Dawn shares memories of her Grandmother Clara, who was born in the Jewellery Quarter in 1914:

‘My Nanny Clara born in 1914 and was raised in and around the Jewellery Quarter living in Hingeston Street for a part of her life, she was one of 11 children and her parents were called Mabel May and Fredrick Roper. I remember her telling me lots of tales of her having to go to live at the “poor house” because her mother couldn’t afford to feed all of the children, and her eating tough meat and popping it into her pinafore apron to hide it, only to be found out and severely scolded and punished for it, she tried to escape from the “poor house” but didn’t get far as the realisation that it was better than actually starving must of hit home, and possibly that she couldn’t get out anyway. I am not sure of when she did eventually leave there or how long she had to stay.

Her story seemed complicated to me when I was younger, as I remember the “adults” talking when I was a child, and wasn’t altogether sure whether she was actually bought up by an older sister. My aunt recently told me that my great grandmother died (Mabel May) and my Nan had to go and live with her older sister, who looked after her and brought her up. 

I remember her telling me (possibly before she went into the poor house) was that some of her siblings died when they were young children. Our family tree suggested several of them died within a few days of one another. They died of “consumption”, I think it was tuberculosis and she told of the very sad tale of two tiny white coffins (as she remembered) in the front parlour in one week, both are buried at Warstone Lane Cemetery – although I never found out where. 

Clara was married to my Granddad, Fredrick Exton, at the church in the square, St Paul’s and her wedding sounded just like one I read of in a book that  I recently read, “The Girl from Hockley”.’

We looked on ancestry.co.uk for a Mabel May and Frederick Roper, we found their marriage certificate from 4th September 1915 – they also got married at St Paul’s Church, where their daughter Clara would later follow their example.

Marriage Certificate (ancestry)

On the 1925 electoral roll they were living at 129 Branston Street. We used this address to compare to the burial registers for children with the surname of Roper who were buried at Warstone Lane Cemetery. Very sadly we found 4 children who lived at that address at their time of death.

Ivy (age 3) and Doreen M (aged 21 months) Roper, buried on 1st March 1924, Section B, Grave 1784 (Birmingham Burial Records)

Their sister Florence R Roper (who we think was known as Rose) was buried in the same grave just 1 week later on 8th March 1924, she was 8 months old. Tragedy struck the family again in 1926, when another baby Henry T Roper, who we think was known as Theodore died at Dudley Road Hospital, aged just 2 months and was buried in Section D, Grave 1384.

We also tracked down Clara Exton (née Roper) to find out about her later life in the Jewellery Quarter.
The 1939 register shows Clara and Frederick Exton living at Hingeston Street. He was working as a general labourer in a foundry (heavy work) and she was a press operator.

Frederick Exton’s entry in the 1939 register (ancestry)
Clara Exton’s entry is on the top of the next page (ancestry)

Frederick Exton was soon called up to serve his country and Dawn has kindly shared a family photo of him in uniform. They had twin daughter’s Margaret and Dorothy (Dorothy was Dawn’s mum and is the blond child in this photo).

Frederick Exton during WWII
Clara Exton with daughters Margaret (left) and Dorothy (right)

Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project


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