Branching Out

Since writing “Endless Summers” a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my family history and decided to try and find out some of what shaped my ancestors’ lives. My father’s side of the family is from London, mainly Leytonstone, and the males are Fredericks, Charles’s and James’s; the females are Margarets, Elizabeths and Amys . Just the sheer numbers living in London made the task of building a family tree quite slow and complicated, and I lost a thread in the 1860s when Benjamin Oliver’s offspring appeared to be farmed out to relatives, and his wife, Maria vanished without a trace….. death?….. deportation?….. dead end.

So I looked at my mother’s branch of the family, which came from Hampshire and many of whom were farmers. This proved to be far more straightforward because I knew a lot of people already, having myself grown up in Hampshire rather than London. I spoke to my mother who gave me some old photographs and I was able to quickly piece together several generations. On this side of the family tree the males are Georges, Henrys and Charles’s; the females are Marys, Fannys and Flossies.

My maternal grandfather George Bennett and his sister Mary. About 1922.

My Grandfather, George Bennett, didn’t want to be servant waiting on a rich family like his grandfather had been, or a clerk in the Town Hall like his father. He decided that he wanted to be part of something new – the mechanisation of the farming industry which would surely be coming soon. So he took himself off to agricultural college and learned everything he would need to know to be a successful modern farmer.

Click on pictures to enlarge


Meanwhile my Grandmother, Mary Watson, was growing up on a farm not so far away, the oldest of seven children. Having just turned twenty-one and undoubtedly terrified of ending up as the daughter who never marries but ends up working /living with and looking after her parents for the rest of their lives (as many girls seemed to have done in previous generations), Mary was out to catch a young man’s eye.

Mary Watson (far right on grass) with all her siblings and their mother. About 1920.

In the summer of 1930 the local Young Farmer’s Club held a dance and Mary duly attended. As the eldest daughter she probably had something nice to wear that hadn’t been handed down. At the dance she met a dashing young man called George and saw that he could be the one for her; the one to ensure her escape from her family responsibility. Also, he was so absolutely gorgeous he could have been in Hollywood! Mary could see the other girls were keen to meet George too and she knew she had to act fast. She was obviously an intelligent girl and used all of her feminine charm to ensure that George didn’t want to look at anyone else. 6 months later they were wed, and 3 months after that their son (my uncle) was born. In time, two daughters followed. The mechanisation in farming did eventually come, although it had been delayed by the onset of World War II. The couple enjoyed a long and happy life together until George died in 1986, his lungs clogged with tar from his Gauloises (non filter).  Mary lived on until 1994, but I don’t believe she ever felt she had a real purpose in life after George had gone.

So there it is….granny was pregnant when she got married. Nothing out of the ordinary now, but I imagine it was quite scandalous in 1930. Two lessons I have learned from this tale :

  • You can get it if you really want
  • The cigarettes will get you in the end
George and Mary Bennett 1981 after 50 years of marriage
Mary Bennett (nee Watson) far left, with all her siblings in 1978

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