By Joan Goddard
These letters were written by Martha Wilson, my grandmother, to her daughter Daisy. They were all written from 26, Washington Street, Brighton. Daisy was living at 120 Palace View, Bromley, Kent. Only one is dated, but they must all have been written in 1931. After Daisy died they were found among her effects, and were given to me by her daughter Kath. I have used the original spelling, but have put in punctuation and paragraphs. (Martha used full stops liberally, but seldom at the end of sentences, and capital letters pop up all over the place, – but never when she wrote word like ‘Rose’!) A lot of letters are about the arrangements for Fred and Nellie’s wedding. One has to remember that very few people had telephones in those days, and the post was very quick and reliable!
Reading the letters it is obvious that they were a very close family. It would seem that Martha was ill – she was housebound for a long time at the end of her life, and photos show her to be a rather large lady who had a nice smile. Her daughter Rose seems to have had a very hard time – she was working and having to run the house and look after her brothers & mother as well. Rose’s ability to enjoy life comes through though, Thursday is obviously her night off, and regular mention is made of going dancing! Martha’s letters are very literate, but it is interesting to notice that sometimes she drops an ‘h’ when writing, and one can only assume that that is the way she talked – having grown up in the country she probably had quite a rural accent.
In one letter she mentions her Henry:-
“The weather is very bleak at this time of year, thats how your poor dad caught his death through the wind. I do think of him always as the time of year comes round (the anniversary of his death). He ‘as been gone 26 years in May, and the sun shines just as bright now as it did then, but the wind is just as bleak, and when I look at the sun I think about him all the time and wish I could just see him and speak to him. He was a Darling and we loved each other so”
Martha Mary had had a hard life since her husband had died some 25 years before in 1906, leaving her with a young family. She and Henry were married in 1887, and by 1891 they were living in Washington Street with Henry’s father who was also called Henry, and with his brother George. Daisy was the eldest of the surviving children, and had been born in 1891, Bill was four years younger, and then came Fred and Rose who was the youngest. Rose was only 3 years old when her father died. Life had not been easy even when Henry was alive, as four of their children had died when they were little more than babies. Both Daisy and Martha had had to work hard to support the family. Daisy married William Ransom in 1915, and they had one daughter, Kath, who was 15 at the time this correspondence was written. William worked for the Post Office, and they had moved, on William’s promotion, to Bromley.
Washington Street was a working class area, the houses being terraced and small. No. 26 was typical. It had six rooms, – two on the ground floor, two bedrooms above, and two in the basement. The basement was reached by steep, narrow stairs, with a rope instead of a banister rail. The room below the street in the basement was a dreary dungeon, with only a little light coming in through a window high on one wall which was level with the pavement. It was here that the cooking, washing etc. was done. The room at the back was the living room of the house, and was much pleasanter, opening onto the small garden. There was an open fire, with a mantelpiece laden with ornaments, and a large kitchen table taking up most of the room. The only water in the house would have been a cold tap in the kitchen. The WC was down a brick path at the end of the garden.
At the time these letters were being written I would imagine that Martha was living in the front room on the ground floor, with Rose having the room at the back as a bedroom, and the boys upstairs. It then becomes obvious that Fred and Nellie had taken over the two rooms upstairs to make their first home together, (as was quite customary in those days), so where poor Bill slept I am not sure – probably Rose had to share her mother’s room. Photos taken of Martha taken during the latter part of her life show her to be a very large and rather jolly lady. At the time these letters were written she was housebound, and she would have been very frustrated at not being able to negotiate the steep stairs down to the living room in the basement.
Fred was born in and died in Washington Street. These letters cover a period of three months or so, from just after Christmas into the Spring of 1931. Fred and his fiancee Nellie Tattersell were planning their marriage, which was to take place at Easter, and Martha was pre-occupied with all the arrangements.
After Martha died Fred and Nellie continued to live in the house, and within a short while Rose, who had promised not to marry all the time her mother was alive, married the ‘Jimmy’ mentioned in the letters, – George (Jim) Linden. At the time of my birth a year after their marriage, Rose and Jim were living in Washington Street, presumably sharing the house with Fred and Nellie. Eventually Rose and Jim moved on, and Nellie’s parents moved into Washington Street with Fred and Nellie. Bill lived with Rose and Jim, and died in their house in Roundhill Crescent, Brighton, in 1938.
Fred and Nellie had no family, and they both died in the 1970s.