Pansy’s story

In the fourth of our grandmother pieces, Margaret’s granny regularly saw Queen Victoria pass her garden gate.

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My mother’s mother, Pansy, was born in October 1895 on the Isle of Wight to a mother whose first language was Welsh and an Irish father. She was the youngest of four, with two older sisters and an older brother.

Her father was a warder at Parkhurst prison and the family seems to have had living quarters nearby. Queen Victoria used to pass by regularly; the doorman (or someone) would warn the women and children in time for them to rush indoors and put on clean pinnies so that they would look well-turned out when Her Majesty arrived.

My grandmother and her sisters were apprenticed as seamstresses as early as possible – my mother’s indentures (if that’s the right term) for Worth the dressmakers cost her father £50.

She married my grandfather, who was then a warder at Parkhurst (an ex-soldier) at the age of 17 and started a family, of five children in all. She made all her own clothes and her daughters’ clothes and later taught dressmaking at evening classes. However, she was notoriously unable to cook!

The family moved around following my grandfather at his various transfers, most recently to Portsmouth. He was a farmer’s son; he had an aptitude for figures and his work included both accountancy and prisoner welfare. Pansy was widowed in 1955 and died in 1979.

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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.

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Hannah F’s story

In the first of our grandmother pieces, Alison’s granny worked in codes and ciphers during WW2, but her involvement has never been officially acknowledged:

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My grandmother Hannah (known as Ciss) was born at the beginning of the twentieth century in Ireland, which was then a British colony. The youngest of four siblings, the family squeezed into a tiny terrace house in Queenstown, now Cobh, the port of the city of Cork. Her father and a brother were employed in shipbuilding, and the family home looked directly over the harbour. When the British passenger ship R.M.S. Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk in the First World War, Ciss watched from the dockside as the bedraggled survivors were brought to shore.

Fast forward five years when the war is over and another ship arrives in port, this time carrying my grandfather Eric (Don) Lambert, a Royal Marine. Don may have been English, but crucially, he was a Catholic. His relationship with Ciss had the full approval of her family as well as the Church. They were married in Cobh in the mid-1920s. Ciss left her homeland and moved to England to the South West where Don’s Royal Marines unit was based.

Their daughter Mary, known as Molly, was born two years later. When she was just a toddler, Don was sent away to sea for a year, leaving Ciss behind to cope on her own. When he was home on leave they made the most of their time together, taking to the road on the family motorbike, Ciss and Molly squeezing into the tiny sidecar. The Lamberts were then posted to Deal in Kent.

In the year that George VI was crowned King, my grandfather reached the end of his Royal Marines commission. His prospects looked bleak at a time of high unemployment. He was recruited for what would turn out to be a life-changing job in South East Asia, first in Hong Kong, then Singapore.

He and then Ciss worked for the Admiralty in a highly secretive job in codes and cyphers, listening in on Japanese naval communications. It was an exacting but monotonous job and involved shift work, including nights. After spending World War Two crisscrossing the oceans with the Eastern Fleet, to Ceylon, East Africa and back to Ceylon, my grandparents returned to their beloved Singapore. What they were doing there remains a mystery but I know that they still both worked for the Admiralty. While my grandfather is on the official veterans register at Bletchley Park and was awarded an OBE, Ciss and wives like her, never had their war work officially acknowledged, as she was employed as local staff.

In the early 1960s, Don was forced to retire and he and Ciss reluctantly returned to live in the UK after more than thirty years in South East Asia. They missed their life and the heat of Singapore. England was grey, wet and miserable. Don died not long after and Ciss was facing life alone as a widow. She was heartbroken. But despite this tragedy, she threw herself into her role of grandparent to we three children with gusto. Because our parents also lived and worked in South East Asia, Nan, as we called her, became our saviour, spoiling us rotten, giving us a much- needed respite from boarding school.

In her 70s, she moved house and country to live with our family in New Zealand. She was delighted to be recognised and greeted by name by the elderly doorman at her hotel when she stopped over in Singapore. Life in her new home wasn’t easy as not long after she arrived her son-in-law died in a family tragedy. Molly and Ciss had each other, but the two of them had opposite personalities and Ciss had always found her daughter to be a handful. Ciss made the best of her situation: she charmed everyone she met and when she died in her 80s, after complications from minor surgery, there were many who mourned her.

The girl from Cobh became one of the few Irish women who was permitted to work for British intelligence. She was a wife, a mother and our beloved grandmother. When we children asked her about what she did in the war, she would put a finger to her lips and say ‘codes and ciphers.’ The work that went on at Bletchley Park was still classified and Ciss was good at keeping secrets. It was only when I started researching my memoir, Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss did I find out the true extent of what this work involved.

When Ireland became an independent country, because of the sensitive nature of her work, Ciss was not permitted to become a dual national. That baton has been passed to her descendants: I have recently become an Irish citizen. I plan to make a trip to Cork to say a silent thank you, and to take the opportunity to reflect upon an ordinary woman who lived through extraordinary times.

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Alison Ripley Cubitt is a multi-genre author.  Connect with her on Twitter @lambertnagle, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alisonripleycubittwriter or visit her website: lambertnagle.com

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.

Gwladys S’s story

Understanding where someone else is coming from in political matters is hard enough at the best of times, but Gwladys’ position – against the background of a militant fight from women to gain the vote at the beginning of the 20th century – is particularly boggling. She was an active anti-suffragist at the point where the WSPU were at their height.

Today, with 100 years of women having the vote behind us, the idea that an educated woman could somehow oppose the idea of enfranchising herself and her sisters beggars belief. However, this is exactly what Gwladys did. Often vociferously.

Her background appears to have been somewhat small-C conservative. She was the second daughter of a congregational minister and his Welsh wife, born in Wales towards the end of the 1870s. The family had enough money to afford a couple of servants, and spent time in South Wales, London and Kent – as Gwladys’ father’s job moved. Both Gwladys and her elder sister were educated at boarding school, while her brothers appear to have gone to school closer to home.

After school Gwladys became a teacher, holding a position at a school for daughters of the clergy in Bristol. The school building no longer stands, but the school still exists.

In the mid-1900s, she married a South African artist who was living in the UK after the death of his father. A son followed, but the couple separated only after a few years together.

In some cases, after separation in an era when divorce was hard and costly to obtain, and carried considerable social stigma, the estranged husband would often maintain his wife. However, this was not the full case for Gwladys. The 1911 census sees her in London, supporting herself and her son with a job – as organising secretary for the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage – and she states on the form that she is estranged from him.

At this point, the National League had recently amalgamated from the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, and its president was Lord Cromer. The 1911 census is the first readily-available document linking Gwladys to the League, but it is possible that she was involved in the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League before this.

However long she had been involved, Gwladys came to more prominence under the leadership of Lord Curzon and Lord Weardale, who took over in early 1912. An educated, articulate woman actively opposing something that others of her sex were prepared to fight and be imprisoned for must have been extremely useful for their cause.

She had been an Anti-Suffragist correspondent to a publication called The World, and is mentioned as such in a letter to that publication by Emily Wilding Davison in 1911. She writes:

“To turn to (Gwladys’) second point, which is ‘that all the reforms women might bring about with the vote they can certainly bring about without it.’ No doubt they can do so, but only by an iniquitous waste of energy and time. Here is an anti who probably believes ardently in woman keeping to woman’s sphere, telling us to choose the longer, the more cumbrous, the more nerve-wearing, the more doubtful, method of working, by means of stirring public opinion (which, of course, can be stirred, but it is often a killing process), instead of using the obviously practical, effective, and easy way of the vote.”

Gwladys would often write into publications at the time, stating the anti-suffrage point of view and refuting anything that pro-suffrage supporters said about her activities that she felt was inaccurate.

In 1912, Gwladys wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, later Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, at least twice. Her letters give a further clue to her reasoning:

“As a typical women householder and rate and tax payer I beg you – a typical man – to take upon your stronger shoulders the burden of responsibility for the safety of the Empire, the Army, Navy, Trade, Shipping, Mining, Railways etc. I am too thankful to pay my taxes in return for your protection, if only you will leave me to look after my home and my child. It is true that I am in the unfortunate position of having to earn a livelihood as well as perform the duties of a mother, but why, why on that account do you want to add still more to my responsibilities and duties?”

The second letter elaborates further:

“The great difficulty in my work has been that people think it is so preposterous to suggest giving women control of Imperial affairs which they do not administer, that there is no danger of “votes for women” becoming law. If woman suffrage is put into the Reform bill the Liberal Government will be wrecked. Are we to lose the Insurance Bill, Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and Land Reform, for the sake of a mere quarter of a million of misguided women who most of them only want to enfranchise the women of property for the sake of the Conservative Party? Are the other 12 ¾ millions of women to be utterly ignored?”

On the back of this growing notoriety, Gwladys embarked on visits to many towns and cities in the UK during 1912-14, setting up and speaking at anti-suffrage meetings. Sometimes she was invited to speak, and at other times she would turn up in a town, advertise a meeting via men with sandwich boards, pitch up in the market place and speak for an hour.

This took place at a time when the suffragette campaign was at its height, and the suffragettes were often targets for her ire, newspaper reports of her speeches indicate.

““We are not asking for votes,” declared the speaker. “we are asking that you will save us from the suffragettes.” Women had their own work, and could not, even those who called themselves sportsmen, afford to take over the risks of men. Women knew nothing of the laws – many suffragettes had never read a single law – and thought they could make them better. Why did they not come forward with some of their ideas on legislation? As to the economic argument, women were not worth as much as men, and so long as men were obliged to support their wives and children they ought to be paid more. Then they said they would bring purity into politics. They had made a good start, hadn’t they? Their methods were the most degrading and debasing the world had ever known. They said they would not take human life – no, because they might get hanged. We were supposed to be a nation of sportsmen, and a sportsman could not hit in the dark, stab in the back, or hit anyone who could not hit back, and the suffragettes did all these things, and what was so disgraceful, they did it in the name of the women of England. The suffrage was a retrogressive movement (Loud applause). The suffragettes were trying to shift the women’s movement on to the wrong lines, just when women were beginning to take their right place. But women were going to advance, and in spite of the suffragettes. They now had the municipal vote, leading them to a useful field. It was so awful to think how the world, whole world was laughing at women. They all knew what was thought of the hen-pecked husband? Then they must not let their glorious nation do down to posterity as the hen-peck nation.”

The Cambridge Independent, March 7 1913

Other arguments she used included that women’s interests would result in too many insignificant and cluttering bills being brought into parliament – like the dangers of flannelette clothing – and that giving women the vote might adversely affect the birth rate at a time when there was a great deal of rhetoric about breeding a strong nation. She felt that women could be more effective in – and improve – society if they were given more control over domestic affairs, and brought up better people by focusing on their children, and that having the vote would distract from this.

The way in which Gwladys appears to argue – from the newspaper reports of her speeches – shows her to be intelligent and articulate, and she states on several occasions that she doesn’t see women’s intelligence to be inferior to men. It is therefore hard, from a modern perspective, to see how she can have arrived at these conclusions about the role of women in society. Her background may have had some bearing on it. So also may have been the fact that her ex-mother-in-law and ex-sister-in-law were prominent suffragettes – the former being jailed for breaking Black Rod’s windows at the Houses of Parliament, and the latter mailing herself to 10 Downing Street – and it is always possible that this, combined with the fact that she was estranged from her husband and former family, added fuel to her fire.

The First World War midway through 1914 brought an effective end to the suffragette campaign, with activists devoting themselves to the fight for the country. As the war went on, women filled many jobs that men off fighting had previously undertaken, and proved that they were perfectly capable of undertaking this work, and public opinion started to change. Many prominent female anti-suffrage speakers drifted away, but Gwladys – perhaps due to economic necessity – stayed loyal and continued to campaign and speak. An article from a suffrage supporter to a publication called The Vote in 1917 makes mention to her still being active in the campaign, at a point where the bill to give women the vote, which came in early February 1918, was being drafted.

With the right to vote in general elections given to certain groups of women – and virtually all men over 21 – in 1918, the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage had lost their impetus and gradually disbanded, taking Gwladys’ job with it. Her son would now have been in his early teens, and still in need of support and care.

She turned to writing educational books – although her 1939 register entry also calls her a public speaker, so it appears that she still addressed meetings – on language teaching to children. Her books included three on early French teaching, one on German, one on Spanish, and one on Esperanto. Some of these remained in publication until at least 1970.

Just before the Second World War, she changed her surname by deed poll. She resigned the married name she had used during her anti-suffrage days – she does not appear to have ever divorced, so this would have been the next best thing – and instead became known by part of her former maiden name. Around the same time, she appears on the electoral registers – so perhaps had mellowed on her previous stance.

Her son fought in the war, and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. In later life Gwladys moved to Cheshire, close to where her son was employed, and also spent some time in some African counties – possibly accompanying her son, who conducted research into tropical medicine. She died in a nursing home in the mid-1960s.

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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.

Caroline B’s story

International traveller, politician’s wife, member of the aristocracy, and divorcee are all fairly important things to have achieved in the later 19th and early 20th century, but to have been all four was the preserve of Caroline.

She spent her childhood travelling between South America and the UK, which sounds fairly exotic now, but in the later part of the 19th century it was the preserve of all but the very monied. She was born to Americans living in Lima, Peru, in the early 1870s. Her father had set up an artificial ice company in Peru which grew to become a thriving brewery and took him back and forth across the Atlantic between South America and the UK. The family (Caroline was the oldest of 11) went with him – one of her brothers was born in the UK, while the rest all had Peru as a birthplace – but while her brothers were educated at British boarding schools Caroline and her sisters remained with the family and received their education closer to home.

As a wealthy white woman at this time in South America, Caroline would have socially mixed with others reckoned to be of equal standing, and it was from this pool of society that she met her husband – a man of British parentage but South American birth, who was also engaged going back and forth across the Atlantic running an importing business. They married in Lima in the mid-1890s, and Caroline became a British citizen by marriage.

Three children followed over the next few years, two born in Chile and one in the UK, and Caroline and the children still supported her husband by travelling back and forth across the Atlantic as his business demanded. As her sons grew, they were sent to British boarding schools like their uncles before them, but Caroline’s daughter remained with her parents.

On her father’s death, at the tail end of the 19th century, Caroline’s mother moved from Peru to London, bringing her younger siblings with her.

Her husband saw service during the First World War, but Caroline still appears to have spent that period travelling back and forth between the UK and South America, even at a point when shipping in the Atlantic could be risky due to U-Boat activity. Her sons also served in the armed forces, while her daughter remained with her parents.

It was as the Great War came to an end that things started to change. Caroline’s husband left his business ambitions behind him, and developed political ambitions. He stood as an independent Liberal candidate – in full support of the Coalition government but without being given a coupon – for a Wiltshire constituency in the 1918 general election. This catapulted Caroline from the wife of a company director to a political wife – which would have involved supporting not only his political views but appearing at various political meetings and rallies in her own right as his wife. The Representation of the People Act 1918 had enfranchised almost all men over the age of 21, and in this era many politicians were drawn from the higher echelons of society. A loyal and supportive wife and family background – as displayed by Caroline and her husband and children – helped politicians draw parallels with themselves in the minds of the electorate.

The Act also gave the vote to women over 30, who were householders or part of a university constituency, and another act just before this election enabled women over 21 to stand as candidates. However, with only 17 women standing over the entire country, most candidates were still traditional politicians, and the candidate’s wife was expected to appeal to the newly enfranchised women by endorsing her husband. Campaigning at this time, with no television or radio, was done through the newspapers and frequent political meetings – where the candidate’s wife would also address the assembled crowd. Caroline would have stood up and made speeches at these meetings to endorse her husband’s candidacy and political views.

Her husband failed to gain the seat in Wiltshire, where he faced the coalition-backed existing Conservative candidate, and by the next election had moved on to a new constituency in Nottinghamshire. The family, who retained a great deal of money from his successful business, had purchased a large stately home, and Caroline became mistress of this. Her home included a library, a billiards room, seven ‘best’ bedrooms, provision for many servants and ornamental gardens. Hunting parties and other pursuits befitting stately homes at this time also became part of her life. This would have befitted her status as the MP’s wife, as her husband won the seat in the 1922 election, only to lose it again in the snap election held in 1923 when Prime Minister Bonar Law fell ill and resigned. She was returned to her status as MP’s wife at the following election in 1924, and retained that role until 1930.

Her husband was also invested as a Baronet in the late 1920s, in addition to being an MP – although by this time he’d switched allegiance to the Conservative Party. Caroline became Lady Caroline.

Financial problems had led to the couple becoming bankrupt, and Caroline had to leave her large house behind as it was sold to pay debts. As a consequence of this, her husband also resigned as an MP in 1930, and Caroline could retire from that public role.

Their marriage started to disintegrate in the 1930s, and by 1938 she had become a divorcee – easier at this point in the century on account of new divorce legislation brought in in the later 1920s, but no less stigma-laden in an era where couples were societally expected to stay together and work through difficulties.

Her ex-husband remarried quickly, but Caroline remained single for the remaining six years of her life. She died just after the end of the Second World War, leaving a considerable amount of money to her eldest son and a solicitor.

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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.

Bessie G’s story

The name “Miss B Gramlich” is given as a co-chair of the West Wiltshire WSPU, alongside Lillian Dove-Willcox (a prominent member known to have relocated to Trowbridge from Bristol) in 1911-12.

This would appear to be Elizabeth Gramlick, one of several daughters of a wealthy family who at that time were living at the now-demolished grand house of Springfield, on Hilperton Road in Trowbridge.

 

Bessie was born in c1881, at least the fifth child of seven from Bethnal Green-born John Thomas Gramlick and his wife Emily Hornsby. Like most of her siblings (she had five sisters and a brother), she was born in Vienna, where her father made a good living as a plumber, putting in water supplies and indoor plumbing for grand palaces. The family were part of a good number of English people – despite their Germanic surname, John Thomas appears to have been English for several generations back – in the Austrian capital, and seem to have played a big part in that society. He is known to have been a founder of the Vienna Cricket and Football Club.

At some point around the turn of the century, Bessie and her family returned to the UK. Her father appears to have retired from running the plumbing business full time, and left his son and oldest child in charge. It’s unknown where they settled at first – the 1901 census has the family holidaying at a boarding house in Brighton – but by 1904 when Bessie’s mother died the family were clearly well settled in Trowbridge society.

The local newspaper report of Emily Gramlick’s funeral reports on many tributes from local people, and floral arrangements from all daughters including “Little Bess” – a pet name for Bessie.

There are sporadic reports of the family in newspapers of the first decade of the 20th century. The Misses Gramlick appear to have played tennis among other society women, and attended grand weddings – Bessie contributed a fancy cushion as a present to one, while her sisters offered a butter knife. There is also a report of Bessie being a fair amateur actress in a production of Red Riding Hood at Staverton School Room in 1906, which involved various of her sisters. Bessie played the Queen of Sylvania, and reportedly acted it in a “graceful and artistic way”.

Bessie’s name appearing as the co-chair of the West Wilts WSPU in 1911-12 is concurrent with her appearance on the 1911 census. On this document she is 30 and has no profession – like all of her sisters. She’s given by her full name Elizabeth. All her sisters are at home, and unmarried.

A reception for women to discuss votes for women was held by the WSPU at Trowbridge Town Hall on 14 March 1911, but while the invitation came from Lillian Dove-Willcox there was no mention of Bessie’s connection to the movement. There is no further connection of the WSPU to Bessie Gramlick in the newspapers at the time.

Instead, the next record available shows that she volunteered for the Voluntary Red Cross at Trowbridge in February 1916. She worked six hours per week at the Wilts War Hospital Supply Depot, as a member of the BRCS, and was retained until 1919. She was awarded a VW badge for this.

In 1921 it appears both Bessie and her sister Mary married, probably at the same time. Bessie Gramlick became Bessie LeCount as she married Charles J Lecount in West Ham. She would have been 40 years old when this marriage took place, and probably regarded as a confirmed spinster by the society circles she moved in.

However, her father’s will, enacted around six months after her wedding took place, refers to both Bessie and Mary as spinsters. Their married status probably hadn’t had a chance to be updated by the time he died in early 1922. Bessie, Mary and another spinster sister Emily inherited nearly £6,000 and were still given as living at Springfield in Trowbridge.

Bessie and Charles appear to have a son – Charles – in 1922, when she was around 40, and a daughter – Peggy – in 1929 when she was around 48, and lived in West Ham. Her unmarried sister Emily appears to have kept up the family home at Springfield, but used her inheritance to travel – the late 20s and early 30s have her going back and forth between the UK, Italy and Indonesia – while Bessie stayed in Essex with her husband and children.

Bessie Lecount died in 1955 at the age of 73, in Essex. Family trees online give Bessie’s death, unmarried, as 1951 in Trowbridge. However, there is no record that backs up this account.

Mother of 11’s story

This is a letter from an anonymous woman from 1914, a member of the Co-operative Guild, writing to Margaret Llewelyn Davies on her experiences of working motherhood. It was published in the book “Maternity” in 1915.


“Twenty years of Child-bearing

I shall be very pleased if this letter will be any help to you. Personally I am quite in sympathy with the new Maternity Scheme. I do feel I cannot express my feelings enough by letter to say what a great help it would have been to me, for no-one but a mother knows the struggle and hardships we working women have to go through. I do hope I shall never see the young women of today have to go through what I did. I am a mother of eleven children – six girls and five boys. I was only nineteen years old when my first baby was born. My husband was one of the best and a good father. His earnings was £1 a week; every penny was given to me, and after paying house rent, firing, and light and clubs, that left me 11s to keep the house going on; and as my little ones began to come, they wanted providing for and saving up to pay a nurse, and instead of getting nourishment for myself which we need at those times, I was obliged to go without. So I had no strength to stand against it, and instead of being able to rest in bed afterwards, I was glad to get up and get about again before I was able, because I could not afford to pay a woman to look after me. I kept on like that till the sixth little one was expected, and then l had all the other little ones to see after. The oldest one was only ten years old, so you see they all wanted a mother’s care. About two months before my confinement the two youngest fell ill with measles, so I was obliged to nurse them, and the strain on my nerves brought on brain-fever. All that the doctor could do for me was to place ice-bags on my head. Oh, the misery I endured! My poor old mother did what she could for me and she was seventy years old, and I could not afford to pay a woman to see after my home and little ones; but the Lord spared me to get over my trouble, but I was ill for weeks and was obliged to work before I was able. Then in another 18 months I was expecting another. After that confinement, being so weak, I took a chill, and was laid up for six months and neighbours came in and done what they could for me. Then there was my home and little ones and husband to look after, as he was obliged to work. It was the worry that kept me from getting better; if I could have had someone to look after me I would not have been so ill. After this I had a miscarriage and another babe in one year and four months. I got on fairly well with the next one, and the next one, which was the eighth, I had two down with measles, one two years old with his collar bone out, and a little girl thirteen with her arm broke. That was at the same time as I was expecting my eighth little one, and my dear husband worried out of life, as you see with all this trouble I was only having the £1 a week and everything to get out of it. What a blessing it would have been if this Maternity Scheme was in go then! I would have saved me a lot of illness and worry, for my life was a complete misery. For twenty years I was nursing or expecting babies. No doubt there are others fixed in the same way I have been. This is only a short account of how I suffered. I could fill sheets of paper with what I have gone through at confinements and before, and there are others, no doubt, have felt the pinch as well as myself. If there is anything else you would like to know and I could tell you, I should be glad, for the benefit of my sisters.

Wages 17s to 25s.; eleven children, two miscarriages.”


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.

Jane T’s story

Jane T was a coal miner’s daughter, Yorkshire born and bred, too jolly to be formidable but still she was no shrinking violet – she could hold her own against opposition. She used her talents for cooking, baking, home-making and even a little animal husbandry to benefit her close and wider family and the community in which she lived. Business-minded (her sisters were all shopkeepers of sorts) she also used her talents to make money, taking in a variety of lodgers to her gas board-owned home.

Jane T was born in the early 1880s in Featherstone, Yorkshire to Sam and Hannah. There were three older sisters, Harriet, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Clementine (Clemmie) and a younger brother called Seth, who died in WW1. Jane’s nephew Wilf was also brought up as if he was a younger sibling to Jane (although really her nephew). Although Jane moved to Derbyshire (a good train journey away) she kept close to her sisters and their offspring, especially those of Clemmie who died while her children were still young. she also had occasional visits from Seth’s widow and nephew Wilf and family.

Details about Jane’s childhood are elusive, except that her mother was a strict Methodist and wouldn’t let her go to the fair (or feast as they probably called it), so her boyfriend James Walker, brought a ladder to her bedroom window and she escaped through it and went to the fair – reader, she married him, it was a good marriage.

Jane and James married at the turn of the 20th century when Jane was 19. On the 1901 census the couple were living in Purston Jaglin (near Featherstone). The following year their daughter Hannah was born and two years later, the family moved to Clowne, Derbyshire. Jim had been promoted there by the gas board and Jane remained there and made friends. In 1905 Jane and Jim had another baby, this time a son called James (Jimmy) but sadly he died in 1912 in a flu epidemic. The next day, Jane gave birth to her third and last child, another boy, called Leslie – a time of grief and joy.

It’s unclear if Jane worked before she married, but she was probably in service and it seems likely this is where she picked up her interest and knowledge of food. A friend once commented that Jane’s custard was particularly lovely and rich, “have you put in two eggs or three?” – she had put six eggs in.

After marrying she made extra money by taking in lodgers and the census in 1911 shows a Robert Smith boarding with them; a regular short-term lodger was a Jewish man called Lewis Lichtenstein, he was a jewellery salesman, he sold the family a few items over the years as well as restoring some tarnished goods. Jane would sometimes cook fish for breakfast and we wonder if she picked up this idea from him.

After first moving to Derbyshire the family lived in a house owned by the gas board near the station. The family next door had a large family and were very poor. Jane would give them her children’s outgrown clothes. One day, on the way home from school, daughter Hannah saw her old dress in the pawn shop window. Horrified she went home and told Jane about it, who immediately went to the shop and redeemed it with her own money rather than let Hannah bear the indignity of being seen to have her clothes pawned!

Jane had her eye on a larger gas board-owned house and after some pushing the family moved there. She made the most of its capabilities, continuing to take on lodgers and to feed and entertain her family and friends. The house had a nice garden, but Jane also kept chickens in the next-door field and from time to time, a pig, which she would fatten up for slaughter. Jane abandoned keeping chickens when she no longer had access to the field for them to run around in (obviously an early free-range advocate).

Though Jane spent a lot of time in the kitchen her legs gave her a lot of pain, so she would often prepare the meals (peel potatoes etc) sitting down. She would also usually eat alone in the “living kitchen”, while the rest of the family would sit round the table in the dining room. When her sister Clemmie’s grandson Geoff came to visit she would have him sit with her in the kitchen and she would let him eat whatever he fancied and nothing he didn’t. She tended to take a child’s side over an adult’s, “leave the poor kid alone” being her general philosophy. She rescued her niece from being locked in the cellar and from having to wear a bonnet she didn’t like.

Jane wouldn’t be bossed about by people, when her granddaughter Joan was in service and wasn’t given leave to attend a family wedding Jane told her to attend the wedding anyway (so Joan lost her job). When daughter Hannah had been in labour for hours, she told the doctor in no uncertain terms “that poor lass has had enough pain to bring an elephant into the world, put her out!” (he did), and the baby weighed 12 lbs. Jane was doted on by this large baby, her grandson Ron, who used to try and sit on her knee when he was about 15 and would slide off her sloping lap on to the floor.

She wasn’t an early riser and when her daughter got up for school as a small child Jane would shout downstairs “give that babby an egg”, (the babby never wanted one). She made custard with six eggs and trifle with “bottoms”* in it, and she sharpened her own knives!

Grandma Walker

Despite her strict Methodist upbringing, Jane never went to church but would happily bake for chapel events if the occasion demanded, a tray of jam tarts or something similar. She would sing Old Time Music Hall songs to her granddaughter Mollie in bed. “The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo”, and others of a similar vein. It is unclear how she ever learnt the words.

Jane was house proud and hardworking, she didn’t see the value of education over earning a living and encouraged her granddaughter to go into service. But she wasn’t averse to employing help or to spending money where needed. She employed a woman to help with the washing each week and another woman would decorate a room each year in slightly garish wallpaper (chosen by Jane). The woman who delivered the milk would come in and play the piano from time to time (unpaid). Jane’s corsets were specially made by Mrs “corsetière” Rogers, she was well upholstered for special occasions. So, Jane single-handedly lined the purses of several local women, helping their families in the process. She had a “gang” of friends who would come around for supper.

When a mole on her leg became cancerous, Jane was sent to hospital in Sheffield. It was wartime and during her stay the hospital was bombed and she was sent back home with the dirt, from the rubble, still on her face. The cancer spread and Jane was confined to bed, she tried to knit but had to call on granddaughter Joan to unravel her mistakes.

Jane never returned to hospital and died in bed at home, close to the family she loved and who loved her in return, husband Jim close by to the end. She was visited daily by the doctor who would come and dress her wound, letting himself in by the back door if nobody was around. She died when the cancer reached her liver. She was 59 years old.

* sherry

Story submitted by Johanna Heath (https://fancyweaver.wordpress.com/)

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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.