While I have been researching our family tree, my mother has been reminiscing. Her memories are a treasure trove, and she has filled in many a gap for me. Her earliest memory is of her father returning from military service in 1918, when she was very scared of this strange man in uniform, and hid behind the mangle in the kitchen. She has a good memory, and can tell her tales well.
This week, I came across a tree that included a photograph of my mother’s Aunt Ada. This website is in the public domain, so I don’t think I’m breaching anyone’s privacy by republishing it here. When Mom saw this photo, she exclaimed, “Gra’ma!” – and indeed, in her older years Aunt Ada was the spitting image of her mother. And, of course, all kinds of memories came flooding back to my mother. I’ve filtered this to some extent, and it’s in the first person – more or less as my mother told me
The eldest of my grandparents’ five children, my Aunt Polly, lost the sight in one eye as a child when a playmate threw sand into it. Later, as an old lady, she was completely blind and used to write letters on paper folded widthways, feeling where the line was. Her writing was naturally very difficult to decipher but I usually managed to read it.
She had two sons, William (killed in WWI) and Walter, who was ordained an Anglican priest, later becoming a Canon. We children used to call him “Uncle Walter”. He was friendly with my father, who although he was his nephew was roughly the same age, and even took him to Wembley to see the exhibition (not football in those days!).
While he was a curate he went to Africa, and brought back presents for us, his little cousins. I was thrilled with mine, a pencil case made from woven straw. Later, Walter was chaplain in Bedford Gaol and became master of Holgate Hospital, Wakefield, where he was Warden of Readers. His ashes are buried in the wall of the chapel there.
When I was small there was a portrait of a lad on the wall of our living room at home, and I was told it was my Uncle Tom who died of typhoid as a boy in the 1890’s. I never knew him, of course, nor my Aunt Hannah. She drowned aged 26, when she fell into the canal on her way home in the dark on the evening of 9 December 1914, after babysitting.
My Aunt Ada was quite a character. She was born on 13 April 1879, and on her tenth birthday was feeling very unhappy because no one was taking any notice of her and she didn’t have a birthday present. Then came the news that she had a baby brother. This was my father, whom she always regarded as her special birthday present, and so, as his children, we were special to her too.
However, I felt she had played a slightly mean trick on me. I never liked my name, and it was Aunt Ada who was to blame for it. I was supposed to have been christened Marian, a name I would have preferred but I had no say in the matter. As it happened, Aunt Ada had a little girl around the time I was born, and she decided she wanted her daughter to be called Marian. So as my mother was carrying me up the aisle to the font, Aunt Ada whispered, “Call her Elsie!” and that was that. Sadly, Aunt Ada’s little Marian died soon afterwards.
She and her family lived in one of the houses whose gardens backed onto those in our road. To visit, we children would clamber over the fowl pen and the wall, then squeeze between the wall and a shed, rather than walking all the way round. It was quite a hazardous venture, but my brothers and I were oblivious to any risk of getting stuck behind the shed and always emerged unscathed. Those houses were built on a hill, so they had two storeys at the front and three at the back, with a cellar kitchen and a bathroom in the basement.
In those days, our house had no indoor bathroom and there were no flush toilets. The family washed in the kitchen, we had chamber pots under the beds, and the lavatory was outside in the yard with a tank. This was emptied by the “midden men”, who would come at night with a horse and cart.; a rather eerie sight, if you woke up in the early hours and peered through the window. Flush toilets were installed in 1929.
I had a strange experience one night when I was a little girl. I had gone to the toilet, half asleep, and as I made my way along the passage to the lavatory I was vaguely aware of a woman standing spread-eagled against the wall. On the way back, rather more awake, I found nobody there so assumed I must have dreamt it. Many years later, I mentioned this to my mother, who laughed and said,
“Oh, that would have been Aunt Ada! If Aunt Ada and Mr Lindley fell out in the evening, either Mr Lindley would go and sleep in their cellar kitchen or Aunt Ada would go and sit on our toilet.”
Aunt Ada and Mr Lindley must have fallen out altogether at some point, because when Aunt Ada got married in 1922, it was not to Mr Lindley, her partner of twenty years and father of her 8 children. The house must have been in her name, though, because she continued to live there with her new husband, Mr Hill.
I found out about this when I saw my mother getting dressed up in a new outfit.
“Where are you going, Mam?”
“Aunt Ada’s getting married to Mr Hill and I’m to be witness.”
I thought that was strange, because Mr Lindley was still alive, but I was only about 6 so I accepted it, and forgot about it until much later. We were all very fond of Aunt Ada, who was always kind to us, and we took the change of husband in our stride, but we never called Aunt Ada’s men “Uncle”.
However, Aunt Ada’s oldest son Tom was very upset when he discovered that his parents weren’t married, and he went off to Australia, leaving his fiancée Nora behind. I suppose he wanted to get as far away from his parents as possible, and in those days once you went to Australia you didn’t come back. Nora was distraught, but she waited faithfully for him and eventually after four years he returned and married her.
I’m pleased to see that Aunt Ada and Mr Hill both lived well into their eighties, and only died in 1966. But she does look like Gra’ma!