After Wall Farm 1940-1942: a memoir.

When Uncle Willie left Wall Farm, I lost my 2nd home, but for me it was not a complete disaster. I liked Holmwrangle almost as much as Wall Farm, partly because Uncle Willie’s land bordered on the river Eden. My mother extracted many promises from me not to go near the river, before every visit to Holmwrangle, but the first thing I did on arrival was to rush down to the river, and wander along its banks. In the middle of the river was an island, which had bushes and long grass and a few wild flowers. It did not seem to belong to anyone and I longed to possess it. The river was quite shallow at that point but near the island it flowed very swiftly. I used to stand there wondering if I dare cross, or if I would be swept away. I had always been told that the river Eden was a very dangerous river. Sometimes I ventured part of the way, but had to return. I never did reach the island.

Holmwrangle Farm was a large house, with 4 or 5 bedrooms upstairs, and another bedroom above the kitchen. This was intended for a servant, and originally there had been a ladder giving access to it through a trap-door. I was fascinated by this room, and kept begging Uncle Willie to find a ladder, and let me go up there. Every time I went into the garden, I gazed longingly up at the window. He kept insisting there was nothing up there but dust. I saw it as a secret place, and had the same yearning to possess it, as I did for the island in the river Eden. I was so insistent that Uncle Willie got a ladder and let me climb up and look into the room from the outside of the house. He was right! There was nothing in there but dust.

Holmewrangle Farm.The "secret room" is just out of sight, on the left hand side.

The main attraction of Holmewrangle though was my cousin, Mary. I loved to play with her and she was just beginning to walk. No one was sure whether she should be doing this, because Mary was a "blue baby". She had a heart condition, was seriously ill, and not expected to live long. She knew nothing of death, however, and she laughed a lot when we praised her and told her how clever she was to be walking already

When I was young messages were delivered by the local bus driver, and one day when I was at home at Cumwhitton, he stopped the bus at our gate, and came up the path and told us that Mary had died. I knew she was sick, but it was still a shock when what could happen changed into what had happened. She died on the 4th September, 1942 when she was one year and ten months and I was ten. Mary was buried in Cumwhitton Churchyard beside Anne, my little sister. Anne's name is on the same gravestone as my parents - Anne Noreen Jane Robley. Mary's grave is unmarked. I must be one of the few people who remember Mary Elspeth Graham.

Things were not going well at Cumwhitton. It was a very unhappy time for all of us. My mother hated confrontation, while my father loved it, so they were a very odd pair. I have often wondered why they came together. My mother had a best friend called Bella Elliot. According to Bella, my mother used to say, "If Willie Robley was the last man on earth, I would never marry him." Bella added that my father had been interested in my mother for a long time, before she moved away to Wall Farm. Once when he met her at Cumwhitton he had remarked, "I'm going to marry you some day". Hannah's immediate response seems to have been negative, but William was very single minded. When his mother died he set off to track her down at Wall Farm.

My mother (right) with Bella Elliot. Although Brocklewath was in Cumwhitton parish, it was a long way from the school. Great Corby school was nearer. My mother and Bella were fellow pupils at Corby school.

A great source of conflict, at that time, was Grandma. Hannah had been dominated by her mother until middle age and had never stood up to her. She even insisted that Grandma had stolen me. She hadn't wanted me to live at Wall Farm, but Grandma took me. The depression she was suffering from, after the death of Anne, triggered a series of flash-backs to her childhood, when she remembered all the things her mother had done to her, and said to her. She demanded frequent reassurances from me that I liked her better than Grandma.

One of the things that upset her most was that Grandma had said she was plain. She told me this story again and again. I was quite tired of hearing it. I was too young to cope with this reversal of roles. I wanted a mother that supported me. People made all sorts of comments about me too. My mother said I was growing too tall and would never marry. Men liked small women. My father thought I would grow up to be a bluestocking. I was not quite sure what that meant, but could tell from his voice that it had negative as well as positive connotations. Great Aunt Mina, who always seemed to be around, said I had a sly look. She only liked children with an open expression. The Grahams didn't think much of me either. Nora the Brownrigg once remarked, on meeting us in Carlisle, "There's something wrong with that bairn, Hannah. You should have her seen to." I was used to these unfavourable comments, but very sensitive to them as well. My solution was to invent a mother. Her name was Helen and she gave me all sorts of good advice. I could almost see her, but not quite.

Hannah (Left), Annie & Nora at Wall Farm. Hannah does look plain in this photograph.

It had been agreed that Grandma would spend short periods with all her three children, moving after a month or two, from one to the other, with her small brown suitcase. She had so few possessions left, that all her belongings fitted into that very small space. It was never going to work. Grandma liked a tidy well ordered house. Both my mother and Uncle Willie's wife, Anne lived in a permanent state of chaos and disorder. Nora fortunately was like Grandma, and it was at her house that Grandma was usually found.

Nora lived at Scratchmere Scar Farm, with her husband Tom Beattie and her two children, Norma and Gordon. Norma was 2 years younger than me, and we got on extremely well during this middle period of our childhood. We really clicked. I began to spend every holiday at the Scar. The Scar Farm was on the Plumpton to Lazonby Road, on the side of Lazonby Fell and quite near Wall Farm. I had to go to Carlisle, catch the Ribble bus to the Pack Horse, Plumpton and walk for about a mile and a half up the Lazonby road. It was an ideal place for children to play.

A recent picture of Scratchmere Scar Farm. New outbuildings have been erected since the time I was there. It is very isolated.

Aunt Nora was an excellent cook and baked delicious pies, with apples from the orchard and rhubarb from the garden. She also made her own butter which tasted far better than butter bought in a shop. Sometimes she let me turn the churn, but it was very hard work and I soon gave up. Usually, Grandma had a pan of scotch broth on the fire, so we were extremely well fed. Tom went to the pub twice a week, on Tuesday and Saturdays, so I think Aunt Nora was glad of Grandma's companionship. It was a bit scary being left on her own, with young children, in such an isolated place.

There was always something to do at the Scar. Calves had to be fed, hens let out during the day and shut in at night. On one visit, I remember, there was a large number of semi-feral cats that came into the farm-yard looking for food. Most of them were tortoiseshell. They would not let me touch them, but they were very beautiful. I looked out for them every day.

Norma and I made long treks up the fell and were exhausted by nightfall. Gordon sometimes came with us and sometimes not. He was always full of mischief, the exact opposite of Walter. Once he climbed onto the farmhouse roof and dropped a bird's nest down the chimney, straight into Grandma's scotch broth. He was in deep trouble. I could see that Tom, who had never hit a child in his life, was considering doing it for a first time!

Norma as a toddler feeding the chickens at Scratchmere Scar.

Uncle Tom was a Scotsman, who came from just across the Border in Dumfries. His mother was a Graham, but as far as I know he was not related to us, except of course through his marriage. Everyone liked Tom. Sometimes, when he was going to Penrith, Norma and I went with him. We went to the pictures and then had chips afterwards, while we waited for Tom to collect us. Tom went to the pub. Uncle Tom was not an alcoholic like Uncle Willie. He liked the social side of drinking and he drank beer, not spirits. He was probably well over the limit, by modern standards, but we always arrived home safely.

Uncle Willie (left) and Uncle Tom at the Scar Farm.

I had to leave High Hesket school when Wall Farm was sold and, back at Cumwhitton, I had started a new school, Warwick Bridge. All these changes of school were not a good idea as I was very shy and nervous. My father had the best of intentions, in this respect, but I would describe him as blinkered. He only saw one aspect of any situation. In his eyes I was clever and would go far. I needed a good education and he was going to make sure that I got it. What my father didn't see was that the other children came from the same village and had known one another all their lives. I was an outsider. All the same, I do not regret moving to Warwick Bridge school. The things that happened to me, even the negative ones, brought me forward to where I am now. It was one step on the path through a very interesting life.

My father did not see me as a unique person, but rather as an extension of himself. For instance, when I was little he decided to buy me a present. This was odd in itself as I never had presents. One day he came back from Carlisle, very pleased with himself and carrying a meccano set. If there was a present I would like not to have had it was a meccano set. I had no interest in mechanical things. I would have loved a doll or a book. I had had no doll all through my childhood. Perhaps it was what he would have wanted when he was a boy. My father could never see how other people could be different to him. I pretended to play with it to please him. Walter, who would have loved a meccano set, refused to even look at it because there had been no present for him.

One day I overheard Aunt Nora say to my mother, "You should stop Willie hitting Marian. He's making her very nervous." My father hit us a lot during our childhood, but during this period it had got worse. He never hit my mother, but sometimes he hit me, when he was annoyed with my mother. I think it was because he thought I should be doing more housework. I knew though that my mother would never confront my father whatever Aunt Nora thought.

So when I was 10, I decided to stop him myself. I told him he was never to hit me again and never to touch Walter either. I shook so much that I almost collapsed. I don't know if it was with fear or anger - probably both. My father looked surprised, as if it had never occurred to him that it was not a good idea to continually hit children and particularly to clout their ears. He also looked alarmed at the sight of all my shaking and trembling. My father was not one given to reflection on how his behaviour might appear to others, but this time I seemed to have made an impact. He never touched either of us again.

I had other issues with my father such as his continual shouting. Why couldn't he speak in a normal voice like other people?. I don't think male shouting was a Robley characteristic, as it was exactly the opposite at Shepherd's View, Castle Carrock. Here Mary ruled the roost. She did all the shouting to spur Joseph on and keep him in order. I have a letter written to my father, by my mother, when he was in hospital at Shotley Bridge. Walter sometimes took her on a visit to see my father. It reads, "Dear Daddy - We got home alright last night, called at Castle Carrick. Joseph was milking as usual, and says he is fed up of the job. Mary was telling him where he got off as usual ---".

The thing that helped my mother most was acquiring the market stall. She looked forward to it all week. After she left school, her father had enrolled in a commercial school in Carlisle. I think it was called DeWitts. Her ambition was to have a job in the post-office. She said she was offered a job, but her mother wouldn't agree to her taking it. Grandma wanted her to stay at home and do the housework. As she never did any housework, I was not convinced of the reality of this tale, but there is no doubt that she would have loved to go out to earn money of her own. My father's temper improved now that they had a common aim. Nearly all the money from the stall went into the bank to buy more farms. My mother goes on in the same letter, "Well we got the Gibson's farm, but had to pay through the nose for it, £8350. A Scotsman from Annan wanted it badly and Mr Sutcliffe could not shake him off ---Mr Gibson was very nice about it but Glen did not appear to be pleased. Cumwhitton people will get a shock."

Good news came at the end of this period of my life. I had passed the Scholarship exam and was to go to Carlisle & County High School for Girls.

January, 2013