Thursday, 12 December 2013



It’s more than a week since I’ve blogged and that’s down to Advent and there being so much to think about and do before Christmas.

It started with the Christmas Ladies Brunch at Caradoc Mission, Seaforth, with lovely decorated tables, a buffet, lots of chat with my cousin Patsy, her daughter, Colette and friends, as well as jokes, a Christmas message and cupcakes and mince pies served at table.

On Thursday we had a Christmas social evening at Crosby Writers Club which was fun; Christmas readings, two quizzes and refreshments, including lovely mince pies baked by member, Joyce, to her special recipe. I read out my very first acceptance which was an article on Christmas Customs Around the World in 1983. I was paid a whole £25!

Then on the Friday there was the Novelistas Christmas lunch at the Bod Erw, St Asaph, with an exchange of writing news, a raffle in which everyone got a prize, and Christmas cake baked by Juliet Greenwood to her mother’s recipe which included the most tasty toasted almonds.

             The Novelistas celebrating Christmas at Bod Erw, St Asaph.

When Saturday arrived it was St Paul’s church’s Christmas Fayre. I was in charge of the second-hand bookstall which is always interesting. Crime is always popular as are sagas. I picked up a copy of Maeve Binchy’s SCARLET FEATHER. But my favourite stall was the homemade cake stall. There were more lovely homemade mince pies, cup cakes and my friend Elsie’s bun loaf which was absolutely scrumptious. People chattered and worked together and it seemed to me that a good time was had by all and we raised a decent sum for the church. (The cost of heating is horrendous).

You might be getting the impression from what I’ve written so far that all I have on my mind is food. With four hungry males in the house that has some basis in face because I’m already planning what to eat for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Day.

But on Saturday evening John and I attended a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” performed at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral by choirs from both Liverpool Cathedrals, accompanied by the Anglican Cathedral Chamber Orchestra. It was an experience not to be missed and was food for the soul. There was well over a thousand people in the audience and the performance was a real treat.

For lots of people Christmas is a time for family, although there are those who would do anything rather than spend time with their family. Too much pressure perhaps to play at happy families when the lead up to the day has been exhausting. I’m sure it was never meant to be like that and maybe it’s due to people seeing it only as a time for children and presents. Both can be a blessing but when expectations are too high, disappointment can follow. One of my sons has already said that he’s not doing presents this year and doesn’t want any either. He wouldn’t be the first. John and I decided a while ago not to give each other presents but settled on spending the money on two nights away in the Lake District before or after the Big Day. I can’t wait!


Despite what I said in my last blog about families and Christmas, my mother reared us in the belief that families should stick together. No doubt she saw the importance of doing so because her mother, Flora, died when Mam was only ten years old. Her aunts stepped into the breach to care for her and her siblings while her mariner father was at sea.

My parents, Stanley Nelson and May Lillian Milburn, married during the Depression in the Thirties and money was short. I remember Mam telling me how good my father’s mother, Ada Florence Nelson, nee Cooke, was to them, giving them tea and sugar and other food to help them out.

Since researching my ancestry, I know now that my grandmother Nelson, she also suffered the loss of her mother, Mary Ellen Gregory, at the same age as my mother did; although Mary Ellen was only thirty-one when she died and Mam’s mother was forty. Mary Ellen left a five year old daughter, Emma, as well as my ten year old grandmother.

Mary Ellen was born in Liverpool in 1854 and at seventeen was working as a general servant in Park Street, a long thoroughfare that ran from the docks up to Park Lane, a rather posh area of large houses in Toxteth in Victorian times. My mother also worked in service for a doctor and his family but that was in the 1920-30s.

Mary Ellen’s father, Stanley Gregory, was born in Aughton Street, Ormskirk, in 1821. But by 1845 he was living in Liverpool and that year he married Eleanor Nicholson from Anglesey, in the Church of our Lady, St Nicholas and St Anne. A bricklayer by trade, no doubt he had come to Liverpool like many another in search of work.

Stanley was one of fourteen children, including two sets of twins,(interestingly two of my Nelson cousins, Patsy and Audrey, gave birth to twins). His father, John, was also a bricklayer.

The Gregorys can be traced back to the reign of Queen Anne in the early 18th century living in the Ormskirk area. John had married a Moorcroft, as had his father, Robert, and there are several graves with the names of Moorcroft and Gregory to be found in the graveyard of Ormskirk ancient parish church, which is well worth a visit. The church is famous for having a spire and a tower and is open during the summer on market day.

       Ormskirk parish church in Lancashire: Photographer John Francis

Eleanor, whose mother was an Owen, was still living in Holyhead in 1841, so must have come to Liverpool between then and 1845. Her father, Jared, was a dock-gate man in Holyhead, so maybe one of his relatives was a mariner and married a woman from Liverpool and Eleanor visited them and that’s how she met Stanley. She had a couple of brothers and two sisters still living on the beautiful island of Anglesey.
                             My son Tim fishing at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey
                               Photographer: John Francis
                         Anglesey coastline with South Stack lighthouse in the distance.

By 1851 Stanley and Eleanor were living in Clive Street, Toxteth Park. She was to die four years after her daughter, Mary Ellen’s marriage to James Cooke, the year my grandmother Ada Florence was born, but Stanley lived into the 1880s. So my grandmother must have known her grandfather, Stanley Gregory, and possibly some of her Welsh aunts and uncles, too. I always wondered why my dad was called Stanley and now I know.

It was whilst tracing the various Gregorys that two distant members of the Gregory family got in touch with me. I was interested in particular in Lavinia Gregory, who was the sister of my great-grandmother, Mary Ellen, being thirteen years younger.

I found Lavinia in the 1891 census living the other side of the Mersey in Birkenhead. She was a maid but later became a housekeeper and was to marry the master of the house. Although they married at a church in Toxteth, they settled on the Wirral. He already had children but Lavinia was also to provide him with more offspring.

                                My Great-great-aunt Lavinia's family home on the Wirral

       Family wedding at the house in the thirties. Lavinia is second left at the front.

Laura Holt (known as Pat) who emailed me the above photos got in touch with me from Australia. She is Lavinia’s granddaughter. Her mother and my grandmother, Ada Florence were first cousins. Lavinia did well for herself, brought up in a terraced house in Toxteth, went into service, eventually becoming a housekeeper and then the mistress of a large house, near Bromborough. Born in 1867, she lost her mother at the age of 9, but lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in 1952, having seen the advent of the steamship, the motor car, the opening of the Mersey Tunnel and lived through two world wars.


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