Ann Tomlinson

IN THE BEGINNING: A COLLIERY CRUSADE

 

As far as I'm concerned, writes Ann Tomlinson, it all started in Centenary Row, Camborne, in Cornwall. In 1861 Frances Philippa, my great grandmother, was born into the Roberts family. Like other menfolk her 35-year-old father Henry was a tin miner. He and wife Elizabeth Polglaze had two other daughters Edith and Ellen, and a son John. In my early childhood they fitted into a distant family, part fiction, like Peter Pan, but the  relevant bit of my foggy history, which accounts for my existence, began with a visit from General William Booth, who around the 1850s decided to venture into Cornwall on a soul gathering mission. He seemed to have impressed the Roberts sisters to the extent that the three daughters, innocent and superstitious, heard the call, departing with him, saving souls, accompanied by his wife Catherine. The next bit of memory surfaces when the three are found accompanying General Booth in the East End of London, being stoned, mishandled in the filth and poverty which they braved in their “blood and fire” effort to spread the word. Frances gave away her shoes to some poor wretch, so I heard, going barefoot. The next episode which caught my attention as a five or six-year-old, filtering from adult conversation, was when they emerged into the real world in the tiny village of Kiveton Park, where a coal mine had recently been sunk,  attracting unemployed men from far and wide. There was a railway line through the village, and on one side of the line on the top of a steep bank was a grassy field where these three, by now bonneted and uniformed, pitched a tent and began their evangelical message. Frances was Captain Roberts, the two sisters being Lieutenants in the new “Salvation Army”.

A small farming community about two miles away, called Harthill, mentioned in the Domesday Book, proudly hosted a thriving little brass band operating at social and religious functions in the village, where there was already an established Methodist Church. The Salvation sisters must have caused quite a stir at their outdoor meetings, a musical trio with squeezebox and tambourines. Eventually even the Harthill musicians were drawn into the open-air Sally Army gathering, including one cornet player rejoicing in the name of Samuel Lancashire, in the twinkle of whose eyes there resulted four new Lancashires, one of whom was my mother, after Frances Roberts married the handsome young bandsman, a miner. She never went back to Cornwall, insisting on ‘poverty’, adhering to her strict religious beliefs for the rest of her life.

POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE IN KIVETON

The Lancashire grandparents, tall classically handsome Sam, the fragile commanding Frances, eventually became installed in what I knew as the Chapel House, under the auspices of Kiveton Park Methodist Chapel next door. My parents (their daughter Nettie and her husband John Shorthouse, a weighman’s clerk at the pit) moved into the terrace house opposite, in Wales Road. The Lancashires had acquired the job of cleaners, general dogsbodies for the impressive place of worship next door, divided from it by a low wall and a long, red shale drive, which led up to their back door, and an outside “petty” (toilet) and coal house-cum-tool shed. Grandpa Lancashire was in charge of the boiler house, which occupied most of his time between shifts down the pit. In hindsight, this job must be a Godsend, bringing in a handsome addition to his weekly wage of around 30 shillings, totalling the envied sum of my maybe two pounds! Their daughter Ruby, the next in age to my mother, did most of the sweeping and polishing of the main auditorium with its wide stretch of shiny, dark brown pews, the red plush pulpit with the red carpet, twin flight of steps each side leading upwards from the altar table behind the row of short, carved pillars, which I remember supported the splendid array of corn stoops gleaming fruit and veg at the harvest festival. There was a huge multi-piped organ, and a four-tiered gallery where the proudly superior choir members took their places on Sundays, resplendent in the ‘Sunday Best’, above the pulpit.

I was awestruck as I viewed these superior beings from the ground floor pews,  dazzled by the reflection of light from the row of ‘pince-nez’ sparkling below the discreetly trimmed hats of the ladies as they stood to render the ‘Anthem’ clutching their ‘sol-fa’ copies, and conducted from one side by my father John Shorthouse, with his rhythmical gesturing baton, his expression never varying from frowning concentration.

The tenors and baritones, in dark wedding suits and stiff white colours, were less in evidence, occupying the more shadowy tiers behind the ladies. Several vestries and Sunday school rooms, various cubby holes (and even a chain-pulled toilet) ranged each side of the tiled corridor running through the building behind the impressive pew-filled theatre, with the towering rows in the gallery, all in all presenting a somewhat daunting prospect week in, week out to the owner of the hard-working hands , not to mention legs of the bodies responsible for its pristine upkeep. My father lived in another world, silent brooding over his music. Strangely, it seems, Frances Roberts’ lieutenants, Edith and Ellen, seem to have continued their ministry onwards and upwards as far as Dalton in Furness, in Cumbria, where they lived for the rest of their spinster lives. A branch of the Salvation Army opened its doors at the other end of Kiveton Park, years later in 1932, livening up the rather solemn po-faced Sundays with its lively group of drum bangers and tambourine warriors.

The flag waving and hardy chorusing had the effect of gathering together the spiritual floaters in the parish, and quite obviously succeeded in filling a long felt want, in future distant from the somewhat threadbare 1920s, resulting in a more permanent Corps in the village, with young officers in charge.

 

ON THE MOVE

The 1926 miners’ strike was to the village children a bit of a lark as the  queues formed at the “fish and chip shop”. Miners’ children were to be  served with a delicious treat of cod and chips quite free from the usual price of three old pence, this being paid due to some charity by some official body. So once a week it resembled carnival day, providing hours of excitement, not to say nourishment, for the members of poverty stricken miners. As my father wasn't a miner (underground),  I didn't benefit from this largesse, but enjoyed the entertainment as a spectator, albeit an envious one. About this time it came to pass that Pa had plans to have a house built in a field alongside the main road several minutes’ walk away from my present house. The field was part of what was known as Scotch Farm, and was nearer to where my father's parents lived in the ‘Old Rows’. Not that I was party to this mind-boggling news, but I was aware of my mother’s delicate health, and it seemed the doctor had recommended more fresh air and sunlight……….our new home was to become ‘Sunneville’, 91 Station Road, Kiveton,

When the new house with ready for occupation, the tables and chairs, piano and brass bedsteads etc. were piled onto the removal cart, pegged rugs spread over these articles which everybody else possessed but were not to be advertised and so perhaps compared unfavourably by spectators. I remember sitting on a wooden box in the bare new kitchen, my mother nursing my brother (Gordon) sitting on a similar box in uncertain silence. It was just it was dusk as I remember, and we were waiting for Pa to show up. Perhaps he was required to provide some light by means of an electric light bulb which would be required for the wires hanging from the centre of every ceiling. As we sat there, a miserable huddled trio, a faint scratching noise broke the silence, our first experience of many subsequent visits by the field mice who made themselves at home since the builder had disturbed their natural habitat.

No such thing as wall sockets for our new-fangled iron. As things settled down there was quite a performance climbing up to attach the iron to the central ceiling plug on wash days. Only snatches of the new life occur to me now. I had a longer walk to school, and a few taunts from my fellow scholars as to being “stuck up” , but far from any feelings of superiority on my part though now I had a bedroom to myself, and despite the unheard of amenity of the new bathroom and toilet etc., and the huge expanse of bare ground surrounding a “posh” detached residence, I felt no pleasure at the move as I recall. At bedtime I enjoyed reading one of the few books around, by Charles Dickens, Sketches By Boz. I remember I had no bedside light, of course, and without warning a hand would stretch through the gap by the door, turning off the light switch plunging me and my book into sudden darkness.

 

*. As a matter of record: Ann Tomlinson’s mum, ‘Nettie’ Shorthouse, husband John, and Ann’s younger brother Gordon, moved away from Kiveton after the Second World War, to Arthur Road, Wimbledon Park, where John ran a general store, while son Gordon looked after the associated Post Office with wife Betty. Gordon died only last year, 2018, aged 97. Nettie’s sister Ruby Alrina remained single, living with her parents until their death in 1937 and 38. She then moved to Station Road where she kept a tiny shop set up in the front room. She died in sheltered accommodation in Wales in 1972, aged 77. The remaining Lancashire sister Edith Pearl married Albert Jenkins in 1927, setting up home at 9 Chantrey Place, Kiveton. They had four children, including son Hugh who died from drowning aged eight, in 1939. Pearl passed away in 1975, aged 73. Their older brother, Joseph Roberts Lancashire saw service in the Royal Flying Corps later the RAF, in WW1. A printer by trade, he later married, was widowed, married again, living for some years at Crowgate, Anston. He died in on December 19th, 1970, aged 82.

 

 

 

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