My lovely Mum had a harder life than some but not as hard as others.
Born in 1912, my Mum grew up in a working class home when the first world war was raging. Her father often changed jobs and sometimes worked with horses and sometimes worked on laying drains. Apparently he was very good at finding out which way water would flow, an essential knack when laying drains. Frances Ellen was the first child of George and Nell.
All photos in this hub are mine.
My Mum soon had a younger sister and later two brothers. One tale she tells of her father is that if the children were eating a meal and leaving the best bit on the side of the plate to enjoy last their father would grab it and say,"I can see you don't want that." and take it from them. He certainly had a mean streak. When Mum was quite a little girl he used to bring home sweets but one day when she cried about something he said he would never bring sweets again and he kept to his word.
Well I never, I've forgotten to tell you I nearly never made it into this world. When Mum was just a few weeks old her father came in when her mother was bathing her. He was shocked at how skinny she was and sent Granny off to the doctor. Apparently Granny's milk had dried up. Mum was brought up then on barley water, not the juice we have today but water left after boiling barley in it. It doesn't sound very nourishing but it did the trick.
When Mum was about nine she had pleurisy. She had been sent to the farm to fetch the milk in a metal jug but while there came over dizzy and passed out.
My mother was a very intelligent woman and if given the chance could have coped with university. As it was her teacher's realized she had ability and at 13 they suggested she go to boarding school to learn the necessary skills for being "in service." So off she went to Radbrooke in Shropshire.
My Mum used to love to tell us about the time the Inspector of Schools came to Primary school, before she went to Radbrooke. Her sister Bessie was very dramatic and good at reciting. The teacher set her to recite a Housman poem from The Shropshire Lad and Bessie had somehow picked up that the teacher had no fondness for the Inspector.
He arrived and she recited as follows,with great venom,"How sick I am to see you, will you never let me be, You may be good for someone, but you're no good to me, So go where you are wanted, For you're not wanted here..." At this point the Inspector said, "That's enough, that's enough." so missing the final line "and that was all the greeting when I parted from my dear." He had played completely into the hands of the teacher.
Two Scenes from Oxford, from the Carfax Tower, and One of the Famous Bridge
Oxford and love
Mum enjoyed her time at Radbrooke and even had a couple of terms' piano lessons. She said matron had to stay in the room as the teacher was inclined to put his hand on her knee. From those few lessons she managed to get herself up to scratch to play pedal harmoniums in chapel later on.
On leaving school she got a job as a cook in Oxford, at All Soul's college. Once Lord Grey of Fallowden sent a half crown tip down to the kitchen staff, quite a large tip for the time, about 1930. Mum remembered going up the tower of Magdalen college on Mayday to see the sun rise. At All Soul's Mum's room was up in the attic. There was a window that opened out onto a place where she could sit and dry her hair in the sun in Summer.
In Oxford Mum attended the Plymouth Brethren and met a man called Bob. He was an under graduate. They fell in love. Bob had a bad heart condition and had to leave university. He went back to his parents' home in Devon and took Mum with him. They became engaged but sadly Bob's heart grew worse and finally gave out. After his death Mum slept round the clock, worn out with grief.
While working in Devon Mum once had to cook a rabbit and present it nicely at table. After cooking the rabbit was placed on a dish complete with head and Mum decided to give it two sage leaves for ears. Every time Mum told this story she would laugh to remember how funny the rabbit looked. She also remembered the lady of the house having dangly bits at the wrist on the sleeve of her dress, and these trailed through the gravy as she helped herself to vegetables. Another lady was wearing a low cut dress when one breast popped out. she resourcefully popped it back in again and continued as if nothing had happened.
Mum had a huge respect for the gentry which she tried to pass on to her children. She said that "real gentry" were always fair and considerate and it was only the "nouveau rich" who treated you badly.
Scenes of Oxford
My father comes on the scene
So there she was in Devon. Bob had played his sad part in my destiny by bringing her here. In the Plymouth Brethren she met my father, Charles and took him off to Shropshire and married him. Dad was a nervous, shy creature while my Mum was full of resourcefulness and common sense. Dad got a job with a local farmer and would regale Mum with stories of what Dick Harrison said. He would often say,"Who's afraid of old Dick Harrison?" Of course he was. Their first child, a little girl was born in Shropshire. Soon they moved back to Devon and Dad worked on his father's farm.
One day at the farm they lent Mum a bicycle so that she could cycle to Kingsbridge. She got along fine and was going down the hill into Kingsbridge when she applied the brakes only to find that they did not work. Somehow she managed to hang on and arrived at the bottom thoroughly shaken up. She was not keen to ride ever again.
Dad would have bouts of depression followed by silly spells. The Terms "manic depression" and "bi-polar illness" were not known then, or at least not in darkest Devon. It is a good thing we don't know all we are going to have to cope with in life, when we start out.
The war years
Then came the Second World War. As a farm worker my father was not called up, as producing food was vital to the war effort. During this time my brother was born.The family lived in Blackawton near the south coast. It was at this time that my father found employment at the other end of Devon away from the sea. His brothers had found employment in this area. After the move they heard that all the villagers of Blackawton were to be evacuated because the housing was needed for American troops. Much later we discovered they were working on secret operations to plan landings in France. There was a terrible tragedy then off Slapton Sands when many Americans died. The truth of it coming to light recently. There have been special ceremonies to commemorate those American lives lost, in helping to win the war against Hitler.
A more stable life
Because of his mental health Dad tended to fall out with his farmer employers and as their cottages were tied to the job, every time this happened they had to move house. During this time I was born. At this time my Mum decided that when I was a little bit older she would go to see her mother. Unfortunately her mother, who had been unwell for several years with breathing problems and heart trouble, died, at the age of 53, before this plan could be carried out. I never met Mum,'s parents and only briefly met Dad's on an outing to the seaside.
Mum was tired of making so many moves and then she heard of a cottage next to a chapel which they could have for a low rent because they would be looking after the chapel, cleaning it through each week, and also cutting the grass on the graveyard. This meant Dad could find employment in a circle around this place and if he fell out with a farmer he could move on to the next without the little family being disrupted. My older sister had already suffered from having to change schools twice.
The chapel was not Plymouth Brethren but had connections with them. It was Baptist. They soon settled in and eventually Mum became the organist. I can remember not liking it that Mum was up the front and couldn't sit with us. She also became a Sunday School teacher.
The chapel cottage was a real answer to prayer. Stability had arrived in all our lives. At night in bed we children hated to hear Mum and Dad arguing, but there was never any violence involved. Dad would have times of depression when he would take to his bed. Then he would be silly and tease us in an irritating way. His interest in religion was always high. In certain moods he would ask impossible questions, such as why did God create Satan. He would get himself really worked up about it. At other times he would have lots of faith. he loved to see the stars at night and talk about God making each one. Mum was equally strong in her beliefs but more stable and even tempered. They took us to church twice on Sundays plus afternoon Sunday school. Mum was very friendly with the Superintendent's wife. In the summer holidays Mum would often take me with her to spend the day with this lady and her children. They were the sort of days one remembers from childhood when the sun always shone . I played in the fields with the lady's son who was a year younger than I.
My Mother in her Early Forties - In a Deck Chair at the Seaside
The arrival of mod cons
Mum always worked hard to keep us all kitted out. She had a sewing machine and made most of our clothes for us. She also knitted. Back then you could get the following colours in wool, grey, maroon,navy or black. It was very exciting when other colours began to come out. the first thing I made was in the shocking pink colour that sometimes looks orange. I used a very large needle and a small one producing a lacy effect. Mum also did sewing for some of the farmers' wives in the area. They were quite well off compared to us. They would come to our house for a fitting. They went in the vestry for this. This room was really a part of the chapel where the speaker would come to sort out his hymns and settle himself down before the service. The vestry led straight into our house and Mum had asked permission to use the room and we would furnish it. After that we always called it the sitting room.
When we first moved into the house in 1949 there was no electric and no proper sanitation. It was only a few years before the electric was put in but 1960 before we had a proper bathroom and toilet. It's amazing what you can do without when you have to. But now it was goodbye to the old tin bath.
A good life lived well
By now my sister had gone off to do her training as a nurse. My Mum had looked into that and sorted it out. My brother had gone into the R.A.F. I was five and a half years younger than my brother. Mum really appreciated my company as I grew up, especially when Dad was in a funny mood. Sometimes he was taken off to hospital for treatment and we enjoyed the peace at home without him. Sometimes she spoke of divorce but it never came to that. Somehow her faith carried her through.
On Thursdays she would walk the mile to the village to the Women's Bright hour at the chapel there. Afterwards she would go down the hill to the shop ( as seen in my lens The Culm Valley) get the shopping and then wait for me to come off the school bus and collect my bicycle from beside the pub. I would then put the shopping bag on my handle bars and we would walk home together with me pushing the bike.
Thursday evenings there was a prayer meeting. Dad was often an embarrassment to us as he prayed out loud and at length. But other people thought him very spiritual. Mum would also book up the preachers for Sunday services. With no phone she would book each time they came for the next time, or write to them. These lay preachers were needed because the minister came only twice a month. Some of the preachers came to tea.
Despite lack of money my parents kept me at school a long time. Mum had always been keen on education and must have been thrilled when I was accepted for a music degree course at Cardiff. Unfortunately I only managed two years. I was then showing signs of Dad's trouble although I was not properly diagnosed till much later.
Later on when I was married and had my first child Mum and Dad moved into a council bungalow in the village and my family moved into their old cottage. They were retired now.Dad would go to a day centre twice a week. This was a relief for Mum. She had a little money put by and decided to take driving lessons, now in her seventies. She kept it a secret from all of us, but the instructor said something to me one day that gave the game away. I thought it was very adventurous of her. It was just a whim as there was no possibility of affording a car.
In 1995 my father died and Mum had five years on her own. She went to a day centre herself and enjoyed handicrafts there. One day she brought home two cushions made at the centre, and gave them to myself and my sister. It was a parting gift, she died the next night.
She had lived a good, industrious life and died in her own bed. No doubt with her love of music she is now in heaven playing expertly on the harp