I asked Iris about our grandad.
“He was devastated, I saw him at the funeral, but he rarely came to see us after that. He had already fritted away a fortune on his own pleasures and now he couldn’t help us, although we were a family facing destitution. He was a very odd man, I remember him when he did call, he wore some funny clothes, he would dress like Sherlock Holmes, even with that sort of hat. I remember his blue bike with a big basket on the front. Mum said he needed a good bike to go between his two families”.
I asked Iris what she meant by two families.
“That is something we were told never to mention, he had another family in Shepperton, but we never met them. mum didn’t like him very much, she would say, he liked Wine, Women and Song……. but not too much of the song bit, or that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth”.
She laughs as she remembered mum saying these things. I think that our Grandad was the sort of man who seemed to attract one-line descriptions. The first description was certainly true, he liked a drink, and with a wife and four children in one village and another wife ‘or paramour’ with another four children in Shepperton, just three miles away, he didn’t have a great deal of time for singing. The second one was certainly true, he was born into a rich family—his father being a Colonel in the Indian Army—but he certainly wasn’t idle, not with two families to look after—and then there were all those bike rides back and forth
Although I make light of Georges character, he had many tragedies in his life. Iris went on to talk about these.
“His other ‘wife’ lost a baby boy just a few days old. Then a son of nineteen who it was said, took his own life while working in a nursery in Ottershaw. His death was registered as suicide because he drank some weedkiller, but people who knew him thought this wasn’t true as he was a happy young man. There was a rumour going around that a suicide verdict was returned, to cover up the negligence of his employer who had kept the weedkiller in a lemonade bottle. The poor young man drank enough of it before realising what it really was, he died soon after in hospital. Another son aged twenty-nine died after an accident in The Royal Navy. He was married to a Chertsey woman, and they lived in a house called The Cedars, in Eastworth Road near the Police Station. His wife was pregnant and gave birth to a girl a month after he died. I think her family were called Church, they had a silver-plating firm in Gogmore Lane, making mirrors. They supported her for several years before she moved to Sheffield, and we lost touch. Now that he had lost his remaining son, Grandad moved away, and we later heard that he died in nineteen-thirty-seven”.
“He had inherited quite a lot of money from his father and a rich uncle—this man had several flowers named after him. A tradescantia and a peony, J C Weguelin. But this money had been used up by nineteen-fourteen, and he had to find a job. He worked in The Airscrew as a draughtsman. He was well educated and fitted in well and it also excluded him from military service as the Factory was doing vital war work. He carried on with making his model sailings boats, and selling them, he even patented some rigging, which is still used today on model boats and even tents, but he was never able to defend the patent, and to have some reward for it”.
“Our Dad was a normal hard-working man with a lovely wife and six young children. The only clue that he was his father’s son was his ‘posh’ accent”.
“For years it was very hard for mum, struggling on her own and being sick with worry trying to make ends meet, she would often burst into tears, although she did her best to hide it. We couldn’t earn any money to help, it was very upsetting for us all. Mrs. Salmon was always round our house; she was a very good friend to our family. She persuaded mum to take in a lodger to help with the cost of everything, she said she knew someone who was looking for a place to stay. This was Fred Barker he had just come down from Yorkshire and was working for the council as a painter. He was living in The Lodging House and was wanting to move out. mum finally agreed and Fred moved in, his money was really helpful and at last things were feeling better, that is, until the ‘Poor-aid’ ladies found out about Fred and stopped the little payments they had been making. I never really liked Fred though, he was very familiar with mum”.
In this, Iris was right, within a year he had become more than a lodger. I was only four years old and still not talking properly, and Iris told me he spent hours trying to make me speak, I think that is why I was so fond of him, he was like a father, but I never called him dad, it was always Fred or Yorkie. He has thick, curly hair, with grey bits in it and very blue eyes, he must have been a special man to have taken on a broken family of six young kids. Iris had to admit that he made our family secure. There had always been the threat that some of us could have been taken away and into a council home if they thought mum couldn’t cope.
“Although I never really got on with Fred—he could be no substitute for Dad, but he was a very funny man, and he made mum happy again. For last few years mum had been sick with worry trying to make ends meet, we often saw her burst into tears although she did her best to hide it. After a year or so, they wanted to get married, and although he had been separated from his wife for several years, who was still living in their home in Yorkshire, she would not agree to a divorce. I have to say he turned our fortunes around, and at last things were looking up, we were a proper family again, we would go out for the whole day for picnics, something we hadn’t done for ages”.
I remember him as a brilliant cook, he knew lots of tricks, he sometimes made me laugh till I ached. He tried to teach us to play the mouth organ and to play the clappers or spoons, Don was quite good, but I never got the hang of any of it. I can remember the excitement when my mum gave birth to David. Despite being Fred’s baby, his surname had to be my mother’s name. He was always a true Weguelin as far as we were concerned.