Family Sorrow

Early in the 1930s, as the family business flourished, Geoff remembers, the atmosphere in Kenilworth Road began to change, lifted only by Henny’s wedding in 1934.  The first sombre event was..

…when my father went into St. Vincent’s Nursing Home for surgery, details of which were unavailable to us younger members of the family.  My younger brother Teddy and I were taken to visit him, and were shocked by how he looked.  Grave inquiries about our father’s health from everyone we met only served to increase our fears.  Happily, he returned home fit and well, bringing with him a small jar containing a gallstone the size and shape of a small egg, which he proudly displayed.

He was fully recovered for Henny’s wedding to Henry White that June. The wedding made the local press, and the shul made a special “Address to Maurice Elliman Esq:

We, the Executive and Councillors of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodel, desire to avail ourselves of the occasion of your daughter Henny’s marriage to hereby congratulate you and Mrs. Elliman on the happy event.

For many years, you have devoted your valuable time in the service of the best interests of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodel and its congregation and we greatly appreciate your exemplary conduct in the position you occupy as a trustee, and your benevolent activities in the Dublin Jewish Community.

We ask you to accept this address and the accompanying gift as a slight token of our great esteem and sincerely hope that you and your dear wife and family continue for very many years to enjoy our highest regard and affection in health, happiness and prosperity.

Henny and Henry honeymoon in Paris

Days after the wedding, however, Leah, then 53, was felled by a devastating stroke.  She had kidney disease, and the resulting high blood pressure had brought on a cerebral haemorrhage, which left her partly paralysed and unable to care for her family or herself for the remaining six years of her life.  A selfless wife and mother, adored by husband and children, Leah’s declining health never allowed her to enjoy the success for which the family had worked so hard and to which she had contributed so much.

Queenie, then 19 and the only unmarried daughter, and adopted Rose, then 22, looked after Leah through the long years of her illness and took on the running of Kenilworth Road’s busy kitchen.

Queenie was in charge of cooking. Bertie, 17 when his mother became ill, recalled: “At the beginning, Queenie used to break dishes all the time and burn her hands badly, but she soon got the hang of it.” Queenie, in fact, became an effortless and accomplished cook and hostess, skills which she passed on to all three of her daughters.

Rose was constantly setting and clearing the tables for the many meals served — early breakfast for the children, late breakfast and lunch for ‘the boss and the boys,’ early tea and dinner for the kids after school, and late dinner for the boss and the boys when the cinemas closed. There were three live-in staff: two maids who did the cleaning, and a third employed for the heavier work, such as black-leading the stove.

Newly-wed Henny did the shopping for Kenilworth Road as well as for her own home and family. In the first years of her marriage, she lived nearby in a small semi-detached house at 66 Cowper Road.

David, the first of her four children was born in this house in 1938, and Lorna in 1942.  David remembers a ‘bread man’ who came to sell bread from a large boxlike horse-pulled cart, and their own horse, Ginger Dick, a magnificent cob that pulled the family’s “spotlessly clean and varnished trap” and who was kept “at the rear of Grandpa Elliman’s house in Kenilworth Road.”

Dick, Henry and David

Leah’s lifelong love of music was among her chief comforts during the years of her illness, and she spent hours listening to the radio.  In the afternoons, she was taken for a drive in the ‘big car,’ the Riley, by the family chauffeur.

The household ran smoothly this way until late 1939, when Queenie married Leslie Watson, her brother Bertie’s larder-raiding companion of earlier years.  The wedding was held on Xmas Day, the only day in the year that ‘the boys’ weren’t at the cinemas.  Chuppa and reception were at the Metropole, because Leah couldn’t manage the stairs into shul.   Metropole staff were happy to host the wedding reception, which consisted of afternoon tea and cards.  As it was wartime and hard to find a wedding dress, the Royal’s wardrobe was raided for Queenie’s gown. 

Six days later, Hymie married Hazel Brown.  Their wedding was in Hove in southern England, because of the bombing that threatened London where they both lived.  Their four-day honeymoon was at the Haven Hotel, Bournemouth. None of Hymie’s family was at his wedding, overseas travel proving too difficult and dangerous. Nor did his mother Leah or his brothers Teddy, Bennie and Maxie ever meet Hazel.  All were dead by war’s end six years later, when Hazel, with Hymie and months-old Monica, could make her first visit to Dublin.

Louis wrote to Hymie’s future wife Hazel, the sister-in-law he had yet to meet:

Shortly after Queenie’s marriage, Maurice asked her to move back into Kenilworth Road with Leslie to look after Leah. Unhappy about leaving their own home, they nonetheless agreed, and lived in the big house until Leah’s death some months later in 1940.  This was among eight moves they made during their 67 years together.

After Leah’s death and Queenie and Leslie’s return to their own home, the house in Kenilworth Road was sold and Maurice moved to 41 Cowper Road, with Abe, Geoff, Bertie and Rose.  A housekeeper, May, was hired to look after them.  Geoff, Rose and Bertie married (in 1942, 1944 and 1948) and moved out of the Cowper Road house, leaving Maurice, Abe and May.

When Maurice died in 1952, Queenie and Leslie bought the house from his estate. At their invitation, both Abe and May continued to live there with them and their daughters Linda, Valerie and Marilyn. It remained Abe’s home until his marriage to Beattie Eppel in 1956. May and Nanny helped Queenie raise the three girls and run the house.

While Maurice was still alive, however, Val remembers:

After Friday night dinner, which we always had at home, we kids went to bed, and Mum and Dad would go to see Grandpa who then lived in Cowper Road, cared for by his indoor maid, May.  Abe, who was unmarried, lived with him. May kept a kosher home for them, to the point of frying them fish and making them chicken soup.

It was after Leah died that the ritual of visiting Grandpa Elliman on Shabbat afternoons had begun.  As Bertie’s Maureen remembers hearing: “Saturday afternoon at the Guv’nor’s was a three-line whip!  You HAD to go!!”

Queenie’s Linda, 11 when Maurice died, remembers these afternoons:

Maurice, with Linda and Val.

Every Shabbat afternoon, the whole family would go to see Grandpa and have tea with him. There was a growing number of us: Henny’s older three [Miriam, her fourth, was born in 1954, two years after Maurice died], Mum’s [Queenie’s] three, Geoff’s two and Bertie’s first child, so it was quite noisy and very tiring for Grandpa. May served tea and cake. One week the cake had pink icing and the next it was iced in white. May always came into the room from the pantry, where she had cut the cake, put it on the table and say: “There’s one piece for each of yous!” Poor Grandpa never had any, as he was diabetic. When tea was over, he would say to his family: “It was lovely seeing you all, but it’s time for you to go your own homes.”’ We’d tired him out.

Henny’s David, the eldest of the Dublin grandchildren, remembers:

Going to Grandpa’s on a Saturday afternoon and seeing a fly alight on the back of his bald head. I took a fly swatter, but luckily my raised hand was arrested by one of the assembled family members. Much laughter, and both the fly and Maurice survived!

Lorna, born in 1942 four years after David, remembers Saturday afternoon’s at Grandpa Elliman’s differently. Barely a year old when Henny and Henry moved from their small semi-detached at 66 Cowper Road to a 770-acre estate at Templeogue, she grew up on a working farm. She remembers:

Going to Grandpa Elliman’s ‘off the farm’ in grey knee-length socks with my hair in a scruffy plait — and eyeing Queenie’s daughters who always wore pretty dresses with frilly white ankle-socks.

LEFT: Lorna and David

Henny had abruptly moved out of an urban business family into a very different life. Although Henry, too, built a very successful business (in women’s fashions), his heart was in the country and with horses. The vast house he bought at Templeogue had nine bedrooms, cellars, turrets, a billiards room and a rumoured escape tunnel, as well as, according to David:

10 stables, garages, sheds, tack rooms, grain lofts and a house dairy; there were further stables outside the yard close to a hen run, a hen-house and an orchard, dissected by the River Poddle… old cowsheds and an eight-bay barn. There was a mill in the field and a two-acre market garden… Henry built a 12-bay cowshed, where 15 cows plus a house cow were hand-milked, morning and evening. Acres of wheat were tilled and potatoes, turnips and mangolds, kale, beet and hay were grown for the house and livestock.

Two grooms, a cowman, two farmhands, two maids, a housekeeper and an occasional gardener. [Henny] was responsible for the hens, mixing their feed of small potatoes and meat in the boiler room, [and she regularly fed] an army of men trays of white-bread jam sandwiches and large kettles of tea (the men always had their own mugs) during the corn harvest. She went to the races with Henry, though she always hid in a tent when Henry himself was racing.

Henry, Henny, Lorna and David

David remembers his parents having

A good social life, dress dances and hunt balls, JNF balls, Golden Ticket balls (I had to lace up her corsets, how uncomfortable they must have been), many visitors, rummy round a card table in front of the fire, and in summer, afternoon tea on the lawn. We lived in a very mixed society. My father was deeply involved in horse-racing, as an owner and a jockey. He was also a trainer, licensed with the Jockey Club, its only Jewish trainer.

With time, however, there was less help in the house. “I think [Henny] became very unhappy in Templeogue,” says David.  “But she was always there for us.  Always at home when got in from school, and always supported what I did.”

LEFT to RIGHT: Miriam, Lorna, Henny, David, Bernard

Hymie had taken a different path. In 1928, he’d begun studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin. He was the only son who’d never taken an interest in the family business — which was as well, because it had no job available for him when he left school. He wanted to be an architect. Maurice wanted him to go to yeshiva. They compromised on Medical School.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) seen from Dame Street. Hymie and later Geoff studied here

In 1934, the year of Leah’s stroke, Hymie graduated. He was 21. Fair-skinned and looking even younger than his 21 years, he immediately grew a moustache to try and look older and wiser.  He kept the moustache for the rest of his life.

Hymie is on the right, with his new moustache

Hymie remembers going to Trinity following his finals to check the results pinned on the notice board, and returning home to find ‘the boss and the boys’ sitting round the table for lunch. 

“Well?” asked Maurice.  Hymie nodded.  And Maurice gestured to Abe to move down the table and give Hymie the seat of honour for that meal.  It was a major tribute. 

Geoff, then 14, absorbing “the joy and celebrations that greeted my brother Hymie qualifying as a doctor decided me that this was what I, too, should do.”

Ireland’s medical schools were high-level and fully subscribed in these years, turning out more graduates than there were jobs.  Hymie, like many other newly minted Irish Jewish doctors of the time (Rose’s husband Eli Copeland, Hymie’s future brother-in-law Sam Jacob, and Eddie and Leslie Samuels were others) thus left Dublin to find work in London.  Hymie’s first job was houseman (intern) at the 100-bed East Ham Memorial Hospital in Newnham, East London. 

One of his most vivid memories there is trying a new medicine on a patient dying of infection.  “The manufacturers had sent a sample of the drug,” he recalled, “and the patient, by then, had nothing to lose.”  The medication was an early antibiotic, and it saved the patient’s life. Its alarming side effect, however, was temporarily to turn bright red every fluid the patient produced — from sweat to tears to mucus to urine — much to the alarm of Hymie and the rest of the medical staff!

Despite leaving the family business and the family home, Hymie’s Irish connections followed him overseas.  His sister Rosie had been a Londoner for 15 years by then, and he spent a lot of time with her, Ely, Basil and Sonia through the 1930s.

Hymie, Sonia, Rosie, Basil, Ely Copeland at Cliftonville, 1937

Not only family, but the family business found him in London, as well. One story, which became family lore, concerned the Irish actor Noel Purcell.

Purcell ran into Hymie one day when Hymie was with the very un-Jewish-looking Hazel Brown, whom he was later to marry. Not Jewish himself, Purcell’s long association with the Elliman family had sensitized him to the importance Maurice placed on Jewish unions. He lost no time in taking Hymie aside and asking him: “Does yer Da know you’re going with a shiksa?”

In 1938, another Elliman son left for England. Bennie’s departure, however, was unannounced and made for very different reasons. Geoff remembers:

My brother Bennie left for his annual vacation. I vividly remember him saying goodbye, and handing me a £1 note — then a huge sum.

Soon after, a letter from him arrived, addressed to my elder brothers, informing the family that he was not coming home since he had married a Catholic girl and was now, himself, a Catholic. We were dumbstruck. He had been a first-class Jewish student. We didn’t know how to tell my father. When we did tell him, he decided at once that our ailing mother must never know, and it was kept from her for the remaining two years that she lived. She knew he hadn’t come home, but since war was imminent, she assumed he’d joined the British army, as did Hymie and Jack, and she often asked us whether we’d heard from him.

Maurice sat shiva for his living child who was now dead to him. His children refused to sit with him.

Bennie had guarded the secret of his wife well, telling the family only her faith and her name, Christina Kettle, and then only after their marriage and departure for London. Three years later Bennie was dead, felled by peritonitis at age 34, leaving Christina and their young daughter, Angela. Louis had quietly stayed in touch with Bennie and, unknown to Maurice, kept contact with his brother’s widow and daughter in London, helping them out over the years. When Angela married on a Saturday in the early 1960s, Louis went over for the wedding and took Hymie with him.

Louis may have learned more about Christina Kettle-Elliman over the years, but whatever he knew stayed with him. But, if she was a Dubliner as is likely, there’s a good candidate for whom she may have been. There is only one Christina Kettle in Dublin in the 1911 Census of Ireland. She was then aged three, making her a year younger than Bennie, and her family was Roman Catholic. Her father James Kettle (aged 40 at the time of the Census) was a labourer, who had been married to her mother Elizabeth (43) since he was 19. Christina’s 1938 marriage certificate does, indeed, name her father as James, although it describes him, 27 years after the census, as a “company director.”

In 1911, the Kettles lived at 49 Tolka Cottages in the working class suburb of Drumcondra on Dublin’s northside with their seven surviving children (an eighth had died). Christina, at three, was the youngest and at home. Her siblings Margaret (six), Christopher (eight), Catherine (10) and Elizabeth (13) were in school, though only Catherine and Elizabeth claim literacy. The two eldest children were working: 17-year-old Mary as a domestic servant, and 20-year-old Michael as a van driver. It was a typical working class Dublin family of the time — and worlds away from Bennie’s own.

Eire’s General Register Office (the Oifig an Ard Chlaraietheora) in Convent Road, Roscommon, has Bennie and Christina’s marriage certificate.

On July 25, 1938, in the Roman Catholic Church in Marino, north Dublin. Bennie, son of theatre director Maurice, is described as a ‘cinematograph operator,’ and gives 8 Kenilworth Road as his ’residence at the time of marriage.’ Christina, daughter of ‘company director James,’ records no ‘rank or profession.’ Her address is 13 Carleton Road, Marino. Marino, adjacent to Drumcondra, was developed in the late 1920s and 30s as one of the newly formed Irish state’s first an affordable housing projects.

Elizabeth Kettle, most likely Christina’s mother though possibly her sister, was a witness to the marriage, along Donagh Kellaher and Robert Faik. The Registrar notes that this was the 232nd marriage registered to him on that July 25, so it probably took place toward the end of the day.

It would have been almost impossible for a non-Catholic (Protestant or Jew) to have married in a Catholic Church in Ireland of the 1930s, according to sources checked by Henny’s David. Church influence was then at its strongest. It is therefore likely that Bennie had secretly taken instruction and converted before his marriage…

Leah died in March 1940, never leaning of Bennie’s marriage.

Her youngest child Teddy, afflicted through much of his short life with the inflammatory bowel disorder Crohn’s disease, died four months after her. He was 17. Geoff, two years older than Teddy, recalled:

“We were very close. What my frail younger brother lacked in physical well-being was more than matched by a very agile brain. As the years progressed, and he could no longer continue at school, he studied at home, and would do my homework and take my exam papers.”

Maxie, who never married, died in 1941 aged 39, four years after Bennie.  He, too, was felled by peritonitis, triggered by a ruptured appendix.  It was said that his funeral attracted the biggest attendance ever seen at Dublin’s Jewish cemetery, Dolphin’s Barn.  A sportsman and a charmer, he had friends everywhere, and was a great raconteur.

Among his favourite stories was that of an employee at the Theatre Royal who had urgently asked for time off to go to the hospital where his wife was giving birth.  When Maxie asked him how his wife and child were doing, he learned the baby was as yet unborn.

“Wait until after the delivery,” he urged the prospective father.

“No, I must get there at once!” was the agitated reply.  “I rang the hospital and they told me she was in the labour ward.  And, believe you me, she didn’t go to that hospital to work for them!!”

Geoff, by now, had made good on his plan to study medicine, motivated both by his brother Hymie and by his anxiety that, with so many elder brothers in the business, there’d be no room for him.  He graduated Wesley College, one of Dublin’s finest secondary schools, and was accepted to Trinity College Dublin. 

Wesley College

He recalls:

I was fortunate to have a father who gave me every educational opportunity and elder brothers who never rejected my pleas for financial assistance, a mother and sisters who took care of all home needs, in fact total security.  When I got into TCD, I considered myself a true student.

In the summer of 1938, when he was 18, Geoff took a week’s vacation in Liverpool where he stayed with his father’s half-brother, Charlie, now a well-established variety agent. He remembers:

Charlie had an apartment over a pub, and a black cat which was nearly human, and used the apartment toilet. I arrived by boat from Dublin, early one morning. It was raining heavily.  My instructions were to proceed to my uncle’s office in Bold Street. 

My jovial bachelor uncle made me very welcome….His flat was situated down a narrow side street, not far from Bold Street.  A small hall door led to a very upright flight of 18 narrow steps.  I wondered how my elderly uncle managed to climb them.  The flat’s main room was furnished with two full-sized sofas, two large armchairs, various small tables and an elaborate sideboard.  All were antique.  Off this was a kitchen, next to which were the toilet and bathroom, and then one large bedroom with a double bed.
It was uncle’s practice to come back to his flat for lunch and a snooze, then go back to the office and on to a show.  He liked the Shakespeare Theatre, where Jimmy O’Dea and company played two seasons a year.  He was content with his lot, his variety agency keeping him comfortably.  I spent seven days with him, mostly visiting tourist sites and cinemas during the day, and theatres — front and back stage — in the evenings.

Geoff’s son, Edward, has found out more about ‘Uncle’ Charlie.

Charlie fought during the First World War as a private in the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers (his is the last entry on the page above), earning a Victory Medal and a War Medal (above). His army number was J/3506 — the J indicating he was a member of the Fusilier’s Jewish battalion, some of whose members saw service at Gallipoli and in Palestine. His military record was, however, among the 40 per cent of records destroyed when the National Archive at Kew was bombed during World War II

Charlie died in Liverpool on February 11, 1946, aged 64. He was buried in Lower House Lane, a non-affiliated cemetery opened in 1927, under the auspices of the Liverpool Hebrew Federated Burial Society. Owned by the Liverpool City Council, it was in regular use until 1991. Some 1,700 people are interred here.

Back in Dublin, Geoff’s studies increasingly took second place to rugby, snooker, betting on horses, Grafton Street cafes and cinema and theatre. He and his friends were admitted without charge to all Elliman establishments — as were the next generation of Ellimans, as well, all of whom were given their own passes.  Geoff started wondering:

…whether I’d made the wrong decision by not going into the family business. Then, unsurprisingly, I failed my June exams. I planned to retake them in September, but I wanted spending money for the summer, beyond the allowance from my father and the few shillings put my way by my big brothers. I asked my father for part-time work. He asked me when I planned to study, if I was working in the business from morning till night. We agreed I’d do relief work in the cinemas — essentially cleaning up, taking care of the mail, running messages, filing letters and contracts, and ordering and dispatching publicity. This is what I did, and the glamour of the entertainment business excised my professional desire for healing.

Grafton Street, 1930s

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