William and Annie with baby Jeanie
A Victorian Woman of Substance
Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules, of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these. But of all the world's great heroes and heroines, there's none that can compare with my Nana.
Nana of course was not born a Nana she was born Annie in 1895 while Queen Victoria was still on the throne and she married my granddad William somewhere before 1919 when my mum was born.
It is almost impossible to imagine the changes that Annie would have witnessed in her lifetime.
This is a photo of William and Annie taken sometime in 1919 with their first born Jeanie.
The first thing you notice is that they were an extremely attractive couple and some of my female cousins have been blessed through inheriting her good looks.
Unfortunately the scribble that you can see on the photograph was put there by me as a small child.
As you can imagine scribbling on this precious photograph with the then new ball point pens that were coming into common usage did not make me very popular with my mum.
If only it had been a pencil it could have been erased. I am working at the moment to clean this image up and restore it.
When ever I think that times are hard for me I only have to remember this remarkable woman and of how she overcame things that would seem to most impossible to overcome.
Unlike in my life when trying times come along every now and again, Annie had to battle all her early life just to keep her family together and healthy.
Every day was a battle nothing that happened to her was trivial because of the times that she lived in.
1 Brook Street
When Annie and William married they moved into a small two up two down terraced house on Brook Street in Birkenhead. When I say a two up two down I mean this literally.
Granddad at some point added a small lean-to to the back of the house to give nana some much needed space.
The lean to granddad added gave nana a scullery that housed a gas cooker and a cold water sink. There was no indoor plumbing in the house except the cold water tap in the scullery.
The toilet was outside and down the bottom of the backyard and it was a place that I did not like to have to visit. I put this down to the encounter I had with a rat on one of my visits to the toilet.
The rat had come up out of the toilet and was sat on the wood that formed toilet seat well it actually was just a hole cut into the wood that stood over a cesspit of some description.
When I entered the outside toilet holding an old oil lamp to see by the rat promptly jumped back into the toilet and disappeared from view.
Never again were my visits to the toilet to be carefree from that day on I lived in fear that a rat would come up out of the toilet while I was sitting on it and bite my bum.
It never did and truth be told I only saw a rat that once, but once was enough to put me off going to their outside loo at night.
It somehow didn't seem such a daunting place in the daylight but even so my visits were a very hurried affair, I never tarried.
Standing outside number the house
Ten Children and only two bedrooms
In this small two bed roomed terraced house in Birkenhead Annie gave birth to ten children, my mum Jeanie being the eldest.
The stairs that led to the bedrooms were very narrow and they opened out at the top to a small landing about two feet square.
From this square you stepped right into one or the other of the two bedrooms. I remember sleeping as a young child in the front bedroom of this house and there was a crack so large that you could see daylight through it.
The girls slept in one bedroom and the boys slept in the other and some of the bedding was known to have pockets. In the cold winters it was not unusual to have the bedding augmented by adult overcoats.
Nana and granddad didn’t have the luxury of a bedroom instead they had a settee in the parlour downstairs that converted at night into a double bed.
Originally there was no electricity in the house and the lights were run off mains gas. One of my uncles lived a few streets over from my nana and I can remember that right up until the 1950’s they still had gaslight instead of electric.
Just try to imagine the hardships of Annie’s way of life, ten children who had to be kept warm, fed and clean in a house with only two bedrooms, one wage coming in it is hard to imagine managing those things today with all the help you get from the state and modern appliances.
Nana had no Hoover, no washing machine, no electric iron, no carpets on the floor, no Health Service as if that was not enough she lived through both World Wars which was no easy feat in Birkenhead because it was an area that was bombed heavily during the war because of the Docks.
I never heard mum moaning about how hard they had it or what they had to do without. Mum told me stories that were funny and full of things that they did not full of things they did not have. Mum enjoyed being from a large family especially being the eldest.
A real Woman of Substance
Annie was just like so many women of her time, she lived into her nineties stayed married to the same man celebrated a Golden Wedding, and she was a joy to know she was also loving kind and funny.
Annie was not the sort of person that the world seeks out to laud and honour, nor the sort that the world would call a heroine.
However, if it were in my gift, I would give her and all the other Annies like her a medal, she is in my opinion a real woman of substance and my heroine.