New Year’s Eve: Taking The Plunge

Sylvester 2017.pngAmong the many Swiss customs marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next is the annual gathering around midday on 31 December on the shore of the Walensee, the beautiful lake next to Walenstadt in eastern Switzerland. I admire these hardy souls, who walk, run, plunge, or step daintily into the cold waters, regardless of the weather or temperature of the water.

This year, they were lucky: the weather was sunny and bright on Sunday, although it had been snowing on Friday and did so again on Monday. St Sylvester, the patron saint of 31 December, was obviously on good terms with St Peter, who is reputedly in charge of the weather and on New Year’s Eve, the sky was blue, and the water was a balmy 7°C.

A score or more of intrepid bathers, young and not so young, took on the challenge. Last year, they were served a hot dish of goulash as they emerged dripping and triumphant. This year, although they had made a fine fire beforehand to warm their blue limbs, the person responsible for last year’s reward felt his efforts had not been duly appreciated, and there was only a plastic beaker of wine to greet them – not even Glühwein. They seemed undaunted, nonetheless, and there was a general air of merriment and self-satisfaction at the accomplishment. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload the short video of this momentous event.

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Me join in??? NO WAY! I am and remain an onlooker. But I hope this custom doesn’t die out, and that Saints Peter and Sylvester will remain friends.

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Beanies, Minnie Mouse And Pompoms

My newest great-granddaughter was one year old last Monday: so what should I give her as a present? She’s the second little girl in the family and the youngest of four, so has more than enough toys and clothes. I want my gift to be something useful, something she needs. What doesn’t she have?

IMG_2788I look at her, and know immediately; the only thing she lacks is hair. This pretty blue-eyed baby is perfect in every way, but she has only the finest covering of down on her head, not a single little curl! No, no, I didn’t give her a wig – but the next best thing. I crocheted her three hats.

First, these two simple beanies from wool I had in my bag – I can’t call it a stash. You should see what my daughter has tucked away in drawers and cupboards! That’s a stash. You may recognise the wool in the white/grey hat as it’s the remnant from my cardigan and cobweb shawl. Perfect for a bald baby, very soft and light but warm. The blue one matches her eyes and has flaps to keep her ears warm.

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I was inspired to find a pattern for a Minnie Mouse bonnet with pompoms (two black ones on top for ears, and pink ones at the end of each braid) and a big pink bow on top. The bow looks rather sausagy on this photo, because of the angle – the hat is a shade too big – but in real life it looks cute.

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Thank you to my Dear Daughter for her invaluable assistance here. We have a knitting shop in my village, but I had only ever walked past it and never gone in. I decided about a fortnight before the Birthday that I’d support local trade, and get my wool there but unfortunately it was closed. The sign in the window said “On vacation till 25 November”. That was annoying, but it still left me a week for my project.

However, when I struggled through the rain and wind to the shop on Saturday, 25 November, it was still closed. At this point DD stepped in and offered me wool from her stash, so I was saved. I managed to make the little hat in the couple of days still available to me while I was staying at her house, and once again it was DD to the rescue when it came to making the pompoms, as we went out together and bought pompom makers (that’s a new invention since my youth: we just used cardboard cut into circles). That inspired me afresh. I have a few beanies I made last year that would benefit from being crowned with a pompom.

After I got home, I ventured out once again to the knitting shop in my village. This time, it was open. It’s very tiny, with some flashy hand knits on sale, a limited selection of extremely expensive wool, and an intimidating lady running it. I poked around a bit, but didn’t find anything that appealed to me so when SHE challenged me (I can think of no better word for the tone in which she asked me if I was looking for something special) I just stuttered that I was looking for white wool to make pompoms.

With that withering look sales assistants in boutiques cast at anyone over a size 0, she produced a plastic bag with several small balls of yarn, obviously leftovers. Yes, there were two skeins of white virgin wool. Fifty cents each. I paid and crept out.

To cheer myself up, I decided to learn some new crocheting skills from YouTube tutorials, and am now proficient in making fancy cables. However, cables use up a lot of wool so a whole 50g has gone into this little piece. That’s 100 metres of wool. What will it become? I’ll let you know when it’s finished. One thing is sure: though I shall need more wool to complete this project, I won’t be buying any from the village shop.

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Schooldays, Schoolmates

Mr Russell's class 1952

Every now and then, I try to go through the thousands of photos on my laptop and get rid of duplicates and any that really are a waste of cyberspace. And thus I came across this old class photo from my primary school, taken in June or July 1952 when we were all about 11 and about to depart from the safety and security of our little junior school, to start “big school”: following the 11+ exam, around half went to the local Secondary Modern, about a dozen to the Secondary Technical School, and nine of us to the Grammar School. That should have been ten, but the parents of one bright little boy said they couldn’t afford the uniform and all the extras that went with a Grammar School education, so he went to the Secondary Modern instead.

Being split like that meant that we generally lost touch with one another, especially once we had reached the age of fifteen or sixteen, when most left school for good.

All the more amazing, then, when I look at this picture and realise I still know everyone’s name! What’s more, in spite of having spent nearly fifty years outside the UK, sixty-five years on I am still in touch with eight of these former classmates and know the whereabouts and something about the present lives of at least another three. One other, for sure, has died; maybe more. We’re getting on a bit now.

But five of them came to my mother’s hundredth birthday party and six to her funeral, and others sent condolences. I suppose that is the key: although we have all moved away from the place where we grew up, even to Cyprus and Australia, my mother stayed put. When I went back to visit my parents, and especially in these latter years when I stayed with her, I would occasionally hear from an old school pal or we would even manage to meet up. They knew where to find me when I didn’t have a clue where they had gone, and the grapevine meant that even if someone had disappeared completely from my radar, someone else might yet be in touch.

A Grammar School centenary reunion in 2002 was instrumental in a couple of cases, where we really hadn’t seen each other since we were sixteen and were delighted to rekindle old friendships. Another occasion was when four of us who had lived next door to one another and had all been born within the space of two months (three of us in this photo), were reunited for our seventieth birthdays. That was a very joyous occasion, since I hadn’t seen two of my old playmates for over fifty years.

So I look at these innocent young faces, mentally trying to superimpose wrinkles, paunches and grey hair (or, in the case of the boys, bald heads – the good-looking lad standing on the far right is still tall but completely and shiningly bald) and wonder if, during the five years recently when I was more or less resident in my old home, we had unwittingly passed each other in the street or sat next to each other on a bus.

What would we have had to say if we had recognised one another, after all these years? We probably would have little in common, but I know for certain that one topic of conversation would have been the elderly gentleman who was our class teacher, and there is no doubt that someone would have said: “He’d never have got away with that today!”

He was a strict and harsh disciplinarian. Classes were large. Corporal punishment was standard fare in those days so most of us, girls as well as boys, had felt the flat of his hand or been caned. Yet he taught us well, and even if he didn’t manage to make silk purses out of pig’s ears, he produced very serviceable leather pouches, metaphorically speaking.

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Here are three of us who were partners in crime together throughout our primary and secondary school days from the age of five, and are still good friends (l-r: P, N and me in 2011). Can you spot us on the school photo?

We’re all on the second row, seated: N is 3rd from the left, I am 3rd from the right and P is last on the right. I think we were deliberately separated!

 

Case Closed

Just to spoil the fun of speculation, here – at last – are the facts. And the moral is that just because something is written down in black and white, it ain’t necessarily so.

Two old men, brothers, one of them a farmer and the other his labourer, are working on the harvest. Joe, the elder, dies. I don’t have his death certificate, so I don’t know the cause, but he was 79 and in 1859 that was a ripe old age. Maybe he simply over-exerted himself. He’s buried a couple of days later, on 14 August, and no doubt younger brother Sam was upset at losing him. But the harvest has to be brought in, so Sam and Joe’s son Charlie get on with it.

Maybe Sam is grieving and his concentration isn’t so good that morning. After all, he’s 72 and he’s had to get up at 5 am to start loading the wagon. It’s a big wagon, and with a full load needs 3 dray horses to pull it. Sam takes the rein of one of the shaft horses, and off they go. At a bend in the road he stands back to make way for the horse, but there isn’t enough space and the horse steps on his foot. That’s a few hundred kilos of horseflesh, and Sam doesn’t stand a chance: he falls, and the wagon runs over his chest. An inquest is held, and two days after the accident, on 24 August, Sam is buried. In the parish register, his burial immediately follows that of brother Joe ten days earlier.

The newspaper reporter got the results of the inquest right, but he conflated the brothers and got the name wrong. To add to the confusion, the clerk who copied the details of the Probate inquiry into Joe’s estate six months later wrote the date of his death as 12.9.1859 instead of 12.8.1859. Easily done. And there we have it.

I’m sorry to disappoint my readers: no foul play, no conspiracy to rid the village of its Hardwicks, no evil characters lurking in the hedges to push old rustics under the wheels of wagons. Just a sad way for an old man to end his days.

Strange Coincidence

This is a post script to my last post, and concerns a strange coincidence.

As I recounted, the two brothers Joseph and Samuel Hardwick died within weeks of one another in the summer of 1859. Samuel, who was 72, died when he was run over by a horse and wagon, according to his death certificate.

I have been aware of that fact for a long time. However, it was only now, as I was delving into what had happened to the family farm, that I have been sent a newspaper cutting describing the death of his brother Joseph, aged 78, just a few days later. And this is what it says:

HEATH: FATAL ACCIDENT: On Wednesday an inquest was held at the house of Mr Rome, The Elm Tree Inn, on the body of Joseph Hardwick, farmer, of Heath. The deceased left his home about five o’clock in the morning to assist in the harvest field. They were leading corn from the field to the stackyard about eight o’clock. They had come with a load out of the field with a four-wheeled wagon and three horses. There was a turn in the road, and the deceased was in it. He had hold of the head of one of the shaft horses. The horse turned round sharply, knocked him down and trod upon his foot, and the wheels passed over his chest. He breathed thrice and died. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned. 

As my informant says, it looks like a case for Miss Marples – or is this a nineteenth century version of Midsomer Murders?

Hunting the Hardwicks

Genealogy has me in its clutches again! Yet another distant cousin has sailed into my sights, providing me with copies of wills made by my fifth and sixth great-grandfathers in the eighteenth century, as well as a few other documents.

I’m back with my Hardwick ancestors, a very prolific bunch by all accounts, but am still feeling dubious of claims by another distant cousin that we are actually all descended from Sir Jocelyn de HAVERMERE/Everemere de HARDEWYCKE/ Herdewycke/ Hardwicke etc who was born circa 1040 AD in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia during the reign of King Canute.  He fought on the wrong side at the Battle of Hastings, so William the Conqueror stripped him of his titles and confiscated his lands and possessions. Sir Jocelyn’s son was cannier: he married the daughter of a Norman knight, and had everything restored to him by King Henry I.

It’s a pretty tale, but I’m wary. To my knowledge, anyone who belonged to the household of the Hardwicks – including the lowest servants – or came from the village of Hardwick, could be given that surname. So we might just as well be descended from any of the Hardwick serfs – and not second cousin thirteen times removed to the great Bess of Hardwick and the Duke of Devonshire.

Be that as it may, by 1721 my sixth great-grandfather Thomas Hardwick had managed, by fair means or foul, to acquire two farms, which was convenient for him since he had two sons as well as two daughters.

I like the way Thomas wrote his will. He sounds like a straight-talking, no-nonsense kind of man, with none of the fancy formulations and legalese jargon you usually find. The clerk who wrote it had a clear, legible hand, too.

Sons James and John get a farm each, out of which they have to support their mother, either by giving her a home with them, or by paying her an annuity totalling £5. She only survived her husband by two years, so that wouldn’t have been a drain on their finances.

The newly-wed younger daughter Alice is left £20, and the elder daughter, Mary, married with a little girl, gets £10 and a “new calved cow”. Mary’s husband gets “my cloathes and wearing apparel except for a new pair of Boots” and his brothers-in-law have to supply him with sufficient land to keep one cow, summer and winter. Their little girl, Thomas’ granddaughter, is promised another “new calved cow” when she marries, but then comes the strange stipulation that she should be brought up by her uncles.

That makes me wonder. Why? Did Thomas think she wasn’t being treated properly at home? Or that her parents were feckless or too poor? Did she stay with her mother and father, and therefore not get her cow? Or did she, a little maid of seven at the time of her grandfather’s death, go to live with one of her uncles? Or did she spend 6 months here and 6 months there, and visit her parents in between?

I don’t suppose I will ever know, but I do feel sorry for that little girl and her parents.

Thomas Hardwick - Will 1721 - Heath Derbyshire

My fifth great-grandfather, Thomas’s son John, also didn’t do too badly. In his will he bequeaths £20 to each of his four oldest sons and two married daughters, and the farm he lives on goes to his youngest son. I was pleased that he treated his girls the same as his boys, but I was surprised that the baby of the family got the farm.

Then I found the will of the eldest brother – who sounds like a kind and caring husband and father – and realised that he, too, was a husbandman (i.e. farmer) with his own farm, so maybe John had already divided up some of his holdings among his lads before he died. John held his land from the Duke of Devonshire, so there must be some records at Chatsworth House (another link with Bess of Hardwick!) and maybe even some maps, showing who had what.

I was curious to know what happened to the old homestead, named as “Hallam’s Farm” in Thomas Hardwick’s will.

The “baby” who inherited it in 1779 was my fourth great-grandfather, Samuel Hardwick, and after his death in 1822 the farm passed to his elder son, Joseph, born in 1780, big brother of my third great-grandfather Samuel Jr, born in 1788.

At this point, that good old resource the census comes in useful.  From the 1841 and 1851 censuses, I could see that my third great-grandfather Samuel Jr lived next door to Joseph, and worked as an agricultural labourer, presumably for his brother. Whilst Samuel and his wife had twelve children in all (five of whom died), and Joseph had several daughters, he had only one son and heir, Charles: in 1851, a 35-year-old childless widower living with his parents on the family farm. Joseph and Samuel were now old men, and they both died within weeks of one another in August and September 1859, so Charles was left to carry on alone.

I suppose that, as it says in the old song, “The farmer wants a wife”: by 1871, Charles had not only a wife, but also a 13-year-old “general servant” called William Charles Hardwick to help him with his 30 acres. Were they related? I have found the boy’s parents and siblings, but can’t establish a blood connection with Charles. Maybe he was the boy’s godfather, and that would account for his middle name.

Whatever the situation, they must have got along well because when Charles died in 1889, he named William Charles Hardwick as his sole heir and executor. Various records have confirmed that William Charles married, had children, and was still farming in 1911 (the last census available). He died there in March 1943, so that should help us to locate the farm.

Back then to my newly discovered distant cousin, who lives not so far away from the ancestral home and is now avidly searching the records. And I am imagining plots for historical novels …

Musical Furniture Merry-Go-Round

Last year, I explained in these two posts – Musical Furniture and More Musical Chairs – how furniture does the rounds in our family. In the past few months, we have had the equivalent of a furniture symphony. Clearing my mother’s house out in July and September revealed many items that we really didn’t want to relinquish, but which could hardly be classed as heirlooms. The solution? Take them to our holiday home in Brittany and turn them to good use.

This was originally my house, bought in 1991, but over the last three decades all the family has spent at least one holiday a year here, so everyone feels it’s home, right down to the newest member of the family who is not yet a year old but has enjoyed two holidays here already. Bringing my mother’s things here conflates the two places that have been home to us longest, always there in the background, providing a sense of permanency as we all moved house over and over again.

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So now, here is the dining table with two of its four chairs, that cost my parents 17/6 in 1938, and the bureau that my mother’s landlady sold her for £3 in 1935. The wardrobe that passed to my parents when my aunt died won’t go round the bend in the stairs, so it also now stands here in the living room, together with Mom’s rocking chair and Dad’s wing-backed chair, both desperately in need of reupholstering. Oh yes, my daughter has no fear of tackling that task and has already bought some material for the covers.  For the time being they are swathed in throws and blankets, and don’t look too bad.

Over in the corner by the window stands the Sherlock chair that first belonged to my granddaughter and was passed on to my mother last year: a perfect fit. Next to that, the occasional table my father made and opposite it, his bookshelf (still holding some of his books). Mom’s tea and dinner service will be happy to stay close to the table they have always graced, and much of her cut-glass and crystal is also on display. Another comfortable mid-century chair that I inherited from my ex-husband’s aunt, and passed on to my mother, now looks as if it has always been part of the kitchen, as do my mother’s two kitchen stools.

The 1930’s oak bedroom furniture is also here in Brittany: the bedhead and chest of drawers in my bedroom, the dressing table in another (and its triple mirror awaiting a decision, as it doesn’t really fit anywhere except maybe the bathroom). The little dressing table Mom found for £1 when she was first married, and that was mine throughout my childhood and teenage years, slots neatly into my granddaughter’s bedroom. The slipper chair – also in need of some TLC – adorns my daughter’s room, along with the doll’s cradle my grandfather made for me and which my daughter also played with when she was little.

Even my daughter admits that there is really no room left for the two easy chairs that originally belonged to my aunt, then to me, then to my mother, and now to my daughter –  if chairs are sentient, they must be very confused at such extreme musicality. They are destined to come to Switzerland in the spring to be renovated, and to replace two club chairs that my son-in-law inherited from his godmother and which will now go from the sitting room to his office.

We loaded the car to return to Switzerland, and there was no room for these armchairs, nor for the stuffed fish caught by my father in 1950, nor the stone birdbath sculpted by my grandfather. These will also have to wait until spring to be fetched. Books, china, ornaments, glass, pictures, textiles – my daughter’s poor little cocker spaniel cowered in her seat, as suitcases and boxes were piled up around her. But she survived the journey, as did most of our cargo: just one casualty, a picture I hadn’t wrapped properly suffered broken glass. I don’t have room at present to hang that one anyway, so not a tragedy.

And how miraculously everything found a place in our Swiss houses! Little echoes of our old family home and my mother’s spirit are everywhere, both in my place and in my daughter’s. I’m especially pleased with how well this 3D picture, embroidered by an old friend for my mother’s 90th birthday, and the vase made by my mother at pottery evening classes in the 1950’s, marry with my vintage table lamp.

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And finally, the two pieces of furniture that are literally musical: a small marquetry storage table containing a musical box movement, sent as a souvenir from Sorrento and for which my mother could never find a suitable place, now sits comfortably next to my longcase clock, a reproduction Comtoise with Westminster chimes, also made in Italy: compatriots united! Will they sing Italian duets together?

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