As the Preface explains, this "Autobiography" of Mary Buckler was pieced together by her youngest son Bryan out of a suitcaseful of papers which he had retrieved from her effects. Some of these papers were no more than notes written on paper bags and the backs of shop bills. Having put the papers into the the most reasonable order he could manage, Bryan persuaded his daughter Marjorie to type them, but resisted the temptation to edit them even when spellings and errors called for it. Bryan and Marjorie completed this version in 1988, and in 1989 he expanded the Preface to include the extra information provided by Colin Hudson (son of Gretta). In 2005, one of Bryan's sons, Michael , and Dick Hudson (brother of Colin) scanned Marjorie's typescript into the present format. Marjorie and her daughter Anne helped to check their output, so the present version can fairly be described as a joint family effort, produced in gratitude to Granny Heath for giving us our parents.
Mary Buckler, my Mother, was born in 1878 in the market town of Nuneaton, Warwickshire. She was the oldest of nine children. Her father, who was a butcher, seems to have done well in his business but, probably, was in the wrong job; he was a poet of some distinction. We used to have a book (dark green, I remember, with gilt lettering) of his poems but this has disappeared.
My Father, William Nathaniel Heath, was born at Carkeen, in Cornwall. His Father was George Heath, farmer, and his Mother was Matilda Oliver Heath (née Stephens). John and Colin Hudson visited Carkeen and kindly supplied the following information on Father's origins:
Carkeen is a farm ½ mile SE of the village of St Teath, on the side of the A39, about 7 miles NE of Wadebridge; the road runs along the well-wooded valley of the river Allen. The farm was visited on 28 July 1989 by Colin Hudson and his children, Christopher and Stella, 51, 25 and 23 respectively, grandson and great grandchildren of Narth Heath, whose sixth child and only daughter Gretta married John Hudson.
Carkeen Farm, about 120 acres, mixed arable and dairy, was in the hands of a Henwood family for some 300 years until the middle of the 19th century. Thomas Henwood built a substantial new barn in 1856. A plaque on the barn gable shows “TH 1856 HT Builder". HT was a builder called Teague. There are many graves of Henwoods and Teagues in the St Teath churchyard.
Thomas Henwood had a bad time, losing six of his seven children and his wife Jane aged 44. In 1957 he moved to New Zealand, where he bought land and started a farm, which he called Carkeen. He remarried and had seven more children. The farm has since disappeared (swallowed up by the expanding city of Auckland?) but we have the address of a descendent who still lives in Auckland (where one of Narth's granddaughters, Barbara Stock (née Heath) now lives).
George Heath followed the Henwoods at Carkeen, and Narth was born there in 1872.
There are Oliver graves in the St Teath churchyard; Narth's oldest child was called Ivor Oliver. But according to the Churchwarden, who has listed all the graves in the churchyards of St Teath, there are no Heath or Stephens graves. Were they perhaps Nonconformists? The original graveyard of the St Teath chapel seems to have been built over and lost.
Our informants included a Mr Harry Treleven, in his 60s, spastic, very friendly and helpful, living at Trevellyn Old Folks' Home, St Teath. His Father owned Carkeen and he remembers his Father talking about the Henwoods and the Heaths, in that order.
The local telephone directory lists many Stephens, including at least one family who farm at Delabole, a nearby village with a well-known slate quarry. Carkeen farm is built partly of Delabole slate, and roofed with slates from the quarry. Mrs Heath, Narth's wife, had a. slab of Delabole slate that she used as a pastry board, well remembered by the family.
Thos Henwood built an interesting water wheel, run by the River Allen and connected to the "new" barn by an axle 130 yards long (!). It ran a corn mill but was gutted in the 1940s, much to the disgust of the present owner.
The farm is now run by Mr and Mrs Pugh, a friendly elderly couple, who have sold off part of the land, because of the difficulty of driving cows across the "new" main road (built in 1900!). The Pughs have had "masses" of visitors from the Henwood New Zealand connection, one of whom still writes to them.
There are no Heaths or Stephens now in St Teath, according to the postmaster, but a couple called Stephens kept a shop there in recent years until they died.
Mother married Nathaniel Heath in 1899 and seems to have been happy until, in 1914, he died. They had seven children: Ivor (born 1900), Alan, Alec, Ted, Griff, Gretta and Bryan (born 1912). Ivor died in 1986, Alan in 1965, Alec in 1971, Ted in 1951, Griff in 1961 and Gretta in 1989.
When Mother died, in 1945, we found a small case which contained a mass of writing and my siblings suggested that I have a look at this; in 1988, some 43 years later, I got around to carrying out my orders.
Transcription of my Mother’s writing was not easy. Some of it was in exercise books but a great deal was on scraps of paper, which she would fill completely, end in mid-sentence and continue elsewhere. Other pieces, which were only partly filled, might also end in mid-sentence. Many of the scraps of paper were the backs of circulars from the grocery store in Pangman, Saskatchewan, so I think she may have done most of the writing while she was in Canada. Since the Scottish and Canadian parts of the writing break off suddenly, it seems likely that at least two lots of her writing have been lost.
A few of her recollections may have been faulty. This statement, of course, may merely mean that they differ from mine, but I think that some things she recalls were episodes that she wished had happened. These apparent discrepancies are not surprising. Not many of us could recall all or even the most important events of our lives, so it is not surprising that Mother missed a few. Also, if two writers described an experience they shared 50 years ago, it would be strange if their accounts were identical.
In an effort to provide a more complete picture of life between 1912 and 1945, the dates when I was born and Mother died, I have written an appendix. Where my story differs from Mother's, readers should not assume that my version is the one which is correct. Also, of course, small boys and adult women view things from different angles. Some things which stand out in my memory are not even mentioned in Mother's writing.
REASON FOR WRITING
Middle aged folk need a definite hobby to prevent life becoming as flat as a pancake. Personally, I have looked in all directions. With the exception of pet dogs or strange religions, there seems very little for a middle aged woman to get interested in, unless it be the tending of a herb patch. I might, of course, help my neighbours with their babies but my lap has been absorbed in the "middle-aged spread" and, besides, I want a change. I've been nursing babies, preparing meals and everlastingly washing up until I'm sick to death of the whole business.
Even the Bible is all for movement -- even for change; it has anticipated everything worth saying about life. The pool called Bethesda had its periods when the waters were quick and restless, when whoever was blind, halt or withered could be healed. Which, upon being interpreted means that troubled waters are healing waters. Since middle age often has an inward fret and depth of dullness which becomes intolerable due, probably, to having too little to do except load itself up with trifles, there is need of a hobby to act as healing waters to the inward soul's torment.
And creeping age does incline us to realise that life is built on a sliding scale: we have to keep moving to keep up and there are no rest stations on life's long road. We cannot cause too long to look back.
I feel that I could write a diary because it is a stern necessity that I do something different from anything I've ever done before. Also, as an old age privilege, there is a portion of each day when, for a few hours, I can do as I like.
However, a diary at the end of one's life isn't much use. I'm going to herewith embark upon the reckless expedient of writing my autobiography. I'm told it's a form of folly that needs no literary ability whatsoever; therefore, I am quite competent to go ahead. It will at least be a decided change and, I trust, prove a blessed element in helping me recapture a little of the liveliness of days long since gone by, when play was the all-absorbing thought from early morning until the Dusty Miller shook his bag and sleepy eyes closed in utter contentment; that life was a gay adventure.
My eyes opened in a small town in the very heart of England; it has been made immortal in George Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life. The streets were cobbled and its houses very ordinary but around the steps at the front doors of many of its Main Street houses grew the delightful musk which, today, has lost its perfume -- due, so scientific gardeners say, to the extinction of a tiny insect. Anyway, it helped to hide a lot of ugliness and it would be a gracious act if the Government would dig out from their hiding place a few of these insects and set up a breeding station and so give back to the country something very beautiful.
When about a year old, my Aunt from South Wales fetched me out of the way to make things easier for Mother who, a few months later, had an addition to her family in the shape of a son. I was too young to remember much of that visit but one thing I do remember is having my hands smacked for touching currants when Grannie was making a cake.
The first thing I can remember properly was when I returned home, several months after my third birthday. Although I have no recollection of the journey, I can vividly remember being met at the Station (railway) by Mother who had brought a new sister, seated in a perambulator. This was a wedge-shaped contraption with one wheel at the front and two at the back. The wheels were of wood spokes and fellys (sections which joined together to make the periphery of the wheel) bound with a thin hoop of iron, which made a tremendous clatter when travelling over the cobble stones of the pavement. I remember the day was very hot and .Mother filled my heart with joy by allowing me to sit beside the baby and clutch her silk parasol in my small fat hands to shield the baby from the sun.
It would be soon after that time that I commenced my education. In those days, we were admitted at three years old into what was known as "The Baby Room." In summer, we often had lessons in the playground, which adjoined a nice big field. The cows which grazed in it were a source of interest because they groaned as they chewed their cuds.
When the weather got colder, the desks were placed in the centre of the room and we marched round and round, clapping our hands together and singing in our shrill, lusty voices: "The North wind doth blow/ and we shall have snow/ and what will the robin do then, poor thing?/ He '11 sit in the barn/ and keep himself warm/ and hide his head under his wing, poor thing."
One teacher evidently had a strong sense of humour for she kept a bottle of gum on the shelf. If too much shuffling of feet went on, she would reach down the gum and calmly say "The next child who shuffles its feet will be gummed to the floor!" It always had the desired result. Before she began the lesson, we had to be quiet enough to hear her drop a pin.
Upon reaching the mature age of six years, I was promoted to the big school-room to be taught by the Headmistress who was, I believe, the nearest approach to a perfect woman I have ever met. She was the Mother of several children and lived in a house adjoining the School. This house had a door like a Church door and diamond-paned windows. Her face was like a rosy-cheeked apple: hair crinkled and parted down the middle, surrounded by a cream coloured lace cap with a bow of velvet ribbon at the side. To complete her costume, she always wore a black silk apron with rose buds and forget-me-nots embroidered on it in silk. She it was who taught my young fingers to sew and knit. Her voice was like music as she patiently repeated the necessary directions: "In, over, through, off. That's right, dear; be careful and not drop your stitches." Her lovely method of teaching gilded my school days with a radiance which will never a fade. She was endowed with the gift of sanctified common sense to an unusual degree.
School opened with the singing of the morning hymn, "New every morning is thy love" and closed with "Evening shades are falling." In after years, when the troubles of life were pressing hard, the second verse of the latter hymn was often a great consolation: "Jesu give the weary calm and sweet repose/ With thy tenderest blessing may our eyes be closed."
In my day, the School had a gallery reaching from the floor to a considerable height. We used to get some rare thrills by carrying a form (bench) to the top, turning it upside down and seating ourselves on it whilst someone gave it a push to send it tobogganing to the bottom. It was our usual way of passing the time on wet days as, on wet days, we always took our dinner to school. Of course, we were not supposed to do it but the Schoolmistress had a daughter, Katie, who was a good ringleader in the matter so we did not trouble about possible consequences but enjoyed it as only care-free youngsters can enjoy anything. Doubtless we looked as though butter wouldn't melt in our mouths when, after washing our hands, we awaited the Mistress emerging through the door of her house with its diamond-paned windows, giving us a kindly look over as we, with much shuffling, got into line to march into our places to continue our education.
A short distance beyond the School were allotments and fields. In one field, was a barn in which, years previously, a woman was killed by a man. It was supposed to be haunted but, on the assumption that there's safety in numbers, a whole string of us would go and stand in the doorway of the barn and sing "Old Jack Danks/ played his pranks/ upon Miss Polly Button/ and with his knife/ he took her life/ and cut her up like mutton."
Jack Danks was the last man to be publicly hanged. I have heard say that my Grandfather, as a youth, walked twelve miles, with many other people to see the gruesome sight enacted at Coventry.
My home town of Nuneaton had a variety of trades which flourished along the school route. It was great fun to watch the Blacksmith shoe the horses and to attune our stomachs to the smell of the hot iron on the horses' hooves.
Occasionally, we would be lucky enough to be passing the Cooper's yard when he was firing the inside of a barrel with shavings all alight. He never minded an audience so long as we kept well away from the fire.
At the back of the Blacksmith's shop, which adjoined the Pheasant Inn, one could see on certain days the Landlord (of the Inn) brewing ale. We could always smell from the street when brewing was going on. It would not do, of course, to miss such a fascinating sight as the barm bubbling up on top of the huge tub and the women folk clumping about on pattens to keep their feet from getting wet. So we always made a point of going round to what was known as the "Brew 'us'" (brew house).
In the centre of the town, we had a flour mill which was a source of delight. The River Anker, on whose banks it stood, had ducks of various breeds swimming up and down its course. One of my earliest recollections is connected with the river and the mill. In those days, the clothing of small girls was more complicated to fasten up than the previous generation's. Also, we wore high boots with many lace holes. Mother had a great contempt for people who were what she called ''sloppy about the feet," so to lace our boots tidyly was a stern ritual; woe betide any child found minus that elusive thing called a "garter." To expedite the dressing and encourage us to help ourselves, a promise to take us to see the ducks and the mighty mill wheel go "Splash" was the sugar plum which usually did the trick.
When I was about seven, in 1885, the mill was burnt down, but it was immediately rebuilt and modern machinery installed. All the glamour, from a child's standpoint, was gone. The machinery simply made a noise; the mighty splash and music of the wheel had vanished.
Another bit of the river ran open along one side of the street known as "Wash Lane." It had posts and an iron tube as rails to prevent people falling in. It was the outdoor gymnasium for all the indecorous juveniles. We paddled in the shallow water, caught minnows under the stones and performed somersaults over the rail, to the detriment of clothes and sometimes, sad to say, of heads.
About this time, the local Council began to wake up to the fact that the town was growing. There was more traffic so they decided that the river must be closed in. Therefore, an army of workmen with all the usual impedimenta occupied the road for a considerable time until all signs of the river had vanished and poor Wash Lane emerged from the ordeal with a Royal name. But all delight had vanished; what child could catch minnows on a tarmacadamed road?
Upon reaching Standard two stage, we had to move from the Green and pass on to the school attached to the Parish Church. After a Scripture lesson on the Beatitudes, followed by a motherly talk from the Mistress on our growing responsibilities, we bade her "Good By."
Of schools in those days, there was little choice. At the Church School, we paid sixpence a week and I must say the provision of such schools up and down the country is one of the shining bits of its history. It did give the common people an opportunity to whet their appetites for more knowledge if they cared to take the trouble to acquire it as they got older.
Opposite our school was The Beeches where about sixteen pupils attended. A smattering of French was taught, also that it was very unladylike to run in the street or to be seen without gloves on; deportment was studied assiduously. The Church School pupils always asserted they were the superior when it came to maths or needlework.
There was also another source of education conducted for the daughters of gentlemen. About eight pupils were taken and the lady conducting it would have had a blue fit if a tradesman had presumed to apply for his daughter's admittance.
Higher education for girls was unheard of. It must have been dreamed of, else it would not have been here today. Boys had the privilege of the Grammar School where, after much strain and struggle, some few attained the Cambridge Junior and an occasional particularly precocious boy reached the Cambridge Senior. Today, State Scholarships and Higher Certificates are as common as blackberries in autumn. I often wonder if the children of today realise the debt of gratitude they owe to the people who, through years of agitating, have made it possible for children of all classes to be educated on a common footing.
The utterly snobbish conditions of fifty years ago have gone, never to return -- I hope. The Bishop's daughter can gain something of value from rubbing shoulders with the miner's daughter, who is usually possessed of sturdy independence; she, in her turn, should be able to capture a little of the grace and poise which should flourish in the larger home. The knowledge gained could be likened to the pomegranates round the edge of the priest's robe and be spelt "fruitfulness:" sturdy common sense for strength, grace and poise for beauty, knowledge gained for results. The combination should make for a better understanding of the other person's viewpoint.
Some quaint characters lived in Nuneaton. One old gentleman, by profession a barber, might have been a Canon in Holy Orders; benign benevolence radiated from his face as he opened the door to us when we paid our periodical visits to have our hair cut. He did not have a proper shop but one room was kept for his business. It had a small window which looked into a room at the back; in this window, two bottles of hard boiled sweets were kept, raspberry drops and rose buds in one and acid drops in the other. If we sat very still whilst he cut our hair, we were allowed to choose which sweets we preferred; we could have two. He was a staunch Conservative and ardent Royalist and always hung over his door a branch of oak to commemorate the anniversary of Prince Charles hiding from his pursuers in the oak tree at Boscabel. He was the proud possessor of a table piano, which he played brilliantly. The steps around his door and the cobbles of his patch of pavement had a profusion of scented musk growing. Why, oh why, has that delightful plant vanished?
On the opposite side of the road from the barber was a tall house with shuttered windows. An iron gate, arched over, gave entrance to a spacious garden and back premises. Is had never been occupied in my time but, occasionally, a man with a brown beard, a billy cock hat, a shabby coat and leather leggings used to unlock the gate and disappear, to emerge in about half an hour's time. Common report was that the house was haunted. Whenever this mysterious man appeared, all the youngsters in the neighbourhood collected around the gate to see all that was to be seen -- which certainly wasn't much. But we always imagined that a face could be seen grimacing through a chink in the shutter, chains could be heard clanking as a mysterious something scurried up and down stairs and the bark of a dog echoed through the hollow, empty rooms.
Eventually, the property was bought by a Co-operative Society. Instead of something to call forth a mysterious shiver, there appeared a Butcher's Department, a Grocery Department on the first floor, a Drapery Department above, and the back premises were given over to the slaughtering of animals and the baking of bread.
One day soon after the Co-op. began to function, I was walking along the Royal Walk when a bread van pulled up to deliver at the house I was passing. Walking along, were two women, one evidently a Co-op. member and the other a visiting friend. The member said to her friend "Ah! This is one of our new vans and ain’t it a luverly 'orse." The van man, as he stepped down from his seat, pulled one hair from the horse's tail and solemnly offered is to her, saying "This is your share, Ma'am."
Nuneaton had a town Crier with a voice strident enough to cut through a clothes line. Upon official occasions, he was furnished with a most gorgeous uniform: tricorn hat, brass bell and a profound air of importance. If anything were lost, he would stand at the street corner and shout "Oh Yess, Ohoo Yess; this is to give notice." Then he would proceed so give notice of whatever he had been paid so announce. He always rang the pancake bell on Shrove Tuesday as eleven a.m.; which was the signal for an early dismissal from School. That day was the official commencement for the season of battle-dore and shuttlecock (a bit like badminton without the net. The boys discarded marbles and brought out tip-cats (shuttle-shaped pieces of wood which, when struck on the pointed ends, would fly through the air).
Today, girls' games are pretty thoroughly organised. Their days are passed wholesomely and lawfully with summer camps, Girl Guides, Nature Study classes, swimming lessons, supervised games and folk dancing, with the correct dress for each. Such methods had never got a footing in my youthful days. Girls played in their own sweet way at Nancy Doodle, Kiss in Ring, Here comes poor Nary aweeping, or a vigorous rubbing of noses together to the accompaniment of "My Mother and your Mother went over the sea/ and when they came back they said 'Hack a nosee'." Now that archaic system is lost in pet theories of Educationists who are prepared to do everything for youth except let them alone to find out for themselves that horticulture and. moralculture are practically the same thing and have a definite value which can be practised in one's own garden.