Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sepia - p.s.

By way of a short post-script to yesterday’s post, I can offer a little more detail about what my mum was wearing in the second photograph.

During today’s birthday tea, in honour of our dear son-in-law, we talked a little about my latest ‘Sepia Saturday’ contribution.

Mum, probably thinking a little more colour wouldn’t go amiss, furnished me with the following facts.

The photograph was taken while she was still in her teens – she wasn’t quite twenty when I arrived. The blouse was designed in a green candy stripe and she was wearing an oatmeal coloured jacket.

It was fascinating to learn that the decorative pin on her jacket was hand-made by my great uncle Harold, my grandmother’s young half-brother.

Even better, mum still has the broach. I’d heard that Harold was gifted in the creativity department but, until today, I’d never seen any of his work. What a bonus. I felt as though it was my birthday too!

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sepia Saturday: I Know That Face

One of the joys of having children is watching them grow and develop. From the moment of birth, we’re eager to recognise similarities in their features; daddy’s nose, mummy’s eyes, and so on.

As children, ourselves, many of us will watch our parents age over the years. Yet, because we’ve only ever known them as adults, facial changes, although often quite significant, don’t seem to register until we look back at snapshots taken through time.

Photographs of our parents, taken when they were children are fascinating. They allow us to make important connections and ‘rubber stamp’ our lineage.

When I look closely at this picture of my mum, when she was aged two or three, it’s obvious that our first granddaughter, Speckly Woo!, shares a certain resemblance, particularly the ‘windswept and interesting’ hairstyle.

But this image of my mum, as a young woman, must have made quite an impression on me when I was small because, in my mind’s eye, this is how I always see her. Even today, when I’m in her company, if I close my eyes, this is what appears.

More Sepia Saturday participants, here 

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Three

This is episode three of the serialised journal, written up by my wife's great aunt, entitled, ‘Memoirs of my family and my parents, George and Louisa’. This hand-written journal offers a wonderful personal account of family life spanning more than 100 years from around 1863 onwards.

'The cottage had a large kitchen with a coal fire, side oven and small hob over the oven. How my mother managed to cook for such a large family, with such slow and difficult facilities, was marvellous.

She used a very large, oval-shaped, cast iron pot into which she cooked meat, usually rabbit, and all of the vegetables. To keep everything separate, she used string nets.

We had a large garden, irregular in shape, with a steep slope leading to a brickyard and surrounded by fields.

A pig was kept in a sty, under a yew tree, quite a distance from the house. It was an important event when the pig was slaughtered by a local butcher, and it was hung up under the tree after it had been gutted. It then had to have a small fire lit under it, to burn off the hairs.

This was a very busy time for my mother, who had to clean the chitterlings, which was a very unpleasant job, and needed large amounts of water. They were delicious when fried, and the pig fat was rendered into lard. The liver was also used. The pig was then cut into joints, but the sides had to be cured, as there were no freezers then.

We had a back kitchen with a large bench where the sides were salted. This process took some weeks and the flavour of the bacon depended on how it had been salted. It was then cut into large joints and stored for the winter. This was the only meat we had besides rabbit; and hens, when they had finished laying.

The feeding of the pigs and chicken was usually mother’s job, amongst all of her other tasks, her growing family and the anxiety from dad’s bouts of drinking.

The village school was in Allbrook, about a half a mile away. It is still standing and is called ‘The Old School Theatre’, where the Eastleigh Dramatic Society put on plays. At present, it is out of use. This used to be the infant school, consisting of one room. There was a head teacher and one assistant.

Whilst I was attending, 1909-1912, one end had a platform which was curtained off and used for church services, until a Mission Church, built of corrugated iron, was erected in a children’s playground in the village. It was replaced in 1970 by a brick building, and is now used by the Scouts and a Free Church group.

We had to attend Otterbourne school when we were eight years old. There were separate parts of the building for the boys and the girls.

A Mr Rolfe was the head of the boys, and Miss Francis Collins of the girls. Miss Collins was a wonderful teacher, and gave herself entirely to her pupils.

Scholarships were the only opportunity that ordinary, working class children had of going on to secondary school. Miss Collins was successful in getting a large number of girls through the examination which allowed admission to Eastleigh Barton Peveril School, where I attended from 1920-1923. It was entirely due to her influence that I became a teacher'.

Miss Collins and her elderly mother lived at The Post Office. She was a protégé of Miss Charlotte Mary Yonge, the Victorian novelist, but she is not remembered as she should have been, considering the great influence for good she had on so many pupils. She died in 1957.

Continued next week

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Sepia Saturday: Waiting for Pinkie Brown

A couple of weeks ago, I posted 'Waiting for the French' as my contribution to Sepia Saturday. It featured my paternal grandfather, Robert Frank. Now, I'd like to offer up this little gem. Again, it's Robert Frank, but this time he's in the company of my grandmother, Ann Agnes.

I'm pretty sure this photograph was taken on or near Brighton Pier, and I can't look at it without thinking 'Brighton Rock'. Robert and Ann look like extras on the film set, waiting for Pinkie Brown to make an appearance.

Strangely, my grandmother, Ann, used to tell of how she knew Freddie Mills, the light heavyweight boxing champion, when he was young. At the height of his success, Mills rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Kray twins. In 1965 he died in murky circumstances, having been shot in the head whilst sitting/sleeping in his car, in a cul-de-sac behind his nightclub. The verdict was suicide, although various theories persisted for many years after the event.

More Sepia Saturday participants here 

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part Two

Last week, I began the serialisation of a journal kept by my wife's great aunt. Here is part two.

'My father, George, was born in Hordle (Tiptoe). His parents, my grandparents, were farmworkers and lived in a ‘tied cottage’. They had a family of five: Henry, George, John, William and Elizabeth.

My father started work in domestic service as a footman. By the time he had met my mother, he had travelled to Canada as a gentleman’s valet. He kept a diary of his journey, which told of getting lost in a forest and other adventures outside of his normal duties.

He had a love affair with a Miss Knight, of West End, who was a teacher. But it did not develop into a very close relationship, according to my father’s diary. He was anxious to marry her, but she did not respond. I think this was the start of his alcoholism, which was the cause of losing his job.

He was a gardener at the time of his marriage. My grandmother was very much against this, and warned my mother that he would not give up drinking.

He later worked for a local farmer who had bought Boyatt Farm, near Eastleigh. My parents moved into Little Boyatt Cottage. My mother, by now, must have been heart-broken. She must have realised her mother was right in her warning.

My mother arrived at Little Boyatt with two children, my brothers, Charles and Bert, and pregnant with Frank. Her youngest sister, Lily, accompanied her, either by train or with the farm wagons and their small amount of furniture.

I remember my mother saying how she first saw the house, which appeared to have no windows, surrounded by meadows. There was no road and, Boyatt Lane, which was the nearest, was very narrow and about a half a mile away.

The house was a small farmhouse, divided into two cottages. The water supply was a deep well which was on the other side of our part of the cottage. Drawing water was a very arduous task which my mother had to do very often, as my father went to work early and came home late. She still had to do this when she was pregnant and she said this caused all of us to be born with a caul over our heads.

The farmer and his family of four took over Boyatt and a smaller farm in Boyatt Lane, called ‘Lincolns’.

Life was very hard for both of my parents. My father spent his days ploughing the arable land, sowing the crops, harvesting and looking after the horses seven days a week, from daylight to dark, in the summer.'

Continued next week

To read from the beginning - click here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  

Friday, 15 January 2010

Sepia Saturday: Great Uncle Bill

This is my great uncle, William George Gregory (Bill).

Born on 7th April, 1917, he featured in a number of stories told by my grandfather, Bill’s older brother. For instance, as children, they were warned to keep away from the river that ran near their home. However, boys will be boys, and whilst larking about on the bank, one day, Bill slipped into the fast flowing current. My grandfather jumped in and saved him from going under for the third time.

Soaked to the skin, they walked home and sheepishly confessed to their mother. They both received double punishment for playing near the water and for ruining their clothes.

On another occasion, grandfather used his penknife to cut Bill’s boot laces, after a hot cinder managed to drop inside his pair of handed down boots that were two sizes too big for him.

In this photograph, Bill would have been in his mid-twenties. It was taken sometime during the Second World War, hence the army uniform.

He was a lively character and my mother recalls how she looked forward to his visits, when he was on leave. Apparently, he loved nothing more than to tease my grandmother. “Hey Hilda, have you heard the latest?” he’d chirp. Grandmother would stop whatever she was doing, anticipating a juicy piece of gossip. When he had her full attention, he’d follow up with, “Dreadful news, two men found dead in a matchbox!” It worked every time.

I can’t remember ever meeting Bill myself, which is a pity because I think I would have liked him.

On 4th December, 1963, he suffered a massive heart attack, aged 46.

The night before his death, a curious thing happened. My grandmother went upstairs to her bedroom for some reason or other. When she entered the room, she was confronted by a sight that stayed with her for the rest of her days. A floating, shimmering form, suspended from ceiling to floor. She described it as being like a giant, silvery spider’s web. When she switched on the light, it vanished. Just a few hours later, a policeman knocked the door with the news that Bill had died suddenly at home.

For more Sepia Saturday participants, click here.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges 

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Memoir of a Family: Part One

About 18 months ago, during the course of some family history research, I made contact with a distant relative of my wife. The gentleman in question had a lot of information he was happy to share, the best of which, was a journal written by my wife’s great aunt. The existence of this document was a complete surprise. Entitled ‘Memoirs of my family and my parents, George and Louisa’, the hand-written journal offers a wonderful personal account of family life spanning more than 100 years from around 1863 onwards. After consultation with the relative who kindly supplied this little treasure, I’ve decided to post some short extracts over the coming weeks.

‘My mother, Louisa, was born at Milford-On-Sea on June 1st, 1863. She died in Winchester County Hospital on 20th June, 1961, aged 98 years.

Her parents, William and Ellen, were married at Lymington Baptist Church in 1863. Ellen was William’s second wife. He already had a family of six daughters. Two were at home when Ellen arrived; she soon made it plain that they would have to find work, which they did.

My grandfather was a bricklayer, and found work among the wealthy people of the district. Times were hard, and often the weather prevented him from working. My mother spoke of him as a very independent man and politically, a Liberal. Consequently, he did not receive any help or gifts of food which were given by the richer people.

William had four daughters and one son with Ellen. My mother was the eldest. She attended the village school, to which my parents paid one penny a week.

It was a small building, and the children did the cleaning of the school before classes started. The girls were taught needlework and helped to make clothes for the children of both the schoolmaster and the vicar.

My mother only attended school until she was 10 years old. Her first job was at the local butcher’s, where she had to do the cleaning. The butcher’s wife was very strict, and because mother didn’t clean a steel fender properly, she was sent home. 

Her second situation was at Westover House, where she became cook, at 12 years old, for Colonel and Mrs Steadman. She stayed there until she married my father, George. 

She often spoke of how she coped with her job. Colonel Steadman ruled the servants as though they were soldiers. If the meals weren’t ready on time, mother was called to order. The joints of meat had to be roasted on a spit, in front of the fire, which was a slow business. The kitchen store cupboards were kept locked, and each day Mrs Steadman would come to tell mother what the menu was, before giving her the exact amounts of ingredients to cook with. If mother had a disaster in her cooking, she could not hide it. 

She had very little time off, and if the Steadman’s daughter wanted to visit friends, either mother or the housemaid had to escort her there and back.’


Part two

Part three

Part Four

Part Five 

Part Six 

Part Seven 

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Sepia Saturday: Waiting for the French

This well turned out young man is my paternal grandfather, Robert Frank Hodges, about 15 or 16 years of age at the time this photograph was taken. He was working in a hotel in Brighton and by the look of his outfit, he started out as a bell-boy or porter.

I never really got to know him and he didn’t loom large in my life. Quite the opposite to my maternal grandfather, Robert Frank was distant and undemonstrative.

After my parents divorced, when I was eight years old, my contact with him was even more reduced, and before my eleventh birthday our awkward Sunday meetings had ceased completely, at my father’s request. Then, in the early 1990s, shortly before his death, he wrote to me.

For a short while, we enjoyed an exchange of correspondence, during which I discovered little more about him than I already knew. He was a dyed in the wool socialist who had applied himself to qualify as an electrician by what we would now call ‘distance learning’. He worked hard and became chief electrician, working for a large shipbuilder on the south coast.

One of my clearest childhood memories of him is centred around a family daytrip to Brighton, his old stamping ground and the birthplace of my father. I remember it was an overcast, rather depressing day and we all bundled into a small café for tea and cakes. As we sat down and got settled, we became aware of a commotion at the table next to us. An impatient waiter was raising his voice to an elderly man who was throwing his arms about in response. I think this was the first time I had witnessed the Gallic shrug.

As the situation was in danger of reaching boiling point, Robert Frank casually leant in the direction of the debate and delivered a string of words I had never heard before. The eyes of the old gentlemen lit up. “Parlez vous francais monsieur?” he asked. “Oui, un peu,” my grandfather replied.

It turned out, the French visitor couldn’t get to grips with the foreign currency and Robert Frank’s memorised French phrases from his waiting days helped to resolve the matter.

Having said all this, maybe I have a slightly clearer picture of the man than I had previously thought.

Find more Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


I once saw you in a cloud, your belly full of setting sun,

Your open jaws and scaly frame descending over fields of wheat.

Then you were lost, a sunken shape, a monstrous form undone,

'Til winter's blast brought you to claim a place here at my feet.

© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges