Pat W’s story

In the ninth of our Grandmother stories, Pat was submitted by Katrina, Claire and Jim.

A talented athlete, Pat lost her mother when she was a baby and was brought up by her cantankerous aunt, but didn’t have it easy.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Martha Ann Washington (known as Pat) was the seventh and final child of William and Martha Ann Washington, born in Cambridgeshire in 1890.

She was the final child because her mother (35), died from puerperal fever after the birth. Pat, christened Martha Ann after her mother, was just 43 days old.

Her father was now in a sad and difficult but not uncommon, position. He was widowed with six children and a tiny baby needing immediate care. Being a farmer he needed to work. His older daughter was 12, old enough to run the house but not to look after a new baby.

Pat was lucky. Her aunt Mary Ann, known as Rebecca, was married with two young children of her own and she agreed to take the little one in. As often happened, no formal arrangement was made. Rebecca had recently lost a baby girl of her own but wasn’t able to feed the baby herself, but her neighbour Ellen Burden was and did.

Ellen had three young children, the youngest a baby that she was still feeding. Conveniently the two families had rooms in the same house but whilst Rebecca’s family had four the larger Burden family only had two. Ellen would surely have found the money she got by being a wet nurse very useful.

Rebecca lived in Plumstead, London, 80 miles away from Littleport where Pat was born.  Family stories say Pat was taken there by cart but this seems a bit unlikely. Trains had been running there since 1847 so this was more probable. But whichever way it would have been an uncomfortable journey and feeding the baby would have been a problem.  Spoon feeding or bread dipped in milk was common but difficult to do successfully and even harder on a long journey. Pat was tough, she survived.

Whilst it is romantic to think that Rebecca was only too pleased to take in the baby girl as she had lost her own, it seems that the truth of the matter may have been a bit different. Pat’s childhood was a little difficult and whilst she was not unkindly treated it is clear that she was treated differently to Rebecca’s two natural sons. This may have been down to gender, resentment or simply a clash of character.

But Rebecca didn’t have an easy life either. In August 1891 she gave birth to Winifred meaning that she was pregnant again when Pat was 8 months old. I hope she didn’t suffer from morning sickness!

Rebecca was now caring for two youngsters, 18-month-old baby Pat and the new baby Winifred. Her husband was working as a steel foundry labourer, a hard job but not excessively well paid. Pat’s brother George, a railway engine stoker, was also living with them. I imagine his contribution to the family pot would have been very useful but it would also mean more work for Rebecca.

Sadly at the end of 1891 baby Winifred, just 3 months old died from internal catarrh and canker, often caused by a weak immune system and poor nutrition. Family stories suggest that Rebecca blamed this loss on Pat, feeling she didn’t have enough time and possibly energy, to look after her own daughter as well as she would have liked because she had Pat to care for.

Martha Whiting Group c1900 Greyscale 1200dpi

When Pat was 18 months old her father William, married again and had three more children. Pat didn’t rejoin the family. In fact, it wasn’t until she was about 11 that her sister Flora (known as Florrie) visited and explained to her that she wasn’t Rebecca’s daughter. Florrie later became Mayor of West Ham for the Labour party and eventually had a block of flats named after her.

Martha Ann Washington c1903

Their father visited sometime later and it was during his visit that she learned that her birthday was the 27th March and not 31st which is what she had been told. This must have been a very confusing time for her and she must have wondered if there were going to be any more revelations.

Pat went to Burridge Grove School for girls. She didn’t miss school often and had good attendance medals to prove it. She also became a skilled swimmer and diver (women’s diving was in its infancy at the time) and won medals for gymnastics. More unusually she joined a local fencing club which at the time had a male fencing master. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about this, just a photograph to prove it. For someone so active and talented it must have been difficult to have to give up sport when it was discovered that she had a heart murmur.

Martha Whiting Bottom Right Fencing c1907 1200dpi

When she left school she became apprenticed to a tailor but hated it so she went to work for Cliner & Co, an electrical company, as a machine magnet winder. She proved to be no walk over there and whilst the Foreman used to swear a lot she would on occasions swear back.

Washington Family Group c1910-001

It was in 1914 when romance entered her life. She met her future husband at a Good Templars Club (a temperance club). Retrospectively this is quite amusing as in later life she became very fond of the odd glass or two of sherry! Pat, the story goes, was asked to sing but part way through forgot the words. A young man in uniform stepped to her rescue and the rest is history.

She and James Whiting courted for a year and were married in June 1915 in Catford, London. Pat wore a new blue costume with a pink feather in the hat. There was no honeymoon as James was in the army and had only four days leave.

The War Illustrated - J G E P Whiting

There was obviously some tension around the wedding. Catford was where James’ family lived and they were both staying with his parents before the ceremony. Pat’s cousin Henry, who she grew up with, was one of the witnesses but Rebecca didn’t attend the wedding at all but stayed at home and went to a funeral instead. When Pat and James got back home, Rebecca, for some reason declared that they weren’t really married. It was a mixed faith marriage so maybe Rebecca was unhappy about that. But whatever the reason it was not the best of starts. There is no doubt that both were strong-minded forthright women.

James returned to fight and Pat stayed with Rebecca. A while later Aunt Nance, James’ sister, brought the news that James had been injured and was in hospital at Richmond. He received a head injury during the war which he never fully recovered from. He was mending telegraph wires in France when the Germans broke through the line by shelling. Whilst sheltering by the corner of a building he was hit on the head by a piece of iron guttering. He carried on without going for medical attention and without sleep and was later awarded the DCM.

But afterwards he suffered from very severe headaches and quite violent mood swings which made him quite difficult to live with at times. Her daughter Kit had quite distinct memories of having to tiptoe round the house to avoid making any noise that might disturb him when his head was bad.

Things with Rebecca didn’t go well. Kit recalled: “Rebecca gave Mum (Pat) such a bad time that an old neighbour got her rooms in Raglan Road.”  This is where Pat’s first two children were born. It is one of the rare occasions that the family unit lived alone together. They moved from these rooms to Norland Street in Lambeth.

After the war the couple lived in a flat in Camberwell. Times were hard and they had to pawn a signet ring and an engagement ring to pay a gas bill.

In 1922 Rebecca’s husband Henry died. Rebecca, never an easy woman, in later life became cantankerous.

At first she was cared for by her daughter in law, Ethel, the wife of Harry (born Henry), Rebecca’s eldest son. Ethel found the old lady too difficult and it was deemed best (by whom we don’t know) for Pat and her family to move back to Plumstead to look after Rebecca instead. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Harry suggested that Pat and her family should pay rent for the privilege!!

They lived together for the next eight years. Pat received little or no help from Rebecca’s natural children and apparently little thanks from Rebecca as she was after all only doing her duty. Pat’s final two children, Catherine (called Kit) and Kenneth were born here.

So, Pat had her hands full. An ill husband, four young children and an irascible foster mother. Rebecca in her later years was incontinent, bed ridden and demanding. Pat’s life would not have been easy.

When Rebecca died in 1930 she left an estate to the value of £685.11s.3d. It is said that she kept a sock of sovereigns under her mattress, but no one admitted to finding it! The Maxey Road house and furniture, which for the last eight years had been Pat’s home, was left to her sons. She did however bequeath £60 to Pat.

Pat used £5 of this as a deposit on a house in Greenford, which cost £600. So began a calmer and more stable period in her life until the Second World War. In Greenford they could hear buzz bombs coming and as a precaution Pat would pin heavy curtains under the sills which would be full of glass some mornings as the window had blown in.

Aunt Pat's house

In September 1940 pinning the curtains was not enough. The house was bombed, while she was out paying the gas bill. No one was hurt, and even the cat survived, but most of the family possessions were lost. They slept at first in the boiler room at the Catholic Church then spent some time with Honor Blackman’s family. Later they shared a large rented house with most of the family and Aunt Nance to boot. Four women using one kitchen!

The Greenford house was rebuilt in 1948/9 and the large family cluster moved back in!

Gradually the children moved out until 1954 only Kit and her husband Peter and Aunt Nance were left.

James devised a grand plan that the older members of the family should club together and buy a ‘retirement house’. A bungalow in Prittlewell was bought and Kit & Peter were ‘encouraged’ to find somewhere of their own!

James died December 1956 and two years later Pat had a stroke. She went to live in Orpington with Kit and her family. Time for someone to look after her.

She recovered well and lived for another 30 years. She remained button bright and sparky throughout these years and continued to know her own mind.

She died in November 1989 in Norwich aged 99 and was buried in Southend with her husband James and Aunt Nance.

A confident, caring and highly independent woman. She remembered waving a flag at Queen Victoria’s carriage on her Diamond Jubilee and described the Queen as a little, fat lady! She lived through three major wars and had clear memories of watching the troops marching out of Woolwich Barracks on their way to the (second) Boer War.

She brought up four children, nursed her husband and foster mother, survived the house being bombed and recovered from a stroke. A redoubtable lady indeed.

Cousin Pat

Helen T’s story

A food technician is a job that most people would associate more with the 1970s and various lurid additives and e-numbers, rather than the 1920s and the “household arts”, but that is perhaps the best way to describe the work of Helen T.

For many years Helen lectured in the Department of Household Arts at Kings College For Women – now just Kings College, in London – and experimented with the science of particular ingredients and nutrition, with a view to improving advice given to school girls and therefore influencing the nation into better health. Since cooking and food had long been regarded as “women’s work”, this was an area where the growing number of female scientists were starting to make their mark at the time – although it is unlikely that Helen regarded herself as a scientist but more of an experimenter.

She was Scottish by birth, having been born into a landed family at the tail end of the 1890s. Her father – English by birth but Scottish by family – owned a large farm in the Scottish borders where he bred Leicester sheep and exhibited horses, and her mother appears to have done her fair share of work on the farm too. However, by the time Helen was two the flock of sheep had been sold, and the farm was let to a man from Edinburgh. Her father went to fight in the Boer War, leaving Helen and her mother living on the farm. Her mother called herself the head dairymaid, indicating that she was in charge of this operation, but clearly did not own the property herself. There were also two servants living with Helen and her mother, but possibly not working for them and rather perhaps for the farmer himself.

Helen and her mother then disappear from the British records for quite some considerable time. The best guess is that after the Boer War her father settled abroad somewhere and they went to join him, as later records do not appear to indicate a parental split. This may well have been in southern Africa, as there were many farming opportunities and perceived fortunes to be made across the former British colonies, but there is no indication of exactly where.

It is known that Helen travelled though, as there is a shipping record of her coming back to the UK from Gibraltar when she was in her mid-20s, and she must have studied in Paris at some point as she gained a diploma in cookery from the Cordon Bleu school based there. Her mother took up residence in Glasgow, it appears, when back in this country, and her father’s brother was quite prominent in life in County Durham, but Helen based herself in London.

She became a lecturer in the Household and Social Science Department at Kings College for Women in 1924. At this point the school was attached to that institution, but it became an independent entity in 1928 called King’s College of Household and Social Science. This meant that in 1929 the school was part of the University of London in the Faculty of Science. They also offered short courses in Institutional and Household Management, and a science course for nurses to enable them to gain a position of Sister Tutor.

Kings College 1938

The staff of King’s College in 1938. Helen is almost certainly included, somewhere.

Girls had been taught household skills at schools for many years – they were seen as an important part of the elementary school curriculum, undertaken by older pupils, either to prepare the young woman for running her own household when she married or for a skills base to enable them to take a placement as a domestic servant. Girls learnt cookery, how to stretch a household budget, sewing and textile crafts, laundry management and skills, and how to clean various different items. The advent of technology has meant that today these skills can be accomplished quickly and easily, but back then these jobs were often manual labour – cleaning silver cutlery, washing with a copper and a mangle, cooking on a range, and so on.

The Kings College of Household and Social Science took these tasks further, pushing the boundaries to find new ways of providing good nutrition, efficiencies in laundry tasks, science of food preservation, and many other ground-breaking ideas. Helen was involved in this end of the academic research, teaching the students and helping them to develop their own ideas.

Food was undoubtedly her speciality, both as an academic exploring nutrition and a cook working in the teaching kitchen. She also broadcast on her subjects as part of her job. A 1927 festive programme on BBC radio records that she was offering advice on how to “provide a party of children with a spread that will satisfy their keen sense of what is due at Christmas-time, without making them ill.” The accompanying blurb says that at this time she was an examiner in sick room cookery at Middlesex Hospital – nutritionists played an important part in helping the sick get well – and that she was presently engaged in working at the Low Temperature Research Station at Cambridge. Cooking at lower temperatures would have meant using less fuel, which would have helped household budgets – therefore Helen’s research would have directly impacted on women’s daily lives.

Cookery students at Kings in the 1930s

She worked closely with Miss Jessie Lindsay, who was head of the Household Arts department, and later became the only woman member of the Advisory Committee on Nutrition for the Ministry of Health. Jessie was also an examiner in sick room cookery, and an expert in dietetics. Together they collaborated on two books. The first, What Every Cook Should Know, appeared in 1932. Rather than being a recipe book, it instead looks at the underlying basic principles of preparing food – handling yeast, how different parts of an animal have different cell structures so behave in disparate ways when heat is applied, commonly observed faults in recipes, and so on. In this sense, the work is far more about the science rather than the art of cookery, and thus goes way beyond the usually assumed remit of housewifery and domestic arts.

Their second book, Modern Cookery for Schools, was published in 1934, and instructed teachers on how best to instruct their students in meal preparation and planning. This was considered a definitive work in the teaching of domestic science, and was a popular tome for many years after publication.

Miss_Jessie_Lindsay,_Head_of_Household_Arts,_1924-1948_(Ref__Q_PH4_7)

Jessie Lindsay, Helen’s co-author and colleague

As for her personal life, Helen never married. She lived with a woman, Margaret, at addresses both in London and a village on the borders of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Margaret worked as an arts auctioneer. There is no indication whether that this was a romantic relationship, and if it was it would have flown mostly under the radar, but it is equally possible that this was a close friendship. There was a marriage bar on female teachers in schools until 1944, and although it depended on the institution whether this applied to female lecturers it often meant that these guidelines were socially followed, and Margaret may have been a close companion rather than a lover. Her mother spent some time in Glasgow, and some time with her sister in Kent, meaning that she was close if Helen needed her. There was also a third member of their village household, an arts master named William, who may have had some connection to either Margaret’s work, or taught at a London university himself alongside Helen.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Helen was still working at Kings College, but referred to herself as a journalist as well as a lecturer, so may well have been contributing to various publications. Kings College and its students was evacuated from London, first going to Cardiff – where Jessie Lindsay can be found on the 1939 register – and then subsequently to Leicester.

Helen did not go with the college, however. She resigned her position to take a role in the newly re-established Ministry of Food, under its first director W S Morrison and then under the more famous Lord Woolton. Using her expertise on nutrition and household economics, she organised a nationwide propaganda campaign on food advice aimed at housewives, and gained a promotion to Head of the Food Advice Division. Much of this advice probably found itself into war-time food leaflets, although these did not bear Helen’s name.

In this new role, amid the introduction of rationing in January 1940, Helen flourished, from all accounts.

It was her personal qualities which gave to her work so great a measure of inspiration,” recalled former colleague Howard Marshall. “She saw in the Food Advice movement an opportunity for service to the community. She realised that the guidance she was able to give to housewives through her Food Advice centres would result in better standards of living.

Her mother died in Kent, in the first year of the war, leaving her effects to Helen. Her father appears to have been dead for quite a while before this, but there is no British record for what happened to him.

However, this job – though it appeared to be a great fit for Helen’s skills and personality – did not last long enough. She died suddenly at her village home in 1942, aged only 44, shocking the staff of the Ministry of Food.

“She was passionately sincere and entirely selfless in her approach to the problems created by war-time conditions,” said Howard Marshall, in letters. “Her humour, her enthusiasm, her wide humanity, and her energy will be sadly missed by all those who were privileged to work with her…. She was, I believe, too modest ever to have known how important her contribution was or how much it was appreciated… I feel as if a light had gone out… The best tribute we can pay to her memory is to continue the service to the community which is represented by Food Advice with our utmost energy.”

Her funeral was quietly held in the village, and her effects were handled by Margaret and a Scottish Writer to the Signet. There was a considerable amount of money that she had accumulated during her life.

Her former colleague Jessie Lindsay resigned her post from Kings College in 1948, though her books continued to be published for many years. She lived to be 100. Margaret lived on in their house until the mid-1970s, dying in her 80s.

Florence B’s story

In the eighth of our Grandmother stories, Florence was submitted by Claire.

Florence had to battle a selfish husband, a protective mother-in-law, and the divorce courts to achieve the life she wanted.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

My granny Florence was born in Wigan in the 1920s. Her father was an undertaker and funeral director, and a taxi driver, which meant he wasn’t working in the cotton mills or other factories, and therefore was better off than most other people who lived around there.

She had an older brother, Herbert, who went into the family business when he grew up, and a sister two years younger called Mary but always known as Molly.

She was 15 and had just left school when World War Two broke out, but I’m not sure what she did during those years. Her mother died when she was 17, and two years later her father remarried. At some point during the war though, she and her sister Molly met two brothers – James and Gordon – through Wigan Rowing Club, and their friendship developed into romance.

A big society double wedding was planned at Wigan Parish Church in 1944, and crowds of people came out to see Florence marry James and Molly marry Gordon. But apparently the brothers’ parents didn’t come as they thought James was too young to get married.

But while Auntie Molly’s marriage worked really well, my granny’s marriage didn’t. James was very attached to his mother, and didn’t want to let her go – which didn’t please Florence very much. He wanted to be an artist, and his mother encouraged him in that, instead of settling down and earning money like Florence wanted him to. They ended up moving in with James’ parents, and there were lots of rows, and he thought she should serve him and be at his beck and call – like his mother had all his life. His mother always took his side against Florence, and she felt she could never win, even with the man she loved.

She found a shop, with living quarters above, and wanted to go and live there with James and start a hairdressing business. But James refused point blank to go, as he preferred living with his mother. In the end, not one to let grass grow under her feet, Florence left him and went back to live with her father and stepmother.

It’s said that James still considered her his wife though, and even courted her while she was living at her father’s house, but nothing changed around his relationship with his mother, and all that friction, so in the end Florence left Wigan.

She went down to Wiltshire, and met my grandfather – Frank – who was an engineering lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science. He’d previously been married too, and it hadn’t worked out, so they couldn’t marry until both of them had got a divorce. James hadn’t wanted a divorce – it was still very taboo in the late 1940s – so it took a while to happen. In the meantime, Florence used Frank’s surname as her own, and they had two children: Godfrey in 1947, and Roxanne in 1951. Eventually their divorces came through, and they were able to marry in 1953. She went back up to Wigan for this wedding, and her father and stepmother were witnesses. This marriage was considerably happier, and she brought up her children with Frank in the countryside.

In the meantime, James started to become a rather successful – if a bit controversial – artist, and began to exhibit and sell his paintings. Some were given to Florence, and she kept them on the wall of her new home in Wiltshire.

Frank eventually died, and Florence married a third time – to Geoffrey in the early 1980s. Her sister’s marriage to Gordon continued to be successful, and she was instrumental in James’ art career, keeping her sister in touch with her earlier life.

Florence eventually died in 2014. James’s paintings were still on the wall.

Ida H’s story

A campaigner and activist for women’s education, and later a playwright and author, Ida H’s roots were very much in her beloved Wiltshire.

Born in the mid-1880s, she grew up in a village in the middle of the county, just outside Devizes, as one of seven children (including a set of twins) of the village vicar and his rather-unconventional wife. The fact that she was a vicar’s daughter means that her exact time of birth is recorded alongside her baptism. She later recounted tales of her not-particularly straight-laced Victorian childhood in a memoir. One of these involved the whole tribe of her siblings regularly running about the village bare-footed and exacting the ridicule of some passing gypsies. The gypsies’ reaction incensed their nurse so much that she insisted all the children return home and put on their Sunday best stockings and shoes, to be paraded in front of the travelling folk. However, when the children returned the gypsies had retreated to their tents for the night and the nurse’s efforts were in vain.

Her mother was a writer, and appeared to have not too much care for the strict conventions of the day, leaving Ida and her siblings to roam the area as a gang – swimming in the canal, climbing the church roof, and wandering all over the local Wiltshire downlands. Ida and one of her younger sisters even went on a riding tour alone for three days, spending one night sleeping in a barn. Their household appears comfortable, with a whole complement of domestic staff to help the family, which would mean her mother had more time to write instead of child-rearing.

She was also a keen archer, taking part in mixed doubles matches for the Wiltshire Society of Archers when she was around 20.

When Ida was in her early 20s and still living at home, her father’s position moved to another village in Wiltshire, closer to Swindon. It was here that she became involved in the work of the Workers’ Educational Association, which was initially set up in London in the early 1900s but had enthusiastically been taken up in Swindon by local politician and county councillor Reuben George. The organisation worked to further education and bring new skills to the whole population, with focus on the working class, as part of a drive at this time to improve and progress society.

Ida, in the face of considerable opposition from the locals, set up the first village branch of the WEA in her home village. This endeavour was supported by Reuben George. This was a step towards her lifelong drive towards social reform, and was followed by another – a move to London to undertake social work. Indeed, on the 1911 census she was in London, lodging with a female tutor in sociology and called herself a social worker – a fairly unusual choice of a career for a woman of her background. At home her branch of the WEA flourished, and she was appointed just the second WEA women’s officer in 1912, at the age of 27.

This put her in a position of improving the lives of women when the women’s suffrage campaign was at its height. In 1913 she wrote:

“If the WEA is to gain any substantial victory in its campaign against ignorance and injustice, men and women must be fighting side by side. Their cause, their interests are inseparably bound together. Neither party can march by itself without endangering both its own safety, and that of the party it has left, and if one ceases to make progress, the other is held back too; so, of all the special efforts the WEA has to make today, perhaps none is more important than the special effort it is making on behalf of women.”

This job took her to speak about women’s education at meetings and gatherings all over the country, and it was at one position – in Oxfordshire about three years later – that she met and fell in love with the community doctor. As married women did not have jobs, she resigned her post with the WEA and did not even acknowledge her working life on her wedding certificate, when they married in the middle of the First World War.

As a doctor, her husband was in a reserved occupation and therefore excused conscription – so did not go to war. Ida gave birth to two sons in quick succession in the years that followed, and settled into life as a doctor’s wife in Oxfordshire.

It was as part of this life that Ida, who had been a compulsive writer since childhood, began to write in earnest. As her children grew, she started as a playwright in the 1920s, penning several works for children before working on dramas and comedies for adult groups. At the tail end of the 1920s she gave birth to her third child – a daughter – nearly ten years after her second son. She continued to write plays, sometimes directing them or producing them with amateur and semi-professional companies, and several were broadcast by the BBC on the home service in the early days of radio. One, a comedy called Lardy Cake, referred to a popular Wiltshire baked product, and others made reference to occurrences in her Wiltshire childhood. She also started writing books, among them an account of her Wiltshire childhood.

The family moved to Shropshire in 1930, where Ida’s plays continued to be written and performed by the village players, and her two sons went to study at university while her daughter went to boarding school. She also wrote and broadcast about Shropshire life, and during World War Two was very active in the local WI. Writing took a bit of a back seat for Ida at this time.

Her husband retired at the end of World War Two, and they moved to Dorset – but Ida was widowed about three years later. She began to travel the world, as her family had spread out and her eldest son was now working as a diplomat and was posted to far flung places.

She moved back to Wiltshire, and settled in Aldbourne, returning to writing. In the early 60s she researched and published a book on the village she grew up in, which was followed by a book detailing holidays with her five spinster aunts in the New Forest. She then wrote a book on Shropshire, and finally an intricately researched history of Aldbourne. She was at the heart of village life until she died in the late 1970s, and was buried in Aldbourne churchyard.

————————————————————————————————

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.

Olive P’s story

In the seventh of our grandmother pieces, Sharon’s granny was adopted, a feminist and served in World War II.

——————————————————————————————————-

My Grandma, Olive was born (as the family story goes) as the result of an affair that her Dad had. Her birth mother had no interest in raising her so my her Dad and his wife adopted her (though there were no official adoption records) when she was six weeks old in 1921.

My Grandma was now the youngest of three girls. Her parents doted on her and raised her as their own, so much so that she didn’t realise that she was adopted until she needed to get her birth cert when she was 18. On finding out she arranged a deed poll and officially changed her name to that of the family who had raised her.
Her father was very much a feminist. He was a staunch Labour supporter. He was a coal miner and very much involved in workers rights.
This attitude also went towards how he raised his three girls. He told them to never let a man support them, to always have their own independence. He pushed education as vital to them.
So, during WWII my grandmother enlisted straight away in the ATS, she served a few roles, she was a nurse for a while in 1940 but one of the things she was most proud of was manning the radar machines for the anti-aircraft guns. She would tell me how her boss didn’t have great eyesight and would tell them to wait until they could see the whites of their eyes before firing.
Anyway, after the war she married my granddad, he was in the Navy and wanted to stay in the Navy but his father was a miner and the mining company owned his house and said that he would be removed unless my granddad came back to work for the company. So he did.
They had five children like steps of stairs and as soon as the baby was old enough to go to school my Grandma went back to college and then began working as a teacher (she was one of the first special needs teachers in Yorkshire).
All the neighbours were belittling my Granddad for letting his wife work. Then came the mining strikes and all of those neighbours and my Granddad lost their jobs but my Grandma could afford to keep her house and help her neighbours too.
When she was in her eighties she lost her sight but that didn’t stop her, she started listening to audio books and taught herself braille.
She was hilarious too, when I brought my then girlfriend (now wife) to meet her for the first time a few years before she died, she said to her “You can be having affairs all over the place, I will keep one eye open and one ear closed, as long as you are happy that’s all that matters”
She passed away in 2013 and she wanted “If I ruled the world” played at her funeral and we played it for her.

————————————————————————————————

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.

Troy’s story

In the sixth of our grandmother pieces, Marina’s Romanian granny was officially a war widow, but the political situation meant she was always waiting for her husband to return.

——————————————————————————————————-

My grandmother Dumitra (known throughout her life by her nickname Troy) was born in 1913 in a small village in the hilly sub-Carpathian region of Romania, in a fertile valley full of orchards. The area is particularly well-known for its plums, with many different varieties, some used to produce the local brandy.
Mamaie Troy (mamaie is an affection term for grandmother in Romanian, rather like Nana in English) was a bit of a tomboy, the youngest in a family of mainly boys. Not only was she a daredevil, riding horses bareback, walking through the forest by herself, but she was also very bright. She only went to school for a few years, her father didn’t have the money or the conviction for education for girls, but she was able to read and write and enjoyed reading throughout her life. This was by no means common for women of her generation who grew up in the countryside. My grandmother on my father’s side, for instance, was illiterate and had to have the letters from my father read out to her by the village priest.
Troy married in the late 1930s, when she was 25-26, quite late for the standards of the time. (Perhaps her tomboyish nature put men off? That, and the lack of dowry.) She married the village shoemaker and had, in quick succession, two sons and a daughter (my mother). The second son died as an infant, but we only know him from a picture, she never talked about him.
Unfortunately, the war came and Romania was originally allied to the Germans. My grandfather got sent to the Russian front in 1940. He did come back at least once, as my mother vaguely remembers him making a pair of red shoes for her when she was about 2, and how proud she was of them. She was the only girl in the village who had shoes at the time.
Then the military dictatorship was replaced and Romania switched allegiance in 1944, but my grandfather never returned. He was officially missing in action, although soldiers who later returned from the war to the village said he had been taken to a Siberian labour camp during the period when the Romanians were fighting the Soviets.
Mamaie Troy waited for him all her life. She didn’t believe he was dead and thought that he might be released one day. Indeed, after Stalin’s death, in the 1950s, some POWs were released, but not him.
Although she was officially a war widow, her husband had died on the ‘wrong front’, and after Romania became Communist in 1947, she was never given any widow’s pension. She tried to keep the farm going single-handedly, with two small children to feed and clothe, but the land was forcibly nationalised and she had to work on the state farms instead.
She was left with just a small patch of land, enough for 3-4 sheep, a pig, chicken, a goat or two and a cow, a tiny orchard and a vegetable patch. She looked after all of these on top of a full day’s work at the state farm, and while looking after the two children.
She spoilt her animals rotten – I remember the pig would follow her everywhere like a dog, even resting at her feet when she was sewing or knitting. Yet she had no qualms whatsoever about slaughtering him for Christmas (traditionally, we have fresh pork for Christmas in Romania).
She had her share of marriage proposals, but she never wanted to bring in a ‘strange man’ into the house, to mistreat her children, potentially. Or so she said. Perhaps she was still hoping for my grandfather to return. Or maybe she’d had enough of men telling her what she could or couldn’t do.
The son (my uncle) was a bit of a troublemaker, so she was constantly having to sort him out, but my mother inherited Troy’s brains and was sent off to secondary school in a neighbouring town. (One good thing about Communism: education was free, and she was given a merit scholarship for her accommodation and food.) But that did mean that Mamaie Troy was left alone from the mid-1950s to tend to her land.
She never complained and never wanted to move to the city, even after my mother went to university, married a diplomat and lived abroad for a while and offered to take her in.
However, she did once visit us in Vienna, where we were living at the time, and struck up friendships with the elderly Austrian caretaker of our block of flats, although neither of them could speak each other’s language. She also learnt a lot about agriculture and vineyards in the area surrounding the Vienna woods – she was always open and curious about other cultures.
I spent many a happy summer at her house with my cousins. She made us work hard – the animals needed to be looked after, we had to bring buckets of water from the well which was 200 metres down the path from the house – but there were still moments when we could go wandering through the forest, eat fruit directly from the trees and read books in the summer breeze.
I distinctly remember reading Anna Karenina up in the cherry tree, stopping every now and then to pick some cherries and coming down with a stained mouth and T shirt. The conditions were primitive – the toilet was in the outhouse, there was no electricity or running water, but Mamaie Troy was very house-proud and was endlessly sweeping and tidying.
Alas, as she grew older, her eyesight started failing (glaucoma) and her limbs stiffening and she was no longer able to keep things clean. It was difficult to convince her to allow us to do a thorough clean though, so we started avoiding eating in her house.
She didn’t want to leave the countryside until she was bedridden. Then she had to move to Bucharest into my parents’ flat and allow herself to be looked after by my mother. It was very hard on them both.
My grandmother couldn’t read anymore, couldn’t even go to the toilet by herself without help, all she could do was lie in bed and listen to the radio. After a while, her hearing got worse as well, so all she wanted to do was talk, but my mother was not able to sit with her all day to listen. Her mind was sharp right until the end and she hated herself being so helpless. She would complain that ‘God had forgotten her on this earth.’
She was always radiant when she saw me, however, and worried about how I was settling in when I went to the UK to study. ‘Isn’t the weather horrible there, my love? Are they treating you well?’
She was the one who consoled my mother when I decided not to return to Romania after completing my studies. ‘She’s got to make her own way in life, she’s not going to hang around for us.’
She was so modern and indomitable in spirit, so ahead of her time. We had a very special bond and I was happy that she lived long enough to know that her great-grandchild was going to be born soon.
Grandmother Troy
Goats bring sticks to the porch.
Her hair harbours leaves.
Brother Pig snouts at the damp patch
beneath the hearth
where she – once more –  spilled the ciorba,
bread chunks softened for three remaining teeth.
She warms her swollen knuckles
against the earthen pot:
all she can hear are the mild-greedy snuffles
of her companion sheep.
Soot caresses the damp wool
of jumpers hung to dry.
Grey hair in its plait, she doesn’t care
if mulberries stain her thumbs or clothes,
fingers in knots, eyes milky clouds,
she no longer mops the muck she cannot see.
Go for a visit: she can still slash her way
through nonsense with a crackle of joints.

————————————————————————————————

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.

Martha B’s story

In the third of our grandmother pieces, Jan’s granny was a victim of World War 2:

——————————————————————————————————-

 

My grandmother died in 1940 after the house she was living in was hit by a bomb that was meant for a location close by. She and my grandfather together with my Mum were sleeping in the same room as they had been decorating my Mum’s room ready for some evacuees who were to stay with them.

My Mum hurt her ankle and my grandfather was cut and bruised but my grandmother had no marks on her. The local GP said she probably died of shock. I have found a photo of their house and it is nearly split in two!

Oh, and she died on her 60th birthday.  I never knew her but I have photos of her and tales from my Mum. Apparently she was a cook and worked in a large house for a well-to-do family.

She had led a life of ups and downs. She was born in Ludlow, Shropshire, got married the first time in Birmingham, and we assumed she was widowed, then she was with a man called George with whom she had a child (Mum’s half brother). George was killed in the Munitions Explosion at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. His name (spelled incorrectly) is on the Memorial.

Then, of course, she married my Grandfather and they had my Mum. On her marriage certificate she states that she is a widow but we are unable to find a wedding for her and George in the GRO records. When my Mum was about six a man appeared wanting to know if my grandmother was dead because he wanted to remarry and didn’t know if he needed to get a divorce or not. So we now know that she left her first husband and went to live with George and when he was killed married my Grandfather even though her first husband was still alive.

This is only one of the juicy stories in my family history.

————————————————————————————————

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.

Dorothy K’s story

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.

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:

——————————————————————————————————-

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.

————————————————————————————————

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.

Marion Young’s story

Marion was at the forefront of new art teaching in elementary schools in the 1930s, but her contribution has been eclipsed by that of her rather better-known colleague Robin Tanner, and her part in this teaching epoch has been buried – possibly as her medium, needlework, was not considered worthy of a traditional art focus either then or now, and instead is often viewed merely as a woman’s practical skill.

She was born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, in the summer of 1902 – the fourth child and second daughter of an insurance agent and his wife. The family were almost certainly non-conformists in religion – Marion’s older sister was baptised in a Methodist church, and Marion herself was later reprimanded for teaching scripture lessons from the perspective of a non-CofE denomination. After moving when she was small, she was brought up in Chippenham, a well-connected Wiltshire market town, and would probably have been initially educated at St Paul’s elementary school, just across the road from her family’s home.

In her teens she decided to train as a teacher, and went to Salisbury Teacher Training College, an institution that trained women teachers for National Schools. Here she would have been given two years’ training to instruct children in English, history, geography, music, needlework, arithmetic, drawing, domestic economy and scripture – all subjects that were felt essential for children’s basic education at the beginning of the 1920s.

teacher training salisbury

It’s likely that her first job post-training was at Melksham Boy’s National School, in a town about six miles away from home, but the log book of this institution for that period is not available. In September 1923, the boys’ school amalgamated with the girls’ school, and Marion is on the staff of this new school – the head teacher’s comments about her in the school log book perhaps indicate a longer acquaintance, and she is certainly not on the staff of the previous girls’ school, which leads to the assumption that she had taught at the boys’ school.

At this newly amalgamated school, Marion taught Standards I and II and was an assistant mistress. She left her post in the summer of 1924, with no reason given – there is nothing in her personal life that would indicate why she quit. She did not get married, which was the usual reason young women teachers resigned, as a marriage bar prohibited them from working, nor did she transfer to another school. The head writes: “The departure of Miss Young from this school is a matter of deep regret to all. She has rendered extremely loyal service during her period of service at this school.”

Marion returned to the same school a year later, with no remark made upon her return, and taught there until the winter of 1930, when she secured a post at a school back in Chippenham, where she was still living.

This school was Ivy Lane Elementary School, which had Robin Tanner on the staff at that time. Tanner – an etcher and artist whose work was starting to be noticed – had been at the school for about six months, and was beginning to work with the pupils on arts and design, book binding, and painting on enamel. To this portfolio he later added weaving, with the school purchasing its own loom to achieve this. The headteacher, seeing the benefits for his pupils of this creative outlet, encouraged Tanner to include the girls’ decorative work from the needlework classes in this design work – and to this end he worked with Marion as she was the school’s needlework specialist.

Needlework at this time was very much seen as a practical skill, with utilitarian needs, and part of a preparation for girls’ future lives as wives and mothers. Because it was viewed as a woman’s skill, the decorative aspect of needlework was not considered as art in the traditional sense, but the work of Robin and Marion together changed this for pupils at Ivy Lane Elementary at least, and later displayed this to the education community nationally.

A report of late 1930 says that a striking feature of the art teaching at the school is the linking up of design with decorative needlework, and in 1931 the headteacher of Ivy Lane – Frederick Hinton – remarks that: “Mr Tanner and Miss Young have co-operated and the lessons in Design and in Needlework have been correlated with remarkably pleasing results.” He also notes that as a result of this collaboration, the girls in the school are showing a much greater interest in art and design, and that the approach was helping remedial children in the school to feel more confident about their work.

There is no doubt that Robin Tanner was the driving force behind the new approaches to art within the school, but he was ably supported and embellished by Marion’s skills. Indeed, the work going on at the school started to be noticed – initially by local schools’ inspectors within Wiltshire, and then further afield. An exhibition of the school’s handicraft, art and needlework led to senior inspectors visiting the school directly to look at the work. Then a party of students from the Salisbury Teacher Training College came to visit the school, and every class worked on art for an afternoon with them. Packages of artwork, including needlework, were sent to education conferences elsewhere – the work went as far as Dartington and Truro in the south of the country, and Durham and Newcastle in the north. Principals of art schools also visited the school, as did specialist art lecturers, and in 1934 the needlework was borrowed for a course by the Board of Education. This achievement by Robin and Marion, alongside Miss Miles, another needlework teacher who joined in the work later, brought the school to national renown. One famous comment was that those seeing the exhibited work could not believe that they had been done by children.

Robin Tanner left Ivy Lane Elementary School in 1935 to become an inspector of schools himself, and the requests for exhibited art and needlework dried up almost immediately. A new art master took over, but there is no further mention of decorative needlework being combined with art teaching. Instead, Marion’s speciality at the school became Physical Training – the older name for PE – and she attended various courses to improve the instruction for the pupils.

Towards the tail end of 1940, with Chippenham’s schools already overcrowded and waves of evacuees swelling pupil numbers still further, education in the town was reorganised. The three highest forms from all the town’s elementary schools formed a new temporary senior school, based in a building that Chippenham’s grammar school had recently vacated, and Marion’s teaching job moved to this new school. Here she remained a PT specialist, while still providing class-based general education for the 11-14-year-olds still in the elementary system.

The school drew children from across the town, some of them travelling a great distance to attend, which meant that the traditional dinner interval where children went home for a hot meal was more difficult. Until the second world war every child went home for lunch, and were given up to an hour and a half to achieve this, but rationing of food meant that collective ways to eat were becoming more popular as nicer meals were achievable if everyone’s share was amalgamated. The temporary senior school established their own canteen to provide hot meals for the children, with their own cook and Marion as the staff member in charge of the venture.

The blitz on Bath of 27/28 April 1942 meant that the gas supply to the surrounding area was cut off – including Chippenham. Marion worked with the cook, Mrs Whittle, and a troop of New Zealand soldiers that were also stationed at the temporary senior school building at that point in the war, to ensure that every child had a hot meal that day. This involved cooking in pots over camp fires.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 formalised Chippenham’s Temporary Senior School into a mixed Secondary Modern School. This also gradually moved the education format from class-based general teaching to separate subject specialisms – and Marion, as a senior assistant mistress, was still the PT specialist for the school. The marriage bar for women teachers was also lifted that year, meaning that Marion and her colleagues could marry and keep their jobs. However, at 42 she may have felt that marriage was not an option open to her. Nonetheless, it was Marion who was nominated to attend courses on how to deliver sex education to her pupils.

The school split in 1956, with the boys remaining in the old grammar school building and the Girls’ Secondary Modern School moving to new premises at Hardenhuish. Marion went to teach in this new girls’ school, as the most senior assistant mistress (today’s equivalent to a Deputy Headteacher). By this stage her specialism was English.

Here she remained as a prominent member of staff for another eight years, until retirement in 1964. When she left the school had a special assembly for her, and she was presented with a record player and record case. The staff also had a party for her in the school library.

She died at the tail end of the 1970s, having lived with her widowed sister in a sizable house, and left a great deal of money. She is buried in Chippenham’s St Paul’s churchyard, alongside her parents and one of her brothers.

 

The image accompanying this post is by Hannah Hill.

 

********************************************************************

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.