Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Doing the Lambeth Walk

Mum on the right with her friend doing the Lambeth Walk

It occurred to me recently that although I’ve blogged about my dear old Dad and his soldiering days, I haven’t talked about my lovely Mum, Emily (and known fondly as Em). She was born in Horwich, near Bolton, in 1911, the youngest of three sisters. She also had an older and two younger brothers. Life was very hard for my grandmother, also an Emily, because my grandfather, as a private in the 1st Battalion of the ‘Six VCs before breakfast’ Lancashire Fusiliers, had died during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. At 39, with a young family, he would not have had to go to war except that he was a reservist, having served with the Lancashire Fusiliers previously between 1894 and 1899.
              Mary Ellen, her mother’s sister, lived with them, off and on, sleeping on the sofa because there was no bed to spare. As she was lame and unable to work, she helped out where she could. Labelled ‘an interfering old bugger’ by my Auntie Mary, she was nevertheless a great influence on my mother’s life. She loved to sing and taught Mum many of the songs she knew, not all of them respectable. Mum got into trouble once at a tea party for war orphans for singing one of Auntie Mary Ellen’s songs, about a young woman who pretended to be a soldier in order to stay with her soldier sweetheart. It was the phrase, ‘her lily white breasts,’ which earned her a telling-off from the good ladies of the Co-operative Guild. She also had a suitable saying for every occasion and these have passed down through Mum until they have become family mottos. Sayings like ‘It’s a long lane that has no turning,’ and ‘As one door closes, another opens,’ have been held on to over and over again when things were going badly. I was later to find, through doing my family history, that she died, aged only 52, in Fishpool Workhouse in Bolton, Lancashire
              When Mum was 11, she passed a scholarship to go to local grammar school. The school was Protestant and Mum’s family were Catholics but her mother, aware of the advantages of education, insisted she go. Mum remembered that she wasn’t allowed to go into the morning assembly with the others, but apart from that, she really enjoyed school and seemed to do well there. Unfortunately, when she was 13, her mother fell gravely ill and as she lay dying, the priest refused her the last rites unless ‘that child leaves that Protestant grammar school.’ Under intense pressure, and knowing what it would mean to her mother to have the last rites, she agreed, though it was to turn her against Catholicism. She never forgave that priest.
The then equivalent of Social Services wanted to split the family up and foster the children separately but Mary, the elder sister, and John, the elder brother, themselves only 19 and 18 (they were both born in the same year, 1905) would not hear of it. Mary used to come home in her dinner break from the mill where she worked, to give the younger children their dinner.
When Mum left school at fourteen, she went in 't'mill' like her sisters Mary and Annie but never liked it. By sixteen, she was working 'in service' and stayed in that line of work for most of her working life. In 1936, she met my Dad, Ronald, and within a year they were married. Both of them worked, on and off, in domestic service for most of my childhood and afterwards.
She always said that it was Dad who had itchy feet but it was actually her that kept looking in ‘The Lady’ magazine for other domestic service jobs. One interview they went to was with John Stonehouse, one time MP, who, shortly after, faked his own death by drowning and turned up in Australia living with his secretary. Another interview was with Victor Lowndes, the European head of the Playboy organisation. They turned him down because he refused to consider changing the original Victorian kitchen of his country house, Stocks.
In about 1972/73, they went to work for an up and coming business man, Asil Nadir, who had a rather grand house on Bishop's Avenue, otherwise known as Millionaire's Row, Hampstead, London. They had some hilarious adventures there, including bundling Asil's mistress out of the back door while his wife came in the front. In 1993, while on bail on fraud charges relating to his Polly Peck organisation, he fled the country to live in Turkish Cyprus. In 2010, he returned to the UK, the case went to trial and he is now serving a prison sentence.
After officially retiring from domestic service, Emily became manager of a charity shop, first of all in Bedford, then, after they’d moved back to Lancashire, in Bolton. Even when she retired from that, she kept busy fund-raising for various charities and organising a bingo social club in Bolton two or three days a week. In the early 1980s, when she was in her seventies, she and a friend entered a national competition being held to promote the West End opening of ‘Me and My Girl’ starring Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson. Their portrayal of the Lambeth Walk led to them winning the regional final and then, against stiff competition from Londoners themselves, they won the national final!
Mum in later life with that smile!
After my Dad died in 1999, Mum continued to live alone in their flat in Horwich but in 2001, moved to Bolsover, Derbyshire to be nearer me and my husband. She lived in sheltered accommodation, making friends easily and participating in most of the events. I visited most afternoons and on Sundays, she would come to us for lunch. In 2008, after a series of stays in hospital, she moved into a care home as she needed more daily care than I was able to provide. She died in December 2008, following a short illness aged 97. All who came into contact with her declared her to be ‘a lovely lady’ with a big and generous heart and, as someone said, ‘a captivating smile.’ I’m so proud that she was my Mum.