When I consider the contexts of the life of my grandmother, Marion Margaret Skelton (née Sinclair), I am amazed at the changes she must have experienced. She was born in 1883, the eldest child of James and Fanny Jane Sinclair in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.
Queen Victoria had been on the Throne since 1938. Marion died in 1970, in the Kaipara region, about 80 miles north of Auckland, New Zealand – nearly 70 years after Queen Victoria died.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Tyneside was a significant center for the development of electricity. Joseph Swan, who later joined with the Edison company, was an important player in the new applications of electricity technologies in Newcastle and internationally.
The world was changing. The year before Marion was born, a Newcastle drapers shop became the first shop in the world to be lit by electricity.
Marion’s mother died when she was 5 years old. This death happened a few hours after Marion’s sister Fanny was born, according to a letter that Marion wrote in 1938. I have a scan of the letter. It was sent to me by a descendant of another of Marion’s siblings who remained in the UK. In the letter Marion wrote what she knew of her family history. She named her siblings as William John, James George and Fannie. Marion wrote:
The mother died a few hours after Fannie was born, leaving four little children under 6 years old.
To my generation, it seems strange that she would refer to her mother as “The mother“. However, this may have been at least partly due to the formalities expected in Victorian times. I’m told that she always referred to her husband as “Mister Skelton”. Her son, my father Trevor Noble Skelton, always referred to his mother using the Latin, “Mater” or “The Mater”.
It is not entirely clear who Marion lived with throughout her childhood, but I was told that she was brought up by aunts. I have a strong memory from the early 1960s, when my grandmother (Marion) was staying with my family. She showed me a photo of a young woman standing at the bottom of a household staircase and wearing a maid’s uniform. My grandmother said that the young woman was a maid where she grew up, laughing at the memory. She recalled that the young woman was “funny” and a bit of a jokester. That’s the only photo I’ve seen from Marion’s earlier days.
During the 1891 census, I am pretty sure it is Marion and her 2 brothers who were boarding with Mr and Mrs Relph in Cullercoates: named as Marian, William, and Stewart. This is the same area where the children’s grandfather, John Sinclair had a house at the time. The children’s family name has been mis-transcribed as “Smeland”, but the handwritten record shows the name to be “Sinclair”. Also during that census, Marion’s baby sister Fannie, and their uncle, Stephen E Sinclair, 17 years old, were living in John Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace in Cullercoates.
It is also most likely that, during the 1901 census, Marion was an apprentice music teacher, boarding in Hampshire. During the same census, Marion’s 16 year old brother, William John Sinclair, was living in Margaret Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverly Terrace in Cullercoates. Margaret was John Sinclair’s widow. William John’s occupation is listed as “electrical engineer”. Also in the household was Marion’s sister Fanny.
Queen Victoria had died in January of that year, bringing the Victorian era to an end. In the early 20th century, the electricity industry in Tyneside gathered momentum. In December of 1901, electric trams began running in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Four years later in 1905, Marion Margaret Sinclair’s grandmother, Margaret Sinclair died. Early in that year, Marion left England to live in New Zealand.
Marion Margaret Sinclair’s life: To be continued.