A boy from the streets

“Sid was a boy from the streets.”

My mother recalled the conversation at her first meeting with my paternal grandmother some sixty-five years ago. My grandmother had been dismissive of my mother’s interest and had steered the conversation in another direction.

My great grandmother had been unhappy with the answer my mother had received and had spoken to her later. “Ruby, that’s not quite true. Sid was in a children’s home, but someone took him out of it.”

My grandfather seemed to have been discouraged from recalling any details of his childhood, he remembered being in a home and thought he might have had a brother. He remembered living with the person my grandmother referred to as “that old woman.”

None of the four children of my great grandmother lived to a ripe old age. My grandfather died at sixty-five, Stanley died at sixty-seven, Frederick died at forty-five, only Ida reached the three score years and ten, dying in 1979 at the age of seventy-two. Perhaps if one of them had lived into the digital age, it would have been simpler to piece together the information.

On the birth certificates, no father’s name is entered for the 1906 record of Sidney’s birth or that of Frederick in 1910. In 1907, Ida is registered as Ida Frederica Stanley with the father’s name recorded as Frederick Stanley. A year later, in 1908, Stanley is registered as George Stanley Stratton, his father’s name given as Frederick Stratton.

The hours spent reading and re-reading records must now run into many hundreds. Having no television leaves time for such reflection.

Ellen, my great grandmother, seems to have been credulous in her acceptance of the tales told by Frederick, father of at least two of her children. On Ida’s birth certificate he is shown as being a soldier. On Stanley’s birth certificate, he is shown as a civil engineer. The most candidate for being the Frederick the father was a clerk in the railway clearing house. Perhaps the roles he claimed for himself provided him with excuses for the times when he was at home with his wife.

Stanley and Frederick were sent to a Poor Law School in Crondall in Hampshire. Ida went to a foster family nearby. Stanley and Ida remained lifelong friends.

But what of Sidney? “That old woman,” Martha Rideout would have been fifty when he was born. Twice widowed, she had raised eight children. Boarders appear on the census returns for her house in 1911 and 1921. Why would she have taken in “a boy from the streets” and recorded him as her “adopted son?”

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