Recollections of a Victorian Childhood, Part 2

Following on from my exciting interview with Anna King this morning on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, here is the second installment in the series A Life in Letters, a collection of writings by my great-grandmother, Alice Grant. Enjoy!

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

Leah & Alice Grant (2)In all our moves to new places there was Mother and where Mother was, was home. We never felt strangers in a strange land. She would arrange the new home and fix the beds and cook our meals and take us to our new school.

At one place we would be the little English children, when we moved over the water we were the little Irish children, yet still we were the same children.

I never remember saying, ‘What shall I do now?’ or ‘What shall I play with?’

One thing I did detest was the feel of the long woolen hand-knit stockings we used to wear. I protested so much and for so long that Mother said she would knit no more for me, I would have to wear shop stockings – evidently a disgrace in my mother’s eyes, but a welcome change for me.

I was six when I went to my first school. We were then at Helen’s Bay on Belfast Lough and had nearly three miles to walk to school. My first memory was standing up and being made to roll my tongue to get the right sound for the letter ‘R’. One thing I remember about those Irish country schools was that every child had to learn several verses of poetry every night at home. Now that I am old, if I am awake in the middle watches of the night, I try to remember those old poems and each brings back a picture to me; ‘The Meeting of the Waters’, ‘Lament of the Irish Emigrant’. When I was younger I used to plan my meals for days ahead if I had a sleepless night, but now I have gone back to poetry.

It was at Helen’s Bay that we got our cat, even she had a story. One day, he was walking through a Glasgow street, seeing a pretty kitten on a doorstep, picked it up and putting it in his pocket took it to his ship, the ‘Grace’. Afterwards, when lying at Carrickfergus, a storm arose and the ship was abandoned, but later on she drifted across the Lough into the rocks on our side. My father was first aboard her to search for survivors, but only the kitten was there, so home she came to us. Next day, the captain arrived and agreed to our keeping the kitten so we called her Grace.

Grace shared our lives and moves for many years.

Our church life was very varied. My parents were Nonconformists so naturally we went to chapel. If there was no chapel we went to church. I guess we went to most denominations in our time.

It was when we were stationed at Strangford that we had my best remembered move. I was just seven and Father had applied to be sent to a station in England. One morning the message came to move by sailing cutter, the ‘Margaret’, to the Isle of Man. Not quite England, but halfway.

Into the first box to be packed went our school books and then we waited. Everyday for six weeks we watched the Lough for the coming of the Margaret. After certain times of the tide we knew she would not come that day so out came the cooking utensils and crockery. Once more Mother went into action and fed us and made up beds, until at last she came like a white bird skimming the water.

  • Next time: Recollections of a Victorian Childhood, Part 3


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