Authors: Stephen Molyneux
by Sites To Suit Limited 2013
Copyright © Stephen
Stephen Molyneux has
asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be
identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. No
part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in
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otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the
above publisher of this book.
This book is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, organisations and incidents are either
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, localities, organisations, or real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Samantha
Also available in
paperback: ISBN 978-0-9576059-0-9
Stephen Molyneux, amateur genealogist, lives in Hampshire and
the South of France with two metal detectors and his long-suffering wife.
I would like to thank friends and family who read my early
manuscript and gave me their comments and feedback. I am also grateful to my
copy-editor, Sue Shade, for her input and hard work.
Peter spotted the marriage certificate. It
was mounted in a clear plastic sleeve just above eye-
level and was
attached to a blue felt panel. The certificate was one of about fifty printed
paper items displayed in similar fashion. These included an impressive gold
embossed invitation to a luncheon for some long dissolved Victorian
institution, a wartime ration book, a 1920s rates demand, a Post Office
Telegram with news of someone having passed away, military service guides to
various postings in the British Empire, and several interesting postcards. The
display occupied the upper part of a wall within an alcove, the alcove itself
being a small open unit in an antiques centre. A sign hung above: ‘Unit 14 –
Unit 14 specialised in interesting paper items from the
1960s and before, although postcards seemed to be the main offering. There were
hundreds of them stored in recycled shoeboxes and displayed for sale at table
height. Simple handwritten cardboard dividers separated the postcards into
categories, which included cities, counties, foreign countries, churches,
cathedrals, monuments, and miscellaneous attractions.
Peter cast his eyes back to the marriage certificate …
Essex, 1900, he noted, a bachelor and a spinster. It just seemed so sad that
something like that should be displayed and offered for sale at five pounds.
Placing a monetary value on it seemed inappropriate. Surely, there were family
descendants out there, possibly even living children, but more probably
grandchildren who ought to have it? How had something so personal come to be
offered along with the bric-a-brac of life on a board in an antiques centre?
He was aware that marriage certificates, like birth and
death certificates, were documents of public record and that anyone could
obtain a photocopy from the General Register Office. However, this was not a
photocopy but one completed and given to the couple by the minister who married
them. It was the actual certificate produced from the entries in the Marriage
Register; the Register signed by the newly-weds and their two witnesses, who
were presumably close friends or relatives, signed at St Martin’s Church in the
parish of Leyton, Essex, on the fifteenth day of January, 1900.
‘Marriage Solemnized at …’ the title stated in copperplate
script. It didn’t seem particularly solemn, Peter thought, not in its present
position; just a piece of paper, insignificant now perhaps, but once of huge
importance to the two people, whose lives were legally combined into a single
entity on that day. A piece of paper, slightly faded, but not worn, so
presumably kept safe and secure until, along with other personal possessions, a
house was cleared and the saleable items were traded and distributed to
whatever niche or market might find them another home.
He detached the plastic sleeve from the board and carefully
extracted the certificate from its protective cover. He looked at the names of
the couple. It might be interesting to trace their family, he thought. He
studied it more closely and for the first time considered purchasing it.
The blanks on the certificate had been completed in black
ink and obviously written with a pen or quill. The handwriting had a scratchy,
loopy, but quite learned late Victorian style, not at all like the handwriting
taught in schools nowadays. It was by the hand of Thomas Walter, who had
married the couple according to the ‘Rites and Ceremonies’ of the Established
Church, in other words, the Church of England.
The certificate had a slight odour to it, probably due to
age, possibly dampness and he detected something else … mothballs, he thought …
yes, definitely mothballs, and he recalled the distinctive smell of naphthalene
in the school chemistry lab. He remembered too the master, who on leaving for
another school told the assembled pupils a farewell joke about an American, so
amazed at seeing some mothballs, he remarked, ‘Gee, you sure have some mighty
big moths in England!’
Back to the present, should he buy it? He deliberated … but
why? What would he do with it? Was it some morbid curiosity, nosey interest, or
was there a genuinely interesting story here just waiting to be discovered?
He glanced up and noticed the security camera mounted in the
corner to his left. If somebody at the payment desk was monitoring him, they
might think he was preparing to steal the certificate. Of course, he wasn’t,
but he’d often experienced an irrational camera-induced guilt when he felt he
was being watched remotely in a situation like this. He decided to put the
certificate back and tried rather ineptly to reinsert it into the plastic
sleeve. After several abortive attempts, the decision was made for him – he
would buy it. He took the certificate to the payment desk.
‘I’d like to buy this certificate please. Sorry … I couldn’t
seem to get it back into its sleeve.’
A very elderly lady assistant smiled at his apology.
‘Let’s have a look,’ she said. ‘It was probably folded.’ Peter noticed that she
had a sort of ‘Women’s Institute’ air to her manner and appearance, typical of
a breed of ladies who inhabit the country towns and villages of England. Yet
despite having shaky hands, she somehow deftly slid it back into its protective
cover. From his wallet, he gave her a crisp five-pound note and in return
received a simple brown paper bag, into which the assistant had popped the
slightly faded certificate, thoughtfully taping over the opening.
Out he went into the cold late afternoon in January 2011.
The light was fading. He felt elated but was not quite sure why. Maybe it was
because he had removed the certificate from public view. He was protecting its
privacy, perhaps protecting the individuals whose lives were changed forever
when they left the church on that Saturday in January 1900. They left with this
certificate too, no doubt guarded safely, but surely not in a brown paper bag?
What had happened afterwards? If the certificate could tell a story, what might
As he walked to the car, he pondered the circumstances and
events of more than 100 years ago. By the time he had turned on the ignition,
Peter Sefton had decided to see if he could find out.
Rose heard the clock, one floor below, strike half past six. It
was still dark outside and time
to get up. She pushed
back the bed covers and stepped onto the creaky floorboards of her small attic
bedroom. The other bedrooms were still silent. She was the first of the ‘front
of house’ staff to rise, as was the case every morning, although the
housekeeper and servant would already have been up for some time.
She lit two candles before emptying the tepid water from her
stoneware hot water bottle into the basin. She topped up with cold water from a
jug and washed thoroughly. It was cold in the bedroom, being January in Leyton,
Essex, and the east wind blowing from the North Sea over the last few days had
reduced temperatures to well below normal. She dressed quickly, a simple neat
black dress with a white pinafore and white linen collar, almost a uniform, for
it was the dress of an employee in a drapery shop. She lived on the premises
along with five other girls who also worked in the shop downstairs.
Rose was a senior member of staff and had a room to herself.
She had worked there for eighteen months and was in charge of her own
department. She went out into the corridor, pausing and listening at the
adjacent doors before knocking gently.
‘Daisy, Hilda, Ivy, it’s time to get up. Amy, Dorothy, time
to get up.’ Breakfast was at eight. The shop opened at a quarter past nine.
One floor below, the Crockford family had their rooms, but
since purchasing a private house, Mr Crockford and his daughter, Louisa, spent
fewer nights at the shop. On the ground floor was the shop itself. Rose went
down the narrow staff staircase, passing the kitchen, where she could hear the
kettle simmering on the stove. The housekeeper, Ada Jones and the servant,
Betty, were preparing breakfast for everyone. Ada had a small room close to the
kitchen. Meanwhile, Rose reached the ground floor and slipped out of the back
entrance to the yard and the outside privy.
Thomas Crockford, master draper and owner of the building
and the business, was her employer. Louisa, now Rose’s closest friend, nagged
her father continuously about the need to improve the sanitation facilities for
the employees, but Mr Crockford’s concessions to the new century, for it was
1900, were only those that benefited and impressed the shop’s clientele. They
amounted to some very modern, if unreliable, electric lighting to the ground
floor and the installation of a limited heating system, with radiators warmed
by a coal-fired boiler, but again only for the ground floor. He had also
recently provided two water closets, one for each sex, accessed via the
changing rooms in the shop, but these were strictly out of bounds to staff.
Sidney, the shop’s porter, arrived at seven o’clock each
workday morning to riddle and stoke the boiler. It was just one of his many
duties, which also included fetching stock from the cellar, making deliveries,
and collecting goods delivered to the local train station. Aged nineteen, he
was ‘sweet’ on Rose. To Sidney, she was the prettiest girl he knew. Rose may
not have been beautiful in the classic sense, but she had a comeliness about
her which men found attractive. She was of average height, rounded in just the
right places with a trace of southern European colouring to her skin. When she
let down her long straight jet-black hair at night and combed it in front of
the mirror, she presented a vision, which any man given the opportunity to
observe would have agreed was entirely beguiling.
Sidney, generally bright and cheerful in manner, was always
ready with a cheeky comment. His father and uncle were both porters at the
local railway station, which gave him inside information on the various comings
and goings in the town. He liked to chatter and had been reprimanded sternly
from time to time by his employer, for ‘being held up with the tongue’, none
more so than when he was caught passing on some titbit of news to Rose. He
lived at home but worked for Mr Crockford on a full-time basis, as the turnover
of the business had increased steadily and warranted a permanent draper’s
porter. Rose enjoyed the fuss Sidney made of her, always wanting to help when
she needed something from one of the high cupboards or drawers. They dominated
the walls behind the counters and were faced in beautiful dark mahogany and all
marked with white printed cards indicating their contents.
The shop sold everything imaginable in the drapery line and
much more besides. The list of items stocked was almost endless and apart from
rolls of cloth and material for clothing and curtaining, the shop stocked hats,
coats, mantles, dresses, skirts, blouses, trousers, shirts, ties,
undergarments, belts, and gloves. There were several departments: Drapery,
Linen, Men’s, Women’s, and General Haberdashery.
Rose was the head of Drapery. It sounded quite grand, but in
reality, Rose and her assistant were the drapery department. Still, it was a
big step up in responsibility from her previous employer – a large fashionable
London draper situated in the West End of London – where she had spent six
years as an apprentice and then four years as one of many assistants.
Her department occupied a corner to the rear of the shop.
Apart from Daisy, she had two outworkers she could call on if needed. Rose,
although only twenty-five, dealt directly with the customers. In the matter of
curtains and drapes, she called in person, if required, to customers’
residences, in order to measure up and then afterwards to hang the finished
articles. She was ambitious and she saw her present position as a step on the
ladder to one day owning her own drapery store.
Rose had been born in Paddington in 1874, out of wedlock.
Life had been hard. She had no idea who her father was; only that he was Italian,
which was as much as her mother, Edith, knew. In order to keep them both, Edith
worked from their small rented room, making and mending clothes. Although Rose
was unaware, while she was at school, her mother, out of necessity,
occasionally supplemented their income by entertaining men. The occupation of
dressmaker was often a euphemism for prostitute in Victorian times and in the
case of Rose’s mother, the description perfectly covered both her means of
keeping a roof over their heads.
Rose worked hard at school. She was bright and by the age of
ten was fully proficient in reading, writing, and arithmetic. She was
perceptive and early on became aware of her shortcomings regarding background
and class. She listened to the way some of the other children spoke,
particularly those who came from the more affluent streets in the borough, and
at night would talk to herself, copying and practising their accents and
intonation. To call it elocution would be an exaggeration, but Rose, through
her own perseverance, managed to perfect and use, if required, an accent, which
all but hid her lowly origins and the precise location from which her life had
However, education ended prematurely for Rose. She was in
her last year at school, just thirteen and unsure what she would do, when her
mother fell gravely ill and died a short while later. Fortunately, her
schoolmistress had an acquaintance who worked at
Davis & Davis
large drapery store in Oxford Street. Rose already had some familiarity with
the jargon and the trade of drapery, certainly, as far as rolls of cloth and
dressmaking were concerned. On many occasions, she had accompanied her mother
to the local draper to buy cheap remnants and roll ends. Her schoolmistress put
in a word and secured a position for Rose as a draper’s apprentice.
When she started at the prestigious shop in Oxford
Street, Rose told any member of staff who asked that she was an orphan. It took
time for her to get over the loss of her mother, but Rose found solace in her
work. She lived in a dormitory with about forty other young women on the top
floor of the shop. The wage was low but they received free board and lodging.
They had a Welsh housekeeper who was kindly and sympathetic and tried to make
their communal accommodation ‘home’. Some were new apprentices like Rose and
others were more experienced. They came from all over the country, many were
Welsh, and Rose was one of the few local girls. The apprentices staffed the
shop, which at the time was growing rapidly into one of London’s largest. Rose
was something of a chameleon. She had a knack for getting on with people and
could adapt her manner and speech should the need arise, to the extent that she
soon fitted in and was popular with her workmates and colleagues.
It was discovered that Rose had a natural ability as a
seamstress and soon after joining, she was placed in the department that
carried out alterations and repairs to customers’ garments. Her skills improved
and later she progressed to making expensive curtains, ornate drapes, and
elaborate mantles. At the end of her apprenticeship, she remained in the
bespoke curtaining and drapes department.
London society required that interior decoration should be
of the latest mode. Large sums were expended in order to keep up with the
trends. Wealthy middle-class ladies, surrounded by servants, had little else to
do but concern themselves with renovating their homes in styles determined by
decorative fad or technical innovation. Business for the large West End drapers
Rose started to accompany her senior on visits to customers’
houses, where they would measure up and assist in the choice of pattern and
material. Rose’s confidence grew and she enjoyed working on a face-to-face
basis with the clients. These visits showed to Rose a world beyond her crowded
dormitory above the shop. She saw first-hand the wealth of London and the
sumptuous interiors of some beautiful homes. These revelations started to fuel
in her an aspiration to be more than just a draper’s assistant, and to have her
own emporium. When days were particularly hard or demanding, she consoled
herself with this thought.
The reality for an ambitious young woman in a male-dominated
world however, was somewhat at odds with Rose’s dreams. Most working-class
girls were employed in domestic service as maids and cooks or in the mills on
weaving and spinning machines. Those who were better educated and intelligent
became shop assistants, clerks, or nurses. Girls from more prosperous
backgrounds could become governesses, teachers, or authors. In general, women
looked to marriage for their financial security. Rose was different. Her eyes
were opened when she entered the beautiful homes situated on fine London
squares. Despite living in a world run by men, Rose was determined to rise
above the status in which she had been born and if necessary, she was prepared
to achieve it on her own merits. Marriage and children were not something she
yearned for. She decided early on that if possible she would be a commercial
success, determined to overcome the restrictions of a man’s world.
She worked hard and opened an account at the Post Office
Savings Bank. Her wages increased to nearly twelve pounds per year. Each week
she deposited a few shillings into her account knowing that if she was ever
going to own a business, she would need capital in order to finance it.
It was a condition of employment at the shop that female
assistants remain single. Most longed to be married and have children. Marriage
provided a means of escape.
‘How come you want to save up?’ her friend Elsie once asked.
‘I want to have my own business, maybe a drapery shop
‘What? You’re mad! You’ve got no chance. If you want to get
on you need to find a husband … that’s how I intend to get out of this place.’
‘I’m not looking to get married,’ Rose replied. ‘I’m
determined to be successful through my own endeavours.’
As the months slipped by, Rose, with more confidence and
self-assurance, was allowed by her superior to work with less supervision. Rose
realised that where she was, she was a small fish in a very large pond. She
decided that if she could find a position with a more provincial draper, she
might become the proverbial large fish in a small pond. The idea appealed to
Rose. She saw a notice in the
, which the longer-serving
members of staff were permitted to read. The paper mainly carried
advertisements for new products and lines, but there was section entitled,
‘Situations Vacant’, where employers requiring staff could advertise.
One such notice, which attracted her attention, read as
Crockford’s Drapery Emporium
of Leyton, Essex, seeks an experienced and mature drapery assistant to assume
responsibility for curtaining and drapes of a bespoke nature, for a growing
number of esteemed clients. Opportunity for advancement. References essential.
Rose knew her references were excellent. She did not
consider herself mature in age, but believed herself to be mature in
experience. Crockford’s sounded like it could be a step towards her ultimate
goal. Leyton was only about seven miles from central London and although she
had travelled little, she understood that the railway service was reliable. If
she moved to Leyton, she would be less than an hour away from the world she
currently knew, so it would be easy to return if she felt the need.
She decided to apply and posted a letter of application. A
week later, she received a response from Thomas Crockford, the proprietor,
inviting her to visit his emporium in order that he could interview her and assess
her suitability for the new position he was offering.