Memories of Nan

Ladies' Outing
Ladies’ Outing

Nan, standing second from left in favourite cardigan and with her handbag at the ready, on a coach outing with the local church Mother’s Union. The driver in his uniform stands discreetly to the rear.

Elbow grease and a fear of God

Nan was a survivor through hard work and fear of God. Her five children all survived, after a fashion. It was a tough life. Nan’s mother Mary Ellen left her in Farnworth with grandparents John and Martha when she moved to Newcastle. Annie was only seven years old, brother Jim five years old. No education, work as a servant at 17 and then a cleaner to support her family, widowed at 32 with five children under the age of nine. Here I have collected some memories of Nan.

“God is angry!”

Nan was staunchly C of E and did not have many kind words for the local Catholic church and the priest. She belonged to the Mothers Union at Farnworth Church (see photo above). When it thundered, she said God is angry! She pulled down the blind in her living room at 27 Gloucester Road, sat in her rocking chair with head bowed down and hands over ears and us grandchildren had to hide under the dining table until the storm was over.

The Queen

Apart from God, the Queen and Royal Family were the authorities she looked up to. Woe betide any grandchild who didn’t show proper respect. This also extended to people on television, who Nan believed could hear us talking about them.

Nan gets angry!

When I knew her, in the 1950’s and 60’s, Nan spent most of her time in her rocking chair in front of the coal fire. Her back was hunched hips and knees weak from a lifetime of cleaning. But despite her frailness she had a sharp tongue – quite a Paddy (temper) as it was called – if she was annoyed. I remember the look of fear in the eyes of her grown children when Nan started shouting. This reminded them of their childhood. Mum Minnie told med how angry Nan got when she caught eldest daughter Nellie with a  lipstick. The row almost brought the roof down, according to Mum, and ended when Nan threw the lipstick in the back of the fire.


Nan’s five children attended Farnworth Church School at the top of Farnworth Street. At times they had to take turns wearing shoes, which was a demand to attend school. Eldest son William (Bill) was clever at school and the headmaster contacted Nan to ask that Bill be allowed to stay on. Nan said no, she couldn’t afford it, so Bill had to go out to work – as did his brother Ike and sister Nellie. Minnie and Dorothy however did get some schooling.

Best friend Mrs Beard and Annie Abbott Taylor
Cleaning and washing

Margery Lewis, who lives in Farnworth and is a descendant of Henry and Kate Abbott and their eldest daughter Sarah Ellen Abbott, relates the following about Annie Abbott:

I have spoken to my Aunt Muriel Starmer (b Young, granddaughter of Henry Abbott who was Mary Ellen Abbott’s older brother) who is now in a residential home in Frodsham (south the River Mersey). She will be 98 years old in March 2010 if she lives that long, she is now failing a bit.

I spoke to her about Annie Abbott which they seem to always call her. My aunt said she used to scrub the offices out early in a morning going out about 5 o’clock and then coming home to get breakfast and start doing the washing which she took in to make some money.

Grandma Young (Sarah Ellen Abbott, married Young) who has the chip shop used to feel sorry for her and would make an extra pie for Annie and would send my aunt with it, stating “tell her I had some pastry and filling left over because she does not like charity and will not accept it”. The pies my gran made were pork, potatoes with hard boiled eggs at the top under the pastry, also bacon, potato and egg pie. Of course my gran kept pigs and hens on the land behind the shop.

Aunt Muriel said Ike (Isaac Taylor, one of Annie Abbott’s sons) was always full of devilment, making fun and imitating a lady who lived in cottages by the Griffin (the local pub) who had her hair plaited into a wheel over her ears. Another one he called Mrs Jam Face because she had a red complexion. Aunt said they had names for quite a few people, one was Dustbin Dora.

Annie lived at the bottom of the street (Farnworth Street) and when Enid (Margery’s older sister) was born in the house next to gran’s shop, Annie said “I do not think she will survive as she was very small.”

Washing Day

Monday was washing day at Nan’swhen my Mum, Minnie Gandy, did most of the work. Nan insisted on doing things the old way. No washing machine or drier. Sheets were washed in the dolly tub using a dolly handle and with dolly blue dye in the water. Then the sheets were rinsed and mangled on an old hand mangle with worn wooden rollers and a giant metal wheel. The sheets were then hung on lines in the garden, with wooden props to push them up to catch the wind.  Sometimes the sheets came in sooty, or dirty from the ground if the props or lines broke.

Mangling on washing day
Mangling on washing day

For lace curtains the water was died with a yellow dye called dolly cream. It was my job to buy the dolly cream and dolly blue at the corner shop. Afternoons were devoted to ironing the sheets using old solid irons heated on the gas stove. Then the sheets were stored in the airing cupboard on top of the back boiler.