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80th birthday shock for Halesowen reader

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 22, 2014

  • Iris Taylor and cousin Dorothy Wakeman pictured with Nellie Jones' funeral card

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IRIS Taylor had a shock on her 80th birthday - on the front page of The Bugle that day was the anniversary story of her relative who drowned when the Empress of Ireland sank in the St Lawrence River, Canada.

Nellie Jones, who was Iris's grandmother's cousin, died on May 29, 1914, aged 25, when she was returning to Brierley Hill for her wedding to her Canadian cousin George Hitchcock.

"It was lovely being reminded of Nellie's story," said Iris who was 80 on May 29.

She was so impressed with the article that she rang The Bugle to say that she had been given Nellie's funeral card by her Gran, Margaret Weal (née Pearson ).

It said Nellie, the beloved daughter of Enos and Mary Jones, had been interred at the Wesleyan Church, Brierley Hill, on June 13.

Iris added: "I had been told by my Gran when I was very young all about Nellie."

In 1937 Joan and her husband Royston moved to 16 Windsor Close, Halesowen, in 1937 and Gran Margaret came to live with them until she died in 1954. Nellie, who was born in 1889, was the third of ten children and they attended the Wesleyan Chapel in Bank Street, Brierley Hill.

After leaving Bent Street School, she went to live with an aunt in West Bromwich before deciding to emigrate in 1912 to Canada where she worked in the Montreal Telephone Office.

Two years later she became engaged to George and they told Nellie's family, living at 29 Little John Street, Brierley Hill, that they were travelling to England to get married.

Nellie wrote to her mother: "It is with much love and pleasure that I am telling you that I shall soon see your dear face, for I am sailing on the Empress of Ireland on the 28th of May, so I guess I shall land in June somewhere around 6th of June."

In the early hours of Friday, May 29 the liner collided with the Norwegian collier, Storstad, and the Empress sank in just 14 minutes with the loss of 1,078 lives. Among the 397 rescued was Nellie's fiancé George who managed to swim to safety - even though he had given his lifejacket to Nellie. Her remains were transported to England accompanied by a number of cousins, but not George who was too upset.

Her funeral took place on Saturday, June 12, 1914, and a considerable crowd lined the route to the Wesleyan Chapel in Bank Street, where her grave can be seen today. Iris added: "I never knew about the grave until I read it The Bugle. I will now arrange for my son Nigel to take me there when he is next over from Bewdley."

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