Mam’s family – Miriam Turner

Growing up we learned snippets about Mam’s family whilst huddling around the coal fire on long winter’s nights. But it wasn’t until years later, researching the family tree, that we got the full story.

Mam’s mother, Ollie Maud Turner, was born in Nova Scotia. Her father, Freeman (Ginger) Clarence Wilson, was a cabinetmaker by trade and was also an undertaker. He travelled to Britain as a young man and met his future wife, Gertrude Simpson, who came from Spennymoor in County Durham. He returned to Nova Scotia with Gertrude and their three children in 1879. Two more children were born in Nova Scotia. In 1885, the family decided to return to Spennymoor. Their first two attempts ended in shipwrecks off the Nova Scotia coast. Fortunately, the whole family survived by wading ashore from the stricken crafts.

Back again in County Durham the family expanded to nine children. The three boys were Ira, born 1891, who was killed in the 1st World War, Alfred, born 1878, who was blinded in the same conflict and Freeman, the youngest, who died in infancy. The girls were Lydia, born 1875, Bertha, born 1877, Myra born 1881, Ollie Maude (my grandmother), born 1884, Evangeline, born 1886 and Era, born 1888.

Ollie was practically stone deaf. Because of this she never went to school and consequently could neither read nor write. However, she was nobody’s fool. At 16 years of age Ollie went to work in Durham as a domestic help in one of the large country homes.  She relayed the story to the three of us kids one night before we turned in.

As a test, the lady of the house planted silver coins at various spots to check on Ollie’s honesty. The ploy was obvious to Ollie and she eventually got sick of it and confronted her employer. “You keep leaving the money, would you like me to take it?” Needless to say, the job was short lived.

Twenty-three-year-old Ollie married James (Flip) Turner, my granddad, on 5th October 1907. Her father, Freeman Wilson, made her a magnificent mahogany sideboard as a wedding present. It remained in the family home until her death, when Uncle Teddy, her second son, unaware of its value, and unable to fit the sideboard into his home, chopped it up for firewood.

Henry Burr – ‘Let me call you sweetheart’  1911
Let me call you sweetheart
I’m in love with you
Let me hear you whisper
That you love me too
Keep the love light glowing
In your eyes so true
Let me call you sweetheart
I’m in love with you


Granddad’s family moved to Middlesbrough from Cambridge seeking work in the expanding iron and steel industries. After their marriage, he and Ollie lived in Church Street, North Ormesby, then later moved to the next street to number 46 Harrison Street. He worked most of his life as a stevedore, travelling from dock to dock, wherever there was a “stone boat” to load or unload. Most of the ships carried iron ore from Sweden, which had to be shovelled from the corners of the hold manually. He died in March 1957 and Grandma a few years later.

Dad (Tommy Jones) met his future wife, Miriam (‘Mirry’) Turner, at one of the many dance halls around the town. In the early years, Mam and Dad loved to dance and often went to the Communist Club Social. ‘The Internationale’ was always sung before the dancing started. That was a cheap price to pay for a good night out.

Billy Bragg – ‘The Internationale’
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all

 When they were courting, Mam’s brother Teddy was going out with Edie. The two girls became good friends and in1936, when work became scarce in Middlesbrough, they travelled together to London to seek employment. They worked in a chocolate factory for a while, tediously wrapping sweets but as soon as the novelty of the chocolates wore off they looked for other work.

Miriam Turner (Mirry, Mam)

They both obtained jobs as live-in domestic helpers in the same household. They were required to do all the cooking and housework. Their employer proved to be a drunkard, who treated them badly and paid them poorly. Mirry wrote to her father who sent them cash to return home. In the dead of night, they packed their bags and quietly left.

Miriam Turner, 21, and Thomas Jones, 23, were married on 28th August 1937 in the Holy Trinity Church in North Ormesby. Mirry’s parents, Jim and Ollie, were apprehensive about the marriage. Dad came from alongside the railway line in the seedier part of town. On top of this he had a chronic chest condition and Mirry’s parents were concerned that he would be unable to provide for their daughter adequately.

They set up house in the town at Sutherland Street, then later at 61 Hymers Street, North Ormesby. On 12th September the following year, baby Thomas arrived. After they married, Mirry contributed to the household income by working as a domestic help.

Jimmy Dorsey – ‘So Rare’  1941
So rare
You’re like the fragrance of blossoms fair
Sweet as a breath of air
Fresh with the morning dew
So rare
So rare 

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