Florence Maria COLE (1882-1958)
It was my mother's observations of her own mother, my grandmother, that stimulated all the women's work pages on the 1900s website: washdays, ironing, shopping, etc in the early part of the 20th century.
Flo grew up at 4 William Street, Tottenham, and had some schooling of which she was very proud. I was told, as a child, how much this had cost, but sadly I can't remember now. I do remember that it was little enough, although it must have represented a considerable sacrifice on the part of her parents were very poor.
According to family stories, Flo was once in love with a young man who took her to his home one white Christmas. The song I'm dreaming of a white Christmas was always one of her favourites. However that liaison was not to be, as she found herself pregnant - sadly by someone who was not 'right' for her. He came from what was regarded as 'better stock', the Cole Pottery Coles, and was in some ways probably regarded as a catch, but he was very highly strung. He was apparently not averse to lashing out at her when he felt so inclined and he was a poor provider, as he never worked after the age of 39. He was Herbert James Claud Cole, known as Jim, son of James Reedman Cole and Elizabeth Caroline Ellis.
Flo and Jim married on 19 September 1904 at St Paul's Church, Tottenham, witnessed by James Reedman Cole (potter) and John Bartlett (labourer). By the time that he was brought to the altar (largely due to the interventions of his sister Edith Cole and her then fiance, George Mitchell), Flo was already six months pregnant. The marriage was not a happy one, although the couple seem to have made the best of things - and the background to the marriage was kept from the children and discovered only much later from marriage and birth certificates.
There were four children: my mother and her two brothers and baby Dorothy who died aged 18 months. The three children grew up at 116 Lopen Road, Edmonton, which is now Enfield. At the time of my mother's recollections of childhood - see school, school holidays; streetgames, etc, her recollections would have been entirely typical because her father, Flo's husband, was still in work. However he had such nervous problems that he did not hold down a job after the age of 39 when his eldest son was 16 and his youngest only 13. So money became very tight. My mother was sent out to work in a factory at 14 and her elder brother also had to go out to work to support the family, even though he passed the entrance exams to both Oxford and Cambridge. That brother begged to be allowed to continue his studies at university, saying that he could manage to study and still support the family, but his father refused, and the family finances became more meagre. Flo, though, was an excellent manager, but the household was a strict one.
Around 1938, Flo and her husband moved away from Edmonton to an old house in the very rural West Wratting near Cambridge. Sometime after Flo's husband died in 1941, she returned briefly to Edmonton, but then came to live with our family in Edgware, Middlesex where she stayed throughout my childhood. At the suggestion of her sister-in-law, Ethel Silver (born Ethel Cole), she briefly tried to live independently in one of Ethelís flats in Cotleigh Road, West Hampstead, but she could not cope and moved back in with us. She died, age 75, on 8 February 1958 at Edgware General Hospital while I was away at university.
I wish now that I had talked to my grandmother more about her life while she was living with us in Edgware, but she was did not encourage conversation.