Reading with Mother

This is a transcript, with analysis, of handwritten notes by my mother, Barbara Dennis, in about 1972. Her writing in italics. I think they resulted from her brother Reginald visiting some relatives in the Weston Heath area (near the junction of the Watling Street A5 and Newport Road A41) and Albrighton, between Wolverhampton and Telford. Further information in Andrew’s Kindred. Other information, especially about Stonnall, came from discussion with her aunt Gertrude “Gertie” Taylor (nee Carter).

Often people’s recollections are unreliable. Some will swear that black is white even when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Other memories are victims of time or subject to embellishment. Still others are interpolations to make sense of seemingly conflicting “facts”. It is essential, therefore, to check one’s own and others’ tales of yore against the facts that are available. In this case the notes my mother assembled from her own and relatives’ memory are remarkably accurate.

Mother’s handwriting was never the most elegant! She was left-handed and had been forced at school to use her right hand, on pain of a ruler across the knuckles if caught using her left. Today, such physical punishment would lead to the instant dismissal of the teacher, but adults could get away with such cruelty in the 1930s. Here is a sample:

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Daniel Carter
Early memories

Visiting 123 Watling Street middle house of 3 opposite church when very young.

Family row with landlord who lived next door who was my father’s sister’s husband. The reason was making too much noise when the family got together. They were told to leave the property. With nowhere to go Grandad, Grandma and cat came to live in our front room downstairs with use of front bedroom, 4 of us sleeping in the back bedroom. Hopeless situation; they had to come through our room which was very small to get their water and to the lavatory which was outside.

I think the landlord in question must have been Pathena Brown’s husband Herbert Harvey as they did live on Watling Street, for example when their daughter Ethel was born in 1914. They were also a bit better off, sending Ethel to be educated at the Friary School, Lichfield and to University (Oxford, I think, but would not swear to it). Edwin Brown had two other sisters; Selina, and Hannah Amelia. Hannah Amelia married a John Bennett and in 1911 lived near Atherstone. I have not been able to trace the others, though they may have died young – the 1911 Census records 2 children had died.

I now think I have found Selina in the 1891 census, as S Brown, age 26, born Coseley, at Burntwood Assylum (for the mentally ill). This connects with death registered Lichfield 1894. All sisters are therefore accounted for.

Their cat used to come in at the back of the house and rattle the knob, which he could just reach standing as high as possible on hind legs, to be let into the front room. You had to be careful not to get scratched. Later he could, after a lot of effort, manage to open the door himself.

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back-lane-os-1915-surv-1921-pub-up
A mental map showing Watling Street at top and Chapel Street at bottom (north).  The church was St Thomas Mission Church, a satellite of Ogley Hay.  I have inverted the Ordnance Survey mapping, surveyed 1915,to aid comparison; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Living with us caused a lot of friction in the family. My mother and father seemed to agree that the landlord was in the right and that they had to be warned about noise. [I] remember the relief in [the] family when they eventually moved to 123 Watling Street.

He retired while living at 123 Watling Street.

While living there he worked at Walsall Wood Colliery as banksman and dug the garden and allotment at Stonnall. Uncle Bill (William Taylor of 45 Chapel Street) (now living at 42 Watling Street) tells me he used to go to work loaded down with plants, particularly cabbage plants, to sell to workmates – also vegetables when he had more than required at home.

The garden at Stonnall was presumably at Leigh Cottage and the allotment in Cartersfield Lane – the allotment is confirmed below.

It was at this house I remember Grandma (Sarah Elizabeth) making artificial flowers from crepe paper (roses, crysanthemums & tulips). Sometimes they were waxed. I remember we had some waxed tulips at home. She also made a standard rose tree for some special event – I think at the Hussey Arms. I remember relatives, friends and neighbours calling at 123 to admire it.

Grandad also made a lot of wine: potato, parsnip, elderberry, dandelion, coltsfoot. I remember helping him gathering bags and bags of flowers and also yarrow growing on the pit mounds and on the common.

I also remember that he had a wireless at 123. Each day he would listen to the weather forecast which he wrote down and hung by the fireplace so that visitors could read it. We had to be silent when he was listening. If anyone spoke and he missed a word he was very angry.

Grandma died in February 1936.

Almost: on 10 January 1936 at 123 Watling Street, and buried on 15 January, reported in the February issue of the Parish Magazine.

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