Time Past -15

From the BFMS Forum (edited)

May 9, 2009:Workhouses and Well Water

 ‘We can boil kettles’, Mrs Llew said staunchly after the heating system packed up. It’s no longer than 150 years since her unlettered ancestors, and mine, drew cold water from a well or parish pump and were lucky if they did not end their days in the workhouse.  We still had cold water from a tap. This was a minor setback. We would have to doff our cap to a plumber, not the squire, and all would soon be well.

Thus we soldiered on and while we waited for the plumber who did not come because it was Saturday and the insurance only covered weekday emergencies (now they told us) my thoughts drifted again to our childhoods, hers and mine, as the bombs fell on Mrs Llew’s home town of Croydon and mine of Plymouth.

I remember wearing my toy tin helmet as I, with my 58-year-old grandfather (France 1914-18), wearing a real one, looked out in the night at the fires burning right across Plymouth. I remember my mother, in the darkened house, cooking the supper in a big square biscuit tin on the coal fire. I remember my first taste of Heinz spaghetti. Delicious. In Croydon the infant Mrs Llew demanded that she and her mother sleep in the garden shelter. That very night a bomb shattered a front room window and the stiletto glass shards sliced through the space under the table where they would have been sleeping.

These are memories, hers and mine. We have never forgotten them. In the field next to my house we picked mushrooms every autumn. There was a great tree by a stone barn. I tried to climb it. The web tells me there’s a road there now but this place is recognisable.

From well water to failed central heating. From the workhouse to the ancient universities attended by Mrs Llew and our daughters. The family soldiers on and this is the inheritance of survival and achievement which is already that of our (children and grandchildren).

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3 Responses to Time Past -15

  1. churchmouse says:

    ‘From the workhouse to the ancient universities attended by Mrs Llew and our daughters.’
    There seemed to be more social mobility then than now.

    Excellent post, Llew — as ever.

  2. lleweton says:

    Thanks Churchmouse. On social mobility I have no qualifications to speak on possible wider issues but I did observe that all those people of my grandparents’ generation (born in the 1880s) whom I knew – and Mrs Llew would say the same – were perfectly literate and numerate; and had been so since they left school in their very early teens, most of them – and maybe for their time they were the lucky ones – destined to go into ‘service’.

    • churchmouse says:

      Just so, Llew. A decent universal education lifts everyone up. Sadly, that’s gone by the boards.

      I haven’t investigated the world of service but would imagine that those going into it would have needed to be numerate and literate — to read instructions, double-check invoices and the like. Sad that our forebears attempted to improve our lives as permanently as they could, then a century later things go down the pan — maths, literature, grammar, history are pretty much gone.

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