Where our French and Irish Heritage came from

Meet my Grandmother, at sixteen.

A brave young French girl, who can barely speak a word of English. She has just arrived in Folkestone, on a cold morning in 1914.

All alone, fresh off the channel ferry from her home in Équihen-Plage, a small fishing commune in the Pas-de-Calais region, just south of Boulogne. She has only ever been out of her village a handful of times, and never been out of her country before.

Later that day, she boards a train she believes is headed for London, where she hopes to get one of the plentiful domestic jobs she’s heard exist in the metropolis, working “in service”.

We catch up with her again, 5 years later in 1919, when she is 21, just after the 1st World War has ended, and find she is working in service “below stairs”, assisting a cook in a big house in Cadogan Square, in London.

Named after her mother, Isabelle (Labarr-Tisserand), her name is Isabelle Mary Theresa Merlin., and although she doesn’t know it yet, she’s about to become my maternal grandmother — later on I renamed her my “Nanny ooh la la” because I often heard her exclaim “Oh là là“, the way only she could do.

Later on I renamed her my “Nanny ooh la la” because I often heard her exclaim “Oh là là“.

I digress; back to Chelsea.

Fate steps in, and a short while later, Isabelle realises that she’s pregnant. The father is the eighteen-year-old chauffeur; an Irish Catholic immigrant by the name of James Edward Hoey, also known as “Dick” (very appropriate!), who is, of course, blissfully unaware he’s soon to become my maternal grandfather.

Isabelle sits him down, and tells Dick their wonderful news. They decide to marry, and on 19 Jul 1920, they tie the knot in St Mary’s Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea. Unfortunately, this surfaces another problem.

There is no accommodation available for their little family below stairs any longer, so they have to look for somewhere else to live. Fortunately, Dick quickly finds a council house for them at 90 Claremont Avenue, New Malden.

As Dick can no longer work as a chauffeur, he takes a job as a delivery driver for Nabisco, and they start to settle down and raise a family, eventually eight brothers and sisters — Doris, Joan, Isabelle, Leo, Margarite, Jim, Charley and Elaine.

In so doing, they start our branch of the Hoey family.

And when my mother, Doris Hoey, marries my father, Ronald Milbourn, that starts our branch of the Milbourn family tree.

So, that was nice.

And then the 2nd World War started.

Oh là là

~ Isabelle Mary Theresa Merlin

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