Emma (or Emily, as she was called by her friends) was born into an Irish family - both her parents were second generation immigrants. Her birth location and the place where she spent her childhood was John Street 4 in West Ham (marked on the map below), which at the time was still a separately-governed suburb.
West Ham was the most Christian of all the villages surrounding London and it was mostly because there were so many Irish immigrant families living there. And back then when you were Irish, you were practically a guaranteed Catholic.
Her father was John Whelan, who worked as a policeman. Her mother was Emma Whelan (maiden name Mears). John married twice, each of these marriages produced three kids. Emma was the middle child from his first marriage, named after her mother.
Most, if not all of her life, she spent at home, fulfilling the typical duties of a housewife. In one interview, Alfred said that she was
a homemaker, as they say. It was her full-time career, as was the accepted custom in those days. He added:
I don’t remember ever coming home and not finding her there.
It is unknown when she met William, but the pair already lived together (on 5 Chapel Street) before September 26, 1887, which is the date of their marriage. The ceremony took place at the Church of Saint Antony of Padua (also in West Ham).
Alfred's mother is remembered as a calm and quiet, but a relatively confident woman. She was well-dressed and well-mannered, which together made her appear aristocratic. On the other hand, when she occasionally got angry, she used to swear like a trooper.
My mother was meticulous about our home and her person. She never left the house without presenting herself at her best, her posture, her demeanor, her dress, her shoes, perfectly polished, a well-kept handbag, inside as well as outside, and gloves whenever possible.Alfred Hitchcock
Presenting herself as good as possible might be driven by the same force that was also shaping her behavior at home - she took great attention to detail, always wanted to do things to her best abilities. Under her supervision, the Hitchcock house was neat and tidy, and so were her children dressed. Cooking was another of her strong suits. It all paints a picture of a role model homemaker (with swearing added as a bonus).
Just like her husband, she was deeply religious. Despite Alfred's more indifferent attitude towards religion, both she and William demanded a Catholic wedding from him and Alma. That forced the love of Alfred's life to convert to Christianity.
After a break in filming a wonderful movie Shadow of a Doubt, the crew returned to the set in the middle of September 1942. Few days after it happened, Alfred received information about his mother's terrible health condition. The news were very bad - she was on the verge of death. The worst fears came to reality as she died at the Shamley Green house on September 26, 1942.
A physician who was tending to her during her last days of life judged
acute pyelonephritis, an abdominal fistula, and an intestinal perforation as a cause of death.
Emma's husband was by her side when she died and he is by her side now - they are buried together at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery. Her physician was also present when she died.
Alfred's mother didn't leave a will. Her estate was valued at £102 and it was granted to the director's oldest sister Ellen Kathleen Ingram.
- When the World War II broke out, the director was very afraid for the safety of his mother and called her as soon as he could to make her come to United States where she will be safe. Emma already had experienced an absolute nightmare that was World War I and stated that she is not afraid and won't leave her country. She made a compromise to move nearby though - to a Shamley Green cottage, where she spent the few remaining years of her life. Very soon, her oldest son William John joined her there with his wife as their store got damaged from a bomb explosion. Alma Reville did better with mediating - she was able to convince both her parents to come to California. (There is an alternative version of the story, told by Alfred's daughter Pat Hitchcock. Supposedly, Hitch couldn't contact his mother at all and as he was trying to connect, the telephone operator said that due to war breaking out, no calls to England are possible.)
- When young, Alfred had to take a few-kilometers long walk to Stratford every Sunday to attend mass. Emma's beloved church, which she started to attend when still living in the area, was there.
- Also when the director was still young, his mother expected of him to come to her by her bed later in the day and describe with great detail everything that he did and that happened to him that day. Judging from his tone when he reminisced about that, he wasn't too pleased about the routine!
- Just as he probably preferred to keep those things to himself, Alfred didn't talk about his mother too much with other people too.