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A Victorian Woman of Substance


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.

Only source of water in the house was a cold water tap in the scullery.

Only source of water in the house was a cold water tap in the scullery.

The outside toilet this looks very similar to the one at my nana's house.

The outside toilet this looks very similar to the one at my nana's house.

The outside toilet this looks very similar to the one at my nana's house when not in use it normally had a lid that went over the hole though not on the night of the rat encounter..

The outside toilet this looks very similar to the one at my nana's house when not in use it normally had a lid that went over the hole though not on the night of the rat encounter..

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

My mum Jeanie and with her two of her brothers Billy and Tommy standing outside nana's house

My mum Jeanie and with her two of her brothers Billy and Tommy standing outside nana's house

Tommy standing in the Street wearing a tophat the top of which cannot be seen properly

Tommy standing in the Street wearing a tophat the top of which cannot be seen properly

The Stairs

The stairs were very narrow and opened onto a small landing.

The stairs were very narrow and opened onto a small landing.

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.


maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on June 17, 2020:

@ Trevor Davies

Hi Trevor, thank you so much for leaving a comment you are 12 years younger than me but I was still visiting my grandparents at that time so who knows we might have passed each other on the street at some time. Some of my younger cousins are about your age so you might have passed them in the street or even played with them.

Trevor Davies on June 15, 2020:

I lived in 97 Brook Street born 58 left 64 for better living standards. Went to the avenues on horse and cart. I think there was a shop at the end of the street, if my memory serves me right, maybe called Sids, this is from child memory?!!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on December 07, 2018:

Saving your family history like this is so important. You might think about assembling it all into a self-published book like you can with Blurb. com. We put together my mother's essays about her life growing up in the 1930s and it is treasured by the family. We titled the book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas.

Your memories of the time after the war would make a great book.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on July 27, 2010:

You are so right Seakay it was an incredibly different time back then, in lots of ways I think it was a better time to live in, but in other ways now is a much better time. Health wise is the first that springs to mind, my Gran lost three of her children due to the poor housing conditions that they lived in and the fact that they didn’t have the money to pay for a doctor. Fortunately to day if you have a sick child in the UK at least you can get to see a doctor without worrying about the cost of the visit to the doctor. Also workers today have the benefit of things like the minimum wage, paid holidays, health and safety procedures to protect the workers from hazardous conditions in the workplace to name but a few. Thanks for the comments I appreciate them so much.

Seakay from Florida on July 24, 2010:

Great Hub! I just love the old black & white pictures. It was an incredilby different time and place. I love listening to my mother talking about the old days, weathering the depression in the US and raising chickens! Sometimes I get a bit weary of the latest, greatest "whatever". Sometimes, the simpler times seem better to me.

Great Hub bringing Great Memories! Thank you Maggs224!

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on July 03, 2010:

You are so right Rose, and I think that many women of her generation were. The obstacles that they had to overcome by today’s standards are almost unbelievable.

The only way they could borrow money was either at the Pawnbrokers or what was commonly called the Tallyman. The Pawnbrokers were not too bad but the Tallymen were moneylenders that would charge extortionate rates that soon spiralled out of control.

This lead to the Tallyman coming round for his money and when they couldn’t repay, he would take everything of value from the house. It didn’t matter to him that your family had no money for food or rent and that you had no bed or cups and saucers-

The Tallyman would take anything that could be sold. Many working class children of this time ended up malnourished with rickets and ordinary childhood illnesses would take the lives of young children because of their weakened state. Others literally starve to death because they had no money for food or they ended up in the Workhouse.

roseb from Va. on July 03, 2010:

Such an inspiring woman.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on May 25, 2010:

Thanks for your kind comments, as always you are a great encourager. By the way congratulations on your one year anniversary yeah!!!! I loved your videos.

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 25, 2010:

I enjoyed this thoroughly--it's interesting to see the differences between cultures throughout space-time.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on August 07, 2009:

I am indeed blessed Christine and ten kids and only two bedrooms I just don't know how they coped and remained so upbeat. This was a happy family that stayed close while my mums generation was alive, and a lot of that was down to mum mum Jeanie's influence.

christine almaraz from colorado springs on July 28, 2009:

Ten kids in a two bedroom house! Wow. Your pictures are something special that you can hand down to your young ones over the years. I loved this hub. Thanks for giving us an insight on such a wonderful family. You are very blessed.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on June 22, 2009:

hi Tom and Rochelle thank you both for talking the time to visit and read this hubpage. Nanas are indeed a real special breed and wonderful human beings. Thanks for your kind comments they are really appreciated

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on June 22, 2009:

Yes, indeed, a true heroine. Wonderful pictures-- the smiles tell much. Looks like you got one of your own for part of your special heritage.

Please tell us more.

Tom Cornett from Ohio on June 17, 2009:

I love stories like this. Your Nana sounds like mine. They are wonderful human beings with amazing strenghth and heart. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed this.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on May 27, 2009:

Thank you so much for your comments, she was a special lady

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on May 26, 2009:

What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother and her positive attitude! It takes a special person to bear and raise 10 children in a 2 BR house with no modern conveniences and keep her spirits up through two world wars. Your Annie was definitely a "Woman of Substance"!

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