My dusky great-grandmother was born in June 1865 in Bedminster, Bristol. Her parents, John Warren and Harriet Courtney, were from the small Devon town of South Molton. I am guessing that their migration to the city was caused by the fall in demand for wool produced by the cottage industries in Devon. John had been a woolcomber as a young man, but in Bristol found work with the railway and seems to have remained with them until his death. Harriet was the daughter of a tailor, John Courtney and his wife Mary Snow. John Courtney carried on his trade until his death in 1885, his wife survived him by a year. Harriet pre-deceased her parents - she died shortly after the birth of Ellen, leaving John to bring up their six children.
Ellen had four older sisters, Mary Jane (b. 1852), Alice (1854-1875), Sarah (1858) and Emma (1860) and a brother, Joseph (1862-1930). Ellen seems to have been close to Alice - in her will she left a small bequest to Alice's grown-up twins. Like his father, Joseph worked for the railway, continuing to do so when he emigrated to Sydney, Australia. In time, three of Ellen's sons were to follow their uncle to Australia.
In 1881 Ellen was living and working at a pub in Bridewell Street, Bristol. Next door was the City Police Headquarters. Perhaps it was here, over the bar, that the young Ellen met an older Police Fireman, Henry Brown. The couple married in July 1882.
Ellen and Henry seem to have lived with the Warrens at first, their first son, Joseph Henry Brown, being born at John Warren's home. Alice Brown was born next in 1884, followed a year later by Robert. The family moved to Cardiff at some time before 1887, in time for Harold to be born, followed by Reginald in 1888, and Sidney in 1891. During this time Henry was working as a tram driver.
The family moved back to Bristol by 1893, when Ernest was born. Edwin followed in 1894, Philip (my grandfather) in 1896, Gwendoline in 1898 and finally Gladys in 1902. By this time Henry had set up in business on his own account as a corn factor - he must have done quite well as they were able to employ a servant to help Ellen in the house. He moved the family once more, around 1904, to a new house where he set up as a butcher.
I hope that the move to the new house was a happy time for Ellen - she was surrounded by her 11 children, in an up and coming neighbourhood, and the future must have looked bright. Sadly, perhaps, life began to change quite rapidly for the Browns around this time. Joseph, the eldest child, decided to emigrate to Western Australia. I imagine this was the prompt for the family photograph which I cherish so much. To my eyes, Ellen's expression is bleak - but that is perhaps fanciful.
Matters didn't improve - Robert emigrated to Canada in 1907 and over the next few years Reginald and then Ernest joined Joseph Warren in Sydney. Real tragedy struck when war broke out - with the exception of Joseph and Robert (both married with children) - all the Brown boys joined up. Ellen's home was empty, save for her husband and her girls. The first blow was struck in the summer of 1916 - Reginald fell at Pozieres, followed two weeks later by Ernest. In February the following year, Sidney too died.
|Ellen Brown in later life|
After the war, the house emptied again. Harold married in 1919 and set up his own home. Henry Brown died in 1920, leaving his entire estate to his widow. She remained in the house, with her daughters and my grandfather and Edwin. In 1924 my grandfather moved out to marry, and Edwin married in 1926, a month before Ellen's death. I wonder if Ellen couldn't see the point to her life with all the men in her life gone.