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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Patemans of Litlington and Brick Lane

Albert William Pateman 1885 - 1962

Where was I? Ah, yes, I want to tell you a bit about the Patemans, the line of them I’m at the end of - that’s what I was told as a child though I  didn’t realise it was true only from the point of view of my father’s father; I was his only Pateman grandson, his only chance of keeping his line going. I’ve learnt - only recently, mind - to look at the bigger picture. Since Grandad was one of five boys - and just two girls, one of whom died as an infant - I reckon that if you went back a generation and  took it from my great grandfather’s perspective, then his Pateman line is likely to be going strong a hundred and forty years after he started to make his own contribution. Well, that’s a guess.

I never heard my great grandfather spoken of as a child; my grandfather occasionally spoke about what sounded an invented childhood - I now know there was truth in it and I’ll come to that - but of his parents and siblings he said nothing. When we were visiting, Grandma did occasionally talk to my mother about a mysterious Auntie Maud and from the genealogy it looks like she would have been her own sister born in 1898. Since Grandma called her husband Dad and he called her Mum, it would not have been odd for her to call her own sister Auntie - she was of course Auntie to their children.

The thing is Grandad had taken his family south of the river Thames while the others stayed north where they had started out; if you wanted to visit, crossing the river was a bit of a palaver. That’s one reason why I knew nothing about the north of the river clan members. Now I know that they were on the north side because of my great grandfather John Pateman, but I know it only from doing the genealogy.

John Pateman was born in Cambridgeshire, in one of a group of villages south east of Cambridge; in his case Litlington. Those villages were full of Patemans who had been there for as long as anyone could remember, the boys and men agricultural labourers. John was born in 1858 his birth registered in nearby Royston. But he wasn’t baptised.  Ah, why not? Well, his parents - or maybe just his mother Susan - appear to have been non-conformists and when Susan Rusted married James Pateman in1849 they went down the road to Royston to do it according to the rites and ceremonies of the Independents of the New Meeting. Not the Old Meeting: there were so many non-conformists in the area that they could enjoy the luxury of falling out with each other and the New Meeting catered to some of those who had fallen out. I haven’t gone into the theology even though it was clearly of some interest either to James a twenty two year old agricultural labourer or Susan same age and straw plait worker - the commonest form of work available locally to girls and women, who could do it at home and were paid by the piece. In other words, gig economy work.

But Susan’s father William was a cut above the agricultural labourer class; he was a whitesmith - what I’d call a tinsmith, someone who made pots and pans - but which as whitesmith identifies his occupation as the poor relation of the more glamorous blacksmith. Anyway, this William Rusted lived to a great age unlike his daughter Susan who died in 1871 when she was forty three and back living with her father. She had two children with her, including my great grandfather John, and she also had her husband James. They no longer had their own home because times were hard and James had made them worse by blotting his copybook.

The repeal of the Corn Laws and the subsequent mid-Victorian agricultural depression forced many, many thousands of agricultural workers and their children into the cities or into emigration. Several of James’s siblings left for London and one for Australia. But James tried to hang on and by the time of the 1861 census had lifted himself up to the level of shepherd. It wasn’t enough to save him.

Susan gave birth to their sixth child in the winter month of February 1864 but the child died before the month was out, a private baptism - presumably Church of England - conducted at home squeezed into the three weeks of Emily’s life. I guess my great grandfather John, aged five, may have been present though aged two his mother had been sufficiently preoccupied with another new born child to send John to lodge a few doors away, a fact duly recorded in the census of 1861. Anyway, in 1864 Emily was born only to die. Things were bad, bad enough for James Pateman the shepherd to get caught stealing from his employer. He appeared in court a month before Emily’s birth, his sentence reported in the Cambridge Independent Press:

Jan 4….
….. James Pateman of Litlington, shepherd, charged with stealing one bushel of beans, of the value of 4s 6d., the property of Mr Thomas William Russell, his master. The defendant pleaded guilty, and committed for 14 days hard labour ….

It’s likely that James lost his job as shepherd and maybe a tied cottage too. Whatever, in the census of 1871 once again he is a farm labourer and living with his father in law and two remaining children, including John. Things are not looking up. John’s mother dies later in the same year when John is thirteen years old; James becomes a widower and remains so.

By 1880, John is in London; I guess he left home in the mid-1870s, at sixteen or eighteen, maybe younger. He may have hitched down to the big city alomg what was once Ermine Street and is the route even now of the main road, the A10. Or he may have got the money together for a single train ticket from Royston which would have taken him to Bishopsgate or Liverpool Street and from there it was a short walk into the heart of London’s East End, then as now the destination of choice for all poor migrants.

Maybe he had some help from his older sister Fanny who as early as the census of 1871 was in service as a cook living at a fancy address (Bulls Gardens) in Kensington & Chelsea. It looks like Fanny has falsified her age upwards by two years to nineteen when one would expect to see seventeen. The implication is clear: she had added two years when she was first applying for work. When she married in Chelsea in 1875 she is described simply as of full age. By the 1881 census she is back to her real age, now twenty seven, and she is free to declare it because her mariner husband has moved her to Margate on the Kent coast where he now works as a coast guard. I’ll come back to this couple.

Anyway, John Pateman follows his sister to London and on arrival makes his way to Bethnal Green where he may or may not already have a job and lodgings. In the census of 1881 he is a brewer’s servant living in Granby Street, a small enclave tucked away at the top of Brick Lane. Almost certainly he is working in the vast Truman, Hanbury and Buxton brewery which dominates Brick Lane. He has recently married and is living with or close to his in-laws the Lees; his father in law is also a brewery worker; he and his wife were also migrants, arriving over twenty years before from Old Hunstanton in Norfolk.

But their daughter Georgina Lee was born in Bethnal Green and that may make her a helpmeet to her husband John who is new to East London’s versions of poverty and crime. They married in the local parish church, he twenty one, she twenty, and their first child Florence is conceived in wedlock. She is born in 1881 and dies in 1918, probably a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic; she had been a witness at my grandfather’s wedding in 1910.

My grandfather is born in 1885, the third of the children of John and Georgina. He is rapidly followed by Gertrude who dies in 1888 as an infant under one year of age, by Arthur in 1888, and George in 1890. This is all too much for Georgina who has no more children until 1899 when Ronald is born . Meanwhile, she eases her life by sending away my grandfather. He is sent to live with her sister in law Fanny and husband John Wolfe in Margate and five year old Albert William duly turns up in their census return for 1891, where he’s recorded as Bertie Pateman. Perhaps they didn’t know he was technically Albert William and there were no telephones to pursue the matter.

Fanny and John were, unusually, a childless couple but by 1891 they have filled up their home at 27-29 Ethelbert Road with Fanny’s younger sister Annie, who is thirty, single and a housekeeper; Gertrude Fisher, an adopted child of sixteen; another Annie aged fifteen, who is a niece of Fanny’s from Litlington and a domestic servant; and finally their nephew, little Bertie. Well, my guess is that Fanny and John are running a boarding house of some kind and Ethelbert Road is well-suited: it was (and is) just off the seafront, running directly down to the promenade.

When I was a young child my grandfather once told me a story of how as a boy he was taken to school, riding in a carriage by the sea, and eating chocolates from a box on his lap. I thought he was having me on: Grandad came from the East End (no sea there) and he had been a school caretaker (his occupation on my parents’ wedding certificate) or else - as my mother told me - a bookie’s runner. I didn’t know much but I did know that we were not posh people who rode in carriages by the sea.

But Bertie was not making it up. He may have forgotten the details (he was a small boy at the time) but he did live by the sea for a period and he was a small boy in a household of women who did not have children of their own. It is quite possible that little Bertie was spoilt rotten. Albert William Pateman really had an Aunt Fanny, his father’s sister.
This piece pushes back in time on my memoir of childhood I Have Done This In Secret (2018; available on Amazon or from Waterstones etc). My thanks to Gillian Cable for the archival genealogy.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Two or Three Things You Should Know About Old Oxford University Finals Examinations

Four of the United Kingdom’s five most recent Prime Ministers graduated from the University of Oxford. And quite a few British voters could tell you with what class of degree they did so. It would be unthinkable to write a Wikipedia page or a biography without including such a basic fact, up there with school attended.  For public figures, past and present, politicians or intellectuals, knowing what they got if they went to Oxford (which you can read as generic and include Cambridge if you wish) is an important part of knowing who they are or were. 

But the box easily labelled “What they got at Oxford” is rarely opened for the simple reason that there is nothing inside which we might inspect.

Imagine what happened in, say, June 1968 - sufficiently distant not to trouble anyone’s PR or legal team. That year, three hundred sweating PPE finalists trooped into the Oxford Examination Schools, dressed in sub fusc. On eight occasions spread over a week or so they sat down for three hours and on each occasion they tried to answer, in longhand, four questions which they picked from the dozen or so offered on printed examination papers not previously seen. Over the next few weeks, members of the board of examiners comprised of some among their teachers read the resultant efforts (300 students each writing 32 essays =  9600 essays)collated their marks, met to decide who to call for viva voce, and shortly after published a printed list of the results, posted up in the Examination Schools. Despite the dangers - only thirty students were going to get Firsts - many students returned on the day to read the printed results. 

And that was that. It was all over, except for the One Percent, the three candidates who a week or so later would receive a handwritten letter from the Chairman of the Examiners congratulating them on their performance. Shortly afterwards, all nine thousand six hundred essays would be destroyed. None would be published as “Model Answers”.

To my knowledge, no examination scripts from distant Oxford Finals examinations have survived. I don’t think any student ever secretly kept a carbon copy of what they wrote and hid it in their gown as they walked out; old fashioned pen and ink would not produce a carbon anyway. When it comes to looking at what it took to get a First in 1928, 1938, 1948, 1958, 1968 …a historian of Oxford has nothing to study, nothing which might indicate how essay styles changed, how standards changed. Only the printed examination papers allow access to what was considered examinable. Even those are rarely looked at; I have a feeling that it might be embarrassing.

The deliberate destruction of evidence is understandable; it prevented any challenge to the verdict ever being lodged. Once marked and destroyed, nothing could be appealed. You could not point to course work assessments because there were none. Your tutor could not plead on your behalf because once printed, the results were as Final as Finals themselves. Maybe there were occasional typographical errors; who knows.

There were things which students would grumble about beforehand. It was considered an advantage if one of your own teachers was on the Board of Examiners that year. They would be involved in setting the questions and would be unlikely to set ones on topics which they had not taught you. It would be wildly implausible to suppose that no tutor’s recommendations as to What to Revise were ever influenced by what they knew was coming up on the printed paper. Maybe a whole paper was occasionally leaked.  Students who didn’t have tutors on the Board pumped those who did for any titbits of advice. And, of course, even though the scripts were numbered to provide anonymity they were handwritten and a tutor would probably recognise the work of his or her own students - though in 1968 male students outnumbered female by about six to one and the faculty gap was even larger. 

If you got called to viva that had both advantages and perils: in 1968 Michael Rosen, the children’s author, then taking his Finals in English had an unsuccessful run-in with Dame Helen Gardner, determined to stop him getting a First.   He had alphas in all his papers except that which she marked. She had given him a delta to hole below the waterline his chance of a First and she was not going to retreat; she had a grudge against him which went deeper than any disatisfaction with his examination script. The story is now told in Rosen’s 2017 autobiography They Call You Pisher (pages 289-91).

I still have the breakdown of the marks in each of my eight 1968 Finals papers which combined to give me my degree classification: ααβ  ααβ  ααβ/3  αβ  αβ  βα  βα  βα. That is as open as the box ever can be, but in the absence of the scripts it’s all Greek (the  /3 punctiliously records the fact that in one paper I answered only three questions rather than the required four).


We do things differently now. It is all much more objective. We have course work and percentages and External Examiners - and Model Essays all over the Internet.