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Two Mothers- A Mother's Journey Through Life with her Mother 20th April 2007 Family History

As the youngest son of Stella McQuaid, I have of late come to realise that I knew very little about my mother’s life; from where, when and whom she came.

Much has been told of the life and times of my father and his family - the McQuaids, whose name I carry, but the background of my mother has remained, to a certain degree, shrouded in mystery.
Those who could have answered the many questions I now pose about the past have by now all passed on.

December 6th 2006 marked the centenary of Stella’s birth and I dedicate the results of my research to her memory. I have enjoyed the challenge to date, but the job is not yet complete by any means as I hope to uncover more information about her childhood days.

I hope that this account of the story so far, will be of interest to other members, young, old, and those yet to join the extended family of the Reeds and McQuaids of the present time.

The principal target on the distaff side of my family and the central point of my search needed to be Stella’s mother - my grandmother Violet Reed. This ‘little old lady’ lived with my family in Leicester during the later years of her life and up to her death at the age of 74 years. I was only 12 years old when she died and had a meagre knowledge then of her life and times; it was something I never discussed with her or anybody else as far as I can remember.

I do recall my mother and her brothers telling us how the family had had a very hard life in the early days and that their father Fred, my grandfather, had died in tragic circumstances at the age of 27.

Stella was fiercely protective of Violet and obviously loved her dearly. She once told me towards the end of her own life that she was looking forward to rejoining her mother in another place.

Out the outset, it is fair to say that tracing Violet’s background has not been easy; for a start, nobody seemed to know what her maiden name was.
A perusal of Stella’s Birth Certificate disclosed that her mother was formerly known as Violet MARSHALL.

From official records of Births, Marriages and Deaths dating back to 1837, Parish Records and Census returns dating from 1851 to 1901, I have eventually pieced together the make up and movements of many of her ancestors and descendants. My early searches for a Marriage between a ‘MARSHALL’ and a ‘READ/REED’ frustratingly led me up many blind alleys and against brick walls, which at first seemed insurmountable.

I did eventually discover however, that three families have combined in the past to make up the story of the present day REEDS; these are:


John MARSHALL was born in Cambridge in 1810. He married Elizabeth and in 1831, their son John was born in Bluntisham, Near Huntingdon; their daughter Hannah was born in 1837.

John married Lydia, a Huntingdon girl, in 1853 and they seemed to have moved around the country whilst producing their family. He is variously described at different times and places as a general dealer, a dairyman, handyman or a general labourer.

Their first three children, all born at Shoreditch in East London, were William in 1853, Elizabeth in 1855 and Clara in 1857. Their fourth child, Arthur, was born in Kings Lynn in 1859. In the 1871 census the family is shown as living at Willingham, a village in Cambridgeshire; Clara, an important part of my story, was then 14 years of age.


Around the same time, Eliza GARNER, a widowed blacksmith, was carrying on the work of her late husband in Willingham. She was raising two children, a daughter Eveline, aged10 and a son, Jabez, 14.

The Garner family appears to have been well established in the village for many years and Jabez - another important person in the story - was destined to follow his mother and father in becoming the next village blacksmith.


James READ was born in 1845 at Marham, near to Kings Lynn in Norfolk. In 1871 he married Mary Anne ROSE of the nearby village of Stradsett. From 1871 to 1880, James and Anne - as she was known - produced 6 children, Jane (1871), Mary (1872), George (1874), Rose (1876), James (1879) and Fred (1880).

In 1881 they were living at Whittlesey, a fenland town 6 miles east of Peterborough, from where the three boys were later to leave and travel north to find work in the rapidly growing industrial City of Leicester.


On 19th June 1878, Clara MARSHALL, by now 19 years of age, gave birth to a baby girl. The Birth Certificate shows that the birth took place at Willingham, Cambridgeshire and names the female child born as ‘Violet GARNER’. The father of Violet is named as Jabez GARNER, our young blacksmith of Willingham who was by then aged 20.

According to the Certificate, Violet’s parents were not married at the time of the birth and there was to be no subsequent union of Clara and Jabez. Such an event was almost certain to be considered as a scandalous event amongst Victorians of the day and there was the possibility that Clara, along with Violet and her family might have had to move on from the village.

It was not uncommon for such children to be taken into the care of the local Union, or Workhouse. It is a fact however - for which we should all be grateful - that three years later in the April of 1881, the official Census recorded the MARSHALL family - including Clara and 3yrs old Violet - all ensconced at No. 4 Erskine Street Leicester, on the edge of the teeming residential area of the then notorious Wharf Street. Violet is recorded on the census as ‘Violet MARSHALL’. It is of passing interest that her father - my great-grandfather Jabez - later married a local Willingham girl and continued his life as the village blacksmith. He did however die there in 1891 at the young age of 34.

Of Violet’s early days I have as yet no information, but in 1887 her mother Clara, then aged 27 years, married Thomas HUGHES, a ‘button turner’ who had moved to Leicester from London to find work in the burgeoning shoemaking industry. The Census of 1891 shows:

21 Farnham Street, Leicester.
Thomas HUGHES, Head, 34yrs
Clara HUGHES, Wife, 32yrs
Violet HUGHES, Daughter, 12yrs
Billie HUGHES, Son, 5yrs
Fred HUGHES, Son, 8 months

So, Clara Marshall seemed to have achieved some stability, security and perhaps, ‘respectability’ at last and Violet had acquired two stepbrothers. (The record further shows that they shared this house with Clara’s brother, Arthur - who was apparently a musician, together with his family of wife Mary and their two children, Daisy and Sidney.)
Note that Violet now used the surname HUGHES.

I was sad to discover during my searches that poor Clara had died in the early part of 1898 at the young age of 41yrs. I have yet to ascertain how she met her death, but Violet must have been devastated at the early loss of her dear mother who had obviously brought her through some desperately hard times.
It is even more poignant when we later realise that Clara would not be around to comfort Violet following the tragic personal events which were to overcome her.


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, much of the country’s employment was moving from the countryside to the cities. Rural employment, not only shedding its manpower at a rapid rate, was also seasonal and new agricultural machinery was creating much unemployment amongst the otherwise, unskilled work force.

Men were forced to travel great distances by whatever means available to seek whatever work was available in an effort to support their – usually large - families. There were no handouts or dole then and the Poor Laws still carried the threat of incarceration in the ‘Unions’ or Workhouses.

In the late 1890’s, Frederick REED, who had no trade, skills or profession, had moved to Leicester from Whittlesey together with his older brothers James and George Henry. George, the eldest of the three brothers had in 1896 married Anne ARMSTRONG, a Leicester girl and set up home in the city. Fred was by now 20 years of age and probably courting young Violet. On the 25th November 1899, Fred and Violet were married at the Leicester Register Office; the Certificate shows Violet with the surname of GARNER (hence the difficulties I encountered with finding her Marriage!).

Her address at the time of their Marriage was given as, 102 Mornington Street, Leicester (then the HUGHES’ residence) and Fred’s as 26 Asfordby Street, Leicester. Witnesses are recorded as ‘George Henry and Elizabeth Annie REED’.
It is of interest that this Certificate is the first reference to the spelling variant of REED, the form that has continued to the present day along this particular branch of the family.

In 1900, James Reed married Agnes Fanny MAYALL, a daughter of Thomas and Fanny MAYALL who were originally from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire and then living in Brierly Street, Leicester. They started their married life living with George and Annie at 9 Oak Street, Leicester, who by now had their first son James who was born in 1900.

In 1901 the Census shows Fred and Violet as residents of No. 12 Vulcan Cottages, Vulcan Road, Leicester. Fred is described as a ‘bricklayer’s labourer’. An addition to the family shows their first born son, ‘Alfred C. REED, aged 1Yr’, thus the new generation of Reeds in the new century had commenced in the year that Queen Victoria died and her reign eventually came to an end.

Frederick George followed in 1902, following which and for reasons not yet discovered, the family moved back to the READ’s family home at Whittlesey. William Henry was born there in 1904.


Early in 1906, Violet became pregnant with her fourth child, destined to be the first daughter of the family, Stella. However, during the summer of that year a tragic incident occurred which took the young lives of both Fred and James REED within days of each other.

I have been told that the brothers were ‘out in the country’ together with the avowed purpose of seeking employment to support their growing families, when they were exposed to a violent storm or other weather related incident. Unable to gain immediate medical assistance, they both died within a short period of time from pneumonia. Fred’s Death Certificate, which is frustrating in its brevity, gives the cause of death only as “Rheumatic fever - Exhaustion.” It indicates that Violet was present at his death in their home in Inhams End, Whittlesey and that he was a general labourer, 26yrs of age. He died on the 19th August 1906 and is buried at Whittlesey Cemetery.

His brother James had died earlier at Leicester - on the 30th July 1906 - at the age of 28 and he was buried at Welford Road Cemetery on August 2nd 1906.

Imagine, just for a moment- It is 1906 in Edwardian England; Violet is a young mother, attempting to cope with three very young children in the most strained of circumstances and is five months pregnant with Stella to boot. Her mother is by now dead and there is no Welfare State, N.H.S. or other form of public support, apart from any kindness or gifts possibly gained from others; the Workhouse would be again beckoning to those who were unable to make their own way in life - they would be labelled ‘paupers’.

Violet would have had no income or savings of her own and thus, unless they had had a kindly local doctor who might be persuaded to waive his fee, she would only have been able to sit and watch him die.

Fortunately for me some four months later, on the 7th December 1906, Violet gave birth to Stella and my future existence was assured.


Sometime soon after this tragic event, Violet returned to Leicester with her four young children; it is possible that it was pretty soon after the birth of Stella.

Her mother was by now dead, but there was the possibility that she returned to stay initially with her step-father Tommy HUGHES at Mornington Street, or with Fred’s brother George. Stella attended at Bridge Road Infants School from an early age whilst living in Stonebridge Street.

There is no evidence that they ever left the City again and it is from here that the four Reed siblings matured and grew into the extended families that exist today.

If it is thought that Violet’s life had been stressful so far, then her efforts to raise the family on her own in Leicester were to prove even worse.
With no husband to support her and four mouths to feed, she apparently cleaned house for various ladies in the area and took in washing to provide an income of sorts.

I am told that the very young Reed boys were often to be seen with a hand-barrow at Billington’s coal yard on the Uppingham Road, gathering what scraps of coal and wood that they could find, in an effort to feed the copper boiler at home which was seemingly fired up day and night to do the washing.

Stonebridge Street – a tiny terraced property - was the family home for some time, but as the children grew older and the cost of merely existing proved to be almost impossible, she entered a period of being without a fixed home.

Alf, who was the only brother to have been involved in the Great War, and Fred, were the first to marry and leave the family home.
Violet, together with Will and Stella, appears to have lodged with them at various times.

However, it seems that these arrangements were not always amicable and after Will had married Elsie (HALL) in 1924, Violet and Stella moved in with them and found some stability in welcoming and warm surroundings. They eventually all moved to Gwendolen Road in Leicester.


Joining her brothers Alf and Will, Stella started her working life at the Chilprufe factory on leaving school as an operative in the manufacture of underwear, but at some time later she worked as a barmaid or similar at the Stag and Pheasant Hotel in Humberstone Gate. Whether this was an extra job or full time, I do not know, but it was here that she met handsome young Irishman, Harry McQuaid and on Boxing Day of 1932 they were married at Leicester Register Office: they chose Boxing Day it is said, because it was the only day they could both be spared from work together.

Sometime after the Second World War, Violet moved in with Stella’s family at Braunstone Lane and within two years of our removal to a new home at New Parks in November 1952, she died peacefully at the age of 74.

These four branches of the Reed family have enlarged and moved onwards in the 100 years since the birth of Fred and Violet’s four children; they are now spread far and wide.

As I have said earlier, I dedicate this brief journey into the past to my mother Stella, who put up with many sacrifices during her life. But from what I have discovered, these were perhaps of nothing to compare with those of her own mother, Violet, the ‘little old lady’ who used to live in my house.


John McQuaid

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