WELCOME TO THE BAYLISS LINE. This blog has been created for my family. By "my family" I mean all those who are related to the Bayliss family either by blood, marriage or even relationship. There are, of course, other Bayliss families not related to us but this blog has at its heart a very specific family who had their origins in Gloucestershire. I am connected to that family because my mother was a Bayliss and it was her curiosity that started my research back in the early 1990's. So, what are you likely to see on this blog? Well, as it is a blog, I want it to be as entertaining as possible rather that a dry listing of facts (that is for Ancestry.com). I will, hopefully, be posting entries on our ancestors and relatives, on the places where they lived, and the historical times they lived through. I have an extensive collection of photographs of people and places which I will, of course, be sharing.

I'd like to ask anybody who reads this blog to give me some feedback. I'd really like this to be a two way thing. It sometimes unearths new information and, to be honest, it gives me encouragement. There will be two ways of providing feedback - either through the comment button (you will need a Google account for this) or via the e-mail address which appears on this page - alternatively, ring me. Now scroll down to read the latest entries.....and, of course, via Facebook.

Monday, 2 April 2012


I now come to a point in the story that is both the easiest for me to write and in another way the most difficult. My mother kept a secret for fifty-two years, a secret that I'm sure she felt would make me think less of her. By the time I discovered the secret she was old  and although I did ask her for the truth, she maintained the lie until the end. I truly believe that she had lived with her secret for so long, had re-invented part of her life, that in the end she saw the version of events that she had told me as the true story. But, for all that, she was a good mother and although we went through very hard times she made sure I was always provided for and wanted for very little. There is no doubt that she had a tough life but she never gave up and despite the insecurities she often felt she always put on a brave face. I hope that in the few posts I do her justice.

Ethel aged about 16

Like her older sister, Florence (Cis), Ethel Rosina Harris was born at 26 New Road, Crouch End. She was the third of the Bayliss children, being born on 23 September 1907.  According to her own admission Ethel was a bit of a rebellious child and often in trouble at school where one of the regular punishments was to stand in a corner with your apron over your head. This never deterred Ethel as stubbornness was a trait she displayed all her life.  When not playing games in the street Ethel was a voracious reader and could often be found hidden away in some corner of the house with her nose in a book. She liked adventure stories best and among her favourite books were Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and P.C.Wren's Beau Geste.  As Ethel's son I was introduced to these books very early on and they instilled in me a love of reading as well.  Ethel, known as "Neffie" or simply "Neff" grew, like here siblings, to be a teenager in Windermere Road.  Ethel hero worshipped her father, Herbert, and loved talking about him when she grew older, although some of her stories about his military career have since been proved to be either misremebered or exaggerated. Herbert Bayliss's sad death in 1918 had a great effect on all the children and while I can't speak for any of the others I do know that Ethel somewhat resented her mother's remarriage to Richard Barrett.  She always claimed that her step-father "didn't like her"  but there seems to be little real evidence to support that. I think it was simply that it wasn't her dad.

A candid shot of Ethel in the street. The poster dates the picture as 1925, a
year before her marriage. Note the "barrow boys" selling fruit and veg - was
one of them her future husband?  Location of the picture is uncertain but it is
possibly outside The Rink Cinema at Finsbury Park.
 Like her elder sister, Ethel started work as a machine operator at Bett's Engineering in Elthorne Road
and started dating Ernest Harris who she met when he had a fruit and veg stall at the corner of Windermere Road and Holloway Road.  Ernest was a "barrow boy" who used to wheel his barrow to Chapel Market and pick up discarded fruit and veg at the end of the day's trading and wheel it back to Upper Holloway to sell cheaply.  They were hard times and people were happy to buy food that was, to use modern term, past it's sell by date.  Ernest had been born in nearby Tufnell Park in 1903 to another Ernest Harris and his wife Minnie Smith. As far as I can determine, Ernest's father was killed in an accident (he was a Carman) and Minnie remarried to another Ernest - Ernest Tapping.  Tapping, fresh out of the army, bought a sweet shop on Dartmouth Park Hill where his stepson worked as an assistant.  But young Ernest was not happy in the shop as his weakness was gambling. He left his stepfather's employ to make his own way in the world. It was while selling fruit and veg that he met a young man named Mark.  Whether this is the same Mark who was a close friend of Charlie and Arthur Bayliss is uncertain.  Mark had connections to the notorious Sabini Gang.  Of Italian ancestry the Sabini's, led by Darby Sabini, operated out of the "Italian Quarter" in Clerkenwell.  Sabini liked to hire Jewish boys to run messages and do odd jobs for him - believing they were more "honest"  with money than some of their contemporaries.  Ernest, thanks to Mark, went to work for Sabini, passing himself off as Jewish (which he wasn't) and earning the nickname "Yossel".  Ernest was caught up in a gang fight while working with one of the bookmakers (who were protected by the Sabinis) at Alexandra Palace racetrack. Attacked by a rival gang from Birmingham, Ernest was badly beaten with a cricket bat, necessitating several operations on his shoulder and leaving him with one arm slightly shorter than the other. Through out the rest of his life Ernest continued to live on the fringe of organised gangland - mainly because of his obsession with gambling - first for the Sabini's and later for the equally notorious Billy Hill.

Ernest Harris stands in the doorway of his stepfather's shop at 133
Dartmouth Park Hill

Ethel and Ernest were married at Islington Registry Office in Liverpool Road on Christmas Eve 1926.  Their first home was in Bartholomew Road, Kentish Town but they did not stay there very long before moving to 33 Hargrave Park (one of those roads which seem to have acted like a magnet to various members of our family.)  Ernest's stepfather, Ernest Tapping, agreed that Ethel and Ernest should take over his sweet shop on Dartmouth Park  Hill.  Payment for the business was to be in installments. Ethel was very happy at the shop and felt it was a chance for her and her husband to really settle into a comfortable life.  Her younger sister, Esther, worked in the shop and  Ethel even bought a dog, whom she named Curly.  Unfortunately Ernest's gambling got it the way. He would spend days playing cards with friends and was forever going off to racetracks around the country.  He got so far behind with his payments on the shop that the property was taken back and passed on to Ernest's half-brother, Tommy, who successfully ran the shop with his wife Doreen until his retirement in the 1970s.  The Tapping family will be the subject of a future post.

After leaving the shop, Ernest and Ethel moved  to 127 Junction Road and were neighbours of Cis and Fred. Ernest had various jobs during this period including working as a driver for The Evening News but his main income seemed to come from his gambling activities and a few con tricks. One of his confederates in the con game was Joe Slater, a merchant seaman who would later marry young Esther Bayliss.  Ernest and Joe ran a scam selling boxes containing bottles of Tonic Wine. Customers were offered a sample from one of the bottles and it was only after they had purchased that they found out the other bottle contained nothing but water! Ethel, in the meantime, was working as a barmaid and a cook.

This is one of my favourite pictures of my mother,  taken
at Bognor Regis in 1935 with her husband Ernest and her
neice Cecilia Abbott.

Despite Ernest's unreliability in many areas he seems to have been a very popular and likeable man and many people have commented to me about his sense of humour. I certainly believe that my mother loved him and was willing to forgive many of his faults. There were, however two real clouds over the marriage. Ethel was often left alone while Ernest was away and she desperately wanted a child.  According to my mother she had suffered a miscarriage early in the marriage and had failed to conceive since. In the summer of 1935
Ernest and Ethel  booked a holiday chalet in Bognor Regis. This holiday, I am convinced, was one of the happiest periods of my mother's life. The holiday lasted from 6 June until 30 June 1935 and the chalet, named "Anchorage"(total cost £6) became a magnet for family and friends. Countless photos were taken during the holiday (most of which survive) and they show not only Ethel and Ernest but Cis and Fred and their daughter Cecilia, sister Esther, friends such as Mabel and Charlie Smith with their daughter Valerie and Bill Stratton. The photos show people who are totally relaxed and enjoying themselves. They are among my favourite pictures of my mother because they are the ones in which she looks the happiest
Another picture from the 1935 Bognor Regis holiday.
Left to right : Ethel, Mabel Smith, Esther Bayliss, Cis
Abbott. The children are Valerie Smith and Cecilia Abbott.
Back in London Ethel and Ernest moved again, this time to 11 Tufnell Park Road, Holloway (a house that had once been the home of the Music Hall star Lottie Collins. Ethel went to work for a chemical company run by a German family named Klashaver (I may have the spelling wrong). The house in Tufnell Park Road was opposite The Gaumont Cinema (now the Odeon) and it was here in early 1939 that Ethel met the famous cowboy film star Tom Mix who was touring England with his horse Tony II (Tony II was white as opposed to the original and more famous Tony who was black). Ethel even got a ride on the horse.  Of course, 1939 was the year the Second World War broke out. Ethel's boss, Mr.Klashaver was interned and although Ethel continued with the company for a while (part of her duties involved taking a change of clothes to her boss at the internment camp) she moved on to become the manageress of The Greyhound Social Club in Seven Sisters Road.  Situated above Burton's the tailors, near the corner with Holloway Road, the club was actually a snooker and billiard hall which also provided food for its customers which seems to have included many of the local petty criminal/racing fraternity - including one who was evocatively nicknamed "Shitty Dick" because of brown stains around the bottom of his overcoat.

Ethel about 1941. Note the gas mask case.
Ernest was exempt from military duty because physical weakness. He could however drive and he went to work as an Ambulance driver for the London Port Authority. It was during the Blitz that Ethel and other members of the family took refuge from the bombs in Highgate Underground Station (Now Archway Station).  It was there that Ethel first met William Weaver who was one of the supervisors of the maintenance crews on the underground railway. You may remember that we met William Weaver in an earlier post about The Great War of 1914-18.  William, or Bill, became friends with the family and particularly with Ethel and her husband.  He became at regular at the Greyhound Social Club and would often (with Ernest's permission as he was busy playing cards) take Ethel to the cinema.  One day the three of them drove to the village of Braughing in Hertfordshire to visit Ernest's mother and her husband Ernest Tapping.  Ethel, Ernest and Bill went out for a walk in the surrounding lanes along with Ernest's half-sister Annie. On the way back they noticed an airplane circling over head.  "It's alright, it's a Spitfire" announced Ernest confidently.  It wasn't, it was a Messerschmitt and it it came down and began to strafe the village street. Although they were only a few yards from the Tapping cottage, they all dived for cover in the bushes at the side of the road.  Years later, while visiting the village, Annie pointed out the marks on the wall of the cottage where bullets from the plane had struck.


You can click on "Ethel's album" under "More to See" in the column on the right to see more of Ethel's pictures.

1 comment:

  1. What a splendid tale!

    I have learned much about Aunty Ethel today.