Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The French connection

Hello to you all and thank you for all your lovely comments on my last (two weeks ago) post. I don't know where the time goes.

I must be honest I'm quite looking forward to the Autumn now. The new school year has begun and I can get back into a routine. The school run certainly gets me going in the morning and it's good to plan my week ahead. John is now semi retired - working three days a week so our time is shared between things that need doing against things we want to do and therefore plans are afoot to make for a smooth transition.

In a recent post I touched upon my French connection and as several people wanted to know more I thought I'd fill you in with a bit of my family history.

 My grandmother Alice Aurelie Victorine Mercier 

was born and brought up in Valenciennes in 1899. Quite a small town compared to today's sprawling city in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

My grandfather, William Wells was in the Motor Cycle Corps of the Royal Engineers during the first World War. In actual fact he had an avid interest in motor bikes prior to signing up and the 1911 census tells us that at 17 years old he was a Motor Cycle Improver. Anyway he signed up in 1914 and because of his interest he was able to take his own motor cycle with him to become one of the first motor cycle dispatch riders with the Royal Engineers prior to which this duty was carried out on horseback. Based in Mons, Belgium his job was to take messages and documents to and from the front line. It was on one of these journeys that he must have passed through Valenciennes on his way back to Mons - about 20 miles away.

Now - my grandmother Alice's parents owned a Boulangerie Patisserie shop in the Rue de Quesnoy in Valenciennes and it can only be surmised that William met Alice when he walked into the shop to purchase some freshly baked bread perhaps.

Alice's father, Alphonse Romaine MERCIER was born in the area around 1865

and he met and married Victorine Elizabeth Marie CARON born 1865
(standing here in the cobbled courtyard behind their shop)

Not a lot is known about my great grandparents. To try and trace family in France is no mean feat, especially if you cannot speak the language! No not a word!!!

Many years ago my late mum gave me an old box with some very dirty silver spoons, which she told me came from her mother Alice. As per usual this got stashed away in my loft and moved from house to house over the last forty years. However, in one of my "lets sort the loft out" days, it got brought back down again. I attempted to clean the silver and at least four of them were engraved with some initials. Didn't think much about it until I started writing this post! I don't know if you can see clearly but the initials are a very ornate M and C - the surnames of my French great grandparents Romaine MERCIER and Victorine CARON. 

Again, I hadn't really  taken much notice of the box but when I took the spoons out I noticed a piece of dried heather and a dried rosebud. My guess is that this was a wedding present for Alphonse and Victorine when they married around the mid 1890s. A gift  possibly from one of their parents - who alas I know nothing about.

Anyway back to Alice and William. 

It is unknown whether William returned to England with his regiment or stayed behind but they courted for a few years before marrying in 1922 - firstly in the Hotel de Ville - the local town hall and then they went to their local Church the Notre-Dame-du-Saint-Cordon which looked quite a grand affair.

William took Alice back home to England where they settled in Middlesex. Mum was born in 1925 and shortly after, my Uncle Jack - the rest is history - for another day perhaps.

I hope you enjoyed this little story of my French roots.

See you soon x


  1. Very interesting. You are lucky to have so many photographs, going back into the 1800's. We have a few as well and some days I just stare at them wondering what they got up to!

  2. What a wonderful story, Patricia! And how lovely that you have these reminders of where you came from.

    I too love September, I see it as New Beginnings time, rather more so than New Year is. Also a quietening down and getting the home in order. A bit back to front of me, I suppose, but that's how I feel about it. Lx

  3. Your French grandmother was very pretty, Patricia, and what a lovely story you tell. It is wonderful to have so many of the old photos and quite a lot of good information about them to share. My paternal grandparents also met in World War 1, when my Australian grandfather went to fight in France; however my grandmother was English and they met when he went to London at the end of the war. The married in Essex and came together to Australia where my Dad was born. Sadly we have no wedding photo of them, despite looking among the cousins. Perhaps there wasn't one. Great Post xxx

  4. Hope the school run is going well, Patricia! I always enjoy the beginning of Autumn and the feeling of new beginnings or returning to interests that have been put to one side over the Summer months. I've enjoyed hearing about your French family history and you must treasure your family photos and the box of spoons with the dried heather and rosebud. My Northumbrian maternal grandfather, William, was also in the Cycling Corps so we have something in common! One day I will do some more posts about my family history which is one of the interests I turn to in the months when not out and about.

  5. I've really enjoyed reading your story about your grandparents and their meeting and marrying in France. You have some wonderful photos of them. Discovering the box of initialed spoons with the heather and rosebud in your loft must have felt like fitting in another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is researching family history. As I was looking at the photo of your grandmother I glanced across and saw the little photo of you on your profile and could see a likeness:)

  6. What a lovely story and how interesting that the silver spoons, which had lain dormant in the attic, suddenly become something that was a tangible connection whilst you were writing the post.
    Do you remember your French grandmother? Like Rosie, I too can see your likeness to Alice Aurelie Victorine Mercier.

  7. I enjoyed reading about this branch of your family from France. Wonderful to have those old photos. I especially liked the informal one of your great-grandmother Victorine standing at the back of their shop. Thanks for sharing Patricia.

  8. Patricia, Many people would like to know their ancestors. But you're lucky, you have photos of those old times. It seems to me that the people of that time were different, they have other characters, and they have a very peaceful faces!

  9. How lovely - it's great that you have so many photos of your family. Jx

  10. How lovely to rediscover those spoons - you are lucky to have so many photographs - I have only two of my g.g.grandfather - at least your history is faintly exotic - mine is really boring.

  11. Oh Patricia, what a lovely story to read and what a joy that you've got so many photos...Wonderful.
    Erna x

  12. Patricia, I really enjoyed reading about your family history. How lucky of you to have so many photos and those spoons are a real treasure. The dried heather and rose bud make them so personal.
    Thank you for linking with my '5 in 5' photo challenge. I'm not sure if this is the post you intended to include because the idea of '5 in 5' is that you take as many photos in 5 minutes, share 5 of these in a post, and link them back to my page so that people can come see. But I was glad of your link anyway because it gave me the chance to visit and to discover that you live quite close and that you have a campervan too! Ours is a T5 and like you, we have lots of fun and enjoy travelling.

  13. What a wonderful post, Patricia. I'm fascinated by family history, especially when illustrated by such lovely old photographs. Your grandparents' wartime romance is very touching.

    You may know nothing about your great-grandmother, but she looks like such a friendly woman whom anyone would enjoy meeting. the photo of Alice and William is also very special. Did your grandmother ever lose her French accent?


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