Sunday, April 3, 2011

It Has Been Raining -- So I Am Thinking of England--Sheffield, England

I can't pinpoint what made me such an irregular blogger -- if I could, I would banish it from existence, because I know that unless you record things, they slip away, and with them goes a little bit of the joy you find in this life as well.  I can only try to be better, and there is nothing like a rainy conference weekend to provide opportunity :-)  So here goes a longish post, chronicling our visit to Sheffield, as part of our trip to England. If you find it too long, there is one story about my grandpa below that is really worth the read.

Why, you may wonder, would we choose Sheffield England as our first international destination after a 10 year hiatus?  ROOTS!  I have been so blessed by my father, who was born there, and my grandpa Bert and grandma Winnie (tell me those aren't English names!) and their extended family, that I have felt drawn to Sheffield. It clearly produces really special people, and that is no small thing.

When we last left off, we were in picturesque Bakewell, visiting Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall. The next morning we stopped at the Chatsworth marketplace (below) for picnic food (all local, fresh and superb), then drove the 15 miles to Sheffield.

En route, we just happened upon a stream flowing through Mill House Park, the perfect place for a picnic and, it turns out, a flood of memories.  My dad had been looking for this park for some time. He remembered swimming in an outdoor pool there when he was very young.  We found no pool, but dad, as he often did on this trip, walked up to the oldest couple he could find, and began talking, asking if they were from the area and if there had been a pool here. They were so kind (as such couples always were), and spent much time talking to us about how things used to be. They confirmed there had been a pool, just where the children's playground is in the photo below.

As we talked and ate our picnic, the memories flowed. My grandfather had been too terrified of water to teach my dad to swim, so his uncle Doug, who had married Bert's younger sister Mabel, took the time to teach him at this place. What a good man he was, to spend time with his in-law nephew like that. As we talked of it, dad's eyes misted up.  Small gestures become so meaningful over time.

Dad also remembers this pond, and fishing from a boat on it. Funny to me that grandpa Bert was scared of water and swimming, being an Englishman living on an island where sailing is supposed to be grafted to your bones.  It is almost as funny as the thought of dad fishing. He is an Englishman that hates eating fish. Both of them must have a non-conformist streak buried deep inside somewhere (in my dad's case, maybe not quite so deep :-).

We saw cricket players out for a game in what passes for a sunny day here--Dad recalled wanting to take a cricket bat to America when they left, which Grandpa didn't allow because he thought it was crazy. He would be right about that, of course, but it made me think of a poor little English boy, coming to a place where everything was so different. That could not have been easy, on my grandparents or my dad.

The park was, no surprise, filled with beautiful flowers and trees, all neatly manicured just so.

From Mill House Park we headed into downtown Sheffield and the Hotel Leopold.   Sheffield itself has recently been, and continues to be, completely remade into the largest University town in England, with new buildings and shops pushing out or shouldering up to their industrial-era ancestors. Girtie, our GPS friend, kept giving directions that were no longer valid and in some cases possibly life-threatening, but somehow, we made it anyway. Here are a few photos from the heart of downtown Sheffield:

Not what you expected, is it?  Not what I thought I would find in an old steel town. After getting settled into our hotel, we went looking for the places where my dad used to live.  Danbury street, where my dad's first home used to be, no longer exists anywhere in the city.

The following story about my Grandpa may tell you why, and also why I love him so much.  Here is the story, as related by my dad:

“I was born in England in a steel city called Sheffield. As World War II started it became the main target for the German bombing attacks in order to destroy the steel production that that city had. I was born into the (LDS) church, an only child. Two days before Christmas in 1940, German planes came over Sheffield and carpet-bombed the city. Sheffield was built in a way that the industrial part of the city was on one side. They bombed that area first. Then they came back the second time and picked up about 100 yards from where they left off and bombed the residential area.

“My father (grandpa Bert) was away on fire watch in the industrial part of the city, trying to put out the fires from the prior bombing. He had left me, a young child, with my mother at home. When the bombs started coming that second night, my mother hurried us into an air raid shelter in our yard.  The Germans bombed my dad’s home, which suffered a direct hit, two days before Christmas. It destroyed every personal possession he had in a matter of minutes.  He came home, and with the help of neighbors, dug us out of that bomb shelter. Then he tried to salvage anything he could from that rubble that had once been his home. There must have been a lot of pain and anger in my family over that bombing.

Years later, after my father died, I was going through his possessions.  He hadn’t kept very much.  After the bombing he had never owned very much.  But I did find some old photographs, and among them was a picture of Bernard Schwartz, and on the back of it was written “To Bert, I will be eternally grateful for your love and kindness. Bernard Schwartz.” 

Asking others about this photo, I found out that after the bombing, and after we had relocated into a new house, my father took it upon himself to go to the commander of a German prisoner of war camp outside of Sheffield. He asked if there were any German prisoners of war there that were members of the church. There was one; his name was Bernard Schwartz, likely a Luftwaffe pilot. My dad asked for permission to bring him home to our house and kept him there during the war so he wouldn’t have to suffer inside that German prisoner of war camp. He brought him home, fed him, took him to church, and was responsible for him during the latter stages of the war.” 

When I say that I have been blessed by my heritage, now you see what I mean.  My Grandpa loved the church, believed the gospel, and never flinched from that belief.  I never remember him with anything but a huge smile on his face, particularly when seeing his grandkids. He never needed material things, just family and gospel.  

I think on some level that bombing also affected my dad. He has never cared about material things (outside of maybe books and the occasional tennis racket). All he really cares about are family, people, and the gospel.  That is such a rich heritage to have. I am so grateful for it.

Here are a few pictures of my English family:

This is me leaving on my mission. Grandpa Bert is the one standing on the right. My "uncle" Ken, (actually my Grandpa Bert's nephew--big family) is on the left, and my Grandpa Aldin (Mom's side) seated.

Here is a little better picture of my grandparents. My grandma Winnie and grandpa Bert are on the left, with grandma Etta and grandpa Aldin on the right.

This is uncle Doug talking to my Grandpa Aldin.  My Grandma Winnie is on the left just behind Bert, and next to her is Aunt Dot, Ken's wife--one of the funniest people I have ever met.

These are my Englishmen, and I love them. They all had that wicked English sense of humor, and they could never be together for more than five minutes without laughter filling the room.  As I said, Sheffield makes very good people, who have each blessed my life.  I was excited to explore their places.

So off we went to find them.  The photo that started this post is my mom, dad and I on Regence Street in Sheffield -- now a part of the University of Sheffield dentistry complex.  My grandpa Bert's parents, Tom and Florence Bailey, lived on this street during the war, but their house is no longer there.  My Dad remembers visiting, and playing in the alleyways behind the houses. He also remembered the old building below, which used to be a public swimming pool in the neighborhood.

The Church at the top of Regence Street is St. George's church.

The graveyard around it contained this tombstone, for Elizabeth Hardy, wife of Thomas Hardy of Hound of the Baskervilles and Tess fame.  I studied his large body of poetry while at Cambridge University the summer of 1986. Some of his best poems were written after the death of his wife, and prompted by memories of her.

Finding old things was not easy, though. Old Sheffield is being plowed under, bit by bit, as a vibrant, reborn university town grows over it. Here is my dad walking past some of the old buildings about to be hidden by new construction.

As we walked about, he recalled that my grandpa had worked at Dormer Twist & Drill, on Cemetery Road in Sheffield.  My great Grandma Mim Ludlum (short for Miriam) had worked for Harrison and Housen Silver factory. We could not find those places, but here is a quick side story about my great grandma Mim and my grandpa Bert.

Mim's husband (great grandpa William Ludlum) was a veteran of World War I, and had been gassed in that war. He died shortly after the war (having spent all of the post war in a sanatorium because his lungs had been burned away), leaving great grandma Mim and my grandma Winnie ( a young, only child) alone.  Grandpa Bert married Winnie when she was still very young, after converting her to the church.  Great grandma Mim was not too pleased about her daughter becoming a Mormon, but having nowhere else to go, lived with Bert and Winnie from that point on. (She came to America with them, and I remember her sitting and knitting at grandma and grandpa's house.)  She would never join the church, despite what must have been many efforts. Finally, at age 80, one day she just said "Bert, I have watched the way you have lived your life all these many years, and that Church of yours must be true. I want to be baptized." And so, at age 80, my grandpa Bert baptized his mother-in-law. He was such a very good man.

Anyway, while we couldn't find many places, we were able to find 19 Northumberland Road, the house where my dad and his parents lived after the Danbury Street home was destroyed.  Here are my mom and dad outside it in the picture below.

The house was actually a social hall owned by the Druids (sounds mysteriously cool but was actually just an English version of the Lion's Club).  My grandpa rented the top two rooms (where the windows are on the top floor in the picture above), and paid rent by cleaning up the rest of the hall for the Druids after their events.

The house is now home to a dental clinic, of all things (what is it with dentists in my life, anyway? Seems like they weave themselves in no matter where I go--probably karma for the braces I should have had in junior high but did not get.)

Dad recalled escaping from the top window above and sliding down this drainpipe to run away from two missionaries that had come to the house -- don't know what they were going to do to him, but it must have been something horrible like having to sit still for a visit.

Dad also remembered that during the war the government had come around and cut off all of the cast iron fences around the house, because it was badly needed for the war effort.  Evidence of the removed railings is still there.

This Children's and Women's hospital was right in the neighborhood, and may have been where my dad was born, or where he had his appendix out as a young boy. (I also nearly had a ruptured appendix -- wonder if that has a genetic connection?)

We looked everywhere for Crookesmore school, where my dad went to grammar school, but could not find it.  Dad said that if we want to know about his childhood, we simply have to watch the movie "Hope and Glory," but did have a number of stories about his school, most of which involved being "caned" for doing this and that wrong, such as, in one case, burning down an abandoned building.

For those who don't know what caning is, the offender would be hauled in front of the whole school and the headmaster (principle) would make him hold out his hands, and proceed to whack them as hard as he could with a cane.  If you flinched or pulled back you received extra strokes.  Dad's friend, Ambrose Fiddler (don't you love these names?) would give him mercury to play with and to coat his hands with before he was caned, claiming it would make it hurt less. Dad says that didn't work.  He still has a scar on his hand from one of the canings ( I think the burned building one) so the headmaster was not going easy on him. Dad would have been younger than 11 at the time.  (Gee, wonder where that sadistic headmaster stereotype comes from?)

Just around the corner from Northumberland Road we found Weston Park, which dad remembers fondly as a place he played during his childhood.  Dad also recalled watching tennis there, the beginning of a life-long passion for that sport.

From there we headed back downtown, where dad stopped another elderly couple (below) to ask them about the way things were. Again, they were so nice and just happy to spend time with us talking about old Sheffield.

Dad remembered seeing pantomimes being performed in this old theater, and spending Saturdays at the Public Library (below).

 All told, it was a day of great memories, that really made me think how lucky I was, to have been born of goodly parents (and grandparents).  We went to bed that night quite content from the days activities.

Next Up: Dore and York.