She was a woman who turned a life hit by tragedy into a success in a story now revealed in a new book.
Birmingham man Tony Barlow has told the tale of his family, which was instrumental in transforming Bournville.
But it was the trials of his grandmother Ellen which really left him moved, with both her parents dying, leaving her in an orphanage.
Mr Barlow has looked back of the last 400 years of his Quaker family, which is related to the Cadbury clan.
Mr Barlow’s grandfather John Henry Barlow was a cousin of George Cadbury and was the first director of the Bournville Village Trust – a blue plaque was erected in his honour last year.
The book, He is our cousin, cousin, which comes from a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard II, features many of the most famous names in Quaker history.
Mr Barlow said: “It includes Jonathan D Carr, of the biscuit family, George Cadbury, my great, great grandfather, Samuel Bowly, William Wilberforce’s close friend and anti-slavery campaigner, whose picture hangs in the National Portrait Gallery , another great, great Grandfather Professor John Barlow, the first Professor of Veterinary studies in Edinburgh.”
One of the most moving sections of the story features his grandmother who started off life at the bottom – unlike many of her relatives.
Mr Barlow said: “My maternal grandmother, Ellen Eyre, had none of those advantages, being born into very humble origins in the Black Country, orphaned, worked as a maid, married my grandfather, the son of a miner, and was widowed young with four children.
“By chance, the orphanage was Crowley’s in Birmingham, in the late nineteenth century, started by a Quaker, Thomas Crowley, and Edward Cadbury, the son of George Cadbury of Bournville, was a board member.
“With the help of another Quaker, Emmeline Wilson, they guided her and helped her throughout her life and all four of her children married into old Quaker families.
“Two of her grandchildren have been eminently successful – my cousin Sir Michael Rutter, this country’s leading child psychiatrist, and my brother, David Barlow, who rose to the top of the BBC, as controller of regional broadcasting and later as secretary general. How proud she would have been.
“That is considerable social mobility in only 100 years and, though helped greatly by Quaker generosity , is also mostly down to the indomitable spirit of a remarkable lady.”
A passage from the book explains her start in life: “Ellen Eyre was the second of five children born to William and Susannah.
“Her elder sister Emily was born in 1875, followed by Ellen herself in 1877, then William Joseph in 1880, James Alfred in 1882 and finally Susannah in 1883.
“But this is where tragedy intervenes, as sadly their mother died in childbirth with Susannah, with pelvic cellulitis, an infection of the uterus, and though the baby lived, she too was to die only two years later. Worse was to follow, as only two years after the death of his wife and child, William died as well, aged just 30, in an explosion at Jones, Ironmasters, who had by then moved to Walsall.”
This left the five children orphans, and they were split up to go to orphanages on sex grounds and no family members came forward to take them in.
Ellen next turned up in the 1891 census, aged 16 at the Training Home for servants at 66 and 67 Summerhill Road, Birmingham.
Probably around 1892, she and her sister began working as live-in maids at adjacent addresses, in Frederick Road, Edgbaston, at the home of the Quaker family of Walter and Agnes Barrow, members of the family that owned the Barrow’s grocery stores on the corner of Bull Street and Corporation Street.
Her connections with the Quaker community were key and she married Ralph Barlow, a cousin of George Cadbury.
Mr Barlow said: “My maternal grandmother was not only made of stern stuff but wanted her children to do well.
“Indeed, within a very short time, not only did they do well, going to good Quaker schools and make good marriages, but their children prospered too.
“And it is worth emphasising the huge social mobility that this demonstrates, for within only a 100 years, my grandmother’s great hopes for her family had been vindicated.
“I can’t help feeling awe at the sheer determination that brought Granny Barber from an orphan in the Black Country and servant girl in Birmingham through to a happy marriage – only to suffer the loss of her husband in early married life – to nonetheless producing four bright children who took advantage of opportunities offered them and succeeded beyond their mother’s wildest dreams.
“This really is some achievement and though one can see clearly a guiding Quaker hand, it owes most to the indomitable spirit of one remarkable lady.”
* He is our cousin, cousin is published by Quacks of York at £15 plus £2.50 p&p or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org