Saturday 25 January 2014


Tall ships on the Mersey

I’m a great fan of Michael Portillo’s railway journeys on BBC2 in which he travels to places with a Bradshaw Railway Guide in hand. I never realised how famous Bradshaw was and how popular his guide during Victorian times and into the early 20 century.  

     Authors have used it in their books. Dracula consulted a Bradshaw when planning his trip to Britain in the famous novel by Bran Stoker and Sherlock Holmes also quotes it in THE VALLEY OF FEAR by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it even gets a mention in a crime novel I read recently set in Victorian times by Ann Granger.

    Last week the Liverpool ECHO treated its readers to a special feature pullout about Liverpool’s once famous Overhead Railway. Immediately I squirreled it away in my desk drawer because in the first chapter of the novel I’m working on it features.

    Known as the Ovee or the Dockers’ Umbrella I have wondered if it would have appeared in Bradshaw’s Guide if it been around during his life time. I’m pretty certain that Michael Portillo would have been a great admirer of this very special railway which closed at the end of 1956. Despite having a book on the subject of the Ovee, I’m certain that the ECHO’s offering will provide me with even more information as well as pictures.

    Knowing how your characters are going to find their way from A to B or Y to Z can be a bit of a worry when your story is set in the past. There is also the matter of knowing how long even the shortest journey will take. So I’ve done a fair amount of travelling here and there to check places out. If I can’t make a journey, then family and friends have helped. My niece Linda, who lives in the Essex countryside and has her own horse was of help when writing one of my medieval books. As a last resort when they haven’t been able to help I’ve consulted travel books and autobiographies.

   In the first of my novels set in Chester I have Alice travelling with her father to Liverpool in Edwardian times to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. I was aware that at that time the ships would be powered by steam and I also knew a little about the vessels because my brother, Don, was a marine engineer years ago and worked for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. He lent me a couple of slim volumes about the island and towards the end of the sixties I visited Port Erin for a diving weekend with my husband, three month old baby and John’s diving friends.

      I wish I had known at the time that one of my 3 x times great-grandfathers came from the Isle of Man. John Cain was born on the island around 1801 and by 1821 he was living in Liverpool. Now he would have travelled by sailing ship. He worked as a mariner and also in the building trade. He married a girl called Ann, who gave him several children and his daughter Ann was born in Liverpool. She made a living as a dressmaker, lodging with the Brookes family in Frederick Street which ran between Paradise Street and Canning Place where the old Customs House was situated close to the docks. No wonder it was bombed during WW2.

     Ann Cain was to marry George Brookes, who was a whitesmith, a worker in tin. In Liverpool the firm of Cain’s was famous for brewing beer but so far I haven’t made a link with them to my ancestors. George and Ann’s son, George Henry Brookes, was to marry Jane Percival, whose daughter was my grandmother, Flora Brookes, who wed into the Milburn family.

     My only ancestor to travel from Ireland was weaver William Walker who settled in Manchester and he, too, would have come by sailing ship.

     I have a book in my collection that I bought from Liverpool Maritime Museum called FALLING STAR about the misadventures of ships of the White Star Line. It proved extremely useful when I was writing FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY which was set in the early 1920s and involved travelling by ship between Ireland, Liverpool and America. Whilst much is known about the Titanic disaster, I was moved to tears by other disasters in the book. One which involved women and children being swept by enormous waves from a ship, never to be seen again.

    It took an enormous amount of courage and hope to set on a journey in the old days, especially when it involved uncharted seas or territory. Although there has always been a certain amount of danger travelling at home or away. No wonder the thought of there being a Saint Christopher to turn to for travellers is still popular with some.

    I suspect it will always be a mystery to me how my Norwegian great-grandfather Martin Nelson died at sea in the early 1870s but I’ll keep on looking.  


Monday 13 January 2014


It's the second week in January and I don't think I'm the only person whose thoughts are turning to getting away. As is common in the British Isles the weather has been one of the main topics of conversation. Flood warnings are rife and the fields in so many parts of the country are sodden. At time of writing the sky over Merseyside is blue and there is not a cloud to be seen but freezing conditions are forecast and the sodden ground will soon be extremely icy. No wonder most of us need to have a holiday to look forward to. I'll be going to the Isle of Rhodes with John to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary in June.

     When I was a girl in the forties and early fifties, the most I could hope for was a trip on the ferry to New Brighton, or if we were lucky then we could take a train to Formby with my brother, sister and kids from our street. More often than not we spent time playing in the street or visited one of Liverpool's parks with a picnic lunch of jam butties and watered down National Health orange juice. It was not until I was twelve that my parents could afford to take us on holiday which consisted of a week camping in North Wales. We loved it despite the rain and having to sleep on straw filled pallIasses and one never forgotten summer us cousins and our mums stayed for a whole four weeks.

    What lucky ducks we were. Why? Because we so appreciated those family camping holidays. They forged memories never to be forgotten, which as a writer I've yet to make proper use of in a book. But now I'm hoping to remedy that by using some of what I can remember in the novel I'm working on at the moment. LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND is its title and naturally my thoughts turn to beaches. I have several to choose from but I'll say no more about that now as my plot still needs more thought.

     Most of our ancestors, of course, could not afford to go away. They worked long hours and there was no such thing as paid holidays. When I discovered my grandfather Milburn had married on Christmas Day, I was astonished, until I remembered that Saturday was a working day and what with him being a mariner, probably Christmas Day was the only day he and my future grandmother could get married. Maybe it was also the only time relatives could attend the occasion from home and away. Of course, once paid holidays became the norm, then there was no stopping some of my kin and those close to them from heading out of the city be it north, south, east and west and making the most of their time off. In our house when I was a kid, we knew that Dad's one week's holiday would be either the last week in July or the first week in August. Thankfully holidays are longer now and workers have more choice of when they can take them.  Below is a photo of my aunt, mother and cousins and my brother, Don, and me and my sister Irene.


Saturday 4 January 2014



Just love this photograph. Who are these children? There is a definite family likeness.
More further down the page about photographs.

I was sad to hear that on December 19th 2013 the LIVERPOOL POST ceased being printed as a newspaper. Originally it was published as the LIVERPOOL DAILY POST but in 2012 started appearing weekly as a printed newspaper. I still have a copy of the page when I appeared in this illustrious Merseyside newspaper. The LIVERPOOL POST started life in 1855 published by a former Chief Constable of Liverpool, Michael James Whitty, and sold for a penny a time. These days when such a date is mentioned, I always wonder what else was going on in Liverpool at the time because of my fascination with my ancestry and the kind of lives they lived. By the way there is a North Wales version of the DAILY POST and it can be found online.

Fortunately despite the lurid headlines on the front of the Liverpool ECHO every day, we do have it delivered six days a week. A local newspaper has an important role to play in local affairs in my opinion and the ECHO has been a great source of information for me, not only as a Liverpudlian but also as a writer. It also provided me with my first wages because when I was fifteen, I took over the job of newspaper delivery person from my brother, Don, and became a papergirl for the princely sum of five shillings a week. Every other week I earned twice that sum when I delivered national papers, magazines and the NEWS OF THE WORLD or THE PEOPLE mornings.

The Liverpool ECHO can also be read online which is greatly appreciated by a friend of ours, who emigrated to Australia a few years ago and has recently been connected to the internet.

I have blogged before about how much I appreciate the internet but it does have its drawbacks. I was made doubly aware of this when I read journalist Joe Riley’s article in the Liverpool ECHO of 30th December ’13 when he questioned what the future holds for professional reviewers who are being dispensed with by some media outlets because of the plague of so-called online citizen journalism. He says you can’t beat the real thing, based on experience and comparative ability. Joe speaks as someone who has had 40 years experience of separating what he calls the wheat from the chaff.

As a writer with books out there, I have been aware for ages of the importance of reviews, not that mine have ever hit the headlines big but some have appeared in the local press. I knew exactly where they were coming from and who had written them and that’s important. Now online reviews can be left on Amazon, Goodreads and elsewhere by just anyone.

Some don’t seem to care how hurtful they can or even how inexplicably baffling the comments can be. I’ve heard other writers say that it sounds like they’ve read a completely book. Writers are particularly sensitive and that’s why so many say they never read reviews. Others say never respond to a negative comment, however tempting it is to do so.

I confess I do read some reviews and recently one brought a smile to my face because this reviewer of MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS on Amazon, a Doreen Jones, remembered me from when we lived in the same Liverpool street fifty years ago. Only when she included her maiden name at the end did I realise who she was. Doreen McIlwain who had lived two doors away. I remember she was pretty and that she had a brother, Jimmy, and her Nan lived in her parents’ front parlour, along with her daughter, May. Doreen probably would not have known who I was if I hadn’t mentioned my maiden name at the front of one my latest books. She finished her review by saying that she hoped I read what she had written. I’m so glad I did because it lifted my spirits. It is the same with the letters and emails I have received directly from readers in different parts of the globe. I know where they’re coming from and appreciate their comments.

                  This photo was taken in the late Fifties outside our family home. Left to Right: My future husband, John, myself, Margaret Leedham, friend and aunt to my nieces, Melanie and Wendy, and kneeling Jean Blakeman, who lived on the other side of the street.


The other morning I received an email from a fellow ancestry seeker, linked to the Milburn branch of my family. I’d mention my blog to him and he had actually taken a look at it. I was delighted because sometimes I wonder if anyone actually reads it, I was encouraged by his comments to keep on going. Fittingly I am at that point where I felt a need to return to that branch of the Milburn family who left Liverpool for London in late Victorian times.

Who hasn’t heard of the television series SEND FOR THE MIDWIFE? Set in Poplar in London in the fifties, I confess to only ever having watched half of an episode. Most likely because I have no urge in watching actresses supposedly giving birth in circumstances that I’d rather not think about on the whole. Having produced three sons myself in Bootle on Merseyside was painful enough, but also living with four men, viewing in our house is inclined to consist of documentaries, comedy quiz shows or old films. Still, it came as a surprise to me to discover that some of my southern Milburn kin settled in Poplar over a hundred years ago after my great-grandparents’ headed south.

My first contact with that branch of the family was via Wendy Pullen, nee Milburn, with whom I shared ancestors,William and Mary Milburn. I had discovered through Ancestry that my granddad John Jones Milburn had another eight siblings whom I was completely unaware of at the time. All but three were born in London; two before they left Liverpool and their daughter May having arrived on a visit to Liverpool in 1884. Presumably for the funeral of William’s mother Mary-Ann, nee Green, who died that year at the age of 74. Altogether William and Mary had six daughters and four sons. The two eldest, Thomas and John Jones born in Liverpool, eventually returned to the city of their birth.  

Wendy’s grandfather(or great?) was William James, born in 1883in London. It turned out that it was one of his daughters, Ivy, whom my cousin George had stayed with for a short while when working in Essex. Ivy’s daughter, Pat Harris, got in touch with me after meeting Wendy at a family funeral and she mentioned me to her. I wonder now whether my mother actually met Ivy and Pat, who visited Liverpool during WW2. After all Ivy and my mam were first cousins. I also wonder why Mam never mentioned them to me. Maybe she didn’t see the point.

Having visited London and Essex numerous times since I became a writer, I was really interested to know more about the southern branch if the Milburn family, especially my grandfather’s sisters who would have been young in Edwardian times. How had they earned a living before marriage? As it turned out two were shop girls but the one that interested me the most was Henrietta who had been born in Liverpool. She was in service to a family in Kensington according to the census of 1901before appearing ten years later as a upper maid to the Bonham-Carter family at their home in Chelsea in 1910. Perhaps I wouldn’t have recognised the name if Helena Bonham Carter wasn’t appearing in the Harry Potter film series at the time. As it was it sounded like Henrietta was quite one of the family as when she married the widowed father of two of the maids working for the household, in 1914, when she was getting on for forty; a couple of members of the Bonham Carter family attended the wedding. Henrietta was later to give birth to a daughter and after being widowed, went to South Africa with the family. Later she returned to England and lived into her nineties. It seems to me that in certain cases years ago those in service had a much better chance of survival than others who married young and had families.   

My brother, Ron Nelson, moved south at the end of the fifties and I now have a niece and nephew who live in Essex. My cousin, George Milburn’s two sons, also live down south, as do my cousin, Maureen’s (mother was Flora Milburn) two sons.

     My Aunt Flo (Flora Milburn/ Hawitt). The chair and the backdrop are familiar to several studio photos of the period.

Another member of the Milburn family was to get in touch with me was Peter Champion and he sent me some photographs taken of members of the family outside the family home in London during the Queen’s coronation. Pat Harris also sent me some photos of her mother and aunts and uncles when they were young, as well as a few colour photos of her, her brother and son, too.

            Ivy Milburn, my mother's cousin. My thanks to Pat Harris for sending me this photograph.

This morning I felt really excited when Phil, whom I have blogged about before, (our grandmothers were sisters) emailed me some  photos that had belonged to my mother’s cousin, Edith Milburn, sister to Thomas, who went down with the BLACK PRINCE at the Battle of Jutland 1916. Phil has no idea who most of the people were but hoped the photos might prove useful to me. What is so fascinating about them is that they are of their period and occasionally I can spot a family likeness to someone I know. I’m hoping my second cousins in the south might be able to help further.

   On the left is one of the photos. This young man reminds me of my brother, Don, and son Daniel who is musical, too. Who is he? As for the photograph at the top of today's blog. One of the boy's is so like my cousin George and his father, my Uncle Harold, that I'm thinking it could be him with his brother Stanley, my mother, May, and her sister, Flora ( Aunt Flo) as a baby.