Last Monday I returned the car we had rented for the week to an office in Crawley and was being driven back to the B and B where we had stayed overnight in Horley. It was 6.45am and the traffic around Gatwick was already heavy. The driver complained about the traffic. “The other day,” he commented, “I needed to go up to Hounslow. I set the satnav and it told me that it would take 45 minutes but the traffic was so heavy on the M25 that the time got longer and longer and in the end it took over an hour and a half.” We had done the same trip the week before (see previous blog, By train through George and Mabel’s world), also with the help of a GPS and via the M25, and it had taken over an hour for us too.
Hounslow, near Heathrow, is not really that far from Horley, near Gatwick, where we were staying. Horley is a stone’s throw from Redhill, where Mabel Butler had her first son in 1905, George Simmonds, my grandfather. Nowadays, if there is no traffic, it probably takes even less than 45 minutes from Redhill to Hounslow, but it was different a hundred years ago when my great grandparents, Mabel Butler and George Lilley made that journey. I sat in the rental car staring out the window into the darkness of the autumn morning and found my thoughts wandering back to them and the move that marked the start of their life together. How long did it take in 1905, I wondered? There was no M25 and there were few cars. The roads were probably dirt, and must have been muddy when it rained. They may have travelled by train into London and out again to Hounslow, or more likely, since George was a furniture carman, by horse and carriage.
But they may not have travelled the journey together, considering the circumstances of their move. Mabel had just had their first son, my grandfather, but she was unmarried, and whether it was general knowledge in the area that George Lilley was the father I don’t know. Perhaps she moved alone, to escape the comments of a disapproving community. Redhill was a small place then, and Mabel was not from those parts. Perhaps she knew few people in the area. She was from London, and had grown up in Bristol and the West Country. She was not a girl, already 29 years old when she had her first child. Perhaps she moved to Heston without George, perhaps she knew someone there who was willing to take her in, an unwed mother unable to work, with a newborn baby. But George could not let her and their son disappear from his life. So he came after her. But it is also possible they made the move together. I imagine it was hard to do things secretly in those days, as it is today.
The truth is I don’t know exactly when Mabel moved, or what the circumstances of that move were. What I do know is that her address in 1905 was St Johns, Redhill, and she was unmarried, but in 1908 her address was Gilberts Cottages, Heston, and her name had changed to Mabel Simmonds, her husband was George Simmonds. So some time between 1905 and 1908 she had moved from Surrey to Middlesex, and her “husband” George had moved there too, though whether they moved together or not I have no way of knowing. How they got there and what they took with them I don’t know either. But they settled initially in Heston village, by Osterley, and, apart from moving house a number of times, remained in that area for the rest of their lives.