London Day 4

March 30, 2010 London
Weather: Cold and Windy B&B: Kathy’s (Pimlico)

My tour of off-beat London boroughs continued today with a brief visit to Walthamstow, the final stop at the northern end of the Victoria line. The wind had shifted and it was noticeably colder as I walked north up Hoe Street in search of Victoria Road, the former residence of my great-great Uncle. With yet another terraced house to add to my collection I headed back towards Walthamstow Central and my next stop, Homerton.

There was a replacement bus service running for the London “Overground” so I had a good tour of Dalston and Hackney as we crawled through the busy streets. The traffic around Hackney Central was gridlocked and I seriously considered getting off the bus and hoofing it to Homerton. Fortunately the traffic cleared and I was soon deposited on Homerton High Street, just opposite the old Hackney Union Workhouse.

While many 19th century workhouses have been pulled down this one remains and has been integrated into the John Howard Centre for Forensic Mental Health. It remains an imposing building today but 100 years ago its brooding presence loomed even larger as it struck fear into the working classes as the refuge of last resort. If you have British ancestors there’s a good chance one or more of them may have experienced the horrors of the workhouse. I encourage you to learn more at Peter Higginbotham’s excellent Workhouses website. In December 1902 Herbert’s step-brother, James Dobson, was born in the Hackney Union workhouse.

I caught the next replacement bus to Stratford (future home of the 2012 Summer Olympics) and headed north on the Central Line to Barkingside, the home and headquarters for Barnardos. I had been invited for tea and was looking forward to meeting Karen who I have been exchanging emails with ever since I requested Herbert’s file early last year. We chatted for nearly 3 hours and I really enjoyed my visit. I have nothing but good things to say about Barnardo’s and especially the “Making Connections” department who is devoted to helping descendants of Barnardo’s children learn more about their family. As I’ve mentioned before more than 3 million Canadians have descended from these children. Could you be one too?

One well-known Canadian who descended from a Barnardo boy is Don Cherry and I discovered during our conversation that Karen appeared on his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (Canadian version) . We had a good chat about “Grapes”, the out-spoken on-air hockey personality with the out-spoken wardrobe and the heart of gold.

Thank you Barnardo’s for taking the time to meet with me, and of course for saving my great-grandfather’s life. There are at least 50 descendants living in Canada today who would not be here had it not been for this organization.

Tomorrow I’m off to Southampton to research a different branch of my family tree.

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