MY MOTHER & OTHERS
The late Bob Clarke who was born & bred in Stoke Goldington wrote a series of articles on life in the village in the period between the two World Wars. The third of these essays covers the way in which people got around. Other stories in this series:
|Alfred -Walter - Robert - Jack - Frances - Trevor|
It seemed to me, as a boy that my mother's boast that she had five boys, the first four all under five years of age was her chief accomplishment. However as I and my brothers grew up we realised what a truly remarkable person she was.
For the record, my eldest brother Trevor was born on August 19th 1918, Walter was born January 14th 1920, 1, Robert was born March 30th 1921 and Jack was born on June 9th 1922. A baby girl christened Molly, was born and apparently lived ten days before our youngest brother Peter was born on February 3rd 1926. Sister Muriel was born on October 3rd 1933.
Mother was born in 1893 the eldest daughter of Joseph and Mary Byway (nee Bull). They had three daughters Frances, Edith, Dolly and four sons Waiter, George, Harry and Trevor.
Our Mum although christened with the pleasant names of Frances Mary was always known as Fanny, which to her more worldly sons later was a singularly inappropriate name, for such a versatile and intelligent woman.
From the old village school records in the first decade of this century it is apparent she was the brightest girl in the school. She has said a career in education was dreamed about before she left school but her father insisted she went to work to earn her keep. I do know, as she told me herself, she actually taught the children at Ravenstone school when she was fifteen years old. I believe there were nearly twenty children from the ages of four to thirteen in the school. As she was tall and well built she seemed to have had no trouble in dealing with recalcitrant children. Whether she used the cane as a teenage teacher she never disclosed to me. She certainly knew how to use it when her own brood was growing up!
I know she left the village to work in `service' and apparently she first went to work for a pair of sisters who ran a girls school in Kent. Whilst with them she so impressed them with her knowledge and intelligence that they recommended her to the well known malted milk family as governess to their children. She held this position for several years until it became necessary to teach the children French. Naturally Mum's village school education did not embrace this part of a young lady's curriculum. So she moved on, I believe she went to Sidcup in Kent where she was probably a cook/general to another pleasant lady. I know she was in Sidcup when world war one was on because she recounted seeing a Zeppelin caught in search lights above London in 1916
She married Alfred Clarke in 1917 obviously returning to Stoke Goldington to live and never again moved out of her home village.
My first recollections of Mum were as a devoted nurse when, after starting school at the age of four I caught Scarlet Fever and apparently nearly died. She used to say the doctor saved my life by giving me deadly poison (strychnine). I was away from school a year after having every disease under the sun and at the age of five I had to learn to walk again. The devotion of mum was almost equalled by the young Doctor Morris who when I was very ill cycled from Newport Pagnell every day. When the snow was too deep in the winter he walked each day a distance of eight miles!
One episode which demonstrated my recovery still sticks in my mind. It was a fine spring morning but still a nip in the air and a fire was burning in the bedroom grate. I remember desperately wanting to urinate and the `pot' was not under the bed as usual. I therefore used the fire as the `pot'; ashes and steam flew everywhere! A little later Mum came up and twigged the situation immediately. Instead of being cross as I'd expected she burst out laughing which shows, even after the terrible year she had with me and still looking after the rest of the family, her sense of humour prevailed!
I `ve recounted my illness because it has a strong bearing on how I learnt to cook. When I married, my mother told my wife you want to get him to make a cake he makes lovely cakes. It all stemmed from my illness.Mum was of course an excellent cook. She was however very reluctant to write her recipes down. She made the most lovely Victoria sandwich cakes, but when my wife later asked how she made them she always said if you use the right ingredients it will always come out right. One of her many dictums on cooking was a mean person will never make a good cook because they won't put in the good quality ingredients
To return to my apprenticeship as a cook. It was obvious with five hungry boys Mum needed help in the kitchen. I was literally convalescent for several years and was unable to go out playing with the other boys. Mum used her oft repeated phrase "everyone is put on this earth for a reason" and making a virtue out of a necessity taught me to cook!
Although we all had to be in bed at a proper hour Mum usually worked late into the night and never went to bed until after midnight. Her one indulgence was a lie in on Sunday morning Adhering strongly to her Anglican faith she thought of Sunday as ay of rest. This is where my training as the cook came in. For several years while Dad and the boys went `up the field' to feed the livestock etc. I cooked the breakfast. This was invariably the same and consisted of a pound of sausages a pound of bacon and since eggs were freely available anything up to a score of eggs. The sausages were fried in the pan the bacon was grilled and eggs fried last in the plentiful supply of fat. The piece de resistance was known in the family as tomato dip and no doubt devised by Mum to assuage the ravenous appetites of the gang. A pound of tomatoes was sliced and fried
in the fat, about a pint and a half of marmite stock was tipped in to boil vigorously. Plenty of salt and pepper was added. The `dip' was served in a big bowl placed in the centre of the table. Everybody helped themselves and used up about a loaf and a half of bread consuming their dip w e rest of the breakfast.
I mentioned earlier about Mother and her faith.She was a very moral person and took her task of converting her heathen flock to the Christian virtues seriously. As a member of the parochial church council she ensured a steady supply of boys to the choir if they could sing at all. As she was unable to go to church on Sunday morning because she was preparing and cooking the Sunday dinner she made sure the family was well represented as we all went to church for morning and evensong, also went to Sunday school morning and afternoon to keep us out of mischief.
She was fond of quoting old testament verses to lend weight to her strictures to us, such as those who will not work neither shall they eat, or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth etc.
She had a terrifically retentive memory which most of us inherited. I can still stand up in a church service and sing all the old hymns from memory, sixty to seventy years later. These days my `party piece' is to recite one of the poems I learnt at school.
As my mother was brought up under the Victorian work ethic she did her best to impart this to her sons. She herself never seemed to be idle if there was no cooking or housework to do she would be sewing or mending. In our younger days she was also very busy making clothes and was adept at making trousers and shirts on her sewing machine
Another of her activities was as the local organiser for the National Deposit Friendly Society. A good few villagers joined the club and every month they appeared at our house to pay their dues. As it was basically a sickness benefit club Mum listened to the travails of her subscribers and she was ready to help and advise the less able. She would even write letters for them if necessary. Consequently her help and advice was often being sought. She was such an avid reader in her younger days that she knew a good deal about the law and medical matters.
Which brings me back to her doctoring activities. With five boys there were always cuts and bruises to be attended to. Of course there was no National Health Service in the twenties and thirties and no anti-biotics when boils occasionally appeared. She tackled every medical problem or accident with the same positive attitude she adopted over everything else. Boils had to be lanced and poultices applied. Another aspect of homely family treatment was always engendered by mother's own mother. She was a formidable lady and the only person to mother ever deferred. Grandmother visited us on a regular b she lived less than a hundred yards away! If she noticed any of us with a spot on his face then Brimstone and Treacle was prescribed for all.
She hadn't much time for a social life and I should not think she had a holiday away from the village for practicaly forty years. One of her delights was Whist, and I am sure she was disappointed that more of her sons did not turn out to be keen card players. She was a regular attendee at the village Whist Drives and I usually was her partner from twelve or thirteen years onward.
As to be expected one of Mum s main ambitions in to obtain as good an education as possible for her boys. In preparation for improving our knowledge she was always insisting that we sat down and read a book. She had a goodly number of books especially nineteenth century novelists, such as Trollope, Galsworthy, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Arnold Bennett among them. She also obtained a set of Charles Dickens books which I read in my early teens. There were naturally prayer books and bibles and also Pilgrims Progress I felt Mr Do as you would be done by was her guru. when reading an unfamiliar word in a book, we asked Mum w at she always said look in the dictionary, then if we still did not understand she would explain.
As she was determined to improve our our schooling we were, one by one, as we approached the age of eleven bought a bike and sent off to Newport boys' school. Four of us then progressed on to the Wolverton Junior Technical College at great personal effort by mum
Mother was the disciplinarian in our family. From my early remembrances of the family meal times it was the old Victoria ethic that children should be seen and not heard and speak only when you are spoken to. This naturally eased, as we grew older but no-one was allowed to leave the table before everyone had finished their meal.
There was one notable exception to the rule which concerned eldest brother Trevor. Now Mum a though usually stern and strict in the use of the English language was not averse, like most country people of that age to the use of the odd swear word beginning with B. However shs regarded the `F' word as obscene. We were having our evening meal and a discussion on a village resident's car ensued. Suddenly to our amazement Trev said "What, that effing box on -wheels!". Realising his faux pas he jumped out of his chair and was out of the house in a flash!
Which brings me to the subject of use of the cane by mother. Even though we lived in a small village she would not let us boys `roam the streets'. Such people were described as 'Street Arabs'. this meant that for probably a decade we were only allowed to play in the back yard. So we played cricket or football in their season every Saturday afternoon. Naturally after an hour or two there occurred an argument or worse still we had hit or kicked a ball through somebody's window. The noise brought Mother to the back door, cane in hand. "Come on in she cried" In we crept, tails between our legs! By some unwritten law it appeared that Trevor the eldest went in first and naturally received the full vigour of Mum's strong right arm. By the time the youngest arrived he only received a couple of less severe blows of the cane. l, as the `dillin of the family usually received a token stroke.
Saturday was obviously a bad day for mum, She started the day by going on the bus to Northampton to shop and also to the Market to buy quantities of fruit etc. She would come home laden and then cook the mid-day meal. To add to her problems - my illness left me with a discharging left ear and for years she took me to the hospital for treatment. On the bus that she normally travelled I was taken regularly to the Ear Nose and Throat Department. So, by the end of Saturday afternoon she was about worn out and so was her patience.
The caning era ended abruptly. Again brother Trev was the instigator. By the time he was fifteen he was practicaly six foot and a budding lothario with the girls. One night he came home after midnight and still being at school he should have been in bed by nine thirty. Mother in her usual way, was still up and as soon as Trev stepped into the house she set about him with the cane. He, no doubt feeling his feet after his exploits with some country maiden, snatched the cane out of her hand, broke it across his knee and handed the two halves back to her and invited her to try again! Since we have grown-up we often laugh about the Saturday canings. We all agreed it did Mum more good than it did us.
Another of our Mother's habits was the use of the old village or country sayings and words. Although she was highly erudite in her use and knowledge of the 'Queens English' she frequently used the old words or phrases. I used the word 'dillin' when discussing the caning period and understood it to mean the weakling or young one of the tribe. When I was recuperating after my illness I was very picky and difficult to feed. She described that condition as 'dainty', or I had a dainty appetite. When she became exasperated with me she would explode the phrase "I don't know boy liver's too fat and lights too lean for you!' Unkid' was another strange word she used to express her abhorrence of something it was Unkid, the un was deeply accented - 'uunkid' possibly.
The phrase 'hard as a shull stunn' was obviously describing a type of stone. However she was unable to explain its origin except that her parents used it. Also 'as hard as the devil's forehead' was another expression on hardness. A more amusing phrase was used when one or more of her boys wouldn't keep still indoors, she used to say 'Stop bobbing about like a fart in a colander'
Although she was a keen disciplinarian and kept us firmly under control Mum was a veritable tigress when any of her cubs were threatened, or in anyway put upon. The village school teachers were bound to fall foul of her one way or another and no doubt she thought she could do a lot better than they at teaching us the three 'Rs'. After the long illness and absence from school I was picked upon for being backward and slow, so Mum was often at the school reading the riot act. As a result of course our family was not popular at the Village school! Perhaps the transfer to Newport Pagnell school was a blessing for all .
I've often noticed that highly intelligent persons seem to speak the truth without considering peoples' feelings or reactions This I believe rather than malice was he reason why my Mother often unwittingly offended her family and friends. Her phrase was `speak the truth and shame the devil'. She did seem to be a controversial figure at times occasionally `falling out' with someone. She was particularly truthful about women’s ages and her daughters-in-law, as they got older were always corrected if they dropped a year or two from their real age.
As a boy I frequently suffered from her outspokenness when she used to ask friends and visitors which of her two boys was the elder out of Bob and Jack. I was fourteen months older than Jack but about six inches shorter due to my illness I suppose. On these occasions Jack used to look at me with shamefaced sympathy he realised how I hated it. I'm sure my mother would have cut off her right arm rather than hurt me had she realised.
Mother was the essential pioneering woman who would have been in her element trekking across America in a covered wagon. Never at a loss in any situation and would never back down come what may. She had a solution for everything and if one of us ever felt like giving up on something or other she would rapidly supply motivation and backbone. As a natural manager I'm sure she would have taken over as boss of the wagon train!
She used to say hard work never killed anyone, but I believe it helped to kill her. On the Sunday she died I was living in Kent. At 6pm the phone rang and my brother Walt told me I had better come up if I wanted to see her alive. We arrived at about 9am and found her in bed in the ground floor sitting room. She was very weak but still in complete control of her faculties.
Later in mid morning we were all sitting around with Muriel and the three daughters-In-law talking quietly in one corner. Mum suddenly called from her bed `Speak up you lot I can't hear a word you are saying. Two hours later she was dead, worn out at the age of 79
We've had no indication of her activities in heaven I'm sure she would have taken a firm `grip' on the situation on arrival. I’ll bet if she spotted one or two wrong `uns she would let St Peter know in no uncertain fashion that he was less than perfect at his gate duties. As for the twelve apostles she would still remember one or two of their misdeeds to keep
Bless you Mum they don't make them like you any more
Bob Clarke August 1998