDougall of Eastbourne, was her bridesmaid. The couple honeymooned in North Devon. The previous day, the whole school of St Lukes gathered to bear witness to Edith’s ‘conscientious and devoted work’. When accepting gifts, Edith spoke with evident emotion.

 

From the evidence of details recorded in connection with their travels, Hubert and Edith led a nomadic life. They appear to have settled at Cambridge after their wedding. They gave their addresses as 35 Marlowe Road and then 16 Parsonage Street,  Cambridge in 1928. Two years later, they were residing at 20 Myers Road West, Crosby, Liverpool. About seven years later they gave 4 Glenthorne Avenue, Addiscombe, Surrey as their address. By 1937 they had moved back to Liverpool. Hubert’s parents had moved to the city between 1891 and 1901 and were living at 62 Victoria Road according to the 1901 census with their spinster daughter, Mary. Mary then shared the property with Hubert in the years leading up to his marriage. Hubert and Edith were in Liverpool at 3 Saxon Road, Crosby in 1938. The following year, Mary died at 62 Victoria Road, Crosby and Hubert was the administrator of her estate - she left £1,461. Hubert and Edith moved into the property, although Hubert’s latest sojourn there was to be temporary as he died there on 9 June 1942 leaving an estate of £18,672.

 

Edith the globe trotter

Edith indulged her love of travel with her husband. In 1961, she said, ‘I didn’t want to sit down and be waited on for the rest of my life after I was forty, so I decided to see the world’. The couple visited Egypt (where she rode a camel), Syria and Palestine in 1928, returning to Plymouth from Port Said on 7 September aboard the Majala. That same year aboard Macedonia they travelled to Bombay from London.

 

By 1935, Edith and Hubert had moved to Liverpool. Twice they disembarked there from the Nova Scotia: on 3 October 1935, returning from Boston, Massachusetts, USA and again on 30 October 1937 after voyaging from St John’s Newfoundland, Canada.

 

World War II curtailed their adventures and Hubert died at Liverpool in the late spring of 1942. The widowed Edith visited Halifax in Canada returning on the SS Aquitania on 3 June 1947. She was living then at 62 Victoria Road, Great Crosby which was to be her home for about ten years As this address was where her father-in-law, John H. Dunne (a wine merchant/agent born in Ireland), was living in 1901, it is possible that Hubert inherited his father’s home.

 

In 1948 Emily travelled to Africa, returning from Mombasa on the Bloemfontain.

Edith the Unionist

In 1945, a Liverpool newspaper revealed that Edith had political interests and was the Vice Chairman of the Blundellsands and Crosby Women’s Conservative and Unionist League. It was doubtless as a result of this affiliation that another news story appeared that year in which she featured:

 

 

The lady on the left was aged ninety-six. She hadn’t felt well enough to vote until Edith (right) told her she would set a notable example if she recorded her vote in support of a great leader (Churchill). She was helped from a car to the polling station by young man - “Yes, a young gentleman is helping you”, said Edith. “But I am a liberal” the young man cried. “Oh, but a liberal can be a gentleman as well as a Conservative”, retorted Edith.

It was in about 1954 that my mother took my sister and I to spend a week with Edith at Victoria Road, Liverpool. Unusually, I have clear memories of this visit. We used the rumbling Docklands Overhead Railway; travelled by tram;  enjoyed a coach trip into North Wales; went to the sands of Southport; drove through the Mersey Tunnel and saw jellyfish in the Mersey. I recall that Edith’s home was enclosed by a high, brick wall and that it had two staircases which we loved to explore. I can ‘see’ Edith at the breakfast table as we ate boiled eggs and can recall some essential ‘spiritual and moral guidance’ that she gave me to ‘always chew each mouthful of food at least thirty times’.

 

Edith again visited Canada in 1955, returning from Montreal to Liverpool on the Empress of India. While there, she called at the editor of a newspaper in St John’s, New Brunswick with a poem and was ‘persuaded to leave him fifty-two poems – one for every week of the year’.

 

 

We visit Edith at Liverpool circa 1954

Then, in 1958, she realised an ambition and journeyed to India. Edith spent four months there and rode an elephant for the first time. She returned on the RMS Circassia from Bombay, travelling first-class.

 

Canada again was Edith’s destination in 1962. She spent more than two weeks travelling by ship and train to Victoria, British Columbia where she stayed for three months with a married cousin from Eastbourne.

 

Incredibly, Edith was now eighty-one years old. No wonder that the Liverpool Herald described her as an ‘Ageless Globe Trotter’ in a front page headline.

 

As well as these documented trips she also visited Iceland and Spain. Edith ‘delighted in showing her many treasures collected on her travels to her friends and visitors, telling them many stories of her exploits’.

Up, up and away - at the age of 81

By 1962, Edith was again living in Cambridgeshire. She made her first flight in a glider during June, aged 81 (see above). This is how it happened: she was interviewed by a local reporter. She told him, ‘All my life I have wished I had a pair of wings’. John Hulme, a Cambridge University gliding instructor read the news story and offered a flight in a glider (a moment of ‘wonderful elation’) which was accepted ‘without hesitation’. She was undaunted by a two-hour delay to the flight due to a fault and Mr Hulme said that she was ‘one of the most relaxed and confident passengers he ever had’. The glider reached 2,000 feet and Edith showed ‘no trace of fear or apprehension’. This was a typical comment about a woman whose philosophy was: ‘If I trust, I need not fear; if I fear then I do not trust’.

 

Back in Liverpool (she was living at 47 Thornfield Road, Crosby in 1956), Edith again she threw herself into church work being closely connected with St Luke’s and St Saviour’s Churches at Great Crosby and St John’s Church, Waterloo. For a time she was a representative of St John’s Church on the Liverpool Diocesan Council – the first woman to be so appointed. She was involved with Sunday School activity for twenty years.

 

Towards the end of her life Edith re-discovered her desire to communicate with  the public using the newspapers. She wrote them letters: re: Cover discoloured cork mats with material to match your tablecloth (1956): Keep the Liverpool Overhead Railway open (1956): Any Questions - sad that no-one wished they could attend a place of worship on Christmas Day (1958).

One of her ‘her main interest in life was writing’. Edith began writing at the age of fifteen and was a member of the Writer’s Circle - attending one of their summer schools in 1957. Edith wrote to inspire and give solace to others. Many of her poems had a religious or moral message. She was a regular contributor of verse to the Liverpool Herald and was often contacted by strangers who wrote that they had found comfort from her poems.

 

Edith’s articles, stories and poems were published in newspapers and magazines. She also corresponded with more than a hundred people in Britain and the rest of the world.

 

Many of her poems were collected into a book (right) which was dedicated to her mother. In its forward, Edith wrote: ‘It is with diffidence that I send forth these verses, but if a single line can help one individual, I shall be glad that I ventured; having no children to give to the world, in these I humbly offer the best of my spirit, heart and brain. Most of the work, I feel, is not really “mine”, it just ‘came’ to me in the night, or early morning, in the street or while doing household duties, so that during many years, the verses accumulated and some of them are now printed in this book’. Probably, it was an injustice to describe her book earlier as a ‘vanity-run’ – the blue-covered book supplied by the British Library was a different edition to the black book kept by my mother.

Edith Dunne - poet

In the 1950s, Edith continued her habit of writing an acrostic poem about historic events. Explained one article, “She did one on the Queen Mother’s birthday and posted it off. Very ingeniously it was arranged so that the first letter of each line spelled out ‘To The Queen Mother’. ...(she) started writing verse when she was fifteen...(and) has many letters of appreciation from members of the Royal family for her efforts.” (1960)

 

Edith’s death

Edith died in March 1965 at Flat 6, 5 Victoria Street, Malvern after a short illness.

 

Canon Paul Nichols (‘one of her many friends’) came out of retirement to conduct her funeral service at St Luke’s Church, Crosby. Edith was interred with her husband in St Luke’s Churchyard.

 

Towards the end of her life, Edith declared, ‘ I have enjoyed all the things I have done during my life because one of the most pleasant things in life is meeting and talking to people’.

Her will

I was pleasantly surprised that my mother figured so early in the list of legatees. Clearly Edith intended to leave her £500 until the list was totted-up and some legacies were reduced presumably to increase the amount of the residue.

 

Daisy Coote and her daughter and grand-daughter, Joan and Ann Lilley are also mentioned in Edith’s will. There is a definite link between my grandparents and Daisy. She and my grandfather were cousins. They were also close – Daisy allowed my grandparents to stay with her at Playfair Road, Southsea when my grandfather was demobbed. She also regularly visited my mother in the 1950s. But, unless it was through my grandparents (which is quite possible) how did Edith and Daisy’s paths cross?

 

The final part of the conundrum is that my mother lived in London and Hertfordshire from 1930 to 1946 and yet Mum asked Edith to be my god-mother!  As we visited her in the 1950s, clearly there was a fond relationship.

Edith left a net estate of £9,057 and the terms of her will (dated 10 December 1960) reflected her friendships, generosity and interests. These were her bequests:

 

To:  Rose Freeman, sister-in-law, of 4 Glenthorne Avenue, Addistone, Surrey - £500

To:  Agneta Freeman of 172 Havant Road, Cosham, Hants. - £500

To:  Annie Frances Gertrude Hulme of 8 The Ness, Hackington, Canterbury, Kent - £100

To:  Monica Rowsell, c/o The Vicarage, Ely - £100

To:  Grace Wray (my mother) of  86 Northern Parade, Portsmouth - £100

To:  Barbara Chubb and Barrie Larde of 204 Sandringham Road, Perry Barr, Birmingham - £100 each

       (Note: originally the last five beneficiaries were bequeathed £500 each, but the will was amended.)

To:  Ethel Freda Eccles of 39 Pickwick Road, Dulwich, London (in memory of October 1948) - £100

To:  Muriel Lowry of 78 Upper Rathmines Road, Dublin - £100

To:  The British and Foreign Bible Society in memory of the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala, Wales - £100

To:  St Dunstan’s Institute for the Blind - £100

To:  Dr Barnado’s Homes - £100

To:  Church of England Children’s Society - £100

To:  National Institute for the Blind - £100

To:  Daisy Coote of 5 Playfair Road, Southsea, Hants - £100

To:  Joan Lilley - £20

To:  Ann Lilley - £20 (Both the above of ‘Bank House’, 372 Green Lanes, Palmers Green, London. Joan     Lilley was  Daisy Coote’s daughter and Ann was Daisy’s grand-daughter. Ann told me that she had been    ‘put  through college’ because of  the generosity of Edith)

To:  Marjorie Gorrie c/o 62 Victoria Road, Great Crosby - £100

To:  Wilhemina Steven of 124 Berryhowwes Road, Cardonald, Glasgow - £100

To:  St Saviour’s Church, Twyford Avenue, Portsmouth - £75

To:  St Luke’s Church, Great Crosby, Liverpool - £75

To:  St Saviour’s Church, Great Crosby, Liverpool  - £75

To:  St John’s Church, Waterloo, Liverpool - £75

      (I wish to record my grateful thanks to all Churches attended since I was four years of age.)

To:  Rita Peel - £50

To:  Beatrice Jennings -£50

To:  Kathleen O’Hare - £50

To:  Eileen O’Hare - £50 (The last four of 33a Clarendon Road, Southsea.)

To:  John Bishop Rowsell jnr. Of St Mark’s Clergy House Connaught Road, Reading - £50

To:  James Herbert Rowsell of Flat 4, ‘Southleigh’, Kirkstall Lane, Leeds - £50

To:  Christopher Yelverton Dawbarn - £20 (as a small token of the happiness of past years)

To:  Laurence Mansfield Curtiss Vine - £20 (my friend).

To:  Elizabeth Mary Freeman (my niece) – the residue (£5,877).

To:  Those who may owe money to me, the debt (was bequeathed) including any outstanding interest.

(I am grateful to Jon  and Debbie Stoddard for providing these photographs of Hubert’s headstone and the grave Edith shared with her husband. The daffodils were a kindly touch!

The house, 62 Victoria Road, was featured on Channel 4’s ‘Location, Location, Location’ in 2012)

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I begin with an account of my quest to discover more about my godmother.

 

What did I know of her? I eventually recalled (after much memory flexing) that her name was Edith Dunne; she had produced a slim book of verse (a copy of which was thrown out after my mother’s death); she lived near Crosby, Liverpool (I remembered a Post Office Savings Bank Account she opened for me at Crosby which contained the deposit of a princely £1 – evidence that my godmother took her spiritual duties seriously?) and that she was alive in the mid-1950s (we spent a week’s holiday at her home around that time). This was sufficient  information with which to begin a search - but I didn’t know if she had married or was a spinster.

 

There were two obvious lines of enquiry to follow. I spent £10 employing a researcher at Liverpool to trawl the street directories of Liverpool in 1955, 1965 and 1975 for Edith Dunne and, while awaiting the results, I searched the catalogues of the British Library – did they have a record of her book of poems? I felt this was a long-shot, believing that her volume was probably part of a ‘vanity-run’.

 

To my surprise, the British Library search produced a result: ‘Dunne, Edith M - Poems 1945’. The inclusion of a middle initial would also help to identify my godmother. I optimistically ordered the book using the Inter-Library Loan Scheme, but doubted that the book would arrive.

 

On 13 September 2008, the researcher sent an e-mail which listed only three Edith Dunn(e)s at Liverpool in 1955. One was fried-fish dealer – an unlikely occupation for a poet. The most likely candidate (and the only one who spelt her name with an ‘e’ - Dunne) was living at 62 Victoria Road, Crosby. All three ladies had married. Three days later, the researcher (who had truly gone the extra mile) sent a follow-up e-mail. Gold! He had found a cutting in the library’s biography file for an Edith Dunne who was living at Victoria Road, Crosby and there was a copy of her book of poems dated 1949 in an old shelf catalogue. The cutting was from the Liverpool Echo (26 April 1961). It gave the biographical information that Edith was 81 years old, her husband had died in 1942, and they had no children.

 

 

 

Armed with these facts, it was time to sift the Births, Marriages and Deaths Indexes. I first searched for the death of Edith M. Dunne after 1961. The most likely candidate died in the March quarter of 1965, aged 86 – but she had passed away at Malvern in Worcestershire, which is some distance from Liverpool.

 

I then found a marriage of an Edith M Freeman to Hubert E. Dunne in the June quarter of 1925. An indication that this was my godmother’s marriage was that it took place at Portsmouth – my mother’s home town. I sent for the marriage certificate.

 

My researcher e-mailed again. He had found two more cuttings about Edith Dunne at Crosby library which he would send. They included a report of her death – at Malvern. I immediately visited Cardiff Probate Registry where I found details of and ordered her will. Although she died in Malvern, her will was proved at Liverpool. It also revealed her middle name, which was Mary.

 

When Edith’s marriage certificate arrived, it showed that she married on 5 June 1925 at St Mark’s Church, North End, Portsmouth (where my mother also married). She was living at 12 North End Grove, Portsmouth and her father (who was deceased), was the jeweller, William Freeman.

 

With the accumulated data, it was now possible to locate Edith and her family in the census returns. The final piece in the jigsaw was the news that her book of poems  was waiting to be read at a local library.

 

It was time to write the story of Edith’s life.