Blanche and Helen - 5 another Meeting
Having been engaged to open the door and serve the food and drinks for the evening’s activities, I was on hand for the next meeting. During it, I was in the kitchen, tidying things up, but could still clearly hear the conversations. And I knew Fred would fill me in on anything I asked him, when I next saw him
Fred and Helen were the first to arrive. She looked ravishing, wearing a low necked lavender dotted linen gown, with lace and embroidery embellishment in the front and back.
“You look lovely,” I told her, “and you look pretty sharp yourself, our Fred,” I added cheekily.
The house did look lovely, and my hard work at polishing meant it was showing at its very best. There was a magnificent blue carpet decked with roses, and the curtains were Chinese patterned silk. It was ever so posh, with good quality velvet chairs and an ottoman, with beautifully made dining chairs brought in to add extra seating. There were numerous wonderful oil paintings on the walls.
They took their seats, and I heard Fred ask Helen how the meeting with Mr. Taylor at the bank had gone. She replied, “I spent an hour with him. He assured me that my idea of buying my property was not out of the question. Benjamin’s farm realised a substantial sum for my use, which was invested by the bank, but living frugally as we do, I have not eaten into the capital, and have managed to live on the interest over these past years. Then, he advised me, which I was pleased to hear, that if I was thinking of marrying again, that any property that I might buy would not automatically be part of my husband’s estate. I could, of course, share the property or gift it to a second husband, but he would not be automatically be given ownership of it through marriage. Did you have a busy day today? I don’t even know what it is you do exactly.”
“I’m a stone mason now, at the quarry up Hollywood way, working for Joseph Rowbottom,” said Fred. “It’s the same trade as was my father's before me, back when we lived in Bollington, but he did mostly carving for monuments. t I was a warehouseman for a while. It’s much better now that I am doing what I really want to do. What did your father do?”
“He was a farmer - as were all of us who are related to the Donaldsons.”
“Was your husband one too?”
“He owned an 80 acre farm at Ernocroft. We were only married five years, and Rosie was just three when he died. She doesn’t really remember him much. It was lucky that my house was available to rent at the time, and it means I am still close to my relatives. Do you know my brother Samuel? He farms at Charlesworth.”
“Only to say hello to, as he has called on Mr. Donaldson on occasion, but I never spoke to him properly. I expect you still miss your husband.”
“Yes, but not like I once did. But I shall never stop being grateful to him for providing me with such a good income. It does mean I don’t have to work, as widows often have to. And now I perhaps can invest it in such a way that will benefit Rosie and me in the future.”
He lowered his voice to just a whisper.
“Well, I think you must think very carefully about whom you trust your money to. I don’t really know Mr. Warrington at all, but I have heard others, and Mr. Donaldson in particular, saying that he is known for sharp practices. He is very young to be managing director of a company. I’d like to know how he advanced so quickly in life.”
“I think everyone is most unkind to the man. I think he has done marvellously well, and I for one intend to put my trust in him, unless I am given a very good reason for not doing so,” she said stoutly.
Then the Salts and the Higginbottoms arrived, and I was too busy with coats and drinks to overhear any more of their conversation.
Soon my employer, his wife and her mother came into the room and settled in chairs near Fred. He said, “Helen, lovely to see you. And you Mr. Hodkinson. I wasn’t aware that you were interested in our little venture.”
“I asked him to accompany me, Mr. Warrington. I hope you don’t mind. I thought he might be able to help me understand some of the financial matters.”
“Certainly,” he said, rather shortly, and I got the impression that he was more than a bit annoyed at seeing Fred here with her.
“I see that you are admiring our paintings, Mrs. Morrison. Of course, much of this came from my home, when my mother moved in with us. And Harold has the chance to buy from his work quite often, bargains that others would never even know about. Have you met my mother, Mrs. Hayes?”
“No, I haven’t had the pleasure” Helen said.
“Mother, may I introduce you to Mrs. Morrison from up the road. She is a widow with a lovely little girl, Rosie. Rosie was so polite and helpful when you were last here for our al fresco tea party.”
“How do you do?” said Mrs. Hayes, stiff in carriage and feature, and clearly not caring in the least how Helen did.
“Are you settling down well with us in the outskirts of Ludworth?” Helen asked.
“I so miss my friends from Prestwich. And of course, most of my life I have been abroad. I can’t tell you how much more pleasant a life I had before. My husband was a physician you know, and we travelled a lot. My daughter and I intend to go to Prestwich to visit friends soon. And I greatly look forward to our planned holiday in France in September.”
It soon appeared that all the expected guests had arrived, and Mr. Warrington signalled that he was about to start the meeting. I made my way back into the kitchen, but left the door open just a crack, in order to hear all I could.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is so wonderful to see so many of you here tonight. I know that some of you do not have the acquaintance of the others, so I thought we could start the evening off by going around the circle and each of us in turn can say who we are, and what we hope to get out of the meeting tonight. I will start. As you no doubt know, I am Harold Warrington, and I am the manager of Thomas Agnew and Sons, Export Art Dealer of 14 Exchange Street in Manchester. I am not here to try to sell you the fine bronzes, Parisian figures or fancy cabinets that we have in our shop, but to interest you in investing in property. My aim is that we get together a company which will represent the interests of the people of this section of Ludworth, from the Lane Ends pub to the last house in the road, which I think to be Bench Wells, in order to purchase the property as a group from Lord Howard of Glossop, who has indicated to me, through his man of business, Charles Arthur Abraham, his interest in selling this property. Now I will defer to the gentleman on my left.”
“Good evening. My name is John Cochrane and I am the manager of the Calico Print Works in Compstall Bridge. For those who don’t know it well, it is the main employer in this area, with hundreds of local women and men working for me, and where we produce thousands of tons of fine fabric each year. My interest in this meeting is curiosity as much as anything. As you may or may not know, things are not going well with the calico industry at the moment, and I have had to put most of my workers down to four days a week. I cannot see myself possibly becoming involved. But I shall listen with interest.”
“I suppose that I am next. I am Fred Hodgkinson, and I am here to help my friend, sitting next to me in any way I can. I am not interested personally in acquiring property or investing in this group.”
“My name is Helen Morrison. I currently live at Bench Wells, but I have lived in these parts all my life. My husband, Benjamin, who died several years ago, left me with sufficient funds and I am seriously considering buying my property, if I am convinced by this meeting tonight that it is a wise investment.”
“I am Robert Taylor and I deal in money. My purpose at this meeting tonight, is to offer to lend money to those people who might like to buy their property, but might not have sufficient funds to do so. I charge a reasonable rate of interest, and am known for being fair and honest. This young man next to me is my son and clerk, also called Robert, who helps me in my business.”
“I suppose my father has said it all. But I might add that I am studying finance at the Glossop Evening Institute and know that it is reckoned that property is the thing to invest your money in at the moment.”
“I’m Joel Wainwright, and I was invited here because I am an accountant by trade, and was manager of the Strines Mill until I retired. I now spend my time writing books. Some of you might have copies of my book called Memories of Marple. I am also doing some research at the moment about Morris Dancing in the Manchester area and have been asked to write up my findings for the Notes and Queries section of the Journal, Manchester City News, which will be printed sometime in the autumn. The article is called On Morris and Rush Carts. As far as this meeting goes, I am willing to offer my services if you so wish, but I have no interest in investing my money in your project. I do own my own home, Finchwood on Glossop Road. I expect most of you know it.”
“I am Mary Elizabeth Hayes and am Harold’s mother-in-law. My poor late husband, whose anniversary was just last month, left me a wealthy woman, and I am happy to support Harold and my beloved Louisa in any way I can.”
“I am Louisa Warrington, Harold’s wife, and I welcome you all to our home. I, of course, support my husband in all his enterprises.”
“My name is Jack Salt and I farm at Stirrup. I am certainly interested in owning my own land, and do not want anyone else to have control over it, if, as it seems, that Lord Howard is no longer able or willing to do so. But I have not made up my mind if this meeting is the way I will go. I have had words with Mr. John Moult of Lower Cliffe, Mellor, who some of you will know is an Estate Agent and Surveyor. He assures me that he would willingly undertake negotiations with Lord Howard for me, or any of us, if we decide that might be a better way. I am not saying that I have decided to go with him - only that I am interested to see how this meeting goes tonight.”
“I am Squire Higgenbottom, and I too farm off this road - at Low Hey. I like the idea of us owning our own land, and we will see what you have to say, and what is actually involved.”
“Well, that makes up our little group tonight. I have had apologies from the following: James Ardern, Percy Woodhouse, Henry Almond and Alexander Simcock, but they wish to be informed of the outcome of this meeting, and may well decide to join us in our undertaking.
“I have produced a map of the properties that I am considering for purchase for this area all residential property - not commercial property. There are 13 in all - six of them farms, and six of them terraced or semi-detached properties and one a detached property which is now used as a pub but wasn’t not long ago and from what I hear, might well not be again. For those properties, four of us here tonight have suggested that they might be willing to buy their own, and I might add, that I hoped that number would be much higher. Some of my contacts will not buy the property for their own use, but as an investment, and I will act as an agent on their behalf, if we do go ahead with our scheme.
“Now let me pass this sheet around amongst you. I have also indicated next to the details of each property, what I think we can buy each of these houses for. You will see the grand total for the 13 properties is £6,300. I am confident that we can get those properties for £5,000 by negotiating the deal from the position of a company. One of my reasons for calling you here tonight, is to ask if you would be willing to put your names, and a certain sum of money, as an assurance of your interest into this company, and then we can proceed with the undertaking.
“Now, while you are thinking this through and looking through the documents, I will ask Blanche and Alice to serve you tea and cakes. And then any comments or questions can be put to me or to any of these other gentlemen. How does that suit you? Good.”
He indicated that we should bring through the cakes and cups of tea. About half an hour later, he continued with his planned speech.
“I’m sure that we have had sufficient time to discuss and view the details that I have circulated. First, I will ask if there are any questions, and then I will proceed to put forward my suggestions for moving this association of ours forward. Now, I am open for questions, please, gentlemen. Sorry, and ladies, of course.”
“You have valued our farm property not very much above the ordinary dwelling houses. Surely, our land must count for something more,” said Mr. Salt.
“Well, as I thought I made plain at our last meeting, Lord Howard is not prepared to sell the land. He will retain the land himself and charge us a proportional amount of ground rent, with each of us having a 99 year lease. The amount that each will pay will depend on the size of the house, so those of you with larger houses will pay him a greater amount.”
“You say, you think you can get a better deal than what is listed here. So you suggest £500 for my property on Low Hey farm,” said Squire Higginbottom, “but you really think the more realistic value will be a quarter less - so effectively, £400 for my house. Is that correct?”
“Well, I cannot be specific as I am only going by what has happened in other purchases made by Lord Howard in others of his properties in Sheffield and Scotland, but, yes, I think you could assume that, but that figure might go up or down somewhat.”
“If I buy my half of Bench Wells, started Helen, “who will buy the other half? I know that the current owners don’t feel that they can afford it, but I am not sure that I would feel happy knowing it was owned by someone else I didn’t know and perhaps didn’t like.”
“Surely the easiest way of solving that problem, Mrs. Morrison, would be for you to buy the whole property yourself. You would then be your neighbour’s landlord, or landlady, I suppose I should say, and as you are such good friends, I’m sure that arrangement would work very well.”
“And might I interject here,” said Mr. Taylor, “that I am willing to loan the extra sum of money needed for you to do just that, as I knew your husband, and would be willing to risk my money as an investment on your behalf.”
He sounds like a slippery character. He obviously has his eyes set on the rich widow too.
“And I should have mentioned that with the generous help of my mother-in-law, Mrs. Hayes, and with the extra help of my friend Mr. Taylor, I intend to buy all of the houses on Stanley Terrace.”
“So that leaves Whitebottom, Woodheys and Rock Tavern assuming that Mr. Salt might buy both halves of the Stirrup, and Mr. Higgenbottom, buy both halves of Low Hey.”
“I haven’t said I would do that,” said Mr. Salt. “I certainly am not committing myself to anything without seeing if Mr. Moult can come up with a better offer.”
“Fair enough, Mr. Salt,” he said. “We are happy to have you consult with Mr. Moult and if you come up with a better offer from him, we will write you out of the equation for our company."
(to be continued)