A month since I last posted. Ouch. Today’s post has been brewing for a good portion of that time, so I’m pleased to finally bring it to you.
The Thrift, October 2011 ((c) Don Collie 2011)
My dad recently sent me a photo of the house where my maternal grandmother lived during much of her childhood. As you can see, it’s dilapidated, something which both saddens and reassures me: saddens because a place which was once so central to several people’s lives has been abandoned; reassures me because, having heard my nan’s vivid accounts of life there, it is difficult to imagine it inhabited by anyone else.
My nan, her two sisters (she was the youngest) and parents lived at this house – ‘The Thrift’ – in the 194os and possibly the late 1930s. It’s a farm worker’s cottage on the Willey Estate in Shropshire. The house has never, to my knowledge, ever had a road or track reaching it, but the apparently very rural location belies the fact that the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – Ironbridge – is just a few miles away. My nan ended up spending most of her life in the also-nearby ex-mining town of Broseley.
Both of my maternal grandparents were great storytellers (from my child’s-eye view), and their stories were about local folklore and history, including their own early lives. My nan moved home several times growing up, her parents being farm workers whose accommodation depended on their employer, but the The Thrift was the home about which she spoke most often and fondly.
I associate The Thrift not so much with lovely countryside as with food. I don’t think I’m doing my nan a disservice when I say that food – meat in particular – was the central pillar around which the rest of her life was built. The Thrift’s larder was remembered as an endless source of dripping
and gravy, and the annual killing of the family pig (not the same one!), and all the meat that resulted, was a hearty story. Rabbits were a key source of food for the family; catching them was my nan’s favourite activity, not least because of the one-on-one time it gave her with her father (with whom she had a doting, fiery relationship). Rabbit hunting gave my nan some of the hours of outdoor exercise that built up her immense appetite. She doted on a particular one of the ferrets that were used to drive the rabbits out of their warren and towards a blow to the back of the head from my great-grandad.
Here’s my nan at The Thrift (front right), along with her oldest sister (front left) and mother (standing at the back and prematurely grey from pernicious anaemia
), along with an unidentified man who was most probably a boyfriend of one of the daughters – my nan and her sisters had a busy stream of them. It’s lovely to see glass and curtains at the windows, and evidence of the animal life of which my nan often spoke.
I’m not sure quite why The Thrift was allowed to fall into disrepair. Maybe it was too tricky to put an access road and mains services to it, or maybe game bird shooting
has meant it’s preferable to keep this part of the Willey Estate uninhabited. I would love to buy it and renovate it (nobody tell my husband), but its placement on a country estate means that this would probably not be permitted. Still, these tough economic times can force lords to do desperate things!
Other cottages that used to stand nearby have long since fallen down altogether and are now only visible as faint rectangular markings in an aerial view. Unless I or someone else gets their act together, I guess it’s only a matter of time before The Thrift follows them.