FRIENDSHIPS : THE CLAYTONS

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"Michael," I said one day, as I had been wading through an album which had given me many opportunities to chuckle, "Take a look at this book. These are photographs taken by Granny's Cousin Ben nearly a hundred years ago."

He had been a keen amateur photographer. When I was in my teens I possessed a No.2 Brownie camera and on some occasions when he visited our home and I happened to be doing my prints, especially if I had come to the fixing stage, he would say, "Give them a good do; wash the hypo out." That was something I never forgot and it is obvious, looking at these pictures, that he took his own advice, and now we are able to enjoy them as we see the places, the people and the fashions as they were so long ago. Like a lot of Granny's relatives, who were our constant visitors, Cousin Ben to us was always Uncle thereby his wife became 'Auntie Polly'. They loved to find means of contributing to our pleasure, situations, I have to admit we accepted as a right and, throughout our tender years, we built up a series of images which remained as part of our happy childhood.

Strawberries and cream were always associated with Auntie. Annually an invitation would come to attend the Sunday School Anniversary services; not just one or two of us, oh no, as many of us as were free to go so we always made a merry party, either Mother and Father taking us children or, alternatively, my cousin with his mother and father accompanying us on this long iourney, as it seemed then, to Old Trafford. It was always a time of excitement and it coincided with the first deliveries of strawberries into the Manchester shops for that season and there on the tea table would be this glass dish full of this luscious fruit. They had a parrot, too, at that house and always a dog, often an overfed one.

My memory never reveals a rainy anniversary day - they all seem to have been wonderfully sunshiny ones. The following Sunday they were able to pay us a reciprocal visit - then it was our own Sunday School Anniversary. Over a great number of years these services were taken by the Rev. G. Gilbert Muir who had been our first Conference appointed minister. He had established himself in the affections of the families of the 'Failsworth Wesleyans' during that early ministry in Failsworth and Hollins and he was eagerly anticipated, not just on the Sunday, but on the Saturday afternoon when he went around the district popping into the homes of old friends and cheering up sick folk; having a word of prayer where sorrow had descended on a household; shaking hands with folk, letting them feel they mattered. His returning to take the services at 'The Sermons' was more like a family reunion and the members of the church contributed to this atmosphere by gathering their own flocks together to their homes.

On Sundays we always wore our best clothing which was specially retained for that one day per week but, for Anniversary Sundays, we expected something more special. Uncle Ben and Auntie Polly were a handsome couple and, as far as I was concerned, even in those childhood days, the more glamorous they looked the more they pleased me. Long before they arrived I would be in the front garden watching for the tramcars coming from Manchester and when we could see our guests alight, to me, that was like a royal visit. Uncle would be wearing a top hat and a frock coat and Auntie would be resplendent in an outift which was usually crowned with a piece of millinery bearing an ostrich plume and round her neck would be a feather boa - yards of it. I always thought this was magnificent. Today, looking at a picture of the apparel so described, I make no apology for eulogising. ln my opinion they did a service to the community in being so decorative and tasteful.

Their home, too, had numerous visitors of the interesting kind I associate with my Granny's home. Uncle Ben's mother, Ellen, was a daughter of George and Bridget Clough and, as such, was a sister of Ruth Clough who had married 'Robert a' th' View'. Amongst the children of Ellen were twin daughters, one of whom, Alice, had married John Kershaw and, together with their four children they had emigrated to New Zealand in the middle of the nineteenth century. There was a strong affinity between Alice and her brother Ben and the latter took a great deal of interest in the children of his sister and her husband. When their eldest son, Mark, showed an interest in local government and decided to make it his career the Victoria University of Manchester, originally founded as Owens College, was chosen for his training, so he was able to have a temporary home, here in England, with his Aunt and Uncle and he was able to identify himself with their way of life. He was able to bring to their home friends he was making as he undertook his studies and other New Zealanders who were also students taking studies with the intention of returning home on their completion, drifted in from time to time. Finally as a fully-fledged Sanitary Inspector, Mark was able to gain experience before returning home. According to the tales my mother told me, a Sanitary Inspector, at that time, wore a tall hat and frock coat as he proceeded about his duties.

 

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Another son, Jack, entered trade and I well remember some of the promotion schemes undertaken by the New Zealanders. One December Uncle became the recipient of a carcase of frozen Canterbury Lamb. This was before we had fridges in our homes and I do remember how humid the weather was that pre-Christmastide. A local butcher assisted in the cutting-up of the lamb and Uncle covered a big area, which included our home, distributing these portions. We, ourselves, were already supplied with a chicken and a goose from "The Rhiw" for our Christmas dinner so the lamb was shared with a family having many hungry mouths. The butter arrived; another promotion. But Jack's generosity continued and when he sent several travelling rugs, made from fine New Zealand wool, complete with individual initials, we thought they were the ultimate in luxury.

As to their durability, I can now testify as I still possess a couple. We always felt we had a staunch ally in Uncle Ben and could not think of life going on without him. He had had a strenuous time in business during World War I and a few years after its cessation signs of ill-health appeared. He was warned to slow down. This wasn't so easy for a man of his temperament but the doctor was firm and so the warning was heeded; a change of air was recommended, with preference for the country.

Therefore, Uncle Ben and his wife went to live in Shropshire, in a small hamlet - Brown Heath, near Wem. At first we were dismayed to have this greater distance between our homes but very soon there was a marked improvement in Uncle's health and he was adapting himself to country life in a manner which surprised everyone, even himself. So it was not long before a letter arrived inviting my sister and me to pay a visit to Brown Heath and have an extended stay. This we accepted with alacrity. Everything we saw delighted us and Uncle was as pleased as we were when we were shewn around the house, its outbuildings, the neighbourhood, his new associates, his new county and the little chapel, just down the road, and just waiting for someone of his training and persuasion to appear.
When he arrived in the district the little place was closed but not for long did it remain so. One family had thirteen children So Uncle wisely tackled the Sunday School first. It was a hardworking community, mostly farm workers who at that time were struggling with small holdings as well, so there was no free time for most of the parents. In some cases no holidays on account of the needs of stock but the people were very willing to co-operate and soon the children were involved in a number of activities. The man who supplied paraffin lent his donkeys for rides when special sports were planned. Coach trips to the Wrekin were arranged, choir rehearsals and other events took place in the evenings. On one evening I was startled by one lady telling us, on her arrival, that in taking a short cut across a field, in the dark she had stumbled over a cow.

Afterwards the church congregation built up and was incorporated into the Shrewsbury District of the Methodist Church. Soon a small patch of land was bought for a car park. At the time I saw it, it had become a real place of worship.
In coming into this district our relatives had been fortunate enough to rent the house, Rose Villa, which had become vacant on the death of the owner. It had been built to satisfy her needs and was an admirable spot for someone of Uncle Ben's type - a town-dweller, transplanted, but with a leaning towards country life and determined to make a success if his health permitted. Unfortunately, his wife did not share his outlook but she must have acquiesced to the move after hearing the doctor's warning. Furthermore her spinster sister accompanied them in their move and she, too, viewed a country environment as most unacceptable to her. It was within this atmosphere that my sister and I spent our first holiday in Brown Heath but it was not allowed to interfere with any plans which had been made, for the whole household combined to give us a good time and to show us what pleasures there were to be had in that lovely county. The genuine drawbacks, as far as the women were concerned, were a real cause for anxiety and certainly would be considered so, to-day: no gas; no electricity; no running water; light from oil lamps; cooking by oil stoves; heating by means of open fire-grates. You had to draw water from a pump which was situated not far from the back door in a small paved backyard surrounded by a low brick wall topped with wide flat coping stones.

Nevertheless it was at that time that a lot of improvements were being made in kitchen utensils, involving the use of paraffin, and there were some excellent Valor cooking stoves by which the local housewives were producing some delectable dishes without arduous effort. The outbuildings were in excellent condition with rooms for storing the produce from the garden and orchard, stabling facilities, a pigsty, a hencote and washhouse. There was an orchard, paddock, large garden, all surrounded by a stout evergreen hedge. Magnificent yews had been trained to form a structure over the entrance gate which gave perfect shelter in a downpour.

 

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Amongst the leaving presents given to Aunt and Uncle was a beautiful cut glass oil lamp which gave a mellow glow making reading a pleasant occupation in the evenings. Even the paraffin in the lamp's tank added to its attractiveness. It was truly a handsome gift. Then there was the pony and trap; most acceptable to Uncle but viewed with great suspicion by his wife and her sister. Actually, Uncle was no expert in handling this form of transport but he was very willing to learn and he was gaining the confidence of Dolly, the pony. The locals congratulated him on his success so he persevered, but poor Dolly had one failing and it was a big one and I heard the neighbours say, "Mr. Clayton is not firm enough with that pony when it meets Wem Mill." This firm, Maltsters and Corn Merchants, had steam wagons at that time and Dolly, as soon as she saw the formidable chimney of an approaching wagon simply refused to go forward and would swing round in those narrow Shropshire lanes and gallop in the opposite direction, to the disgust of the locals. That did it - Auntie Polly and her sister, Elizabeth, had suspected all along that Dolly was not to be trusted. From that point they refused to be driven in that equipage behind Dolly and, oh dear, what pleasures they missed.

Uncle took us around in that trap and we saw in a leisurely manner the beauties of that county with its magnificent trees and explored the meres with Ellesmere, the queen. As a matter of fact to me it appeared another Lake District, in miniature, and we visited Colemere, White Mere, Blake Mere and I am sure there were others that we missed. We visited Clive and saw people on Grinshill laboriously gathering the wimberries; then we had tea in the nearby hotel where the ceiling was covered by a vine and the bunches of grapes hung down making an unusual and pleasant sight.

We trotted leisurely along the Shropshire lanes with uncle chatting to us, pointing out the landmarks and places of interest which otherwise we would have missed for, perched as we were, we could see over the hedgerows and one sight has remained in my memory. It was an area of land where the owner was a cultivator of sweet peas, High tripods had been erected using tree branches up which the plants trailed and there one had an array of shades from the rich claret through to the palest pink. It was a sheer delight to see them.

We were invited by many of the chapel people to visit their homes for tea and all seemed to have something unusual for town dwellers such as we were. The Povalls had fields and fields of strawberries. Mr Povall senr. had fixed one of his daughters and a son on a smallholding. They had to run it themselves and make it pay. The house on this holding was large and to go into one ground floor room and unexpectedly find a brooder installed, and watch the chickens being hatched, that, to me, was worth coming for. Some of the girls were cheesemakers and were highly respected and as a matter of fact I was impressed by the abilities of these young country folk.

Uncle used to gather his apples, pears and plums and store them and it was the practice for professional fruit gatherers to buy the fruit on the trees and do the picking themselves. We were told that Dolly on one occasion had really disgraced herself. Uncle had gathered some of his own crop and put the choicest fruit on one side in the backyard in order to take it to the chapel as a gift for the Harvest Festival as soon as he had finished his lunch. But Dolly, nosing around and with no one to rebuke her, had devoured the whole of this fruit. When Uncle came along, there stood Dolly with foam dripping from her mouth and covering her chest and forelegs. So on this occasion the best of the produce of the orchard from 'Rose Villa' did not go to 'God's House', much to Uncle┬░s disappointment, only the second-best, but I have a strong suspicion that that, too, would have been carefully selected.

I liked to gather the greengages. The flat coping stones an the top of the backyard wall were quite a help for this operation. I was surprised, the first time I undertook this work, to find the amount of fruit waiting to be gathered for the shades of the fruit and the leaves on the branches merged, so with a large basket and with little effort I had a splendid crop to hand into the kitchen.


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At the time we were introduced to this part of the country prices of fruit, especially in times of a glut were shockingly low, sometimes damsons were only bringing one halfpenny (old money) per lb., sometimes even, they were not worth picking because of the low price and it was sad to see the fruit rotting in the ditches. I was very interested, though, in occasionally seeing young people with primroses, in small saleable bunches, waiting at the end of some of the lanes and was told they were waiting for a certain Mr, Yewdall, who came from Manchester, who would offer them an amount in order to buy them. He was established and collected farm produce from a wide area, finishing in due course at Wem Market. In those days, I was told, he set the prices which held for that day's business.

I enjoyed the chatter of Market Day. Uncle used to get hobnobbing with the farmers and the women chattered in the restaurants and round the stalls and then, travelling in a privately run bus with a most uncomfortable seating arrangement, seated next to someone with a big basket and having also a duck, giving a mild quack, quack, oh it was all lovely.

We were taken to Ellesmere Market but I haven't many memories of that market because we seem to have had to leave early. To go to Shrewsbury, however, and enjoy the beauty of the Dingle and the town itself with strolls by the riverside created many happy memories and although we never saw the Flower Show so many of the villagers gave us most descriptive accounts of their visits annually, for being so limited in the time they could spare for extended holiday they were in the habit of using the Shrewsbury Show as one of their highlights of the year and were always ready to be expansive if they found a new audience and my sister and I were avid listeners. I remember there had been a society wedding in the district and many newspaper cuttings were spread out for us to see as the bride or groom lived at Frankton Grange and a lovely reception had taken place there.
It was interesting to have the descriptions given to us from so many people with so many points of view. I thoroughly enjoyed the country flavour of the narratives.

There was one piece of information which I received from Uncle which I completely misconstrued and if wasn't until years afterwards that I realised my mistake. It referred to Rowland Hill. On one of his guided tours Uncle had pointed his whip in a certain direction saying, at the same time, "Rowland Hill was born over there," and, to me, there was only the penny post Rowland Hill. During World War II I was in Kidderminster and came across a statue to the memory of RH - born in Kidderminster. Such was my faith in my Uncle Ben, such was my training with my grandmother that I had grown up feeling her people were infallible, when I saw that statement on the statue, momentarily I thought Kidderminster had erred, until reason took me in hand and I realised my stupidity. Now, I know that our history books contain two of the name of Rowland Hill and I also know on what account each is famous.

There was a stretch of common land at Brown Heath known as the moss and we explored this with our relative. I saw there a hermit's hut which was well constructed and on it, stretched out, drying in the sunshine were moleskins which were in demand by furriers at that time. Rabbits, of course, were plentiful and it was not unusual for the dog from Rose Villa to catch them and take them home but he would not eat them, so on the doorstep it was not an uncommon occurrence for Auntie to find a dead rabbit. The dog enjoyed the chase. What I did not enjoy on these occasions was to lose track of him, then to hear his barking, as though coming from the bowels of the earth, for he loved going into rabbit holes and chasing them in their burrows. I was told that Laddie had several times before been lost for days on end, then to be dug out by strenuous effort and for him to make for another rabbit hole immediately. Near the Moss was a knacker's yard and when this was fully in operation how the atmosphere reeked with the smell, but usually the folk in the village were forewarned for they would see the dead horses being carted in that direction.

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We visited many cottages covered with roses, picturesque, many approached under beautiful pergolas, but oh dear in a shocking state of repair, or with such tiny rooms that one could hardly breathe in them and, in comparison with 'Rose Villa' and its airy rooms, in spite of its mod. coms. missing, the latter was super.

There came a time, however, when the womenfolk obtained their own way. The opportunity came about in a very easy manner. A small property Uncle owned in Urmston became vacant and he succumbed to the pressure imposed on him and they were all uprooted in a very short time. Uncle was a very adaptable man. In his new environment there again was a Sunday School just waiting for a superintendent of his calibre; a small park waiting for someone to motivate the Council into providing a shelter for the veterans who used the bowling green and there were congenial menfolk who gave him a friendly welcome and the friendships blossomed. Auntie, now perfectly happy with her shops nearby, her amenities restored and a cinema not far away, dropped into a routine which gave her the greatest satisfaction and included her standing at the door as her husband made his morning exit, as though going to business, and handing to him a clean pocket-handkerchief. A most punctual man, he would return at an agreed time for lunch which would be served with promptitude.

Among the good folk we had met at Brown Heath were Mr. and Mrs. Bevan who insisted my sister and I should visit their home on some future date, pointing out that the railway company ran excursions at Whitsuntide. And so they did. For several years afterwards we were able to go on Whit Mondays from London Road Station, Manchester, at a cost of only five shillings and sixpence for the return fare. From Wem station we walked along the country roads always stopping to admire the black and white timbered vicarage which never failed to attract us. When we made this Whitsuntide visit we saw the countryside in all its beauty. 'Rose Cottage' had a fair supply of fruit trees and bushes. We always seemed to have to do a lot of visiting before we took our hike back to Wem station. Our rucksack would have been emptied of the gifts we had brought but it did not remain empty long for we were sent back to Manchester with a fowl and dairy products and other mementoes which made our trip to Brown Heath a long-lasting pleasure.

 

 

Cartmel Market Place 1899

GALLERY page for Ben Clayton's Photograph album

Failsworth View 1840


'Robert a'th' View' - Chapter list