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As Time Goes By: Finding The Family

Eileen Perrin goes in search of her family's history - and for good measures throws in some facts about the history of marmalade.

To read earlier chapters of Eileen's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

On television in 1979 we watched ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ - (a Yorkshire classic lasting until today (2009), ‘To the Manor Born’ with Penelope Keith, and ‘Minder’ with George Cole, and for the first time ‘Antiques Roadshow’ on BBC 1.

Films of 1979 included ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ with Michael Palin, Eric Idle and John Cleese, and ‘Apocalypse Now’ about Vietnam, with Marlon Brando.

On Nov. 4th 3000 Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and took 90 hostages.

On November 13th for the first time for nearly a year after a series of disputes over staffing between the unions and management, the Times newspaper was published. There was news China had ruled to control the exploding population that couples should have only one child.

On Tuesday November 27th 1979 in Northwick Park hospital, Harrow, our second grandchild Elizabeth Rose Parr was born at 4.52 pm to our daughter Cathy and husband Geoffrey.

In early December there was a strike of petrol tanker drivers and a shortage of petrol which continued into January 1980. We went by tube up to London to the Aldwych theatre to see a R.S.C. production of ‘Piaff’ with Jane Lapotaire in the leading role, singing Edith Piaff’s famous song ‘Je ne regrette rien’.
In January 1980 I made 10lb. of Seville orange marmalade for £1.40, - in shops 30p a pound.

I found the story of how marmalade was first made, and append the interesting history hereL

Marmalade is made of Seville oranges and sugar. Dundee marmalade has shredded peel; in Oxford marmalade it is thick cut and dark, and traditionally made at home during early spring when Seville oranges are available.

Almost all the bitter Seville oranges are grown in Southern Spain.for the British market.

In the early twentieth century, Queen Victoria's granddaughters, the Empress of Russia and the Queen of Greece, had supplies sent regularly from Wilkins of Tiptree in Essex.

Frank Cooper's company in Oxford still has a tin of marmalade that was taken on Scott's expedition to the North Pole in 1911, discovered in perfect condition in 1980.

The medicinal properties of oranges were highly regarded. Candied orange peel was eaten during a fast, so it was a natural thing to pulp and sweeten oranges into marmalade. It first appears in English cookery books in the 17th century, promoted to aid digestion.

Right up until about 1700, a bowl of ale with toast floating in it was regarded as a warming way to start the day. Then came tea and crisp toast at breakfast with marmalade.

In the 1700’s a bargain-load of bitter oranges from Spain was bought by Janet Keiller's husband from a boat in Dundee harbour.

This she made into a preserve, according to a French method that was much quicker than the English recipe which required the fruit to be pounded and pulped with a pestle and mortar.

Instead, she chopped the peel into shreds, and decided not to reduce it to a concentrated paste, but added water which made it less solid, producing many more pots to the pound.

The epicurean traveller, Bishop Richard Pococke (1704-65), indicates the use of what appears to have been marmalade for spreading on toast at breakfast: “They always bring toasted bread, and besides, butter, honey and jelly of currants and preserved orange peel”.

Having found my great grandfather John Tyrrell Coan I went on searching for my paternal Coan family history by looking up all the Coans in telephone directories and writing to many of them. Postage was 10p for a second class stamp.

I heard from Leonard Algernon Coan who worked in the LPTB Signals dept. and told me he had been a mayor of Bethnal Green. He later introduced me to Graham Coan of Cheam who worked with him at Acton station on the open section of the London Underground network.
Ken Coan rang me from Yorkshire. He worked as a graphic artist with the Middlesborough Evening News. His father Marcus Orlando, the son of my grandfather’s younger brother Joshua Newson Coan, was living in Saltburn. Marcus’s mother had been a trapeze artist. Her first husband had been a lion-tamer.
In March Len and Kathleen Coan in Sherborne, Dorset invited us to visit them, which we did A newly found cousin Leslie James Coan came on April 11th to meet me at home in Pinner, bringing a dozen and a half red roses. All these descend from John Tyrrell Coan.
On April 30th to May 6th 1980 terrorists occupied London’s Iranian Embassy. Twenty hostages were rescued when the S.A.S. forced an entry. Later 5 of the 6 gunmen were dead.
At Kingsway College I had been given a small office room of my own in the Science Dept. and so escaped the stuffy General Office which I think had given me bad headaches for years. A desk, swivel chair and telephone were put in. I brought home the curtains they gave me, to shorten, wash, iron, and add curtain rings. They were put up for me by some of the students.
As I was part-time I went to St.Catherine’s House P.R.O. in the afternoons, spending three hours at a time copying details into my notebook from the Births, Deaths and Marriage registers from 1837. I browsed over wills in Somerset House, finding Robert John William Coan who ran the Aluminium Foundry in Islington had left £64,000 in his will in 1930.

In the Chelsea pensioners registers at Kew Record Office I found my great grandfather John Tyrrell Coan referred to as a Waterloo man in the 11th Light Dragoons and I ordered a copy of his Army discharge papers of 1827 from Cawnpore, India after serving for sixteen years. As a long service man he was given ‘marching money’ (not a travel warrant) to help him on his way to England and Norwich, with a (weekly?) pension of a shilling and a halfpenny.
In those days it must have taken him months to reach England and there were no railways in George the fourth’s time to complete his journey. Railways began to be built from 1830.

John was thirty-five and bringing home with him his wife Mary Hopson, married in Meerut, daughter of a sergeant, and their two small children, Charles and Charlotte Deborah Coan.
Writing these memories in 2009 of how my initial interest in family history took shape in 1979/80, thirty years ago, reminds me that this year on television there has been a series “Who Do You Think You Are”, the participants doing all those things I did and still do.


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