Past and future

Nov 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Michael graduated today, the 106th anniversary of Papa’s birth.

Born at Isleworth Infirmary, Middlesex on 2nd November 1906 to Ellen Poulton, a machinist from Chiswick, he seems to immediately disappear from view. No father’s name appears on the birth certificate and the infirmary, which was part of Brentford Workhouse, is given as Ellen’s address.

It is still not possible to find where he went, what other family he had, where he might have grown up. He must be somewhere in the 1911 Census, but it seems not under his own name. He would have been four at the time of the census in April 1911 and a four year old cannot just disappear, yet he is not to be found. Each and every Sidney Poulton recorded is different from the facts we know of him.

The family story was always that he grew up with a foster family. A photograph of him as a young man shows him sitting in a drawing room chair, dressed in a suit and a winged collar with a glass of sherry in his hand – a far remove from the workhouse – but no-one knows where the photograph was taken.

Who were the foster family? Did he grow up with his natural father? What was his father’s name? Were there half-brothers and sisters?

A gentle and dapper man who died from cancer at the age of 65, he never told stories from his past. Even his years in the National Fire Service in London during the Second World War were never recalled. The only evidence that the quiet man, who sat in the corner devoting hours to his stamp collection, had once stood in burning streets during the Blitz was a battered fire helmet that lay in the spare room and which now hangs on our hall stand as a daily reminder  of him

Perhaps it doesn’t matter where he was at the time of the 1911 Census, what difference does it make with whom he lived?

In years past, the niggling thought was always that our family name might have been completely different. If Sidney’s father had married Ellen, what might our surname have been? Maybe to have some clue about one’s ancestors would not be such a bad thing to want.

In more recent years, to have known something more of the family history might have been helpful. A childhood memory remains of my grandfather being in a psychiatric hospital where we would visit him on Sunday afternoons. Words like ‘nervous breakdown’ were mentioned. He just seemed very tired and quiet. Having struggled with depression all my life, there is sometimes a sense of heredity.

Perhaps there is also an element of heredity today, in the young graduate standing in front square.


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