Histories

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MEMORIES OF MY POLLITT AND GRIFFIN GRANDPARENTS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS

An extract from the above private publication, with the kind permission of June's son, Tony Cope who is my 4th cousin.

I learned more of my Griffin Grandparents from comments made by my mother and her bachelor brother Ernest, who lived with his parents in Gordon Villa until they died in their eighties. One conversation which I had with Uncle Ernest was on the subject of his names. And so to put my grandparents into a clearer perspective, let’s look at their naming of their third child for a few moments.

Uncle Ernest, or to give him his full accreditation, Charles Ernest Barlow Griffin, was born in 1883. Of all my uncles he was the one I was closest to. He never married and, when his parents died, he frequently used to move into our home for lengthy periods and he talked to me of his childhood and his parents. He told me that his parents named him ‘Charles’ after Charles Bdlaugh, ‘Ernest’ after Ernest Renan and ‘Barlow’ after his mother’s family name. 

You might know that Charles Bradlaugh was the British parliamentarian who refused to take the oath on a Bible. In my later work on Abortion Law Reform, I was researching the history of the birth control movement in England and I discovered that in 1877 Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, the noted campaigner and his colleague in the Free Thought movement, published The Fruits of Philosophy–a book which gave information on birth control. It was a courageous step and was clearly taken around the time when my grandfather and grandmother were themselves young parents. Written by an American, the book had been published forty years previously but had been the subject of legal action. 

Remember that we are now observing the lives of people who were living in the Victorian era when sexual morality was at its most forbidding. Women died exhausted from childbearing. Doctors who attempted to inform their patients on simple and mostly ineffective birth control methods were jailed. A doctor who wrote The Wife’s Handbook, which gave advice on contraception, was struck off the register. For their publication of this book Bradlaugh and Besant faced a court action, but were acquitted. The publicity surrounding their trial educated the public. It is significant that only six years passed between the court action involving Charles Bradlaugh and the birth of my grandparents’ third child, Charles.

My uncle’s second name ‘Ernest’ was derived from the radical French historian and essayist, Ernest Renan, whose early training for the priesthood had shaken his faith. His Vie de Jesus (1863), a critical look at the gospel narratives, earned him fame and persecution, and he continued to publish historical works and critical moral essays until the end of the century. So much for my uncle’s first two names. 

Uncle Ernest’s third name, one shared by all my grandparents’ children was ‘Barlow’, the maiden name of their mother and its inclusion showed a certain lack of male chauvinism on my grandfather’s part, which was unusual for the time. Much of what my mother and Uncle Ernest used to say in passing and their attitudes, made me realise when I later read the social history of England of the late 1800s, that my grandparents without doubt, belonged to what at the time was called the Free Thought movement

Owner of originalJune Cope
Date2019
Linked toCharles Ernest Barlow Griffin

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