Grannie Lane‘s rings, on my fingers. The fact that most of them only fit on my pinkie gives you an idea of how petite she was. I presume the gold band was her wedding ring, and the diamonds her engagement. The beautiful gold, pearl and black lacquer Victorian mourning ring was always worn by my mother in memory of her, on birthdays and anniversaries, so I now do the same in memory of Mum.
Sadly these diamonds were not forever, as Grannie Lane’s marriage was not as happy as that of my own parents. Peggy was devoted to her husband Charles, who was handsome, charming, charismatic, selfish, and often cruel. They met in service in London and were married in 1915; when he returned from the first world war they settled in Sefton Park in Liverpool where their two children were born. Charles set up a transport business with a partner he had found via an advertisement. This partner was a con man who soon absconded to South America with all the firm’s – and hence the family’s – money. This experience was typical of Charles’ business and financial acumen.
The family moved to Leeds for a few years and then in 1933, when my mother was 10, to London where Charles opened his automobile business. He still failed to support his family, however, spending what money he did have on entertaining his friends. Peggy discovered that their rent had not been paid when she found a court summons he had hidden. She secretly attended the hearing, to hear her husband plead for clemency on account of his wife and children (the same wife and children he himself neglected). The rent, and other debts, were paid off with a legacy that a rich aunt had left for my mother.
Many years later, Mum found out that it was Peggy who supported the family at this time, working as a cook while the children were at school. When she and her brother both started earning salaries, aged 14 and 16, Charles stopped contributing to his family’s keep altogether. Peggy, who still adored him, gave him an ultimatum: to choose between his family responsibilities and his friends. He chose the friends, and abandoned his family for good.
I suspect that one of these “friends” may have had a closer relationship with him than was ever acknowledged. Mrs Bannerman, who lived in a flat above the mews where he worked, was allegedly obsessed with Charles, and had attempted to attack Peggy with a knife at around this time. When he left the family, Mrs Bannerman went with him to his new home and became his housekeeper. In a letter to her father not long afterwards (in which she has to request money that is owing to them), my mother writes “We are all very well and happy thank you and hope you are too (if it’s possible to be so with that dreadful person)”.
Grannie bore her hardships stoically, and never remarried. My mum wrote many years later: “She kept us unaware of the hurt she must have suffered and most of what I [now know] about my father, she did not reveal to me until well after I had married”. They were very close, especially after the death of Mum’s brother in the war. Charles revealed further cruelties at this time, and not long afterwards all contact between them ceased. Peggy never heard from him again. My mother did; but that’s another story…