Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Amelia Long (12/08/1885 - 10/07/1960)

Everything I know about my grandmother.

Having just discovered that my paternal grandmother was a cockney from a line of cockney forebears [Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner] I thought I would share what else I have learned about her.

Millie, as she was known, was the only grandparent I ever met. Both of my mother's parents and my dad's father died before my parents even married! Dad's father died when he was only eight so he was brought up as an only child in a one-parent household meaning that Millie was even more significant in his upbringing.

Millie was a widow and lived with my parents in a self-contained flat in the first house that they bought: Spencer House, half of Spencer Perceval House, Blackheath (Grade II* listed no less!). 

This was only months after my parents married and the purchase was made possible by the proceeds from my maternal grandmother's estate - she had died only months before Mum and Dad's marriage. 

The building was divided into three flats: Millie lived in the basement flat, two sisters (sitting tenants) rented the middle floors and Mum and Dad lived on the top floor - not ideal for my Mum having to cart three infants up and down three flights of stairs.

This is Millie with me and siblings in December 1955 in that house in Blackheath. Mark (me, left), Ian (front), Jane (babe in arms).

When we moved to Kenilworth in 1956 she lived in a granny flat on the top floor of Mum and Dad's three storey house in Southbank Road. She kept herself very much to herself, although that may have been at my dad’s behest, he was keen that boundaries were respected and she had to knock before entering their rooms. We used to have regular Sunday afternoon tea and cake sessions with her upstairs in her room and watch Sooty and Sweep on her telly.  

Millie died in 1960 when I was only seven and a half so I never really got to know her. She was the first dead body I ever saw. My father decided that I was mature enough to go into her room and look at her before the undertakers came to collect her. It felt like a privilege that I was deemed mature enough to be allowed to see her. It’s better to have your first sight of a corpse in benign circumstances. I have seen a number of bodies since courtesy of working as a hospital porter one summer at Farnham General Hospital.

Doing genealogical research on ancestry.co.uk only gives you the bare bones of a person's life: dates of birth, marriage and death plus every 10 years a snapshot courtesy of the censuses. It doesn’t really flesh out the details of a persons life.

Towards the end of his life, my father Michael, did a little write-up of his mother’s life for our benefit, as follows (typed up verbatim then edited for clarity):

My Mother: Amelia "Millie"McLellan (nee Long) 

[Millie's] Father: James Long - carman, liked music, Dickens, killed stopping runaway horse

[Millie's] Mother: Alice Long (nee McKearns) - hospital nurse, very sharp and intelligent, passionately interested in politics (firm liberal), [Alice] had been a top matron at Barts  


    • 1885 born Leytonstone 
    • 1921 married [James Kennedy McLellan], age 36 
    • 1933 husband died (she was 48) 
    • 1960 died (cancer) age 74  


[Millie's] mother was told by [Millie's] school teacher, [that even] after a long severe illness, [Millie] could win scholarship but poverty meant early employment and she went into upper-class service of a young American woman in this period [who] tried to persuade [Millie] to come to America and work for her. My mother [Millie] was tempted. She had an instinctive sense of design expressed her clothes and furnishing ([the American] had seen the best in [Millie's] work). This potential could have been heightened if [Millie] had been born at a time when academic education was available.  

Life as a widow 

She had a small pension from my father [James Kennedy McLellan] (£2 10s per week, barely adequate). Ran an upmarket second-hand dress shop behind Selfridge’s with a friend in the mid-30s that closed because of economic slump. 

After living in Muswell Hill she moved to a flat in Kensington and on our marriage she lived with us (separately) in Blackheath and [later Kenilworth] where she died.  

Summary: she was devastated by my father’s death and for some reason found it difficult to make and keep friends (Why?).  

I think, deep down, that she always felt that she had potential that had somehow missed out. She had four sisters and a brother but her relationship with them was always fractured. In the early days they called her ”Lady Mill” (she told me) which says something about how they saw her. 

Objectively I admired her as a mother (She used to read Dickens to me after my father's death) but our life together had some difficulties, perhaps arising from being an only son with consequent pressure. But, she suggested I learn Spanish at school because I might join my father’s firm, dealing with the South American meat trade, but when I turned to architecture she was totally supportive and, with me, interviewed the principal at the Poly. This shows her at her very best.

Her birth certificate showing her Cockney origin being born in Leyton:

Dad told me that when he was evacuated to Buckden, Cambridgshire, because of the war (WWII) Millie found work in a private boys' school to be near her son much to his chagrin.

The bit about the fractured relationship with her siblings would explain why we never saw anything of Dad's aunts and uncle apart from my great-aunt Kit (Kathleen Grant née Long). 

It was one of Kit's daughters, Dad’s cousin Joan Budd (née Grant), so the family story goes, worked in Hatton Garden and one of the perks of the job was having the pick of the seconds when sorting pearls. Millie had a string of pearls she received as a present from Joan, later passed down to my Mum and, on the occasion of our marriage, to my wife Mary. 

We spend two family holidays in Southend with Millie's relations when I was a small boy aged about 7 or 8, probably in 1958/9, but after the second year something went down, we don't know what. That Christmas our presents were returned unopened and we never saw them again. My Mum had no idea what caused the estrangement, nor does Kit's granddaughter who I managed to track down and establish contact with.

One quirk I did find out from my research is that at some point in her life Millie decided to go by the name Mildred. She also shaved four years off her age when she got married to her husband, James McLellan, my grandfather! 

She claimed to be 32 on her marriage certificate when she was in reality aged 36. The name and age on the marriage certificate and my father’s birth certificate are in accord but differ from those on her birth and death certificates. It wouldn't be the first time a spinster has lied about her age in order not to deter a suitor.

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