My grandma’s house was a miner’s cottage in Mapplewell, probably built in the mid to late Victorian period. It was red brick, two up, two down with a toilet in the yard. There was a cellar with a freshwater spring in it, forming a little well, which may have once been the water supply, but by the time Grandma and Grandpa moved in, there was running water to the kitchen sink. Though it was a tiny house they hardly ever used the front room except when there were visitors. The back room was always referred to as the ‘house’ and was the only room that was heated regularly using the coal allowance from Grandpa’s job as a miner.
My parents’ house, the one I recall from my childhood, was a few miles away in Athersley, on the outskirts of Barnsley. It was probably built in the 1920s/1930s, a two up, two down semi with an indoor bathroom. We lived in the back room during the day – a combined kitchen, living room and dining room, with a coal oven and two gas rings on the sink draining board. Outside was a gas street lamp – replaced by an electric one when I was very young, but I can still just about remember it.
What times we have lived through! From black lead fireplaces and gas street lamps to personal computers the size of a slim paperback book.
I’ve spent the last few years, off and on, researching family history, going back (through some lines) to the 1600s.
You won’t find any lords of the manor or toffs of any kind in my family tree – certainly no royalty or nobility. We’re a boring lot. As far back as occupations are recorded we’re mostly miners with a few nailmakers thrown into the mix – a job, in its own way, almost as dangerous as working at the coalface, at least for the children of the family who often played around the family’s forge while both parents worked.
I’ve done quite a lot of history research for my Rowankind books which are set in 1800, 1801 and 1802. It’s the period of Regency romances (though strictly speaking the Regency didn’t begin until 1811).
I love Regency Romance. It’s my guilty pleasure. Though sometimes I wonder how many dukedoms have been invented by authors writing in the genre. Pretty debs in Regency romances always have to find a rakish duke, or at least an earl or a viscount they can reform into good husband material. The aristocracy has never been so populous.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love reading all that kind of stuff, especially if it’s written with wit and a touch of humour. (Julia Quinn’s books come to mind! And, of course, Georgette Heyer.)
Northern working class folk didn’t mix with the likes of the ton, so I’m happy to write books set in that era where the ton is never mentioned at all. The heroine of my Rowankind books, Rossalinde navigates through life on the outskirts of polite society. Ross’ family is firmly middle class. Her father was a sea captain, and she took to the sea herself when she ran off with her first husband (who features in the trilogy as a jealous ghost).
My Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmothers were born around the same time as my fictional heroine, Ross. Ann Wyatt in Somerset, and in Yorkshire, Sarah Pollard and Ann Auckland. Ann was born in 1774 and lived to be 78 years old. She married Reuban Hargreaves and they had at least eight children. Mary Fleetwood was born in Staincross in 1774. She married Timothy Crow and proceeded to pop out nine children at approximately two year intervals. That (and looking after them) is hard work! You can bet your bottom dollar that she never aspired to travel to London, and never had a voucher for Almacks.
Though Timothy Crow’s exact occupation is unknown, he’s listed as a labourer. His father, Robert, was a blacksmith, a respectable profession for a working man. Timothy’s grandson, George, was a coal miner, living in Mapplewell, a pit village in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
George Crow is the son of Timothy’s youngest daughter, Mary, born in 1838, two years before her marriage to Charles Pickering. George’s siblings are all Pickerings. As to whether Charles is George’s father I’d hazard a guess that he’s not. None of the indicators are there. It was common for bastards to have the surname of their father as a middle name, but George had no middle name. Also, if Mary and Charles were going to get married after George’s birth, it’s not likely they’d have waited two years. Neither George’s birth certificate nor his marriage certificate name a father, so I draw my own conclusion.
Unlike my characters I don’t think there would have been much magic in my ancestors’ lives.
Now that I’ve finished writing the Rowankind trilogy, and my next book after that is written, my mind is turning towards writing something new. Am I going to stick to the past or travel into the future? I’ve got a few interesting characters in my family tree such as Fletcher Fletcher who was a colliery engine wright and whose third wife, Ann Randle, was listed as a schoolmistress on the 1861 census. There’s Moses Lockyer, born around 1600 in Radstock, Somerset, who married Mary Wiles, had nine children and lived through the English Civil War.
Inspiration for a story? Maybe. It’s certainly worth looking into my family history a little more closely while I’m contemplating my next book.