How do you write a piece about a man you’ve never actually seen a photograph of but know so much detail about? It’s quite hard and this is why I love historical photography, particularly photographs of people. If the subject is looking at the camera you can see into their eyes. Even if they’re no longer with us you can almost get a sense for the soul lurking behind those eyes looking back at you across the years. Unfortunately I can’t make this particular connection with the man I’m about to talk about and it troubles me a little.
Albert Bayes came into this world on the 13th May 1890 at 4 Kensington Place, Lakenham and the life that was mapped out before this particular Lakenham boy was going to be something of a rollercoaster, which I’m going to delve into shortly; but as is often the case when I look into the history of people, I get side-tracked and stumble across hidden little corners of Norwich I’d never considered and this is the case here. The Kensington Place in which Albert was born only really survives in name these days as the tightly-packed double-row of houses, accessed by a small entrance off Queens Road have been swept away for some 1960’s un-improvements. However, the original entrance alleyway still survives along with the only real clue to it’s former use in an old yard-style name-plate, but it’s a blink and you’ll miss it affair as it’s so tiny.
It’s interesting to think that this tight little alleyway was once the main entrance to so many houses on a piece of land sandwiched between City Road, Hall Road and Queens Road and only a stones-throw from St Mark’s Church where a young Albert would have been christened. Unlike the cramped yards of the era, these houses looked as though they had a little bit of outside space, both front and rear and a chance at some good amounts of daylight once you’d entered through the tiny alleyway. As I stood in that tiny, little conduit taking the photograph below I could almost feel the ghosts of young Albert and the rest of his family brushing by as they made their way in an out of their home over a century previously.
Albert Bayes was the Son of Robert Bayes (a shoe finisher) and Jane Bayes who had married at the young age of 17 at the nearby St Mark’s Church and he was to be born into this world during a rather eventful period of Europe’s recent history. Growing Empires and their desires to control the world and its resources were about to clash once again and plunge the world in to war and chaos for the foreseeable future. Little did young Albert know, he and his generation were destined to be sucked into the middle of it all through no fault of their own.
After leaving School in 1905 aged about 14, Albert found occasional employment with a Mr Seaman of 47 West Pottergate Street as a “Labourer and Carter”. According to the records this work lasted on and off for about two years until 1907 when Albert was laid off due to a “slackness of work”. Now, I’m going to make an educated guess that this meant that the work had dried up and nothing to do with young Albert’s conduct, as two years later when Albert decided to join the British Army, it was the same Mr Seaman who had vouched for Albert on his enlistment paperwork. This is where life was about to take Albert on a bit of a rollercoaster and In 1909 aged just 18 years and one month he boarded a train and took himself down to Bury St Edmonds in pursuit of full-time employment and the chance at a fairly well-paid career. If only Albert knew that joining the British Army, would have such profound effects on his young life.
I mentioned right at the very start of this piece that it’s quite hard for me to write about somebody who I couldn’t visualise due to the fact that there are no known photographs of Albert, or there being no surviving relatives to directly recollect his appearance for me or his following generations, the reasons for which will become apparent as you read on; so it was nice to find that his enlistment paperwork goes some way in helping to give an insight into Albert’s appearance and helping me to at least make a hint of a connection with him across the generations.
The handwritten notes on his enlistment papers help to paint a good picture of this young man’s appearance, stating that Albert had a shock of golden hair and dark grey eyes. The notes also mention that he weighed in at only 133lbs (9.5 stone) and standing at a height of 5ft and 8.25 inches, revealing that he wasn’t a big chap by any means, but having that fairly unique combination of hair and eye colour. Interestingly, the notes also reveal that he had a faint tattoo of a sailor on his right arm, which normally denoted a Navy involvement, however there was none recorded.
Delving further into those grey-blue eyes of Albert’s, both metaphorically and literally it seems that his uniquely-coloured eyes have been passed on and down through the subsequent generations and can be found in quite a few of Albert’s descendants. At least one of his grandchildren, a great grandchild and even a couple of his great, great grandchildren, still have those uniquely-coloured eyes, helping to give me a slight indication of how his eyes would have looked, looking back at me over the generations and over a century ago, as he signed his young life away to the Army at the start of what was going to be another tumultuous period in British history.
After just two years service for King and Country, it appears that young Albert had on a couple of occasions gotten himself into a spot of bother, firstly in 1910 for drunkenness, which earned him a fine and then again in 1911 for the more serious charge of striking an officer. Not a wise move, but as someone who also struggles with noisy, authoritative figures I can empathise with him a little here. The 1911 census shows us that Albert is now listed as an ‘ex-soldier’ residing in his new but temporary home at His Majesty’s Pleasure in HMP Romsey Road, Winchester. It turns out that for striking an officer he was given six months hard labour for his troubles. After being discharged from Prison (and the Army) we find that in 1914/1915 Albert now resided at 18 Queen of Hungary Yard, off St Benedict’s Street, which is backed up rather interestingly by the written memories of one of Albert’s Children. These memoirs reveal that the family had lived at this address since at least 1912 and one particular snippet revealing that as a young child he remembered living in a “little opening off St Benedict’s during the 1912 flood”.
This cramped little yard, like many others in the vicinity of the river were hit hard during the floods and this couldn’t have done much to improve the already unsanitary conditions that the yards were (in)famous for. The fact that Albert and his young family were living down here leads me to think that with his criminal record the family would have been struggling to make ends meet. It would have also been in this cramped little yard that Albert’s young family would have probably learned about the troubles brewing on the continent leading up to the ‘Great War’ and where the family would have then received the news that the man of the house was about to be dragged back into the army and down a path that was to ultimately seal his fate. I should imagine that this news was initially seen as some form of good news with respect for the family’s finances, if nothing else.
On the 26th August, 1914 and less than a month after the events in Austria that triggered the start of the not-so-great war, Albert was recalled to the army and because of his previous misdemeanours as a soldier he probably wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter.
Like many soldiers being involved with a global conflict pitting two newly industrialised superpowers against each other It seems that Albert retained his form of never straying too far from trouble. It was hard not to when you consider the rapid advancements in war machinery designed to kill men en masse. In the January of 1916 young Albert had his first of many trips to hospital, suffering with constipation; which in hindsight probably wasn’t the worst of ailments to be taken off those horror-filled battlefields with; but just four months later he was back in hospital with more serious and somewhat ironic wounds considering the reasons behind his previous visit, this time with a gunshot wound to his buttock and another to his back. The more serious nature of these wounds meant that young Albert had be returned to the UK for treatment at the London General Hospital. After recovering from his gunshot wounds, Albert was sent back once again onto the muddy and bloody fields of Europe, and In October 1917 he was injured once again, this time being on the receiving end of an enemy grenade. He must have been fairly lucky and got away with “simple flesh contusions” to his upper extremities, but still, these injuries were severe enough for Albert to be returned home to the UK once again, this time to spend a bit of time at Manchester Western General Hospital for further treatment.
Now this is where the records are a little blurred and I’m not sure if Albert returned to those hellish front lines once more to be injured once again, or if he was subsequently discharged for his previous injuries becoming worse. Either way, Albert could have easily earned the ironic nickname of “Lucky” and in July of 1918 he was discharged with injuries that meant that Albert did – or would have lead to to – poor Albert losing an arm as well as suffering some fairly serious head injuries that would later lead him to suffering with epileptic fits.
On top of all this and arguably far more damaging than his physical injuries were the injuries that he and many other soldiers came home with that were all but invisible to most people. Albert didn’t just have scars and lesions to his body and a missing arm, he would have also been carrying a multitude of untold mental injuries that were so famously misunderstood or ignored back then. Like many of his fellow veterans, Albert would never really recover from these unseen injuries.
Because of his serious physical injuries, Albert spent the last few months of the war serving with the Border regiment and the Labour Corps, which is where the more severely-injured soldiers spent their final days in employment for the British Army, before finally being discharged on the 6th July, 1918.
During a 13 year period starting before and ending a few years after the War Albert and his wife May had been rather busy and had managed to have 8 children. There was Albert Jr, Percy (Bill), Bernard, Charles (who died aged just 15), John (born at a railway crossing in East Dereham, 1917), Cissie, Edith, Ada and lastly Irene (born in 1923). The family records show further evidence to back up my assumptions of the family’s hardship as both of the two first children, Albert and Percy were born as “Wickhams” (their mother’s maiden name) in the Bowthorpe Road Workhouse and therefore out of wedlock, which was seen as a big thing back then, however; by the time their third child, Bernard was born Albert and May had subsequently married.
After being discharged from the army for good, Albert Bayes returned home with his injuries (both visible and invisible) to be reunited with his growing family which which had moved out of the slums and the yards of inner-city Norwich and were now residing in East Dereham where they stayed only for a short while but long enough for the children to attend the old school in London Road. For whatever reasons (possibly financial) their stay in East Dereham seemed to be short-lived and it wasn’t long before the family had to move back into another questionable part of the centre of Norwich and into another cramped little Yard, named Twiddy’s Court. This little yard was located just off behind the coincidentally-named Albert Tavern on Ber Street, close to the junction with Thorn Lane (now the fairly-new building named Warmingers Court) and again, this paints a picture of the large family not having much money, probably struggling to get by on Albert’s small Army Pension.
It’s here at Twiddy’s Court that it became apparent that it wasn’t just the finances that the family were struggling to cope with and it seems that Albert’s mental health issues began to bubble to the surface as he struggled to cope with the past few years of his short but eventful life. He began to regularly talk about ‘doing himself in’, yet these rather worrying outbursts were flippantly dismissed by his wife and friends as “just talk”, his wife May had even said later that she was used to these threats and deemed them to be “unimportant”. This is in no way meant as a criticism of his wife from me, as back then times were hard and little to nothing was understood about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other such issues involving the mind, usually being dismissed as a mere lack of nerve.
It’s blindingly obvious to us now, a century later, that thousands upon thousands of these veterans of the Great War would have been battling through their lives with many ailments of the mind, including PTSD with no real help from others or a means with which understand what it was they were battling with inside their own heads. Unfortunately for these poor souls even talking about it would have been met with derision from their peers and most likely from themselves within. One can’t appear to be weak now. This often lead to bad drinking habits as a coping mechanism, or worse…
Being left to battle with his own mind and with no prospect of help from friends, family or the authorities, Albert was now set on a destructive path that would lead to him having to solve his own problems, one way or another. In the last few weeks at Twiddy’s Court, Albert had somehow come into possession of a heavy-pattern service revolver, maybe he had retained it after his spell in the army or had managed to secure it from one of his previous Army connections, but it is noted that in his final days he had gone to meet a tall sergeant, possibly an old connection from his days in the military, at St James Barracks who for whatever reasons agreed to supply him with a single round of ammunition.
On the dark Saturday evening of the 3rd of February, 1923 the large Bayes Family (all ten of them) were sat in small living room of their Twiddy’s Court home when Albert, who had recently arrived home from the pub, suddenly announced: “Here it goes”. He then pulled the heavy-pattern service revolver out from one of his pockets, pushed the barrel as far as he could into his own mouth and pulled the trigger.
Now it’s hard not to think about that scene without imagining it. The loud bang, the ringing in the ears followed by silence and the unimaginable shock to the other nine people sat packed tightly into that small room, most of them children. Albert’s lifeless body then fell against the door, trapping the family within the small room, leaving them no option but to have to deal with the distressingly gruesome scene that they were now presented with. After regaining whatever composure Albert’s Wife May possibly could, she opened the Window and screamed for help.
At 1930 hours a Policeman named PC Ringer arrived on the scene and was forced to enter the house through that window to assess what had happened, before quickly realising that there was little hope for poor Albert, whose lifeless body was slumped against the door. He called for Dr. RJ Mills, who arrived on the scene forty minutes later. Unsurprisingly, Albert was declared dead at the scene from the single gunshot wound to his head.
On February 10th 1923, The local paper covered the story with a rather coldly-titled piece with the headline “Wife’s Tragic Inquest Story: Saw Husband Blow Out His Brains” which highlights the fact that the press were just as crass back then as they are now, almost 100 years later. It continues:
On Wednesday afternoon, the City Coroner returned the inquest on Albert Bayes, who blew his brains out at Norwich on Saturday.
The Wife of the deceased man, May Bayes, a pale, intelligent-looking woman dressed in black, told Coroner Ladell a dramatic story of the terrible scene which occurred in the little Norwich home last Saturday night.
“My husband,” she said was, was a brick-layer’s labourer prior to his enlistment in the Army at the commencement of the war. Whilst serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery in France he was wounded, losing his right arm, also being wounded in the head. He was discharged on 6th July 1918 (edited by me as the paper had this date completely wrong) with a disability pension of £3 5s. Since his discharge he has been subject to epileptic fits, and at these times there have been quarrels. For the past six weeks he has been under Dr Bush, of Willow Lane, for treatment for his nerves. He went out at 7 p.m., having had some drink. He sat on a chair against the table and, taking a book from his pocket, wrote something in it. I was attending to my children at the time. He then took a revolver from his pocket, saying: “HERE IT GOES”, placed the revolver in his mouth, and I heard an explosion. He fell over on to the floor against the door. I opened the window and shouted for assistance, and Mr Smith, who lives in the same yard came and informed the police. I know he had a revolver which he brought home from the Army and kept as a souvenir in a locked cupboard in the living-room. About four days previously he brought home one round of ammunition, which he said a tall sergeant at Britannia Barracks gave him, and further stated that he had got it to do himself in with. I did not attach much notice, as I had heard him threaten to take his life before.”
The Coroner – He should have given the revolver up to the Army. He had not any right to retain it. The Coroner’s officer, P. Mason, said that inquiries had been made at the Cavalry Barracks and Britannia Barracks with regard to deceased statement that a tall sergeant had given him ammunition. The Police had, however, been unable to learn anything to throw light on the matter. Recording a verdict of “Suicide whilst of unsound mind,” the Coroner said there was no doubt deceased’s nerves had been shattered by service in the Army. It was a very sad case.
The Tragedy of shattered nerves is more awful than that of a maimed or even destroyed body. The Hospital for Nervous Disease, Maida Vale, London, treats nearly 5,000 patients annually.
What the newspaper article does touch upon is that six years year after the war, it is becoming apparent to the health professionals of the time that the mental injuries can no longer be brushed under the carpet and there is an apparent softening of attitudes towards the once often-taboo subject, although referring to it as a “Nervous Disease” shows that there is still some way to go, but at least the tide was beginning to turn, albeit slowly.
Albert’s Death Certificate is equally as cold in it’s assessment, stating that Albert was a “Disabled Soldier and Army Pensioner” and the cause of death as “Suicide by shooting himself with a revolver whilst in an unsound state of mind”. Which with what we now know strikes home as a rather abruptly-put epilogue to the tragic circumstances surrounding the end of the life of a 33 year old war veteran.
Even with the slowly-changing attitudes, Albert’s final act of taking his own life would have at the time be been seen as both a crime and a sin and he was therefore buried in an unmarked plot in a quiet corner of Earlham cemetery. My wife and I tracked down the plot number and worked out the rough location of his final resting place as best we could. The starkness of the area seemed like a final insult to the memory of a sick man, who was so obviously in need of a bit of help, and struck me as a particularly sad and lonely reminder of his needless death. The scene of his final resting place was made even the more desolate by the lack of leaves on he trees on the grey day that we visited and the lack of headstones in the area. This made me wonder how many more unmarked graves there were here and why, How many more untold stories were there here of the unfortunate and forgotten dead, resting only six feet below our feet? I could see from my wife’s expression that there was nothing but sadness and empathy for her great grandad who has been resting for almost a whole century, anonymously, somewhere nearby, after having taken his life in circumstances that seemed so tragic and so needlessly bleak to us as we stood there wondering exactly where he lay with absolutely nothing to mark his memory.
Less than a year after the horrific death of their father the family were given a fresh chance at restarting their lives, being moved away from the squalor of the cramped and unsanitary conditions of life in the yards and given the keys to a brand new 3-bedroom house in the freshly (and still being) – built Mile Cross Estate. Their new address was 11 Appleyard Crescent and in 1924 the Bayes family would have been one of the first families to have moved on to the estate. Their new home with its three separate bedrooms, fresh running water on tap, its own toilet and a large garden must have seemed a million miles away from the two-up, two down yard-house hidden out of sight behind and in the shadows of the bustling Ber Street, famously referred to as ‘Blood and guts street’, particularly with what the family had been witness to in their own living room less than a year earlier.
Shortly after moving on to the estate May had become rather friendly with a man from the military named Ivan Brooks. He was a Cavalry man from St James Barracks and would ride his horse right up to the back garden to meet her, which must have meant that Brasier and Bassingham Roads had yet to be finished. It seems that Ivan and May didn’t waste any time and in the same year (1924) the pair were to marry.
May and her new husband went on to have four children on top of the eight she already had with Albert. The couple and their large family moved about the estate, firstly moving a few streets away to a slightly larger house at 15 Boundary Road and then again to the newer Mill Hill part of the estate to one of the newer five-bedroomed houses at number 5 Half Mile Road.
Coincidently, about twelve years ago when my wife and I were considering moving back onto the estate proper as we were living in a nasty little new-build house at Wensum View with no garden for our young children. My wife was at the time running a mutual exchange group on Facebook which helped people set up local authority home exchanges and we actually got the chance to move into number 15 Boundary Road. We decided against it in the end as we’d decided that it was too close to the insanely-busy Boundary Road. Until researching the family tree for this piece about her family history we had no idea that that particular house was once lived in by her great grandmother and her granddad, both of whom she never got the chance to meet. Wouldn’t that have been mad if we had moved in and subsequently figured out that little nugget of history whilst living inside it?
In the picture below we can see May in her later life posing for a picture during a wedding at St Catherine’s Church, Mile Cross. Her son John, from her previous marriage can also be seen in the image. It might just be the timing of the photograph but to me May has the look of a woman who has seen and endured a few ups and downs on her journey through life, which she most certainly had. She strikes me as a woman who wouldn’t put up with any “ol’ squit”. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I believe you can make a connection with somebody you can see in a photograph and get a feeling for the soul lurking behind those eyes. With May’s steely-eyed stare looking back at me across time I reckon I’m not too far off point with my assumptions. I guess I’ll never know.
It doesn’t appear that re-marrying had done much to immediately improve May’s financial situation and according to a newspaper report from January the 3rd, 1925 May had in the the October of 1924 been caught out whilst trying to fraudulently claim some pension money (10/-) for one of her children at the Hellesdon sub-post office (now a fish & chip shop almost opposite Junction Road on Aylsham Road) by forging a pension document relating to her late husband, Albert. A keen-eyed official at the Ministry of Pensions Office had noticed that the forged documents were all in May’s handwriting, including the forged signatures. It turns out that May had done this on a number of occasions before being caught out to the total sum of £14. The money in question was being claimed for her son, Albert who was at the time living with May’s Mother on Grapes Hill and the pension money should have actually been claimed by and paid to her, not May.
In court, May pleaded Guilty but claimed she only took the money out of desperation as her recent marriage to Ivan was holding up the relevant paperwork needed and that she had 9 children to feed and hadn’t had any of the money she was legally-entitled to for over a fortnight. The Lord Mayor announced that the magistrates had taken a lenient view of May’s crimes because of what she had recently been through, along with the amount of children involved who would require a “mother’s care”. So the magistrates decided to put her on 12 months probation as opposed to giving her a stretch behind bars.
May finally passed away in 1958 and Ivan went on to re-marry a lady named Rosa in 1965. When researching the graves for this story it appears that rather oddly, Ivan is buried with both May and Rosa, also buried with with them more recently is one May’s sons from her previous marriage, John Bayes.
It seems that the events around Albert’s suicide had led to the legacy of the Bayes Family taking root in the Mile Cross Estate for generations. May and her Bayes Children moving on to the estate in 1924 had planted the seeds of the Bayes family into the fabric of the estate. Albert’s son Bernard lived on Pinder Close and then on the junction of Bignold Road and Gresham Road, Bernard’s daughter Brenda lived at Bassingham Road for most of her adult life and her younger brother Graham moved into Gowing Court in the 1970’s. Graham’s son lives on Rye Avenue and Graham’s daughter went on to be my wife. We live just around the corner from where Albert’s grandchild, Graham was born and we have also raised our two children here right on the estate.
It’s mind-bending for me to think that my two children are the descendants of Albert, him being their Great great grandfather and that they wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for his story. Their very presence as residents here on the estate is down to the fascinating and intertwined quirks of fate that life spews out for us and not only is it about to mark almost 100 years since those very first tenants began moving onto the newly-built Mile Cross Estate but also being part of the century-old legacy of Albert Bayes and his family after he felt the need to take his own life in such awful circumstances.
In contrast, I only turned up on the estate as an infant in 1979 and I now feel like a bit of an imposter when I thinking about my wife’s family tree and how its roots run so deep into the fabric of the estate. She truly is a proper Mile Cross resident with the family history to back it up, whereas I’ve just been adopted into it all at the last moment. Perhaps I should rename this blog: “The husband of the Mile Cross Woman”!
Like I said at the start, this has been a complicated piece to write as it’s very personal to the family that I married into. It’s has taken me an absolute age ( I must have started and stopped fifty times and that’s probably why this piece is a bit ‘clunky’ to read, for me at least) and I hope I’ve done this particularly fascinating part of their family history some justice as well as trying to help to paint an interesting picture of poor Albert Bayes and how he had been let down by the times in which he lived and died. What is apparent is how his legacy lives on in his many descendants, many of which never forgot about the man none of them now would have got the chance to meet after his life was cut so tragically short. I’d also like to thank Albert’s Great Granddaughter Debbie for supplying some of the finer details to help to tell his story, hopefully I’ve been able to make it equally as interesting to read for people not connected to the family as well.
Thanks once again for taking the time to read these pieces and for the regular feedback,