Thursday, October 7, 2010

1. Family Tree

No life story can begin without a family tree, or at least some kind of history, and mine was as mixed as one could imagine.  On the paternal side there were Barons and Earls, Lords and Ladies, mental illness and alcoholism.  My maiden name was Lawley, and if you look up Sir Arthur Lawley, Baron Wenlock, on Google you will see that he was a most interesting and successful man.  Sir Arthur’s children predeceased him and, as he died without an heir, the title died with him. My father once tried to claim the title, which was very silly because he was the penniless youngest son of the youngest son, with delusions of grandeur.  He had to be satisfied with calling his home at that time “Wenlock”.  I think the genetic mental instability was introduced into the bloodline by his grandmother about whom nothing is known, apart from the fact that she produced at least three unbalanced children, one of whom was my grandfather Alfred Lawley. She seems to have just disappeared, but the family suspected that she had either run off with someone, or had been institutionalised. 

Grandfather Alfred was a compositor by trade and a manic depressive, alcoholic by fate.  He would sit by the fire on a Saturday evening, slicing the scarlet runner beans with a razor blade, wafer thin, ready for Sunday lunch.  I know nothing about my grandmother, but I think she had been an actress when young.  I do not even know her name, we always called her Grandma Lawley. She was a dear old lady who had a lousy life with an abusive husband.  When I think of her I think of cold water, carbolic soap, smelly face cloths and a bad tempered parrot in a cage.  They lived at 47 Whittingstall Road, Fulham, and had four children Tom, Bill, Madeline and my father Stephen Harold the youngest. 

On the maternal side my grandmother, Cecelia, came from a wealthy Irish Catholic family of the Delaney clan from Cork, and her father was at one time Mayor of that county.  It is said that he got tangled up in weeds and drowned after diving off his yacht.  My maternal grandfather’s family had been sheep farmers in a place called Bendigo in Australia and grandfather, Archie Daunton Shaw, left there around 1884, after a terrible drought had killed all the sheep.   Archie had been a champion racing cyclist, which was a great sport in Australia, and so he went to England, taking with him his widowed mother and four siblings, with the idea of creating a family trick cycling act to perform in the theatres.  Music Hall was the main source of entertainment in the Victoria/Edwardian era and The Archie Daunton Shaw Trick Cycling Act became famous from London to Moscow.  There were movies in existence of Archie playing leapfrog and having fun with Charlie Chaplin in his Hollywood home, with Douglas Fairbanks Snr.  I have also seen a poster where grandfather is higher on the bill than the Bing Boys, Bing Crosby’s first group.  His wife Cecelia, my grandmother, died in Boston while the act was touring America, and is buried there somewhere.

Archie and Cecelia had three daughters, my mother Thelma and non identical twins Doris and Ivy.

By an unhappy twist of fate, Madeline Lawley joined the Daunton Shaw Cycling Act and that was how my mother, Thelma came to meet and marry, Madeline’s brother, Stephen Harold Lawley.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Biddy, My grandmother was Doris - one of Archie's daughter's, and sister to your mother Thelma. Doris and Albert lived in Thundersley, next door to Ivy, both in houses which Archie bought for them when they were married in the 1920s. I would love to swap any stories about the family if you are interested. My father is Trevor who was the eldest son of three. I was born in Essex, but now live in Canberra, Australia. Regards, Alan Bainbridge