The model boy, and a mystery

I mentioned a while ago that I have come by my grandmother’s autograph book. She was born in 1887 and was given this for Christmas in 1905, the inscription inside says ‘Ida, P.  Xmas ’05’. I have no idea who ‘P’ was, but maybe later the autographs will tell me. Unlike the autograph books we had as children where friends just wrote their names and sometimes a simple phrase or silly rhyme, this autograph book has little sketches and paintings and poems.

There’s a poem which caught my eye because it is written in large, distinctive handwriting, called ‘The Model Boy’. I eventually traced the authorship to Hannah G. Fernald – I can’t for the moment tell you much more about her except I have found other little verses by her.

The Model Boy’

I know a well-bred little boy, who never says, “I can’t”
He never says “Don’t want to”, “You’ve got to”, or “I shan’t”
He never says “I’ll tell mamma, or call his playmate mean,
A lad more careful of his speech I’m sure was never seen;

He’s never ungrammatical, he never mentions “ain’t”
A single word of slang from him would make his mother faint;
And now I’ll tell you why it is (lest this should seem absurd)
He’s now exactly six months old, and cannot speak a word

It’s a very twee little poem and the person who inscribed it in the autograph book was Alma Annis… such an unusual name, and she wrote it on January 15th, 1906. I wonder who Alma was?

I’ve come across a mother and daughter both called Alma Annis in the 1901 census; Alma E. Annis was born in Dorset in 1866 so at nearly fifty she was likely to be Ida’s mother Lois’s friend. Her daughter Alma Maud was born in 1887, the same year as Ida so no doubt they were also friends. Alma was born in Pimlico but now she and her mother lived within a couple of minutes of Ida and her family.. Ten years later, young Alma is living with her Uncle William and Aunt Mary six miles away in Stoke Newington.. Stoke Newington is now an area where a lot of Jewish people live – and Ida’s father was Jewish… however, William Annis and his wife were both born in Rutland near where Ida’s mother was born. Did the families have any connection before living in London? I don’t suppose I will ever know! In 1891, Alma and her daughter and Ida, her mote hr and brother were living in other accommodation but still a half mile walk away from each other – if they had been friends at that time

I’ve found a marriage record for Robert Annis marrying Alma E Topp in the right area in 1886… but when I try to find out more about him I run aground… I find a birth record for Ellen Alma Topp being born in Poole in Dorset – so this must be Alma, who preferred her second name to her first.. I find Ellen as she was when a child in Poole in 1861 with her parents Edmund, a butcher, and Elizabeth, and her brothers and sisters, Edward Eliza and Sarah, and Ellen is still there in 1871, with youngest brother George joining the family. I can’t identify which of the several Robert Annis’s that appear are the person who married Alma?Ellen, but I wonder if they ever lived together.

I wonder if both Alma Maud and ida were daughters in single-parent families, Ida because her parents never married, and Alma because they did but then separated… Maybe I have made some errors in my search for the mysterious friend who wrote a poem in my grandmother’s book – because I think it was Alma Maud not Alma Ellen signed the album. Maybe all the different Alma’s and Ellens and Topps and Annis’s and Robert Annis who I cannot trace has led me to a confusion… I don’t suppose I will ever know!

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