The Foreman Family History Part 3


Herbert Arthur Foreman 1870-1934

and

Emma Watson 1873-1960

Thomas’s death must have had a profound affect on the family, he had struck out on his own after leaving the Navy and started a new life for his family in South London.  But at the age of 63 he was gone. There were cousins north of the river in the east end, but it was the South London in Battersea and Clapham area that the Family grew, and learned to be self sufficient.  They had to be, Thomas and Emily had had seven children on a Blacksmith’s wage, and Herbert and and Emma would have thirteen children on a labourer’s wage.  Times were going to be tough.

Herbert grew up at a time of massive change in Battersea, at the turn of the 1800s the population of Battersea had been a few thousand labourers, market gardeners, and some Gentry, by the time Herbert was born it had risen to about a hundred thousand, the gentry had gone, selling the leases of their land and mansions to speculators and railway men, the railways proliferated, small scale industry followed, and tens of thousands of houses were needed for the workers, rows of small estate houses were thrown up quickly and rented out to the working classes, by the time herbert was a teenager all the market gardens and virtually all the gentry’s houses were were gone, bricks and mortar, iron railways, and cobbled streets had taken over.

Herbert Arthur worked as a Carman, driving carts, a common trade all over London, the equivalent of a van driver today.  He and his family moved frequently, mostly in Battersea, but lived for a while in the early 1890s at Canal Bank in Peckham, literally alongside the Surrey Canal, an interesting, almost rural part of Peckham with a slower pace about it reflected in the leisurely comings and goings of the red sailed Thames barges and long canal boats that plied the quiet back water.  It does make you wonder if Herbert ever told stories to his wife Emma that he had been told by his father and grandfather of the Thames barges and smugglers of the family’s life on Faversham Creek, dodging the revenue men.  Nostalgia aside, Herbert slaved in the local surrey docks and wharfs as a Sawyer in the Deal (Timber) yards.   The family only stayed in Peckham for a year or two, long enough for their first child Ethel Annie to be born, and soon moved back to the family home turf in Battersea, where Herbert gave up the backbreaking sawyer job, and went back to being a Carman.  the family would spend the rest of their days in Battersea.

Between 1894 and 1913 the couple would have a further twelve children in Battersea, which must have been a massive struggle, especially as Herbert worked between 1895 and 1914 as a Labourer, often for a Bricklayer.  This again is hard work, all day in the open lugging bricks and mortar up and down ladders all day, building big hard muscles, and an ability to take care of himself, albeit he must have been dirty and exhausted at every working day.

The family’s poverty was reflected in their constant moves in the streets of Battersea, between lodging houses in the years between 1894 and 1915 no less than ten times that we know of, barely living in the same house for a year at a time.  Battersea became a Metropoltan Borough in 1900, with money and decision making being devolved to the local Council who were quick to start making improvements to the area, building an electricity generating station and updating some of the street lighting from gas to electricity.  They also built a public baths for the many working people in the older houses who had no bathrooms or hot water, and of course well maintained council houses were built.  These improvements would continue during the next decades, a testament to what can be done when decisions and budgets are taken away from central government and devolved to locally accountable decision makers.

Whereas the First World War brought tragedy to many families, for Herbert and his burgeoning brood it was a time of opportunity.  Herbert himself was slightly too old to be conscripted, and fortunately his first four children were all girls, meaning that his sons were just too young to be called up.  Couple this with the fact that most able bodied Labourers were now being blown to bits in France and Flanders, and Herbert, for once in his life would gain some good fortune.

Good fortune is a relative term, he was now working as a Labourer in the Gas Works, a better job than he had had before, but still a tough one, stoking furnaces with coal, and emptying them of of the residue left after the coal gas had been driven off for lighting and heating the homes and Industry of Battersea.  At least he was now working indoors, and would never be cold at work, quite the reverse.  He was also working in an environment composed to a large extent of older men and young able bodied women, who, for the first time were being given roles in what had been male dominated industry.  What Herbert made of this we don’t know.

This new stability is reflected in the family settling at 22 Sheepcote Lane Battersea, where they would stay for decades, living with the active socialism of the various Trades Union men and women living in the same Lane.  The Lane itself was parallel to the omnipresent railway line, and the family would’ve heard the trains rattling by night and day.

For the rest of Herbert’s life from 1919 till 1934, and for at least another generation after this, the family lived on in Sheepcote Lane, a rare degree of stability.  Emma would outlive Herbert by many years dieing in 1960.

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