Culture

Lives – Connect

By Bernie Bell

Having read an article in TON about the generous donation of shoes by Russell & Bromley to help with the present cost of living crisis  https://theorkneynews.scot/2022/04/28/wonderful-donation-of-childrens-shoes-to-home-start-orkney/ my memory went to the past, and part of Mike’s family history.  Mike’s mother’s maiden name was Russell – of the shoe making family.

Her father, Arthur Leslie Russell, was a Flight Lieutenant who flew ‘planes with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War – some of the first ‘planes to be built –  with no parachute, firing at enemy ‘planes with a hand-held revolver.  Shot down over German occupied territory in Europe,  the pilot of the German ‘plane landed and approached him, they shook hands, and he was marched off to captivity as a prisoner of war for three years.  A gentlemanly way to approach enmity.  Would that happen now?

He married Mike’s Granny, who, during her time filling shells in a factory during the Second World War was known simply as ‘Russ’ – a little woman with a big personality – something of a terrier woman.  I got on well with her.  

She was the last of eight children, therefore named Octavia, but the only one to have married. One brother died in infancy, others died in the First World War. Mike had a set of elderly maiden aunts as after the First World War there was a lack of marriageable men – so they didn’t marry – only Granny did. 

On his return to civilian life Grandpa Russell became traffic manager at the old Croydon aerodrome, which was then the airport for London at the beginning of commercial flights.  Imagine that – different times indeed!

The family story was of Grandpa being one of the Russell’s of Russell & Bromley and when one of Mike’s sisters was delving into family history she made contact with a lady called José Loosemore, who is some kind of cousin.  José Loosemore had written a book about the history of the family firm, and Mike’s sister sent him a copy.  It’s not just about affluent business people, it’s full of history of the times, and places, involved.  John-Clifford Russell ( José Loosemore’s great-great-grandfather) was born in Chiddingly in 1791 to Mary Russell, an un-married fifteen year old. He became a cordwainer – shoemaker – and the rest – is history.

The history of the family and the firm and the places where the story took place is told in ‘Where They Have Trod’ published by CGB books. https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9781873983010/Where-Trod-Story-Sussex-Shoemakers-1873983018/plp

The only link with Orkney is that Orkney families will benefit from this donation of shoes – but the booklet is full of history of the not-so-distant past. 

The events which took place in the past affect and connect us all – these are Mike’s ancestors – Orkney children will be wearing Russell & Bromley shoes.