I’ve always been interested in my family history and explored it extensively. I have also long been pondering on how to make it accessible to other people – i.e. my children, who might not be very interested in it, or who may be interested in the stories, but not the charts and records and certificates and census returns! How also do I write down the stories I was told about my family in a way which is engaging?
I have been exploring these questions with my family history group – but now I am beginning to write those stories for myself – and my children! Here is an imagined encounter between my grandma who went out to work when she was only twelve or thirteen, at a local convent – according to family legend! Our family aren’t Catholic, but in 1890 a huge church was consecrated in Cambridge. I imagine that a lot of the students at the university were Catholic too
However, as with many family stories, somewhere along the line it has become muddled. My grandma did indeed go to work when she was still a child, scrubbing floors somewhere from about 1901, but it cannot have been at the convent because the Carmelite convent was not established until 1923! So I have mixed fact with imagination and written a short story:
“Please, ma’am, I’m the new girl, ma’am…”
Sister Scholastica looked down at the small child gazing up at her.
“The new girl? This is not a school, child.”
“Please ma’am, I’ve come to be a maid, ma’am, my name Is Maud Allen.” Sister gazed at the tiny person. She was clean and neat, although her clothes were faded and her stockings darned, and her hair was tidy beneath the large bonnet, obviously borrowed or handed down from a sister.
“You should be in school, we are looking for maids who have finished their education. You now have to be twelve to work for us.”
“I am twelve ma’am, just very small for my age. My mother is small too, ma’am,” and the child dipped a curtsy. “I’m a good worker, ma’am, and always punctual and my writing is very neat, my teachers said.”
“Good morning sister!” a man’s voice called. Walking past, black from cap to boot was the sweep, his brushes. tied firmly and neatly on his cart.
“Good morning, Brendan,” she couldn’t stand here in the gate to the convent and she invited the small girl inside. Was she really twelve? She seemed very composed and although she was looking round at the garden she didn’t move her head, just her blue eyes. “Are you indeed twelve? You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”
“No ma’am. My mother is Mrs Allen and she said she would come and speak to you, but she is at the moment working herself and living in Ely.”
“So where are you living?” Sister Scholastica led the girl round the side of the convent impressed by the way Maud politely told her she was living with her mother’s relatives in Thoday Street. Although she had the local accent the way she spoke was clear and correct.
“I’m a hard worker, ma’am, and I never missed school, not once.”
Sister opened the back door into the laundry, full of steam and the singing of Mrs O’Toole… the woman was irrepressible, but a hard worker.
“Mrs O’Toole, this is Maud, she will work with you today; let me know how she does, if she is suitable,” and she swept out leaving Maud standing waiting.
“Well, you’re a wee thing! Should you not be at home with your mammy or in the school?”
“I have come to work, if you please, ma’am. I am small but I work hard.”
“Too small to turn the mangle… how are you with scrubbing? The scullery needs scrubbing.”
“I’m well practised at scrubbing, Ma’am, I have three younger sisters and two younger brothers, and my mother and father work long hours so I am good at scrubbing.”
“Come along then, and have you an apron?” and Mrs O’Toole nodded approval as Maud pulled out an old and much mended apron from her little bag. “Come along then little Maud, let’s see how you do.”
© Lois Elsden 2018
Here is a link to my truly fictional books, not based on any real person or situation at all:
My lovely featured image is of Maud, her husband Reuben Elsden and their son Sidney who must have been about two.