My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Alice Laura Harding née Wesley 1893 - 1939

Most of the stories on this blog have been about the Flitney/Stopps side of the family, but it’s now time to redress the balance a little.

A summer picnic; Left to right me (Barbara), Auntie Gladys, Sue, Rene Flitney née Harding and Thomas Harding.

By the time I got to know my maternal grandfather Thomas Henry Harding his first wife Alice (my grandmother) had died, and he was married to my Auntie Gladys. I just accepted that Gladys was my 'auntie' and that my ‘real’ grandmother was dead. I'm kicking myself for not asking any questions when I had the chance.  I know mum was often sad when she talked about her own mother, but I have no idea how she felt about Gladys. They always seemed to get on OK more than that I don’t know. Gladys is a complete mystery – I have nothing to go on. I will have to start by looking for a marriage certificate but for now I want to think about my Grandmother Alice Laura Harding née Wesley.  

Alice was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire on the 26th December, 1893 the daughter of John (**a gas stoker) and Mary Wesley née Simmonds.

A team of gas stokers hard at work via

**At this time just about every town in the land had a gasworks. Gas lighting was common in most houses, and gas lamps were used to illuminate the streets. Industry too was dependent on gas, to fuel the engines that powered the factories. For most people a reliable gas supply was just a normal part of life, and something they took for granted. Very few knew or cared how coal-gas was made, and fewer wondered what it would be like to be a labourer in a gas-works. William James Thorne (1857 – 1946), British trade unionist, activist and one of the first Labour members of Parliament described it thus “The retort houses are exceedingly hot, for both behind and in front of the stoker are the burning eyes of the furnaces; amidst the roaring of the heat-hungry retorts a breeze as of hell fans me.” via

By 1901, Alice with her mother, father and older brother Thomas were living at 39, New Zealand, Aylesbury. I felt sure the address taken from the 1901 census must be a mistake, but it turns out New Zealand is a hamlet in the parish of Aylesbury. Apparently, the name comes from a breed of cattle that was farmed there. (Wikipedia)  

1901 census showing the family living at No. 39, New Zealand, Aylesbury.

When Alice and Thomas married in 1908, Alice’s family were living at Willow Road, Aylesbury and that was where Alice and Thomas started their married life. I'm assuming money must have been very tight for the family. Thomas was employed as a general labourer and his father in law was still working at the gas works.

My maternal grandmother Alice Laura Harding née Wesley

Alice and Thomas went on to have five children born between 1911 and 1917. Their youngest Alice Irene Florence (known as Rene to her friends and Dinks to her brothers), was born in 1917. By this time the family had moved once more and were living at Prebendal Avenue, Southcourt.

Thomas Harding back row far left. Alice & Rene front row second & third left. I assume the chaps in the back row must be their sons so perhaps the women are wives or girlfriends. 
With thanks to Sue Poulter for the photograph.

Money continued to be an issue for Alice and Thomas as recalled by Rene in this hand-written note from November 1994.

I often sit alone and think of my childhood. We were so poor and I always longed for Saturdays when my Uncle Peter came to visit – he was always worse for drink and would get to us after the pubs closed. My mother always cooked him a lunch. Her name was Alice and Uncle Peter would arrive, sit down by the fire and start crying saying, “don’t be cross with me Ally"  he would say it over and over it always worried me, so he would give me a penny and tell me to buy something nice. I would rush up town and buy a balloon and play with it until it popped, then I had to wait for the next Saturday.

Alice - (on right of  photograph)

Alice was in poor health throughout most of her life and when her daughter Rene got married in 1938, she was too ill to attend the wedding.  

Just seven months later the newspapers were reporting her death;

Mrs. A. L. Harding; After a long illness patiently borne, Mrs. Alice Laura Harding, of 37 Prebendal Avenue, Southcourt, Aylesbury, died last Wednesday week (25th January 1939). Mrs. Harding, who was 46 years of age, was the wife of Mr.T.H. Harding. She was a native of Aylesbury, the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Wesley, formerly of Maldon Terrace. She had been in ill health for some time, and had twice been in the Royal Bucks Hospital, but her cheery disposition had never failed her. Four sons, well known in local football circles, and a daughter are left with Mr. Harding to mourn their loss. 

Alice was just 46 years old when she died. 

her husband (my maternal grandfather) Thomas Henry Harding

and their daughter Rene (my mother) looking remarkably like her own mother
Alice Irene (Rene) Flitney née Harding with Peggy.

This poem was found in Rene's diary. I assume she must have copied it from somewhere;

Memories are the pictures that an artist cannot paint. 
They’re secret, and they’re private. Some are sharp, and some are faint.
Memories that bring laughter, some that will bring tears,
Happenings of yesterday, or of those bygone years.
Memories of my childhood, of the games I used to play.
Memories of the good old days, that seem so far away.
I sit and reminisce, in the silence of my room,
Painting pictures of my memories and a love that died too soon.

Please write down your memories and pass them on to your children. They may not want to read them today, but one day they will.  


  1. Love the photo of mum with Peggy. I cannot remember anything about John and Mary so well done you for filling some of those gaps.
    Sue xx

    1. Thank you sister, I didn’t know anything about them either so it was fun trying to find out. Just wish I could find more will have to keep digging. xx

  2. Hello Barbara and Sue,
    I just spent two minutes wondering why you had a different name on a picture of your Mum. Now having read the full, very interesting story, I see my mistake. Aunt Renee was so like her mother as you say.

    1. Hello John, sorry for the confusion! Rene and Alice are so alike they could be twins – if not for the fact that they are mother and daughter. Thank you for your always kind words.

    2. I tried entering something here a couple of times not sure whats happening. But I am your cousin Christine, daughter of Charles and May, Charles was the eldest son of Tom and Alice please contact me on fellofam@gmail com

    3. Hello Chris, lovely to meet you! My internet access is restricted at the moment (I’m away from home) but will contact you middle of next week. Sorry you had a problem with the comments, thanks for trying again. Barbara


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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