A Yorkshire & Norfolk Heritage
My secret heritage
I'm British and definitely a proud Yorkshirewoman. But I have to confess to a dark and guilty secret. I am not one hundred percent Yorkshire. I have foreign blood. 'Foreign', to a Yorkshire person means anywhere outside our great county so here I have to confess that my paternal grandmother was a foreigner - she was from Norfolk.
This is the story of my grandparents. They were both born in the nineteenth century, during the reign of Queen Victoria. Had my grandad, George, not wandered into a pub one night and met a certain young lady .... well, let's say it's interesting, if not indicative, that my story begins in a pub.
George and the young lady Ada, who would become my grandmother, got together but they had a guilty secret. Read on to find out more.
The general images on this page are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright-free. The photographs of my grandparents and parents are from my family collection and © BritFlorida.
Here's George during the First World War. He was born in Doncaster (Yorkshire) and I suspect he developed a fascination for aeroplanes when he was a young boy - his hometown held aviation shows at the racecourse there - as early as 1909.
George left home to explore the world as soon as he was old enough and at first, he joined a travelling fairground, living a gypsy life.
When the First World War began in 1914 he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, a forerunner of the RAF. After taking part in the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey, he was stationed in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk - a lively seaport. Don't think for a minute that he was gallant flyer - he worked as a mechanic fixing and maintaining those early aircraft.
On the photograph below, he is fifth from the right.
Ada was one of six children. She'd been brought up in a tiny house in the Great Yarmouth rows. The rows were a warren of tiny alleys similar to the one you see here. (They were almost entirely destroyed by German bombing in the Second World War.)
I don't have a photograph of her in her younger years but I can tell that she was lovely-looking and quite talented too. Her father was a crane operator on the Yarmouth docks and her grandfather ran a pub right on the waterfront. (I love the pub connection!)
She was married when she was quite young, quite possibly to an older man who ran a pub (pubs again!) She had two children, a girl and a boy, probably born in 1913 and 1914. The girl was to grow into a ravishing beauty and the boy developed into a handsome and dapper man.
A chance meeting
One evening, just after the First World War, George went out for a night on the town with his pals. Great Yarmouth offered a huge number of drinking establishments but luckily - for me - the lads went into pub where a young lady was playing the piano.
Now this is my important question
My grandmother was a married woman with two children. What on earth was she doing working in a pub, playing the piano? Mind you, I have to say that she was never an entirely conventional lady as you will see as this story progresses.
According to my dad, George saw Ada and thought 'hmm, I'm having that' and sure enough, shortly afterwards, the two ran off together. George had resumed his fairground life and had his caravan (trailer) handy.
What about her children?
I'm glad you asked. Yarmouth is a seaport but its surrounding areas are made up of canals, lakes and waterways known as the Norfolk Broads.
Today, the area is recreational. Lots of people enjoy vacations afloat. In fact, the photograph you see on the left is of my mum and dad doing just that in the late nineteen forties.
But in the days when Ada and George first met, the area was used mainly for transportation and also residences - many people lived on boats. One such person was Ada's elder sister Florence, who had married in 1910. Ada used the simple device of sending her children to live with their Auntie Flo.
In his autobiography - more of which later - my dad speculates:
I've often wondered if she left a note for her husband: 'Hello love, just to let you know that I'm running away with a gypsy ... the kids are at my sister's...'— Eric Jackson
Back to Yorkshire and living in sin
This shows Ada in 1947. When she and George ran away together it was a different era - Ada in particular was concerned about the fact that they were 'living in sin'.
She had no idea how to go about getting a divorce from her husband and even if she had, she and George never stayed in one place for more than a few days - they were effectively on the run from her husband and disapproving Victorian family.
But in late 1923, after over five years of living the gypsy life and travelling around the country, Ada became pregnant.
My dad was born in their caravan home on July 23rd, 1924.
Ada decided that enough was enough. Now she had a baby to care for, it was time to settle down. They'd been on the run, undiscovered, for six years. The time had come.
Their son, my dad
They settled in Yorkshire as a respectable married couple. George worked as a mechanic and but retained his wanderlust. After a while he moved his family to another area. George bought a truck and made his living dealing in livestock and hauling them to Doncaster Cattle Market.
As you can see from the photograph on the left, their son made the most of this life. (Note too that the young boy who became my dad was riding bareback - no wussy saddles or anything of that nature).
At about the time that this photograph was taken, Ada's children came to live with them now that they were settled in a real home.
Auntie Flo had had enough.
They had done such a good job of creating a supposed marital status that I didn't know until I was forty that my parents never married - and it turned out that the rude name people had been calling me for years was actually true.— Eric Jackson
As you'd imagine, after having such an unconventional background and upbringing, you couldn't really expect my dad (pictured here) to settle down and lead quiet life.
Certainly, after being in the army (see the links below) my mum managed to get him down the aisle but it wasn't long before he was off on his travels.
To start, he went to New York where he consorted with movie stars, tough cops ... and gangsters.
Then he was off on his travels to deepest, darkest Africa where he encountered bandits, guerillas, drunken boy soldiers and even cannibals. Fortunately, he has nine lives - or more.
He should write a book, shouldn't he? Well, he did, we're in luck. He started writing it when he was in his eighties (writing longhand and sending it to me to decipher).
Find out more about Great Yarmouth and Doncaster during the First World War.
More about Yorkshire
- Films Made in Yorkshire: Ten Recommendations
Not only is Yorkshire known as 'God's Own County' it is a popular location for filming. See my selection of feature films that have been made in Yorkshire.
- Chris Harland: The Art of North Yorkshire
Chris Harland is one of the foremost iPhoneographers, specialising largely in shooting the county of Yorkshire. See his work. Fellow photographer Andy Royston pays tribute in this article.
- North Yorkshire Coast
If you're visiting England, don't just spend your time in London. The North Yorkshire Coast is only a couple of hours away and will amaze you with its beauty. See photographs and learn more.
- Bretton Hall & Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Bretton Hall in Yorkshire is a magnificent mansion. In its stunning grounds there is a park featuring modern sculpture. What a wonderful combination and a definite place to visit when in the UK.
I wish my grandparents had written their autobiographies.
Have you ever considered writing your autobiography?
I honestly believe you should.
When I was helping my dad with his, I researched the internet and found that there is a lot of nonsense written about his motorsport career.I also have magazine and newspaper cuttings about him that are completely wrong.
But it's not just a matter of putting the record straight, it's a wonderful legacy to leave for your family and generations to come. Wouldn't it be wonderful if your grandparents had done so?