More family treasures

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before that my lovely Grandfather Roy Williams [ Australian-born son of a Shetland Islander father ] was badly wounded while serving with the AIF in France and Belgium during WWI. While he was recuperating back in Blighty, he met, and fell in love, with Sybil Miriam Bowden and married her in the Summer of 1918.

He returned to Australia in April of 1919 [  it’s a bit unclear as to whether they came together, or whether he was on a troup ship ] but in any case, in February of 1920, they welcomed my mother, Noreen Elsie, born at the home of her paternal grandparents in East Camberwell. Mildred Bowden Williams joined them 2-and-a-half years later.

And here I need to digress. Mildred was known by all and sundry, from the day of her birth to the day of her death and beyond, as Billee. This was all down to my mum who was convinced that she was getting a brother William, and was most insistant that the new baby’s name was Billy.

Marnie [Sybil] left her father and sister behind to start a new life on the other side of the world, and my grandfather promised Great Grandfather Bowden that, if it was within his power, he would bring the family back to England for a visit.

That was how Marnie, Mum and Auntie Billee found themselves on the deck of an ocean-going liner in 1925

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Noreen & Billee on deck 1925

Noreen & Billee on deck 1925

on a beach in Durban, South Africa during a stopover [ small boy identified as family friend Leo Perry ]


and enjoying a local form of transport [ Durban again ]


These next ones are identified simply as London 1925, and would have most likely been taken at the family home in Fulham


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Until a week ago, when I was given a parcel of bits and bobs, that Auntie Billee’s sons had decided should be mine, I’d never seen any of these … and I’m pretty sure most of my Williams cousins haven’t either. So no gold, or pearls, or precious jewels, but to me, these fragile scraps of paper have a worth that is incalculable.


Fragile Treasure

Oh I’m on a roll here. Two posts on consecutive days.


Some of my cousins and I have been posting old family photos on FB and trying to document as much as we know of the history because we’ve already lost so much of that. In my case, I need to double and triple check anything that I THINK I know of family history, because little mum was rather fond of ’embroidering’ family history, when she wasn’t just making it up out of whole cloth.

So in a sense, what I and my cousins know of our shared antecedents could be regarded as the fragile treasure of the title. Each previously unseen photo. Each tentative date or skeleton of a story.

Nadie is always saying to me ” I hope you’ve got that labelled” or “I hope you’re writing this down”

so Nadie, this is for you:

My gorgeous maternal grandfather, Roy Williams, had a twin sister Elsie. They were born on Christmas Day, 1890, and there doesn’t seem to be many photos that we can be sure are Elsie, mostly because she died as a very young woman. I’m thinking 1915, but I need to check that… and this is one of those bits where I have to question what I think I know, because Mum always said that Elsie died in childbirth, having her son Edwin McLaughlin.

Maybe one of my cousins knows whether this is correct, but certainly what I do know, is that the photos of Edwin as a toddler all show him with either his father, or with his Nannie, my Great Grandma Gertrude Henrietta Adams Williams. No signs of Elsie. So maybe Mum was correct.576286_10200863080927628_1583406655_n


That’s Elsie on the left, with my great aunts, Gertrude Alice in the middle and Doreen Constance on the right , taken at the family home in East Camberwell, we’re guessing around 1900-1902, as Do was born in 1894. Tell me you don’t just love the cabbage-tree hats, pinafores, lisle stockings and button-up boots!

and this is Elsie on the day of her wedding to Roy Edwin McLaughlin in 1914


541617_10200863081447641_1594588875_nwhich is what leads me to the title of the post.

Elsie’s wedding veil.

My treasure.

It’s unbelievably fragile and foxed, thanks to its being stored in plastic for goodness knows how many years before I got my mitts on it.

In fact, though I hate remembering this, the very first time I picked it up, my finger went right through the netting which is so brittle I’m not sure how it is holding together.

You may all be assured that since 1994 it has been living in archival tissue, in a labelled box, and rarely ever coming out into the clear light of day. [ and did I just hear a collective sigh of relief from all my embroiderer/quilter friends ? ]

This week it did, because I wanted to photograph the embroidery for my cousins

and I thought some of you might like to see it as well.





Each corner is different: the net embroidered in fairly heavy cream thread,

542765_10200863726663771_545099070_n which has a slight sheen and is probably equivalent to modern 6-strand embroidery cotton.

and so I continue to preserve this whisp of century old embroidered lace, the tangible expression of the fact that Elsie was a living breathing woman, who loved, was loved in return, and then lost.

As Promised

Last week I told you about Mum’s wax orange blossom bridal headpiece and the succession of brides who have worn it.

So here’s the proof that I also wore it for my wedding to Marc in the early 70s.

cheesy 70s moustache

equally cheesy blue velvet suit and huge bow tie

Laura Ashley style wedding dress [ referred to by my darling daughter as ‘the nightie’ ]

and my formerly elbow length wavy auburn hair after being attacked, chopped and straightened by the hairdresser from hell.

Another Treasure

After Auntie Billee’s funeral last week, I was looking through some of the old family photos, when I noticed something that had never really dawned on me before.

The wedding headpiece of tiny wax orange-blossoms that Billee was wearing in that 1951 photo, is the exact same one that my mother had worn a year previous,

and which was later worn by my Aunts Fay

and Judy.

It was my ‘something old’ when I married Marc more than twenty years after its last outing [ but you’ll have to trust me on that, at least until I can relocate my wedding album which seems to have disappeared into the black hole otherwise known as my shed ]

The headpiece went missing for a decade or so after mum was conned into lending it to a friend of a friend, on the spurious pretext that I knew the bride, [ short version was yes, we did go to the same school but she was several years behind me, and I didn’t really know her at all ]

More by good luck than anything else, we did eventually get it back much the worse for wear.

It was far too frail and bedraggled, after its decade in the wilderness, for Nadie to even consider wearing it for her 2010 nuptuals, had she been so inclined [ which she wasn’t ] so it was carefully wrapped in archival tissue, and packed away with a scrap of unused [extra] lace from the first wedding dress that it was worn with, on February 18th, 1950 .

Tiny Treasures

Nadie is always telling me ” I hope you’ve written all this down” when I show her some piece of family memorabilia, and yes, a lot of it is labelled as to what and who … but some isn’t

and it occurred to me that the blog represents an excellent way of documenting some of this ‘stuff’ [ and hopefully some of you will find it interesting in some way ]

so I’m starting with something that has absolutely no commercial value whatsoever

but it/they are priceless to me

More years ago than I’m prepared to own up to here, my mother made several pairs of these bootees, each pair in a marginally different size, for her firstborn – which would be moi – to wear home from the hospital as a newborn. These were the smallest pair she made, on UK size 14 or 15 needles [ I forget now what she said – see the importance of writing this stuff down ? ] which would be 1.75mm or 2mm. Ridiculously small.

Your average newborn bootee is about 3 1/2″ long. These measure just over 2″, and apparently they fell off me. I weighed just over 5 pounds so it’s understandable.

Over the ensuing years  Mum and [ or so I believe ]  the Aunts, used the same pattern over and over to make bootees for my brother and cousins as they arrived, although never again was a pair quite as small as these.

In the fullness of time, and because Mum would’ve had a pink fit if I didn’t, I used the same pattern for the bootees that my babes wore home from hospital

and then somehow Mum’s ‘family tradition’ skipped my mind when I was knitting for the arrival of #1 grandson.

On the morning after he arrived, it suddenly surfaced into what is laughingly referred to as my brain, and some serious and frantic rummaging in the keepsake boxes ensued. All I can say is thank goodness my mother trained me up well in the ways of keeping everything, because, as a consequence of that early training, Master Riley David was able to go home from hospital in the same pair of these bootees that his father, uncle, and aunt, had worn so many years before.

and, just in case anyone ever needs it,  I do still have that battered, much-mended old pattern book.

A Family Treasure

Nadie and I drove down to Melbourne today for dental appointments [ least said the better – although we DO have the best dentist in the world, which is why we now drive 2 hours each way to see him ]


We had both come prepared for the mandatory time in waiting-room purgatory – featureless grey walls and indifferent magazines of indeterminate age.

I, with the flower hexagons from the last post, and Nadie with her current knitting and also her drop spindle [ much to the interest and delight of the two little girls and their mum who were sharing our time in limbo with us.

Out of consideration for the dentalphobic [ yes, Sheepie, I’m lookin’ at you ] I will draw a veil over what transpired within Dr Tony’s torture chamber very nice room, and move on to our next stop which was for lunch with Nadie’s Nonna.

Homemade Gnocchi and meatballs … proper Italian coffee … heaven

and after lunch, I nudged Nadie into showing Nonna her drop spinning.

I have a very vague almost-memory from when I first showed Ma-in-law my wheel, that she had mentioned something about drop-spinning in her younger days. At least, I think that was the gist.

Even after nearly 60 years in Australia, English isn’t her strong suite.

…and I’d certainly never seen her spin. By the time I came into the family, she was a confirmed knitter of commercial yarns. Generally 2-ply on a cone and wound into however many multiples it took to reach a weight she wanted to use. No patterns either. She’s just work out what was needed and set to. Advancing age and macular degeneration have long since robbed her of that pleasure, but I figured she’d be interested in what Nadie was doing.

If I tried to write an approximation of her fractured English, my fingers would probably snap off at the knuckles, but basically her response came down to ” Hang on. I think I’ve still got my one of those ”

and there it was, in the darkest corner of her wardrobe, probably untouched for 30 or more years. A crude top-whorl spindle with a long shaft and a tiny metal hook.

Apparently it’s not a knack you lose either, because blind and arthritic, she proceeded to prove that she can still drop a line with the best of them. Maybe not from the second floor balcony, as she used to in her teenage years apparently … dropping it over the edge so that she could spin a long line before winding on, but she can still spin.

and now that spindle,made somewhere in Abruzzi, Italy, in the 1930s, and bought halfway round the world in 1953, has come home with us. It seems our girl gets the spinning gene from both sides of her family, and in an unbroken line stretching back through many generations.

Had I known this little gem still existed, I probably would’ve snaffled it years since, but it would’ve just been for the sentimental attachment. How much better that it go to the one person in the family who will not only treasure the link to her beloved Nonna, but will actually use it.