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A Headache from Start to Finish
by Kevin Herridge

Part Two

What did I know of my grandfather? Only what dad had told me. He had been put in the “boy’s navy” when quite young and was on the training ship ‘Ganges’ or ‘Arethusa’. He served for some time in the Navy although it was not clear if that was Merchant or Royal. Lord SHAFTESBURY had set up a charity in 1866 to try and rescue some of the many boys who were homeless in London. He invited 200 to a “feast” and asked if any were interested in training as seamen on a ship to be anchored in the River Thames. The response was overwhelming from these “wild Arabs” and the hull of a ship, the 50 gun frigate “Chichester,” was acquired for the purpose. Within two to three years 400 boys had been drafted to the ship and many more applied. This caused the Committee to consider expanding. The Baroness BURDETT COUTTS gave five thousand pounds towards this undertaking and the new ship (T. S. “Arethusa”) was loaned by the Admiralty. The “Arethusa” boys were much sought after by Captains and owners of ships because of their high level of training. This could be part of the reason why “Britain ruled the waves” in Victorian times. The steamships were taking over and the Committee had to move with the times as less men were needed to crew the ships. More specialist training was needed and given. At one of the last speeches Lord SHAFTESBURY gave aboard the “Arethusa” he said, “Napoleon once said that ships, colonies and commerce will make a nation great. He was wrong. What will make England great will be ships, colonies and “Arethusa” boys!” Stirring stuff! Grandfather possibly saw service in the Boer War (1899-92). The only highlight Dad knew of in his nautical career was that he was stabbed in the arm in a brawl in Naples, Italy!

    So why was he on the “Arethusa”? It seemed to cater to orphans and homeless boys and he never fitted into either of these categories that I know of. Dad had said he was “put” into the boy’s navy by his parents and possibly his brother also. Perhaps the family were so poor that they could not afford to keep him and thought the training would benefit him in life? I wrote to the Shaftesbury Homes and “Arethusa” in the hope that they may have had some record of my grandfather. They held Admission Records but could find no trace of him. The records for 1892 and 1893 were missing and these would have included boys born between 1879 and 1889. Drat!

    He married Violet Mary GENT on October 30th, 1906 at West Ham Register Office. His occupation was given as “engine driver stationary” – a crane driver. Both parties gave their address as 30 Herbert Street, Plaistow. The witnesses were Rosetta GREEN and Louisa PEARCE. The marriage certificate also gave John’s father as a crane driver and as many jobs in the docks were kept in the family, this was probably how he had gained this employment after leaving the navy.

    Their first child, John Frederick William, was born in the Poplar Registration District in 1907 and their second son, Alfred Alexander, in 1909. Sadly, both died young. On May 16th, 1909, John Frederick William died and was buried at East London Cemetery (grave no.29813) aged 2. The family were living at 1a Wharf Road, Millwall. Alfred Alexander died on October 19th, 1910, and buried at the same cemetery (grave no.27771) aged 1 year 10 months. The couple were now living at 4 Guffings Cottages, Millwall. I went to visit the graves but was told they were no longer there as the space was needed and new graves were dug on the site over 50 years ago. I had got the dates of death from Memorial Cards that my Uncle Len had given me, and the addresses from the cemetery records. John and Violet then moved into “The Ship” public house in Westferry Road, Millwall. Violet’s sister and brother-in-law (Emily and Frederick Thomas PAYNE) ran the pub. It was here that their third son, William Frederick, was born on May 23rd, 1911. Henry George (known as Harry) was born on August 9th, 1913.

    During the First World War, John was sent by the Government to work as a crane driver in South Shields. He was also an A.R.P. Warden. Another son, Horace Frederick (known as Jimmy) was born on July 30th, 1915. The Electoral List for 1914-15 gives John ERRIDGE living at 18 South Molton Road, Canning Town, an address he lived at until his death in 1940. Ernest John was born November 7th, 1917 and Albert Vivian on January 14th, 1920. John’s occupation on Dad’s birth certificate was given as “crane driver – Port of London Authority”. Unfortunately, he was fired from the P.L.A. for drinking rum at work and never held a permanent position from about 1924-26. He became ‘black-listed’ and could only get casual work on the docks for the rest of his life. This must have been a tremendous struggle with all those children to feed and more to come. They were Leonard James on December 25th, 1922 (what a Christmas present!), Alma Evelyn on August 3rd, 1923, Violet Ann on September 12th, 1925, Reginald Kenneth on December 7th, 1927 and Norman David on December 12th, 1932.

   In the “New Survey of London Life and Labour vol.4”, South Molton Road was listed in 1928 as “a road where the inhabitants were living below Charles BOOTH’s poverty line.” In “West Ham – A Study in Social and Industrial Problems” (1914) it states: “There is a group of sixteen streets, begun in 1900 and finished in 1904, consisting mainly of two-storied houses with two self-contained flats, each letting at 5 shillings. The upper flat has four rooms and a wash-house…have flat roofs, which, as we are informed by the collector, are liable to leak very much, as they are made of felt or tarpaulin, with sand or earth on the top, coated with pitch…the tenants are mainly general labourers, dockers and casual workers.” The family lived in one of these four roomed, upper flats and between 1932 and 1936 had two adults and ten children living there.

    The children’s young lives can be mapped out to a certain degree by the Beckton Road School Admission Registers:

April 1st, 1920 – William admitted to Beckton Road Boys School
June 30th, 1925 – William Frederick left school ‘over age’

April 3rd, 1922 – Horace George admitted to B.R.B.S. (should be Henry George)
Sept. 20th, 1927 – Henry George left school ‘over age’

Nov. 12th, 1923 – Ernest John had first medical inspection in school
April 1st, 1926 – Ernest John admitted to B.R.B.S.
Nov. 20th, 1931 – Ernest John left B.R.B.S. ‘over age’

April 1st, 1926 – Horace Frederick admitted to B.R.B.S.
July 24th, 1929 – Horace Frederick left B.R.B.S. ‘over age’

Sept. 1st, 1924 – Albert Vivian admitted to Beckton Road Infants School
Sept. 30th, 1927 – Albert Vivian left B.R.I.S. ‘to boys’
Oct. 3rd, 1927 – Albert Vivian admitted to B.R.B.S.
July 20th, 1932 – Albert Vivian left B.R.B.S ‘to Ashburton School’

Sept. 6th, 1927 – Leonard James admitted to B.R.I.S.
July 23rd, 1930 – Leonard left B.R.I.S. ‘to Boys Dept.’
Aug. 25th, 1930 – Leonard admitted to B.R.B.S.
July 26th, 1933 – Leonard James left B.R.B.S. ‘to Ashburton School’

Jan. 29th, 1930 – Violet Ann admitted to B.R.I.S.
July 26th, 1937 – Violet Ann left B.R.I.S.  ‘to Girls Dept.’

Aug. 24th, 1931 – Alma Evelyn admitted to Beckton Road Girls School
July 21st, 1937 – Alma Evelyn left B.R.G.S. ‘exempt’

Feb. 18th, 1932 – Reginald admitted to B.R.I.S.
July 18th, 1935 – Reginald left B.R.I.S. ‘to Boys’

April 27th, 1937 – Norman admitted to B.R.I.S.
June 9th, 1937 – Norman ‘taken off’ (this was probably for a hop-picking trip)
Sept. 21st, 1937 – Norman re-admitted to B.R.I.S.
March 19th, 1940 – Norman admitted to B.R.B.A. ‘last school Beckton’

All the children had nicknames:
Bill – “Stiffy”
Harry – “Black bastard” (how quaint!)
Jimmy – “Dollops”
Ernie – “Ginger” or “Turnips”
Albert – “Cokie”
Lennie – “Bugsy”
Reg – “Ikie Mo”
Alma – “Spurry-murry”
Violet – “Wormy”
Norman – “Niff Noff”

Part Three

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