Thursday, 3 January 2013

Mary Ann Thorpe From Rags to Riches

The Thorpe Family Ceylon 1905

Take a good look at the woman in the above photograph. There she sits in front of her huge house in Colombo in Ceylon with her husband Henry Thorpe and her two daughter's Flo and Jo and their servants. It is a picture that is typical of the colonial period when the British thought they ruled the world but all is not what it seems. Ma was no ordinary Lady, in fact she wasn't a Lady at all but for 60 years I had no idea at all where she came from.

This is how I knew my grandmother. She was like Queen Mary, the wife of George V and just as upright and terrifying. Ma was a Lady from the moment she got up to the moment we went to bed. The house was run like clockwork and everyone knew his or her place.

I was never told about my family. I only knew the ones I met. I became curious as to my great grandparents. I wanted to know who they were and from whence they came but nobody could tell me. All I knew is that they came from Manchester.  I knew they lived in some style in a beautiful house in Taplow and Pop was the chief accountant at Wembley Stadium and they were well off. We had four millionaires living next door but that was it. I remember asking my auntie Jo just before she died and she told me she knew nothing. Auntie Jo was pure Rodean.

Then along came Genes Reunited and a few years ago I found out. What I discovered far from disappointing me delighted me and explained why I am as I am. I could never think why I never fitted in comfortably with the upper professional middle class and that is simply that my family never belonged. My family on the Thorpe side  couldn't be more working class if you tried.

Granny Thorpe, Ma, was born in the slums of Manchester in the very worst part, Royston. Her name was Mary Ann Booth and she turned up on the census. However I discovered that there were two Mary Ann Booths and at first I got the wrong one but I expect that their lives were somewhat similar. My grandmother probably worked as a child in the local cotton mill doing something. Let us hope she was not a piecer a child that crawled under the mills picking up fluff for 12 hours a day but she could have done.

Granny would have had little education. I know she met my grandfather when she was 17 as I knew they were childhood sweethearts although she did not marry Pop until she was 25. She chose well. Although Pop was the son of a man who made coal wagons and lived beside the railway in Gorton in a two up an two downer of early Coronation Street architecture with 16 in the family, he went to night school, eventually university, passed in the top section of the civil service exams and low and behold became accountant to the Ceylon railways.

By 1905 Ma had gone from mill girl to the grandest lady. Some social leap upward for that or any time. She did it well. None of us ever knew her background. It was a true Cinderella story of rags to riches.

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