A Family History Collection



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Sheila's Memories - A memoir by Sheila Iremonger nee Burrage

My grandmother, Emily Howard Mckay often spoke to me of her childhood and what a happy time it was. Her parents, James and Mary Ann were happily married and later in life were still very much in love.

At some time during the 1860's the McKay family moved from Sunderland (Roker) to London (Deptford) because there was more work in Deptford for a ships's carpenter than in the North of England.

Their home was close to the River Thames and the children would spend a lot of time playing on the shore. Their favourite part was privately owned and they had to ask permission of the gate keeper to enter. My grandmother and her twin brother and sister - James and Mary Ann (Polly) - were much of an age and so spent a lot of time together. Emily and James - like the McKay side of the family - were red haired and blue eyed but Polly was like her mother - dark haired and brown eyed.

The gate keeper would tease Polly until she cried, telling her she could not possibly be a McKay with hair the colour of hers!

One day the children found a battered bucket on the shore and filled it with winkles they gathered from the stones as a surprise for their mother, the next day being Sunday and they always had winkles and brown bread and butter for Sunday tea. They took the bucket home and hid it until the next day in the girls bedroom. In the morning they woke to find the walls and ceiling covered with crawling winkles!


When Emily Howard left school she wanted to work and so went as 'home help' to two maiden ladies in their house in Deptford - she lasted there 2 weeks!

Emily was never house trained and, being a bright, intelligent grl who wrote and read well, she kicked at being told what to do by 2 women whom she thought stupid!. So, her Mother and Father collected her and brought her home where she stayed until her marriage.

Emily Howard McKay married William Stephen Fitch in 1884 at St Nicholas Church, Deptford, London.

William (Bill), my grandfather, told me on many occasions that my grandmother looked lovely on her wedding day dressed in brown brocade, which complemented her titian hair. They spent their lives together and had 9 children, but it was not an ideally happy arriage. Emily was a strong character and William weak and easily led so they jogged along through the years.

After their eldest son, Stehen, died in 1903 from TB, Emily and William moved from Deptford to Chatham (128 Castle Road) in Kent where William worked as a skilled labourere in Chatham Dockyard. They did not enjoy living in Chatham and soon moved to Corporation Road, then Shakespear Road in Gillingham. In 1905 they moved to 61 Byron Road Gillingham and stayed there until their deaths.

My mother, Winifred Maria Burrage, nee Fitch, used to recall bath nights at Byron Road. A zinc bath would be put in front of the range in the middle room and the five younger children - James, Winie, Rose, Billy and Freddie would be seated along the side of the room. Freddie would be bathed first as he was the youngest and the ceanest, followed by the girls and Jim. Billy was always last because he was the dirtiest!

Between each child, a kettle of hot water from the range would be added to the bath water.

As each child was rubbed dry they were dressed in a red night-shirt and seated on the other side of the room where they were given half an orange. While all this went on their father played his concertina in the corner.

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