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A Potted history of our family as I know it!
By Janet Tyson

Descendants of Elizabeth Bridgen (Post Broadbent & Stier)

Lily Stier / Smith
Lily Stier / Smith:
We had always presumed Lily to be a Smith, but her age doesn’t tally with the marriage to Harry Smith (1899), so it does seem she was a Stier. Judging by her features, she does look like Ethel, somewhat.

My grandmother’s lasting impression of her was that she was rather a "simple" woman, who often forgot things and was never really very strong. She had one daughter, called Ivy, from an early marriage. We think Lily was married twice, in all.

For some time, Lily and Ivy lived in my grandparents’ home in Harold Wood, Essex, renting a single room, upstairs, but in 1940, they were living next door to Lily’s sister Freda, in Ongar. When my mother’s house in Hornchurch was bombed, she and my grandmother went to live with Freda for a short time (Sid being in the Essex Regiment and away at the time).

Ivy, only about 16, had a boyfriend who was to become one of the first casualties of the Italian Campaign. Ivy married a man called Royston, but we cannot recall his surname - he worked for the MOD. They lived in Potters Bar.

I met Lily at my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary, in 1974, at which time she fell in the toilets and broke her hip - I being the one to find her! Ivy lost touch later on, and the last thing anyone recalls is that Lily eventually went blind.

The Harry Smith years:
As far as we know, Elizabeth married Harry Smith, a musician in the Marines. She bought him out of service. Current research has him working as a Professor of Music up in Warwickshire, where the couple were married, but other lines of investigation are coming up empty. A family legend had Harry presented with a special baton for his work as a conductor - some say by Adrian Boult, but it might have been on leaving the Marine Band (?). He was also said to have conducted at the Old Vic, but research here has not turned up any evidence, as yet.

Hilda, my grandmother, used to say that Harry left Elizabeth when her money ran out, and I don’t think she ever met him.

Harold Stier / Smith:
Harold took the name SMITH after Elizabeth's marriage to Harry SMITH. He was in the Royal Marines and had a wife, Mabel. They had twins Sylvia and Sidney (named after Sylvia Sidney!)

Freda Smith
Freda Smith:
Freda was known as the "black sheep" of the family. My grandfather (Sidney) did not get on with her at all. At one stage, Freda and Sidney had such an argument, Freda (living in Shelley at the time) put her fist through the glass of his front door! No one really recalls the details.

She used to take in "foster children," but Hilda, my grandmother, often speculated that they were Freda’s own offspring, though she was unmarried. One was a boy, who died, and the other, a girl called Elsie, whom my mother recalls, being of a similar age.

My mother, wanting to become a nurse, and thwarted by Sid in both her educational and vocational dreams, ran away from home at the age of 15, and went to stay with Freda for a few days. Freda, seeing an opportunity to help my mother leave the grip of Sidney’s strong and often violent hold, signed herself as my mother’s guardian on an application to get her into a local cottage hospital training program. When Sid found out, he put a stop to it and took my mother home.

My grandmother told my mother that Freda got very ill and died, but other than that, we know nothing of her later years. We were never even certain if she ever married.

Hilda Smith
Hilda Smith:
Hilda, Elizabeth’s youngest, never had a birth certificate in her possession (though current research may just shed some light on this). Rumour had it that she was the child of a well-to-do gentleman Elizabeth might have met on one of her "jobs" at grand estates; Elizabeth was a fine cook and, like the Duchess of Duke Street, cooked for gentry and ‘royalty’. From recent information, however, it seems she moved in such circles anyway! It may be that Hilda’s birth record was deliberately ‘fudged’ (it was claimed that Freda was put in charge of registering Hilda’s birth ... and "forgot"), in order to keep her parentage secret. Or, it may simply be that the break up of Elizabeth and Harry made for a turbulent time and the matter was, indeed, neglected. Time will tell.

Elizabeth later took 13 year-old Hilda along with her, to act as Parlour Maid at these functions. With such experience, Hilda became a Nippy at J. Lyon’s Corner House, in London, which is where she met Sidney Hickson.

The Hicksons came from Cheshire, and were Quakers. Their roots are very deep in the area and another family tale had them active in the "church" for over 500 years in one village! Unlike the Bridgens, however, they moved in less exalted circles, and it was ever to be the bane of Sidney’s life, I think, for he would often accuse both Hilda and my mother of being "stuck up" and trying to be above their station, for Hilda loved music and theatre, and art, and taught my mother to love them, too. He always felt left out and ill-suited to such pastimes. He was, by trade, a gentleman’s hairdresser, and he did seem to aspire to move in ‘higher circles’, having worked for some time at the Piccadilly Hotel in London, where he claimed to have cut the hair of a prince or two. He also owned his own shop, which he decked out in the finest leather and marble furniture, only to run the business into the ground. He lost everything.

He was rather a violent man in his younger years, using his belt on his children to such a degree that one son, Derek, ran away and was never heard of again. In later years, I recall Sid as a jokester, a man who made hand-stitched clowns and gonks for the local children, and who idolized "his Hilda," but I also saw the less appealing side of his nature.

They had six children, of which my mother was the eldest. Peter, the first son, was killed in a street accident at the age of 5. The rest were all boys, including twins.

Hilda was very close to my mother, who served as a second mother to the boys. Mother recalls many evenings with little or no food, during the pre-war and war years, huddled together in a bed with Hilda, talking about life, music, etc.

Hilda was one for sayings, a few of her favourites being:
"You’d laugh to see your mother’s belly on fire!"
"Ancient history in blue tights"
"When it’s brown it’s done when it’s black, it’s buggered!" (Perhaps from Elizabeth’s cooking days!)

Hilda and Sidney lived in a caravan in Crouch, Hullbridge, for many years. About 1980, they moved into a retirement home together, but Sid died fairly suddenly after a heart attack while out shopping, and Hilda, though she tried to hold out, followed on about a year later.

Audrey in the ATS, 1943-1945 (Age 17)
Audrey Hickson:
Audrey was the eldest child of Hilda and Sidney. Very much a Bridgen in features and temperament, she inherited a love of music, art, and theatre. At 17, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, as a truck Driver! On Jan 13, 1945, she married Roy Leonard Tyson (b. 11 July, 1922), a soldier in the R.E..M.E. In 1953, the couple, with three children in tow, emigrated to Canada, arriving in frozen Winnipeg in the midst of winter. Roy became a soldier in the Canadian Army and was tragically killed while on duty at the base. By then, they had 7 children, and Audrey was just 35 years old.

Eighteen months later, I (Janet) was born. Again, following in the footsteps of the Bridgen heritage, it seems, I was born to a different father than my siblings. George Allen, Roy’s closest friend, had been there for my mother during her bereavement, and I was the outcome! Long time a family secret, it is no longer, and we can talk about it freely.

My mother, Audrey, despite her challenged youth, with war, a violent father, and widowhood, eventually realized her dream of an advanced education (earning her Master of Fine Arts at the age of 69!), and running her own theatre company (Masques Theatre Co.). In a strange turn of fate, the very week I stumbled upon this Bridgen website, my mother was auditioning actors for the part of Feste, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: on the website I found the reference to James Russell, Shakespearean actor ... and the engraving of him in the role of Feste! The theatrical bug goes farther back than we had guessed (we knew about May and Ethel (Stier), but that was all)! Mr. James Russell will be invited to appear on the back of the programme for Masques production of Twelfth Night.

Audrey (Age 18)

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