25 August 2009

A Celebration, and Robert Hughes Muses

Robert Hughes continues, relentlessly, to delve into his family history, which is also of course the history of Lionel Britton. Here, I let Robert do the thinking about this photo, merely adding a few words in square brackets to clarify where necessary:

'This picture is breathtaking: not because it shows great definition, but because the moment I saw it I instantly thought it had to be Marie–Antoinette [Thomas, wife of Samuel Thomas junior, Lionel Britton's maternal grandparents, with whom he and his siblings lived in Redditch for several years].

'I feel sure I have seen it before and simply had no idea who the people were, just Keebah [Bob, né Percy, Britton, Lionel's brother] when a young man, and some unknowns. Now after all this research it just leapt off the print at me. Just to make sure, I've been comparing it with other Marie pictures. Oddly enough, although it is a fairly convincing match with them, the real match is with my mother, of whom this picture reminds me. [...]. None of [my cousins] had ever been taken to see Irza [Britton, Lionel's mother] at all, and none had ever met Uncle Lionel, although Nicky knew all about his boat moored near Chertsey. (Nicky has always been a boating nut and they are just across the river from there to this day).

'Reading this image, I see one total certainty: Keebah in the middle. What would his age have been then? We think of guys with 'taches as fairly old, just as we would if we see them smoking a pipe, but I think in those days just about everyone had a 'tache unless they were male under twelve or female...maybe. As for pipes, I always remember my mother telling me Marie smoked one.

'The girl at top right could have been my Granny Maisie, but in that case I would tend to put the photo before the First World War.

'There is a bottle of champagne prominently displayed in the foreground. Let us suppose that Bob and Maisie were celebrating their engagement: wouldn't they be more centre stage?

'They went to Belgium by air at a time when this was a huge adventure, but I don't remember what the event was. Possibly it was a birthday for Marie, but it could also have been a wedding or something else. If this was Marie's 80th, she looks spry compared with the picture she sent out to her children and grandchildren: that image of which we have examples from at least three independent sources.

'Marie and Samuel Thomas do not appear on the 1911 census, and their house at 6 Hewell Rd [Redditch] is sold or rented out. Samuel dies the following year in Erquelinnes [in Belgium, where Samuel lived with Marie–Antoinette]. We have no real reason to suppose that Marie ever returned to England, so my best guess about this picture is that it was taken in Belgium. In that event I think we can rule out that it was taken any time between 1914 and 1918, because wasn't Belgium occupied by the Germans? What if this was Marie's 70th in about 1913, and Bob was 24? Alternatively, it could be the 80th and he was 34; or there is some other explanation.

'But I can't believe this is anybody other than Great-great-grandmother Marie-Antoinette.'

And a portrait of Bob/Keebah/Percy Britton.


Snatch51 said...

Many thanks to Dr Tony Shaw for assisting once again in the quest for information about our ancestry.

I am excited by this picture because my Belgian relatives are for the time being a complete mystery to me, yet here are several individuals who surely must be just those relatives!

Someone must recognise one of the unknown people here, if not this week then some day. Who is the guy with the swept back hair? Who is the lady seated at the table on the left of the picture? And who is the girl, (surely she is no more than twenty or so, perhaps less), who is between my grandfather and the other lady who may or may not be my grandmother?

I feel this is most likely to be Marie-Antoinette's 80th birthday celebration in Brussells in about 1924, but of course I would like corroboration!

Someone in Brussells or Bruxelles with connections to the Goffin family is going to unlock this mystery for us one day, and I will be delighted to hear from you!

Snatch51 said...

I have been lucky enough to find evidence from my grandmother's photograph collection which conclusively shows that she is indeed the lady at the top right in the above picture.

She was May Duncan McCallum, b. 1891 in Dunfermline. Her great-grandfather was a weaver from Rudle in Argyllshire, and it appears that the McCallums were a part of the Campbell clan and sufficiently happy to be so that Bob and Maisie's first child had Campbell as a middle name.

Her sultry Celtic looks seem to have bewitched my grandfather. The story goes that in the early years of the relationship Maisie was staying with friends in the Isle of Wight and received letters from Bob in which he declared that he was thinking of her so strongly that he was actually aware of who she was with and what she was doing, far away as she was.

Her friends were horrorstruck, and told her to have no more to do with him.

She married him and lived blissfully happily with him for 56years. If she hadn't, I wouldn't be here.