You could argue, “What’s this got to do with photography”? My answer would be “absolutely nothing” but there’s still a mystery surrounding my great-grandmother and I’ll use any medium to try and solve it. My great-grandmother, Olive Brindley Johnson, was a bit of an enigma. She was born in 9th January 1869 in Hackney, Middlesex, and, for the times, she came from a reasonably well to do family. Her father, William Johnson was a shoe manufacturer with staff working for him, including servants. When Olive was 19 she married my great-grandfather John Hardisty in Bakewell. Derbyshire. John’s family were not of the same status as the Johnson’s but John through education had elevated his status. He attended the Whitworth Institute for Engineering and had risen to become manager of a steelworks. From records I managed to obtain from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, I can see that John made contributions to various papers regarding the production of tubular steel and that he finally became a Fellow of the IME.
I don’t know what happened between Olive and John but on the 10th September 1918, Olive is shown in official records to be entering the United States through Ellis Island in New York. From her entry papers I can see that Olive was supposedly en-route to Bananquilla, Columbia to meet up with L.C. Collinge, whoever that was. Now you have to bear in mind that World War 1 had still not finished in Europe, so what prompted Olive to take the chance of travelling across the Atlantic. Although considerably lessened, there was still the chance of attack by U-boat.
There are no records, that I can find to show that Olive ever went to Columbia, but in 1920 she is again shown passing through Ellis Island, this time with her American husband James Joseph Doyle, who worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer. So by marriage Olive had become a naturalised American citizen. However, I cannot find any record of divorce from John Hardisty, either in the UK or the US of A. Similarly James Doyle also left his wife and children to take up with Olive who was by this time aged 51. Records show that Olive and James travelled several times to the UK, always returning to the United States. I managed to find a passport application for James Doyle and in it he refers to Olive as his wife.
In 1941 James Joseph Doyle died. The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a brief obituary, paying tribute to him as a very good political reporter. On the 4th April 1942, Olive returned to the UK from New York, arriving in Belfast. How did she manage to get a crossing as this was at the height of trooping American forces to the UK. Not only that but she chose to travel, once again, in a very dangerous period for shipping across the Atlantic.
Now here’s the bit that gets me. On her arrival in the UK, Olive travelled to Llandrinod Wells, where she met up with John Hardisty and they set up home again. Why?
In some ways I admire my great-grandmother, she was obviously a very forceful lady, who knew what she wanted and was prepared to do something about it. On the other hand she was selfish, leaving her husband and young son to take up with a married man in the United States. I’ll never know why she did the things she did, but if I could go back in time, Olive is the one person I would like to meet up with as I have so many questions to ask her.
Finally in closing this article. I have finally managed to track down a copy of Olive’s will. In it she asked to be buried in an unmarked grave, which was rather unusual, to say the least. A mystery right to the end…