Recollections of a Victorian Childhood, Part 1

I never met my great-grandmother. She died twenty-four years before I was born. Despite this sad, yet wholly inevitable fact, I can’t help but feel an affinity with her, a bond built by our love of words.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to publish (in a series of short posts) the letters my great-grandmother left behind. Alice’s life was not without excitement and her words give great insight into society at the turn of the twentieth century.

This series can be found under the category, A Life in Letters.

All content written by Alice Grant (née Brinkworth), 1887 – 1961.

I was born in the year of Queen Victoria’s first jubilee, in a row of whitewashed cottages on the coast of Co.Down in Ireland. The sea came up to our garden wall and at one end stood a flagstaff on which everyday the white ensign was flown.

These were no ordinary houses, but Her Majesty’s Coast Guard Station. The station crew were active members of the Royal Navy, on alternate years each man went away for a month’s manoeuvres with the fleet or a fortnight’s drill.

Every three months we had a visit from the Divisional Officer, once a year came an inspection from the District Captain and every third year came the Admiral. Such a whitewashing and preparation before the visit and on the great day, we children stood by Mother. We really believed he remembered us, because he would remark on how we had grown. I sometimes think now that quite a few places would be better for an Admiral’s inspection occasionally.

There was a time limit of five years for a stay at one station, in case a man became too friendly with the local people and so condoned smuggling. If a man married a local girl, he was at once removed. If we wished to have a visitor stay with us, a form had to be sent to the District Captain for permission.

I was six weeks old at my first move, indeed we were awaiting removal when I was born. The midwife was an old woman over eighty. Mother says that she would miss her sometimes and then find she had gone outside to smoke a clay pipe.

At home, floor cloths were called deck cloths and nothing was thrown out, it went overboard.

On our wall was always a picture of Mr Gladstone. This was an act of faith for my father. He had been warned by his friends that if Gladstone stayed he would never be promoted to higher rank, but Gladstone stayed and promotion came.

Gladstone – what a man to be nurtured on. I still cannot go to vote at an election without the ghost of that old Liberal standing by. What did Gladstone say in 1921? Well, the old lady who said he declared that jam was a good substitute for butter, lost her faith in him after she fried her fish in jam.

My father’s maxim was, ‘Do your duty. If you die you will be buried with full naval honours. If you refuse, you will be lashed to the grating.’

  •  Next time: Recollections of a Victorian Childhood, Part 2.

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