Shoemaker or veteran

The photo on this page was given to me by my relative Keith Shortland. The man and woman make a striking couple but neither of us know who they are, the only clue is the name and address of the photographer which appears in the bottom right of the photo – B G Brock, 23 Wellingboro Road, Northampton.

The sheriff of Northampton

Northampton is known for shoe making and I know some of my ancestors were shoe makers in Northamptonshire (one is recorded as being a journeyman shoemaker meaning he traveled around the country to work).

A search of the National Archives has found two entries which reference the photographer.

In February 2018, Paul Boniface who was researching Victorian and Edwardian photographers in Northamptonshire got in touch and advised:

Benjamin George Brock ran a studio at 237 Wellingborough Road, Northampton between 1903 and 1907. In 1901 the census shows him as a lodger at 235 Wellingborough Road – occupation photographer and on 1 March 1903 he married Ida Blanche Allen. The 1911 census shows him living at 25 Beaconsfield Terrace, Northampton – occupation Foreign Correspondent.

The photo is a studio photo and the style of dress is in keeping with early Edwardian attire. Paul thought the emblem on the gentleman’s jacket was a flower (maybe a dahlia) and advised that a journeyman is the stage after an apprenticeship –  there was five to seven years worked as an apprentice and then three years as a journeyman.

If you check the size of the photo it will also give you an indication of the date. 2.5″ x 4″ (CdV) would point to the early years of Benjamin and 4″ x 6.5″ would be the latter say 1905-7.

Shoemaker or veteran, I don’t have the answers right now – whether I can learn more about the people on the photograph remains to be seen but I intend to try.

He rode to war on a penny farthing

Ernest Henry Shortland was the brother of my great grandmother Louisa Jane. Born in Weedon, Northamptonshire in 1876, for most of his life he worked as a wheelwright.

Ernest and wife Laura outside the house Ernest built at Braefield

As a young man, Ernest joined the local section of the First Battalion, the Northamptonshire Volunteers and would travel with his colleagues on Penny Farthing bicycles to Daventry weekly, to take part in combined company drill and exercises. On arriving in Daventry, the cycling soldiers were greeted with shouts of ‘here come the mounted infantry’.

At the outbreak of war, Ernest volunteered for service but because of his age was advised to join the County Police and this is how he came to Braefield. As a war time police officer, he had many experiences, including chasing German prisoners of war who had escaped Pattishall Camp. who were located hiding in a a wood and escorted back to Northampton.

Ernest died in Braefield aged 91 and at that time was the villages oldest man.

More photos




The railway man

The photo below was sent to me by my relative Keith Shortland – Keith is the great grandson of Ernest Shortland and I am the great grand daughter of Ernest’s sister Louisa Jane.  Our family comes from Northamptonshire but we are aware of Shortland’s in other places too.

Railway man

Neither of us know anything about the man in the photo but there are a number of clues that in time may help us discover who he is.

The man is wearing a uniform and his hat and jacket both read ‘L&NW’.  I have learned this is the uniform of the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR). It has been possible to date the photo as 1922 or earlier. This is because L&NWR was absorbed into the London Midland and Scottish railway (LMS) on 1 January 1922.

The chevrons on the man’s jacket are interesting too but looking at photos online, these don’t appear to have been part of the standard uniform and to date I have been unable to find out anything about these.

On his waistcoat the man appears to be wearing a pocket watch and I have found photos of pocket watches online, with L&NWR showing on the watch face. These were made by John Walker of London and I wondered if this is the same watch the man in the photo is wearing and whether the watch could have been a long service award.  I contacted Simon Turner at G.W. Railwayana Auctions about the pocket watches that are displayed on his website. Simon advised ‘none were given out as awards, some members of staff provided their own and some were issued official company marked watches ie. Guards.’

I have also learned that leaving the bottom waistcoat button undone was custom, because of Prince/King Edward being quite rotund and being unable to do it up, so everyone else followed suit and this is still the norm today.

The photo was taken by Pollard Graham and gives addresses in Derby, Wigan and Leigh.  A history of this photographer can be found below.

The company appears to have started business in Derby in 1878. The Photo-Sleuth website states that a portrait business was operated from premises at Rodney Chambers, Corn Market in August 1890 and that from 1903 until 1910, Pollard Graham also operated in other Midland towns, including Peterborough, Burnley, Leigh and Wigan. All photos from these branches were styled ‘Pollard Graham,’ with no suffix’ (as is the photo shown on this website), so it would seem likely that the photo was taken during this period, although Pollard Graham, continued to take portraits at Rodney Chambers, Corn Market from 1926 until his death in 1932.

Joseph Bowers Abram

Joseph Bowers Abram was the first child born to my great grandparents Joseph Charles and Millicent May Abram.

Growing up I remember often being told about Joseph, although at the time we did not know the child’s name, born to my great grandparents during time they had spent in South Africa. My great grandfather was stationed in Tempe, Pretoria on army service and Millicent was there with him.

There was no military conflict in South Africa that would have caused them to be there but there was a substantial military presence in South Africa following the
creation of the Union at the end of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1902 and some British Army units remained stationed in South Africa until the beginning of the First World War.

The British had occupied the town of Bloemfontein and Tempe became a military base – Bloemfontein, as the capital of the Boer Orange Free State Republic and a large town, was established as one of the new Union’s administrative centres and consequently had a local military garrison, Tempe. Today, the Tempe base is reported to be one of the largest Army bases in South Africa.

My grandmother recalled being shown a photograph of the child’s grave which Joseph Charles is said to have carried in his wallet but the photograph can no longer be found – the grave was surrounded by iron railings made by my great grandfather, who worked as a Farrier (a blacksmith – specialising in shoeing horses, a skill that requires not only the ability to shape and fit horseshoes, but also the ability to clean, trim, and shape a horse’s hooves).

However, for many years the search for information about the child proved to be fruitless. Requests for help locating documents or a photo of the grave ran cold. The child was nothing more than an often told family story – there was no evidence he had ever lived.

Eventually information about the child did emerge – a boy, named Joseph Bowers Abram (Joseph after his father and Bowers, his mothers maiden name) was found to have been born on 11 March 1913 – he was baptised less than a month later on 4 April 1913 in Bloemfontein Cathedral, Orange Free State, South Africa.

Detail of the baptism of Joseph Bowers Abram, 4 April 1913

Detail of the baptism of Joseph Bowers Abram, 4 April 1913

Sadly, Joseph lived for two short months – he died of enteritis and heart failure. Joseph and Milly May returned to England soon after. I can only imagine how it much have felt to leave their baby so far away.


Around 2009 my dad made contact with a cemetery recording project, they advised they had the following information on a  DVD.

ABRAM, Joseph
Buried: Rooidam Military Cemetery, Tempe, District Bloemfontein, Free
State, RSA
Note: Joseph Abram
Son of S Sgt Abram. Died 1908-1913 during occupation of Tempe

The information he was told was taken from a headstone recording done in 1993 by Holden, P and Botha but sadly the information did not lead to a photo of the grave.

Both of us also made contact with The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They advised their responsibility for graves in Rooidam Military Cemetery was limited to the war graves and those of soldiers from the Anglo-Boer War. The cemetery contained many private graves of the soldiers family members but many of the private memorials had deteriorated over time or disappeared and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission did not have records of the civilian burials in Rooidam Military cemetery.

A member of staff kindly visited and checked the private headstones that still existed but was unable to locate any that related to Joseph Bowers Abram which was terribly sad, as it appeared there had been a headstone in 1993.  He went on to advise that many infants appear to have been buried in a plot to the rear left of the central avenue but unfortunately few headstones remain. He sent the photograph of the cemetery below but could not confirm this was where Joseph was actually buried.

Rooidam Military Cemetary

Further images of the cemetery can be found below.


Then in February 2018, when trying to pull together everything I knew into one place to write this story, I decided to do an internet search for ‘the occupation of Tempe’ – I wanted to know why my great grandfather was there and why Tempe was occupied.  I didn’t find the answers to my questions but the search did lead to me discovering four photos of the Tempe memorial which named both my great grandfather and his son.

Tempe memorial

Further images of the Tempe memorial can be found below.

This was  swiftly followed by a church burial record and death entry.

Death entry for Joseph Bowers Abram

Joseph Bowers Abram burial certificate

Armed with the new information I had obtained, I made contact with the South Africa War Graves Project.  They wrote back and advised that a visit to the Rooidam Cemetery had not identified the location of the grave – there are quite a few crosses with no names etc and open patches where you can see there’s a grave but no stone etc.

Updating this story in March 2018, I now believe the chance of locating an individual grave is unlikely – it has been suggested to me that there might have been an individual grave at sometime with or without a headstone. It has also been suggested to me that the graves could have been flattened and the memorial erected and/or the people named on the memorial could be buried at the site of the memorial. Whether we ever find this out remains to be seen – we may never know.

However, finally, the burial certificate shows the place where baby Joseph is buried and whilst the Tempe memorial is not the individual grave dad and I had been searching for, the memorial, clearly names Joseph and his father Staff Sergeant Abram – evidence that the baby who lived for only two short months has not been forgotten.


Many people helped in piecing together the history that appears on this page. Thank you in no particular order and hoping I haven’t missed anyone to Sandy Botha at Bloemfontein Cathedral, Terry Cawood and Glen at the South Africa War Graves Project, the eGGSA library, Cheryl Jacobs on the South African Genealogy Facebook page for providing the links to to the church burial record and the death entry, Riana le Roux, Rod Carkett at the Commonweath War Graves Commission, Rob Palmer at British Military History and the  Ministry of Defence Army Secretariat in Andover.

On the buses

On leaving the army, my great grandfather Joseph Charles Abram built two houses on the Mears Ashby Road in Earls Barton, Northamptonhire. Choosing to live in one of these, the second property he sold. Newspaper articles from local newspapers in 1939 advertised a semi detached house with six rooms (three being bedrooms),  central heating, bath, electricity, gas and main water. The houses still stand today.  He also ran Earls Barton Motors (known locally as Abram’s garage), from which he sold vehicles and ran a bus service.

Newspaper articles from the time (see photos below) show that as an Omnibus Proprietor of a small bus company he took on the United Counties bus company on the road, in the press and in the courtroom. In a letter to the editor of the Northampton Mercury, he wrote ‘I have been running my two buses (trying merely to get a living) for some few years now between Earls Barton and Wellingborough and was the first to commence early morning journeys for workmen between those places. ‘ United Counties responded saying that ‘the authorities concerned should think seriously about granting a ‘small man’ a licence’.

Joseph Abram and bus

And the document below, produced by The Omnibus Society, records Joseph’s life in detail from September 1924 when Joseph purchased his first bus, to May 1932 when he sold his business to United Counties.

During the war the garage (which is pictured in the document above) was used for repairing aircraft parts for Sywell aerodrome. A document from the Harrington Museum states:

‘The number or aircraft needing repair increased rapidly during 1940 and the
accommodation at the main centre at Sywell was found to be inadequate. This
together with the policy of dispersal and the benefit of taking work to the people
instead of the reverse with consequent saving in travelling, led to premises
being requisitioned including Abram’s Garage, Earls Barton – used for
undercarriage and bomb beams .’

The full document can be viewed below.

On 31 March 1943 the garage was recorded as sustaining a broken window when, during a practice air raid, two B17 flying fortresses, Ooold Soljer and Two Beauts, collided, shedding bombs and spreading wreckage in Mears Ashby and Earls Barton – an information board now stands in Mears Ashby which advises visitors about the crash.

Joseph went on to sell the garage to Aubrey Leighton, one of the pioneers of F1 stock car racing. Aubrey began racing in 1955 when the sport was about a year old. He went on to win 48 Finals, plus the National Points Championship in 1963. In only his third season of racing, Aubrey won the 1957 World Championship, staged at Belle Vue.

There’s no place like home

Going through old family photos, I have come across photos of places my family have lived. Below is a brief history of some of the places my family have called home.

39 Woodbridge Close, Luton

My first home was 39 Leagrave Close, Luton and it was here that I was born. My mum had wanted to give birth to me in hospital as I was her first baby but the doctor felt she was young and healthy, so a home birth it was.

Woodbridge Close was my parents first home after they were married in March 1967 and I came along in May 1971. The house was a mid terrace in a block of three properties and a new build which cost £4,250. Dad told me the heating/hot water came from a coal fired back burner in living room. The house had three radiators, the coal fire had to be refilled two to three times a day and an ash box emptied each morning.


Langport Drive, Vicars Cross

When I was seven months old we moved to Chester. My parents bought a new three bedroom house on Langport Drive in Vicars Cross for just under £5,000, after the first buyers pulled out and we moved in on 9 December 1971.  At the time of purchase the house had just a gas fire in living room and my parents had to find a plumber to fit the central heating.

The houses were built by Thomas Warrington Homes Limited and are a mix of bungalows, detached and semi detached properties, most of which have very recogisable windows on the front of the property – one large window divided up into many smaller windows. The bedroom windows overlooking the road had two similar smaller windows, with wooden shutters and mock black iron hinges. Today the windows still remain but the shutters and black hinges have now mostly be taken down.

My friend Ian and his sister Helen lived a few doors up the road in a detached property – their house was the last house on the right of the street. I remember it had a larger back garden than the rest of the houses and to the side of their house, out the front, there was a piece of land on which the children from the street would often play. The land signalled the top of the cul-de-sac, behind which a hedge was planted to separate the road from the busy A41 which ran directly behind it.

The black and white photos below show Ian and me as bables outside of my parents house.  The colour photos show Ian and me with our sisters Helen and Rachel.

Poplars Close, Luton

Poplars Close was my grandparents house until I was about 11 when they moved to Chester. I remember visiting my grandparents and also, because it was so close, getting to visit London and go the theatre at the same time which was always a treat.

The property was a large two bedroom bungalow called ‘Robin Hill’. The property was a large two bedroom bungalow, with a large garden out the back. I remember a greenhouse where my grandfather grew tomatoes and looking at the the photos today, I am struck by the size of the garden and how pretty it was. My grandfather must have spent a lot of time out there and I wish I could have talked to him about it, as I have grown to love gardens too and I think he could have taught me a thing or two.
My great grandfathers Albert Edward William Clarke and my great grandfather Joseph Charles Abram lived about 100 yards away from one another on Earls Barton. More information about both men can be found on this website.

32 Mears Ashby Road, Earls Barton

Mears Ashby Road was the home of my great grandfather, Joseph Charles Abram. Named ‘Rockaway’, it was a three bedroom semi detached house and was one of two houses which we believe he built after he retired from the army.

My dad and granddad lived in this house for around  4 – 5 months in 1952 too because my grandmother was in hospital. Dad remembers the property had a large flower garden but also a large area for growing vegetables. He explained to me that gardens were much bigger than they are today and growing vegetables had been encouraged during the war years as part of the Grow for Victory campaign.

The Limes, Earls Barton

My great grandfather Albert Edward William Clarke lived at The Limes.  The house still stands today.  Photos of the property can be seen below.


The Rag Trade

My mum has always been good with a needle and thread and when she left school, her first jobs were in the textile industries.

Mum first worked for a company called Kayser Bonder in Biggleswade.  The underwear made by the company, was known throughout the world during the 1950’s and 1960’s and Biggleswade was home to one of its factories for 53 years. The letter shown below was sent to my mum prior to her starting work at Kayser Bondor. She was fifteen years old at the time.

Mum also worked as a sewing machinist for Skirtex undertaking piece work (a type of work which pays a fixed rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time) and at Electrolux as an armature winder, both in Luton.

The photo below was taken at Skirtex. Mum is stood directly behind Father Christmas, to the right of a woman wearing glasses, who I know was called Connie, because I met her once.  I love this photo, it reminds me of the film Made in Dagenham. Mum tells me the women had a radio and would sing while they worked and I can imagine them singing along loudly and giving hell to any man who walked across their factory floor.


Later, mum made clothes for my sister and I and also for my dolls – I still have a bag full of them, seemingly unable to throw them away, even though I am now much too old for such things.

Then, almost forty years after mum began work with Kayser Bondor, she took early retirement and began making quilts – turns out she is pretty amazing at it too and has won awards for her work. Mum’s quilts are displayed on her website below.


Up in the air

When he was young dad was a member of the  London Gliding Club on Dunstable Downs. Bedfordshire. He trained as a glider pilot and was ready to go solo but never saw the training through as he needed the money to buy a home. However, he retained an interest in flying over the years and for four years he worked at Luton airport as a Duty Crewman in the airport fire service which he described as fire, security and any jobs the airport commandant requested  to maintain smooth running of the airport.

The photo below was taken at the Scottish Gliding Centre in 1962. The plane is a Slingby T31 trainer.


More photos

Margaret and my Australian family

Putting together these pages, I have felt incredibly fortunate to know so much and have so many photos of my family and I am indebted to Margaret Creighton (nee Abram) for sharing so much of the Abram family history with me.

Margaret is my dads second cousin once removed and the daughter of Reginald Abram, one of the many children of my great great grandparents Charles and Emily. After the first world war ended, Charles and Emily stayed in England and Charlie and Millicent (my great grandparents) settled in England too but many of the family emigrated to Australia, with Reg going in approximately 1922 – 1923.

Below are some photos of my Australian family.

Photo one: Margaret with husband Graham, mother Connie (wife of Reginald Abram, one of the children of my great grandparents Charles and Emily) and sister Joan, 20 March 1093
Photo two: Margaret and Graham with Connie aged 90 1/2 years holding her great grandson Robert, also Robert’s mother Teenga
Photo three: Margaret’s eldest child Rodney with wife Jenny
Photo four: Margaret’s middle child, Greg
Photo five: Margaret’s youngest child Andrea