How I found my brother - Part 1

I said I would tell you about how we found our brother and here it is - true to my word. How my brother found us (Part 2) will follow soon.

One Friday evening in February 2013, my OH and I were on our way to Kettering to meet up with my brothers. We were stopping at the eldest brother's to pick him up and then go on to the the youngest brother's for a drink and a catch up. My mum and eldest brother had moved to Kettering from London in 1999, and my youngest brother moved to Kettering in 2006. My mum died in 2009 and my dad died, aged only 47, in 1980.

When we got to the eldest brother's house he told me that someone had come to the door earlier in the day; spoken to him and had left him a card. He said the person - a man - said that he used to work with my mum. This immediately rang alarm bells because I knew my mum had for most of her working life, worked predominantly with women.

When I read the card (I still have it), I literally went weak at the knees and had to sit down, but I knew at once that what it said was inescapably true. On 13th February, 1953; thirteen months before I was born in March 1954, and before my mum married my dad; my mum gave birth to a baby boy whom she called 'Julian Jerome Flynn' - (her maiden name was Flynn). She gave birth to Julian in St. Pelagia's Home for Penitent Girls (I kid you not) which was  in Highgate, North London. It's since been demolished and is now a gated development.

All three of us were very close to our mum. We all loved her deeply. She was our rock, we knew she loved us unconditionally and she was always there for us. She was great fun to be with; we loved her company and spending time with her. Yet, none of us knew about this other brother. On that night I could only feel shock at the not knowing as we set off to the younger brother's house.
Image result for St Pelagias Home for Penitent Girls image
 St. Pelagia's Home

St Pelagia's Home
St Joseph's Maternity Home
34 Highgate West Hill, N6 6NJ
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1889 - 1972

St Pelagia's Home for Destitute Girls at No. 25 Bickerton Road in Upper Holloway was founded in 1889 by the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters Servants of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.It provided  accommodation for unmarried mothers and their first-born babies, who were allowed to enter the Home when the child was a fortnight old.
The girls were admitted free of charge on condition that they contributed to the earning power of the Home by working in its laundry.
The Home later occupied the neighouring house at No. 27 Bickerton Road.

In 1934 it moved to West Hill Place, a large house on Highgate West Hill, where it re-opened in 1936 after the Convent of Sacred Hearts had been built adjoining the original mansion.

In March 1948 Mayfield, an adjoining 2-storey Victorian house, was bought and equipped as an antenatal and maternity home.  It had 18 beds and was named St Joseph's Maternity Home.

The Labour Ward was on the first floor, while the ground floor contained 6 antenatal beds, and 12 postnatal beds in 3- or 5-bedded wards, with 12 cots for the babies.  An isolation room was added later.

The patients, who stayed for an average of 12 weeks,  were cared for by three nurses.

The LCC paid a guinea (21 shillings - £1.05) a weeks to the Home for expectant mothers and 25 shillings (£1.25) for mothers and babies (this was later increased to £2 10s (£2.50) a week).

In 1954 the Homes had 70 beds for mothers and their babies.  Both properties had extensive gardens of 2 acres, but the buildings were in much need of repair, with damaged ceilings in St Joseph's and a leaking flat roof.

The Homes closed in 1972.

Present status (February 2009)
The Homes and the convent were demolished in 1970.  Their site now contains Hill Court and the West Hill Park estate.

Source: Google (for both photos)

This is an article about St. Pelagia's from the Telegraph.

It is certainly worth reading although I don't believe my mum was forced to give Julian up by the nuns, but it would have been extremely difficult to have kept him. One, it would have got back to her parents in Ireland and the shame of having an unmarried daughter with a child could have led to ostracism by their community. Secondly,  in England there wasn't much in the way of good affordable childcare in the 1950s and mum would have to have worked to support herself and her child. There was a lot of stigma and shame attached to being an unmarried mother at that time.

When we got to the youngest brother's house I told him get himself a glass of wine and sit down as we had some news for him! We spent the rest of the night on the computer trying to find out more information. The one thing we did know was that our dad wasn't Julian's dad. 

I rang Ireland and spoke to two of our surviving aunts - my mother's sister's - they were totally unaware of Julian. One of the aunt's told me they had only been made aware of my existence (and my mum's marriage) when my mum turned up in Ireland with me aged 11 months! I was left  with my grandparent's and my aunt's, who were only young teenagers at the time, for about 3 months whilst she returned to England and work - of which more later.

Our searches on the computer kept taking us to an agent who represented Brian May (of Queen) and eventually brought us to a picture of someone called 'Julian Littman. This person looked exactly like one of our first cousins; the eldest son of my mum's older and closest sister, Aunty Betty.  Unfortunately, this aunt had died in the late 1980s.

The card that had been left had telephone contact numbers on it and we agreed that in the morning I would call the numbers. I didn't sleep a wink that night and got up really early to search on my own computer for any information. This is what I found:

Unfortunately; the youtube link does not work. but this one will give a sound clip:

On the album entitled 'Life's Rich Bloody Tapestry' - Track 7 was called: 'The Ballad of Kathy Flynn'. My mum's name was Kathleen and she was known as Kathy Flynn. As soon as I saw this and then listened to a clip of the song; I knew Julian was my brother. I rang my brothers in tears and told them to listen to the song clip.

To be continued...


  1. OMG, I need more! This is a fascinating story! Wow, your mum really held her cards close to her vest, keeping both your "new" brother and you a secret! Veronica, thank you for this amazing tale! It's like a movie!

    1. It is a very fascinating but true story. I suppose women in this situation were forced into secrecy by society's opprobrium. My mum and dad got married less than two weeks before I was born!

  2. WOW!! I really don't know what to say. Unbelievable. But true. I hope you have had a wonderful reunion with your brother. I look forward to Part 2.

  3. What a story, Veronica. I've been dying to learn about how you found Julian ever since you first mentioned on the blog that you had an elder brother the family had discovered fairly recently.
    I can't imagine what your poor Mum must have gone through back in those days. What a terrible choice to make, to give up your first born or starve. I can't wait for the next installment. xxx

    1. It was a truly awful predicament she was in. Thank God things are different nowadays...

  4. Even though it's only one generation away it's almost inconceivable how different things were, and how unmarried mothers were treated. I only found out my sister was my sister when I was in my late 20's, up until then I thought she was my cousin. The catholic hospital where she was born actually tattooed her so everyone would know she was illegitimate. No surprise my Mother is about a lapsed as it's possible for a catholic to be.

    1. Tattooing a child is adreadfully inhumane thing to do.Your poor sister. T

      he Catholic Church seemed to hold illegitimate children responsible for their illegitimacy - which is both ridiculous and downright wicked. No wonder your mum is lapsed...

  5. Although we all know terrible things happened to unmarried girls, there was so much secrecy surrounding illegitimate births in those days, I can't imagine how you all felt on discovering this knowledge....what a shock. I googled Julian and found it very poignant (knowing the story)that he mentions his start in life and his parents. I am gripped and can't wait to hear more. xx

    1. I still have to pinch myself Fiona, that it's true and I have to remember when buying presents that I now have three brothers to buy for - not two!

  6. How incredibly sad for your mother. What a terrible choice to have to make. I cannot imagine how hard it would have been for her. What a brave soul. It must have been terrifying for her on her own and she must have had such a hard time living with such a secret. Thank goodness we live in more tolerant times. What an amazing surprise for you all though and how wonderful to have a new brother. I am totally captured by this story and am off to read part 2. Xx

    1. Kelly I can't imagine how awful it must have been for her. I'm also amazed that her secret didn't slip out at any time - it must have been very deeply buried...

  7. Wow, that's amazing.

    My husband was born illegitimate in the 1970s; even then there was such stigma that his mum - a midwife - never told anyone she was pregnant, as it would have cost her her job. (He suspects she must have been a bit tubby to have got away with the coverup.) I'm not susprised your poor mum never felt able to talk about Julian. It must have been so hard for her.

  8. I'm just so glad that times have changed, Mim.

  9. I've finally found a moment to visit and get the start of your tale. Just rivetting stuff for us, but must have been so shocking for you Veronica. Must dash to get the next half!


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