Saturday, 7 July 2012


By 1911, the family fortunes had improved. The Census record finds the Blaney family at 45 Middleton Road, Kings Heath. The family included Harry, Jane and their children; William is aged fifteen, Elizabeth is fourteen, Edwin is ten, Albert six and Stanley five years old.

45 Middleton Rd.
They also have a boarder named Alfred Gibbs who is a fifty-four year old widowed frame maker. He is likely Jane’s brother-in-law. Her sister Matilda, whose death is registered in January-April 1911, was married to Albert Gibbs who in the 1901 census was shown as a frame maker. It was not unusual for working class families to have a boarder if there was enough room in the home and sometimes the boarder was a relative. It is often helpful to the family history researcher when this is the case.

While in 1901 they were living in a crowded three room back-to-back house on Ryland Road in Birmingham, ten years later Harry had a more skilled occupation and there were three family members working in the household. Likely this along with some income from a boarder enabled them to live in this six room row house. The family had grown between 1901 and 1911 with the birth of two additional sons, Albert in 1904 & Stanley in 1906.

At the turn of the century Kings Heath was a growing and prosperous area just outside the city of Birmingham. Most of the residents of Kings Heath were working class with poor local wages except those working in the workshops and factories in Birmingham. There were eight passenger trains travelling to Birmingham daily before 9:00am. After being introduced in 1901, electric trams soon became plentiful providing frequent and economical transportation around Kings Heath and to Birmingham.

Elizabeth's father, Harry was age thirty five and working as a leather worker for a bicycle saddle maker, likely located in Birmingham. Harry's father had been a skilled equestrian saddler. Later in life Harry would become a foreman in the cutting room of the Lycett Saddle Company making bicycle saddles.

Jane Blaney was thirty-three on census day, the mother of five children, the youngest being five years old.

Son William was working as a brass turner for a clock maker. A turner is someone who machines (cuts out) brass parts to be used in this case in the manufacture of clocks. 

At fourteen, Elizabeth was working as a pinafore machinist and it is unknown how long she had been running a sewing machine. Some girls were employed as early as twelve years of age. A pinafore was a sleeveless garment worn by girls as an apron over a dress. It could easily be removed for washing, keeping the dress clean longer.  Girls who worked in the dressmaking trades laboured many hours a day for little pay but the choice of occupation for the working class girl was limited to domestic service, shop work, or dressmaking.

Elementary School leaving age at the time was twelve years old which was changed in 1918 to age fourteen.  The 1911 National Census showed that only 8% of fourteen and fifteen year olds were still in school. Many young sons and daughters like William and Elizabeth were working to contribute to the family income.

Both of Elizabeth’s grandmothers were living in 1911. Her maternal grandmother Martha (Bellingham) Elcocks, was a widowed pensioner, aged seventy-four, living about five miles away from Harry & Jane's family, on Grant Street in Birmingham.

Her husband William Elcocks had died April 1910 at the age of seventy-eight. The census record shows she was married for fifty-seven years and bore twelve children, eight of whom were still living in 1911. She also had a lodger, Miss Ester Cope, age fifty-eight, who was single and working as a Pinafore Presser.

Elizabeth’s paternal grandmother Ellen Elizabeth (Langley) Blaney was living, but I have been unable to find her in the 1911 census. She was a widow, her husband Edward/Edwin having died in 1885 of Phthisis Exhaustion (T.B.) at the age of fifty-one. In 1901 Ellen Elizabeth was living with her daughter and son-in law, Joseph and Elizabeth Priestmall, in Birmingham and she died in Birmingham in the spring of 1915. 

On August 15th 1911 at the age of 15½, William joined the Royal Navy. His naval record shows he entered at a Boy II rating which means he was between 15 and 17 years of age and on a training ship. This was conditional on his adequate physical height, weight, medical fitness and evidence of being of good character. Harry & Jane would have signed a declaration that William would serve in the navy for a minimum period (usually 12 years). 

On March 28, 1912 William was promoted to Boy 1st class and granted a pay raise. This was the rating given a boy aged 16 to 18 under training, who had previously served for at least 9 months rated as Boy II, had shown proficiency in seamanship and accumulated at least one good conduct badge. William’s military record held at the UK National Archives only outlines his service until 1928 at which time he held the rank of Petty Officer. He would later also serve in WWII. He was in the Royal Navy in 1943, when he visited his sister Elizabeth in Toronto Canada, during the war.

While the class system was very rigid in The Edwardian era (1901-1910), economic and social changes created an environment in which there was more social mobility. There was more attention to the plight of the poor and the status of women. There were increased economic opportunities as result of rapid industrialization and more access to transportation. Of course, more change lay ahead with the coming of WWI which began in 1914.                                                                    

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