Friday, 30 March 2012

Meet Great Great Aunt Bertha

Today I want you to meet a formidable woman.  

The Capon family has been based in London for at least two hundred years and as far as I can tell they were not ever wealthy.  My great-great aunt Louisa Bertha Capon was born in 1871 in Devon, where my great-great-grandparents had moved.  From the 1871 census they appeared to have been working in service together.  Bertha, as she was known, married a much older man when she was 22, who eventually left her a widow.  I'll let Bertha's daughter take over the story.  This was written [with my slightly sarky asides] by Sister Marie de Piro in 1997, shortly before she died:

Daddy, as we children always called him, was born in Mdina, Malta in 1879, and Mama, as Daddy called her when he did not use her name, Bertha, was born in Torquay, England in 1871, the eldest of seven children.  Daddy had 6 brothers and 2 sisters.

I know little about my Parents' childhood except for references from family members.  Before meeting my Father, Mama had married an older man, whose surname was Larard.  He died after a short terminal illness, leaving his wealth on temporary agreements.  Within three years Mama lost husband, her Father and Mother.  A breakdown in health followed these sad losses.  The solicitors in charge of her affairs followed the doctors' advice and arranged a sea voyage on the P. & O. to Australia.  As children we heard many stories of this three month voyage which restored her health. [hmm, I bet...]

On her return to England she leased a flat in Handel Mansions, Brunswick Square, leaving the family home in Chelsea to her brothers. [This sounds awfully grand.  The family lived in the Kings Road, where the fire station now is.  I suspect it was rented, as they were solidly working-class.]

Daddy, after his M.D. in Louvain, came to London to continue his medical studies: surgery and tropical medicine.  His modest apartment was also in Brunswick Square.

Uncle Carmel, Daddy's eldest brother was, at that time a well known consultant - I think in a large hospital in Birmingham.  When possible the two brothers met in London.  I do not know the circumstances, but Mama said that both in turn proposed to her.  [Foxy Mama].  She said she refused Uncle Carmel, for she and Guido (my father) had already fallen in love.

I was born in Brunswick Square in my Mother's apartment in 1908, when Daddy had finished his studies. My Parents moved from the heart of London, leasing a house in Kew, Surrey where my sister was born in 1909. 

The Guido that she mentions is Guido De Piro D'Amico, a Maltese nobleman.  When he became ill with TB they moved back to his native island and he died there in 1921.  Bertha stayed there until her death in 1942 - one of her daughters became a nun, the other a children's author.

Knowing my family as I do, and that my grandfather worked in the sewers in Barnes and would come home to eat his dinner without washing his hands, this story fascinates me.  I know nothing about Bertha other than she chose to vault out of the class into which she was born in the only way possible at that time - by marrying "well".  Interestingly in the 1911 census she is nine years younger than she had been previously, although her daughter seems to be aware of her true age. 


  1. This is great stuff. I am fascinated by the secrets families manage to conceal between generations. What is particularly amazing is that all this happened, not very long ago, within the life times of people you have known. Just fascinating. I recently discovered my grandfather was a bigamist, and had married and deserted 2 women and 2 babies, before he "married" my grandmother....None of the deserted wives or children knew about each other.....until now ! I love the photo too, brilliant.

  2. Interestingly I had never heard of Bertha until I started researching on Ancestry and then someone contacted me with bits of "puzzle" that fitted what I had.

    Bertha was the sister of my great grandfather. He lived in the house in which I grew up, at the same time Bertha lived at Kew, so it's likely they visited each other. And yet I never knew about Bertha. Odd, considering her "elevation" to the aristocracy. Albeit foreign aristocracy...

  3. I'm wondering if she was considered a bit, you know, wild. First she marries a much older man. Then there is this three month trip to Australia. She sets up home in central London and then gets together with a FOREIGNER. And - while this is not stated in her daughter's story - it is fairly clear that she gave birth to her first child before she married Guido...a bit of a girl, as you might say.

  4. Fascinating story Jane. We have no mysteries or excitement in our ancestry, other than when my grandmother died a secret emerged, that my Uncle George (my mother's brother) was actually the son of the coalman and not my grandfather...I suppose women did what they had to do to keep their families warm.