In the second of our grandmother pieces, Jackie’s granny was a gamekeeper’s daughter:
My paternal grandmother, Dorothy, was a powerful influence in my, and my sisters, lives.
I spent almost all of my life, before marriage, living with my grandmother, as we moved in with my grandparents for a while when my grandfather suffered a stroke and then my grandmother, some years later, moved in with us after my grandfather died. She lived with us for the rest of her life.
What a blessing! My three sisters and myself treasured every minute with her and even though her great grandchildren don’t all remember her they know her because of our shared memories.
She was the family historian and through her stories of childhood and her collection of family memorabilia my father, and then myself, developed a powerful regard for our past.
Dorothy Annie Winifred Kingman (Dolly) was born in 1903 in Dorset into a family of three older boys and her parents, William Harry and Georgina Fanny Kingman and when she was four the family moved to Wiltshire where her father was gamekeeper at Wraxall Park, North Wraxall, part of Lord Methuen’s (Corsham) estate.
As the only girl in the family and daughter to another strong woman, Georgina Fanny, Dolly was guaranteed to become a resilient female. My grandmother used to tell the story of how her mother had been out walking and saw what she thought was a dead rat. She poked it and it revived, running up her long skirt! My grandmother promptly grabbed the rat through her skirt preventing it running any further and continued to walk home where she promptly asked for help in removing it! That is a strong woman!
My grandmother’s oldest brothers were 15 and 13 years older than her and when she was 11 they both went off to fight in WWI, surely a frightening thing to a young girl. Living out in the woods, on a country estate with her brothers they were free to roam and concocted all sorts of high-jinks, especially with the youngest brother who was only three years older than her. She used to tell how she & her youngest brother would rattle the sugar bowl, in order to stop their mother, who was an avid reader, reading. Or how, when the hunt riders passed through the estate, their mother would grab them and race after the horses in order to see the colorful spectacle. Being a “country girl” never left my grandmother, and I have great memories of walking with her in the countryside around Slaughterford, as she told tales and shared her knowledge of plants and animals.
My great grandfather retired from game-keeping in 1914 and with her parents my grandmother moved, aged 11, to the Castle Inn, Castle Combe where her father became the publican. She didn’t share many stories of that time of her life other than that her father was the public face of the pub but she and her mother worked hard behind the scenes and cared for him when he became too ill to continue. After he died in 1928 my great grandmother and grandmother carried on running the pub for two years, which speaks volumes as to the kind of strength they had between them and the respect in which they were held locally, as it was rare, in that time period, for women to hold the position of publican.
When my grandmother went school at Castle Combe she met a young boy, called Leslie and they eventually married in 1931. She told me that the thing she loved most about my grandfather was his ability to make her laugh, she recalled him being more entertaining than some of the movies they would go to watch in Chippenham! She was a lady who loved to laugh and my memories of her always include laughter.
They lived in Marshfield after they were married and three years later their only child, my dad, Michael, was born. As I write this I am realizing that she was 28 when she married, and 31 when my dad came along…. an older bride and mother in those times.
My grandfather was a clerk and then became mill manager at the paper mill, WJ Dowdings, in Slaughterford, Wilts in 1938 and with that promotion came the opportunity to move from their small home to the rather grand sounding Mill House, my great grandmother joining them in their move and living with them until her death.
My father was four and this house became his childhood home, and also the favorite home of my childhood. Nana was in her element here, an opportunity to once again live in the country, grow her own fruit and vegetables, become part of a small community and give her son the childhood she had lived. My dad, was a sickly child, suffering from pernicious anaemia when small and my grandmother had to endure watching him having painful injections and encourage him to drink Ribena, which he loathed all his life. I suspect this home was full of merriment, as my father also inherited his parent’s humor, and recounted how on one occasion he teased his mother so much that she grabbed the fire poker and jokingly chased him around the house!
During the war my grandmother’s sense of responsibility became more apparent as she and my grandfather opened up their home to evacuees, family and friends who had lost everything during the bombings of Bath and Bristol. One of my father’s cousins who had lived with them for some time, remembered my grandmother as baking amazing cakes and being full of fun. My grandmother had an open heart, she always welcomed people into her home, from the evacuees, the cousins, to the little boy who lived next door to them when my dad was born. He lost his father before the war and his mother had to work so each weekend MP, as he became known, would stay with my grandparents. A paper mill truck picked him up on a Friday & on Sunday my grandmother would walk the 1.5 miles to Ford with him so he could get the bus home. This young boy became a “foster” son to them and a brother, in all but name, to my father, and remained so his entire life.
After Dad married my mother, my grandmother was thrilled to have four granddaughters to spend time with. During my early childhood we also lived in Slaughterford, and when my grandfather suffered a stroke we moved in with them so that my dad could help my grandmother once again care for someone she loved. We did move away as his health improved but loved nothing more than our monthly weekend visits and our long holidays in the summer. For me, time spent with my grandmother was an absolute joy. Usually my sister Rachel and myself would leave my younger sisters behind with our parents, and have the delight of time spent with Nana. She would always spend time with us despite having an invalid husband, whether it was a long walk with the dog and making cups out of acorns to fill with drinks for the fairies that resided in the hollow tree trunk, or allowing us to entertain her with our homemade plays and games involving dressing up. Her enthusiasm when hearing the first cuckoo of spring, as she would call us to come and listen, remains in all our memories. Bedtime stories were always read and laughter was always heard. We were encouraged to explore and wander, much as she had done as a child.
After my grandfather died Nana came to live with us, a traumatic time of her life I am realizing now as an adult. The day my grandfather was buried my grandmother was told she must leave her home of 33 years within two weeks. She packed up her life and moved in to a small family home already bursting at the seams with a dog and four young children. Of course, as a child, I only remember the delight of having this lovely lady living with us but for both my mother and my grandmother it must have been incredibly challenging. She lived with us for the next 24 years, and for her granddaughters it was wonderful! My mother was able to go back to work and we came home to a grandmother who seemed interested in everything, and I mean everything that happened in our school day! She loved to read and was always by our side when we visited the library van, pouring over the books we had chosen with us. Over the years she gamely listened to our music, always listening to the latest purchase or watching us gyrate around the living room in front of Top Of The Pops, trying on our latest shoe purchases and providing a shoulder to cry on when lovelorn teenagers. Often we would “post” little cards we had made under her door, and after my fathers recent death, we were touched when we discovered that both she and he had lovingly kept them. If we were to complain that our parents didn’t understand us she would listen but never take sides.
When I decided to train to be a nurse I saw the pride in her eyes as she told me that it was a career path she would have liked to have followed, and she was ever the enthusiastic listener when I came home and shared vivid stories at the dinner table, accompanied by repulsed groans from everyone else. When I was getting married one of my fondest memories is of Nana and I going outfit shopping together, a day of, no surprise, laughter. As a new wife I treasured the opportunity to have her to visit my home and be able to look after her as she had done to me all those years. I was so pleased to be the one to provide her with her first great grandson, who had some serious medical issues but she was always a quiet strength and loved having us visit. She and I would sit at the dining table for hours, Nana holding Thom, and chat about everything; her family memories, what we’d been reading or watching on TV and support each other in the new life phase each of us found ourselves. Nana loved being a great grandmother and was lucky to be able to meet three of her six great grandchildren.
My sisters and I all count ourselves lucky to have had this strong, sassy, funny, loving woman in our lives. She taught us compassion and kind-heartedness, showed tolerance and humor under pressure and most of all left me with childhood memories of a loving laughing woman.
The Women Who Made Me actively welcomes submissions from anyone who has a story to tell about women from their family. To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.