I recently reconnected with a long lost school friend via a chance meeting with her lovely Mum in my local village hall. I gave her my email address to pass onto my school pal, and within a couple of days, I had received a lovely long email from her detailing what she was up to and generally catching up on the last 30 years (I last saw her early in 1982!!). We exchanged a few emails, arranged to meet up when she ventures north to see her parents, added each other as friends on facebook, and then she mentioned that her sister had written a novel which I might like as she has based it on the area that she grew up in - Hoyland Common and also Wentworth. The book is called Netherwood by Jane Sanderson.
I really loved it and can't wait for the second book in the series (which is out in September). I don't want to give the plot away, but it is the tale of a big house who's owners discover coal in seams beneath their land - like the Fitzwilliams of Wentworth Estate did, and the folk that live in mining villages that spring up around it. Whilst it is a novel, a lot of the names of the people, the roads that they live on etc are very familiar to me, and the story of a mining tragedy is so very familiar too, as I was brought up in a mining village. You can buy the book in Waterstones and from Amazon. I hope they turn it into a Sunday evening TV series - I could even audition to be an extra!! Jane, if you read this, you MUST insist that I get a part - write it into the terms and conditions!
It made me really think about how my female relatives coped loosing the breadwinner of the family back in the days when there were no state benefits, and no jobs for widows to do - other than take in washing. I think that both my great grandmothers lost their husbands young, and both re-married. In a lot of instances, this would have been the only way to stay out of the workhouse, as the rent on a miners tied cottage would still have had to be paid.
The man that my great grandma Ottway married after her husbands death was a hard drinking bachelor called Jerry. She died herself not many years after marrying him, leaving my dear grandma - only about 13 years old - to take care of her brothers and sisters, and her step father - Jerry. "T'owd Jer" as he was known to us all, lived to be a grand 94 years old - I remember him well as he lived with my grandparents for the rest of his life. My grandad did not get on with him at all, but he put up with living with him for almost all his married life. He did once suggest putting him in an old peoples home, but the response he got from grandma is unprintable! T'owd Jer was a cross between Steptoe and Compo (from last of the summer wine). Up to the end, he would dress every day in his suit and tootle off along the road to the pub at lunch time, and then after a pint or two, would amble back to sit in his wooden chair. Like most men back then, he never lifted a finger to help in the house, and so it really was a blessing to him that he had married my widowed great grandmother. I loved him to bits - my mum says that he was on his last legs until I was born, but my birth seemed to revive him! When he was ill in bed near the end of his life (I would have been about 10 years old), I used to read the newspaper to him and play the radio for him. He died whilst we were away on our weeks holiday to Blackpool, and I felt sure he would have got better by the time we got home.