Thursday, 8 December 2011

Family history

I do not remember any of my grandparents, although I dimly recollect a “minyan” (a quorum of ten men for religious prayers, on death) being held at our house, which I think was when my paternal grandfather died. His name was Philip Kirschenbaum and he was a tailor living in the east end of London at 18 Hutchinson Avenue, St Botolph, City of London. His wife was Sarah (nee Moses). My mother’s parents were Edward Jacob Morris – he too was a tailor – his wife was Catherine Morris, nee Nathan. They also lived in east London, at 16 George Street and then at 46 Sidney Street, E1. No photographs exist since the bombing but I remember one showing him to be a rather good looking man with white wavy hair, a rather droopy moustache and light eyes, probably blue or grey. My mother was always proud of the fact that they were English so I assume they were born in the UK.

My own father was Samuel Kirschenbaum, known as Phillips, born in Hutchinson Avenue on 19th June 1879 and died in 1968 aged 88. My mother was Dinah (always called Ada) Phillips nee Morris, born 12 Jan. 1877 and died
in 1945 aged 68. They were married on 1st June 1904 and had a son Edward Lionel born in 1910 who died of meningitis aged eighteen months. Then came Kathleen (Kay) born 1913 and died 1982, and myself, Sybil Sarah, born 1917 – date of death to be added later!

Aunts, Uncles and particularly cousins played a small but significant part in my childhood life. My mother was one of a family of twelve, and we kept in touch with about half of these on a regular if infrequent basis. I only remember seeing the eldest, Hannah, once – for a Christmas party, complete with a tree plus fairy on top. Never before or after had that happened to me. Hannah with husband Moss had a very superior house, with several servants. Aunties Abby, Minnie, Hettie, Rose, Jewel (Julia) one other aunt whose name escapes me, Uncles Eddie, Lionel and Henry, plus my mother Ada (Dinah) and their respective spouses and children made up the Morris family. My father’s siblings consisted of brother Moss (probably Moses), a brother (but it may have been a cousin) who went to America, a sister who died of TB at eighteen while studying the violin in Germany, and a sister Esther, and I think a sister Miriam, who probably died young. 

To return to my mother’s siblings, we saw Eddie and wife Polly, plus their nine children at infrequent intervals – they lived in Bow, a very poor, shabbily clad family – Eddie barely provided by owning a fried fish shop. A good-looking crowd and very overwhelming for Kay and myself. Great gamblers, too, even within the family, and my mother warned my father off playing cards when we visited, but he invariably did anyway and always lost. They all made sure they either “married money” or worked in some very lucrative job, as legal as possible! We occasionally visited Minnie, Lionel, Abby and Henry – Hettie lived too far away. We saw more of Rose and Jewel, who were single and consequently had more time to socialise – although Rose married late in life and she and her husband owned a hairdressers in Rainham. Jewel visited us every Saturday, coming late afternoon to tea but occasionally to early dinner also. Both she and Rose worked much of their lives in the “sweat-shop” tailors owned by their father in the yard of 46 Sidney Street, Stepney, which was the Morris family home – as did Henry and Lionel. We saw Auntie Annie frequently I became very friendly with my cousin Kathleen, two years my senior. We are still regularly in touch, although I see nothing of Kath’s brother Eddie who lives in Southend – a family dispute means Kath seldom sees him.

My Uncle Henry was an enthusiastic socialist and on the few occasions I met him he was always in a discussion (argument?) on behalf of “left labour”. He was a smallish, dapper man, with a stiff waxed moustache that hurt you when he kissed you. In a surprising way, although he was only a very occasional figure in my life, he affected the rest of it by his influence, but more of this later.