Old photo prompts daughter to delve into father's Knutsford past

Knutsford Guardian: The photo that sparked Carol Anne’s quest. The photo shows her father Morris dancing in Knutsford The photo that sparked Carol Anne’s quest. The photo shows her father Morris dancing in Knutsford

A CHANCE discovery of a 90-year-old photo, a bigamous marriage and a secret night train trip from London to Cheshire – all are ingredients for a dramatic page-turner.

However, rather than being a story of fiction, Lionel Victor Smith's story is very much a reality.

Now Lionel’s daughter, Carol Anne Slater, is hoping Knutsfordians can assist her in her quest to piece together the details of her late father’s tumultuous childhood.

The 65-year-old from Sussex said: “I was going through some old photos and this picture of some young dancers caught my eye. I have seen it many times before but just thought ‘I didn’t know who those people are’ but by chance I took it out of the album.

“I looked on the back and it had some words written there. I then realised it was from my father’s time at Winstanley Home for Boys in the 20’s and he was one of the boys Morris dancing on the green.

“It was just amazed and taken aback when I realised its significance. Now I want to find out more.”

Lionel Victor was seven years old when he and his brother Alfred were taken to Winstanley Home for Boys, on Northwich Road, from his home in London in 1922.

“The boys were taken in the night and put on a train to Cheshire. They didn’t know where they were going and why,” Carol Ann added.

“He spent the next seven years at the home and the whole time he was there he didn’t see his parents.

“He hadn’t a clue why he had been out there and he was affected all his life by what happened and never really got over it.”

Only later in life was Lionel to learn of the reason he was sent to Cheshire.

Lionel’s father, Carol Anne’s grandfather, married another woman whilst still married to Lionel’s mother, essentially living a double life.

“The wife my grandfather committed bigamy with turned up on my grandmother’s doorstep and said ‘I have come to get my husband’,” Carol Anne said.

“There was an altercation, the police were called and my grandfather was put in prison for bigamy.”

Carol Anne’s grandmother was left destitute and with four young children – two girls and two boys – she sought help from the church.

“They wanted to send him to Australia but my grandmother said no,” she added.

Instead, places were secured for the boys at Winstanley Home for Boys and Lionel only returned to London at 14, when he was put on a train back to London to work at Charing Cross Hospital.

Lionel’s family came together in the end. He made contact on his return to London and Lionel’s father returned to the marital home after his release from prison and never saw his other wife again.

Lionel went on to marry and have two children, Carol Anne and Peter, and also ran a restaurant in the capital which was frequented by the stars of the day, including Morecambe and Wise.

He died at the age of 69 in 1984. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday next year.

Now Carol Anne is determined to find out more about the life her father had at Winstanley Home; something she can share with Lionel’s wife Ethel, 97.

Carol Anne added: “It’s so interesting as my family are very ‘London’ and been there for generations but my dad was brought up in Cheshire. Knutsford, which I know is a very beautiful place, was a world apart from the back streets of London at that time.

“I want to find out what it was like for him in the 1920s, what school he went to, what life was like. Somebody might know more about that time and I would love their help.”

If you have any information that may be useful contact Carol Anne at carolanneslater@gmail.com

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