Sunday, 4 December 2011

A walk down memory (Pottery) lane

On a recent trip to London I headed for Notting Hill where I knew my great grandmother Fanny had been born. She had lived in the Pottery Lane area, historically known as the 'Piggeries and Potteries' owing to the many pig-keepers and brick makers who had migrated from Ireland to the area during the 1840s because of the potato famine. In fact the actual kiln still remains. During Fanny's time this area was known as 'laundry land' because of the many hundreds of housewives, including Fanny's mother and grandmother who had to take in washing and ironing for the families in the posh houses at the top of the hill in order to earn a shilling or two to help out with the family income.

Fanny was born in 1873 and after many years of searching I discovered that her mother had given birth to Fanny 'out of wedlock' in the Kensington Workhouse a stigma that must have remained with her all her life and was never talked about amongst the family, in fact I doubt that even her daughter, my grandmother knew the circumstances of her birth. Fanny's mother Elizabeth was just 17 years of age at the time and it is unsure why she was in the workhouse. Her own parents were living in very overcrowded conditions in streets of tightly packed houses and where over the years with an increasing family, they relentlessly moved from one set of crowded rooms to another, paying about two shillings a week for the privilege. The family consisted of eight children who  slept at least four, top-to tail in one bed and this maybe the reason that Fanny's mother ended up in the workhouse. Often there were another three or four other families living under the same roof, where sanitary conditions were appalling and in turn encouraged rats to roam freely in the filthy and polluted streets. When Fanny was three years old her mother married and they went on to have several children of their own. Fanny however, at aged seven years old was found to be living nearby with her mother's parents in 1881. For how long, no one knows but it is possible that she was either abandoned by her mother or there simply was no room for her at home. It was not uncommon at that time for an eldest child to live with their grandparents. She attended the local school which cost one penny a week.

When she was twelve years old she was 'put into service' where she worked as a scullery maid doing very menial tasks including scrubbing floors, stoves, sinks and dishes for a mere pittance of about one shilling a week and a room in the attic and where she would have only had a few hours off each week. By the time she was 18 she was working for a household in Earls Court Road as a cook. She married in 1894 to Charles, a carman (another story for another time) and raised ten children of her own in slightly more improved but similar conditions to that of her own childhood in the same area around Pottery Lane. She was supposedly estranged from her mother in later years - was this because she  couldn't forgive her mother from keeping her illegitimacy and the workhouse from her? or maybe that she never knew who her father was (I do!) - but this is all conjecture and we will never know the truth. Fanny died aged 90 years old in 1963.

My discoveries and trip gave me a snapshot of the lives of those who went before me and an insight into what life would have been like in 'Dickensian' London.     

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