April 13, 2013

Grandpa Hiram's Book

I am joining Claudia's A Favourite Thing party at Mockingbird Hill Cottage today.  One of my favourite possessions is a book that belonged to my Grandfather - "Dickens Digest".  My Dad gave it to me, along with a picture of my Grandpa, when I was in Grade 9.  I had never known my Grandfather as he had died when I was a baby.

These were the two mementos I had of a Grandfather I couldn't remember.

My Grandpa was a chauffeur at the Canadian Embassy in Washington during the 40's.

Grandpa on the left

When I asked my Dad about Grandpa, I heard a very sad story.  My Grandpa was born in Otley, Yorkshire in 1892.  He was the youngest of four children born to John and Sarah Shaw.  John was a butcher who never seemed to get ahead in life, although it appeared he was given a lot of support, financial and otherwise by his family.  He lived next door to his parents.

Grandpa's Mom Sarah died 2 days after Christmas in 1898 when he was only 6 years old.  By 1904, he was homeless.

poor homeless waif

His Grandma Shaw tried to help with the children and they lived with her until she became destitute in 1904 at age 73 and had to go into the workhouse.

Union Workhouse

Once his Grandma went into the workhouse, the family had no where to live and were split up.

This is where Grandpa lived until he was homeless

So in 1904, Hiram is 12 years old and homeless.  He is placed in the Barnardo orphanage.  His Dad lived for 13 more years and died right after Christmas in 1917.  His older brother Joseph was 17 in 1904 and the story goes that he climbed up a lamp post to light his cigarette.  An organ grinder and his monkey were walking by, Joseph threw a stone and killed the monkey.  He ran away and joined the army to avoid arrest.  He married Rhoda Critchley in 1917 and she died in 1930.  He committed suicide the following year and his worldly possessions and a little over 155 pounds were left to her parents.

His oldest sister, Martha Ann was 20 and living with a cousin in 1904.  Annie married John White when she was 25.  My Dad looked her up when he was in England during the war.  She invited him to a pub she was running.  He thought he was invited to visit as a long lost relative but instead he was a "paying guest". Annie wasn't interested in what had happened to Hiram.  All she wanted was Dad's money and to know if she had any "rich" relatives in Canada.  It was a very heartbreaking visit for my Dad.  I remember him describing that day very bitterly.

Hiram's other sister, Elizabeth (my middle name) was 14 years old when she lost her home and was placed in service with a Miss Mathers in Westgate.  This was the same location where Annie was living with a cousin and Barnardo's thought Elizabeth was in service with a relative so it could have been the same house.

So poor Hiram was 12 years old in 1904 and the comments on his Barnardo file said he was deemed "in danger of becoming altogether demoralized" and was out of control and refusing to go to school.  The superintendent investigated and found that Hiram's father was an only child and started life with excellent prospects.  He had a butchery business but that failed and he was apparently an ne'er-do-well who spent his life draining his father's bank account (his father was only a weaver so not wealthy) until his mother was left destitute in the workhouse. So Hiram was admitted to the orphanage and 4 years later it was decided he would be sent to Canada as basically an indentured servant to a farmer.  The reports from Barnardo's are glowing with how well he was doing and that he was happy and earning good wages but Dad told me a different story.  Grandpa was forced to work every day from sun up to sun down and was treated harshly and had to sleep in an unheated shed.  But by 1912, he is working at Canadian General Electric and the following year he married Annie Goselin (wedding picture below).  They had 7 children - 4 boys including my Dad and 3 girls.

Here he is at Mom and Dad's wedding in 1946.  Mom is on the right and my Aunt Lil (her older sister) is on the left.  I remember asking Mom about this picture because it looked like Lil was wearing a wedding dress too.  She said that was Lil's wedding dress.  She got married before Mom and in 1946, there was no money for bridesmaid dresses so she wore her wedding dress too.  I would have hated that but to Mom, it seemed to be a matter of course.  I'll close with a picture of Mom and Dad at a party in our rec room during the 60's.  Sure looks like they were having a good time so all's well that ends well!



  1. Really interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I never knew my maternal grandfather either. He died long before I was born. I only have a few photos of him and nothing that belonged to him. Your Dickens Digest is a real treasure and you are lucky to have it.

    Big Hugs,
    Susan and Bentley

  3. Morning, so interesting, love reading family history and seeing the pictures.....thanks, Francine.

  4. Julie, this story touched my heart. Your grandfather and his family certainly suffered very hard times. It puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I am so glad you have the Dickens Digest to remember him by. My paternal grandparents died before I was born, so I didn't know them - only my maternal grandparents.

    Thanks so much for joining in this week.


  5. What a sad tale of loss and hardship for a young boy. It's a great testament that he rose above poverty, neglect and harsh treatment to build a life and family! Those are great treasures for you to cherish.

  6. It is hard to imagine living through these experiences and not only surviving but finding happiness in a foreign country. Well done and so interesting


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