My Family History
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Frank BALL (1867 - 1943)
Grandpa was born in 1867 in Edmund Street, in the very centre of Birmingham. He was the son of Robert and Elizabeth Ball (née Adie). Little is known of Grandpa's early life. He had two brothers, Jim and Bill, and two sisters, Ada and Emma. In March 1896, when he was 28 years old, he married my Grandma, Alice Stenson. Nine months later, their first child (my Dad) was born. Four years later (in 1900) their second child, Alice Victoria (my Aunt Alice) was born.
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For many years, Grandpa worked as a railway porter at New Street Station, Birmingham, employed by the London Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway Company. He loaded and unloaded goods from the wagons, and helped passengers with their luggage.
The picture (below left), taken in the late 1920s, shows Grandpa loading milk churns onto a platform trolley at New Street Station. During his employment, Grandpa built up a regular clientele of commercial travellers (salesmen), whom he would meet from the train. Following a strike, he decided to work independently of the railway company, and for the rest of his working life he portered for his regulars, carrying the suitcases containing their wares, between the railway station and their hotels.
Grandpa retired in the mid 1930s. He was present at Mom and Dad's wedding in 1939 (shown here with Grandma Ball and their daughter, my Aunt Alice), but soon after this he developed cancer of the prostate gland and died in agony in 1943.
Grandpa Ball died in the April, two months before my third birthday, so I have very few first-hand memories of him. My clearest memory is of playing the board game Monopoly with him at his home in Ivy Road, Handsworth, then a smart Birmingham suburb. I recall wondering why he wouldn't let me have any "red houses" on my properties. I was too young to understand the difference between the green tokens (houses) and the red tokens (hotels)!
Alice STENSON (1875 - 1957)
My Grandma was born in 1875 in a back-street "court" off Garbett Street in the Ladywood district of Birmingham. She was one of the ten children of Charles Lacy Stenson and Jane Stenson (née Hughes). Grandma had five brothers and four sisters.
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At the time of the 1891 census, when she was 16 (see right), she was living with her parents in Ford Street, Hockley (Birmingham), not far from Soho Wharf, home of her husband-to-be Frank Ball. Her occupation is recorded as "Pencil case maker".
Mom recalled that she first met Grandma around 1917 at Villa Road Methodist Church, Handsworth, where Grandma used to do cleaning.
In the early 1930s, with the help of capital loaned by a family friend, Grandma started running a haberdashery business based at her home. By the late '30s, she became part owner of a haberdashery store called "The Wool Shop" in Soho Road, Handsworth, which she ran with the help of her daughter, my Aunt Alice. The wool shop was renamed "Alicia" and the business continued into the 1950s when eventually, it was sold.
Grandma's daughter Alice married late in life, when she was 53, rather against Grandma's wishes. By this time (1953), Grandma's health had deteriorated due to chronic bronchitis and heart failure (her legs were always very swollen). She died in 1957, aged 82, and is buried with her husband (Grandpa Ball) and her son (my Dad) in the family grave at Handsworth Cemetery, Birmingham.
I remember Grandma Ball very well. She had a rather thin "pipey" voice with a strong "Brummy" (Birmingham) accent; she used to call buses "buzzes". She used to call me her "little man", but I was never as close to Grandma Ball as I was to my Nan. The picture (left) was taken in 1947 in the back garden of Grandma's house. It shows Grandma holding my baby brother on her lap, with Dad behind her and me (aged 7) on her right.
When I was little, Dad would take me for a walk every Sunday morning to visit Grandma and Aunt Alice. It was about a mile from where we lived. Grandma's house was on the corner of Ivy Road and Whitehall Road in Handsworth. It was called "The Gables" and it seemed a very big house compared with our own home with Nan in Markby Road. The house had three floors, and had been built in the days when people had servants - and it had a large back garden. Grandma had a dog called Mickey... and she had a telephone, which was considered "posh" in those days! Grandma and Aunt Alice had several hand-operated button presses in the house because they used to press-assemble buttons at home using metal components covered with fabric. I thought these presses were wonderful playthings and I used to spend hours spinning the handle and making the screw press move up and down. I also remember that Grandma always made tea far too strong for me. It was awful - and there were always horrible tea leaves in the bottom of the cup.
Ernest Arthur NEALE (1872 - 1922)
I never knew my Grandpa Neale. He died 18 years before I was born, but people tell me that I bear a family resemblance to him. Click here and judge for yourself.
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Grandpa was born in Sparkbrook, Aston, Birmingham. He was always known by his second name "Arthur", though Mom said that once his children were born, he was known as "Dadda" at home. Even his wife called him Dadda!
Grandpa's parentage is a mystery which will probably never be solved. His mother was Sarah Ann Neale (née Thompson), but her husband (John Neale) died in 1870, two years before Grandpa's birth, and although his birth certificate confirms his mother's name, there is no name entered for his father. On Grandpa's marriage certificate, he gives his father's name as John Neale and one wonders whether he was ever told that John could not possibly have been his father.
As a boy, Grandpa lived with his widowed mother at her grocery shop in the Nechells district of Birmingham, and he went to the nearby Loxton Street School. He left school when he was 14 and worked in the office of the Birmingham Post local newspaper. He then accepted an apprenticeship at the London store called Derry and Tom's, and trained as a buyer. He visited toy exhibitions in Germany and then got a job at Gamage's toy store in London, but his mother wanted him to live at home so he moved back to Birmingham and worked in toy shops there. At this time, Grandpa's girl friend was Polly Mountford who worked with him at Barnby's toy shop in the centre of Birmingham.
In about 1898, Grandpa went on holiday to the Isle of Man, and it was while he was there that he first met the girl who was to become his wife. She was Frances ("Fanny") Kelly and she was later to become my Nan.
After the holiday was over, they kept in touch by writing to each other, and about a year later, Nan met him again when she came over to Birmingham with her father who was visiting his sister-in-law. After this meeting, the relationship became more serious. Grandpa made up his mind to marry Fanny Kelly so he accepted an offer to manage an off-licence store called Fulham Stores in Stoney Lane, Sparkbook, Birmingham.
Grandpa and Nan were married at Kirk Braddan Church in the Isle of Man in 1902, and Nan left her beloved Island to begin married life at Fulham Stores (see left). Over the next six years they had three children: Mona Stella - my Mom (in 1903), John Wilfrid - my Uncle Wilf (in 1907) and Kathleen Lucy - my Auntie Kath (in 1908).
In 1912, Grandpa left the Fulham Stores business, moved the family to a private house near to where his mother lived, and got a job in insurance, first doing the rounds as a collector, and then as an inspector working in the office. But after two years, Grandpa had the chance to become the landlord of a large public house called the Talbot Inn in the Winson Green district of Birmingham. The Talbot was an old coaching inn and had lots of room where the family could live, and a large garden, so in August 1914, the Neales moved to "The Talbot".
Soon afterwards, the Great War of 1914-1918 began and by the end of the war as well as running the Talbot, Grandpa was working at an engineering works manufacturing weapons. In 1920, the brewery which owned the Talbot complained that business had fallen off and Grandpa's licence was withdrawn so he and his family had to move out. They went to live with Nan's widowed sister Lizzie, who had come over to Birmingham with her family in 1917 after her husband died. In the post-war recession, Grandpa could only get work as a factory warehouseman and his income was not enough to support his wife and family. Grandpa's liking for alcohol, which he had never been able to resist as a publican, now developed into alcoholism. On the morning of March 1st, 1922, he set out for work .... and never returned! He was missing for 10 days. This must have been a terrible time for his wife and family. Then on March 11th a man's body was found in a canal near the route he used to take when he walked to work.
Nan had to go to the police station at Smethwick near Birmingham to identify the body - it was Grandpa!
The coronor's verdict at the inquest was that he had taken his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed. His death certificate is more blunt, recording the cause of death as "Drowning – suicide whilst insane". He was just 49 years old.
Frances "Fanny" Ruth KELLY (1880 - 1970)
Fanny Kelly, my Nan, was born in Douglas, Isle of Man, in March 1880. She was the youngest of the ten children born to John and Betsy Kelly (née Corlett), four of whom died in infancy. She had two sisters, three brothers and one adopted brother.
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Nan was brought up in Douglas, in a respected, well-to-do middle-class family. Her father was a Town Commissioner and a successful businessman. He'd earned his money in the building trade which was booming in the late 19th century. Nan was well educated and although she grew up in a house which always had servants, her mother made sure she acquired all the practical skills needed to look after a household and a family of her own.
One of the Kellys' neighbours was John Miller Nicholson (1840-1913), a famous Manx water-colour artist and photographer. One of Nan's fellow pupils at school was Haydn Wood (1882-1959), composer of many light orchestral works but perhaps best remembered for a ballad – the timeless classic "Roses of Picardy". Nan herself was an accomplished pianist.
As a child, Nan had eye problems and when she was seven years old, her mother took her to Liverpool, England to see a specialist about ulcers which had developed on her eyes. In these pictures, Nan was eight years old (left) and twelve years old (right).
Nan met Ernest Arthur Neale, her husband-to-be, in Douglas when he was on holiday from Birmingham, England. They married in April 1902 when she was 22 and went to live in Birmingham. Grandpa Neale used to call his wife "Plum".
For the first sixteen years of their married life, Nan and Grandpa Neale managed quite well financially, and they were able to employ a "girl" (servant) to help Nan with the housework. This was the kind of life she'd been used to at home in the Isle of Man. When things became more difficult because of the Great War of 1914-1918, the Neale family were no longer able to maintain the same lifestyle and their standard of living fell. Nan's parents over on the Isle of Man died in 1916 and 1917, but Nan received very little of their estate, most of it going to the eldest son, Nan's brother Tom Kelly.
When the Neale family were forced to leave the Talbot Inn in 1920, they moved in with Nan's sister Lizzie Taggart at Markby Road in the Winson Green district of Birmingham, but after about six months they managed to rent their own very small back-to-back terraced house in the same street. The houses in Markby Road had been built at the beginning of the century for industrial workers. They had no bathroom, no indoor toilet, and no hot water. This was little better than a slum - very far removed from what Nan had been used to!
Nan was a very proud lady - and these conditions must have been very hard for her to accept. Maybe this was one of the reasons Grandpa Neale was driven to take his own life?
After his death, life became even more difficult for the Neale family. Nan had to pawn some of her treasured items of jewellery - things that Grandpa had given her. She was too proud to go to the pawn shop herself, so she used to send my Mom instead! Nan was never able to find the money to buy the things back from the pawn shop.
Nan's son Wilf got married and left home in 1935, and her daughter Kath married a year later and also left. In 1938, Nan's beloved elder sister Lizzie, who lived a few doors away, died, leaving five surviving grown-up children. To them Nan was "Aunt Fanny" and she became the head of the Kelly clan in England.
Nan's elder brother Tom was over on the Isle of Man, too far away to be of any practical help to the family in England.
In 1939, Mom and Dad got married, and had little choice but to set up home with Nan in her tiny terraced house in Markby Road. Mom and Nan had a very close relationship, which must have made things rather difficult for my Dad. But for me, it was great having Nan around all the time. She was very loving and probably spoilt me something terrible! I always knew her as "Nanna" or "Nan" for short. In Birmingham, this was a common name for a grandma, and it helped me to distinguish her from my other grandma whom I called "Grandma Ball".
In that tiny house in Markby Road, we survived the very worst that the World War 2 German bombers could rain down on us. When the air raid siren wailed out its warning, we'd scuttle down into the "Anderson Shelter" erected in the back yard and shared with our next-door neighbours, the Mullins.
After the war, Nan would sometimes come with us on our summer holidays - usually to Rhyl in North Wales, where the picture (left) was taken in 1945. Nan was always there when we were in trouble. We lived with her, in her house at 30 Markby Road, Winson Green, Birmingham until she died in 1970.
After the death of her brother Tom in 1959, Nan became the official 'head of the Kelly clan' and our house at Markby Road was often visited by various members of the family to see their much respected and much loved "Aunt Fanny". At the time, I found this very confusing because I had little idea who these people were, and what their relationship was to Nan.
Nan's health was surprisingly good until she was in her late 80s. When she was about 85, she developed cataracts on both eyes and was too frightened to have an operation. As she began to lose her sight she seemed also to lose her other faculties and for the final two years of her life she was bedridden, incontinent, and increasingly senile. Today we would say she had Alzheimer's disease, but in those days it was called senile decay. In the end it was a blessed relief when, in September 1970, she developed pneumonia, was admitted to hospital, and died a few days later aged 90. Nan is buried with Grandpa Neale and with her daughter (my Mom) at Handsworth Cemetery, Birmingham.
The very last photograph of Nan was taken in 1968 when she was 88 years old (see right).
Although she died over 40 years ago, Nan is still very much alive in my heart. I can remember lots of things that she did for me, games she played with me as a child, and the love she gave me. I can hear her voice, with its Manx accent still strong even after nearly 70 years of living in Birmingham away from her beloved Isle of Man. And I can recall some of the Manx sayings she would use. Thankfully, I made a tape recording of a family get-together at Markby Road on Christmas Day, 1965. I sometimes play the recording (now on CD) and listen for Nan's voice as she joins in the conversation. Click here to hear a brief sound sample of Nan saying "That's Manx, that is!".
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This page last updated 15 November 2011