The "Norasearch" Diary - by Andrew Conway

10 May 1999

I still can't bring myself to write her name as “Honorah”, despite the confirmation that that is how Amy wrote it herself when she registered the birth. My first thought was that Honora had been so neglected in all the research on the Parker-Hulme case that, not only was her age wrong, but even her name too. Then I had this nagging doubt that maybe Amy just spelt it wrongly, and it is evidence of her lack of education. For the moment, I bow to the weight of all the Parker-Hulme research that came before me, and leave the ‘h’ off.

I've used the Birmingham Central Library for so many years now, but never ventured to the sixth floor. Now, it seems I'm never out of there. The same faces are there every day: all rolling through old documents on the big film readers, or poring over dusty volumes from the shelves. And none of them are younger than fifty. I sometimes wonder what the hell I'm doing there. What am I searching for? What am I trying to find out? Why am I bothered?

Despite Danny's interest the other day, I can tell he thinks it strange. He can't work out what the pay-off is. And if there's no payment involved, why am I wasting my time on it? I don't know how to answer that. I just know I'm involved now.

Today throws up good news and bad news. The good news is some very interesting information relating to the fate of Robert Parker, Honora's father; the bad news is that the trail is going very cold.

I spend a few hours on the sixth floor trying to find out how long the Parkers had lived at 12 Alcester Road. I get out films of the List of Jurors and discover Robert Parker listed at the address in 1908:

Parker, Robert   Accountant     Poor Rate

The Poor Rate reference doesn't seem to mean much as almost everyone is listed as such with the exception of a few very rare Freeholds and Leaseholds - there are even some whose occupation is 'Gentleman' who are also Poor Rate. No middle name is given for him and he is minus the 'Chartered' appellation too. Some people are listed as 'Special Juror' but Robert isn't - what this means for his social status I'm not yet sure.

The 1909 List of Jurors is identical, but I'm dismayed to find that he has disappeared from Alcester Road in 1910. He's also completely absent from the Parish of Birmingham List of Jurors for 1914-15.

Knowing that this could be the end of the trail, I fish around wildly for any kind of reference to him, even checking the on-shelf records of all The Fallen of the Great War. Plenty of Parkers, but not our Robert.

I don't know why, but I have a strong feeling that the reason Amy emigrated in 1927 without him was due to his death, so I start looking through the Wills and Administrations books (huge things they are too!). I begin with 1927 and 1926 but find nothing, so go back to 1910 to see if his death is the reason for the move from Alcester Road (I'm quite prepared to work my way through all eighteen years).

Nothing in 1910, nor 1911. Then, in the 1912 edition, this leaps up from the page:

PARKER Robert William of 38 Strensham road Birmingham chartered accountant died 16 January 1912 at the City Asylum Winson Green Birmingham Administration Birmingham 5 March to Amy Lilian Parker widow. Effects £567 8s. 11d

My own interpretation, for what it's worth:

Strensham Road
This is only a few streets away from their house in Alcester Road and seems a strange move to make. It may be a smaller house, I haven't had a look yet.

Died 16 January 1912
Just a month after Honora's fourth birthday. We can only imagine how desperate Amy was after this, and wonder how it took her so long to emigrate and find a new life. Of course, she could have married again, or (providing the later inspiration for her daughter?) cohabited.

At the City Asylum, Winson Green
I used to live in Winson Green as a child, not far from the prison, behind which is the mental hospital. I'm presuming it's the same building as it's quite an old, very grand thing in its own grounds (I'll always remember the patients strolling out every so often in their pyjamas and worrying the woman at the paper shop). 'Asylum', of course, doesn't necessarily mean insane asylum - it could have been the Poor House or even a sanatorium. So, poor Robert was either bankrupt, extremely ill, or, as Juliet would say, "bonkers". Perhaps the death certificate will tell me more.

5 March
This would be the date when the will was heard.

Effects £567 8s. 11d
That is, in Imperial money: Five hundred and sixty seven pounds, eight shillings and eleven pence. This seems to me a large amount, quashing the possibility that the City Asylum was the Poor House. I'm guessing here but, to refer to my notes on James Joyce's Ulysses (which I used to teach), in 1904 one could survive on £1 a week (making Leopold Bloom's £18 4s and 6d in the bank and £500 insurance policy a comfortable financial investment). I'll have to check on how well provided for the above amount would have left Amy and Honora.

I immediately consult the Electoral Register for 1912 but there are no Parkers listed on Strensham Road. Unfortunately, it's chucking out time so I can't go any further (I will return to this task next time).

So, as I walk through St. Philip's square yet again at 8pm, on the way to get my bus home, I can't help feeling stunned, and a little sad. It's impossible not to feel sorrow for Robert and Amy at that time, and to admire how 'Nana Parker' came through it all. There's more sadness too in the possibility of me now completely losing trace of Amy and Honora. If they moved from Strensham Road after Robert's death, then who knows where they went? I could try to trace them through other means (school registers for Balsall Heath and Moseley, in the hope that they stayed in that area; perhaps the emigration papers, in the hope that they list an address from which we can work backwards), but it's looking pretty grim at the moment.

If this is the end of my contribution to the FAQ then I have to say it's been an all too brief and engrossing experience. I've enjoyed every minute of it.

The lure of the past has always been great for me: it's a common theme in my writing, and now, I find myself imagining Alcester Road as it was then: the electric tram whirring past the house, the post box opposite. I try to dream myself into that street and watch the young Honora walk by. Danny's probably right: this can't be healthy.

I've uncovered so much about her in just ten days, but the real prize would be a photograph of her, as no one has ever published one. It's unbelievable - she's such a famous murder victim and no one knew her age, how her name was spelt, what she looked like. They printed a photo of the murder site in the press (that shocking river of blood down the path) but no picture of the woman who was murdered.

Copyright © 1999 Andrew Conway. All Rights Reserved.