I was watching repeats of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE on BBC2 last week and the one featuring Len Goodman, the primary judge on Strictly Come Dancing, struck a chord with me.
One of his ancestors was a silk weaver in London and due to his father having been involved in the trade there was enough money to buy two properties in the capital. This was way back in the early 19th century and as governments were wont to do, they passed a law that meant those involved in the silk trade had to move from London, otherwise they had to pay a hefty levy. Within a short space of time the government passed another law which meant cheap French imports of silk goods completely ruined those involved in the silk trade in Britain. Len’s ancestor lost everything and ended up working as a porter in London’s dockland.
Those of you who might have read my blog over the past year might remember my mention of my paternal great-great grandfather, Charles Cooke, who was born in Coventry and came to Liverpool in the 1840s. His father, John, had been a ribbon manufacturer and I wondered why it was that Charles left the family home in the Midlands for Liverpool. I discovered that there was a silk industry in Coventry involving a large workforce of silk weavers and the manufacture of silk ribbons was part of that industry, as well as other goods.
Just like Len’s ancestor those in Coventry were made destitute when the government passed that law that enabled the import of cheap French silk goods. Things were so bad that soup kitchens were set up to feed the starving. Reason enough for my great-great grandfather, Charles Cooke to make his way to Liverpool where he found a job as a warehouse porter down at the docks, just like Len’s southern ancestor did in London.
It was in Liverpool that James must have met another warehouse porter, Thomas Woolley, who had come up from Shropshire. Charles married Thomas’ s daughter, Jane, who had been born in Liverpool. The couple were married at St Peter’s church and lived in Toxteth down by the docks at a time when Liverpool began to expand rapidly into the thriving city it became.
Charles and Jane’s son, James was born in Toxteth and he became a baker. (I can still see in my mind’s eye, Mary Berry’s face on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE a few weeks ago on discovering that she had a baker in her ancestry).
But back to Len. My interest in him as such that this morning I googled him. I knew him to be a Londoner and that he could have been born within the sound of Bow bells but was actually born in Bromley, Kent. As it happens my maternal great-grandfather, William Milburn, whose joiner father, came from the Lake District during the building boom in Liverpool, took his family south to Bromley, St Leonards, which is by Bow, London, where he and his wife, Mary, had another six children. My Liverpool born grandfather, John Milburn, was to work in an iron foundry in London dockland before taking to the sea and returning to Liverpool, where his daughter, married my father, the great-grandson of Charles from Coventry.
Len, also discovered Polish blood in his family and therein lay another interesting tale for the Strictly Come Dancing judge. Like so many of us who trace our ancestry, he, too, pondered and marvelled about how if such a person had not done this or that, then he wouldn’t have been born.
I have never really asked myself the question Who do I think I am? I know who I am but I’ve always had an interest in how things came about. That’s why I, like many another, find it so fascinating delving into my family, city and country’s past.
I just wish I could find out more about my great-grandfather Martin Nelson, a Norwegian mariner just like his father, Hance Nelson. Martin came to Liverpool and met a girl from Toxteth. Unfortunately I can only find mention of Martin on his marriage certificate and that of his children. Within nine years of that marriage, his wife Mary is a widow and remarries another Norwegian mariner who is a Nationalised Brit. If only I had one of those experts from WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE to help me in my search!
P.S. On another note, I have put up a new banner photograph of the Liverpool waterfront on my Google + version of this blog that was taken by my son, Tim. I’ve also changed the photo of myself to one from the 1960s for your interest.