24 November – My Great-Grandfather’s Birthday

Today, 24th November, marks a couple of birthdays in our family. My great-grandfather, Harry Whatmore was born on 24 November 1879 in Limehouse, London. He was probably born in the family home, 32, West India Dock Road. According to the 1891 Census he was still living there 12 years later along with his parents, William and Ann, and his four sisters and three brothers.

Harry Whatmore 1879 – 1965

In this photograph of Harry, I gather he was over 80 years old at the time, you can see a small statue in the background on the windowsill. A strange oriental piece that shows a Chinese man growing out of a lump of knobbly wood.

The sculpture has been in our family since one of Harry’s older brothers, Bill, a seaman, brought it back from a stint in the Far East. It is carved out of a single piece of irregularly, lumpy wood. I think it might be cedar root and possibly an example of the Chinese traditional folk art of cedar-root carving.

The uncarved reverse of the Oriental Man.

As I look at the old family photo, below, I wonder what happened to the sisters and the other brothers of Harry and Bill. I don’t remember my grandmother every talking about them although she did once mention the Limehouse Whatmores had been involved with running some kind of Christian Seamen’s Mission on the West India Dock Road.

From the left, my father in the pushchair, my grandmother, my grandfather, great-great uncle Bill and finally, my great grandfather Harry Whatmore. Circa 1935.

I expect Bill brought other gifts back from overseas, but my grandmother was a great one for selling off stuff as and when required. She was certainly not sentimental by nature. This is the only known ‘art’ survivor from her family and it was not appreciated by my mother at all (she thought it rather creepy), but it was a favourite with my father.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

18 thoughts on “24 November – My Great-Grandfather’s Birthday”

  1. I find that sculpture quite fascinating. The way it’s ‘grown’ from the wood in such an organic way is quite something. As are these tantalising titbits from your family story. Do you know a great deal, or just bits and bobs?

    1. Yes, I gather those Whatmore family members were very proud Eastenders, but the generation before had only just come down to London from Glemsford in Suffolk!!!

  2. That home address makes them Eastenders – is that right? Maybe your grandmother had to sell bibs and bobs to keep afloat. In the manuscript I’ve just sent off to my agent, I have my central character choosing between selling a brooch or a teacup and plate.
    There’s an interesting programme on tellie at the moment called, “Stuff the British Stole” – not that I’m suggesting that’s what happened to this piece. Oriental art was all the rage at one point. Particularly after the Boxer Rebellion.
    I have some skills in family history research. I could have a look at what happened to those siblings if you were very interested. Can’t [promise success though.

    1. That’s a lovely offer about the siblings, thank you, but we do already have more info on the Ancestry website. My mother’s family tree work eventually included my father’s side of the family. I might one day overcome my irritation and pay a subscription to get access to it. Yes, they were very proud Eastenders. They came to the city from rural Suffolk in the 1830s and left the East End in the 1940s out and away from the Blitz to rural Essex.
      And, my grandmother really began selling stuff once my grandfather retired and they wanted to travel. I think they managed three trips to Europe – Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia. And, yet they never had a fridge until my father bought them one in the 1980s. Oh how we take so much of modern life for granted.

      1. Yep. The acquisition of our first fridge is a key scene in my memoir! And the washing machine. And I’m a modern woman!
        Your local library probably has an Ancestry subscription, and since Covid some allow you to access it at home with your library card.

      2. Thanks for that tip. 😁 I absolutely love it when you as an Antipodean know more about how things work here than I do. And, yes, I do actually have a library card!! I have no excuses as to why I didn’t know this. 🤦🏻‍♀️

      3. I’ve investigated. And, yes, Suffolk, does have an Ancestry subscription, but you have to book a computer in a bricks and mortar library to use it. Now, you may not have heard, but many libraries are busier than they used to be. As the temperatures have dropped people who would usually have their heating on during the day are opting for time in a warm library instead with the heating off at home. That’s Britain in the 21st century for you after a dozen years of Tories.

      4. More than half right, I expect wealthier counties have a better deal than Suffolk.
        And, the UK fuel crisis is partly of our own making. You know when a government decides to close down its largest gas storage facility (under the North Sea) so we had hardly any reserves. That decision has been reversed now and the site was back in operation by late October. 🙄

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