Monday, 25 March 2013


With alcohol, Harry knew his limits, most of the time. His son Edwin (Ted) told his family a story of how Harry could be bribed with jugs of ale, whenever Martha wanted him to stay home with the children (about 1900 when his children were small) whenever she and her sisters wanted to go shopping.  Harry would sit with the children telling them stories and drinking his bribe while waiting for the women to return.

Harry had a sense of humour and was a great story teller, not only to his grandchildren, but also to his friends.” For example, he told his grandchildren that he fought in the “Zulu War”, which he never did. He told them he sewed the lips of the natives so they wouldn’t make any noise but of course, he’d never been to Africa, ever.

But then the women, also, would have a few pints on their way home. When they would finally arrive at home, in the early hours of the next morning, bedlam would be the result. Harry would “have a go” at his wife for being late and she would “give it right back to him” - but he could always get the better of her. Then Martha Jane would send some of the children to get one of her brothers-in-law to help her. 

When the children and brother-in-law returned, rather than being afraid, the children would laugh heartily when expecting the follow-up ruckus. First, the “uncle” would protest the fighting, then, Harry would respond to his efforts to create peace by tossing him through a window. Harry had done this many times and would do the same to any other man who ever tried to intercede. 

All the while the children would be unafraid, all laughing at the spectacle. As a last resort, their grandmother – Harry’s mother-in-law - would be asked to step into the fray.  Harry’s son, Edwin, witness to many a fracas, reported that Harry often said he was afraid of “no man nor beast, but, … Edwin then would pause, raise an eyebrow, then add mischievously, “ except for his mother-in-law.”

Harry looked after his health.  He never smoked. He always said, “If man were meant to smoke, he’s have been born with a chimney on top of his head.” He liked “the ladies,” but he had no interest in birth control. Grandmother Martha Jane revealed in a whisper to her grandson John’s wife, Sheila Blaney, “I had 21 pregnancies.”  Of these pregnancies, only six reached adulthood. 

Her youngest son, Alfred, lived to age 22, dying during WWII in Battle of Jubilee at Dieppe, August 19, 1942.  Alfred was a coxswain in the role of Acting Leading Seaman on the landing craft of HMS Dinosaur when there was an explosion. At the time they were transporting ammunition for the Canadian 6th Cavalry’s tanks. Sadly he left behind the woman he had married in Scotland just six weeks before, Lily Scobie Wilson.

At the age of 21, Alfred (Alfie) had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of “…gallantry during active operations against the enemy at sea…” during the battle of Crete in 1941. After the war, Harry, Martha Jane, Alfie’s sister Louise and his widow, Lily, were invited to Buckingham Palace to receive this medal from the Queen.

Grandson John Blaney in the backyard shelter
During the bombings of World War II, Harry helped not only his family, but also his neighbours to survive German bombing raids, when he volunteered as an Air-Raid Warden.  (Son Stanley followed his example in Canada.) His job was to go out and check that no lights were visible to those in the German bombers above. Harry didn’t want his family to risk the trip to the public air raid shelter, so he built a shelter for them by digging into the ground at the end of his garden, then lining it with concrete.  Grandson John told of how, towards the end of the war, he got very angry with “the Jerries.” for causing such disturbances.  In protest, he refused to enter ANY shelter and stayed inside his house, in spite of family protests. 
Eventually, when Harry was old and infirm, “the ladies” remained one of his fascinations, but his attentions weren’t reciprocated.  Grandson John, who loved Harry deeply, laughingly said “Grand dad couldn’t keep a homemaker to care for him, because he wouldn’t stop trying to pinch their bums.” 

Harry was a very fair man and also very clean for a man of his social background and age. He bathed and changed his clothes on a regular basis. (In contrast, his granddaughter Patricia learned in 1954, when working in the North Vancouver Hospital, that some old-time loggers in Canada, would still don their long-john underwear in the fall and wouldn’t take it off until the following June, for fear they would catch pneumonia and die!)  Harry didn’t share their views. 

When not at work, he usually changed into a dark navy blue suit, an oxford-style striped shirt with a white collar and a polka dot tie, a waistcoat (vest), a watch chain and fob. He also shaved before going out in public. He retained his own teeth for much longer than most people, brushing daily with salt and flossing with thread.  His daughter, Elizabeth, told her niece Patricia that, many years ago, when most used “outhouses” in working-class neighbourhoods, Harry installed one of the first toilets in their English neighbourhood.  He located it in the alcove under the hallway stairs, the only place there was room for it in one of their rented “council houses.”

Today, some would judge that he abused his children by using his belt to spank them, but that was usual for most parents in Harry’s day.  Parents then believed they were “spoiling” their children if they didn’t spank them when they disobeyed parental orders.  Children were to be “seen and not heard.” Yet, Harry also would use some of his meagre earnings to buy treats for his children on paydays.  He spent time after long work-days teaching them survival skills in very difficult times.  Though he was a working-class man, he inspired long-lasting love in his children and in his grandchildren.  His daughter Elizabeth (Bess) wrote several poems about him including this one; her hero.

He was a good, loyal, hard-working friend and neighbour, which was affirmed by the words of some elderly former friends and neighbours, with whom son Albert, granddaughter Patricia and her husband Tom shared stories in Birmingham’s “Three Magpies Pub,” during a visit to England in July, 1989. He was still remembered by them, long after his death on March 13, 1955. We felt an awareness of Harry’s presence in this pub where he often socialized and willingly shared his laughter and talents. 

We Canadian relatives, still wish we could have known him, in person because in his own era, in his own style, he made his English Victorian world a better place to be.

Monday, 18 March 2013


As mentioned in my February entry, I am now pleased to post Part I of Harry Blaney's story written primarily by my cousin Patricia Blaney Koretchuk. We have very much enjoyed our long distance collaboration and hope it will be enjoyed by other family members. As always any additional information or corrections would be welcome.

Harry Blaney

Born January 23, 1876 in Birmingham, England

Married Martha Jane Elcocks (1877-1961) on July 9, 1895 

Children – William, Elizabeth, Edwin, Albert, Stanley, Louise and Alfred

Died March 13, 1955 in Birmingham


As fathers go, Harry Blaney was an exceptionally good one in the eyes of his children, Elizabeth (Bess), Stanley and Albert. Throughout the 1920’s, all three of them eventually physically left England separately and immigrated to Canada, each for their own reasons, leaving their parents behind. They carried their memories of him and their mother Martha Jane and their memories of their childhood in Victorian England with them. Their adult names were Elizabeth Welch, Harry’s eldest daughter, and two of his sons, Albert James, and Stanley Eric.  Much later, in the mid 1950’s, his youngest daughter, Martha Louise Darby also immigrated to North Vancouver, B.C. Canada with her family. 

 This story has been written by two of Harry’s Canadian descendants, a granddaughter, Patricia Koretchuk (Stanley’s daughter), and one of his great-grandchildren Margaret (Peggy Atkinson) Boot (granddaughter of Elizabeth).  His story also includes contributions by John Blaney (a grandson living in England), Peter Blaney (a great-grandson to Harry and son to John Blaney) and Roger Darby (a great-grandson of Harry’s and son of Louise). His story, including public record research by Peggy and the remembered details of Harry’s life, is a truly group effort informed by family lore and culled from the memories of his adult children (our parents), who rarely saw him after they left England.  Travel took much longer and retaining a job to fund their own family needs intervened to prevent their returns.  Times were tough and money was scarce, in spite of their hard work. The Great Depression, hardships, World War II, life adjustments, aging and illness all combined to prevent or strictly restrict return visits to the home country, England. 

For all four of Harry and Martha’s children, their admiration of Harry never faltered. Harry’s humour, his talent for telling stories, his kindness and the survival skills that Harry taught served them all well, as demonstrated in this collection of family remembrances. For those Blaneys and others who read about Harry, we writers hope his life and actions will add to knowledge of the times and cultural influences in which he lived.  He was a worthy man, an intelligent, talented, working-class father who taught his children by example the contradictions of physical abuse, mental strictness, kindness, and the joys of singing, whistling, music and friendships. He was a man who, though strict, aroused enduring love, laughter, and respect in his children and also in their descendants. Though he died, as we all must, hopefully this writing will continue his legacy and reveal his true nature to his wide-ranging family, today.

For those Blaney extended family members who might read this, we writers hope you, too, will experience Harry Blaney’s laughter, his willingness to share his attitudes, his strengths, his love, helping his family, friends and neighbours to survive what we now know was a “caste system”  in Victorian England. We think Harry would have liked that to happen.


Harry was the second youngest of eight children. He had three older brothers, three older sisters and one younger sister. He lost his father Edwin Blaney at the age of nine and his mother Ellen Elizabeth Langley never remarried, raising the family by working as a self employed dressmaker. 

Harry worked in the leather trade, a popular trade in the city of Birmingham, England coming from a long line of Blaney leatherworkers; his father, his father’s uncle and his grandmother. He also worked for some years as a granite set layer, lifting and setting granite blocks (or sets) measuring about 4 inches square and 4 inches deep (forming a cube). At age 15 he was working as a clock case maker, at age 25 working in a lumber mill and the 1911 census records his occupation as a leather worker. In his later years until retirement about 1946, he was a foreman in the cutting room of Lycett Saddles, making bicycle saddles and the tool pouches that used to be standard on bicycles.

In his younger days, sports were his interest. He achieved the title of “English Individual Champion” in air rifle target shooting and was awarded a gold medal (which he sold because he needed the money). Although he was only about 5’4”tall, his friends nicknamed him “Hack”, after a German fairground strongman named “Hacklesmith” because, like him, Harry had big biceps and superior strength, probably developed as he lifted the sets of granite and built roads. 

Harry had many interests throughout his life.  He bred wire-haired fox terriers, nicknamed “rough haired” terriers. His favourite wire-haired terrier was called “Roger”. He also had a Jack Russell bitch called “Spot”. A story is told about him training another bitch, “Floss,” to “fetch” a choice piece of meat from a nearby butcher’s outside slab, on command – meat for free. As well, Harry bred Border canaries, raced pigeons and was probably a boxer, because he taught his children to box – including his daughter Elizabeth. She told a story about knocking her brother “Ted” (Edwin) senseless by winding up and hitting him on the chin during one of these sessions.

The reason he taught his daughter to box was probably for protection. Harry’s son Stanley taught his daughter Patricia to box when she was being bullied at school, in Canada. In England, the Blaneys lived in tough British working-class neighbourhoods. Yet, Harry trained his children to settle their own differences with honourable conduct according to the 1876 Marquess of Queensberry Rules, in the family boxing ring, located in the attic of their house.  In those days, males could also occasionally use their skill at boxing to earn extra money, to pay for rent or food when times were tough.  So, he was actually teaching his sons a survival skill.  (Promoters paid volunteer boxers a tiny percentage of the money the promoters made by collecting from unsuccessful betters, betting on the outcomes of the fights.) 

Though Harry was poor and he could be a devil, he was also compassionate and a good citizen.  For example, he could repair shoes and he did so not only for his own family but also for neighbours’ children, when he noticed they needed it. He could make shoes as well. He was a keen gardener having a great love of: first – roses; then carnations; then pansies - all of which he grew with great success. He raised chickens for the eggs, bred rabbits, grew vegetables and had ferrets and terriers to hunt wild rabbits and catch rats. (Terriers were originally created as a breed to kill rats). 

Harry loved fishing and was a good fisherman. His favourite river was the river Severn, a 220 mile river, the longest in the United Kingdom.More than once he took his grandson, John along for a fishing outing in the Pearlswood Lakes area, another favourite.  They reached the lakes by bicycle, a long ride.

As much as Harry loved fishing, he hated: decorating the house; doing any cleaning, any fetching of groceries or other shopping. Like most men of his time, Harry considered these tasks “women’s work.”

As an illustration of this last statement, grandson John remembers a time when his grandmother, Martha Jane Blaney, went to stay in the town of Battle, for a two-week visit with her sister.  While she was away, Harry used every cooking utensil in the house, until he had used them all. As well, he raked the ashes out of the fireplace onto the hearth, then left all those ashes AND all the cooking utensils (The whole mess!) for his wife to clean up when she returned.Yes, Harry was a 100% Victorian man, who thought women were put on earth to serve men.  (He wouldn’t get away with this today, in 2013!)

Having said that, he made sure he worked hard at men’s work, though he was only 19 when he married Martha Jane Elcocks, on July 9, 1895. To the best of his ability, he would do anything necessary to make sure his family was cared for. He was about 73 years of age before he finished work, retiring on a pension of about 10 shillings a week (about half a dollar in Canadian money – a pittance, even in 1946).  By WWII he was too old to serve in the army. When his youngest son, Alfred was killed at Dieppe, 19 August 1942, Harry grieved for a long time. 

As you can see so far, Harry Blaney's working-class family life in Victorian England is not as "staid" as pictured in recent popular movies and T.V. shows.  Do read the second half of Harry's blog entry to discover more about the complexities and challenges this well-loved father and friend met and triumphed over, in Victorian England.

To be continued shortly..........