Saturday 23 November 2013


For those who might find reading about my ancestry and its connection with the social history of the period not of interest, you can either look away now or just skim read in case you find some fascinating nuggets of information!

Following my trip to London, I took out my Milburn file and worked out that my great-great grandfather, James Percival and his wife Elizabeth, nee Walker, must have come to Liverpool from Manchester, quite soon after they were married. In 1851, they were living in Albert Terrace, near Smithdown Road where Toxteth cemetery is situated. So some distance from the docks but being a smith, no doubt James would have been able to find work in the bustling port. Within ten years they had moved across town and were living in Athol Street, off Scotland Road, and had six children, including my great-grandmother Jane. They were to have another three children, including Ken Fraser’s grandfather, Edward Percival, nine years younger than my great-grandmother.

Why had they moved from Manchester to Liverpool? Especially at a time when the Irish had flooded into Liverpool due to the Great Famine caused by a fungus destroying the potato crop. Surely there should have been work for James as a smith? Besides they had family there. His father, John was a bricklayer, so one imagines that was a reasonably safe job in the prosperous city of Manchester. too. As for Elizabeth’s father, William Walker, he had been born in Ireland in 1791, but had moved to England well before the famine and married a Manchester girl. He was a weaver by trade and in 1841 was living in Manchester, although by the time of his daughter’s wedding in 1849, he was working as a watchman and had moved house.

I googled Manchester and after reading various sites came to the conclusion that William was most likely dead within a couple of years of the wedding because I can’t find any trace of him in the 1851 census. I reckon he could have suffered from “Mill Fever” which consisted of aching head, limbs, nausea, caused by the dust and cotton lint in the air, which could lead to asthma, bronchitis or TB. The average life expectancy for a male worker in Manchester at one time was as short as seventeen years of age. William was fortunate to live into his fifties.

I’ve come to the conclusion that despite Liverpool having terrible poverty, housing and sanitary conditions, it was actually a healthier and pleasanter place to live, due to its situation besides the Mersey and its closeness to the sea, as well as its lack of mills belching out smoke and polluting the air. (I have found a site which I think is brilliant as it describes several walks through Liverpool taken from a guide published 1843)
The population of the two towns had quadrupled during the first half of the 19th century, mainly due to both having a high influx of Irish but due to its importance as a port, but Liverpool was to lead the way and be the first in several fields to improves the lot of its citizens.

Having visited Ireland several times I’ve always insisted that I have no Irish blood when asked but the Irish shook their heads and said, ‘If you’re a Liverpudlian, you’ll have Irish blood in you somewhere.’

I find it strange that I should have traced my Irish ancestry to Manchester first. Unfortunately I had difficulty discovering exactly where in Ireland my 3xtimes great grandfather came from as there are absolutely numerous William Walkers who were weavers in the Irish records. Anyway, I decided yesterday to google William Walker, weaver. This led me to a several sites and one informed me that Walker was an anglicised form of the Gaelic Nucator, found in Ulster and going back to Morayshire in Scotland. Most likely it originally derived from the name Mac-An- Fhuca-dair meaning Son of the Cloth Fuller. It makes sense to me because fullers had an important role in the cloth trade! And there’s me thinking I had no Scottish blood as well as no Irish!

I am reminded of the research I did for my Harlequin M& B book, PIRATE’S DAUGHTER, REBEL WIFE, set during the 16th century. It was a time when certain Irish clans called on the support of their Scottish kinsmen when they went to warring with each other. It's already available on Amazon but is to be published in French translation on 1st December 2013 under the title of: LES AMANTS DE MADERE.

This to-ing and fro-ing of population going from here to there and back again has always taken place in the British Isles and elsewhere. But the link between Scotland and Northern Ireland and Liverpool has always been strong. My husband’s mother, always believed that the father she never knew came from Greenock, Scotland. My search for David Frizzell certainly led me to Scotland but it turned out that he had been born in Antrim, Northern Ireland. He lived in Greenock for several years, working as a labourer in a sugar factory and after being widowed, I presume he came south by ship, because for a short period he was a mariner. Then he got a job working in Tate’s sugar refinery in Liverpool as a labourer and continued in that job, marrying Liverpool girls twice and being widowed twice in a very sort time. His second wife died shortly after my mother-in-law’s birth and she was fostered by a Scotsman and his Liverpudlian wife.

My mother-in-law voiced an opinion that Frizzell sounded Italian but it turned out to be Gaelic for Fraser. There is more interesting stuff about the origin of the name Frizzell that can be spelt in several ways that date back to Henry II and the Earl of Pembroke’s followers who went over to Ireland in the 12th century and that the name is of French origin.

But I think that is enough for now.



                              Eros, Piccadilly Circus, seen through a Bubble:
                              Photographer: Ken Fraser

Despite it being a rainy Wednesday in November, London was heaving when I arrived after a comfortable journey, via Virgin trains. It was good to get away, having checked over the proofs of IT’S NOW OR NEVER and done a talk for the Old Roan, Town Women’s Guild earlier in the week. I was in the capital for the RNA Winter Party, where I planned to see not only my agent and editors but some writer friends, such as Linda Sole, whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. As well as that I had arranged to meet Ken Fraser, who had contacted me through Ancestry after discovering we both might be descended from James Percival, a smith from Manchester, who after marrying Elizabeth Walker in the parish cathedral church in 1849, moved to Liverpool. (More of the Percivals and Walkers in next blog).

I was early for the party and the meeting with Ken, so I visited the Australian art exhibition at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly. I was there for over two hours and learnt more than I had reckoned on. Not only about Australian and British artists and history but I never realised that German, Swiss and French artists also visited Australasia as far back as the early 1800s.

I got chatting with two ladies, one thought I might be Australian but I told her, no, a Liverpudlian. She told me in a lovely Scottish accent that she had been to Liverpool and had lived in Australia for a while. She had moved back to Glasgow several years ago and was of the opinion I should visit Australia one day. I didn’t like saying that the thought of being in a plane that long filled me with dread. Four hours of flying to the Greek island of Rhodes was enough for me.

The other younger woman lived in Wiltshire but knew Liverpool because she had spent time with her partner living on the Wirral, his having been commission to do a work of artistic merit in Birkenhead across the Mersey.

Mention of the Mersey made me think of the thousands of emigrants who had departed for Australian shores from Liverpool. I was reminded of Captain Cook, a replica of whose ship Endeavour can be seen in Whitby, and also of my sailor grandfather John Jones Milburn whom Mam told us had been deported from Australia for getting involved in a knife fight over a girl when he was 19. My cousin, George Milburn, had never heard the tale, so was there any truth in the story? But Mam had also told me that a Milburn relative had worked for the Australian post office company way back.

I had discovered from Ancestry that after leaving Liverpool, at the age of nine, Granddad was living in Bromley, St Leonards, in the Poplar borough, here the extremely successful SEND FOR THE MIDWIFE was to be set years later. And according to the 1901 census, he was working in an ironworks in West Ham at the age of 29. Interestingly I can’t find Granddad on the 1991 census, so possibly there is a germ of truth in Mam’s story. I’m just glad that he returned to Liverpool and married my grandmother Flora Brookes in 1902 or I wouldn’t be writing this. It had come as something of a surprise to me that his mother had given birth to another six children after the move to London. Several of their descendents have been in touch with me since and I’ve heard some family tales that are just as fascinating as the one Mam told me.

                                   Ken Fraser and I in the Royal Academy Restaurant
Anyway, back to the present and that meeting with my Percival related cousin, Ken Fraser. Despite this being my first meeting with Ken, we had exchanged emails and I knew that he had moved south, after having completed his National Service, he had gone to RADA where he met Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave and lived the actor’s life for a while. Later he be came a book seller but was now retired. We had discovered we had mutual acquaintances in the world of publishing and he was accompanied by editor and erstwhile publisher, Sue Curran. We sojourned to the Royal Academy restaurant for a cream tea and cuppa in my case and Sue’s, while Ken had a latte. He had brought along some photos of the Percival girls. The one I liked in particular is shown below and is of his mother and her six sisters and we had a good natter about the family tree and publishing.

Back row from left: Ann, the eldest, whose naval husband was killed in WW2 but whose son survived the war, next Alice, then Ivy, who was a Sister at Salford Royal Hospital and received the MBE for services to nursing. Front row: Sitting, holding book, Ken's mother, Olive, then Eva, who married and had 3 boys, next Edith married and one boy and finally Beattie, married and one boy and one girl. Most likely the picture was taken in the late 1920s and the Percival sisters were my grandmother, Flora Milburn, nee Brookes, cousins. Their father, Edward, being Flora's mother, Jane's younger brother.

Later at the winter party I met up with my agent, editors, and good friends old and newish, including writer Freda Lightfoot and her husband, who had flown over from Spain for the event, and Novelista members, Trisha Ashley and Anne Bennett. . When you get so many people together, mainly women, the noise level is terrific and you can hardly hear yourself speak, never mind anyone else. Still, it was enjoyable getting away from the house and the computer. Then it was back to Liverpool with my mind buzzing with the conversations I’d enjoyed and all that I had seen.

Saturday 16 November 2013


It’s my birthday this month and there’s times when it’s grieved me that I wasn’t born in Liverpool. The blame can be laid at the door of the Luftwaffe for having bombed Mill Road hospital, so Mam was evacuated and I was born in Blackpool. I have thought since tracing my ancestry that my being born in Blackpool could have baffled anyone looking for me. Mam returned home to Liverpool after the birth to be reunited with my brothers as Dad was away in the army. Most likely they were being looked after by her sister, Aunt Flo. When searching for someone on Ancestry, when and where they were born and lived is naturally extremely important.

In a previous post I mentioned getting back to why my Milburn great-grandparents left Liverpool for London in the 1870s, but I realise that I’ve been neglecting the Cookes. For those who aren’t interested in my ancestry and Liverpool history, skip this blog. Of course, you just might find it interesting. My mother was a Milburn and it was her great-grandparents who came to Liverpool from Cumberland in the 1830s.

It was my father’s mother who was a Cooke (or Cook) which is a common name and that can make your search for the right ancestor confusing. 

Fortunately in my case I knew from my grandmother Ada Florence’s marriage certificate that her father James Cooke was a baker and that she was born in Toxteth in 1876, so I searched the 1881 census for Ada Florence and found her living with her parents, James and Mary Ellen and sister, Emma, and discovered that both were born in Liverpool.

I wanted to know when the Cookes - and also Mary Ellen’s parents came to Liverpool, so I travelled back ten years to 1871 and there was James living at No 1 Court, Rutter Street, Toxteth Park, with his parents and siblings, Charles, Emma, Laura and Caroline. Head of the household was 47 year old Charles Cooke, cotton porter, who was born in Coventry in 1824. Bingo! His wife’s name was Jane, born in Liverpool in 1826.

I felt sad, thinking of the Cooke family living in one of the dreaded courts, sharing a communal privy and - if they were lucky - with a water tap between something like eight families. It did not cheer me up either that Rutter Street was not far from St Thomas Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

The Cooks lived a few streets up from Brunswick Dock, built in 1832, to cater for the timber trade. I find this interesting because Rutter Street was also close to Mann Street where Ada Cookes’ future husband, William Nelson’s mother, Mary Harrison, had grown up.

It almost goes without saying that Liverpool was a very different place in the late 1820s when Ada’s grandmother, Jane was born and spent her childhood. I have this book that son, Tim, bought me called HERDMAN’S LIVERPOOL that I treasure. Inside are copies of drawings of old Liverpool. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Liverpool was a popular bathing resort and there’s a drawing of the North Shore in 1830 that shows bathing machines on the site which is now the bottom of Chapel Street. In the background can be seen windmills and buildings and on the left sailing ships on the Mersey. Apparent the shore stretched as far as Seaforth sands which I mentioned in my last post. So no docks to the north but stretches of sand all the way at that time. By 1857 the windmills had disappeared, and with the arrival of the railway in Lime Street and the growth of the docks to cope with increasing trade, the town was really growing. St George's Hall was build and opened at the same time as the Albert Dock, named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort.
     Where the statues of the lions are now, there used to be two pillars known as the Candlesticks and the beautiful sands of Seaforth is now a Free port, involved in the container trade, close to Gladstone Dock.

                     Part of the old dock wall - Nelson dock in this case.

But I’ve gone off at a tangent, so I’ll get back to Jane’s parents and when did they come to Liverpool? And what of Charles, born in Coventry? I needed a copy of Jane and Charles’ marriage certificate, as well as that of James and Mary Ellen, my grandmother’s parents, to help me get a better image of them. Hazarding a guess that most likely my great-great grandparents Charles and Jane had married in the 1840s, I started searching and eventually found that a Charles Cooke had married a Jane Woolley in 1847 in St Peter’s, Church Street, Liverpool. Her father’s name was Thomas Woolley and he was a warehouse porter. As for Charles, his father was John Cooke, a ribbon manufacturer.

Despite having ribbons in my hair from an early age and into my teens, I had never given any thought to how ribbons were manufactured. I remembered visiting Miss Fairhurst’s children and baby shop on Whitefield Road. She sold skeins of knitting wool, as well as kiddies clothes and ribbons. I used to enjoy gazing at the different colours and patterns of the ribbons which were in rolls. My mother used to generally buy it by the yard for me and my sister.

So Charles' father was a ribbon manufacturer. Why hadn’t Charles followed in his father’s footsteps? What could have happened to cause him to leave his birthplace?

Anyway, I turned to Google.

Did you know silk used to be produced in the Coventry area? Half the population were involved in the silk and ribbon trade which included dyers. The term ‘true blue’ hails from Coventry. In 1829 the Government reduced tariffs on foreign imports due to a desire for Free Trade. This led to a slump in the silk trade as French ribbons flooded into Britain. Over 4,253 Coventry weavers and ribbon manufacturers were unemployed at one time and this resulted in such poverty that outdoor relief and soup kitchens proved necessary for their survival. In 1832 the weavers rioted and destroyed steam powered looms in the city. Before then a lot of weavers worked from home.

The railway came to Coventry in 1838 which no doubt led to some who could afford it to leave the city to find a living elsewhere.

No doubt news of Liverpool’s growing prosperity had spread and there would have been those in Coventry with connections to the port due to exporting their wares to America, Canada and the Caribbean islands.

That Charles should become a cotton porter must have meant that his father’s business had collapsed. No doubt it was in a warehouse down by the docks that he met Jane’s father, Thomas Woolley, who was also a warehouse porter.

With a bit more detective work I discovered that Thomas, had been born in Shropshire. According to the 1841 census, he was a widower living in Toxteth with his four children at that time. I haven’t been able to trace his wife’s name or when she died. I feel it’s possible that she was born in Liverpool but when and how had Thomas come to Liverpool from Shropshire.

It must have been before Jane’s birth in 1826 and perhaps he walked all the way. But he could have travelled via the Shropshire Union Canal. This industrial waterway was intended to connect the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the Port of Liverpool. The various canals involved in the Union ran through Staffordshire, Shropshire, part of Wales, Cheshire and the Wirral, not forgetting that Liverpool was also linked to Manchester via the River Irwell and the Mersey as early as 1721.

Manchester, sometimes regarded as rivalling Liverpool. Despite it’s closeness I never visited the city until I was in my forties. But I’ll get back to Manchester another time. Right now I'm more interested in Mary Ellen, my father’s grandmother.

Having sent for a copy of her marriage certificate, dated 1872, I discovered not only that Mary Ellen and James Cook could write their own names but that her father was a bricklayer called Stanley Gregory. It didn’t take me long to trace Mary Ellen and Stanley in the 1871 census. I felt I was really getting somewhere fast. Although he now lived in Toxteth, he had been born 1821, in the ancient market town of Ormskirk, just 10 miles from where I live now.

But his wife Eleanor was no Lancashire lass, her mother having given birth to her on the Isle of Anglesey, where John and I and our sons had spent so many happy holidays years ago. Just like the Lake District, Anglesey had always felt like a second home.   Could there be some truth behind the idea of Ancestral memory?




Friday 15 November 2013


It’s really time I started writing my next book, all I need to do is get myself motivated. I am thinking about it, bearing in mind what I was told to do when I joined Crosby Writers Club so many years ago that I can’t count them on fingers and toes. But I haven’t forgotten the wise words of the experienced writers who told me to write about what you know, try and write every day, and ask yourself five questions: Who? Where? When? Why? and How?

I’ve come to the conclusion in the past couple of years, that a lot of readers like a series, so I’ve had the main character popping into my head now and again. We’ve met before you see.

She made her first appearance in LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING, then she turned up again in IT HAD TO BE YOU and briefly she appeared on the pages of MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS. I wrote her into an earlier draft of my latest saga IT’S NOW OR NEVER, only to send her off stage because she wasn’t really needed, even to play a supporting role. But I’ve decided that now is the time for Irene Miller to take centre stage, along with a supporting cast.

So I have my who, and I have my where due to most of my sagas being set in Liverpool and its environs. The when is 1957, the year when Liverpool celebrated the 750th anniversary of the granting of its charter by King John in 1207.

To help with the why and the how - in other words the plotting, I’ve begun reading the research notes my son, Iain, typed up of the Fifties. I’m also checking out other stuff online. But I need a title so I googled Fifties Top Hits, or something like that, because it must be obvious to most of my readers that all the above titles come from songs.

I love singing and it amazes me that at my age I can remember the words of so many songs that I hadn’t thought about in years. Thinking about it, though, that’s not surprising because I learnt them off by heart through singing along with the wireless, especially when ‘Two Way Family Favourites’ came on. Then, of course, when telly came along, there was ‘Juke Box Jury’ and ‘Oh Boy!’ If I was really keen on a song I’d even buy the sheet music.

Those who were around at the time should remember Pat Boone’s clean cut features and relaxed style of singing romantic ballads. Remember LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND? The title just seemed to leapt out at me and I thought: That’s it!

The beach near the Coastguard Station, nr Crosby: photographer John Francis

Now there are those who will immediately think There’s no beach in Liverpool. They wouldn’t be far wrong but most Liverpudlian kids of my age and younger will have memories of taking the ferry across the Mersey to New Brighton, where there was to be had not only all the fun of the fair but crabbing and paddling and the building of sandcastles to enjoy. But we didn’t even have to cross the water to find a decent beach because from Seaforth to Waterloo, through Crosby and north to Formby and Southport there was sand. If we could afford to go further afield then there was Blackpool, the Wirral and, of course, the joys of the North Welsh coast.

Yet one of the cheapest pleasures of all when I was a kid and my parents couldn’t afford the delights of the seaside was simply going down to the Pierhead and watching the ships go by.

Sadly not so many ships these days on the Mersey but the river is so much cleaner: photographer John Francis

I’m definitely starting to feel motivated to write but I still need to consider the WHY my heroine sets out on her journey and HOW she overcomes the difficulties that lie ahead.

Saturday 9 November 2013


As a writer I sometimes ask myself why it is that villains often appear to be more interesting than the virtuous? Is it that at least in books, films or plays we can allow ourselves to be drawn out of our comfort zone into an exciting place without being in any real danger? In real life we wouldn’t enjoy being a victim and having our throats ripped out by a werewolf or our blood sucked by vampires, even to be the hero plunging a stake into the vampire’s heart or pulling back a curtain so sunlight can flood in and shrivel the vampire to dust, is a role I would not like. Although there's many a writer these days turning the un-dead into heroes and making a mint of money out of it. I’ve occasionally wondered what vampires live on besides human blood. Maybe I should read the book by Bram Stoker one day and find out!

I’ve never forgotten my future husband taking me to see Dracula, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, at the Cosy cinema,(known to some as the Flea Pit). It was still lit by gas, so quite spooky. I was sixteen at the time and I remember I couldn’t seem to move my legs at the end of the film because I was frozen to my seat in terror.  I’ll also never forget Alec Guinness as Fagan in Oliver Twist and Robert Newton playing Long John Silver in Treasure Island. No doubt they had similar real counterparts in Victorian and Georgian Liverpool, London, Bristol and Portsmouth. These characters, of course, appeared in books, long before the movies came on the scene.
       Then there were the gangster movies of the roaring Twenties and more recently ones to do with the Mafia and nasty aliens, not forgetting those ordinary looking people who turn out to be serial killers.
       I must mention the baddies in the old cowboy films, who always wore black stetsons, such as Dan Duryea and Jack Palance. The latter popped up as an old cowboy in City Slickers a few years ago.
     To deal with our cowboy villains, we had to have our heroes. One such was Roy Rogers who always wore a white stetson and never rode a black horse but his faithful steed Trigger. Besides indulging in fisticuffs and exchanging gunfire with the baddies, Roy used to romance the heroine, playing the guitar and singing such songs as ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. But he never sent shivers down my spine the same as the baddies. Audie Murphy was another hero to don the white stetson and ride a horse. In fact he was the hero in The Guns of Fort Petticoat the evening I met my husband, John, in the Lido cinema on Belmont Road. Audie also made war films and was a hero in real life, winning the Purple Heart for his bravery during WW2.
      The American costume dramas, such as Ivanhoe based on a book by Sir Walter Scott, contained a swashbuckling hero played by Robert Taylor, could be fun, but British war films such as The Cruel Sea, were much more serious and based on fact. The book of the latter was written by Nicholas Monsarrat who was born on Rodney Street, Liverpool, in 1910, the same year as my father, just like many a Liverpudlian, Nicholas was in the navy during WW2.     

       I’ve always loved the flicks and probably that is the reason why the cinema and film get mentioned so often in my sagas. They were so much part of my teenage years and the majority of us growing up in the Fifties. It was the heyday of cinema. There were at least six picture palaces within walking distance of our house. The Royal Hippodrome on West Derby Road, where my parents used to go on their Saturday night out, started life as a theatre in 1902 and became a cinema in 1931. I remember going with my sister and my mam in the fifties and paying a shilling to sit in ‘The Gods’ to see the musical OKLAHAMA.
       There were at least another six cinemas in Liverpool city centre, so we were certainly spoilt for choice. Generally there would be two feature films, a cartoon, newsreel and trailers and the performances were continuous. The Sixties weren’t bad either for cinemas, despite the writing having been on the wall since the Queen’s coronation, which heralded the appearance of thousands of televisions in homes throughout Britain.
       As I mentioned earlier there are films that were books first in which the goodies, as well as the baddies are unforgettable. I think my most unpleasant villain is Bert Kirk, who first appears in my Chester based book, ‘Step by Step’. I had the idea for him from listening to my mother-in-law reminisce about the old days and people she’d never forget. It was never my intention, though, that my Bert should exactly resemble anyone living or dead.
       Like most good villains, my Bert could put on a act, so there were those who believed him to be goodness personified; his mother for example, who could not accept that he had a dark side. When I decided to write a sequel to ‘Step by Step’ and mentioned it to my editor, he asked me was Bert going to be in the book. I told him that he certainly was and my editor’s reply was ‘Good! He’s such a great character!’ Bert’s presence certainly created suspense and conflict.
      Here is a scene from the next book Bert appeared in which was ‘A Dream to Share’.

Deep in thought, Alice was halfway across the bridge when she was seized from behind and a familiar voice whispered against her ear. ‘Hello Alice, fancy meeting you here.’
She stiffened with fright, realising that she had done what Hannah had warned her against and let her guard down. ‘Let me go,’ she gasped.

     Not until you give me a kiss. I’ve missed your kisses, Alice. The feel of your body pressed against mine,’ murmured Bert.
     She felt the blood rush to her face as he rubbed up against her bottom. For a moment she couldn’t breath, and then she managed to stammer, ‘You’re mad! Let me go-go.’
     His breath stirred an auburn curl beneath the tiny rim of her felt hat. ’It’s not me that’s crazy, sweetheart. It’s your family that’s tainted with madness. You would have had a jailbird for a father if they hadn’t locked him up in the loony bin. I reckon I had a lucky escape when you ditched me … even so you’re going to pay for the trouble you caused me.’
     She struggled wildly, lashing out at him. He caught her arms and clamped them to her sides, forcing her round to face him. To her amazement, he was wearing a balaclava, so she could only see his eyes and mouth. She saw the flash of his teeth in one of those smiles that had once had the power to charm her. ‘Do I frighten you, Alice? I’ve thought of joining Haldane’s volunteers and being taught how to kill. Just think of that: A bayonet in the guts or a bullet in the head, which would you fancy?’ He put a hand to her throat and she felt sick with terror …

A Dream To Share     
I shiver even now thinking about Bert, who also made an appearance in the next book in that series ‘When the Clouds go Rolling By’. It’s not easy writing such scenes because one really has to get right into the head of your villain so their actions are consistent with the character. Fortunately my heroines and heroes can act in admirable fashion.

One of my favourite heroes is Harry Peters, the father of my young heroine, Greta, in ‘A Place to Call Home’. The following extract takes place during the May Blitz, 1941 in Liverpool.

Harry removed his cap and wiped the sweat from his brow that threatened to trickle into his eyes and blur his vision. His mouth was raw and dry with dust. He reached for the tin mug standing on a convenient brick and gulped down some of the hot, sweet tea. A cry came again from the rubble and Harry put the mug down remembering how, back in March another rescue worker had found a baby still alive after three days of being buried beside her dead parents.
     He looked up at the men, who took orders from him. Just like him they were exhausted, having gone without sleep for two nights. He had returned home yesterday for a brief rest and to check whether Greta and Cissie had returned home but the house had been empty and according to Wilf, Rene had not come back home, either. So he had returned to Mill Road Infirmary where a parachute mine had caused devastation. They had dug people out alive, but there had also been more than fifty dead. A sigh escaped him. He was near the end of his tether, but if there was a baby trapped under the debris, he wanted to be the one to get it out. Such moments of lifesaving were sweet and made the danger worthwhile. He imagined taking the baby in his arms.      He pocketed his trowel and his eyes narrowed as he gazed into the tunnel entrance, angled to a degree by a kitchen table and a chair, which had become locked together beneath tons of bricks and charred wood. He reached for the piece of wood used to protect his head and crawled into the hole, inching his way along, careful not to disturb the wall of rubble held up with props of wood. The cry came again and it was close. With a delicate touch he withdrew a chuck of brick and mortar without disturbing the broken timber beside it that might bring down a ton of debris.      
A Place To Call HomeNo, Harry doesn't get killed but I got a lump in my throat just reading that excerpt over again. Something I haven't done for ages.

Of course, there are those in films, books and real life, whom we might call loveable rogues, such as Hans Solo in the Star Wars trilogy or anti-heroes, like Rhett Butler in ‘Gone with the Wind’. They appear in my medieval and Tudor romances, too. My latest one is ‘The Adventurer’s Bride’ and my husband likes them the best, not only do my heroes generally indulge in a bit of swordplay but John's a bit of a romantic.

    I was delighted to hear a couple of days ago that ‘The Adventurer’s Bride’ had a mention in USATODAY amongst the UK Medieval releases. More recently I have been rewriting the very first book I had accepted for publication 'Beloved Abductor' with the thought in mind of having it put up as an E-book.
      No doubt in earlier times heroes and villains were often seen as either black or white. Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was definitely England’s hero during the Napoleonic wars, whilst Napoleon was the villain. Interestingly, recently when I was fortunate enough to be in a group doing a tour of Liverpool Town Hall, we were told by the visually impaired guide, the very informative, Steve Binns, that one of the ceremonial swords on display had been made for Nelson. Apparently he was due to visit Liverpool but unfortunately he was killed at Trafalgar before the ceremony at the town hall could take place. Sadly that is the fate of many a hero in times of war.
      This weekend we'll be remembering all those killed in the wars that took place during the 20th century. Although my father and several uncles were in the army during WW2, they all survived. My uncle Stan Milburn served in the auxiliary fire brigade in Liverpool which could be horrific during the blitz but he came through it.

                       Stan Milburn in his fireman uniform and is on the left.

      I was extremely surprised to discover through Ancestry that my grandfather William Nelson volunteered for the army during the Great War at the age of forty-three. Fortunately he never reached the trenches as it was discovered he had a heart defect. I discovered from army records that he was only five feet, four inches tall. Even so despite the tough life he had, he reached the ripe old age of seventy-three and died in 1944. 
      So on Remembrance Sunday, I will be thinking about all those I never knew, who gave their tomorrows that we might have our today, but I will think especially of my mother's cousin, sailor Thomas Milburn, aged 20, who went down with the royal naval ship BLACK PRINCE at the Battle of Jutland, 1916. As well as those two distance fourth or fifth cousins, Tom Lancaster and Arthur Hindson, whose names are on the memorial in Culgaith parish church.  (see photo Part 13)

Saturday 2 November 2013


Two days ago it was Halloween and I’d just made myself comfortable on the sofa with a book and a cuppa char when there came a knock at the door. Fortunately I was prepared, having bought a bag of small pumpkin wrapped chocolates and ugly heads filled with toffee. I had eight young visitors during the next hour and if awards were handed out for sheer effort than I have to admit that the girls would have won hands down; in their black tights, tulle ballet skirts and painted faces, I was reminded of The Rocky Horror Show.
     When I was young, Halloween was called Duck Apple Night. The other day it amused me no end to find a page in a magazine, informing readers just how to duck for apples. First half fill a bowl with water and place your apples in it and then try and catch them with your teeth. There were also instructions for what we called Bob Apple. My dad would tie string to the stalks of apples and then fasten the other end to the drying rack attached to the kitchen ceiling. Us kids were blindfolded and expected to keep our hands behind our backs, whilst trying to catch the apples in our mouths. Dad also roasted chestnuts on a shovel over the coal fire and they were tasty.
     Innocent pleasures! I can’t understand this obsession with tricking and treating and horror that’s come over from the US of A.

     Yet it’s thanks to Halloween that I broke into publishing. Old customs held a fascination for me and I wrote some to do with that time of the year and sent them to My Weekly. Only to be told they weren’t spooky enough but that I had a good idea. The editor suggested I used mine for an article for Valentine’s Day, (I’ll print it here sometime), and also that I write about customs for other special occasions of the year. The first piece of writing I had accepted and received payment for was of Christmas customs around the world. But it was not printed until a year later because I had sent it in too late.
      It’s too early for Christmas just yet and most churches and schools have had their Harvest Festival. Our offerings this year went to a communal food bank to help those families suffering due to the economical situation. No doubt food that was given to decorate churches to celebrate a successful harvest in Victorian Liverpool was given to poorer families, too. I bet the words of a well known hymn, ‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground …’ meant much more then than to us now.    

      Charles Dickens, whose books have given us a lot of insight into the lives of the Victorians and  could almost be said to have invented the way Christmas became to be celebrated, visited Liverpool several times during the 1830s and 1840s.
      In 1837, the 18 year old Queen Victoria came to the throne. The same year in Norway my great-grandfather, Martin Nelson was born. It would be a few years before he set foot in Liverpool but the queen and her consort were to visit in 1854. The Albert Dock was named after Prince Albert and it was he who also brought the custom of decorating a tree for Christmas from his own country.
     My great-great-grandfather, carpenter Joseph Milburn, arrived in Liverpool before such famous people. He married Mary-Ann Green in Liverpool’s parish church of St Peter in 1836.

     Joseph was born in 1812 in the village of Culgaith, nr Penrith, a year when war raged between Britain and North America in what was known as the 2nd War of Independence. It led to a shortage of grain and flour in Britain and starvation. The same year the Russians celebrated the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Moscow.

        CULGAITH: November 2010
Who says it always rains in the Lake District?
Top: June and son Iain outside the Black Swan Inn, possibly this is where my 3 times great-grandfather, William Milburn, was the innkeeper.
Middle: Culgaith Parish Church
Bottom: Memorial Plaque inside the church which has a Thomas Lancaster listed. My 3 times great-grandmother was Ann Lancaster, so he is most likely a blood relative.

Two years before Joseph was born and around about 200 years before these photos were taken, Mary-Ann saw light of day in a town, approximately 27 miles (39 kilometres) to the west of Culgaith, called Cockermouth. It was the birthplace of the poet of William Wordsworth. By the time Mary-Ann was born, he was 40 and had moved twice. Firstly to  Dove Cottage, Grasmere, where he lived with his wife and children and sister, Dorothy, then he moved again to Rydal Mount. I visited the latter house in the 70s, while staying in nearby Rydal Hall on a parish holiday and also swam in Rydal Water. It was fun despite, my three year old son, Tim, breaking out in spots two days before we were due to go on holiday with the measles.
       Cockermouth was more recently famous for the terrible floods that swept the town in 2009 and below is a photo of the river there, when we visited the week before that very wet November, 2009. You can see how high the river is at the time.


You’ll have gathered that the beautiful Lake District was one of my favourite places, even before I traced a branch of my ancestry to Cumbria.

     So how was it that Joseph and Mary-Ann met and came to Liverpool?

      Joseph’s mother, my three times great-grandmother, Ann Lancaster, was also born in Culgaith in 1784, during the reign of George III. William Milburn, who was three years her senior was born only a few miles away,in the ancient territory of the Milburns, who centuries before had been Border Reivers; one of the families who often battled with the border Scots, as each raided the others’ lands.

     William became a publican, most likely at the Black Swan Inn, Culgaith, by by 1841, according to that year's census, he and Ann were living in an inn on the High Street of Brigham, a village, near Cockermouth.
      Cockermouth is not that far from the sea and so I can only presume that it could have been news of Liverpool’s growing prosperity that caused Joseph and Mary-Ann to travel so far from their families; although possibly other Milburns had led the way.

      Whilst William and Ann were still living at Brigham, a Thomas Milburn was lodging with Joseph and Mary-Ann in Great Albion Place, Liverpool. By 1851 the family had moved to Pembroke Gdns and Joseph's widowed mother, Ann, was living with them, an ex-innkeeper, who was now a pauper.
      In 1861, the family had moved again and by then Ann had died and Joseph’s unmarried brother, William, was lodging with them, and their six children.

      This was the year the American Civil War broke out and William was a porter which meant he probably worked in the warehouses down by the docks. Maybe a large part of his job had involved unloading tobacco and cotton. It would be in very short supply if the war was to continue for more than a year. It did and resulted in unemployment for many in Liverpool and more particularly those in the cotton mills of Lancashire. Poverty and starvation followed for many. In the meantime Joseph was most likely working either in the building trade or the furniture making business and kept the family going.
      The American Civil War ended in 1865, the year my great-grandfather Martin Nelson, married Mary Harrison. By the time of Joseph’s death two years later in 1867, his son William, one of my other great-grandfather's was thirty. The following year William married Mary Rogers. On their marriage certificate they signed their own names which proved they could read and write, unlike Martin and his Mary (Harrison).

       Mary Rogers was born in Liverpool but her parents, Thomas Rogers and Ann Jones, were Welsh, and had arrived with two of their children from Wrexham at a time when the Irish were flooding into the port due to the famine in Ireland. Thomas was an agricultural labourer but once in Liverpool he became a carter, and later was to own his own cart.
     (It’s believed by many that Ireland was the only country to suffer from a potato famine but it affected Britain, too, and countries in mainland Europe as well. Why it was such a greater calamity to Ireland was due to their reliance on the potato for their staple diet. Apparently in England bread and cheese was more likely to be eaten by the working classes.).

Neither the Milburns nor the Rogers settled in Toxteth where the Harrisons and Nelson had dwelt, but at various times lived in Kensington, Kirkdale and Everton further away from the docks. In my opinion the women were not only survivors but in some cases matriarchs.
      Ann Lancaster Milburn lived to be almost seventy, whilst Mary-Ann Green, died at the age of seventy-four in 1884, outliving Joseph, having moved home at least five times and as a widow, had two of her sons living with her, as well as three of her grandchildren. Liverpool was now a very different place to the one where she had married Joseph in 1836.
      Her son, William, and his wife, Mary, who had lived next door in Lowwood Street, decided to leave Liverpool for London that decade, taking their four children with them, including my grandfather, John Jones Milburn. But that's for another day.