Tuesday, 4 July 2017

ALL MY GRANDFATHERS GREAT: 4. The one who was a 'bit of a lad' and a bigamist

James Wallace in his army uniform in the 1880s

Last in this series of blogposts about 'all my grandfathers great', concerns my maternal grandma's father. He was James Wallace, a lucky Jim who was known in our family in hushed tones as a 'bit of a lad', the one who was a saw maker, had an extra tooth in his lower jaw and was a bigamist.

Jim was born to a Sheffield cutler, Charles Wallace b 1824 with distant Scottish roots, who became a professional vocalist, travelling round the northern counties singing in the Music Halls, and his second wife, an Irish lass, Mary Ann Bray who had, I believe, come over to the north of England in the wake of the Irish 'Great Hunger', the mass starvation of the 1840s.

Jim used to tell my grandma and her elder daughter Phyllis, my aunt, how he "went round singing on my father's knee." Jim was born in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, while the family were touring there in 1859. A younger brother, Albert, was born in Bradford the following year, and other siblings were born in Sheffield and Leeds. Censuses and certificates show the itinerant family in other venues such as Halifax, a place that would become especially significant later in Jim's life.

Jim was always a restless soul, having grown up on the road, in and out of places of entertainment. I get the impression his boredom threshold was set very low! As soon as he was old enough, after the deaths of his parents, he joined the Army in the Prince of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment and served in India from 1880-1892. He used to tell his own children when they were slouching at the dinner table:

"Sit up straight, because I was in the army in India!"

His army records reveal, among other gems, that he spent a lot of time in the military hospital in India with malaria every hot season and with an injury from being knocked out with a cricket ball. Whether intentionally is not revealed! He also had an extra tooth in his lower jaw, something I inherited from him, or rather I have inherited the space where that tooth should be, which dentists have remarked on, mystified.

On one of his furloughs from the army in 1887, he was back in Sheffield to marry Alice Jane Seagrave, my great grandma, by whom he had a daughter, Annie Lilian, known as Lil or Lily, a son James Victor and another daughter, my maternal gran, Elsie, born the year he left the army. Looking back, it becomes evident that once he'd left the army, life at home with a family was a bit tame for 'bit of a lad' Jim.

In a short space of time, he had moved his family in with a local girl, 13 years younger than Jim, who ran a local Sheffield Dining Rooms on the premises where my grandma was born in 1892. This lass was an invalid for much of her short life, with TB, and must have been glad of the extra rent from Jim. They had a child together just five years after my grandma was born, a boy who was a brother adored by my gran and taken in most willingly by Alice Jane after the early death of his mother.

At this stage, rather than living in the same house as landlady and tenants, they were living next door, and Jim was the informant present at his lover's death. The lad's great grandma insisted , rightly, that Jim take his responsibility to his son seriously, not a hard ask given the lad's adorable personality and the fact he was already very much considered part of the family, then and ever after. The mind boggles at the brazen way Jim went about things, though! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall to hear the polite conversation at the breakfast table once my long-suffering 'wouldn't say boo to a goose' great grandma Alice Jane knew what he had been up to for so long behind her back and under her nose and roof.

Jim did various jobs up to his retirement: tool maker, saw maker (his mother was part of the Davenport saw manufacturing dynasty in Sheffield), bicycle maker, invoice clerk, spade and shovel maker. From his children's school records, it seems Jim was not always around. No surprise there! Ever the wanderer with an eye to the main chance, a charmer who inevitably came up smelling of roses, in 1921, when my gran Elsie was holding her eldest newborn child in her arms, her father was on a flying visit, and said as he left:

"Well, Elsie, I'll see you when I come back!"

"IF you come back..." my grandma said wistfully.

She adored him but knew him too well to fall for his patter. She was right that she would never see him again, that he would never again live with her mum. But nobody could have predicted what would happen next, as Jim reached his mid sixties.

Remember Halifax? That's where Jim's father and mother had married back in 1853 when they were travelling vocalists. In 1924, leaving no traces back in Sheffield, Jim, still married to my great grandmother, was in Halifax in his retirement, claiming to be a widower. There, he married another Alice, bigamously, under the name James Maitland Wallace. He used his uncle Henry's name in place of his father Charles's on the illegal certificate, and claimed to be still in his late 50s!

Nobody knows where he dreamed up the name Maitland. Perhaps drawing on his pride in his distant Scottish roots? It kept me off his trail for many a long year! The only clue I could trace is that the minister who officiated at the wedding of Jim's younger son, my great uncle by the family's landlady, which took place in Sheffield that same year, had Maitland as his surname. Who can tell if it wasn't some bizarre joke on Jim's part? In any case, it kept him one step ahead of the law. Meanwhile, my great grandmother Alice Jane went to live with their eldest daughter, only dying in 1933.

His eldest lass Lil took his secret to her grave, and did her level best to save his skin. She buried her mother in the Seagrave family grave in Sheffield General Cemetery as a "widow". Nobody but close family would be any the wiser till I started digging seventy years later!

James, to his credit, faithfully nursed and cared for his second Alice till her death after a long illness in Halifax. During the Second World War his eldest daughter Lil sent my aunt, her niece Phyllis, to check Jim was safe during the blitz. She was the only person alive who had his secret address. My aunt remembered spending the night in the same bed as Alice Mk II in their tiny terraced house that stank of gas. Goodness knows how Jim explained to poor Alice who this lass was who had turned up out of nowhere claiming to be his granddaughter, from the family he dared not speak about for fear of the long arm of the bigamy law!

Towards the end of WW2, in January 1945, Jim turned up unexpectedly at my grandma Elsie's funeral, his youngest daughter who had died unexpectedly at 52 from heart trouble. My aunt clearly remembered the tears in his eyes. Jim himself had angina from the age of 42, but went on to live to the ripe old age of 92. He spent his twilight years with daughter Lil and her family in Cheshire, not far from where his first and only legal spouse, Alice Jane, had also died twenty years previously.

On his 90th birthday, my uncles arranged to fulfil their errant grandfather's ambition of going in an aeroplane at Manchester Ringwood Airport. Irresistible to the end, he always got his way!

Oh what a tangled web we weave, and all that. But those tangled webs are the stuff family history is made of. We genealogical armchair detectives wouldn't have it any other way. Those weavings are the very substance of who we are and where we have come from, what binds us together with so many fascinating silken threads of memory and mitochondria.

Great grandfather Jim in old age, dapper to the end

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