Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From Essex to Lancashire in 1921

In January 1921 my grandmother, Rosina Beales, married my grandfather, Thomas Henry Ward, a returned soldier nearly twelve years her senior. Soon after the wedding, which took place in her home town of Colchester in Essex, they  moved to his home in Milnrow, Lancashire. And there my grandmother stayed for the rest of her life (except for occasional holidays) as a wife and mother and  later as a widow.

Sir Isaacs Walk, Colchester
© Copyright David Hawgood and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Having just visited both Lancashire and Essex briefly, l have been thinking about what my grandmother must have experienced when she moved to Milnrow from Colchester in her mid twenties. Lancashire and Essex are physically very different. Essex, as a whole, is one of the driest regions in Britain, while Lancashire is one of the wettest. The area of Essex around Colchester is mostly flat and given over to agriculture. Towns and villages nestle among fields of peas, wheat and other crops.  Colchester, with its ancient castle, sits on a low hill, and gives the impression of being a comfortable market and garrison town.

Milnrow from the air in 1926

Milnrow, near Rochdale, is close to the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire, with the Pennines and Saddleworth moor as a backdrop. The stony hills produce sheep rather than crops. It was once a woollen weaving area, until the industrial revolution brought cotton spinning mills, drawn by the abundant supply of water and damp atmosphere. The cotton mills are all closed now, but in the 1920's, the chimneys of Milnrow's many operating mills would have been a prominent feature of the landscape.

Dale St, Milnrow
© Copyright David Dixon [under a CC licence], via Wikimedia Commons

Many of my grandfather's relatives worked in the mills. What did my grandmother make of their north country way of speaking and relating? What did they make of my grandmother, with her 'southern' accent and Salvation Army upbringing? Strangely, it had not occurred to me before I visited Essex that my grandmother would have had a different accent to those around her when she arrived in Milnrow. I don't remember her sounding 'different' when I knew her as a child, so perhaps she gradually took on the local accent. Or perhaps I just didn't notice.

She certainly left the Salvation Army to join the local C of E church, though whether willingly or in deference to my grandfather I don't know. As far as I'm aware she became part of the Milnrow community. But how different the culture and environment must have seemed when she first arrived. And how little we know or think about our  parents' and grandparents' background until it's too late to ask them.