Monday 20 October 2014


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. 

Saturday 11 October 2014


I was made up the other week when I read that as we get older it isn’t that our brain stops working as efficiently, it’s just that when we try to remember things, it takes longer because we have more in our memory banks for our brain to sift through. This made perfect sense of my remembering just the first letter of a name or a place I can’t recall straightaway but do so a few hours later or the next day. It reinforces what I’ve thought for a while and that older people are at a disadvantage when it comes to quick-fire quizzes, such as Mastermind.

In our house it’s not only me that can be forgetful but my husband as well. Who hasn’t been asked, ‘Do you remember where I’ve put my keys?’ His have turned up on the second stair up by the front door or on the top of the fridge…or even inside his woolly hat with his gloves.

I always remind him of an episode of Poirot in which Miss Lemon couldn’t remember where she had put her keys and had to stay at his flat. The next day she remembered something Poirot had told her and backtracked on her actions of the day and she found the keys in a bowl of fruit in the hall.

When I first set out to be a writer and was looking for ideas for magazine articles, the smell from a tar machine where workmen were resurfacing a road, instantly reminded me of when I was a little girl bursting tar bubbles between the cobbles on Whitefield Road, near where I went to junior school. That I managed to get tar on my white ankle socks didn’t please Mam at all. Especially when her method of getting rid of the tar involved rubbing butter into it.

But that memory led me to writing an article called SENSES OF THE PAST - smell, hearing, sight, touch - I sent the article to LANCASHIRE LIFE. It wasn’t accepted but the editor did tell me that it was a near miss and that letter encouraged me to carry on writing.

The sight of laden branches of blackberries takes me back to a Sunday School trip on the Wirral or a holiday in Towyn, North Wales. I still enjoy picking blackberries and this morning I decided to make jam, I’ve had three ice cream containers of the fruit in the freezer for weeks and decided it was time to do something with them, as soon I’m going to need the space for Christmas goodies. I decided to make apple and blackberry jam and John helped with the peeling of the apples and sterilising the jam jars. The bubbling mixture smelled gorgeous but after spooning the jam into jars, left at the bottom of the pan was a mush of blackberries and syrupy liquid that was fragrantly toffeeish.

My mam never made jam but she did make toffee apples. I can picture her now in her floral pinny in our old back kitchen. Us kids loved those toffee apples because they were a once a year treat. Having said that there was a woman who used to make toffee apples who lived near Ogden’s tobacco factory on Boundary Lane, and there would be a queue of us kids waiting to hand over our pennies to buy one. Today’s shop bought ones just don’t taste the same.

On a slightly different note I received an email this week from a lady called Deborah who lives in Perth, Australia. (Isn’t the internet magic!) She had recently read my books STEP BY STEP and A DREAM TO SHARE; both of which are mainly set in the beautiful city of Chester. She wanted to know the titles in the right order of the other books in my Chester series because she wanted to know what happened next to the characters. I have been asked this question before about that series - which is partly set in Liverpool as well.

For anyone else who would like to read about my Chester families who discover they have links with Liverpool. They are as follows:


Just like Liverpool, Chester is a fascinating place to visit. Chester as a port came to prominence much earlier than Liverpool but Liverpool was to supersede it when the Dee silted up. I discovered the main similarities between the cities were both had rivers, cathedrals, canals and markets, as well as a main railway station. The differences were obvious, but most interesting to me was that Liverpool had numerous pawnbroker shops during Edwardian time, while I could only find two in Chester.

I would have liked to have carried on writing that series whose stories came to an end in the twenties, but my publisher at the time decided it was time to leave that era and the characters. She wanted books to be set around the fifties. It is where my latest Liverpool books are set and I have to confess that the fifties is one of my favourite decades to write about.