An absence explained?

By the time of the 1881 Census, the Edleman family along with my grandfather had moved to 17 Gildart Street, a distance of less than 120 feet (37 metres) from their previous address at 63 Blandford Street.

More than 100 years later, Sarah’s great-granddaughter would move house from one end of a suburban Sydney street to the other – a distance of 350 metres – causing a few smiles among the removalists.

Returning to nineteenth century Liverpool, the tell-tale court layout and notes on the above map confirm that the family exchanged one back to back dwelling for another.  According to Harvey Kaplan, rented apartments were “passed around” as families expanded and contracted, so the Gildart Street premises may have been larger than those at Blandford Street. IMG_3051

And the above Latter Day Saints transcript of the 1881 English Census gives a hint as to why.  It shows that eight persons were living at 17 Gildart Street: Sarah and her two young children, her father, sister and young child, and two boarders.

The riddle of Sarah’s missing husband, however, remained.  Where was Harris Edleman at the time of the 1881 Census?

Another blogger has suggested that around 10% of population is missing from British Census counts.  I don’t doubt that this is true and for some time felt that this must have been Harris’ fate.

However, evidence I recently uncovered via the Latter Day Saints Community Trees database tells a different story.


According to Saul Marks, who has separately been undertaking research for me on the Edleman family’s life in England and South Africa, the notes to the entry above are taken from the inscription on Harris’ gravestone in Edinburgh.

They confirm that between 1878 and 1911, his primary address was in South Africa.

We know that he was in Liverpool in December 1878 on the occasion of his  marriage to my great-grandmother.  He must also have spent some time in the company of his new wife in the early part of 1879 in order for her to have fallen pregnant.

But after that, I feel that Harris Edleman most likely returned to South Africa.

He was not necessarily present at the time of his first son’s birth in December 1879.  There is only one mark on Joseph Edleman’s birth certificate and it is Sarah’s.  This contrasts with my grandfather’s birth certificate on which his father’s signature is inscribed.

By the time of the 1881 English Census, he would have been in South Africa.

Between early 1879 and 1881, Harris Edleman appears to have been a most itinerant husband, father and step father.

Football and other memories

On 28 June 1914, a young Bosnian Serb aged seventeen changed the course of history forever.  Gavrilo Princip was a member of the Black Hand Society, a nationalist movement that supported the union of Balkan states.  His act of assassinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife Sophie, while on a visit to Sarajevo was the catalyst for starting World War 1.  Exactly one month later, the first shots of combat were fired.

I remember this event with clarity as it was one of those many facts chiselled into memory by my school history teacher.

My father claimed to have recalled the outbreak of World War 1.  The family was living in Johannesburg at the time and no doubt this news would have travelled quickly to a colony of the Crown.  I did a quick calculation and realised that he would have been twenty-one months old.

My earliest memory is of being at my brother’s barmitzvah, a Jewish boy’s ritual coming of age.  In the company of my nanny, Mabel, I watched from an upper tier of Cape Town’s Great Synagogue as the small figure below performed his set piece.  I was a little more than two years old at the time.

At what age does long-term memory kick in?  Depending on who you believe, this can be anywhere from 17-21 months, at two years, after two years or not before the age of three and a half.

Our early memories tend to be of events that have significance for us personally; things that make a lasting impression on us, be they good or bad, happy or sad.  They do not necessarily have to have far-reaching or life changing implications, although sometimes they do.

Assuming some patrilineal tendency to recall events from an early age, I expect that Harris would have remembered the occasion of his mother’s second marriage, an event that occurred when he was four months short of his third birthday.

But would this have been his earliest memory?

Sport runs deep in our family.  My father played competition level water polo at university and my mother was a swim coach whose stable included a handful of national champions.  My older siblings were national swim champions in their day, and I have had some success in both the pool and the ocean.

Sport wasn’t confined to active participation; there were memberships at two turf clubs – for some reason betting on horse racing was deemed acceptable in gambling intolerant South Africa – and season tickets at the local rugby and football grounds.

Watching football was possibly my father’s greatest sporting passion, kindled during his student days in England.  The Gunners had acquired a life long fan, complete with red and white scarf.

Back in South Africa, following English football was limited to coverage in the print media and the occasional radio broadcast.  We had no TV before 1975.

When London hosted the 1966 World Cup and England made it through to the final for the 12th time, we tuned into a radio broadcast that spluttered and popped like a pan of too hot oil.  One can only imagine what it must have been like to watch Geoff Hurst pot first one, then two goals in overtime, delivering England victory over Germany and its first and only World Cup title to date.

It was, of course, possible to watch football live in South Africa.  A small national league had formed which included two Cape Town teams, each with its home ground, and numbering among their players fading stars of British and European football leagues.  This is where you would have found us on winter Friday nights; my father watching the game, my mother chatting to the person next to her, and me wanting desperately to be somewhere else.

The city of Liverpool has a proud tradition as the most successful footballing city in England.  Football is its most popular sport and the city is home to two clubs, Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs.


Everton, the older of the two clubs, has its roots in the St Domingo Methodist Church Sunday School which opened in May 1870.

Eight years later the football team, using the St Domingo name, played its first match in the south-east corner of Stanley Park, establishing a commencement date of 1878 for what would soon become the Everton Football Club.   St Domingo’s Football Club quickly established a local reputation for itself and in November 1879 acquired the Everton name.

Everton’s early home ground was about a 45 minute walk from 63 Blandford Street.

I don’t know that my grandfather played sport, but I would like to think that the formation of one of Liverpool’s pre-eminent football clubs may have made a mark on his memory.

He would have been around two at the time.

The riddle of the missing street

My next task was to find Joseph’s birth certificate.  That would show me in which part of Liverpool Sarah and Harris Edellman had made their home.

IMG_3046The transcript told me that Joseph had been born either in the first quarter of 1880 or in the one immediately prior.


The birth certificate confirms Joseph’s date of birth as 3 December, 1879, making him about three years and seven months younger than my grandfather.  The family surname had been anglicised to Edleman and, in the Ashkenazi tradition of naming a new-born after a deceased relative, Joseph had taken his name from his late paternal grandfather.  As witnessed by her mark on the birth certificate, Sarah had not yet acquired any proficiency in English.

The family was living at 63 Blandford Street, Sarah’s address at the time of her marriage to Harris.  The street that seemed to have disappeared without trace…

Well…had it?

A chance web search led me to a book titled The Liverpool Underworld: Crime in the City, 1750-1900.

The book singles out Blandford Street for its “brothel that catered for old men with a taste in young girls”.  Charming.

The density of brothels featured prominently in the book.  At one stage, the surrounding area apparently housed 235 brothels and 460 sex workers, living in “tightly packed court housing”.  By 1890, the Blandford Street district had become Liverpool’s “capital of debauchery”.

In 1894, Blandford Street was renamed Kempston Street, no doubt in an attempt to erase all evidence of its colourful past.

The riddle of the disappearing street had been solved.

Mention of “tightly packed court housing” had aroused my interest.  Had my great-grandmother – and my grandfather – substituted a life in such housing in Sheffield for something similar in Liverpool?

I had no photos to rely upon.  But there were maps covering the period.

From Google Maps, I knew that 63 Blandford Street was on the northern side of the street, close to its intersection with Gildart Street.

The above extract from the 1864 Liverpool Town Plan clearly shows the existence of court housing in that part of Blandford Street which was, at that time, called Finch Street.

A 1891 Liverpool Town Plan shows no change to the land use and housing layout.  The courts are clearly visible – and marked as such – on the northern side of the street.

The housing has not survived into the twenty-first century.  What stands in its place today – a nondescript late twentieth century industrial building – provides no clues about the area’s colourful past or the lives of ordinary citizens who inhabited the area over a hundred years ago.

For that I would have to look elsewhere.