VT Coughtrey

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Chapter 1: Family Background
Up to 1942, when I was born
Chapter written 1998 & last revised 2013

See Surname Database for a fairly convincing account of the origins of the name 'Coughtrey'.

It looks as though Agnes St, Silvertown no longer exists.  It may have been destroyed by bombing.
The name ’Coughtrey’ is an unusual one. It is probably Celtic in origin, but there have been Coughtreys in the county of Buckingham (mainly in the Chesham area) for at least 300 years, usually engaged in the shoemaking trade (the men) and basket weaving (mainly the women).  My paternal grandfather Alf moved from Chesham to Silvertown in the London Docklands in about 1892. For a while, he lived at 39 Agnes Street with several sons from his first marriage, but it is not clear when his first wife died There is no mention of her in the 1901 census. However, Maria Sturt, destined to be my paternal grandmother, is listed at the same address, described as the housekeeper.  I'm not sure how soon after that my grandfather married her, but he eventually had several sons and a daughter by her.  He worked as a lift operator in the Blackwall tunnel (the first electrically operated lift in England, he always said).
Constance St, Silvertown still exists in name but it looks from the Google satellite pic as if all the original houses have gone - probably bombed. Later, he opened a shoe repair shop at 63 Constance Street and moved in over the shop with all his children.  However, it seems that he somehow managed to carry on doing the lift job while running the business.  He is still called a lift operator on my parents’ marriage certificate of 1934, even though he would have been 66 by that time.  The shoe repair business was often in financial difficulty, partly because of heavy betting on the horses, and partly because of my grandfather’s charitable readiness to give credit to hopeless cases in what was then one of the poorest districts of London.  It may therefore have been the case that my grandfather had to resort to the lift job from time to time, but didn't do it continuously.
Parkdale Road, Plumstead looks pretty much unchanged since the 1920s.  Number 114 last changed hands in 2003 - for £116,000. Around 1912, Maria died giving birth to his 9th or 10th child, Stanley, and in the early 1920s, he married for a third time.  His new wife was Rosa Ansett, a public lavatory attendant who used his lift every day while commuting to work in North Woolwich from her home at 114 Parkdale Road, Plumstead, just across the river.  Alf was about 55 and Rosa was approaching 50.  Her husband Reuben, a stoker, had died about ten years earlier, leaving her with two children, Grace and Frank.  Rosa, Grace and Frank moved in over the shop with the 7 boys and one girl that my grandfather had had by his two previous wives.
The local schoolmaster wanted some of these boys (the younger ones who were Maria's sons) to stay on at school, but my grandfather wouldn't hear of it.  He needed them all to leave school as soon as possible - at 14 in those days - and to find work.  He employed one of his boys, also named Frank, in the shop, but Frank developed dermatitis from the rubber, and abandoned his father’s business, first to become a servant in Seale House at Tongham on the Hog's Back, Surrey, then to go to sea in the Merchant Navy.  After he had been twice round the world in a tramp steamer he returned to Silvertown and married his step-sister, Grace, in 1934.  Frank and Grace were my parents.  The fact that my father’s mother-in-law was also his step-mother and that her married name was therefore the same as my mother’s married name has apparently caused some confusion among genealogists!  No doubt this has been made even worse by my mother's brother and her husband having the same forename.
Frank and Grace managed to get a flat in Manor Park, at 153 Ruskin Avenue, but they soon lost it because my father was now unemployed.  They were forced to return to the shop.  Silvertown was a very rough area in those days, before the total transformation of the Docklands.  The docks were still very much in use.  My mother vowed not to have children unless they could escape to a better area in which to bring them up.
Adolf Hitler came up with the answer.  To that gentleman I owe my existence.  By 1940 the docks and all the streets surrounding them were being systematically destroyed by German bombing.  Those families who had not already been wiped out were bundled onto any sort of vehicle available and despatched to the relative safety of the outer suburbs.  My father was by now in the wartime Special Constabulary, and had to remain behind, but my mother, grandmother and grandfather were put on a horse and cart.  They were taken, so they thought, to Chingford.  But the road signs had all been removed for wartime security, and it was a day or two before they realised they were not in Chingford but in High Barnet, Hertfordshire.
The former railway house in Lancaster Rd was demolished in the 1980s to make way for Sainsbury's. This unplanned move to Barnet constituted a coincidence, insofar as my grandmother Rosa’s parents, Rosa and Henry Hayward, a railway guard with the Great Northern Railway (or its predecessor!) had lived in New Barnet in a railway-owned house in Lancaster Road, before the birth of my grandmother. My grandmother's birth certificate records that she was in fact born at 302 Portobello Road North Kensington, in 1874, and that her father was a house-painter, rather than a railway worker. However, this must have been a very temporary state of affairs, because my great grandfather was later a railway guard once again, this time on the London, Rochester & Gillingham Railway, and they had by then moved to Plumstead, on that line.  My great-grandmother was a Bartlett by birth and had originally lived on a small farm in Mays Lane, High Barnet.
Now, some 70 years later, my grandmother had returned to her family’s home town with her own daughter.  After a spell of being billeted on a family in Woodfall Avenue, they were moved into a large war-requisitioned house at 110 Normandy Avenue, with an absentee landlord.  Barnet was a very different place from Silvertown and so it was decided that it would be alright for me to exist after all. I was born at the Wellhouse (now Barnet General) hospital on 11 November 1942
There may be other photos relevant to this chapter that have no links in the text above. See INDEX OF PHOTOS for a full list.
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