Behind every person there is a story. This is my grandmother's story, and because I was very close to her, when I was young, it is also part of my story. I began to write this because I hoped to learn something new about my grandmother, and to understand her better. As I continued it awakened recollections which brought fresh insights into myself. Thus, although it is her story, I am the one gaining the benefit from it.
I must begin, this journey into the past, with the facts. I have before me her birth certificate. Annie Broadfoot, born on the 8th October, 1870, at Bottacks. It even gives the time of birth as 8.00am - a boon for the astrologists.
The birth is registered at Fodderty Schoolhouse in the County of Ross and Cromarty. The father was William Broadfoot, a shepherd, and the mother Margaret Broadfoot, formerly McKenzie.
Margaret and William were married on the 5th March 1869 at Auchterneed. Annie belonged then to a family living in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, an area rich in natural beauty but poor in the resources necessary to earn a living.
Piecing together Annie's life means recovering parts of my own life which have been lost or forgotten. Where have I been? What have I done? Who am I? Who do you think you are? Are you who you think you are? One thing is certain and that is that I am a quarter Scottish, and that part came from Annie.
When I was very little, Annie used to come over to Cumwhitton and take me back with her to Wall Farm. She was widowed and lonely and she kept me for long periods. My mother never opposed this arrangement and it was quite common, at that time, to live with members of the extended family. So a lot of the time I lived with grandma, and one of my earliest memories is of my grandmother coming over to Cumwhitton to take me to Wall Farm.
Grandma had lifted me onto the kitchen table, to put on the new dress which she had sewn for me, when there was a crisis involving teddy bears. The only toys I possessed at that time were two inherited bears, one of which was thread-bare, missing one ear and both eyes, and called One-Without-Legs. I think he must have been in the family for a very long time and I used to carry him, drooping down, by his remaining ear. I was quite fond of One-without-Legs, but I really preferred the second teddy because he was more complete. He was called Tiddens, and Tiddens was missing.
As I declared that I was unwilling to go without Tiddens, a search was instituted to see if he could be found. Grandma absolutely refused to take One-Without-Legs as she said he was a disgrace. Find Tiddens. Where did you drop him?, said Grandma anxious to catch the bus. He isn't lost, I insisted, Tiddens has gone to a far far country to catch rabbits. Tired and exasperated with all my nonsense, my grandmother lifted me down and we caught the local bus to Carlisle (without Tiddens). From Carlisle we went on the Ribble bus which travelled between Carlisle and Penrith and passed Wall Farm. Grandma did not like travelling. I found this odd later when I discovered how much she had done in her youth.
At Wall Farm. I am about 20 months in this picture. It was taken by a friend of Uncle Willie's from Armstrong College, where Willie had studied agriculture. Armstrong College is now part of the University of Newcastle.
Wall Farm is on the A6 between Carlisle and Penrith at Plumpton Wall. Annie lived there with Uncle Willie who, at that time, was unmarried. Willie was tall and thin, with blue eyes, red hair and a jolly manner. He was the black sheep of the family. There was also Jimmy Bayne, who was backward but a good worker. My grandfather had taken him on and promised him a home for life. He had his keep and a little pocket money to buy a drink. He ate kippers, smoked woodbines and gave me the cigarette cards. My mother called him Jeemsie. He did not like my mother, and whenever he was annoyed with me he said I was just like her.
Grandma must have been 62 when I was born. Details of her appearance keep coming back to me. I remember her as dressed in black,as befitted a widow. Her hair was long, coming down to her waist, and she wore it in a bun, secured by many hair pins. She wore stays but no brassiere, and long bloomers coming down to her knees. We shared the same double bed. The winters were hard in Cumberland, and I was often bitterly cold at night. I had severe chilblains which bled and were very painful. The only heating was the fire in the kitchen, and when she came to bed, she would let me put my feet on her legs to keep warm.
There was a wash basin and jug in the bedroom, and every morning grandma carried up water and washed herself all over. She was scrupulously clean. Splashing hot and then cold water on your face, she told me, was the secret of keeping a good complexion.
I have happy memories of grandma. She brushed my hair twice every day. A hundred strokes a day made your hair shine. I had beautiful hair then, wavy and corn coloured and, she said, unlike white hair it would keep its colour. White hair darkened very quickly. Grandma had had red hair when she was young and it went with light blue eyes, freckles and a very fair skin. She was proud of her hair and liked to think that she was good looking. She had a far away look when she told me, over and over again, that she had scarlet fever when she was young and although she lost all he hair, it grew in curly. Curls were fashionable then and it was something to boast about.
In retrospect I realize that Annie never fitted into Cumbrian society. She missed her original family from the north of Scotland and especially her eldest sister, Jessie. Communication with them was difficult though, because Annie could not write. I did see her sign her name once, in a shaky kind of fashion but nothing beyond that. Annie could read, although with difficulty and very slowly. She sometimes took the magazine, The People's Friend. She liked Annie S. Swan who was a very dull writer, I thought.
I was a good reader and yearning for books. I still remember sitting in the infant's class at Cumwhitton school. I was 5 and looking at a page which began, The cat sat on the mat. No Janet and John in those days! I looked at the line and could make no sense of it, and then suddenly I saw the words, then the sentence and finally I read the whole page. It was easy! I could read! There was no stopping me, except that I had no books.
I was still going to Grandma at Wall Farm every school holiday though, and one of its attractions was the presence in the house of a set of the English classics. Inside each book was the same inscription, A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit. One day, under Uncle Willie's guidance, I took down a copy of Jane Eyre. I was 7 then, and I read the first part many times before I managed to finish it and to progress on to Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White and Lorna Doone. It opened up a new world to me, beyond Cumwhitton or even Wall Farm.
Annie may have been no scholar, but she had many other abilities. She was an excellent housewife. She washed the clothes, mended, ironed and folded them way. She enjoyed cooking, sewing and she taught me how to knit. She aired the beds and turned the matresses. She scrubbed dusted and polished, and kept the house spotlessly clean.
My mother did not get on with grandma. It was bewildering to hear some of my mother's childhood stories, for they stretched my credibility. I argued with my mother about it, because she saw grandma as bad and I saw her as good, and neither of us could grasp the truth that she could be both. I sometimes wondered if we were talking about the same person.
As my mother refused to do anything that my grandmother did well, it left her deficient in almost all domestic skills. I remember that Annie crooned snatches of Christian spirituals as she went about her tasks. Usually it was the same one over and over again:In the cross, in the cross, Be my glory ever, Till my raptured soul shall find, Rest beyond the river . This annoyed my mother, because she believed she was the singer. Grandma, she said, had no tune. I thought her singing was beautiful though, because of the feelings it evoked in me, not because of its technical perfection. I still like Spirituals.
On her father's side, Annie came from a family of wandering shepherds, who had originally come up from the Scottish Borders, following the sheep. Her father settled in Ross-shire and married a local crofter's daughter from the Heights of Inchvanie, called Margaret McKenzie. Together they had 8 children. Annie often thought about her early life in the Highlands, her brothers and sisters and the shepherd's cottages where she lived such a long time ago. I discovered that her father moved around, even within Ross-shire, and that his children were born in several places: Strathpeffer, Kiltearn, Tain.
Annie had a faraway look in her eyes as she remembered some horse-play that took place in one of those cottages and which involved her father. She seemed fond of him. I asked her if she spoke Gaelic and she said she had a little Gaelic, but had forgotten it. Her mother spoke more Gaelic than she did. Annie had a beautiful voice with a lilt in it.
Annie left Scotland when she was 12 and went to London as a children's nurse. I would love to have heard tales of her life as a nanny, and the names of the children she looked after, and where they went and what they did – all the everyday, ordinary things. She said very little, however, but she seemed to like them and said they treated her well. I wondered if she travelled all the way to London by herself and was she really only 12, as she claimed. It was Uncle Willie who told me that she worked for the Fawcett family and one member of that family was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, the great explorer.
One thing she did show me was the photograph taken during her time in London. She thought it made her look pretty. Good looks were very important to her, and she said that her husband used to tease her by saying, You would be the most beautiful woman in England if it wasn't for your nose. I am not clear about what was wrong with her nose, but my mother seemed to think that it was too small - a button nose.
Emberson & Sons, 57, St. Paul's Churchyard, EC. 6, Wilton Rd., Belgravis, SW & Chertsey Surrey.
Annie loved Wall Farm and when I think of it too it seems like a magic place. I remember the scent of the marigolds in the front garden, and the overwhelming red of the poppies growing among the corn. There was green grass, fields to run in, and the river Petteril flowed past the bottom of the meadow. I used to watch Jimmy catching fish. For a child it was like Paradise.
Uncle Willie had a fund of jokes. When he met me he said, Why did the chicken walk over the road? Wrong. Whatever answer I gave was wrong. To get to the other side. The next time he met me he said: Why did the chicken walk over the road. To get to the other side. Wrong. Because it couldn't walk under it.
He played the piano and the fiddle, and he sang the popular songs of the day, such as Yes! we have no bananas,or I'm leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street, In case a certain little lady comes by. Oh me, oh my, I hope the little lady comes by, or Show me the way to go home. When he was milking the cows, and I came near he squirted milk all over me. Grandma was always getting upset about the state of my clothes, and the waste of milk.
Another interest we shared was proverbs. Uncle Willie began with the common ones. He said the first half and I finished it: Empty vessels - make most sound, Still waters - run deep, He who hesitates - is lost, Be sure to keep a steady pace - slow and steady wins the race. I could go on indefinitely. Gradually they became harder and I became an expert on proverbs. This came in very useful in the Scholarship exam for Carlisle High School. I found that there was a section on proverbs in the IQ test.>
Uncle Willie did the Penrith shopping, in his car, and often I went with him. Luckily there was very little traffic on the road. The journey out was fine, but after a few (or rather many) drinks, in the Coach and Horses, coming back was not so good. He wove from one side of the road to the other, onto the grass verge and on one occasion into a field and out again. Not even seat belts in those days. I am probably lucky to be alive.
My grandmother's favourite child was William. She was very possessive about him, and extremely upset when he got married, and brought a wife to live at Wall Farm. Anne was the daughter of the landlady of the Coach and Horses, in Penrith, where William did a lot of his drinking.
William and Anne soon had a beautiful baby daughter called Mary, with blonde hair and blue eyes. William loved children, especially girls, and he was devoted to Mary. The marriage, however, was not happy. He continued to drink whisky, and when he drank his personality changed. He was naturally genial and good humoured, but he became verbally abusive when he was drunk. He was never physically aggressive, but he shouted at grandma, and when he married, at Anne. This began to happen almost every day because he was drunk every day. When he wasn't drunk, he was in bed with asthma, struggling for breath. So very little work was done on the farm, and the time came when they were facing bankruptcy.
It was in connection with William's wife, Anne that I first noticed that my grandmother had another side to her character. From the beginning she was very rude to Anne. Her life centred on William and Anne had taken the son she doted on. At Wall Farm she used to try and involve me in a campaign of whispered insults about Anne. I learnt a new fact about Annie, that she could be spiteful. She was not always the wise and kind person which I had taken her to be.
At times Annie was whispering, and William was shouting, and Anne was crying because she was in a strange house where she didn't fit in. Anne cried a lot. To console herself she read the romance magazine True Story, and then passed it on to me. Anne had the worst scorch marks on her legs I have ever seen, from sitting to close to the fire.She was incredibly clumsy and, according to grandma, broke almost all of her best plates.
Mary was a baby, and I must have been about 8, when we all had to leave Wall Farm. Uncle Willie found a rented farm called Holmwrangle. It was a few miles Cumwhitton, but in Armathwaite parish. I continued to see a lot of Anne. She was usually crying. I liked Anne. She was a very kind person. It is a hard life when you are married to an incurable alcoholic. Uncle Willie was a very clever man, but had neither the health nor the inclination to be a farmer. He finished his life living in Clitheroe and running a grocer's shop. One positive thing in Anne's life was that she had 2 more children, over the years, both of them sons.
Mary grew into a beautiful little girl. I used to visit Holmwrangle on the bus, at weekends, to play with her. She was a kind of substitute sister. Mary was born with a hole in her heart and died just before she was 2. She was buried in Cumwhitton churchyard next to my sister Anne. Grandma said she liked to think of them lying together. Mary has no gravestone.
Grandma had been left a life interest in Wall Farm by Walter. Because of the debts she lost all her income, and her home, and became dependent on her children to take her in. She had come a long way in her lifetime, but not far enough to establish any independence. She lived for another 25 years and finished up in an old people's home. The end of her life was very sad. Uncle Willie got all her furniture except for her corner cupboard which she gave to me. It was the one thing she brought with her from the north of Scotland and it stands in my living room, as a reminder of our days together at Wall Farm.
Marian Foster. October, 2012.