My Mum was born in March, so I think of her a lot at this time of year, when the sun and daffodils start to appear. My previous post featured some photos from her youth, taken from this tatty old album. The album had originally belonged to her brother, judging by the writing inside the cover:
It contains some wonderful photographs of their childhood. The first page is headed “Liverpool” and shows family scenes in and around Sefton Park (click on image to enlarge view):
I’ll let my Mum describe her early years there, in the words she wrote down
70 years later:
My first six years were spent in Liverpool, in Ramillies Road, Sefton Park, then a respectable area, but why I came to be born in Liverpool I don’t really know and can only guess. My father served in the army in the first world war and made some good friends who hailed from Liverpool. When he was to be demobbed he wrote telling his wife to find a house in Liverpool. Fortunately she had a Hebridean cousin living there whose husband was a sea captain so she was able to stay with her in Orrell Park and get advice about suitable areas. It happened also that a favourite aunt of my father’s lived in Sefton Park with her husband and two daughters. So it was either to be near his wartime comrades or his aunt that Liverpool was chosen.
After the first world war my father set up a transport business with a partner who quite soon embarked from Liverpool on a ship bound for South America, taking with him all the firm’s money – a real confidence trickster. I believe my father then took a job with Barker & Dobson, a confectionery firm and may also have worked for a time as a chauffeur.
It may have been the loss of his business and wanting to sort out his problems on his own that led to my mother taking Murray and I to her home in Swainbost, Isle of Lewis, for some weeks. In those days it was a long sea voyage to Stornoway, taking ten or more hours from Kyle of Lochalsh. My mother was a poor sailor and would leave us in charge of the nearest person and make for her bunk where she would lie for the rest of the voyage. For Murray and I it was very exciting and I can claim to have gained my sea-legs and love of sea travel from those early years, and my love of the Hebrides and people there.
While in Swainbost I developed double pneumonia and still remember the nightmares I suffered in my feverishness and the kindness of my cousin Kenneth (later a doctor) who spent much time at my bedside amusing and distracting me. He became my hero and I thought he had saved my life but a few years ago I learned form an old family friend, Kirstie, that it was my Aunt Annie who had saved my life with skilful nursing. She was a much respected district nurse.
These photos are from one of their many childhood holidays at Swainbost, Ness. The top 2 photos are captioned “Cousin Kate & Cousin Ken”. This must be my Mum’s cousin Katie Stewart (whose sister Anne’s memoirs have also featured on this blog), and Mum’s hero “Dr Kenny”, as he came to be known, one of many cousins named Kenneth Murray. He did indeed go on to be a doctor in Edinburgh, not just any doctor, but a specialist who was among those responsible for the virtual eradication of tuberculosis. A hero indeed; I met him a few times, the last time being when I accompanied Mum on her final trip to Lewis in the 1990s, when we stayed overnight with Kenneth and his wife Jean in Edinburgh.
“Auntie Annie,” my grandmother’s unmarried sister, lived in Grannie’s family home at Swainbost. I think this photograph is Annie, with their mother Mary, at the house (unless it is her sister Jessie who also lived there, though not at the same time, as the two spinsters did not get on). On the reverse is written “Mother and Self, Ness, 1925”:
Mum was also very fond of her twin cousins Doy and Kya, who feature in this album. Named, like many of her cousins, Donald and Kenneth, their family nicknames came from their infant names for each other. Doy settled in London after serving in the war and was very close to our family, a fond uncle to us kids. Mum had many stories of the mischief these boys would get up to.
Mum’s memoir of their childhood in Liverpool continues:
I also had a close call but of a different kind. My father had taken me for a walk in Sefton Park when I was a toddler and I managed to crawl through a rustic fence and fall in the lake without him noticing. Fortunately someone fished me out with a walking stick just in time. My father, who could do no wrong in his own estimation, blamed my mother for the incident although she was at home at the time.
In Ramillies Road our particular friends were a Welsh family, the Davies’s and an Irish family, the Nolans, both living opposite. Two maiden ladies lived next door and their maid became good friend to us children. She was terrified of thunder and lightning and whenever there was a storm she would rush into our house and hide under our bedclothes until it was over. In true Welsh style, the elder Davies boy was a grand singer, an alto in the cathedral choir. The younger son, Harold, proposed marriage to me when we were both aged four and I remember us going to my mother to implore her not to dispose of clock she did not want as we were sure it would be useful to us when we got married. We kept in touch until well into the 1939-45 war.
There is evidence of this in the photo album, as “Harry Davies, Liverpool” gets a whole page to himself:
In 1930, when Mum was six, the family moved to Yorkshire:
A wartime friend of my father had become a Councillor in Leeds and it may have been through him that my father acquired a job as an insurance agent there. He disliked the job and probably considered it beneath him but work was hard to find during the slump. We no longer had a car but my father bought a motorcycle on which to do his rounds. When he had an accident with it he injured an arm and was off work for a time and during that period my mother did all the insurance work which must have been exhausting for her, having to visit people all over the place on foot or by tram, which terminated in Meanwood.
Meanwood, where we lived, was on the outskirts of Leeds, an open area with village green, woods, a hill and farm nearby. My brother and I made good friends there and had much fun, in winter toboganning down Sugarwell Hill and in summer making dens in hawthorn bushes beside the beck (stream) which ran through a meadow below the house. No. 68 Farm Hill was situated half-way up a hill with farm behind. The farmer must have been very tolerant because we often let our pet rabbits, Pip and Bunty, run in the cornfield, resulting in quite a bare patch beside our fence.
My father’s favourite aunt, Aunt Min (Wilhelmina), was by now living in Leeds, in Roundhay, the posh part. Aunt Min was a very jolly person and it was always fun to visit her and family. They always named their houses Stillstead wherever they lived and always had a croquet lawn. My memory is of happy times playing croquet, sing-songs round the piano and much laughter.
Our back garden sloped uphill and as the house was new had never been cultivated. My father dug out part of the hill to make a very attractive flower garden, but was fined for doing so by the Council who owned the property. He should not have removed the earth.
The Dearden family were close friends of my parents. They had lived in Shanghai for some years, knew Pearl Buck the writer, and had many interesting tales to tell about their life in China. They also gave my parents a beautiful Mahjong set, ivory, bamboo, black and gold lacquer, which we played with for years. When eventually my mother sold it, probably from necessity rather than choice, my brother bought a much inferior set but it did not diminish our enjoyment of the game.
I remember playing with that Mahjong set when we were children, so I am very glad it wasn’t made of ivory – though it must have been bone. We spent many happy hours at the game, but I doubt I could remember all the complex rules now. I do remember how I loved the four dragons, though, which fired my imagination much more than most board games did.
When playing in our garden one day Peter Dearden asked me to marry him and I demurred as I still considered myself promised to Harry in Liverpool. Thereupon Peter pushed me to the ground and sat on me, refusing to get off until I promised. So at the age of 8 I had two fiancés.
While we had a car we visited many beautiful parts of Yorkshire, hills, dales and seashore. I remember particularly Ilkley, Knaresborough and Famborough Head and Mother Shipton’s Cave, also places with unusual names such as Who’da Thought It. We were fascinated by Mother Shipton’s prophecies and the many articles which quickly became petrified in the cave.
This photo from one of the “Meanwood” pages has also been printed on a postcard, on the back of which is written “Bramhope, 5-1931”. It looks like a happy family picnic scene, presumably taken by their father on one of these excursions:
When Mum was ten, the family moved again, to London, where she spent the rest of her life. I remember her telling us this story many times, I think her experience contributed to our subsequent family hoarding tendency:
In 1933 we moved to London but before leaving my father made us give away to our friends most of our books and toys, allowing us to keep only two items each. My brother and I were very excited at the prospect of moving to the capital and seeing Big Ben and many other famous buildings. Every winter we had to dig our way out of our house as the snow lay three or four feet thick outside the front door. We arrived in London in March and oh! the disappointment – not a flake of snow to be seen and one of the possessions we would not part with was our toboggan!
I’ve written elsewhere about Mum’s experience of moving to London, so I’ll end this snapshot of Mum’s childhood with her primary school photo, presumably taken before she left Yorkshire. I wonder if any of these children are still living, and where they are now?