Charles John & Elizabeth Hill Brown

Life stories retold by Di Rayburn

My great grandfather Charles John Smith is buried in the paupers’ section of the cemetery. He was born in N. Curry Somerset in 1850 and I first found him on a census return in a lodging house in Reading. He married Elizabeth Hill Brown [probably adopted because of her middle name, which is a surname].

Charles John Smith, on his left Eizabeth Hill Brown/Smith.

He committed suicide in 1899. I have a photocopy of the newspaper article when my great-grandfather Charles John Smith killed himself.  He was supposedly a policeman at some time in his life according to the constable who gave evidence at the inquest.  He had a silver plate in his head, which gave him bad headaches and depression. We don’t know how it happened. His daughter, Lizzie, [Mary Elizabeth Louise Smith] my grandmother, used to say he’d fallen off a ladder cleaning windows.  I couldn’t find anything about him being in the police but it could have been between the ten year census returns.

At the time of his death in 1899 he was working at Cock’s pickle factory, which was in Kings Rd.

My gran, Lizzy Gaines, was the only child. She was born in 1889 when Charles and Elizabeth were living in Oxford Rd. with the Brown family. They moved to Hosier St., and it was there that he killed himself.  He was lying on the kitchen floor and had cut his throat. She was ten and she and her mother were in the house when he did it, but she never, ever said a word about the event.

Because he killed himself ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ my mum, who was the world’s worst worrier, didn’t like gran talking about it because she was convinced insanity ran in families, and in those days it was something you didn’t talk about. As it happens, she didn’t feel so bad about it when I read the inquest findings and explained the plate in his head was the most likely reason he’d ended his life. That he wasn’t ‘mad’.   

Lizzie and g.granny Smith moved to Katesgrove along with Samuel Frederick Brown, who was g.granny Smith’s [adoptive?] father. According to the 1910 census she was working as a tin washer, and he, although he was over eighty, was still cutting hair. He’d been a hairdresser in Hosier St for most of his life.

Centre Elizabeth Hill Brown/Smith with Lizzy Smith/Gaines and child Phyliss Lee Web [adopted]

I am guessing her health suffered and she had to go on the Parish. She was offered an almshouse in Castle St, but they wouldn’t support my gran who was twelve by then, and she was sent to London to work in a big house as a scullery maid.

G. granny Smith fought the decision, but had to give in in the end. She was assured Lizzy would be working for a well off family who would take good care of her, but that wasn’t the case.

When G. Granny Smith finally got enough money to go to London to see Lizzy she was appalled at the state of her. She was pale, with dark shadows under her eyes, her hair was knotted and tangled, her clothes were dirty and she’d lost weight. 

G. Granny Smith saw red, and had a grand set-to with the butler. Despite the threat that my gran wouldn’t get a reference if she was taken away, and without a reference no-one would employ her, they came back to Reading and I don’t know how, but g.granny Smith got Lizzie a position as kitchen maid in a doctor’s house in Burghfield where she quickly rose to the position of assistant cook.

Some years ago I wanted to check the record of g.granny Smith being on the Parish, but the records were closed at the time. They will be open now and I’m hoping I can take a look at them before I pop my clogs.

Great granny Smith died in Wolseley St. In 1928. I have her death cert so you’re welcome to photocopy it. 

She moved in with Lizzie when Lizzie married George Gaines from Garnet St.

He worked at Huntley and Palmers all his life and lost a leg during WW1. George Junior married Lizzie. They had a stormy relationship. My gran got pregnant, so it was a ‘shotgun’ marriage with a lot of recriminations. Sadly the baby, a little girl named Doris Laura born in 1909 died at around a month old. Gran told me that when it was time to register the baby’s birth, George didn’t want to do it, and she had no-one to leave the baby with. I assume in those days fathers didn’t watch their offspring while mother popped out to do an errand. So, as gran freely admitted and bitterly regretted, in exasperation she bundled the baby up [it was bitterly cold and foggy] and walked them to the Registrar’s which was in Chatham St. I suppose it was inevitable the baby caught cold and died. She will almost certainly be in the paupers’ section.

While Lizzie worked, g.granny Smith looked after my mother Dora, who was born in 1921. Mum idolised her and was shattered when she died.  

I believe Lizzie tried to make arrangements to pay for a headstone, but couldn’t keep it up, so I’m not sure if GGS would be buried in the paupers’ section or not.

Charlotte Reeves and Alfred Elderfield

My paternal g.g. grandparents Charlotte Reeves and Alfred Elderfield are also in the paupers’ section. They lived in Coley for many years. He did various jobs at the brick works, the brewery, and at Huntley and Palmers. She was a washerwoman.  She was at least fifteen years older than him but they died within a short time of each other in the Workhouse in Oxford Rd. in 1900. On her death certificate it states Charlotte died of old age and exhaustion. They had a son, Henry [is that correct?].  

Ann Pearson (nee Elderfield)

The lady on the front cover of the original Talking Coley book is my great grandmother Ann Pearson/Elderfield and her husband Henry. I found her grave. She is buried in section 74 with Henry and her son – a Pearson – from a previous marriage. I had lost the original photograph and scan, but recently found the scan.

Henry and Ann Wickens/Elderfield

Ellen and George Gaines

If there is a burial of Ellen Gaines 1860 – 1920 w/o George 1861 – 1951.  They are my maternal g.grandparents.  

They lived in Union court in Coley where my grandfather, also George, was born in 1889. They had a large family and later moved to Garnet Street. They blamed my gran Lizzie for the pregnancy and when George and Lizzie separated In 1929, would have nothing to do with her or my mum although they only lived around the corner from us.  My g.grandfather George went to live with one of his daughters in Brook St, and I can remember when word got to my mum that he was very ill. We went around to see him but they said he was too ill to see anyone. In later years I asked my mum if I’d ever seen him, and she said he used to regularly walk along Wolseley St. when I was in the front garden playing and he’d never even look my way.

It was hurtful because gran and granddad, although they’d separated so many years ago stayed in touch and granddad used to give gran money to buy mum any clothes she might need. He also made a monthly allowance for gran, which he carried on paying until his death in around 1964/5. She would knit him socks because his old-fashioned wooden leg and foot used to quickly wear out the heel of shop-bought ones. He’d send her little notes [I still have some] saying could she run him up some more.

When her mother died my gran found it hard to cope with family responsibilities from what mum told me but with what happened in her childhood it’s no wonder. Sadly though it gave my mum a horrible childhood.  Despite that when mum married, she and dad asked gran to live with them and she straightened her act out.  She worked at Bradley and Bliss as a bottle washer from the 1940s until she was forcibly retired due to her age in 1962 aged 73. In that whole time she refused to take her due holidays fearing they might find someone better to take her place, and she didn’t take a single day off sick for the same reason. When she finally gave in and needed a doctor, they didn’t have any record of her. She’d registered with them when the NHS came in, but because she never saw them, they thought she’d moved away and had taken her off the register. 

She drank a couple of glasses of Guinness every day and swore that was what kept her going. When she could no longer make the daily walk to her pub The Blue Lion in Wolseley St, she got mum to get a couple of crates delivered from the brewery much to mum’s shame.  She died in 1967.  

Buried in Section 31, Row B, Number 30