Marian, Walter and Anne at Midtown Farm: a memoir.

An old picture of Midtown Farm. Left to right. Mary Ann (my grandmother), Aunt Maud, Aunt Jane and possibly my father. We were the 2nd generation of Robleys to live at Midtown Farm. They moved there from Scarrowmanwick in the 1880s.

Between 1884 and 1886 Joseph Robley moved to Midtown Farm, Cumwhitton accompanied by his wife Mary Ann and 4 children. The children were, John, Jane Elizabeth, Maud Mary & Joseph. Three more children were born at Midtown Farm, Thomas, Mabel Sarah & William Isaac. Joseph was born in 1884 and Thomas in 1886. It follows then that the move took place somewhere between those dates.

The fact that it had not always been our home was brought home to me, as a child, during a visit from Aunt Mabel. She lived in Guston, Dover, but was staying with Aunt Maud for a short holiday in Cumwhitton. She came to our house for tea, and asked to see over Midtown. My mother was reluctant, because the house was very untidy. "You must remember, Hannah", Mabel said, "this was my home once."

Walter, Anne & I were then the 2nd generation of Robley children to live at Midtown. We were a small family, for those times, probably because my mother married late. I was born when she was 35, Walter when she was 37 and when Anne arrived she was 40.

The marriage of my parents was entered in the family Bible by my father. "Marriage: At the Mansion House Registry Office Penrith on Tuesday 4th November 1930, William Isaac Robley of Cumwhitton to Hannah Graham of Plumpton Wall. The next entry reads: "Birth. Marian Robley 19th January 1932. Daughter of the above." I was named after my grandmother, Mary Ann. The only known photograph of her is the one above, where she is on the far left.

I do not remember my brother's birth although, if Grandma delivered him, I must have been there. He was born on 14th December 1933 when I was nearly 2.

A later photograph of Walter. I don't seem to have a copy of his baby photograph. It was taken at the Gregg School, Carlisle. At that time it ran a private school as well as a commercial college.He was a pupil at the private school from approximately 11-14. He left school at 14 to work on the farm.

I am told that he was a beautiful baby, very large - 10 pounds at birth. He had white curly hair and big blue eyes. My mother was very satisfied with him and named him after her father, Walter Graham. I remember that she nicknamed him Dod. She loved his hair and let it grow down to his shoulders. Grandma did not approve of this and kept reminding her that he was a boy. She did agree to cut it before he started school (reluctantly).

Walter grew up to be a very good natured boy. He never quarrelled with other children or got into fights.People described him as quiet. They described me as shy - very shy. They could hardly get a word out of me.

I was not close to Walter because he had boyish interests. For instance, even when he was very young he seemed fascinated by an old rusty motor-bike which had belonged to my father. It stood in a corner of the byre ready for the scrap. Walter would gaze at it for hours, pat it, examine it - he was wholly absorbed. When he was older he found tools and took it to pieces. There were motor-bike parts all over the the byre. He then attempted to put it together again. When he had finished there was quite a heap of parts left over, so I don't think it was entirely successful. It was not his success or failure though that interested me, but why he should want to do it at all. It was quite incomprehensible! I needed some one more like me, and I began to long for a sister.

When I told my mother that what I needed was a sister, she immediately launched into a lengthy explanation of where babies came from. A stork dropped them down the chimney. Mulberry bushes also came into it somewhere, although I was not clear about the connection. What did emerge though was that I couldn't have a sister, because the stork hadn't delivered one.

One day when I was playing happily at Wall Farm, a car stopped outside and grandma was taken away. I had no idea why, or what had happened. She left me in the charge of Great Aunt Mina, who was visiting with Great Uncle Ken from Scotland. Uncle Ken was 6 feet 6 inches tall, and had been a policeman at Coatbridge. He was one of my grandmother’s younger brothers, and he was later to distinguish himself by living to be a hundred. I liked Uncle Ken, but was frightened of Aunt Mina, as she was always full of malicious observations about me, sometimes addressed directly to me, and sometimes addressed to other people, but in my presence. I wanted grandma. It was a long week before my father came, to take me back to Cumwhitton.

I was very very pleased to see my father, and to escape from Aunt Mina. Whatever his faults (and he had many) he was not a sadist. We caught the next Ribble bus to Carlisle and then the local bus to Cumwhitton. The local bus ran twice a day, so our return must have been carefully timed. There was only one driver and he knew everyone and where they lived. It was on this journey my father told me that I had a sister. I was very pleased and couldn't wait to see her.

Anne was born on 3rd August 1937, when I was 5. I had started school by then, so must have gone to Wall Farm because it was the school holidays. Before this visit to Wall Farm, I had noticed that my mother was swollen all over, especially her legs, which were enormous and almost like barrels. I had overheard talk of calling a doctor. My mother, however, did not like doctors. Of course, with hindsight, I realised that she must have been pregnant. At the time though,this did not cross my mind, because of all the mis-information I had been fed about storks and mulberry bushes.

As soon as we arrived at Cumwhitton I rushed upstairs to see my sister. She had brown hair unlike Walter or myself. Walter and I were both blonde. She seemed very tiny. I later learnt that she was 5 pounds at birth and had come early. She was an 8 months baby. My mother spent a long time thinking about names and eventually settled on, Anne Noreen Jane. I hoped she would grow quickly so that I could play with her.

I do not know when we realised that there was something wrong with Anne. Soon, I imagine, as she had many epileptic fits. This time doctors were consulted. One doctor said that she could not be cured, but there was a new operation that would help her a lot. With hindsight, I think it was a shunt to drain fluid from her brain. I remember my mother saying that Anne had "water on the brain", and on her death certificate it lists hydrocephalus as one of the causes of her death. My mother decided not to risk Anne's life with an operation.

Anne died on 6th June 1940. She was 2 years and 10months. Her death certificate also shows that Anne had cretinism. I looked it up on the web, and discovered that the term is no longer used. It is called congenital hypothyroidism. All babies are screened now for the thyroid hormone on day-six. Treatment must start in the first 6 weeks of life, or irreversible changes may take place. Looking back I do not see much hope for Anne, even if she had been born today. She must have been damaged in the womb. The immediate cause of her death was given as "Capilliary bronchitis".

I remember 1940, the year of Anne's death, as the year we all caught whooping cough. I caught it first, and was immediately moved to Wall Farm. This was because of the danger to Anne. She had never learnt to sit up, or move about, so she was prone to bronchitis and bronchial pneumonia. Walter caught it from me, and it was decided that he should join me at Wall Farm. He had never been away from home before and he sobbed all night. He was still crying in the morning, and there seemed no alternative, but to take him home.

It puzzled me as he knew Grandma and he knew me. There is no doubt though that he was heart broken. Walter never left home again, until after his marriage, even in his later childhood and as a teenager.

Walter on Midtown Farm. In his childhood he never wanted to leave even for a night. As an adult he did go on holidays with his wife, Elizabeth and even visited New Zealand. Apart from those holidays though he spent his whole life in Cumwhitton.

Anne did catch whooping-cough, but she had it very mildly. and they were both better by Easter.

I was the one who was very ill, I was unable to eat for weeks. I remember that one day grandma made some scotch-broth. I loved scotch-broth and suddenly wanted food. I ate 2 bowls of it, and was violently sick all over the kitchen.

When I was beginning to recover I caught measles, and was unconscious for 2 days. When I woke up I did not know where I was, but I could see grandma and Uncle Willie, and they were whispering that they thought I had turned the corner. The blinds were drawn to guard my eyes, so the whole room was in darkness.

I had always been thin, and was called Skinny at school, but now I was skeletal. When I returned to school I was weak and shaky. The schoolmaster, Mr Dickson, couldn’t believe his eyes, and wanted to send me home. He asked me to hold out my hands, and commented that I ‘shook like an old man.’

My mother said later that I nearly died that time at Wall Farm, when I had whooping cough and measles together.

The death of Anne was a shock to all of us, because she seemed marginally better during the Spring of 1940. She had been fed almost entirely on milk, but my mother began to add mashed bananas, obtained with Anne's green ration book. She still couldn't sit up, but had begun to say "ba-ba. I always regret that no photographs were taken of her. I would like to have had one to remember her by. She was not even christened, although if anyone was carrying a cross it was Anne.

Anne often had bronchitis, so I did not attach much importance to it on the night of her death. I was aware that Gramdma and my mother were sitting up with her, to make sure she was alright. The next morning though, when I woke up, I discovered that she was dead.

Grandma took it quietly. She was accepting of death. Life was full of trials and troubles. Her second daughter, Margaret Winifred (my mother's sister), had died at 6 months from enteritis, which no doubt could have been cured easily today. Children died all the time then, of quite minor illnesses. Grandma would say that they had “gone to a better place.” I know that she thought that Anne's death was for the best. She said that Anne had done no wrong. She said that she would go straight to heaven.

My mother thought that Grandma was a hard woman, completely lacking in feeling. It was not feeling though that Grandma lacked, but emotion. She took things as they came. My mother, on the other hand, was highly emotional. I don't know how they came to be mother and daughter. They were so different.

I had never seen Grandma cry, but my mother cried often, about this and that. She was especially fond of the Irish singer, John McCormick. Whenever he came on the radio tears would stream down her cheeks. Her favourite song was, "Bless this house." Tears were normal for her, but after Anne's death it was different. She had a complete emotional collapse. She missed Anne. She gave up and did nothing - no meals - the fire frequently went out. My father gave me the task of relighting it. I became quite expert at lighting fires. My mother's break-down (I suppose that's what it was) lasted for about 2 years.

I wasn't allowed to go to Anne's funeral. It was agreed that I was too young. Someone did, however, buy me a pair of white socks. I had never had white socks before and was looking forward to wearing them. When I tried to put them on though, they were too small. Grandma tried too, but it was no use. One thing I continued to remember, about the funeral, was disappointment about the white socks. It is strange the things that children remember!

Marian Foster. November 2012.