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Searching for my Great-Grandparents

Pamela's Story

This is the story of how I came to be looking for the grave of Elizabeth Alice Bell (nee Pearson).

I apologize if it is a bit long-winded, but I don't want to leave anything out.

My name is Pamela Corrigan (nee Defty).

I originate from Stanley but moved away in 1981, eventually living in Portsmouth from 1986 to now.

I was made redundant from Social Services Home Care after 19 years, in 2007 and  became a Baby's First Portrait photographer for Tempest Photography.

The job is a shared one, Elizabeth  Cruden and I work alternate weeks to each other, at Portsmouth's Queen Alexandra Hospital in the maternity department.

The reason for working alternate weeks is to enable us to cover each other's absence during annual leave/sickness.

When I first met Elizabeth, she recognized my accent and asked where I was from. It emerged that she was originally from Dipton, but was moved to Portsmouth by her father  when she was 9 years old.

Her mother had unfortunately died whilst giving birth to Elizabeth on the 5th of December 1951.

Elizabeth's mother was buried in St. Ives graveyard, Leadgate,  her maiden name being Elizabeth Alice Pearson.

She had been married to Elizabeth's father Thomas Bell only 9 months previously in Brooms Church, as Thomas was Catholic. Their baby daughter, Elizabeth my colleague, was cared for by her Grandmother until she and her father moved away in 1960.

I have worked with Elizabeth now for nearly 3 years, although we don't see much of each other with working alternately, but we do communicate by telephone, email and text.

The strange part of the story started about two or three months ago when Elizabeth told me that she was going up to the Dipton area soon to visit relatives and look for her mother's grave.

She just happened to mention that her great-grandparents lived in Clough Dene.

Well I was quite taken aback, as my great-grandparents also lived there around the same time!

As local people will know, it is a small place with only around 20 or so houses presently, and  probably  many fewer in those days, the late 1800s.

My mother's Grandad, John  Jeffery owned the big house at the top of the bank, 15 Clough Dene, where he lived with his family, having moved there in the late1800s after work in the tin mines on the Devon/ Cornwall border dried up.

Elizabeth's father's grandparents moved from Ireland to Clough Dene during the potato famine. Their name was O'Brian and they had a son and five daughters. One daughter was Maria, who later had a son, Thomas Bell (Elizabeth's dad) and Maria would become the grandmother who looked after Elizabeth when her mother died.

Elizabeth's dad grew up in Dipton, but remembers the house where he visited his grandparents, the O'Brians, in Clough Dene when he was small. He said there were two houses joined together opposite a farm.

Well at first I could only come up with two houses together halfway down the bank, but they weren't opposite the farm, so I enlisted the help of my dad who had, after marrying my mother, lived with her and her parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in that big house at Clough Dene for several years.

We came to the conclusion that the two houses in question, were the ones known as Fiddler's Row, at the top of the bank on the opposite side to my great grandparents' house.

They were two single-storey houses, one of which was used as a shop, and they were next to the farmer's field. There was also a bakery beside them.

The reason they were known as Fiddler's Row was because the old man who lived there was often seen in the evenings sitting on the doorstep teaching people to play the fiddle.

The houses lay empty by early in the century and were just left to fall into ruin.

My dad remembers my mother's grandparents saying that the last people to live in those houses were the O'Brians.

The strange thing is not only did my great-grandparents and Elizabeth's, live within yards of each other, but  that my dad, although by then we were living in Shield Row, had bought that piece of land where Fiddler's Row stood, when I was 9 years old, and eventually got permission to build a bungalow there, which he and my mother lived in for a few years. I remember the land and the remains of the houses being bulldozed and the old bricks etc. from Fiddler's row being removed. My dad said that the fiddlers must have enjoyed themselves, as he found dozens of beer bottles in the ground..

My dad subsequently built another bungalow on the piece of land adjoining it, which he already owned, and he still lives there to this day, having sold the first bungalow.

How strange though, that a chance remark by Elizabeth should lead us both back to our roots at the exact same spot!

This is what inspired me to help Elizabeth with her search.

My dad actually has a photograph of Fiddler's Row in the 1890s, of an old man, an old lady and a little girl outside the house. They could in fact be Elizabeth's great-grandparents and grandmother.

Strange enough that someone should even have taken such a photo in those days, let alone that my dad should now own that photo!

It was given to my dad by someone who knew he was interested in local history, and they said that they had it given to them some years previously by an old lady called Mrs. O'Brian.

It’s coincidence enough that Elizabeth and I have even met, at the far end of the country to where we were both born, but for us to be living near each other, not only working in the same hospital, and in the same department, but actually sharing the same job, and finding that our ancestors lived right beside each other. It's uncanny!!

There are lots of other coincidences aswell. The company we work for is based in St. Ives  (not Leadgate though, Cornwall).

Elizabeth’s mother was 6 years older than her dad, and my mother was 6 years older than my dad.

Our mothers, although being born 2 years apart (1919 Elizabeth’s, 1921 mine), were both born on the same day June 25th!

Elizabeth’s mother was married at the age of 32, as was I.

Elizabeth and I both married Scotsmen (Elizabeth is now widowed) and both had first a daughter. then a son. Our sons are named Jamie and James.

Elizabeth’s daughter is expecting a baby and her scan has just shown that her baby is a girl and is due on the 15th of August , my daughter Erin’s birthday!

Elizabeth is hoping to visit her mother’s grave on Tuesday or Wednesday (16th/17th March) and will be calling to see my dad, who she’s never met, to see if he can throw any more light on her past. She is unfortunately suffering from a bad back at the moment (I too have suffered the same problem for years) but is determined to make it, as she has been  looking forward to the trip for so long.

I would love to have been visiting the area with her, as I lived there longer (25 years), and would  have enjoyed guiding her to the places she needs to go, and sharing her experience of discovering anything else that might emerge about her past, but obviously, due to the fact that we job-share, I have to work when Elizabeth doesn’t.

Maybe one day we will be able to arrange something to enable us to visit the area together.

In the meantime, she will hopefully enjoy her visit and who knows, we might discover more soon.

Created on 16/03/2010 09:55 AM by rmr
Updated on 16/03/2010 09:58 AM by rmr
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