I'm a twit too

Thursday, August 11, 2011


It was the worst winter, and I didn't want to leave the womb and then
The Beatles cheered everybody up! Top 5 in UK charts 1963.
1963 My Mum and me could have been listening to the Beatles number one hit on Radio BBC as she washed and hung out the nappies. 
The Liverpool lads headed for the bright lights of SOHO, London, with their first official photographer, Dez Hoffman.
This is RUPERT COURT - and I have discovered Mum's grandfather was born at No.6 - Son of a Tailor Journeyman.
(The Australian ex-pat Labor Party meets at the Blue Posts behind the Beatle heads!)
 Maintaining the passion for democratic socialist principles but I think I may be the odd one out amongst my kin, even though the rise and riots of the Labour movement was around them.

1893. Connecting Wardour Street Soho to Rupert Street is Rupert Court.
Soho - a district of the West End of London was infamous in the nineteenth century for every vice and legal pleasure with it's bars, brothels and theatres. It's cultural menu attracted and stimulated many a lad fresh to it's cosmopolitan flavours, it's heady mix of ideas and tantalizing debauchery! 
My Great Grandfathers and Mothers breathed in the toxic pea-soup fogs of the London air, and it didn't kill them - straight away! As I learned the many nursery rhymes, sing-a-longs at the pubs and clubs and contemporary Streets of London, little did I know  I was singing about my mum's family tree going back - the little people who serviced the elites of Westminster. 

This was the hand of cards they were dealt with.

With some relief the Clark family knew there were other folks worse off - they'd been lucky to live in the West End and not the East End! Thomas Clark and his brothers were West End boys, however the historical record shows their roots run deep along the Thames east of the Tower of London.
What could they become, growing up in the multi-cultural dynamism of London at the turn of the twentieth century? 
HENRY and ALICE CLARK  moved around like many working poor Londoners did, when new babies and jobs arrived and went. Alice also worked as a Tailoress(Census 1891). It was common for women to become part of the husband's industry, learning from his Mastery of the trade or craft. 
This can be true today for wives who take on the administration of their husband's small business or myself marrying a Master Puppeteer! Becoming Australian Puppeteers 


1889 - 19 CARNABY ST. SOHO - with his father, Henry Clark - the Grocer.
First son, HENRY EDWARD born St.Saviour Southwark.
1890 Second son JOHN HERBERT born St.Marylebone.
1891 - 26 NOEL ST - supporting his retired father.
1892 - Daughter MARGARET born Westminster register.
1893 - 6 RUPERT COURT, SOHO. 3rd son, THOMAS.
1896 - Fourth son, JAMES born, Westminster.

These addresses sound salubrious to their Great great granddaughter, born in a cosy terrace in the second largest city of England, but as Jack London observed in 1903 "nowhere in the streets of London may one escape the sight of abject poverty, while five minutes walk from almost any point will bring one to a slum".      The People of the Abyss          

By 1909 the rent for a single room in Soho could be as high as 9to 11shillings per week. As a skilled Tailor Henry Clark could expect to earn 15 shillings a week(when employed).
Alice, as typical working wife could earn 12 shillings. It was a lean existence - and very much dominated by reproductive health.
Either pregnant or giving birth to a new baby Alice didn't experience much Menstruation! Hell, what a woman...

The sewing machine revolutionised the Tailoring industry across London. Isaac Singer sold and
hired machines at 3-5pounds by weekly installments. Most of his Collectors worked from the East End.
These city kids probably woke and slept to the sounds of the SINGER.
Charles Booth's Poverty Maps of London , the writings of Sidney and Beatrice Webb on the Sweating system, and the first Independent Labour Party M.P.  Keir Hardie worked beyond the call of duty to create a situation that would improve the lives of people like the Clarks.

Woeful hovels provided by greedy and non-caring capitalists were conditions that could be improved by challenging and changing the system that brought about the injustices and inequalities in society.
In fact the disparity in wealth between a small amount of people compared to the mass led to a growing protest and demand for reform in the City of London in the late 1890's and into the new century(as the U.S.A. citizens contest the same facts and figures today between the haves and have-nots).

Outside their doors there were ways the working-classes could have some respite. 
from BBC 2007 Marie Lloyd documentary 

Nothing like a good sing-song and a laugh at your misfortunes!  Did Alice and Henry's Cockney kids find a way to sneak in to see the bright lime-lights, dreaming of one day treading the boards themselves?
In their day work for entertainers, theatre set makers, costume designers and other associated  occupations was in demand throughout London and around the country, but so far, I can see no Clark or other ancestor wanting to express themselves in public(like me!)
    Huntingdale High School Melbourne  Musical 1980 :Dr.Pimples                            

 It must be I,  who is the black sheep of the proletariat family tree!  The one who wants to display life as it is, as it was - with a vision of how it could be even better! 

DID MY GREAT GREAT GRANDPARENTS march to the Socialist drum? Did they 
Sign up to the Union and demonstrate for fair pay and an 8 hour working day? 
THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO had been written by local residents, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. 
Being a woman and a Tailoress doing piece-work to supplement the family income would cause me to agitate en masse, especially when motivated by the great female Union organisers and Suffragettes like Mary MacArthur and Ada Chew.

Or did Henry and the boys laugh at Alice if she even suggested a political notion or cause? 

It is understandable if Alice was too exhausted to participate in the great battles for socialist democracy. Keeping their sons and daughter out of trouble would be a job in itself at any Time!

London street gangs were a feature of city life. They were violent and territorial. Henry was a 42 year old Bachelor when he married Alice and would have known the temptations and follies of getting involved with the teenage hooligans who could arrive any time raiding and looting the shops of the West End. 
In 1900 he was a Manager Tailor at 8 Gresse St. Soho so the threat of raiding mobs of youths was very real. There was even the terror of an all girl gang called the Forty Elephants who were expert shoplifters! 

Living in Theatreland could be treacherous at night. Rival gangs would provoke each other in the theatre and then out of it! Who said these were the Good Old Days then?

It would be no surprise that only daughter Margaret was kept busy with domestic chores or  when she did go out to have a brotherly chaperon for safety. Jack the Ripper was a recent anxiety to Londoners. 

The Cockney Clark kids had the opportunity to go to a free school from 1892. The London School Board abolished fees and built over 400 schools over the next decade. Attendance was compulsory. There was no reason to sign documents with an X anymore.

The reality was they may have moved schools as much as they moved homes, or missed school when help was needed at home or some finished tailored pieces needed to be taken to the contractor across town. Imagine anyone trying to cross the road!

        Noisy smelly London town with Horse Manure and Iron Horse shoes clopping.


Henry junior signed up for the British Army. He didn't want to be a TAILOR. He wanted Adventure! Younger brother Thomas must have been impressed as Henry came home for leave with travel tales in his dashing uniform and strong leather boots of the Ox&Bucks regiment. 
They'd be proud of Henry, and slightly in awe of his being sent to the jewel of the British Empire(India 1911).

Henry senior would have built up contacts over the years and probably knew somebody who could give a job to his other sons as they didn't want to follow their father's trade.

By 1911 they had all shifted over to the Kensington and Chelsea borough. Henry and Alice rented two rooms at 7  Campden Street Kensington with their daughter Margaret and new husband and baby.

Thomas, at 18yrs was employed as a  House Porter of a Dressmaking Establishment, 14 Onslow Place, Kensington South. By then the call for soldiers was building - for Queen and Country - so he joined up for some action in the British Army. Maybe a little bit of Respect?

The Richmond Barracks in Dublin, Ireland was to be his posting.
There was a Thomas Clarke over there, but he was on the other side...Did Thomas know what he was going into? http://julie-mcneill.blogspot.com/2011/01/dirty-old-towns-glasgow-and-dublin-1920.html

John  found a Porter's position at a Public house, 41 BRAMLEY RD, NTH KENSINGTON (1911), plus a wife to keep life busy and meaningful.


 Margaret had already settled down to married life producing the first grandson for Henry and Alice Clark - Joseph Henry Palombo, son of an Italian immigrant - a Barber/Hairdresser. Baby Joseph would have another 8 siblings to keep him company in the next few years - and post-war 2 the Palombo family would thrive with a business selling ice-creams around Battersea Park. 

Before all that, the Palombo's went to Cambuslang, near Glasgow in Scotland. Perhaps Eduardo had family there who could provide more profitable work for their growing family? Hairdressing to Mining? Build up the wages so he could return to London and make Gelato? I don't think the miners wages were like they are now in mines of Western Australia and Queensland.


The ideology of Marxist socialism and the election of  Independent Labour MP Keir Hardie in West Ham and the class struggle may have scared my forebears, but at some point the refuge of the Roman Catholic Church led to their conversions from the Established Church of England.

One can guess Auntie Margaret becoming a Catholic for the love of  her Italian fiance. She is the one who has to bury her father at St.Peter's Cemetery Dalbeth, Scotland in 1924. Alice had died earlier in Cambuslang in 1918 after suffering for a year with uterine cancer.

                                           HENRY EDWARD CLARK (1858-1924)
                                           Tailor Journeyman to Gentlemen.

                                        An advertisement in the online collection of British Library.

Thomas would marry in a Catholic Church in 1918. Then they would travel from Dublin to Glasgow to be near family. He was married twice as a Roman Catholic - to my Great Grandmother Christina Ross in 1918 Dublin and Mary Connelly in 1932 Greenock, Scotland - where he was buried in 1934.
So my Great and Great Great Grandparents were laid to rest away from their native habitat in Scottish Lairs.
My Grandmother and her siblings were christened Catholics, boarded out by Catholic Welfare in Glasgow 1925. Kathleen Clark with an E
 The ritual of  faith taught to her by the Nuns was maintained during her life with her husband down South.

Her daughter, my Mother was brought up in a Catholic Orphanage making Mum decidedly non-Catholic. Us kids were christened Anglican because that was Dad's religion - it was the conventional thing to do and we had the convenience of a Church on the street corner
Kath Clarke's Catholic childhood

I naturally assumed a long-held maternal tradition of the Clark's being Catholic even in the often anti-Catholic environment of  the City of London, but ALICE and HENRY were married in the Church of England in Charlotte St. 1900 when it had been many years since they would have been free to marry in a Catholic Church.        

The answer to my intrigue may lie in the inflexible approach to children's legitimacy by common laws since the very early days. Religion was a controlling device(not only a self-medicating one).....

To save one's Soul from eternal damnation by seeking forgiveness of Sins may have been a motivating principle to any Religious conversion or practice, because in my virtual time machine I have discovered that my hard-working, resilient Great Great Grandparents may have felt GUILTY that their children, Henry, John, Margaret, Thomas and James were all illegitimate!

My two Grandmothers Spirits may be relieved to know Society has changed it's attitude to the children of unwed women, but if they were shameful secrets for old women in their seventies quite recently, how did Alice deal with the facts of life and laws then?

Henry and Alice's babies were born before they were married in the Established Church of
  St.John the Evangelist, Charlotte Street in 1900.

Alice was widowed in 1892 - she assumed the name of Clark in the Census of 1891 - probably to  make it appear right and proper for officialdom, so she wouldn't get disdainful looks by the collector...(like my other Gran's Grandmother!).
It was a tricky situation in those days - bastard children like my mother (and writers like Catherine Cookson) had their sense of identity and self-worth tainted by the sanctimonious.

What would Grandmother Kathleen Margaret Alice have thought of finding that her Grandmother Alice had five children born out of wedlock? Of course today this stigma has been dismissed as a religious relic. Thank goodness for the Feminist consciousness raising of the years when I grew up!

If only all these women had been able not to have secrets like they held about their pregnancies to those nameless men - the real bastards! Progress has been made, but only by the fight against the Status Quo over many years.

The Question remains - what happened to Alice's other children - the legitimate others - the London  lads of Casper and Alice Lemmer and their little sister after she hooked up with Henry Clark - the Tailor of West End?

WHAT DID THOSE KIDS DO WITH THE CARDS THEY WERE DEALT WITH IN 1892 when their half-brother Thomas Clark was born in Rupert Court, and when their Vater, Casper Lemmer died?



  1. Hi its Sophia Palombo I really enjoyed reading your account of the Clarks' in London. I am pretty shocked by the ending not knowing anything about my grand grandmother Alice other than her first name. Thank you for providing me with so much of an insight into the past but your ending was shocking!

    1. A year later I reply! sorry, I followed the Clark line to the 17th century and determined to write my version of their his and her story. Our ancestors well and truly rooted in the Tower Hamlets of Shakespeare's time.
      Re Alice - Yes I must have been shocked initially but considering the social context of survival it seems normal. You had to find a man with a decent wage to support you or it was prostitution and/or the workhouse.
      My Nan was in a similar predicament and like Alice succeeded in creating a prosperous, stable, church going respectability (and keeping their 'sins' buried) to the outside world.
      I'd still like to pursue what happened to Alice. I have a strong feeling she would have been sent out to Canada or Australia as slave labour like my mum.
      In my book about the Clarks in 17th century we see Thomasine witness the boarding of children from workhouse to the tobacco plantations of Virginia.
      For the grandchildren they should know the facts of life! keep in touchx


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