Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you a story. This story begins in Birmingham, England. In the 19th century, factories and shops attracted workers from all over, including Samuel Browne, who moved there from Derbyshire and married a local girl. This story is about his youngest daughter, Charlotte.
Born in 1873, Charlotte grew up in a back-to-back house, which was a common type of cramped housing for working families built around a dismal shared courtyard containing an outhouse, a water pump and little else. This was Charlotte’s world as a young child.
By age 11, she was orphaned, living at a training school for servants run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was a home for Catholic girls who would otherwise be in the workhouse.
By 1895, things started to look up for Charlotte, when she married Edward Gradwell, a handsome young brass worker. Children soon followed, first Lilly, then Will, Teddy, Dorothy, George, and the last, Freddy, my grandfather.
Freddy was barely a year old when his father died of one of the most common diseases of the urban poor, tuberculosis. He died in the Aston Workhouse infirmary, aged 36, leaving Charlotte with 6 children under 10 and no means of support. It was 1905.
Charlotte’s story continues tomorrow.