Blanche and Helen - the Invitation
May 20, 1907
There they were, Mary and Helen standing in their joint doorway at Bench Wells, chatting, when I came up and handed each of them a large white stiff envelope. As I was going off down the path towards Ivy House, my brother, Fred, who was just coming out of the drive said, “Wait there, Sis. I have my new camera. I want to take a picture of you. We can use Bench Wells as a background. You stand there, just by the front drive.” (authentic photograph of Bench Wells in 1907 with two women in doorway and a younger woman, in maid's uniform standing somewhat forward.)
“What fun,” I heard Helen say. “Lucky Blanche. I've never had a photo taken of me, although come to think of it, just maybe our pictures will be in the background of that one he just took of her. I'll have to ask her sometime.”
They were talking quite loudly so no doubt Fred would have heard their next words.
“He’s a bit of all right, that man, Blanche’s brother Fred,” said Mary. “You might try to think of some way of getting to know him better. You’ve been a widow too long, Helen. And your Rosie would benefit from a father’s firm hand. She is getting quite wild, that one.”
“He’s a nice enough bloke, I grant you that, Mary, but I just don’t think he's my type of man. When you have had a man who was just about perfect, it's hard to find someone who might come up to him again.”
“I know, luv, and I wasn’t trying to put pressure on you to replace your man. I can’t imagine what it would be like to find someone to equal my Joseph, but then again, I don’t need to worry about that now do I? Why don’t we invite Blanche in for tea, and maybe we can find out a bit more about why she brought these letters.”
I had finished my chat with Fred by this time, and was just going back down the lane, when Mary said, “Cooey, Blanche, love. Do you have time for a cuppa?”
Never one to pass up a chance to catch my breath after climbing up Glossop Road, I said I would love one.
Mary went to put the kettle on, and Helen invited me into her house, on the left hand side of their semi-detatched property.
“You get lovely views from here, Helen,” I said, “and is that Fred’s house I can see at the back there? You could keep your eye on his comings and goings if you had a mind to.”
Mary came through with a huge tray carrying the cups and saucers, the teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl. Helen went into her kitchen and produced some biscuits, recently made, as the air was still sweet and warm from the gingery smell of them.
“And what do you think is in this envelope then? Do you know Blanche? I suppose I’d better wait till Joseph gets home tonight and let him open it.”
“Don’t be silly. It's addressed to both of you. You have as much right to read it as he is. And anyway, I am going to open mine right now, and I want to know if yours is the same,” said Helen.
So they both slit open the sealed ends of their envelopes, and took out the thick cardboard invitation. Each of them said, “ To (and then hand written in:) Mrs. H. Morrison and child - and Mr. and Mrs. J. Thornley, and children.
You are cordially invited to afternoon tea
on Sunday, May 27th, at 3 pm
Harold and Louisa Warrington
3 Stanley Terrace
“From Harold,” I heard Helen say in a soft voice.
“What’s that you say? Surely it's Mr. Warrington to the likes of us. How come you think to call him Harold?”
Helen blushed. “I only know him slightly. We're both in the church choir. He has ever such a wonderful tenor voice. He's always doing the solo parts when they come up.”
“Now then, Blanche. What do you think this Harold and his la-di-da wife and stiff and haughty mother-in-law and fancy French maid want with the likes of us then?”
“I do know, but I’m not supposed to say. It’s to be a surprise,” I said, rather embarrassed.
“Maybe it’s a birthday party, or just a neighbourhood gathering to be sociable,” put in Mary.
“Best to bring some small present then, but wrapped, and keep it in your bag until you see what others have done,” said Helen
“It’s not a birthday party,” I said, “I can tell you that much. You don’t need to bring anything.”
“Well, whatever, they seem to be prepared to have a houseful because they have specifically invited us to bring our children - and there are five of them. Making them sit still for a couple of hours and be polite when all they want to do is be outside running around, well, you can imagine. I suppose it won’t hurt them for once.”
“I wonder who else will come? Are you taking those invitations to all the neighbours?” asked Helen.
“I’ve given one to the Highams from Rock Tavern,” I said. And I have a few more yet to give out.”
“You know them, don’t you Mary? Thomas and his Alice. Their little boy Stanley is blind. Has been from birth. And they have a daughter Ethel,” said Helen.
“Is their daughter friends with yours as you know them so well?”
“Not really. But I've met up with Alice when she's been shopping at Lane Ends the same time I have.”
“Do you know if they invited the people from Lane Ends - what are they called again?” Mary asked me.
“I wasn’t given a card to take them, but Mr. Warrington may well have taken it himself, as he goes there sometimes,” I said.
“Well at the Lane Ends it’s now Herbert Steward,” said Helen, “and I expect they will be invited. You know that the father, Joseph Steward, took it over when the Irish couple stopped doing it a few years ago - the Howells. You remember them don’t you?”
“I could hardly make out what she was saying her accent was so thick even after all the years. Joseph, who was a teacher in Compstall, hadn’t been in the pub for six months when he up and died. Only 57 he was, but maybe being a publican was hard on his heart. And his three children were given the job of taking it on, but Oswald, the oldest, he’s a solicitor down in the South, so there’s no way he was going to give that up. So Herbert does the pub side and Emma, gave up being a schoolmistress and she's the one who deals with the grocery side of that. Still, you mostly get your groceries delivered from the Co-op, don’t you? All right if you have the cash, which we don’t.”
“I could always add your order to mine, and we could get them delivered together, Mary. You know I have suggested that many a time.”
“Oh, I know Helen. But I quite like the walk down the road and the gossip that I manage to get in while I’m there. And it’s an excuse to get out of the house, which, when all our children are around is often not a nice place to be, as I am sure you well know from the noise you get from us.”
“Are your adopted parents, the Allsops invited, Blanche?”
“Yes, they are,” I said.
“Oh course they might invite that upstart farmer from Woodheys - William Potts, he’s called. You know that not long ago he was just a plain farm labourer and then when his boss John Hall up and dies, it turns out he has left the farm to him. That was quite a shock for one and all.”
“That was very kind of him, I’m sure. He was an old man by then, and Mrs. Potts - Mary, she’s called, well she was always having him over for meals and doing his laundry and things. I expect he either didn’t have children who wanted it - or he had some other reason for not having them inherit it.”
“Well perhaps some of our questions will be answered at the party. I expect we should dress up in our finest, as they are the poshest people in the area and we don’t want them to look down on us.”
“I’ll wear my black silk. It does for funerals - so I expect it will do for the party. I don’t want to dress too fancy since we don’t know what it’s for. I will put on my nice lace collar to dress it up a bit.”
“I’d best be off,” said Mary.
“I can hear your little Jane crying. Must be nearly time for her feed.”
“And I must get on with my work,” I said, “or Mrs. Warrington will think the worst of me.”
“See you later on, Mary,” said Helen. “And if you wait a second, Blanche, I’ll walk back down the hill with you. I have a few things I need to get at the shops.”
She called her daughter Rosie who is nearly nine now and on Whit Holiday from school. She was just came back from a party of local children held at the Congregational Church in Marple Bridge. “I’m going down to the Lane Ends shop, Rosie. Do you want to come with me?”
“Yes, Mamma. Maybe you’ll buy me some sweets.”
So we all started down the steep road together.
“I’d have thought you’d have had your fill at that party you just went to. You know Blanche, don’t you? We’re going to walk down together. Who else was at the party?”
“There was a boy called Jack Oldfield. He goes to Mellor School. He told us a very funny story. He said he had to fetch water for the school for one week (from the well). One time he got fed up, and saw a big toad and put it in the kettle, and brewed the school master's tea with it, but made the ladies' with clean water. He says he told the master that he put a toad in his tea. The master asked, ‘Have I been drinking that?’ and gave Jack a good belting in front of all the children, so Jack knocked the board down and busted his toe for him.”
“Goodness me. That sounds a rough school,” I said. “Which other children went to the party?”
“There was a girl called Jessie Courtney and she goes to St. Martin’s School. Miss Hudson from Brabyns Hall visits the school a lot. She says Miss Hudson gave her a prize for being able to read the scriptures. And she says that Miss Hudson promised there would be tea parties at Christmas. I really liked her. I wish I could go to St. Martin’s School.”
“Weren’t there any children from your school there?”
“No, but there was a boy from St. Paul’s in Compstall. He’s called John Holdon. He was telling us about his teacher, Miss Millington. He said she goes to St. Paul's Church on Sunday to ask God to give her strength to wallop her boys on Monday. Not only that but sometimes she keeps the children standing on forms with their hands on their heads and for hardly doing anything wrong at all.”
“Do those sorts of things happen at your school?” asked Helen.
“Well the boys sometimes get the ruler, but I never have.”
“Thank goodness for that. Well, what a long trek this is.”
“Can I go on the Whit walk on Friday? The others were telling me about it. There will be the local brass band, and there will be banners and flags, and we children will walk all around the grounds to Green Hill, stopping to sing at places.”
“I’m sorry Rosie, but Catholic children don’t take part with those from the Anglican church schools. I wouldn’t mind but your teachers and Father McSweeney would.”
“It’s not fair that adult religion problems have to be taken out on children,” she said bitterly.
“It’s a long walk for you to the shops,” I said, to change the subject. I don’t like it when there are arguments over religion.
“I suppose it’s well over a mile,” said Helen. “It’s been seven years now since Benjamin died, and I moved to Bench Wells, but luckily when his farm was sold, it realised a pretty penny and we are not short of funds, so as Mary implied, I often order my groceries and have them delivered by the Coop.”
“Do you even think of getting married again, Helen? I know my brother Fred is very fond of you.”
“Oh, we're just friends. He has never given me any reason to think otherwise. Mary says I should be thinking of getting married again.”
About half way there, we came across Alice Higham, who appeared to be on her way back from the shop, with her bags full of groceries.
“Good day, Alice,” I said. “Looks like you've just come from where we're going. Here, I have a letter for you,” and I took another of stiff white envelopes out of my bag.
“Yes, I have, and these bags are way too full. I get greedy when I see all the fruits this time of the year and have overestimated my own strength. Thank you,” she added, stuffing the envelope into a bag.
“Why don’t you have Rosie help you to your house, then?” said Helen. “She can take two of those smaller bags and I will call by your house on the way home to pick her up. I’m sure she would be pleased for a short play with your children too.”
“I’ve left them under the care of the younger Simpson girl today. They’re on short time at the mill. And Rosie’s help would be very welcome.”
“See you in half an hour or so,” said Helen.
So Mrs. Higham and Rosie carried on back up the hill while we continued down.
Soon we were at my employer’s house, and I stopped at the gate to say goodbye. I noticed Helen looking into the garden and would have seen Alice, the French maid, hanging clothes out in the back.
“It’s nice to know that the hoity-toity madam wears the same sort of knickers as the rest so us,” she said with a smile, somewhat shocking me.
“See you on Sunday,” I said as I waved goodbye and hurried back into the house.