Part two of my 1939 Register guest blog for Find My Past: An intrepid cocoa-buyer, and Uncle Bill’s fate.
Check out Find My Past for my guest blog about family tree brick walls I demolished with The 1939 Register. Without it, I would’ve struggled to trace Uncle Bill and Cousin Madge.
Last year, I wrote about the headstones in St. George’s, Harborne, and mentioned the unusual monument to Freda Strawbridge, a young woman who died in a motorbike accident in 1936.
I’ve recently been contacted by a couple of people from the Strawbridge family – Pam, Freda’s niece, whose father was Freda’s brother. He himself was a motorbike fan too, and was injured in an accident a year before his sister’s fatal crash. Pam explained that her family really loved their motorbikes, and she sent me some wonderful photographs of the Strawbridges (see below the fold).
And not long after Pam contacted me, another Strawbridge – Karl – got in touch. Karl’s father was Freda’s cousin, and he keeps an eye on Freda’s resting place and her unusual memorial.
It’s nice to have an update – thank you, Strawbridges!
I’ve lived in Birmingham for several years, long enough to get confused sometimes when my brain forgets what the new Bull Ring shopping centre looks like when I round the corner at the end of New Street. “Where did this all come from?” it wonders for a split-second, before the buildings in front of me coalesce and I remember where I am. I still call House of Fraser by it’s old name: Rackhams. And I just can’t get used to the new Library of Birmingham (not surprising as it’s hardly open due to budget cuts).
So there I was, sitting down to watch BBC Two’s new Cold War thriller The Game. After much joshing ‘The Game is afoot! Well, nearly, iPlayer is still buffering!’ I found myself in 1970s London. Well, it’s supposed to be, but I immediately recognised Birmingham. Specifically, MI5’s headquarters, which is brutalist masterpiece Central Library. Loved and loathed, the haters are winning because the Library of Birmingham was built a year or two ago to replace it and poor old Central Library, John Madin’s concrete masterpiece, is, as I speak, being pulled down.
I’d never been to WDYTYA? Live before, and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Everyone speaks about it in excitable tones, and now that it’s held in Birmingham at the NEC, rather close to where I live, it would be rude if I didn’t go.
It was so interesting speaking to people involved in genealogy in different ways. I really learnt a lot, and by the end of the day was exhausted from wandering about from stall to stall, and absorbing lots of new information. I was, however, pepped up by an enormous scone (slathered in clotted cream and Essex’s finest Tiptree jam!) at the 1939 tearooms, which was most welcome.
On the junction of Greenfield Road and Vivian Road in Harborne, Birmingham, some refurb work has recently taken place on what was once a furniture upholsterer’s called Connolly’s. I loved looking in the window of that shop – whether it was an old chair reupholstered in surprising new fabric, or a classic art deco sofa and armchair set, there was always something in the window that grasped my attention. But this morning, what caught my eye was this brick: is it really 132 years old?
This might look like a fairly ordinary photograph brooch, but it has a secret….
Audio transcript (PDF – 40KB)
Today, I went for a wander around the churchyard at St. Peter’s in Harborne, a suburb to the west of Birmingham. No, not in Essex or Suffolk, but a wonderful old place to rummage about in nonetheless. The church has a 14th century tower, but people have probably worshipped there since Saxon times, or before – it is where St. Chad of Mercia (to whom Birmingham’s Pugin-designed Catholic cathedral is dedicated) preached. This corner of Harborne has a distinctly “village” vibe. The cricket club is just across the road, and an ancient lime tree avenue runs across the pitch, from the church to Harborne Park Road.
It’s a splendid churchyard, with stones dating back to the late 18th century with fairly legible inscriptions (which I’ll write about in later blogs). It is canopied by tall, ancient trees, so that it always seems to be in an M. R. James half-light, a liminal space where history is breathing at your shoulder.
There are several ways into the churchyard: we entered from the gate by the junction of St. Peter’s Road and Old Church Road. The graves here are from the early twentieth century, so might be an extension of the original churchyard.
We were met at once by an extraordinary memorial, which is right up by the churchyard wall, to 17-year old Freda Strawbridge, who died in 1936, “result of a motor accident”. I don’t know when this was erected, but I had always assumed that a headstone like this – well – is a bit early 21st century. Sociologists seem to attribute the fad for headstones with drawings of steam trains, aeroplanes, teddy bears and cars on them to our post-Princess Diana mindset (before 1997, I don’t remember the British leaving floral tributes at the site of fatal accidents, but nowadays, it’s a national past-time). So this stone really stuck out, and when I read the dates on it, I was actually amazed that it is so comparatively early. 1936, really?