Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
In those long-ago days when we lived on Kerridge and were very young, toys, as we now know them, were very few. Books were our first love and I think Dad was responsible for cultivating this desire to read. During the long winter nights when darkness fell about four o’clock, we would sit round the fire after our evening meal and before it was time to go to bed. Mother was always busy, knitting long stockings (for me) or beginning a rug to be laid down at Christmas.
Dad had always loved to read and he would read aloud to us. I can’t remember the stories that he read, but I do recall the eagerness to hear just one more chapter…
At that time books, or anything that did not have a strictly practical purpose, were hard to come by. Lack of money played a big part in this of course and so we treasured our books, read and reread them many times.
We always had a book for one of our Christmas presents from Mother and Dad. This was an ‘Annual’, a book containing a miscellany of stories and poems which was published each year, and bore names like ‘Girls Own Annual’, companion to the ‘Boys Own Annual’, and often compiled by the same organizations who prepared children’s magazines.
Sunday School was another source of obtaining books. Prizes were awarded for regular attendance and we never failed to come home with a book each. The better your attendance, the better book value you got!
Whether it was because Mother and Dad had strong beliefs about children attending Sunday School, whether we had strong religious convictions (I don’t think so!) or because Mother wanted us out of the way on Sundays, I don’t know. Whichever, or maybe for a combination of all three reasons, but we were amongst the top in attendance records.
Each child was issued with a card, which bore their name and was folded in the middle, like a little book. The inside was set out in squares and during every Sunday session the card was handed in to the registrar to be stamped with a little star. So it became known as a STAR CARD. These emblems were totted up as prize-giving drew near and books were purchased according to the total attendance over the year.
I remember several of the books I had (and still have) and the thrill of walking up on to the stage when my name was called out. No choice was offered and whether by coincidence or just because we were all bookworms we always enjoyed our prizes.
The first book I ever received was from Kerridge Wesleyan Infant Day School and it was an illustrated Bible story book. Then came prizes from the Bollington Wesleyan Sunday School ‘The Happy Hours Story Book’. The end papers of this book were a source of endless fascination to me. On the front papers were scenes of a circus setting outside the tents, and the end papers showed the same scene, except everything and everybody had either fallen or been pushed over.
Then came the school books, so popular then. ‘Marie MacLeod, Schoolgirl’ the author long forgotten. ‘Bosom Friends’ by Angela Brazil was my favourite book. During my long illness, about the age of seven, I could always read this book when time dragged, as it often did. I still have it and treasure it.
It was one of Dad’s greatest disappointments in life that I didn’t share his love for Dickens. He had read all the books written by Dickens that be could get his hands on. I found them depressing and melancholy. The poverty and unhappiness which was reflected in these books did nothing to foster any eagerness to read in me. and yet, I was so eager to read that every printed word, even the bottle of sauce on the table appealed to my quest for knowledge.
From these beginnings I read books like ‘Jane Eyre’ by candlelight in bed! … and most of Edgar Wallace who was a popular novelist of the day. Then someone introduced us to the Richard Crompton books called simply ‘William’. William was an average boy who was always in trouble and I think his charm was that we could identify ourselves with him.
The only children’s magazine I can recall was a newspaper type, issued fortnightly called ‘The Children’s Newspaper’ and written by Arthur Hill. It was an interesting paper, with all kinds of information from a wide source, I always read it if I could borrow it, but it was too expensive to buy on a regular basis.
At this time in our lives Mother was responsible for the laundering of all the linen, both household and personal, for a family named Jones who lived at Endon House. The money she earned supplemented the household income during one of the bad times in our lives.
The Jones’ were extremely nice people and regularly passed on children’s clothes to us. I can’t remember how many children there were in the family but I came in for some school uniform clothes which were probably outgrown rather than outworn. They had name tags in the back and I was so proud to wear the dresses and the name tag seemed to make them extra special.
These girls were at boarding school in Eastbourne. They must have had a monthly magazine too, as I recall a heap of them being enclosed with the clothes. It was called ‘Little Folks’ and though I can’t remember the gist of the paper, one thing I read always remained with me. It was a story of someone travelling by train to the south and evidently the journey took them by the coast line. The highlight was that the people involved had a meal, sitting at a table by the window of the train, overlooking the sea as the train steamed on to it’s destination. I didn’t know that such things as meals on trains were in existence. I didn’t know that people were able to afford to travel and eat at little tables. I didn’t know that people travelled for pleasure. Everything in our lives was strictly practical. We went by train to Macclesfield to shop and to Manchester when it was a dire necessity. All these journeys had to be done the cheapest way possible and we ate before we left home and when we returned.
I went back to this story and the illustration, which showed the table set with a snowy white cloth and a pink shaded lamp, again and again, to soak up the idea that somewhere, sometime this might happen to me. It did, and I was about twenty-two years old! Though I wasn’t on the south coast and there was no pink shaded lamp the glamour was there despite the long time which had passed before I achieved it.
© 1985 Enid Simpson