Before my mother, Emily, died in 2008, I got her to write down some memories of her
early childhood. As she was born in 1911, I felt it was important to write down as much as she could
remember. What follows is what I edited from her disjointed memories.
My grandfather, William Morris, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 when Mum was four years old. The only memory she had of him was seeing him walking down the street in his uniform. She was standing in the doorway, holding her aunt’s hand at the time, and had to ask who the strange man was. Aunty Mary Ellen was her mother’s elder sister and she lived with the family most of the time, sleeping on a sofa because there was nowhere else for her to sleep. She had a lame leg and couldn’t work. Some of the time, she had to go in the Bolton workhouse and, sadly, I later discovered she had died there in 1931. Mum loved her Aunty Mary Ellen and could remember her sitting in the rocking chair, her cheeks rosy from the heat of the fire, singing one of her silly little ditties. She had a saying for everything, too, and many of these live on in our family even now.
Mum got into trouble once at a tea party for singing one of Aunty Mary Ellen’s songs about a young woman who pretended to be a soldier in order to stay with her sweetheart. It was the phrase ‘her
lily white breast’ that earned Mum a telling off from the good ladies of the Co-operative Guild.
There were six children, three boys and three girls. The boys slept in the back bedroom of the two-up, two-down house, while the three girls slept in the front bedroom with their mother. She had one
bed, the three girls the other. Mary, being the eldest, slept at the top, while Mum and Annie had to make do with the bottom bit. There wasn’t much room in the bedroom but somehow they managed to make a swing between the two beds with an old piece of blanket.
With my grandmother being a widow, the family were very poor and Mum remembered being sent to the butcher’s for ‘6 pennorth o’bits’ The children only ever had half an egg each, with a whole one as a treat at Easter. She remembered, too, drinking tea out of jam jars and standing round the kitchen table because there weren’t enough chairs.
Clothes were always ‘hand-me-downs’ or bought second or third hand. Shoes came from Mrs
Cooper, who kept a stock of assorted sizes and you had to rummage through until you found a
matching pair that fitted reasonably well. Mum was a bit luckier than Mary and Annie. My grandmother used to clean at a big house and the housekeeper there had a daughter about the same age as Mum. Her cast-offs were always given to my grandmother and they would only fit Mum. She remembered once inheriting a pair of kid gloves that she refused to take off, even in bed.
When Mum was 11, she passed a scholarship for orphans of the war and went to the local Grammar School. How her mother managed the uniform, Mum never knew but presumably the talleyman helped. At one point she had to have a navy swimming costume. My grandmother managed to get hold of a grey one and dyed it navy. Unfortunately, the first time Mum went into the water, the dye ran and streaked all down her legs. At the school, being a Catholic at a Protestant school, Mum was excused from religious education lessons and had to sit out in the cloakroom while the lessons were going on.
Mum and her friends used to meet on the corner of their street. If it was cold, they used to stand against the wall of a baker’s hop which stayed warm because of the ovens. It was there that Mum caught her first glimpse of a motor car. Great excitement! They used to walk for miles with only a bottle of water to keep them going. Once, a man flashed his willie at them but they just laughed at him, they never thought of it being dangerous.
Living in Horwich, a small Lancashire mill town, going ‘Up Rivi’ (the local beauty spot
of Lever Park) was one of their favourite walks, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Often they walked
through to Belmont, a village some miles distant, or round the Anglezarke reservoirs. Lever
Park was also the country home of Lord Leverhulme and he had a huge mansion known The Bungalow. One memory that really stood out for Mum was going round the Bungalow grounds when
it was open to the public, costing a few old pennies a ticket. Doris, one of Mum’s friends, fell on some gravel and her leg was bleeding. The friends sat on a form near the Bungalow ballroom, trying to comfort her but also taking it in turns to peek through the windows of the ballroom. A lady pushing a baby in a pram stopped on seeing Doris’s leg. She ushered the friends into the house, where she bathed and bandaged Doris’s leg. The lady took quite a fancy to Doris, who had blonde curls and blue eyes, and, perhaps jokingly, said she’d like to adopt her. Then, to their delighted surprise, she showed the girls the ballroom. They were all awestruck at the circular walls, the great glass dome, and the
magnificent floor. I’ve seen photographs of the ballroom and it was spectacular. Mum thought the lady pushing the pram must have been the then Lady Leverhulme; she was too beautifully dressed to be the nanny. The baby in the pram, a boy, may have been the later Lord Leverhulme. If it was, Mum was later to cook for him at a dinner party.
When Mum was 13, my grandmother mother fell off a chair while cleaning windows and shortly afterwards became seriously ill with pneumonia. The priest was called to administer the last rites but he refused to do so. He said would only do that if ‘that girl’ (pointing to Mum) left ‘that Protestant School’. My grandmother, ill as she was, argued with him and forbade Mum to leave the school, but as she grew
weaker and Mum came under more pressure from the priest, Mum agreed to leave so that her mother could have the last rites. She never forgave the Catholic church.
After my grandmother died, the authorities wanted to split the family up and put the younger children in an orphanage but by then Mum’s eldest brother, John, was 19 and Mary nearly 19 (John was born
in January 1905 while Mary was born in December 1905) so they insisted that they would bring the children up. Mum was 13, Annie 15, George 11 and Bob only 6. Mum always marvelled at how they did it but never forgot what she owed them.
Although Mum first went to work in the local mill, she eventually went into service and served, later with my father, in many parts of the country, the only one of her family to leave Horwich. But that’s a story for another day.
Since taking early retirement several years ago. I have been successful in having articles about various aspects of genealogical research and social history published in one of the best-selling national genealogy magazines and other family history magazines or journals. More recently, I have been concentrating on the fiction market. A couple of my short stories have been published in national magazines and short-listed to final judging stage in several short story competitions, two of them being published in anthologies. I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association through their New Writers Scheme. With their invaluable help, I’m still hoping to get my novel, A Suitable Young Man,
set in the mid-1950s, published.
I have a blog at www.annelharvey.blogspot.com and, just recently, have been publishing some of my own memories. I'd love it if you care to look!