Arthur Sidney Fell – The Man Who Shouldn’t Be In Our Family Tree

Over the weekend I received a query on my @AncestryUK family tree. It concerned a man who really shouldn’t be there. His name was Arthur Sidney Fell and he had been my great aunt’s fiancé until his death at the age of 25 in 1932. Nellie never married and after her death numerous mementoes of Arthur were found amongst her effects, including the last letter she ever received from him and a glowing obituary published by the church they both attended. I felt that Arthur’s life deserved to be remembered and so I added him to our family tree as Nellie’s spouse (with an explanatory note).

The query came from a present-day member of the church where Arthur’s life is commemorated in a plaque. This man had been trying to find out more about Arthur. He thought that Arthur had been married because probate records refer to Emma Fell, widow. I explained that Emma was Arthur’s widowed mother and that I too had been flummoxed by a lack of records for his birth. And both of us had failed to find him in the 1911 census.

I also explained my confusion about an ‘In Memoriam’ card for Arthur which stated that he was the son of the late Thomas Philip Fell. Although this man had married an Emma she was born in 1838 and Mr Fell had died in 1893. Arthur was born circa 1906/7. How could they be parents and son? I checked TP Fell’s probate record which referred to him as ‘Thomas Philip Fell the elder’. Which meant there must be a younger TP Fell. The penny began to drop.

Thomas Philip had a son, also named Thomas, but rarely referred to with the middle name Philip. I checked this man’s 1911 census record. He was described as married but his wife was at a different address on census night. Not uncommon. However, also living in his house were Emma Moreton, her relationship to Mr Fell Jnr. left conspicuously blank but her occupation described as Housekeeper. Her four children were also residing in the house, including an Arthur Moreton aged 4. This seemed too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. If you see what I mean.

I checked birth records for Arthur Moreton circa 1906/7: Arthur Sidney Moreton born in the last quarter of 1906 in Aston, Birmingham. Eureka! And so the riddle of Arthur Sidney Fell is solved and he will remain in our family tree with a more complete ancestry to his name. 

Biographical note

Arthur and Nellie had known one another since at least 1927 and had a lot in common, but chiefly a love of music and of the church. Nellie was a classically trained pianist who played for silent cinema and Arthur was First Fiddle and leader of the orchestra at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham (hence the references to the panto in his letter).

They both gave music lessons for their respective instruments. Jack and Kate were Nellie’s much younger cousins.
Nellie was a keen amateur photographer and I am very grateful to her for providing me with a wealth of candid family photographs from the 1920s through to the late 1940s, including some of Arthur.


Juggling Old Ladies, Pt II

For those of you following our mini-saga, a quick update:

Audrey is looking much brighter (see photographic evidence) and is regaining some strength: she has taken her first steps in over ten days. Doctors are still juggling the various antibiotics to best counteract ‘the infection’ whilst closely monitoring her kidney function via ultrasound tests. 

As for Ivy, we finally reached a point where we and the care team felt that it was no longer safe for her to remain at home alone. We had to get social services involved to find her an emergency respite place and after many phone calls we learned that she had got a place at the home she and Audrey spent time in in January this year. Cue sighs of relief all round.

Audrey had obviously been doing a lot of thinking while she’s been in hospital and has decided that perhaps the time has come for her to be ‘cared for’ too. Although privately we had been thinking this we had expected a bit of a battle in persuading mum that this might be the best route for her. Imagine our shock when she put forward the suggestion herself —.

Early days yet but we are trying to stay and think positive.

Juggling Old Ladies

That’s what it feels like at the moment.

Ten days ago MiL was admitted to hospital with suspected severe cellulitis. It turned out to be an infection in the replacement knee joint which she had fitted last October. After the operation to ‘wash out’ the joint (a benign term but by no means straightforward. I wouldn’t want to put you off your dinner so won’t go into details here) she was to go to the HDU : High Dependency Unit ‘as a precaution’. As it turned out she spent the entire weekend on HDU for reasons/s unknown. It scarcely mattered to mum because she was either asleep or confused almost the entire time she was there. When she eventually ‘came round’ after 3 nights on the unit she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t on an ordinary ward and we were not informed enough to tell her.

It was on HDU that we first heard the word ‘sepsis‘. In addition, the staff nurse on her pre-op ward had already expressed concern about mum’s ‘kidney function’. This was mentioned again on HDU as well as the fact that the intravenous antibiotics being used to treat the sepsis would likely cause further kidney damage. All very worrying. Since then, however, none of these things have been mentioned. Doctors on the geriatric ward have been trying to find the right antibiotics to treat ‘the infection’ and believe they are ‘getting on top of it.’

Mum’s confusion has lessened to the extent where she is all-too-aware of what is going on around her. She is concerned about her weakened state (she has after all spent a week completely bed-bound) and about the state of her legs: they have taken the brunt of ‘the infection’. And these were not ‘good’ legs to begin with. Her right leg in particular has taken several hits in the last two years: a leg ulcer on her calf eventually required surgery; once that was healed she was able to have her replacement knee joint revision surgery in October 2014 (hospitalised 6 days); 11 days after leaving hospital she fell and fractured her tibia (hospitalised 17 days); and on 2nd January this year she broke the same tibia after yet another fall (hospitalised 7 days).

After returning home from hospital in January she was at home for a week before her GP recognised that she and Aunty were not coping and arranged respite care in a nearby care home. After two weeks they were judged fit enough to return home. Although they had initially resisted the need to be ‘looked after’ mum was dismayed to be ‘kicked out’ and had even started asking us how much it might cost to stay.

Spring saw Aunty admitted to hospital with ‘an infection’ (pesky little blighters these infections, eh?). She also developed cellulitis and was discharged after 15 days. Now she is home alone the care workers who attend twice a day for half an hour are concerned about her. We are concerned about her. And mum is concerned about her. Aunty is no longer able to work out when to take her medications and what to take. She talks about feeling like her legs might give way beneath her. She is depressed and anxious because MiL is in hospital and none of us know when she will be coming home. But Aunty is resistant to returning to the care home: “I’ll be alright.” Will she? And if she isn’t? If she falls and ends up in hospital will we blame ourselves for not insisting that she goes into respite care?

We are juggling old ladies and it’s bloody tricky.

Ne’er Cast A Clout

Till May be out. Or so the old saying would have us believe. However, it doesn’t refer to the month of May; rather the blossom of the hawthorn tree (also known as May).  In the Yorkshire Wolds May blossom is out and so we cast off our clouts (warm clothes) and walked part of the Yorkshire Wolds and Minster Way, taking in Huggate and Millington.

On this 6.3m circuit we passed scarcely another soul, unless you count the semi-naked rambler. And when I say rambler I mean 70yr old shirtless grumpy bloke (no walking kit). Very odd. Or maybe not, in Huggate. 

I’m very fond of the area around Millington Pastures, especially the road which winds its way along the valley bottom. There’s something especially pleasing about the stark, olive green escarpments of the wolds landscape.   Of course, when we go walking we don’t just walk: we birdwatch and birdtrack; mammal watch and mammaltrack; geocache and count butterflies. There are many (welcome) interruptions. Today we saw skylarks, lapwing and buzzards; startled a hare and avoided a herd of beasts (cows). I have a phobia about being in the same field as cows so when we saw this

I was far from happy. Fortunately the cows and their bull stayed high up on the hill as we (I) cautiously made my way along the valley bottom and up towards Well Dale where we stopped for lunch. Just above Saintofts Plantation, further along the Minster Way, was where we did all our birdwatching, seeing everything in threes. By this time we were only a mile or so from the end. A lovely 2 1/2 hr walk (plus time for lunch) then home for tea and apple cake.

We Must Keep Talking About Rape

Thirty-five years ago my fifteen year old friend told me she had been raped. We were in an O level art lesson at school and she came out with the details, just like that. I have no idea what prompted her to tell us but the fact that one of her attackers was, as she spoke, sitting across from us, leering at her might have had something to do with it.

I’m going to call her Karen. This is not her name. 

Karen explained that recently Boy #1 and Boy #2 had turned up at her home. Boy #2 held her down while Boy #1 raped her. She was calm but seething as she spoke. There were no tears, no hysteria just a bitter quality to her voice. As I write this I am instantly transported back to that day.

I remember feeling shocked but nothing more. I certainly do not recall advising her to go to the police, tell her parents or siblings, nothing. We just accepted it. It had happened. It was awful. Move on. That was the 1970s for you. We never spoke about it ever again: not to her, not between ourselves and certainly not to the boys involved.

Last night I watched the first episode of The Detectives about the work of Rochdale’s serious crime unit which specialises in dealing with rape. These were officers who had been through training to deal both with the victims and the perpetrators of this vile crime. It was heartening to watch them work through their interviews, allowing the perpetrator to construct an elaborate alibi whilst gathering overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

They also dealt with historic allegations of rape and sexual assault which had come to light following the investigation into Jimmy Savile. In this instance they were dealing with DJ, record store owner, and friend of Savile, Ray Teret. I knew Teret’s name in the late 70s and early 80s. I probably listened to his shows. 

In the 1970s radio stations and record shops held a certain fascination for teenagers whose lives seemed to revolve around music: the charts, Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 seaside road shows. Another friend – I’ll call her Jane – had a family member who was a DJ at Piccadilly Radio (Teret worked there too) in Manchester. On Saturday mornings we thought nothing of catching the bus into ‘town’ and heading to the studios – a ten mile journey that took at least half an hour and which was often packed with lairy United fans on match days since the route went right past Old Trafford. Our mission was to get the autographs of our favourite DJs and Jane would try to use her family connection to get beyond reception and hang around, hoping for a glimpse. We were 13/14 years of age. The same age as the girls in the programme.

Another haunt was the Underground Market where there was a record stall – a subterranean hangout for serious music fans. Jane claimed to have seen a new band there – Adam and The Ants. So week after week we would head back to see if they put in an appearance. They never did.

When I watched Cathy giving her evidence about working in Ray Teret’s record shop as a twelve year old it made me think how close Jane and I must have come to being similarly enticed. We were in awe of people who had the slightest connection to the music industry.

After the programme finished all these memories came flooding back. I have no idea what happened to Karen. Jane and I kept in touch for a while after we left school. But Boy #1 has quite a distinctive combination of names. I put it into the search bar of Facebook and his picture came up. Top of the list. I clicked on his profile picture and there he was, smiling that same lascivious smile from thirty- five years ago. He doesn’t look fifty. In the picture he is surrounded by his family: attractive wife, two boys and a girl in her early teens. I felt sick. I showed my husband: “that’s him; that’s the rapist.” I scrolled though his timeline: badly-spelled pithy remarks, comments about United’s recent form (ugh, he’s a fan) and a comment from May 7th about how he’d vote for Nick Clegg because he has a fit wife. I felt sick again. 

I wondered whether I should do anything? Say anything? But say what? And to whom? Thirty-five years later I am just someone who heard another girl’s account. I hope that Karen prospered after leaving school. I hope that she has friends and/or a loving family. I hope that she has not had cause to dwell too often on that revolting attack. But I feel a huge amount of guilt about what happened to her and what didn’t happen to him. I hope that he never perpetrated another assault on any other woman. I hope that every time he looks at his daughter he is filled with remorse for his fifteen year old self’s actions, but somehow I doubt it. I can see that smile now and still it sickens me.

Reflections on War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy aged 20, 1848

It’s been three months since I finished reading Tolstoy’s epic work War and Peace and I find that elements of it have remained with me.

When I first started the book I thought how very like Jane Austen it was: drawing room society, the same class of people, observations on the manners and social etiquette of the time (War and Peace covers the years 1805-1815; Austen was writing from roughly 1811-1816). But, crucially, being a man, Tolstoy is able to write about the battles whereas Austen can only refer to the regiments stationed nearby (in Pride and Prejudice, etc.). Tolstoy was a soldier and as a participant he writes well on the themes of the folly of older generals, the impetuosity of youthful cadets, etc.

I wondered whether Tolstoy’s writing of male characters was better than his female ones? Because of the numerous battle scenes we get to see more of his male characters in action and for this reason perhaps they seem more rounded, e.g. Rostóv’s opinion of Bolkonski, how he feels about the Emperor are formed by how they appear in and out of battle. Thus we get a better impression of what Rostóv is really like. By comparison his female characters can seem like stereotypical ciphers: Hélène is beautiful, cool, aloof – a pawn in her father’s plans to acquire wealth; Countess Rostóva is delicate, too highly-strung to be told about her son’s minor injury; Princess Mary is plain. Devout yet passionate; desirous of earthly love, marriage and children. 

It is on the subject of War that Tolstoy is at his best. I was struck by the way in which he writes about the year 1812 in the same way that current historians write about 1914:

An event took place opposed to human reason and human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders, as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not regard at the time as being crimes.

(War and Peace, Book IX, Chapter I, p.663)

That at the time the causes seemed reasonable but that to the descendants it seems unfathomable that “millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other” because of them (p.664). “We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events…” (p.665). “They kill and maim tens of thousands, and then have thanksgiving services for having killed so many people…

Sound familiar? An estimated 80,000 men died at the Battle of Borodinó on the 26th of August 1812. Just over a century later similar numbers would be killed on the Somme.

Here describing the start of the Battle of Borodinó from Pierre’s point of view:

Pierre looked at the scene before him, spellbound by its beauty… the whole place was full of troops and covered by smoke-clouds from the guns, and the slanting rays of the bright sun… cast upon it through the clear morning air penetrating streaks of rosy, golden-tinted light and long dark shadows. The forest at the farthest extremity of the panorama seeme carved in some precious stone of a yellowish-green colour… Nearer at hand glittered golden cornfields interspersed with copses. There were troops to be seen everywhere, in front and to the right and left. All this was vivid, majestic, and unexpected.

(War and Peace, Book X, Chapter XXX, pp.872-3)

As a historian I found his views on the ‘laws of history’ fascinating (and prescient). Thankfully historians have moved on and in the last hundred years much has been achieved to tell history from the point of view of the individual soldier.

Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of those infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history… As yet not a millionth part as much mental effort has been applied in this direction by historians as has been devoted to describing the actions of various kings, commanders, and ministers and propounding reflections of their own concerning these actions.

(War and Peace, Book XI, Chapter I, pp.910-911) 

The peace Tolstoy writes about is not that which is the opposite of war, as the title implies, but rather divine peace; the peace of finding faith in God or of the peace in finding a sense of self, as is the case with Pierre and Natasha. It is on his younger characters that Tolstoy dwells for it is they who have the time to take action, to experience and to change because of those experiences. Prince Andrew finds his peace as he lies in the military hospital watching another man die; Natasha finds hers through the nursing and death of Andrew; Pierre in his observations of war and his privations as a prisoner of war.

What was Tolstoy’s intention when he set out to write War and Peace? Of course he is extremely interested in the Napoleonic wars and the parts played by key historical figures: military commanders, strategists and courtiers. To some extent he is writing a revised Russian history of those events: to right the wronged reputations of some – especially Kutúsov; to propound his feelings about the nature of war: its unstoppability, its many and varying causes; to give us a glimpse of Russian life as it was in the first quarter of the 19th century; and to show us examples of the many and various forms of faith, goodness, and what it is to lead A Good Life, a moral life, a life of decent, compassionate humanity to one’s fellow man. It is little wonder it takes 1312 pages to achieve his aims.


Tolstoy pictured in May 1908, aged 79.

That Forever Friday Feeling…

It hadn’t occurred to me before but Stephen’s retirement is very timely. The end of March signals the start of Spring (weather – hopefully – getting warmer), the clocks go forward (so nights start to get lighter), it’s the end of the financial year and – this year – it’s just before Easter. 

For us, with older children still at home, this means we’ll get to spend a whole four weeks with Harry home from college, and two weeks with Grace. So, the first four weeks of retirement will probably seem like an extended holiday for Stephen.

Of course, that is tempered by all the jobs I have planned for him – some in the garden, some around the house – let alone those he has planned himself, including taking on his mum’s gardening.

Friends, colleagues and neighbours have suggested he might get bored. We’ll see…

We have lots planned: getting (and keeping) fit is top of the list and no doubt you will soon be bored rigid with accounts of cycle rides and walks. We’re both keen film fans and intend to take advantage of cheap matineés at the cinema. And then there’s a list of places and friends we’d like to visit. Watch out… It could be you!