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.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Holloway Sword Fight - The Family Connection

Continuing the story of my mum’s side of the family I wanted to see what I could find out about Auntie Gladys.  

Thomas’s first wife Alice Laura Harding née Wesley died in 1939 and Thomas went on to marry Gladys in 1948. I was born in the same year so always assumed Gladys was my grandmother, although oddly we called her Auntie!

Back row left to right Auntie Gladys, Barbara Fisher nee Flitney, Rene Flitney nee Harding
Front Sue Poulter nee Flitney

From long ago conversations with mum I believe granddad originally employed Gladys as his housekeeper, after a while they became close and eventually married. Gladys was very sweet but also rather unworldly, and it was assumed granddad wanted to look after her. My sister remembered Gladys having a sister called Nora and that tiny piece of information helped tremendously when it came to tracking down the family. 

The wedding of Thomas Harding and Gladys Cizilinsky, the lady behind the bride and groom is Glady’s sister Leonora.

Gladys was born in 1913 two years after her sister Leonora.  Both girls were born in Hendon (an ancient parish in the county of Middlesex now forming part of Greater London) Their mother Edith Mahala Phillips was born in Camden Town in 1883 and in 1910, she married Ferdinand Czilinsky a carver on wood and ivory.  

Ferdinand’s father, Ferdinand Czilinsky the elder, settled the family in London. He was born In Mainz in 1835. As a young man he worked in Paris, where his first son, August, and his daughter Augusta were born. In London he and his wife Maria had another six children, including sons Emil Lorenz and Ferdinand junior (Gladys's father). By the time of the 1881 census, the family were living in Hoxton (London). Ferdinand senior made his living as a ‘carver in wood’ and fifteen-year-old August was also listed as a carver.  

Later, Emil and Ferdinand junior would also train as carvers in wood and ivory. It’s not clear if the family were employed as outworkers but that was often the case. In any case, the family were known to supply carved wooden and ivory handles in the form of animal heads that could be attached to either umbrellas or walking sticks. In 1930, a dozen Czlinsky’s assorted small walking stick heads cost around twenty shillings.  Amazing to think that one walking stick with a Czlinksy handle now sells for hundreds if not thousands of pounds.  

On the right; hazel walking stick with integral handle carved in the form of a Scottish terrier's head, c1920-40, almost certainly by a member of the Czilinsky family. The dogs head on the left is another example of their work.

In later years, Ferdinand senior lived at 6, Tytherton Road, Tufnell Park, with his son Ferdinand junior and possibly other members of his family. His eldest son August was married to Elizabeth and they and their five children were living at West Ham. Emil had also moved away but on New Year’s Eve (1902) he was at home with his father, and that was how he came to be involved in a dispute with the local authorities culminating in Ferdinand senior and his two sons appearing at the Old Bailey in February 1903.

Ferdinand Senior had already been in trouble with the law prior to his appearance at The Old Bailey as shown in this report from The London Evening News of October, 1985. 

Sued for rates, and pleads he was not liable because he was in prison. At the Clerkenwell County Court, yesterday, before Judge Meadows, Q. C., Ferdinand Czilinsky, a Pole with a strong native accent and described as a carver in wood and ivory, carrying on a business in Islington was sued for £1. 9s. 6d, a quarter’s rents.
Defendant: During that time I could not earn my living.
The Judge: What do you mean?
Defendant: "I vos vorking at the hardest labours for the most cruel sentence of ze magistrates! It VOS injustice, sob!"  (Loud laughter.)
The Judge: Then the country was providing for you, and your defence is that as you were all the time in prison, you are not liable even though your family continued to occupy the place?
As the defendant’s excitement increased when his honour gave judgement against him, he had to be removed from the witness box by the constable. Cizilinsky left shouting that he would appeal to the Queen and the House of Lords.  

His brushes with the law continued to escalate over the following years as this from the London North Mercury and Crouch End Observer of November 18th, 1899 attests; 

A Remarkable Defendant. 
At 6, Tytherton Road, Holloway, lives a remarkable old man named Ferdinand Czilinsky, whose name has frequently been before the Vestry for neglecting to provide certain sanitary improvements. Defendant has been before the Court several times and defied the Vestry in every way, threatening the sanitary officers if they entered his premises, and issuing literature alleging wrong-doing against the local authority. His latest effort in this line of defence has been the hanging of a sheet from his house on which were set forth that all might read the evil deeds and misdoings of the Vestry and its officials. The magistrate fined him £10 with 2s. (two shillings) costs 

Ten pounds and two shillings (in old money) was surely a huge sum to find when you consider a dozen walking stick handles were selling for approximately twenty shillings (£1.00).

The obvious ill feeling between the authorities and some members of the Czilinsky family came to a head in 1903.

This from The Echo, Thursday, January 15, 1903;

Holloway Sword Fight
At the Clerkenwell Police Court to-day Ferdinand Czilinsky (67) a carver, of 6, Tytherton-road, Tufnell-Park, was charged on remand with attempting to murder Police Constable Hyde, by stabbing him on the right hand. Ferdinand Czilinsky (23) and Emile Czilinsky (28), both ivory carvers, and sons of the older prisoner, were charged on remand with assaulting the police officer.
The report goes on to say;
The circumstances of the charge will be fresh in the minds of our readers. Police constable Hyde went to arrest the elder prisoner for non-payment of rates, and when the officer at length gained entrance to the room Ferdinand Czilinsky lunged at him with a sword, cutting his right thumb, afterwards saying he would have shot him if the officer had not been so quick.  P. C. Poole, said that Czilinsky senior was so violent, that he had to be carried downstairs. During the descent he repeated the threat to shoot the officers.

Ferdinand Czilinsky the elder was charged with feloniously wounding George Hyde with intent to murder, to do grievous bodily harm, and to disable with intent to resist apprehension. Ferdinand Czilinsky the younger and his brother Emil were charged with assaulting a constable in the execution of duty, obstruction and unlawful wounding. By the time the case came to court the charge against all three had changed to unlawful assault of a police officer in the execution of his duty.

The trial provides many interesting snippets about Ferdinand seniors working life and his rather quarrelsome nature. His counsel described him as ‘one of the most expert carvers in London’, and argued that much of the commotion on the night of 31st December 1902 was caused by the police tripping over boards of pear wood stacked in the hallway. In the ensuing melee Police constable Hyde also had an unhappy encounter with something he described as a rapier. This was probably one of the narrow blades typically used in sword sticks. The trial is well document online and for anyone with an interest in the details, the full account can be read here. (This is a full day’s court proceedings so be prepared to scroll through the pages to find the case.)

After the commotion of the trial, Ferdinand junior and Emil continued to work with their father until his death in 1907. His eldest son August had struck out by himself and at the time of the 1891 census, he was working on his own account as a carver in wood and ivory from his house in Mile End. By the time of the 1911 census two of his other sons, Alfred and Percy, were working alongside him as carvers in wood.

A lot has been written on the Internet and elsewhere about Ferdinand seniors irascible nature but for all that he was an incredibly talented man. This image of an automated cockatoo's head carved from ivory surely proves the point.

Ivory - an emotive subject.

London was the world’s busiest ivory market during the nineteenth century, as can be seen in this article from the Omaha Daily Bee of 9th July, 1899;

One of the most interesting warehouses at the London docks is that which contains ivory. Here the ivory is collected for the great sales by auction which take place quarterly. These constitute the largest ivory sales in the world, some ninety tons being sold at each sale at a rough aggregate of $500,000

These figures may seem large, but it should be remembered that the world’s annual consumption of ivory is estimated at something like 1,500,000 pounds, valued at $4,500,000 and to supply this amount 70,000 elephants must be killed. The consumption in Sheffield alone requires the annual slaughter of 22,000 animals….

The figures are truly shocking but possibly more upsetting is to realise that ivory poaching in Africa was still a massive problem in the 1970s and 1980s, and the trade was only banned in 1989.  The laws are confusing, but the basic premise now states it is legal to sell any carved ivory item if you can prove it was worked before 1947. Anything worked after that date is illegal to sell.  

I feel sure Ferdinand Cizilinsky the elder would have plenty to say on the subject of ivory, just as he did on so many other subjects.

Find my past,
The British Newspaper Archive,
Online archives at Christie's and Sotheby's auctions.
The proceedings of the Old Bailey
In good hands 250 years of craftsmanship by Katherine Prior ISBN 978-1-898565-09-3


  1. Goodness this is really fascinating and cannot believe we knew nothing about it! Well done Barbara for finding out, cannot wait for the next instalment. Love Sue xx

    1. Hi Sue, I always felt Gladys was a bit of a mystery. When you think about it, we knew nothing at all about her family. Why didn’t we ever meet or talk about them? We knew about her sister Nora (although I had forgotten until you said), but that was it. I wonder if her mother & father were at the wedding. I also wonder if our mum and dad went – if they did you and Tony must have been there. I wish I could ask mum about it! xxx

    2. I wonder who the people on the right of the wedding photo are? I do not think we went and think it was a bit of a shock for mum so she probably did not go. The only wedding I remember going to was Miss Charles, your God Mother. I bet you will be looking for one of those walking sticks now, it would be lovely to be able to afford one x

    3. I think the woman on the right could be May (married to Charlie). Is it possible the man in front of her is our great granddad or could that be Gladys's dad? I think the man next to granddad could be Ron or Bill. The other woman at the back might be Mary (Bill’s wife). Mum may have been pregnant with me at the time of the wedding, or maybe I was born and mum was unwell. I must look up the date of the wedding. I remember you saying that mum had Scarlet Fever when I was a baby so maybe it was around that time. There are so many unknowns and lots of research still to do.
      I would love to own one of the walking sticks but they cost a great deal of money so I might have to wait for a win on the lottery. xx

  2. Barbara, my goodness you have been busy researching all that. What an interesting tale and the pictures of the carvings show how skilled they were.

    1. Hi John, it did take a little time, but it was thoroughly absorbing. Not sure what I will write about next as there are so many avenues to explore. I will have to think about it over Christmas and hope something presents itself. Thanks so much for taking the time to call in and read my ramblings. Barbara.

    2. Hello Barbara my name is Brian Czilinsky and was very excited
      to read your story as Leanora Czilinsky was my great aunt. I am also happy at finding out more information about the Czilinsky family ,you seem to be better than me in looking into family history. i do hope you get this message ,thank you Brian Czilinsky.

  3. Hello Brian, lovely to be in touch. I guess we must be distant cousins? It did take some time to find the information but i enjoy all that.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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