In the August of 1908, on this day, my maternal grandparents were married in a church in London. She stated on her certificate of marriage that she was already 18, but I know that in fact she was 16 nearly 17 when she married my grandfather George who was all of 21 years old. His father thought he was much too young to be thinking about settling down and told him that he was on his own and that he would not help him in the future if he stumbled on hard times... In those days, parents were very vocal in what they required their children to do., and my great grandfather felt that his son should work in his business and get some money behind him until he could afford to get married.
Of course, being young and totally besotted by each other, they did not listen and so today one hundred and four years ago, they were married and by this time, 8.30 in the evening, I am sure they had celebrated well with their little family gathering and tired out were on their way to spend a couple of days in Rochester in Kent for their honeymoon.
My great grandfather had a market stall selling fresh vegetables in the Portobello road of London. A very famous market, and where it was common for many generations to be working on the stalls.
Returning from their honey moon, the young people were given a stall by George's father selling water cress of all things! For a while all went well, and they could afford to rent a little place and think of starting their family.
However after a few years when they were blessed with two children a horrible experience nearly broke the family apart.. there was a fire, and their first two children died in the blaze. Bereft and unable to focus on selling face to face with their customers, the young couple decided to move away and for George to get a job where he would not have to meet face to face with people.
It took them a long while to get over their loss, but eventually Martha Patricia was in the family way, and every year after, she gave birth to a succession of boys and girls, until there were 9 little ones to feed and clothe.. They lived in very cramped quarters, where if the drains flooded, the house kitchen filled with water, or if there was heavy snow, the snow would seep inside, but despite these hardships, the family thrived and they had such a sense of humour, that my recollection of any of my aunt and uncles was of loud laughter and jokes!
My grandfather had found a job with the newly created Gas Board, and his job was to operate the tall cranes that filled the London skies at that time and after the war, when there was massive rebuilding going on. He worked at such great hights all on his own and then walked all the way home covered in grime to his home.. when it snowed and walking was hard, my mother told me he had crawled in places just to get to work, as he was determined never to be out of work again... He worked for the Gas Board for over 40 years and never missed a day off work.... leaving the stalls had cost him dearly and it took a great deal of time to find work, and so he tried his hardest to feed his family and see that they had the food and clothing they needed.
Over time, they managed to be able to set aside money to try out day trips to the seaside and they loved to go and return to Rochester and walk along the promenade with the children alongside.. In later years, they went with their children who had themselves now got children, and their needs were simple. A vist to the seaside, a walk, some hot fish and chips washed down with a beer, who could ask for more*
After work on a Friday George would have a pint of beer with his friends from work, then return home to wash down the grime and dress up again to take my grandmother out to the pub for an evening to singsong and drinks.
The house where I got to meet and grew to know them, was a tall dark halled house on three floors.... there was a basement, which was let out to one of their daughter, her husband and the children,.my grandparents had the ground floor leading from the front door, there was a large basic kitchen and the front room was used as their bedroom.. The upstairs was also being lived in by their youngest daughter and husband and children.
Looking in my memory to see the decor, it was all old and brown and linoleum on the floor, no carpets anywhere, and in the kitchen where they spent most days, they had an old fashioned grate and stove, a window overlooking the long back garden and the railway lines where trains travelled endlessly up and down..the sink and small table where we would seat our selves for a slice of bread and butter.
Outside the window, my grandfather had his pet canary, who would sing all the time.. grandpa had his chair, big and broad, and no cushions.. and he would sit by that window and smile and chat to us and be so loving ... he spoke as a real cockney... we could understand every other word and get the gist of it, but his speech was far different to ours and the people we lived amongst.. My mother had decided to improve her speech and spoke with a lovely clear diction, but when she returned home, it was back to cockney which mortified me at the time!!
He also had a clock on a long chain which he would bring out to look at the time... his hands were worn and his thumb curved over in a strange shape- a sign I have noticed in many actors, they all have a bent thumb.. I think my mother was the only one that inherited it from him.. His chin was always stubbled and his hair had gone but there were still a few wisps to comb over. he wore a shirt that had no collar, the collar was attached with special pins when he went out.. he also wore a waistcoat and in the winter he wore long johns under his trousers... we would see them hung up over the fire to dry......His eyes were very bright and he smiled and joked a lot. My grandmother was also small, but the years of childbearing had taken its toll on her figure, but how jolly she was too.. Their house despite being dark, was lit inside by the happiness of that little couple all the years they lived there together.
On this day, over a century ago, they had said their vows in front of a priest and their families, had promised to love and cherish each other through sickness and in health until death parted them.. and they stuck to that vow through all the hard times and painful times ,
I am not the only person who remembers their grandparents, but mine got married today 104 years ago.. Bless them they never asked for much, just to rear their family see them grow into adult hood and be grateful for the happiness between them and the small luxuries they could save up for.. A simple couple a simple life, but priceless and richer than any amount of money could make you feel.