Friday, July 30, 2010

Ann's Story

Benjamin and Charlotte lived on the edge of coal mining with Charlotte bringing a little bit of money and some pretension to the household. They ran a shop passed to them by Charlotte’s parents. Benjamin was an occasional coal haulier, or “Haulier of Coal” as Charlotte would have it.

Sons and daughters filled the home, worked in the shop and contributed to a comfortable but not luxurious existence. Some of the older sons worked in the local brewery. James went to sea. The daughters who were not working in the shop became seamstresses. All except Hannah. Tall, elegant and sharp, Hannah went into service where she became the housekeeper in a grand house. On her visits home she brought magazines relaying the latest styles and comme il faut to her sisters. She taught Alice, Esther and Gwenllian how to trim the edges of skirts and blouses according to the magazines. She taught Ann how to twist her beautiful dark hair on to the top of her head and to wear a hat at a fashionable angle.

Ann is on the far left in the photograph and Hannah on the right. Their mother, Charlotte is next to Ann, followed by Alice and Gwenllian who is holding baby Morfydd. Esther is not in the photograph. Please note Hannah's crisp black dress with the leg-o-mutton sleeves and immaculate over pinny. A woman not to be messed with.

Ann was born in 1881. A late summer baby with dark hair and eyes. At three years old she had an eye injury. Playing around with a pencil, one of her brothers poked it into her eye. It took a while for Ann's eye to recover and it was kept bandaged over for months. She developed the habit of looking down and then fixing you with a fierce glare, mainly through the good eye. You remember when your mother said "you'll take someone's eye out"? Well they nearly did.

Hugh was captivated by Ann’s dark intense looks and she adored his curls and swift smile. After the Peeping Tom incident, he had a gift for her: two hatpins. To keep her hat neatly on her head and "just in case". She wore them for the rest of her life. One was tipped with a crystal finial and the other with jet.

Hugh’s young sister-in-law looked down her rather pointed nose at the shop-girl who was being brought into the family. She showed off the fine embroidery, cut glass, pianola and fish knives that graced their home, compared with the modest trappings of Ann’s family. Robert and his wife invited Ann to tea. Hannah was invited to accompany her sister. A bone china miserable affair, Ann sat through the agony of scrutiny and put downs. Alice politely admired the finery. When the tea of thinly cut bread-and-butter and dry cake was served, Alice smiled, arched one eyebrow, looked carefully at the tea-set and said “Ah, Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has something very like for the second best set”.

The Boer War and the Great War took brothers away to fight and potential suitors to a distant death. Only Ann married. The sisters stayed kept a neat home, never marrying. Hannah kept them in order after their parents’ days, reminding them “We might be poor, but we’re not common”.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hugh’s story

In the mid 1870s, Evan and Jane met. They were both in their twenties living on the coast. North Cardigan bay where the salt marshes make a boundary between the sea and the mountains. He was a younger son of a local farmer and Jane was the youngest daughter of a prosperous adjoining farm. Not quite the Montagues and Capulets, but not much love lost between the two families. They married in the summer of 1878.

Jane’s father carved out a portion of land for them to farm. Evan loved the land and Jane was capable and organised. The first son, Robert came along in 1879 followed by Lewis in early 1881. Hugh was born in 1882 just as Summer tips over into Autumn and warm days give way to cool nights. A combination of cold nights and warm affection saw the next decade filled with babies. John was born in 1884, Evan in 1886 and David in 1888. At last a daughter arrived; Ellen was born in 1893. They were comfortable and settled but the land was not theirs to hold and would never be passed down to their sons. Robert left in the late 1890s to search for work in South Wales, taking two of his younger brothers with him. Hugh stayed home on the farm but by 1901 his parents’ health was failing. His father was now a farm worker for his brother-in-law and Hugh worked the horses on his uncle’s farm. By the mid 1900s, both parents had died and the sons dispersed. Evan loathed the industrial south and became a shepherd for his uncle, living the rest of his life in a tiny cottage on the top of a hill with his lovely wife, Mary, who never quite got English. Lewis went to India and David went to work for his farming uncle. Robert took Hugh under his wing and returned south to look for work in the burgeoning construction industry.

A hard worker with a serious view on the world, Hugh quickly found that he was respected and trusted by his employer and by twenty-six he was a foreman. Social life revolved around the chapel where he could relax out of formal workaday English and be comfortable in Welsh. His passion was singing and attendance at chapel was for the hwyl and companionship of singing as much as the observance.

Hugh hated hypocrisy and double-standards. Chapel was part of his life but, when the minister asked an elderly member of the congregation not to sing because his lack of a tune was spoiling it for everyone else, Hugh argued that a tuneless voice was raised no less in praise of God than a tuneful one. When the elders of the chapel demurred, he left, proclaiming that his sort of God was rather different to theirs.

Robert married in 1905 and Hugh lodged with them. Good looking with a head of neatly flattened curls and sea blue-green eyes, he was quite a catch. His new sister-in-law was determined to introduce him to a suitable match but he’d spotted his girl. Heavy dark hair was wound into a complicated up-do. Dark brows and eyes made gave her an intense look and she would follow his gaze and then look away under dark lashes. His sister-in-law wasn’t impressed. Ann was only the shopkeeper’s daughter but they were bowled over by each other.

Walking out together took them along a country path and a stile was a favourite place to stop, hold hands and kiss. He would lift her up to sit on the stile and they would spend sweetly tender minutes there before he walked her home. An infamously dirty old man used to wait for courting couples so that he could spy on them. One day, they overheard a noise in the bushes and knew it was the old man. Hugh put his fingers to his lips to signal to Ann to stay quietly perched on the stile while he sidled around the edge of the bushes. She heard a couple of swift blows and saw the Peeping Tom running away. Hugh came back to her grinning to himself while slipping something back into his breast pocket. Ann demanded to know what it was. He pulled his jacket open to reveal a knuckleduster. It was never seen or mentioned again.

They married in the Autumn of 1909. A love affair for the rest of their lives.

Living the dream

I've been a bit otherwise engaged recently and neglectful of the blogworld. I have been keeping up with you all but there's been a lot going on.

First of all, we had Hay Week. Friends, culture and the odd glass of wine.

Then building work There. My smashing builder doubles as the local undertaker and so you have to fit the projects in between building emergencies and the occasional stiff. And he can't estimate for toffee so we're about 50% behind schedule.

And jam, of course.

I became White Van woman for a weekend to help Junior Mad move house.

Poor old Humbug has been diagnosed with diabetes so we've been investing heavily in trips to the vet's practice.

And then we have had an office move. The new office is in a nicer area with some attractive little City gardens to eat a sandwich or to wander round. Here are some of the things you might not expect to see in the City of London:

This has coincided with some changes in management at work. I won't bore you with the details, but my boss flounced out in a huff - it's great seeing a bald 40 something year old man behaving like a teenager. So I grabbed the opportunity to suggest to my new boss that I could work from home some of the time. And some of the time that means There. Like today ... I'm eating my lunch, sitting in my study and catching up.

And the other thing I've been doing, is tracking down some family history and that's what I'll be blogging about next.