Mary S.W. Pollard

When one has had a wonderfully varied life & lived to see the world completely changed from one's early years {chiefly since war in 1914}, it is difficult to put one's mind back again to the Victorian epoch. Many people seem to think it was anything but a happy time, but that was certainly not our experience. We had such a wonderful home, such clever & understanding parents, & we 5 sisters with our only brother (the youngest of the family & adored by us all) were an absolutely devoted family, tho' of course we quarrelled at times. As most of our many relatives lived in Gateshead & Newcastle we saw a great deal of some of them, chiefly the Edmundsons (Gateshead) & the Merz's or Quarryites as we called them from the name of their house in Newcastle. "Liberty Hall" my Father used to call Bensham Grove & I think never a day passed without visitors or relations coming to a meal, often uninvited but always welcome. Sunday tea time was open to anyone & sometimes there were as many as 20 guests, curiously enough it often happened that one Sunday would mostly be men & the next women—unless asked to do so no one was supposed to stay to supper, but as a rule two or three often were invited to do so. We usually had some music & singing & my sister Ruth sang exquisitely better than many professionals. Often, too, my Father read a short story or poems aloud & when Skipsey, the pitman poet was present he used to repeat "my dark Rosaleen" so effectively that it made one or two of us quite hysterical which it ought not to have done. But most of the time was spent in talking, though when we were very young we played kindergarten games, the visitors joining in.

I have no vivid recollections of anything before I was nearly 5 & then I remember having a meal in the nursery with my sister Bertha; in the middle of it we were taken into my mother's bedroom & shown our baby brother. It was rather an awe inspiring occasion & we had to be absolutely quiet, all very different from what it would be now-a-days.

When I was five years old I planted laburnum seeds in my little garden, hoping the tree would grow quickly so that I could climb it, but by the time it had grown pretty tall I was beyond the age for climbing trees. I also grew a few (very few) wild strawberries; these when ripe were carefully collected on a saucer & with perhaps ½ or 1d I bought some cream & gave them to Mother. This may sound generous, but I was anything but a generous child & was very selfish over my toys refusing to lend them to my sisters, but we were all so devoted to Mother and loved doing anything for her, such as buttoning her boots if she was going out, peeling an orange for her at dinner & almost fighting to carry up her breakfast tray if ever she had breakfast in bed, & what a feeling of dismay we had when that happened. When my Father was away for a night on business, we drew lots out of his top hat as to who should sleep with Mother, for we thought that a great treat—I feel now she might have preferred to be alone! So far I have written mostly about Mother, but we were just as devoted to Father, fetching his shoes before he went to the office & getting his velvet coat when he returned, for he usually took off his ordinary coat & waistcoat in the dining room & often lay down on the sofa for a few minutes. I don't think he ever wore braces, but a long red sash called a fa ha which occasionally we ran round him it [last four words crossed out] wound round him running round & round—probably he may have started this after his journey to Morocco, but I don't really know. It must have been rather warm in summer! Both parents had great faith in prayer & I remember joining them in their bedroom occasionally when they knelt before breakfast. Though my Father was a large man & very strong—(he had some serious illnesses—but could carry heavy weights & was a tireless walker—) he ate very little & always when we were young read aloud to us at breakfast. In this way we got through Marmion & the Lady of the Lake, etc, & then at our ½ term holidays we visited the Trossachs & Flodden Field & so on. After breakfast Mother read a short passage, usually from the Bible & always even when distinguished visitors were there, but I think not when Sometimes ["&" to "Sometimes" crossed out, the last word perhaps inadvertently] we had Liberal breakfasts—6 or 8 men to meet someone like John Morley, & what a lot the poor cook had to do! Our large garden—2½ acres I think,—was a great joy. Here we played hide & seek with our cousins, climbed trees, & learnt to drop from a great height, had wonderful swings & competitions to see who could jump the furthest from the swing when it was very high. This was exciting & felt like flying thro' the air, but care was needed to do it at the right moment. Evelyn was the best at most of these feats & used to give us wonderful swings which we called "mountain whirligigs". "Tommy Tinker" on the Asphalt near the wash house was a most exciting game. One of us was Tommy & he had to catch us before we could reach home which was a specified place near the asphalt, but as there were 2 ways of getting there it was not easy. "Ducks Eggs" was also played on the asphalt. One person threw a ball on to the sloping roof of the coal shed shouting out the name of the child who had to catch it. If he (or she) caught it, he then threw it quickly again in the same manner. After failing to catch it 3 times, one was out.

In these days of aeroplanes, wireless, television, electric light & so on, it seems almost unbelievable to me to have been born before any of these things were invented, though electric light was just beginning to be used. We did not have it at Bensham Grove till I was grown up, nor a telephone either. The gas in each room was lit by a maid who went round with a lighted taper in a long metal holder which could be pushed up as it burnt away. I used one of these when Father [crossed out] Frank & I set up house in York. One advantage of gas was that it could be turned down low & left burning—a great advantage when children are afraid of the dark.

To get to town (Newcastle) we had to walk 1½ miles, for it was many years before there were buses, & it seemed a long way for children when we were going an excursion to the sea at Tynemouth or into the country.

For lectures, especially if the lecturer was our guest, & concerts, we often had horse cabs. The toll for these on the bridges was 2d for one horse & 4d for 2 horses & the driver had to be paid for his return fare, so if only 2 or 3 of us were going we asked for a one horse cab. Hansom cabs were not much used in N/C. perhaps because of the hills. If one of us when grown up was asked to tea or supper over at a friend's in N/C. the young man of the house (when there was one) always saw us home, a long walk, probably at least 1½ miles & then he went straight back again. Sometimes we had cabs to go in to parties; if our friends the Edes were going we usually shared the cab, but sometimes we had to walk & that necessitated pinning our long evening dresses round our waists & having a long cloak over the top.

For parties & dances we sometimes had a cab, but often we had to fasten up our evening dresses with their long trains with safety pins under a cloak or coat & walk, often quite 2 miles, or more, but what wonderful parties & dances they were & how exciting to get one's card with its tiny pencil attached to it filled by various partners & how thrilling to be swung round in the lancers! {& to be fanned by one's partner} Usually we had to leave early, as my Father insisted on sitting up for us.

I seem to remember many very frosty & snowy winters, even occasionally the back door being snowed up, & impossible weather for cabs. We had some glorious skating picnics at Gosforth Park, always kind cousins to put one's skates on for one & to help in many ways.

In the summer on Saturdays as we grew older, parties of us went cycling, getting tea out at a village Inn. My sister Evelyn was one of the first lady cyclists in these parts, & it was not at all approved of by the general public, who made insulting remarks. Bertha & I were the first to bicycle in "rational" dress, very different from the shorts girls wear now-a-days. We were rather proud of it, but there was a good deal of dislike of it [last three words crossed out] disapproval by some cousins, tho' our parents were very tolerant.

Our food at Bensham Grove was always good & plentiful, but there were few fancy dishes such as there are now, & an iced cake was only for special occasions. But at tea time we generally had hot tea cakes & often "singing hinnies" & a plentiful supply of home made cakes. Practically everything was home made. Almost the first question one asked a prospective cook was "Are you a good bread maker".? We had a good many dinner parties & as children we used to look over the banisters to watch the visitors going in to the dining room, always in couples, a gentleman & lady. Often an extra waitress was hired for these occasions. I have kept an old menu card showing the many courses, but am afraid I must lately have destroyed it. The cook who got about £20 a year in wages, had to be able to do these dinners, besides being also a good plain cook, & bread maker & she also had a certain amount of washing up to do & had to clean the porch & hall, but when the house was full a young girl was engaged to help with washing up, cleaning the knives, boots & shoes & kitchen. These girls usually seemed very happy, but only got 2/6 or 3/6 a week I think. It was easy to get them & I remember when I had been married a short time advertizing for one in York & the passage was full of girls eager for the job!

For a dinner party there would be Soup (probably clear soup flavoured with sherry)


Pheasants, grouse or some other game.

Mutton cutlets.

Of course vegetables. Bread rolls & (unhappily) wine!

Some cream sweet—perhaps a choice.

Cheese & biscuits. Dessert. Coffee.

Then the chief lady, possibly a bride in wedding dress, sitting by Father, would look across at Mother & the ladies would retire to the drawing room, the gentlemen after their smoke, joining them there. Perhaps we had coffee there, I forget; anyway there was no smoking in the drawing room & few ladies smoked in those days. I think there often was some music & all went away about 11.0p.m.

{P.S. A dinner party was formal—every gentleman took in a lady on his arm having been introduced beforehand. The host & chief lady lead the way & there were cards to show everyone where to sit. Hostess & gentleman came last, I think. The lady on host's right or left hand gave the signal with the hostess for retiring to the drawing room. Usually there were 8 or 10 couples I think—sometimes less or more.}

We kept up large fires, tho' before I married we had some central heating, but coal was only 13/6 to 17/6 a ton. The poor maids had to get it from outside the scullery up some steps, & it must have been heavy work. However most of them were very happy with us & I suppose it was better than their own homes, for there was so much poverty. Many a time in winter we saw ragged boys with few clothes & those mostly in holes, running about bare foot in the snow. At Xmas my Father sometimes read "The Christmas Carol" aloud in one of the schools.

One Xmas time when the poverty was very great, our parents asked us if we would do without presents from them; they were giving a tea to many poor people. Always Mother got one of us to carry some home made currant loaves (not rich) to a very [deleted] few old people round about, & even on Xmas Day morning she paid a visit to the workhouse. She was a guardian for many years, once elected top of the poll when away from home.

The Rector Moore Ede afterwards Dean of Worcester, often came down for a chat in the evening & if we were having supper, a very light meal would share it with us. He was great fun & a great teaze. A few years before I married we started having dinner in the evenings, & as a rule put on our semi-evening clothes. Hightum, tightum & scrub were what we called our clothes, hightum being our very best.

Some things were easy—as we all wore black woollen stockings & black shoes there was no difficulty about matching with the dress, & dresses, even for walking, were down to the ankle. We did have black silk stockings for best & wore long white (or black) kid gloves with evening dresses which had short sleeves, & often puffs. To walk into Newcastle for shopping with a long, heavy dress, in a wind with a lot of heavy parcels to carry must have been very tiring, but we took it all as a matter of course. Our cousin Thomas Pumphrey—a Friend—had a grocer's shop in the Bigg Market (Bigg probably from the Danish word meaning barley?) & in order to try & stop some of the drinking that went on on market days he started cups of coffee, 2 biscuits & a tiny pot of cream for 2d. This proved so popular that a man came & said they wished to do something for him to show their appreciation. He said he was only too glad that it had proved beneficial & that was all the testimonial he wanted, so the man said "Well, anyway we'll give you a reet gude funeral"! Of course other shops started coffee in the same way, & I suppose it has spread to what are now called "elevenses" but certainly not at 2d a cup! It is almost unbelievable to think that in our youth there were no tins of food, everything had to be cooked & in many ways I think the food was better & as things were simpler it may have been less trouble. For a long time all the cooking was done on the large open kitchen range & I can remember the meat turning round on the spit in front of the fire. We had a very large kitchen & when a gas stove was installed the cook began to find it easier to do the cooking in the scullery. The hot water system was not very good & our parents & visitors always had sitz baths in their bedrooms, so large cans of water had to be heated & carried up before breakfast. I think most of us had cold baths, though of course hot baths sometimes at night. At one end of the bath was a shower bath. One shut oneself in behind doors & pulled the string & the shower of cold water descended on one's head & we tried to think we enjoyed it. In the kitchen along one side was an enormous flour bin, divided into 2 or 3 compartments for brown flour & white flour. {Flour always bought by the stone} Cocoa was bought in lumps & when the cook was in a good temper we were given a little bit to eat, but of course it was not sweet. There was a pestle & mortar for grinding almonds & other things & a salamander which could be made red hot in the fire & moved over a dish that required browning.

When we had a nurse we had our meals in the nursery, but came downstairs on Sundays for dessert. There was a bed in the nursery where the nurse slept which shut up during the day time. We were all very fond of our excellent nurse who came to Norway with us several times.

Now-a-days people travel in good clothes, but in those days we put on our oldest things & well do I remember before going to Norway having to change into our thickest under wear, as the voyage would be cold & what a relief to get to Bergen & have a bath or bathe & change into summer clothes again. We had to have a cart for the luggage, as we had to take everything we were likely to need in the out of the way places we went to. Two years we went to Ornaes 100 miles in the Arctic Circle & there were only a very few houses & only 1 road of ¼ miles. We went everywhere by boat (unless we walked) & on Sundays everyone went across the fiord to church which was only held I think, once a month. The nearest Doctor was 70 miles away & would have to come by boat, but fortunately we kept well. Our parents spoke a little Norwegian & always got on well with the people.

Bensham Grove was not really a large house; there was only 1 spare bedroom & 2 sisters had to share a room, so if more than 1 visitor came, 2 or 3 of us young ones would be sent to sleep at Aunt Lucy Watson's. She lived across the road at the bottom of our garden. I think when people such as Lady Frederick Cavendish came with her lady's maid or a gentleman with a valet, they must have found it inconvenient, for there was no servants' hall, etc.

The little pantry where the silver & best things were washed (china cupboard we called it) was so small that 2 people could only just get into it, & certainly we often grumbled about it, though we did not do the washing up.

All the bedrooms except mine faced West & had a beautiful view of Ravensworth. My small room looked on to 2 public houses & mean streets but I never wanted to change it. Sometimes I heard a drunken brawl & had to go & tell my Father who went out (at some danger) to try & stop the combatants.

We were 20 minutes walk from the nearest cab office & it was not till I think about 1900 that we got a telephone—at any rate I was grown up by then, though a neighbour 5 minutes away let us use hers occasionally, for she got one before we did. I have not written about our many distinguished visitors. Those who came to lecture at the Tyneside Sunday Lecture Society nearly always stayed with us. The Society was started largely by Gackie to give working people somewhere to go to on Sunday evenings if they would not or did not go to church, & the large theatre was always packed. Of course there were no cinemas in those days. Some of the lectures were musical, all of them instructive & I think many of them must have had lantern slides, but somehow I cannot remember that though I would have expected them to make an impression on my mind. Nansen lectured on his polar exploration, Sir Robert Ball on Astronomy, George Kennan on Siberia & his journey to Russia, & many other distinguished men & women, who Aunt Evie speaks of in her little pamphlet of Bensham Grove. There were musical lectures too I think. After the lecture whoever was staying with us came back to our house in a cab, & we had a cold supper. Punctually at 9.45 Father read the Bible aloud in the drawing room, the servants coming in to that too, so the one who had an "evening out" did not have very long.

Mother always read the Bible after breakfast in the mornings & Lord Morley said how very much he appreciated it, though I suppose he called himself an agnostic. What he said is quoted in the life of R. Spence Watson. When we were on holiday, e.g. in Norway & there was no meeting to go to, we always had a short service, out in the field if fine or indoors if wet. Father read the Bible & gave a short talk on it, & we sang a hymn & perhaps one of us would repeat a Psalm. I think we all loved these occasions.


If one of us was asked out to tea or supper over in N/C. it was an understood thing that the [crossed out] a young man of the house or a visitor must walk home with us for safety's sake. I imagine they did not mind; anyway it was the custom in those days. Possibly I have already mentioned this.

The mantelpieces in the sitting rooms were of plain white stone & each had a motto carved on it. In the dining room it was:-

Esto quod esse videris.

In the drawing room:-

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Old time is still a-flying. (Perhaps it was only the first line, I'm not sure)

In the library:-

Measure not the work till the day's done (and the labour done?)

Upstairs in the study sewing room was written (it was not a stone mantelpiece):-

It matters not how long we live, but how.

Round the library on top of the bookshelves was: {not carved}

"Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again—wisely improve the {present it is thine, Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear & with a manly heart.}

Travelling by train was very different from what it is now. The trains were dirty, so we wore old clothes, or if we had to wear something nice, we sometimes covered with it with a tussore silk dust cloak. The silk I presume was quite cheap & often we had some sort of cap to put our heads against the back having taken off our hats. There were no corridor carriages but some carriages marked "Ladies only." There was no heating but if one wanted a large tin (I think it was) hot foot warmer, a porter was obliged to give one & probably got ½d tip. We took huge trunks, very heavy.

You may be interested to hear a little of the food we had for our large Xmas parties—often 100 people & almost everyone relations. For supper (of course most people had to stand!) a boned turkey, cold; a game pie, mince pies, trifles, ginger cream, chestnut cream, choc. cream, jelly (real jelly, not bought squares, there were none in those days) oyster patties, lemonade, possibly pheasants—I forget what else.

Game Pie. Made in a special mould that took to pieces.

2 rabbits

1 duck (or goose)

3 pigeons (or 1 hare)

½ lb. gravy beef. Veal stuffing. Stock poured in when the pie was cold.

Pastry 1½ lbs. flour (or double these quantities for this large mould. 5 oz. lard. 5 oz. butter. 1 gill water. Boil the latter ingredients & pour into the flour. Knead together & keep hot. Put plenty of pastry leaves on top of the pie. All the rabbits, etc must be boned.

Boned & stuffed turkey

Turkey must be not less than 17 lbs.

Cut it right along the back, then bone it. Have ready a boiled & spiced tongue, & a boned chicken & 6 lbs. of sausage meat. Add some of the sausage meat, then the tongue, whole, but slit across in about 4 places & fill these slits with sausage meat. Season well, make into a nice shape, then sew with fine string or strong thread. Then tie it into shape with broad tape & boil it. Cover when cold with Bechamel Sauce, to which a little gelatine has been added.

For one of the Xmas parties I ordered 2 gallons of cream, only 8/- a gallon. We could have managed with rather less.

Everyone was invited for 5.0 o'clock tea, but some adults came later. Gackie entertained the small children with songs e.g. The beasts came in by 1 by 1 hurrah, & the teeny tiny woman, etc, several on his knee at once & we played some round games with them. There usually were several babies in arms. The children with their nursemaids departed early. Then we had singing & recitations & a play & then Gackie's carols—supper, after that "Happy we've been a' tegither" & Auld Lang Syne holding hands round the table & the party finished about 10.0 or 10.30. The maids then came to get their supper in the dining room, but poor things I imagine they would be too tired to eat, & we had to have breakfast at 8.0 next day (boxing day) as most of us, not, the parents, joined a large party of cousins at the N/C. station (to which we had to walk) taking our lunch, & we caught a train to, I think Bardon Mill, & had a long walk over the Roman wall to Housesteads where we got tea. If it was a snowy day we got very wet, & the good people at Housesteads lent the women of the party dry stockings. It was all great fun, & Percy Corder was splendid at singing comic songs in the train on the way back.

signature of Mary S.W. Pollard

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