Cow Hey - 1 Bad News
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Monday, January 12th, 1891
It was a blasted cold day, with the snow whirling around my head. We hurried up to my Gran's house in Jackson's Lane after school, but I was taken aback to see a fire lit as I looked through the window showing that there was someone inside. I always walk home from school with my niece, Florie, who is three years younger. Just as I got to the door, it opened, and there was my brother Fred, five years my senior. My gran and auntie were both still at work at Clarence Mill, and wouldn't be home till gone 5 o'clock.
"Our Fred. Why are you here? What's wrong?" I was sure there was a problem. It was a work day, and Fred's job is miles away in Derbyshire - in a place called Ludworth. He wouldn't have taken time off work unless it was important. He had a good job, one he really enjoyed, even though it was only a warehouse boy.
"Come in, Blanche and Florie and close the door. No need to let out this nice heat from the fire I lit."
So we went in, and took off our shawls and boots and put them near the fire to dry. It was obvious that something was wrong, as Fred was looking most uncomfortable.
"Sit down, both of you. I've made a pot of tea. I'll just go and get you each a mug."
"Wait, Fred. Please tell me why you're here. You're just putting if off. It must be awful. Has something happened to Charlotte?"
"No, Charlotte's fine. I've been up to her place to see her today too."
"Is it Pa?"
"Yes, love, I am afraid it is. As you know, with our Harry being away, who knows where, I was listed at the hospital as his next of kin. And they sent a telegram on Friday, saying Pa had died."
At first I couldn't take it in, and then I started to cry. Florie started too, but more in sympathy as she didn't really know our Pa all that well. Fred came over and awkwardly put him arm around me.
"Pa has died? But why? He wasn't hardly any age at all. I didn't think he was all that sick. I thought he was coming home soon. Was he worse than you told us, Fred?"
"I guess he was worse than any of us knew. But they said it was peaceful. We have to be thankful about that. I went there on Sunday, borrowed the mistress's horse and cart, and brought him here. I knew he would want to be buried by Ma. I didn't get here till late last night, so I didn't knock you up and upset Gran so I stayed at our place. I had to get the vicar, Rev. Bradshaw, to agree to a quick funeral, as I can't be away more than a day or two. And I've contacted William Robinson, the undertaker. He's organising the grave to be dug tonight."
"Oh, poor Gran and with Grandpa being so ill too," I said.
"And my mummy will be sad too, " said Florie. "Your pa was her brother."
"Of course, she will, love," I said. "Well, let's have that tea now, and you can tell us what you've arranged with the Vicar."
So Fred went out and returned a few minutes later with some very hot, but very stewed tea. He obviously was not an expert at making it how I liked it.
"You say you stayed at the house, last night," I said. "Did you take Pa there too?"
"Yes, he's laid out there, and people can go and pay their respects. I expect you and Gran and Aunt Elizabeth will go and tidy up the place a bit. I didn't light the fire or anything because it isn't good for dead bodies to be in too hot a place, or they go off sooner."
Thinking of Pa like that set me off crying again, although I tried to stop myself, knowing that I needed to be strong and helpful.
"But Fred, what about the house? Now that Pa is dead, what will happen about the house?"
"We will have to let it go. It was worth keeping on paying the rent while we thought Pa was coming home any time soon, but as Charlotte has got her place as a maid, and you haven't long left at school and will be getting a place of your own soon, there's just no point in keeping on that expense."
"So, will I keep on living here? Gran said it was only temporary, and you know there's no space. Three of us all stuck together in one single bedroom, and hardly room to move. Can I come and live with you, our Fred?"
"No need to worry about that for the moment. We'll go into that later. First, let's make a list of who we should tell. I will go and invite Pa's friends to be pall bearers and you and Florie can go around and pass the word around to the other neighbours and friends that they can come to view the body tonight at our house - say at 7- and the funeral's tomorrow at the church at 10 a.m. Then the burial will be right after, and we can have a quick tea at the Crown Inn Pub at 12 (I checked with Mr Williamson and he said it was fine and his Mrs would make up some nice pies for us) and then I must be getting back to my place. I told them at work that I would be back as soon as possible, so I want to be back there for Tuesday night."
So Florie and I got some paper and made two lists - one for her to take the message to just one or two neighbours close around here, and one for me - over by where we lived at Church Street, to tell our friends over there about what happened and about the funeral.
"Do we invite them all to the wake after the funeral?" I asked Fred
"Yes, we have the money from his burial fund, and I think Pa wants a good send off, and we can afford a pint or two and some pies and tea for the ladies."
My list was as follows:
Henry Froggett and his wife Elizabeth from Henshall Road. They used to be neighbours.
The Gaskills. I think Fred will ask Alfred to be a pall bearer as Mr. Gaskell was a stone mason and worked with Pa.
Harry Brooke - who is our local grocer and coal provider.
Miss Sutton - my school mistress - and I will tell her I shan't be at school tomorrow.
Mr and Mrs Sutton - her parents might want to come. They also have a grocery.
The blacksmith George Bleuse, who is a widower, was one of Pa's drinking friends, so we must invite him.
My friend Caroline Ford needs to know too. Her father is a carrier, and he knew Pa well.
Leaving the others by the fire, I put my wet boots back on, and threw the shawl over my head and went to the door.
"If you have time, Fred, put some potatoes on to boil before Gran and Aunt Elizabeth get here. They won't feel much like cooking after they hear the news. I think there will be enough of the leftover stew from the weekend to go with the mash."
It was a ten minute walk from Jackson's Road to Church Lane, but I ran most of the way - partly because I am sort of scared of the dark - and also, I needed to get my messages over and done with to get back home to find out what was going to happen to me, as well as the rest.
I started at my friend Caroline's and she would come with me to the rest of the houses. We passed on the news, and then went back to hers for a quick hot drink before I made my way back home. Everyone seemed surprised and saddened by my news - and most said that they would come to church if they could, but many would have to work and couldn't have a day off when it wasn't for direct family.
Gran, who was Pa's mother (my other grandmother, Elizabeth Hatton, died three years ago) is 68 is really in no state to keep on working at the mill said she can't afford to quit. She works as a seamstress, making dress models of the fabrics to send out on selling trips from the factory. Her husband, our grandpa is staying with Pa's brother in Macclesfield so he can get some treatment at the hospital there. There will be no time to tell them of the funeral. When I got back, Gran and her daughter, my aunt Elizabeth were there. Elizabeth is a reeler at the mill. She never got married, so that is why she and Florie live here with Gran.
Gran was in such a shock about the news, that she had gone to lie down. Aunt Elizabeth was trying to get on to make a tea, while at the same time trying to get all the details out of Fred.
"I expect Charlotte will arrange to have time off," she said. Charlotte is my sister, two years older than me, and working as a maid at the Jacksons, (Mr. Jackson is the secretary for the spinning company) and she is helping care for their new son, John who is four months' old.
"I had a word with Mrs. Jackson, and she was happy for her to be away tomorrow," Fred added.
"And what about the house, now?" asked Aunt. "And what will happen to Blanche? Will she have to quit school and find work straight away? You know we only have been having here her as a temporary measure. We can't keep on like this now that no money from Joseph coming in to help pay for her.”
There were talking about me as if I wasn't there - and I felt a real problem. But I didn't want to quit school and start working as a maid yet. I'm nearly 11, and compulsory schooling is now up to 12, so I can't really quit school. Oh, I do hope I won't have to. Being one of the oldest, the teacher, Miss Sutton has had me help with teaching the letters to the little ones, and I do enjoy it so.
"First things first, Aunt Elizabeth," said Fred. "I do have some possibilities in mind for Blanche, but that will depend on me checking with various people back at Ludworth so I can't really make any promises about what will happen just now. But what we will have to do is empty the house and get everything packed up that we want to keep, and sell what there is no use for. I had a word with the owner, and he agrees that we can have the house for the rest of the week, but he wants it ready for the new occupants by next weekend. I trust that between you and Blanche, you can sort it out, and maybe get Hedley Ankers from his shop to come up and buy off the bits of furniture and such that you can't use. I told Charlotte that she must take all of her belongings that she wants to her place, as what isn't collected will be sold or thrown away."
"Well, we can make use of all the food and the linen," said Aunt. “Each of you should take a keepsake with you, for you will never have your childhood home back again."
"But the tables and chairs and beds can be sold - unless they are in better condition than the ones we have here - and we can get rid of ours instead. I do wish we knew what was happening to Blanche, so we know whether she will need to take bedding and curtains and such like."
"Well, it wouldn't hurt to keep some back for her, in case, and then if she doesn't need them, they can go to be sold when next you go."
Gran had fallen asleep, and we didn't wake her, thinking that sleep was the best way of dealing with her sorrow. Prudence stayed with her, in case she woke and needed anything.
After tea, Aunt Elizabeth and Fred and I made our way back to Church Lane, to the house where I was born, and lived all my life except for these past few months. Fred opened the coffin so we could see Pa. He looked like he was made of wax, and yet somehow very composed and relaxed - something he had not been for years now, probably since Ma died five years ago.
Pa had been laid out properly at the hospital, so there was nothing more we needed to do for him, and we each gave him a kiss. I went around with a duster, and Aunt Elizabeth went through the kitchen, putting out cups and saucers for when people called around to pay their respects. It wasn't long before the first neighbours came in - and went through a well rehearsed routine. They paid their respects to Pa in the front room, perhaps offering a prayer, then came through into the kitchen and had a cup of tea and a small slice of fruit cake. Luckily we had several cakes in the cupboard, left from Christmas. But no one stayed long, partly because it was so perishing cold without a fire in the house other than the kitchen range for boiling the water. After an hour or so, it looked as if nobody else was coming, so Aunt and I went back to the house in Jackson's Road, and Fred settled down for his last night in our old house.
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So practical with tough
So practical with tough decisions having to be made quickly. Hard times indeed. I wonder how things will pan out for Blanche? Great start.
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Such a different handling of
Such a different handling of family death in those times. Interesting, and drawing in to wonder how it is going to work out. Who is Prudence, she sounds like a cousin of Blanche? Florie is Blanche's niece, but she seems to be Blanche's Aunt Elizabeth's daughter. Have I got things muddled? Rhiannon
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I love the way this is
I love the way this is written, and the dialect is great. Real people just getting on with what's necessary.
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